Massasauga

Massasauga

Massasauga rattlesnake, Massasauga rattler (Ontario), Black massasauga, Black rattler, Black snapper, Gray rattlesnake (Iowa), Little grey rattlesnake (Canada), Muck rattler, Prairie rattlesnake, Spotted rattler, Swamp rattler, Víbora de cascabel (Mexico)

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Suborder
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Sistrurus catenatus
Population size
Unknown
Life Span
18 yrs
WEIGHT
300-400 g
LENGTH
60-75 cm

The Massasauga is a venomous rattlesnake species found in midwestern North America. Like all rattlesnakes, it belongs to the pit viper family. Massasaugas are grey or tan in color with a row of large rounded brown/black blotches or spots down the center of the back and three smaller rows of alternating spots down each side. Solid black melanistic examples are also known, as well as cases where the back blotches join with those on the sides. Young massasaugas are well-patterned but paler than the adults. These snakes have heat-sensing pits on each side of their smallish head and their scales are keeled.

Di

Diurnal

Ca

Carnivore

Te

Terrestrial

Pr

Precocial

Ov

Oviparous

Pr

Predator

Po

Poisonous

So

Solitary

No

Not a migrant

Hi

Hibernating

M

starts with

Distribution

Geography

Continents
Biogeographical realms

Massasaugas are found in North America from Ontario, Canada, and western New York southwest to southeastern Arizona in the United States and northern Tamaulipas, Mexico. In Mexico, isolated populations exist in southern Nuevo León, north-central Coahuila, and Samalayuca, Chihuahua. These rattlesnakes live in various habitats ranging from swamps, bogs, sedge meadows, wet prairies and marshes to grasslands and forests. In the western part of their range, Massasaugas can be found in rocky hillsides, wetlands, scrub plains, desert grassland, and dry prairie.

Massasauga habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Massasaugas are diurnal and lead a solitary life. During hot summer months, they are usually active early morning and late evening trying to avoid the heat of the day. Massasaugas stay active from April till late October and hibernate during winter in small abandoned burrows of other small animals. These rattlesnakes are very good swimmers and can even hunt their prey in the water. They detect prey with the sense of smell and with the help of heat-sensitive pits located on their faces. They can also feel vibrations and have good eyesight. When threatened, Massasaugas will warn or show aggression rattling their tail, coiling up and unexpected striking.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Massasaugas are carnivores; they feed on small vertebrates, including mammals, lizards, and other snakes, as well as invertebrates such as centipedes. Adults feed mainly on rodents, while juveniles usually prey on reptiles: more often lizards in western populations and snakes in eastern ones.

Mating Habits

REPRODUCTION SEASON
spring, fall
PREGNANCY DURATION
3.5 months
BABY CARRYING
5 to 20
INDEPENDENT AGE
at birth
FEMALE NAME
female
MALE NAME
male
BABY NAME
snakelet
BABY CARRYING
5-20 young

The breeding season for Massasaugas begins in the spring and can also occur in the fall. When females are ready to mate they shed their old skin and release pheromones that attract males. Females give birth to 5-20 live young usually in abandoned mammal burrows or fallen logs. The gestation period lasts around 3.5 months. Snakelets are born fully-developed and stay around their mother for a few days; after that, they disperse. Young Massasaugas become reproductively mature and ready to mate at 3 to 4 years of age.

Population

Population threats

The biggest threat facing Massasaugas is habitat loss. Historically, this has been due to human activity, and more recently primarily from natural forest succession. These snakes are also heavily persecuted because they are considered to be a threat due to their venomous and lethal bite.

Population number

The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Massasauga total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List.

Ecological niche

Massasaugas play a very important role in their ecosystem. Due to their diet habits, these snakes control populations of rodents and other small mammals as well as help control pests in agricultural fields.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Other common names of these snakes include dwarf prairie rattlesnake, eastern massasauga great adder, ground rattlesnake, Kirtland's rattlesnake, little black rattlesnake, Michigan point rattler (Michigan), prairie massasauga, rattlesnake, small prairie rattlesnake, snapper, swamp massasauga, swamp rattlesnake, and triple-spotted rattlesnake.
  • The Native American word, "massasauga", means "great river-mouth" in the Ojibwe language and was probably given to describe grasslands surrounding the river deltas in Ojibwe country.

References

1. Massasauga on Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massasauga
2. Massasauga on The IUCN Red List site - https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/64346/12772707

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