Adult massasauga are not especially large. Their color pattern consists of a grey or tan ground color with a row of large rounded brown/black blotches or spots down the center of the back and three smaller rows of alternating spots down each side. Solid black melanistic examples are also known, as well as cases where the back blotches join with those on the sides. Young massasauga are well-patterned but paler than the adults.
They are unlike other rattlesnakes, which normally feed on warm-blooded prey. They are reclusive and dangerous only because they frequent woodpiles and barns in search of food. In winter, unlike other rattlesnake species, they hibernate individually. They take cover using crayfish tunnels and rodent burrows as deep as 6 ft and sometimes partially filled with water. In spring, when days are around 70 degrees, they stick their heads above ground to absorb heat and help circulate the warming blood through their bodies.
The massasauga is Michigan’s only venomous snake and is listed as a threatened species by the USFWS under the Endangered Species Act. They are becoming rare in many parts of their former range and throughout the Great Lakes area, due to wetland habitat loss and elimination by humans. These rattlesnakes avoid confrontation with humans; they are not prone to strike – preferring to leave the area when they are threatened.
What YOU can do to help: Don’t kill Michigan snakes. Learn how to identify species and observe from a distance. These rattlesnakes avoid confrontation with humans; they are not prone to strike – preferring to leave the area when they are threatened.
Click here to learn how to identify snake species in Michigan.
Click here to report a Massasauga sighting to the MI DNR.
Visit www.emrssp.org for more information on massasauga conservation.
Did You Know?
- There are many common names for the massasauga, including black rattler, black snapper, prairie rattlesnake, and swamp rattler.
- Found in woodland areas all across the Lower Peninsula, the massasauga is Michigan’s only venomous snake.
- The name “Massasauga” is derived from two Indian words and means “great river mouth”
We have one young female massasauga here at Potter Park Zoo. She was born at the Detroit Zoo.