SECTION 2 THE PHYSICAL, BEHAVIOURAL, AND GENETIC CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EASTERN MASSASAUGA RATTLESNAKE

Biology is the study of life. This endeavour involves understanding a species’ physical characteristics. It is also a study of the species’ behavioural characteristics, or how it interacts with the environment. Underlying the physical and behavioural features are the genetic characteristics of the species. This information can often guide species conservation and recovery. The eastern massasauga rattlesnake possesses unique physical, behavioural, and genetic characteristics.

PHYSICAL APPEARANCE (MORPHOLOGY)


 

 

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake.


 

The eastern hognose snake.



THE GENERAL LOOK

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) is Ontario’s only rattlesnake. The massasauga usually has a brown rattle, with varying numbers of segments, at the end of its blunt tail. The rattle can be a key feature in identifying the snake, unless the rattle has broken off or the snake is young, in which case only a small button may be visible. Massasaugas range in size from 47 to 76 cm. The massasauga’s body is stout, in contrast to most of Ontario’s snakes, which are quite slender. Only the adult eastern hognose snake (Heterodon platyrhinos) has a similar form to that of the massasauga. The ratttlesnake’s head is relatively wide, with a white stripe and three black stripes extending back from the face toward the neck.

A close-up of the massasauga’s unique
head pattern, vertical pupils and
heat sensitive pits.

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