The Elusive Massasgua Rattlesnake


One of the world's rarest rattlesnakes, the Massasagua rattlesnake, was spotted in Wisconsin recently. The snake, one of two species of rattlesnake that can be found in Wisconsin, was discovered by a Jackson County Forestry and Parks employee. This has been the fifth sighting in the past three years. Before that, the snake was missing for over 30 years, and for this reason, scientists are very excited about this uncommon encounter in Jackson County.

The Massasagua rattlesnake is often confused with the Fox snake (otherwise people will think snakes are like foxes!) and the Pine snake. Since all three have black or dark brown spots on their body, they can easily be mistaken for each other. One way to identify the snake would be the fact that a Massasagua does not have a pointed tail tip like the other snakes but instead has a blunt rattle segment at the end of its tail. It is also quite smaller than the other snakes, since the maximum length of the Massasagua is three feet. Massasagua rattlesnakes mostly like to stay around wetlands, meanwhile, most other rattlesnakes like to stay in dry areas. Massasaguas also like to sun bathe themselves, mostly in clearings or open areas. They are more docile than Fox snakes, since Fox snakes are more aggressive. Two types of snakes in Wisconsin have the option to not inject venom if they bite you. This is called “dry bite.” Rori Paloski said that the Massasagua is venomous, but thankfully, they will only use the venom when they are trying to kill a small mammal for food.

Last summer, Paloski and other helpers carefully looked Jackson County in search of Massasaguas. They surveyed the area for about 40 hours in total, but they still couldn’t find a Massasagua snake, even though Paloski and the helpers knew the snakes were there. Thankfully, the Massasagua has been finally discovered in Jackson County, according to an article in Lee Newspaper. The man was clearing out wildlife with a bulldozer when he suddenly saw a snake approach him. Thankfully, he and the snake did not get harmed, but he was awfully surprised when he examined the snake and realized it was a rare rattlesnake. “We’ve gone 30 years without a confirmed sighting, and just over the last three years this has been our fifth confirmed sighting,” Wisconsin Department of Natural resources wildlife biologist Scott Roepke said.

Since the Massasagua is on the endangered species list, Jackson County Forestry activities could threaten the Massasagua’s habitat. They need an incidental take permit to continue their activities on land that could possibly contain a Massasagua. In addition, the Meteor Timber project is constructing a rail line, to divide the north side of Jackson County and the south side. The rail line is confirmed to run through Massasagua territory. The employees of the Meteor Timber project are therefore taking extra care to ensure that the rail line will not impact the Massasagua’s environment.

Scholars are very excited for the return of the Massasagua rattlesnake. With only eight designated populations left in Wisconsin, the current state of the Massasagua population is unclear. This sighting raises hopes for biologists that the rare rattlesnake species are making a recovery.

 

[Source: Lee Newspapers, La Crosse Tribune]

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