Massasauga rattlesnake declining in Michigan

BARRY COUNTY, Mich. -- Yes, there are rattlesnakes in Michigan. In fact, the massasauga rattlesnake can be found in every county in the lower peninsula.

However their numbers are on the decline, and they're now considered a threatened species in Michigan. The massasauga is endangered in other parts of their range, which includes southern Ontario, Iowa, Illinois, and a few other states.

Researchers say the development of subdivisions and farms have eliminated much of their wetland habitat. They say the snakes need both drier upland environments along with wetlands to survive -- a combination that is getting harder to come by these days.

They also say public misunderstanding is also taking a toll on the massasauga population. Many people fear them because they are poisonous, but researchers say they seldom hurt humans.

"I think a lot of people view rattlesnakes as being very aggressive and dangerous," said Caleb Krueger, a Grand Valley State University wildlife biology student. "And while they are certainly dangerous and can harm you if you are bitten, for the most part rattlesnakes don't want anything to do with people. So if you come across one it's more likely to not do anything and try to hide than to actually bite you. So the best thing to do is just leave it alone and you'll be OK."

And it's important to leave them alone, as they play an important role in the environment.

"The snakes provide a valuable ecological role as predators," said Matt Dykstra, Field Station Manager at the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, which is home to over a hundred massasaugas. "They're predators on small mammals, insects, and other small creatures that live in these wetlands. And from a human perspective, by eating and consuming rodents, the provide some control on the rodents directly as well as providing some control on ticks which are often connected to or associated with or feed on the rodents."

If you see a massasauga rattlesnake, researchers say it's okay to watch it from a safe distance. They also say if you happen to capture a photo of one, send it to the Michigan DNR as it can help them track their population.

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2 comments

  • rory

    Living in the rural vastness of northern Oakland County, MI in the Huron River watershed, in the 1970’s, I can attest there was a thriving population of these rattlers. The late Mort Neff did a special about the bite of the Massasauga on his show, Michigan Outdoors, (when Fred Trost was knee high to a grasshoper.) He let himself get bitten and filmed the subsequent aftermath for the next 24 hours or so, with NO medical treatment whatsoever. It was touch and go for a few hours, but the bite was not deadly. What a great outdoorsman.