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Species at Risk

Massasauga Rattlesnake

Sistrurus catenatus catenatus

What is Parks Canada doing to help save the massasauga?

The Canada National Parks Act protects massasaugas and their habitat within the boundaries of three national parks-Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Bruce Peninsula National Park, and Fathom Five National Marine Park. The maximum penalty for killing a massasauga rattlesnake in a national park is $250,000 and five years in jail. Partners from many organizations are contributing to studies, recovery projects and public awareness raising initiatives to help the massasauga make a comeback.

Research and Monitoring

Up to a metre in length, the massasauga has a stocky, grey-brown body with dark, round blotches down its back and sides.
© Parks Canada / D.A. Wilkes /, 2004

A Parks Canada ecologist chairs the Massasauga Recovery Team, which has developed a plan to safeguard this threatened reptile. The object of the recovery plan is to maintain the existing distribution and genetic structure of the local populations in the Bruce Peninsula and Georgian Bay regions and to support dwindling populations in the two southwestern Ontario pockets.

Research, monitoring and management are among the strategies for maintaining and restoring Ontario's rattlesnake populations. Parks Canada researchers are studying the snake's life history, genetics, distribution and survival needs, as well as the potential positive effects of habitat restoration and highway construction projects. Human impacts on the species are being monitored with the help of radio-telemetry studies, which involve inserting tiny transmitters into snakes and then tracking them. Monitoring their movements also increases understanding of their habitat preferences.

Recovery Actions

Numerous projects are under way to maintain a healthy habitat for the snakes and to reduce the impact of human activities. One such project involves the construction of culverts to enable the snakes to travel under, rather than across, busy highways. Work teams have also constructed fences and designed special landscaping to funnel snakes into the culverts.

Public Education

The success of these recovery efforts will ultimately depend on the tolerance of cottage owners, campers, hikers, canoeists and others who live in or visit areas that are home to this snake. That's why members of the recovery team work to educate people about this unique snake, and inspire a new appreciation for some of the fascinating aspects of its biology.

Efforts to change people's perceptions and reduce their fear of rattlesnakes are widespread and varied. They include hosting information workshops, forming community partnerships and distributing snake identification posters and landowner stewardship guides to cottagers, local landowners, park visitors, marinas, hospitals and humane societies. Working with partners, the recovery team has produced information on management and conservation strategies, a rattlesnake conservation booklet and a rattlesnake school curriculum guide.

Working with Partners

The Massasauga Recovery Team brings together biologists, zoo officials, conservationists, and park and government representatives. The team collaborates with the provincial government, conservation authorities and Ontario Parks.

Everyone can play a role in massasauga conservation by learning more about this unique snake and how to live safely with it.