Sunday, August 23, 2009

CONSERVATION: Conservation and The Massasauga Rattlesnakes

By Francis Murphy

Snakes are not nature's cuddliest creatures. Many snakes are killed because they are perceived as malevolent and venomous, even though they only strike if they feel threatened. As such, snake species are on the decline. Among the endangered snakes on the North American continent is the Massasauga rattlesnake, or swamp rattler.

Possessing the distinction of being the only venomous snake in Ontario (Canada) and Michigan (USA), this pit viper is found in low swampland across the Midwest and towards the eastern states, namely New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri.

The Massasauga rattlesnake originates from the Chippewa language, meaning "huge river mouth". Its length can vary from 2 to 3 feet, although there have been records of adults of more than 3 feet. Large, dark brown spots run down the center of its back, which is either light brown or light grey. The spots, or backsaddles, are flanked by smaller spots on either side of the snake's body. These spots combine to form stripes and rings at the head and tail of the snake respectively. Its grayish-yellow rattle produces a buzz that has been described as akin to a cricket or a grasshopper.

The Massasauga rattlesnake is threatened by loss and degradation of its habitats due to reclamation of wetlands for development. Human hostility has also impacted negatively on their number due to the notion that there creatures are aggressive and come with a fatal bite. Massasauga venom is more toxic than that of the timber rattler but produces less harm because it is produced in smaller amounts. Moreover, the snakes only bite when stepped on or are picked up.

These rattlesnakes are considered an endangered or threatened species. While efforts have been made to conserve their numbers and environment, education of the public remains one of the best methods of preventing indiscriminate killing of these animals.

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