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Photo credit:

Joshua Jones

Common name

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Scientific name

Sistrurus catenatus

Conservation Status


Federal and State Protections

Federal protection through endangered species act. Protection through the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada. State protections include forbidding the collection and killing of this species and minimizing loss and degradation of their habitats due to agriculture, dredging, and stream channelization.

New York Status: Endangered

Illinois Status: Endangered

Iowa Status: Endangered

Missouri Status: Endangered; Species of Conservation Concern

Wisconsin Status: Endangered

Indiana Status: Endangered

Michigan Status: Species of Concern

Ohio Status: Endangered

Pennsylvania Status: Endangered

Minnesota Status: Endangered

Ontario Status: Threatened (Great Lakes - St. Lawrence population); Endangered (Carolinian population).

Range Map


Countries of Occurrence

United States of America and Canada

Adult size

47-100 cm
18.5-39.37 in
Average: 61 cm; 2 feet

States or Providence 

New York, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ontario


New York: Onondaga and Genesee.

Illinois: Madison, Fayette, Clinton, Piatt, Warren, Knox, DuPage, Lake, Cook, and Will.

Iowa: Pottawattamie, Chickasaw, Bremer, Black Hawk, Buchanan, Clinton, Scott, Muscatine, and Louisa.

Missouri: Chariton, Lynn, Livingston, and Holt.

Wisconsin: Pipin, Buffalo, Trempealeau, Jackson, Clark, Wood, Portage, La Crosse, Monroe, Juneau, Adams, Saulk, Green Lake Columbia, Crawford, Madison/Dane, Green, Rock, Walworth, and Kenosha.

Indiana: Lake, Porter, La Porte, St. Joseph, Elkhart, Lagrange, Steuben, Jasper, Starke, Pulaski, Marshall, Fulton, Kosciusko, Walbash, Noble, Whitley, Allen, Wells, Cass, Carroll, Fountain, Montgomery, Hendricks, Hamilton, Delaware.

Michigan: Oakland, Livingston,
Jackson, Washtenaw, Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo and Van
Buren, Alcona, Alpena, Crawford, Kalkaska, Montmorency, and Presque Isle.

Ohio: Ashtabula, Trumbull, Erie, Wayne, Wyandot, Licking, Fairfield, Champaign, Clark, Greene, Montgomery, and Warren.

Pennsylvania: Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Crawford, Lawrence, Mercer and Venango.

Minnesota: Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona, and Houston.

Ontario: Eastern shore of Georgian Bay, the northern Bruce Peninsula, Niagara Peninsula, and near the city of Windsor.

Species Description

A rare, small-bodied snake, the eastern massasauga can be found in the Midwestern and Northern United States and Ontario. They live in shallow wetlands (typically grassy, flooded prairies) and adjacent uplands, including early successional forest and fire-dependent prairies. Eastern massasaugas have been recorded using crayfish holes to overwinter below the frost line.

It is readily distinguishable due to its small size compared to sympatric timber rattlesnakes, and greyish coloration with circular or rectangular blotches along the body. Due to its small size, locals often call this species "pygmy rattlesnakes"; however they are a distinctly separate species than their cousins Sistrurus miliarius.

This rattlesnake usually gives live birth to 5 to 20 young at a time annually to biannually, sometimes once every three years if food resources are low. Eastern Massasaugas primarily feed on small mammals.

This is one of two federally threatened species of rattlesnake in the United States. The population of the eastern massasauga is still in decline primarily due to habitat loss. Fragmentation of habitat due to roads, farmland, and urban sprawl is a large factor in habitat decline. Conservation of rattlesnakes is important to prevent further population decline. This is something we are helping to slow and reverse!

Fun fact: Massasauga's get their name from the native Ojibwe word, "massasauga", means "great river-mouth" in their language. This is likely a reference to the riparian prairies which the snakes inhabit.

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