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Female massasauga with young soon
after parturition.

Neonate with yellow-cream “button” at
the end of its tail.

At birth, eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are already venomous and have the
ability to strike prey. These young snakes are small versions of their parents
but lack a full rattle.

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is negatively affected by the destruction of
gestation sites. These sites are crucial, since Ontario’s, short summers make it
difficult for gravid females on their own to maintain the warm, relatively constant
body temperatures needed for their young to develop successfully. Since female
rattlesnakes often return to the same site, and since many individuals often use one
site, the destruction of a single gestation site could impair the reproductive success
of several females. This occurrence could, in turn, affect the viability of an entire
population. Fortunately, gestation sites are readily identifiable, and so people can
take steps to prevent them from being destroyed.

Hibernation is the only way that the eastern massasauga rattlesnake can survive in
a cold climate. Cooler weather, and shorter days, act as cues for massasaugas to
start a seasonal migration. This migration is usually less than 1 km, as the snakes
move from their summer areas back to traditional hibernation sites. Such sites may
be found in wet low-lying areas, swampy peatlands, dry woodlands, or rocky areas.

As with all reptiles, cold temperatures prevent snakes from regular activity and
proper digestion. They remain inactive during the winter, while fat stores
accumulated during the summer satisfy their limited energy requirements.

In the hibernaculum, the snake is protected from freezing temperatures until spring
arrives. A hibernaculum is a cavity or burrow such as rock fissures, holes along tree
roots, and crayfish or animal burrows that have access to high humidity or under-ground
water. As the snake prepares for the long, cold winter its heart rate slows,
causing a decreased intake of oxygen and an inability to feed for the entire winter.
Although respiration and metabolism will become slow or may temporarily halt, the
snake is neither sleeping nor deceased.

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