One day when Cinta and I were clearing brush from our property on the Bruce Peninsula, I heard a terrible scream. I ran over to Cinta. She had noticed a Massasauga Rattlesnake about a foot from her hand. It was full grown and about two feet long. Fortunately it didnít strike but it also had not rattled a warning. Perhaps it was paralysed with fear from her shriek. I took a long stick and moved the stick close to the snake's face to see if it would strike but it just sat there looking quite bored with us. After a while it slithered away. I was surprised how well the snake had blended in and how hard it was to see. I was also surprised at its docile nature, neither bothering to rattle a warning or strike.

Over the years, I have seen quite a few of these snakes on the Escarpment including young Massasauga Rattlers. Only once did I hear a faint rattle. The Western Rattlers on the other hand, rattle a sound that is unforgettable, a sound that seems to be coming from all directions at once. When I put a stick close to the young Massasauga rattler's face, they always attacks the stick, unlike the adults that always ignore it. I remember one young one, after wrestling with the stick, slithered over to a leaf and hid its head under the leaf. It was funny to see the eight-inch rattler with such a fearsome reputation hiding its head under a leaf with the rest of its body in the open. 

Theis snake is pretty easy to identify. Just look for a rattle on its tail. It has small rounded dark blobs on a gray or brownish body and a diamond shaped head. Check out the beedy eyes. 

I have heard that the name "Massasauga" means mouth of a river in the local Native language. They tend to like the swamp like environment at the mouth of the river and in bogs. When I see them on the higher ground of my property, it always seems to coincide with a short period in the summer when I also see a lot of toads hopping around. Perhaps they eat the toads. The snakes are said to migrate to higher ground where it is drier during the summer months where they feed on mice and moles. Male Massasaugas are known to range about 1/2 mile. They are much more active than the more sedentary females. I have only seen one Rattler at any of the climbing crags on the Bruce Peninsula.

The Massasauga rattlesnake, the only poisonous snake local to Ontario, is a pit viper, with a pair of large, hollow fangs at the front of the mouth that are used to inject venom into the prey. Its bite is not fatal to a person except possibly to a small child. However, a bite is extremely painful and possibly life threatening. Since the Rattler's ability to produce the poison is limited, it does not always use its venom for defense and instead gives a "dry" bite. About half the people bitten by the Massasauga rattlesnake received dry bites. Generally the Massasauga rattlesnake is pretty docile and timid. It attacks people only if threatened. Overall it is not much of a danger to climbers unless a climber were to inadvertently step on it or touch it. Anti-venom is available at local hospitals. After seeing these snakes around, I make sure that I wear good hiking shoes rather than sandals when moving around on the Escarpment. I am always happy to see one of these beautiful animals.

Bob Bennell
Oct 2001

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