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Nature Notebook – Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are a native species protected through state and federal laws and deemed a federally threatened species due mostly to habitat loss and human persecution. They typically occupy areas such as prairie fens, wet meadows, and swamp habitats while also utilizing upland forest and drier habitats throughout the year but can be considered as a habitat generalist.

This time of the year when snow is still on the ground and spring is on its way snake species in the area are under brumation, a reptile version of hibernation. While some snake species like eastern garter snakes brumate in groups, these rattlesnakes usually overwinter alone.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes typically overwinter in crayfish or mammal burrows, close to the groundwater levels where temperatures stay regulated during winter. Even if crayfish are found in these burrows, they are not on the menu for the snake.

They emerge in April when temperatures and water levels rise. Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are found on Sarett property and play an important role in the ecosystem, but most visitors will never have an encounter with this threatened species. They are a shy species and their patterns offer excellent camouflage. Most individuals will freeze when approached or when a visitor unknowingly walks by. Occasionally, if a potential enemy gets too close, they will vibrate their rattle as a warming, which sounds like an insect buzz. Give them their space and you won’t encounter any problems.