The massasauga snake is a venomous pit viper found in the Midwest of the United States, Southern Canada, and Northern Mexico. It is a rattlesnake and belongs to the Viperidae family. This snake has three subspecies; the eastern massasauga snake, the western massasauga snake, and the desert massasauga snake. While these snakes are venomous, they are not large. The average length of the massasauga snake and its subspecies is about 30 inches. But, what is the largest size ever recorded for the massasauga snake? Let’s find out!
Largest Massasauga Snake Ever Recorded
The largest massasauga snake ever recorded was a western massasauga that measured just under 35 inches, officially sized at 34.75 inches in length. Massasauga snakes are one of the smaller species of rattlesnakes, typically growing anywhere from 24 to 30 inches in length when they reach adulthood.
More About Massasauga Snakes
Subspecies and Locations
Eastern Massasauga: The main subspecies that was identified as its own species in 2011 is the eastern massasauga. This species is commonly found in New York, Ohio, and Iowa, and typically anywhere in the Northeast or North Midwest parts of the United States. It also resides in Ontario, Canada, along the shores of two of the Great Lakes.
Desert Massasauga: The desert massasauga is found in desert-like areas, such as Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and certain parts of Mexico.
Western Massasauga: The western massasauga is commonly found across the Midwest of the United States, such as Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
Appearance and Behavior
While the appearance of the massasauga snake depends on its subspecies, the length and heavy bodies are very similar. The eastern massasauga is usually a light tan color with brown patches. The western massasauga is quite similar, except its body is usually light gray, and its patches or markings are dark brown, sometimes outlined in black.
All massasauga snakes have distinct, heart-shaped heads and vertical pupils. These snakes are typically nervous when approached by a predator. However, if they are messed with or provoked, they will rattle their tails in warning before they strike and deliver a venomous bite.
While massasauga snakes vary in location due to their subspecies, these snakes love to camouflage in the wetlands and grasslands that they inhabit. Because they have heterothermic bodies, their body temperature varies according to the climate of their habitat.
During fall, they are commonly found in wetlands, while during the end of spring and the rest of summer, you will find them in drier areas. These snakes will often migrate from swamps and meadows to farms and grasslands whenever the weather and temperature shift.
Because massasauga snakes are the smallest species of rattlesnake, their prey is also on the smaller side. These snakes tend to eat small mammals such as rodents and other reptiles like lizards and frogs. While young massasauga snakes typically eat amphibians, adults primarily eat rodents. In states such as Michigan, these snakes eat more frogs than their subspecies, even though they are not the main source of their diet. Massasauga snakes located in the northern and eastern populations eat frogs a lot more frequently.
When hunting prey, they strike and deliver a venomous bite, causing internal bleeding. After their prey has been bitten, they swallow it whole. The coolest thing about the massasauga snake is the way it hunts. This snake will sit and wait when hunting, using the heat-sensitive pits near its eyes to detect any nearby prey, such as rodents and other small animals.
Massasauga snakes are non-aggressive and will often flee when threatened. Often, when these snakes bite humans, it is because they are either provoked or stepped on. It is likely for them to be stepped on because they like to camouflage. This is something that people need to look out for if they are planning to hike near rattlesnake territory. When bitten, the cytotoxic venom has properties that destroy tissue and disrupt blood flow. While this venom is strong enough to kill small animals, it is unlikely to kill a human unless the person does not seek proper treatment.
Sadly, the eastern massasauga is listed as an endangered species in many states due to habitat loss. Other factors such as climate change play a role in their decline as well. In fact, during the late 1980s, studies then showed that the massasauga snake had nearly disappeared from its origin. The eastern massasauga has officially been classified as endangered throughout many states in the US. You can do your part in helping conserve this snake species by joining the fight against climate change and not harming them if you spot one. If you happen to come across a massasauga snake in the wild, allow it to flee without provoking it. Gently back away and continue along a different path. This fascinating snake deserves its place in the wild, and we can help by leaving it be and preserving the land which it inhabits.
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