Table of Contents
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is a slightly smaller species measuring only 20 to 30 inches in length. It is a darker color than the timber rattlesnake, usually a brownish-gray color with with 29 to 50 dark dorsal blotches running down the length of its body. The average lifespan of the eastern massassauga rattlesnake is 18 years; however some specimens have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.
The eastern massasauga rattlesnake can be identified by its short, thick body, thick and triangular head, and its irregularly marked with white or yellowish spotted black belly. The pupils of its eyes are elliptical. The most distinguishable feature of this snake is the stubby rattle on the end of its tail.
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake eats small rodents such as mice and voles but they sometimes eat frogs and other snakes. They hunt by sitting and waiting for their prey.
Heat sensitive pits near the snakes’ eyes alert the snake to the presence of prey and they find their prey by sight, feeling vibrations, sensing heat given off by their prey, and by detecting chemicals given off by the animal. Feeding usually takes place in the early morning, late afternoon, or at night on small mammals (short-tailed shrew, meadow vole, deer, white-footed mice), small snakes, small frogs, salamanders, and toads.
Distribution And Habitat
The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake lives in wet areas including wet prairies, marshes and low areas along rivers and lakes. In many areas eastern massasauga rattlesnakes also use adjacent uplands during part of the year. They often hibernate in crayfish burrows but may also be found under logs and tree roots or in small mammal burrows.
They avoid open water and seem to prefer the cover of broad-leafed plants, emergents, and sedges. Unlike other rattlesnakes, eastern massasauga rattlesnakes hibernate alone.
Like all rattlesnakes, eastern massasauga rattlesnakes bear live young. Depending on their health, adult females may bear young every year or every other year. When food is especially scarce they may only have young every three years. The eastern massasauga rattlesnakes mates in the late summer, and gives birth roughly a year later. Litter sizes vary from 5 to 20 young.
The females leave the young ones after their birth. The young snakes grow up by themselves and survival is dependent upon on the amount of food available and their ability to obtain it. They hide under rocks and tree trunks to avoid predators.
Their name “Massasauga” originally derives from a Chippewa word, which means “great river mouth”. It probably refers to the fact that this species prefers watery habitats.
They cannot vibrate their rattles to produce very loud sounds. Due to this reason they can only be heard from close distances.
These snakes are usually shy in nature avoiding humans as much as possible.