Michigan’s Rattler: the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake


Bothered, photo by Aaron Fortin.

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.

You can learn more about this snake at Wikipedia, Sistrurus catenatus and at Sistrurus catenatus (massasauga rattlesnake) from the University of Michigan Department of Zoology Animal Diversity Web.

15 thoughts on “Michigan’s Rattler: the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

  1. A while ago some kid got arrested for having one (he was actually one of my brother’s friends). Oddly enough he told the police that he had it. If he wouldn’t have they never would have known. So they called the DNR, they raided his house, took the snake and also found some drugs. Smart kids. It is a beautiful snake though.


  2. I think all snakes should die. There worthless. I kill every one i see. Ive probly killed over a thousand over the past few years. over 10000 in my life time. I’ll keep killing them too.


  3. snake hater is an IDIOT!!!
    snakes are (probably) worh More than he is!!
    at least they eat millions of pests (rats, mice, etc….
    what (useful) purpose does “hater” serve?


    1. No animal is worth more than a human being. You might disagree with “snake hater”, but he is your fellow man and worth as much as you are.


  4. Snake hater is an idiot unfortunately many people are just as dumb and uneducated as him. Snakes play a key role in out habitat without them there would be an abundant of rodents and bugs snakes also eat pesky beetles that eat our gardens up. Honeslty though snake hate I hope is a dieing bread i expect more people are educated about there surrounding than him.


  5. today 6-21-09 my father and i were about to go swimming on pine lake at mcti when a 3 foot long mi rattler slitherd across my feet a employee at the school steped on it to hold it down until wild life oficials could arrive . later test revieled it was extremly venums arare but curios fathers day ps i hate snakes


  6. I am doing some training on zoonotic diseases and need pictures of boggs and marshes where you can find the Eastern Massasauga. Can you help me please?
    Thank you,


  7. I have lived along the Indiana Lake Michigan shore line for over thirty years. I would feel blessed to see one of these magnificent creatures(Hognose rattler). I have never seen a rattle snake along the paths or shore nor have I heard of anyone finding one. If they are indeed out there; we need to protect theses creatures, as they are a part of nature and the ecological system.


  8. when i was growing up, my grandpa had the perfect land to find many types of snakes! It was one of our favorite activity to do but when we ran into a michigan rattler we always had a bucket and stepped on it. this way they slithered theirself into the bucket and we put something over it to prevent it from getting out. to be honest they are very dangerous but do not kill them. they typically wont attack if you dont scare them or make them feel threatened!


  9. when i was a kid i would play with all snakes untell i got bit by a cotton mouth and lost my finger but i still give them a lot of respect


  10. Snake hate is a total moran and yet many people are just like him. He sounds like one of those poeple that try to kill all snakes yet if a bunny is digging up your garden you better not kill it even if its being a pest and you plan on accually eating cause he thinks its cute and fluffy. Yet he kills snakes just cause he is the classic ignorant douchebag twords snakes and how cool they really are.


  11. i was bitten by one of these snakes and believe me it was not a good thing. it got me on the leg,my leg was swollen very red and so so painful. doctor took care of me . one of the shots that I had left a large indention in my arm. I have stayed out of woods and away from swamps since then.


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