September 9, 2013
In Season of the Massasauga Rattler!, Jonathan Schechter writes that the massasauga likes our sun-soaked trails in the waning days of summer and early autumn, so you may catch a glimpse of one if you’re out and about in Lower Michigan. The Michigan DNR page on the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) explains:
Michigan’s only venomous snake is a rare sight for most state residents. Historically, they could be found in a variety of wetlands and nearby upland woods throughout the lower peninsula. During the late spring, these snakes move from their winter hibernation sites, such as crayfish chimneys and other small mammal burrows in swamps and marshlands, to hunt on the drier upland sites – likely in search of mice and voles, their favorite food.
Females give birth to 8 to 20 young in late summer. The young snakes have a single “button” on their tails; a new rattle segment is added at each shedding of the skin, which occurs several times per year.
The massasauga can be characterized as a shy, sluggish snake. Its thick body is colored with a pattern of dark brown slightly rectangular patches set against a light gray-to-brown background. Occasionally, this coloration can be so dark as to appear almost black. The belly is mostly black. It is the only Michigan snake with segmented rattles on the end of its tail and elliptical, (“cat like”) vertical pupils in the eyes. The neck is narrow, contrasting with the wide head and body and the head appears triangular in shape. Adult length is 2 to 3 feet.
These rattlesnakes avoid confrontation with humans; they are not prone to strike – preferring to leave the area when they are threatened. Like any animal though, these snakes will protect themselves from anything they see as a potential predator. Their short fangs can easily puncture skin and they do possess a potent venom. It is best to treat them with respect and leave them alone. The few bites that occur to humans often result from attempts to handle or kill the snakes. Any bite from a massasauga should receive prompt professional medical attention. When compared to other rattlesnakes found in the United States, the massasauga is the smallest and has the least toxic venom.
Massasaugas are found throughout the Lower Peninsula, but not in the Upper Peninsula (thus there are no poisonous snakes on the Upper Peninsula mainland.)
They stress that Massasaugas are listed as a “species of special concern” and are protected by state law, so don’t kill or harm them. Read on for more including some lookalike snakes.
Jonathan adds that almost all rattler bites are on the dominant hand of the offending human! He took the photo above two years ago on a popular Oakland County hike-bike trail and notes that much of Oakland County is ratter habitat. Visit Earth’s Almanac to read more and be sure to subscribe to his blog when you’re there!
PS: Nick Scobel of the Herping Michigan blog has a great video of some Eastern Massasaugas that you should check out!
More Michigan snakes on Michigan in Pictures!
August 9, 2013
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources page on the Northern Water Snake says:
Description: A water snake with dark bands or blotches on a light brown or gray background color. Some old adults may appear solid black or brown. The belly is white with reddish half moon shaped markings; some specimens have an orange belly speckled with brown or black. (The endangered Copper Bellied Water Snake has an unmarked reddish or orange belly.) Adult length: 2 to 4 feet.
Habitat and Habits: These snakes inhabit the shorelines of lakes, ponds, or streams. They swim well, seeking food (frogs and fish) and safety in the water, and often bask on objects hanging over the water. Water snakes are not venomous, but will bite if cornered or handled. They are sometimes mistakenly called “water moccasins” (which are not native to Michigan).
Reproduction: Females give birth to their 7 to 9 inch young in late summer. There are 8 to 48 babies in a litter. The young are gray or brown with bold black bands.
Range and Status: Northern water snakes are found throughout the Lower Peninsula and the eastern Upper Peninsula. Needless persecution by humans has eliminated water snakes from many places where they were once common.
The DNR’s Michigan Snake Page adds that there are just 17 species of snake in Michigan, so do what you can to protect this snake and its kin.
More Michigan snakes on Michigan in Pictures.
March 3, 2012
“I liked to go on the road and catch the blue racers and sort of scare my brothers,” she said. “I’d drape them around my neck and around my wrist. I was the ultimate tomboy when I grew up here in Manistee and I loved the Great Lakes. “
~Ann Romney recalling her Michigan childhood (article)
While Mitt Romney’s “the trees are the right height” memories of Michigan drew some laughter, I doubt that anyone would laugh at tomboy Ann Davies with a couple of blue racers draped around her arms.
A large gray or blue snake with smooth scales. The head is usually darker than the body, though the chin and throat are white. The belly is light blue or white. Young racers are grayish, with a pattern of darker blotches and spots. Adult length: 4 to 6 feet.
Racers inhabit a variety of places, including open woods, meadows, hedge rows, marshes, and weedy lake edges. They are alert, active snakes that may climb into low bushes to escape enemies. These snakes feed on rodents, frogs, smaller snakes, birds, and insects. Although they will bite if cornered or grabbed, racers are not venomous.
Females lay 6 to 25 eggs in rotting wood or underground during June and July. The young racers hatch in late summer and, as noted above, are colored differently than the adults.
Racers have been found through most of the Lower Peninsula (except the northernmost sections) and the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula. Once common, their numbers have fallen in many places. Needless persecution by humans as well as habitat loss are probable factors in this decline.
The Coluber constrictor Eastern Racer entry from Animal Diversity Web says that the blue racer is one of several different racer subpopulations and adds a lot more information and photos including that in the wild, racers have been known to live over 10 years. You can also watch a cool video of a BIG blue racer by the Saline Snake Guy.
d charvat writes that they saw this good-sized blue racer while hiking in the Middleville MI state game area. Check it out background big and see a lot more cool shots from out and about in their slideshow.
June 1, 2011
The Michigan DNR page on the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) says this is a:
A thick-bodied, slow-moving snake with a flattened, upturned “nose.” Color is variable some have dark spots and blotches on a yellow, orange, or brown background, but other specimens are solid black, brown, or olive with little or no visible pattern. Easily identified by defensive behavior. Adult length: 20 to 40 inches.
A snake of open, sandy woodlands – found in the wooded dunes of western Michigan. The upturned snout is used to burrow after toads, a favorite food. When threatened, hognose snakes puff up with air, flatten their necks and bodies, and hiss loudly. (This has led to local names like “puff adder” or “hissing viper.”) If this act is unsuccessful, they will writhe about, excrete a foul smelling musk, and then turn over with mouth agape and lie still, as though dead. Despite this intimidating behavior, Hog-nosed snakes are harmless to humans.
More Michigan snakes on Michigan in Pictures!
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.
May 13, 2008
The Michigan DNR’s page on the Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) says that the Eastern Garter is Michigan’s most common snake, inhabiting both peninsulas and even urban areas. Wikipedia notes that they are often mistakenly called garden snakes or gardener snakes and the UM Animal Diversity Web entry for garter snakes adds more info and lots of photos and says that although there are very rare cases of allergic reaction from bites from people handling garter snakes, these reptiles deserve their reputation as a harmless and beneficial low-level predator. Be warned if you handle them that their main defense is a stinky secretion!
This picture is part of a cool set of photos from the Bald Mountain Recreation Area (slideshow). Alanna also commented that she thinks snakes are cool. If you do too, you’ll probably enjoy the Snakes of Michigan page from Snaketamers. It lists Michigan’s 18 species of native snakes (with photos). You can also check out the listing of Michigan’s Snakes from the DNR.
February 2, 2013
Today (February 2nd) is Groundhog Day, the day halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The most famous groundhog in the world, Punxsutawney Phil, didn’t see his shadow this morning. Apparently, Michigan has its own official woodchuck weather forecaster, Woody. She lives at the Howell Nature Center and also didn’t see her shadow. If you put your trust in celebrity rodents, that means we’re in for an early spring.
Michigan has native groundhogs, also known as woodchucks, whistle-pigs, or land-beavers. The University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web entry for Marmota monax (woodchuck) explains in part that:
Woodchucks are stocky in appearance and often stand up on their hind legs, making them look tall. Their pelage varies greatly in color but ranges from gray to cinnamon to dark brown. Their body is covered with white-tipped guard hairs giving them a grizzled appearance. Their paws vary in color from a typical black to dark brown in most subspecies. However, one subspecies has paws that appear pink. Their short bushy tail is often black to dark brown and is 20 to 25% their total body length. They weigh from 2 to 6 kg, range from 415 to 675 mm in total length, and have tails that range from 100 to 160 mm in length. Although males and females are the same color, males are larger than females. Woodchucks have white teeth, which is uncharacteristic of rodents, and a dental formula of 1/1, 0/0, 2/1, 3/3, for a total of 22 teeth. They have rounded ears that can cover the external auditory canal which prevents dirt from entering the ear canal while burrowing.
…Woodchucks are diurnal, solitary animals … Woodchucks are burrowing mammals and generally construct summer and winter dens. These dens generally have several entrances (including an escape hole) and many chambers and tunnels. Woodchucks usually feed twice daily during the summer, with each feeding session lasting no more than 2 hours. They are often found sunning themselves in the middle of the day during summer.
…Abandoned woodchuck dens are used by a number of different species, including rabbits, skunks, raccoons, opossums, foxes, weasels, ground squirrels, river otters, chipmunks, meadow voles, short-tailed shrews, house mice, pine voles, white-footed mice, lizards, snakes, and arthropods.
More Michigan animals on Michigan in Pictures.
May 17, 2010
National Geographic’s Northern Leopard Frog page says that the range of the species:
…is most of northern North America, except on the Pacific Coast. They generally live near ponds and marshes, but will often venture into well-covered grasslands as well, earning them their other common name, the meadow frog.
Leopard frogs will eat just about anything they can fit in their mouths. They sit still and wait for prey to happen by, then pounce with their powerful legs. They eat beetles, ants, flies, worms, smaller frogs, including their own species, and even birds, and garter snakes.
They also note leopard frogs were once the most abundant and widespread frog species in North America, but that declines beginning in the 1970s have significantly reduced their numbers. The Michigan DNR’s Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens) page says that the frogs have had a similar and equally mysterious decline in Michigan, making a sighting of them rare in may parts of the state where they were once common. For more pictures & information, see Rana pipiens at the UM Animal Diversity Web and Northern Leopard Frog on Wikipedia.
See this bigger in Eli’s Nature slideshow.
More Michigan frogs on Michigan in Pictures!
January 21, 2010
A friend told me yesterday about a deal that Shell stations are offering to give you a free ski ticket at participating ski resorts when you buy 10 gallons of gas. The details are at skifreedeals.com and the Michigan resorts are:
- Apple Mountain
- Bittersweet Ski Area
- Boyne Highlands
- Boyne Mountain
- Caberfae Peaks Ski Resort
- Cannonsburg Ski Area
- Cross Country
- Crystal Mountain (where this photo was taken)
- Hanson Hills
- Homestead Resort
- Marquette Mountain
- Mt Bohemia
- Mt Brighton Ski Area
- Mt Holiday Ski Resort
- Mt Holly
- Mt Zion
- Norway Mountain
- Nub’s Nob Ski Area
- Otsego Club
- Pine Knob Ski Resort
- Pine Mountain Resort
- Shanty Creek Resort
- Snow Snake Mountain
- Swiss Valley Ski Area
- Timber Ridge Ski Area
Tons more Michigan skiing info including profiles of these resorts at absolutemichigan.com/Ski.
June 4, 2009
When I saw this photo in the Absolute Michigan group, I wondered it it was the right day to talk about painted turtles (I have to be careful after last summer’s TurtleGate incident as you may recall). When I saw the siskokid’s shot of a painted turtle basking in the sun just a few photos later, I figured it was a sign of some sort.
The painted turtle is one of the most common turtles in the US. It’s Michigan’s state reptile and the Michigan DNR’s Painted Turtle page has a map that shows where you can find them in the state. Wikipedia’s Painted Turtle entry notes that turtle nests are the snack bar of the animal world, vulnerable to predation by raccoons, squirrels, chipmunk, woodchucks, skunk, badger, foxes, fish crows, garter snakes, deer, ants, beavers and humans. The UM Animal Diversity web has pictures and information about Chrysemys picta (the painted turtle) and says that:
Painted turtles prefer living in freshwater that is quiet, shallow, and has a thick layer of mud.
Painted turtles are brightly marked. They have a smooth shell about 90 to 250 mm long. Their shell acts as protection, but since the ribs are fused to the shell, the turtle cannot expand its chest to breathe but must force air in and out of the lungs by alternately contracting the flank and shoulder muscles. The painted turtle has a relatively flat upper shell with red and yellow markings on a black or greenish brown background.