Massasauga Rattlesnake

Characteristics

Adult massasauga are not especially large. Their color pattern consists of a grey or tan ground color with a row of large rounded brown/black blotches or spots down the centre 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 massasauga are well-patterned but paler than the adults.

Behavior

They are unlike other rattlesnakes, which normally feed on warm-blooded prey.  They are reclusive and dangerous only because they frequent woodpiles and barns in search of food.  In winter, unlike other rattlesnake species, they hibernate individually.  They take cover using crayfish tunnels and rodent burrows as deep as 6 ft and sometimes partially filled with water.  In spring, when days are around 70 degrees, they stick their heads above ground to absorb heat and help circulate the warming blood through their bodies.

Did You Know?  

  • There are many common names for the massasauga, including black rattler, black snapper, prairie rattlesnake, and swamp rattler.  
  • Found in woodland areas all across the Lower Peninsula, the massasauga is Michigan’s only venomous snake.
  • The name “Massasauga” is derived from two Indian words and means “great river mouth”

Our Animals

We have one male massasauga here at PPZ.  He was a donation from the Michigan DNR in 2003.  Best estimates on his age are around 8 years old.

Video

Scientific Name Sistrurus catenatus catenatus
Conservation Status IUCN: Least Concern
Size Massasauga range in size from 18” to 30” in length.
Average Lifespan 14 years.
Wild Diet The massasauga diet consists mainly of rodents, crayfish, frogs, and sometimes other snakes.
Found from Western New York and Southern Ontario east to Wisconsin, Iowa and northwestern Missouri