Rosamond Gifford Zoo

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Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Sistrurus catenatus

The Eastern Massasauga is a small rattlesnake with a thick body, a heart-shaped head and vertical pupils. It is tan, grey or light brown with large, chocolate brown spots. The average length of an adult massasauga is about 2 feet.

Range & Habitat

Central New York represents the easternmost extent of this snake’s range. It is confined to Onondaga County and Genesee County in New York State. From there, its range extends from southern Ontario to the prairies of Iowa and Missouri.  It is found in wetlands, bogs, swamps, and prairies.

 

Conservation Status: Endangered

This species is Endangered in New York State and Threatened nationally under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Globally, they are considered Vulnerable. Threats to the Eastern Massasauga include development of their habitat, agriculture, illegal hunting, snake collecting for the pet trade and killing by humans due to fear of the animal.

Diet

In the Wild: Small rodents, other snake species, shrews, occasional frogs or nesting birds.

At the Zoo: Humanely sourced rodents

Life Span

In the Wild: about 14 years
In Human Care: 20-30 years

Fun Facts about the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

    Unlike most rattlesnakes, the Eastern Massasauga does not hibernate with other snakes.

    Although many people have an innate fear of snakes, the massasauga is actually a secretive, docile snake that strikes humans only when it feels threatened and cornered. 

    Radio-telemetry studies were initiated in the early 1980’s to determine the status of this species in New York State.  The Rosamond Gifford Zoo participated in the implantation of telemetry devices into some snakes from the Cicero Swamp in Central New York.

 

Sources

Eastern Massasauga. (n.d.). Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7154.html

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2020, May 28). Massasauga. Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/animal/massasauga

Shaw, H. Y. (2019, July 29). Eastern Massasauga. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://guides.nynhp.org/eastern-massasauga/

U.S. Fish & amp; Wildlife Service. (2016, September). Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. Retrieved December 29, 2020, from https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/reptiles/eama/eama-fct-sht.html

Updated January 25, 2021
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