The Massasauga Rattlesnake

The name Massasauga means ‘huge river mouth’ and it’s from the Chippewa language. It was so named because it lives in the marshes around the rivers.

The zoological name for this snake is Sistrurus catenatus. It is the only venomous snake to be found in Ontario and one of two in Wisconsin. The length of the snake varies from two to three feet and some adults grown longer than three feet. It has a rattle at the end of its tail and as it moves, this produces a sound which is very like a cricket’s.

If you want to go out and look for a Massasauga, this is what to look for. Like we said, the full grown one is usually around three feet and it has backsaddles which are a chocolate brown color and a rattle at the end which is grayish yellow. There are three rows along the back of the body of patches which are a shade of brown-black and the belly of the snake is a black or a dark brown color. It has a flat head with three dark colored stripes and one white stripe on it and around it are nine plate scales which look like some kind of a helmet on its head. There’s a little pit between the nostril and the eyes and it has pupils which look like that of a cat. The tail has seven dark colored rings just before the rattle.

What are these rattles really? It is all to do with the rattlesnake shedding its skin and Massasaugas have that happen to them around five times a year. Each time that happens, there’s a kind of a button like hard core which is added to the rattle. Massasaugas are mature sexually by the time they are two years old and they generally mate in August. They usually reproduce every alternate year and it takes about a year for the gestation period after which they usually have anything from eight to twenty baby Massasaugas.

Massasaugas are also referred to as black rattlers, gray rattlesnakes, black Massasaugas, Sauger, swamp rattler, great adder, etc. Today, thanks to indiscriminate killing of these creatures, there are far fewer than there should be and there are efforts on to try and preserve the numbers and grow them if possible.