A small population of Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes persists in some of LaSalle's parks and natural areas. Massasaugas have called LaSalle home since long before European settlement of the region. Having benefitted from a much wider range in historic times, the species' habitat is now confined to a few hundred hectares of parkland and other natural areas in West Windsor and LaSalle. Unfortunately, the Eastern Massasauga (Carolinian population) is now listed as an endangered species due to loss of habitat and intentional killing by people. Recent estimates suggest as few as 15 Eastern Massasaugas remain in the local area, and they need your help to survive locally. This shy 'pygmy' rattler, although very seldom seen in the wild, is still widely encountered as the mascot of LaSalle's local hockey team, the LaSalle Vipers!
The Massasauga is the only venomous snake in Ontario, however, snakebites are extremely rare and can be easily avoided by leaving these shy, non-aggressive snakes alone, or seeking professional help in special circumstances. Here are some tips to avoid snakebite to your pets and loved ones:
- Keep dogs on leash when walking or hiking in LaSalle's natural areas and stay on designated trails.
- Wear long pants and hiking boots when hiking off trail.
- If you encounter a Massasauga while walking on or off trail, please leave it alone and observe it from a safe distance, it will eventually move on.
- If you encounter a Massasauga on your property and you are concerned for the safety of yourself, others, or the snake, please contact the Ojibway Nature Centre (519-966-5852, open 10am-5pm daily), or, after hours contact the LaSalle Police (519-969-5210). Do not attempt to capture and move a rattlesnake without professional assistance as this will increase your risk of snakebite and the risk of harm to the snake.
- If you see a Massasauga, please don't kill it! Not only is it unethical to kill a member of an endangered species, it is illegal, and you are putting yourself at greater risk of snakebite. Please remember that Massasaugas are protected by law under Ontario's Endangered Species Act. This means that it is illegal to kill, harm or capture a Massasauga or damage its habitat.
You can help save this endangered species by being a good steward: 1) report Massasauga sightings, preferably with a photo, to the Ojibway Nature Centre (519-966-5852, email@example.com) to help scientists monitor the population, 2) report any suspected illegal activity resulting in harm to an endangered species or its habitat to CRIMETOPPERS at 1-800-222-TIPS, and 3) encourage more positive attitudes toward Massasaugas among your friends and neighbours.
In the rare event that you, a loved one, or pet are bitten by a rattlesnake seek emergency medical or veterinary care immediately! Modern antivenin is the most effective treatment against snakebite. There is no need to kill the snake for identification purposes (but a photo would help to rule out the non-venomous Eastern Foxsnake).
Eastern Massasauga vs. Eastern Foxsnake
Massasaugas can reach a total body length of 50 cm to 75 cm (20 in to 30 in), have a relatively thick body, and a distinctive segmented rattle at the end of their tail. They have a grey to dark brown body with darker brown "saddle-shaped" blotches down the back and alternating blotches along the sides (Figure 1). When threatened by a human or a predator, Massasaugas can create a buzzing sound by vibrating the end of their tail very fast.
Figure 1. A juvenile (left) and adult (right) Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. Note that the juvenile has not yet developed a segmented rattle (Photos courtesy of the West Parry Sound Health Centre, and the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Stewardship Guide).
The Eastern Foxsnake, a species that is often mistaken for a rattlesnake, can reach lengths up to twice as long as a Massasauga (170cm [67 in]), has a more slender body, and a pointed tail without a rattle (Figure 2). In an attempt to mimic a rattlesnake when they feel threatened, Foxsnakes sometimes vibrate their tails against grass and leaf litter to create a buzzing sound but they do not have an actual segmented rattle. In contrast to the Massasauga, Foxsnakes are yellow to brown in colour with square-shaped dark blotches on the back and a distinctive checkered pattern on the belly (Massasaugas have a black belly).
Figure 2. An adult Eastern Foxsnake (Photo courtesy of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Stewardship Guide).
Both Massasaugas and Foxsnakes can be found actively moving or sunning themselves in similar habitats, tall-grass prairie and openings in forest or thicket. Both species are active from April to October and hibernate underground in animal burrows outside of this period.
The following documents have been prepared by the Government of Ontario, the Government of Canada, and/or Toronto Zoo and will provide you some additional information about Massasaugas:
Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake: Snake Safety Tips (PDF)
Massasauga in Ontario: Ontario Recovery Strategy Series (PDF)
General Habitat Description for the Massasauga (PDF)
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake: Stewardship Guide (HTML)