CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EASTERN MASSASAUGA RATTLESNAKE

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake got its name from an Aboriginal word. ‘Massasauga’ is the Chippewa word for great river-mouth, and describes the location where the snake was originally found, in marshes along rivers. The snake’s latin, or scientific, name is Sistrurus catenatus catenatus. Sistrum means a rattle and oura means tail, in reference to the rattle at the tip of the snake’s tail. Catenatus means chained, which describes the pattern on the snake’s back.

A SHY AND THREATENED REPTILE

The Snake’s Habitat
In southern Ontario, the amount of prairie habitat available for the eastern massasauga rattlesnake and other wildlife species has been dramatically reduced. Today, the massasauga inhabits just four areas in the province: eastern Georgian Bay area, the Bruce Peninsula, the Wainfleet bog, and the Ojibway Prairie Complex in Windsor. Even in these areas, your chances of seeing a rattlesnake are remote, since they are relatively shy and will often hide from view to avoid being detected.

The Snake’s Status
Originally, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake was given legal protection through the Ontario Game and Fish Act in May of 1990. In 1997, this act was replaced by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. In April, 1991 the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada (COSEWIC) designated the eastern massasauga rattlesnake as nationally threatened in Canada. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources designated the massasauga as threatened in Ontario in 1998, through recommendations made by the Committee on the Status of Species At Risk in
Ontario (COSSARO).

The Snake’s Venom
Massasaugas are venomous, which means they possess a digestive enzyme that they inject into a prey species, such as a vole or mouse, when they bite them. The venom disrupts blood flow, and eventually kills the prey. If threatened, a massasauga may defend itself by biting a human, and may or may not inject venom in the person. Since the snake is venomous, people should always take precautions when they’re out and about in rattlesnake country. The snake may be basking in open areas such as trails, rock outcrops, and grassy natural areas. They may also be hiding in ground cover. Adventurers should wear proper footwear, especially at night, and should use a flashlight when it’s dark outside.
 


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