Eastern Massasauga Snake

The Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) or pygmy rattlesnake is a variety of rattlesnake that is native to Western New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, the Midwest, extending down to Northern Mexico. The pygmy rattler is found as far north as Canada, around Lake Ontario, Erie, Huron, and the Georgian Bay. The range of this snake does not extend into Maryland but depending on who you talk to it may or may not be found in far western Maryland.

Credit: pc.gc.ca - Bill Carswell

The name Massasauga comes from the Chippewa Indian language and it means “great river mouth” and this describes where this snake prefers to live. The Massasauga is a solitary, snake that can be found in marshes, wetlands, prairies, and stream bottoms.

The Eastern Massasauga is a small, stout snake rarely reaching 24 inches in length. The adult Massasauga colors tend to be in shades of black, gray, and dark brown. This small rattlesnake feeds on mice, voles, frogs, and other small animals. The Little Massasauga does not den in large colonies like other rattlesnakes, it looks for a solitary den around a lake or marshy area.

The Massasauga is not an aggressive snake and will only strike if provoked. The Massasauga’s venom is more toxic than the timber rattlesnake but this small snake has less of it so its bites are not as deadly. Nonetheless you should leave this snake alone and seek medical assistance if bitten. Despite its rather large home range the Eastern Massasauga is not very common due mostly to destruction and degradation of habitat and persecution by humans. The fungal disease Chrysosporium has been identified in Massasauga snakes in Illinois. This lethal disease is most common in domestic reptiles but it can also impact wild populations. The Eastern Massasauga is listed as endangered throughout most of its range.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Note for 03/25/2018