The Bruce Peninsula encompasses a diverse array of habitats, including exposed limestone bedrock, vertical cliffs (as part of the Niagara escarpment), wetlands, mixed forest, fens, dunes, and open alvars. With such a range of habitats, it is no surprise that this region is home to many species, including the massasauga rattlesnake. This habitat diversity also attracts visitors who seek wilderness escapes and picturesque vacations in the same parks and reserves which provide habitat for wildlife, including the eastern massasauga rattlesnake.
Geographically, the Bruce Peninsula is a relatively narrow section of land separating Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron. An ever-increasing demand for homes and cottages has contributed greatly to habitat destruction. Increasing numbers of roads fragment what's left. And while rare plants and animals have some habitat protection in parks and nature reserves, many species also need to move across landscapes, which can be deadly.
Human persecution of snakes has furthered the decline of the massasauga and other snake species in Ontario. Fear of snakes comes from misunderstanding. Killing snakes is not only illegal, it also perpetuates the false image of "evil" snakes. To combat this, national and provincial parks in the Bruce Peninsula region conduct workshops and interpretive programs that increase public awareness and help protect and conserve rare species. As people come in increasing contact with wildlife, education is one of the few things that can help save our native wildlife.
Within the regional population of massasauga rattlesnakes in the Bruce Peninsula, several sub-groups exist which are essentially isolated from each other by natural and human boundaries. Because small populations experience a higher risk of extinction, ongoing research into the ecology and biology of the massasauga is being used by scientists to better understand the management needs of this species.
© Brent Huffman, Toronto Zoo 2005