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Snakebites can be avoided by following basic safety precautions. However, snakebites can and do occur. Snakebites are primarily the result of careless human behaviour, resulting from people handling or provoking snakes.

Due to its small size, and limited striking distance, the massasauga cannot strike very high above the ground unless in an elevated position on a log or boulder. The most common strikes tend to occur on the foot or at the boot top level when a person steps over or on a snake. To avoid a snakebite, wear appropriate footwear, especially at night when vision is poor. Bites may also occur to the hands, as a result of reaching into an area where one’s vision is obscured.

A proportionally high percentage of reported snakebite cases can be associated with
alcohol consumption and attempts to capture, handle, or harass rattlesnakes. Data
is unavailable on the amount of illegal snake collecting occurring in Canada. In the
U.S., however, experts have determined that 50% of snakebites are associated with
illegal collecting.1


1 Dubinsky, 1.1996. Canadian Family Physician 42 (11) 2207-2211.

2 (Kurecki BA. 1987. 25 (4):386-392.)

3 (Prior and Weatherhead, 1992)

4 (Greene and Campbell, 1992)

Massasauga bites with envenomation (a bite with venom injected) are relatively rare when proper precautions are being taken, such as the avoidance of risky activities.


Rattlesnakes use their venom to aid in capturing their prey. The venom is a
specialized digestive enzyme, which disrupts blood flow and prevents blood clotting. It is injected through the snake’s retractable hollow fangs. Although people can become ill if envenomated, the purpose of the venom is to kill small prey – not humans.

It is noteworthy that venom is not always injected when a rattlesnake bites. An estimated 25% of snakebites do not result in envenomation, and therefore no anti-venom is required.2 If the strike or bite is defensive in nature, and the snake does not intend to eat the victim, the snake may not even inject venom into the bite victim. Most individuals who are bitten are discharged from the hospital within three days, and show no permanent ill effects. Bites from massasaugas are both uncommon and rarely life threatening in humans;3 a full recovery is the common outcome.4


  • There have only been two fatalities in Ontario linked to snakebite, and in both cases, the victims did not receive appropriate or timely medical treatment. In Ontario, there have been no snake-bite fatalities in almost 40 years.
  • Keep the danger of a snakebite in perspective. Every year, people die from bee stings, encounters with bears, or from driving into deer on roadways. No one dies from a snakebite;

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