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Michigan's only venomous snake just landed on the endangered species list

Oct 4, 2016

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake.
Credit USFWS

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is now listed as a threatened species.

Scott Hicks is a field supervisor in Michigan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says the massasauga’s new status is due to the loss of its wetland habitats.

“In Michigan, we’re fortunate that we still have quite a number of populations that remain in this state, but we have lost approximately 20% of our population,” he says.

As this Fish and Wildlife Service website explains:

The eastern massasauga is a small, thick-bodied rattlesnake that lives in shallow wetlands and adjacent uplands in portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario. The species, a candidate for listing since 1999, has been declining over the past few decades due to loss and fragmentation of its wetland habitat. Nearly 40 percent of the historical populations are now extirpated and an additional 15 percent are of uncertain status.  Of those known remaining populations, most are experiencing ongoing threats, meaning additional population losses are anticipated in the future.

What do I do if I run into a massasauga?

Hicks says the Endangered Species Act allows individuals to protect themselves or others if they encounter a massasauga. He says human safety always comes first, so the Act does allow people to kill a snake if there's an imminent threat. But Hicks says these snakes really just want to be left alone.

"The real key thing here is that the best thing you can do to protect yourself and the snake is to simply leave the snake alone," he says. "Bites from this species are relatively rare, and typically when they do occur, it is when someone is unnecessarily trying to handle the snake. So the best thing to do is just leave it alone, and odds are it’s just going to move away from the area anyway on its own power.”

He says if you do need to move the snake away from your property, it's a good idea to call a state or federal wildlife agency for advice on how to carefully do so.