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Species at Risk

Massasauga Rattlesnake

Sistrurus catenatus catenatus

What's the status of the massasauga?

The massasauga was listed as threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 1991 and this status was upheld in 2002. It is currently being added to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act, which provides protection under federal law.

The massasauga is designated a "specially protected reptile" under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. It is therefore illegal to kill or trap the snake or to keep it in captivity. Ontario law also prohibits the purchase or sale of these snakes without a permit. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources listed the massasauga as threatened in the province in 1998, based on recommendations made by the Committee on the Status of Species At Risk in Ontario.

What's so special about the massasauga?

The massasauga is the only venomous snake still found in Ontario and one of just three members of the pit viper family in all of Canada.
© Parks Canada / D.A. Wilkes /, 2004

The massasauga is Ontario's only remaining rattlesnake, and only remaining venomous snake. A handful of national parks in Ontario are among the last refuges in the world for this shy reptile.

The massasauga is one of just three members of the pit viper family in all of Canada. These vipers get their name from the heat-sensitive pits on either side of their heads. The pits allow the snake to detect minute changes in temperature, enabling it to locate warm-blooded prey, even in the dark! In fact, the massasauga can strike with incredible accuracy in total darkness.