Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

 The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is a rare species, who have received a bad name. People live in fear of these creatures, and because of fear - the rattlesnakes lives are in danger. They are poisonous, but to my knowledge - they do not attack. They fear humans, and will makes haste if they hear a human near. They give off a loud rattle to let us know they are about, and this should be enough of a warning for us to take care. They do not like to attack - and they are hesitant to bite you and release their venom.

The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) is the only venomous snake in Ontario.  It is characterized by the presence of a heat sensitive pit between the eye and the nostril, a segmented rattle at the tip of the tail, a vertical eye pupil and keeled scales.  The body colour is grey to brown with dark brown or black blotches along its sides.  Blotches near the tail sometimes join to form rings. The belly colour is black.

In 1990, a regulation of the Game and Fish Act of Ontario protected the Massasauga rattlesnake and a number of other snakes commonly mistaken for the Massasauga.  In 199l, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada listed the Massasauga rattlesnake as threatened.  Continued monitoring has demonstrated a significant decline in their range over the past decade.  The main factors responsible for their decline include killing by people and the loss of habitat through expanding development and the draining of wetlands. The Massasauga will not survive relocation, it will live at the new location until the weather deteriorates and then succumb


The Massasauga rattlesnake is a sluggish, solitary and passive creature.  It prefers to remain motionless hoping not to be noticed.  If you come too close, it will rattle a warning.  If you see a snake or hear a rattle, stop.  Remain still until you know where it is or where the sound is coming from and then move slowly away.  The snake may misinterpret a fast motion as a threat.  They never pursue people and would rather flee than fight.  They do not travel in pairs.  They cannot jump.  They have a short striking distance, about half their body length (about 38 cm or 15 inches for a large snake).

  • Wear boots, thick socks and long pants or gaiters when walking where rattlers live.
  • Watch ahead where you are going to step.
  • Do not place your hands into places you cannot see. Poke around with a stick before picking blueberries or gathering kindling.  Use care when picking up pieces of wood or rocks
  • Due to its small size a Massasauga cannot strike very high above the ground unless it is situated in an elevated position such as on a log or boulder. Since their prey is mainly small rodents, their fangs are short and with their limited striking distance they are not much of a threat to humans as long as the aforementioned protective clothing is worn.
  • The most common strikes above boot top level occur when a person steps over a snake that is situated on a log or boulder or when they place their hand near the elevated snake.
  • Walking barefoot and looking for firewood at night are two of the most common activities that result in snakebites.
  • If camping, check your sleeping bag before getting into it - snakes are also looking for a warm place at night.   Never pick up a snake until you have positively identified it.


If bitten remain calm, immobilize or limit the use of the bitten limb, get assistance and seek medical attention immediately.  If the patient is within 30 to 40 minutes of a medical facility, the person should be transported there as quickly as possible.  The injured part should be loosely immobilized in a functional position just below heart level, and all rings, watches and constrictive clothing removed.
If the patient will not receive medical attention for some hours, he/she should be placed at rest and treated for shock.  The major risk is from the venom being introduced to the heart in a massive dose.  Therefore, the slower the heart beats and the less the affected area is exercised, the better.  The use of a tourniquet is not recommended, although some authorities do recommend a restrictive bandage just above the bite to prevent the spread of venom - tight enough to compress the soft tissue, but not tight enough to stop blood circulation. 
You should not cut into the bitten area unless you have been specially trained for this - it can cause more damage than the bite itself.  If suction is going to be used it must be within the first five minutes.  Single incisions are made through the fang marks (no longer than 1/4 inch and no deeper than 1/8 inch) and suction is applied using Sawyer's extractor.  The use of suction over the incisions or even over the fang punctures is of value if applied within a few minutes of the bite and continued for 30 to 60 minutes.  The wound should then be cleansed and covered with a sterile dressing.  Reactions to venom varies among individuals but expect some pain, discolouration and swelling at the bite. More serious reactions will involve hospitalization for several days.

Poisonous snakebites are a serious medical condition, but for the most part, they are not a death sentence.  For example, in the U.S.A., an average of less than 15 people die each year as a result of snakebites.  The media, folklore and superstition have exaggerated the probability and outcome of snakebites.  Improper treatment and panic are strong contributors to increased injury and fatalities from snakebites.


  • rare and endangered
  • poisonous
  • prefers rocky habitat, like to sun on rocks
  • wear thick socks, long pants and hiking boots
  • look where you are putting your hands and feet
  • the rattlesnake will make a rattle sound when threatened. If you here this sound just stand quiet and find out where the sound is coming from. Then walk around
    the snake. Rattlesnkes will not chase you and can only strike half the length of
    their body
  • on Bruce Peninsula from Wiarton to tip
  • also on Cove Island and western side of Georgian Bay
  • scattered population around periphery of Manitoulin Island