Michigan’s Rattler: the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake
March 11, 2009
Aaron writes that he spent an entire summer tracking 18 of these snakes around the park and watching their habits and where they went throughout the season. Lots of fun trekking through swamps, up hills, through shrubbery, etc. You can see more of his rattlesnake photos (slideshow) including a great shot of the rattler’s fangs. You might also enjoy this Michigan rattlesnake slideshow on Flickr!
The Michigan DNR says that the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) is Michigan’s only venomous snake. They say that Massasaugas are found throughout the Lower Peninsula, but not in the Upper Peninsula and that they are becoming rare in many parts of their former range, due to wetland habitat loss and persecution by humans. After reading Wisconsin’s very excellent page on the Massasauga Rattlesnake I’m also thinking that wild pigs are accounting for some of that drop. Remember that they are classed as an Endangered Species so don’t kill them! Here’s a few tidbits:
- They say that although drop for drop the massasauga’s venom is more toxic than the timber rattler, with a smaller volume of venom, their bite would probably not cause severe harm to an adult human.
- The adult massasauga is usually two to three feet in length.
- “Massasauga” means “great river mouth” in Chippewa, so named because it is usually found in river bottom forests and nearby fields. Massasaugas are characteristic of mesic prairies and lowland places, such as along rivers, lakes, and marshes.
- The infamous rattles are actually modified epidermal scales with a bony core. Each time the snake sheds its skin a new “button” is added to the rattle, therefore these rattles are not an indication of age, but the amount of times the animal has shed its skin. Massasaugas can shed their skin between 3 and 5 times a year, depending on their health and growth rate. The rattles are believed to serve as warning communications to predators. The rattle produces a buzzing sound similar to that of a grasshopper or cricket.
- It is interesting to note that rattlesnakes can control the injection of venom when biting. Medical experts familiar with snake bites indicate that up to 60% of all snake bites to humans by poisonous snakes are “dry” bites containing no venom.
- Massasaugas are preyed upon by raccoons, hogs, skunks, foxes, hawks, and eagles. They in turn will eat cold-blooded prey, such as frogs and other snakes, but they usually prefer warm-blooded prey like mice and voles.