Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

From Ohio History Central

The word "massasauga" comes form the American Indian Chippewa language meaning "great river mouth." This is because of its habitat of swamps, which are often found around the mouths of rivers. The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is also known as the Swamp Rattler and Black Snapper. In Ohio, the massasauga can be found in bogs, swamps, and wet prairies of glaciated Ohio, where it feeds on lizards, small rodents, small snakes, young birds and small amphibians.

The 20-30 inch long massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) is dark colored and stocky with a thick, triangular shaped head with black stripes. It has a small, but noticeable, rattle on the end of its tail.

The venomous massasauga rarely attempts to bite unless highly agitated. Its venom is very toxic, but healthy adult humans rarely die form a bite because its teeth are too small to inject enough for great harm. However, a bite should still be considered very dangerous and immediate medical attention should be taken.

It is diurnal during mild days, breeding April through May, which produces 3-19 (average 8) live young July through September. It becomes crepuscular or nocturnal during the hot summer months. It hibernates alone.

Originally, this secretive reptile was probably native to the prairies of glaciated Ohio. During the early settlement period extensive farming and the draining of swamplands drastically reduced their population.

Today, massasaugas live scattered in 28 Ohio counties, particularly in areas such as Cedar Bog (Champaign County), Killdeer Plains (Wyandot County) and Mosquito Creek (Trumbull County) Wildlife Areas. None are found in the marshes of Lake Erie.

In 1996, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources placed the massasauga rattlesnake on Ohio's Endangered Species List.

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