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The Not-So-Mysterious Massasauga Rattlesnake

The Not-So-Mysterious Massasauga Rattlesnake

Where do you imagine rattlesnakes living?

Did you think of a hot desert…

rocky cliffs…

Or wide open prairies?

You wouldn’t be wrong! However, did you think of your own backyard? That’s right, Ontario’s only species of venomous snake lives right here, in the biosphere!

Say hello to the Massasauga rattlesnake!


Even though having a rattlesnake in the biosphere might sound scary at first, Massasauga rattlesnakes are shy, quiet snakes that mostly want to be left alone. They’re more afraid of you than you are of them! They are also a Threatened species, meaning that they are in danger of becoming endangered. There are three keys to living in harmony with the Massasauga rattlesnake:

  1. Identification – what species am I looking at?
  2. Conservation – how can avoid impacting their habit?
  3. Safety – have I taken steps to ensure I am safe?

If you can identify thee Massasauga rattlesnake, know how to help protect our species at risk, and be safe in rattlesnake country, you’ll be a Biosphere superstar!


To start off, we need to be able to tell what a Massasauga looks like. Here’s a guide!


Massasauga rattlesnakes:

  • Have thick bodies compared to their thin necks,
  • Have distinctive ‘bowtie’ or ‘saddle’ shaped dark-brown blotches along their back, outlined in white,
  • Have a rattle at the tip of their tail. When they shake it, the rattle sounds like a buzzing noise. This is NOT a good way to identify this snake, as a Massasauga can lose its rattle, and other harmless snake species mimic the noise to seem more intimidating,
  • Adults are between 50 to 76 cm, and younger snakes are 20 to 25 cm long,
  • Have vertical ‘cat-like’ pupils, but if you can see them you’re too close!
Now that we know what they look like, it’s important to know where Massasauga rattlesnakes live.

Massasauga rattlesnakes are called ‘habitat generalists’ which means they can be found in different habitats within the Biosphere. They tend to stay near the water, and especially like lowland habitat with rocky patches and low bushes, such as blueberry and juniper.


Make sure that when you’re exploring, you’re respectful of the habitats these shy snakes live in! Here are a few tips for being safe:

  1. Closed-toe shoes! Think of it as a basic safety rule, like wearing seatbelts in a car. When you’re playing in rattlesnake country, wear closed-toed shoes like sneakers or boots.
  1. Before going into bushy areas, use a stick to poke around in them – that way you won’t accidentally step on a snake hiding there! Don’t reach into places you can’t see, such as when blueberry picking or playing in rocky areas.
  1. If you see a snake, leave it alone! Massasaugas are shy and non-aggressive, if you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone. If you hear one rattling its tail, figure out where the sound is coming from, and then calmly back away.

If a bite does happen, don’t panic! Massasaugas only bite as a last resort, and about a quarter of all bites are ‘dry’, meaning they don’t even have venom. If you or someone you know is bitten, make sure that they go to a hospital immediately – you can never be too careful!


Massasauga rattlesnakes are a unique snake in the Biosphere. We don’t need to be afraid of them, and as long as we respect their space we can live in harmony. If you or your family sees a Massasauga rattlesnake, we want to know! Click here to report asighting on our website!

Three cheers for rattlesnakes and tail shakes!

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