Rattling support for the eastern massasauga

Massasaugas are small snakes with thick bodies, heart-shaped heads and vertical pupils. Averaging two feet in length, adults are gray or light brown with large, light-edged chocolate brown blotches on the back and smaller blotches on the sides. Populations of this snake have declined so much that it is now necessary to work to conserve the massasauga, a secretive, docile snake. This venomous rattlesnake relies on its camouflage coloration to hide. Credit: USFWS
Massasaugas are small snakes with thick bodies, heart-shaped heads and vertical pupils. Averaging two feet in length, adults are gray or light brown with large, light-edged chocolate brown blotches on the back and smaller blotches on the sides. Populations of this snake have declined so much that it is now necessary to work to conserve the massasauga, a secretive, docile snake. This venomous rattlesnake relies on its camouflage coloration to hide. Credit: USFWS

Eastern massasaugas are small snakes with thick bodies, heart-shaped heads and vertical pupils. Averaging two feet in length, adults are gray or light brown with large, light-edged chocolate brown blotches on the back and smaller blotches on the sides. Populations of this snake have declined so much that it is now necessary to work to conserve the massasauga, a secretive, docile snake. This venomous rattlesnake relies on its camouflage coloration to hide. Credit: USFWS

Three years of research, more than $60,000 in funding, and continual habitat manipulation is the secret to resurrecting a degraded swamp in New York into basking habitat for one of the state’s slithering residents.

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) is listed as endangered by the state of New York and is a candidate for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In the meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues working to recover the species.

The massasauga lives in wet areas made of peat layers from years of decomposing plants. The layers hold water like a sponge, with new plants growing on each layer. Just two swamps in the Empire State support the species, but one has been so severely degraded that few massasaugas can actually survive there.

Two gravid females basking. Notice the plants are low to the ground and the woody shrubs have been cut. Credit: Noelle Rayman/USFWS

Two gravid females basking. Notice the plants are low to the ground and the woody shrubs have been cut. Credit: Noelle Rayman/USFWS

Check out other stories of endangered plant and animal conservation in the Northeast – We’re sharing them throughout the year!

Over the years, the swamps have been ditched, drained, and burned, significantly affecting the snake’s habitat. One of these swamps burned in 1892 during an intense wildfire and gradually converted to woody shrubs and mature trees. Gravid (pregnant) female massasaugas could no longer use it, as they need an open canopy that allows them to bask and maintain a high body temperature for their developing young.

To return the swamp to functional basking habitat, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has cut, burned, and applied herbicides to suppress the growth of tall vegetation and create an open tree canopy. With grant funds awarded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in 2011, the DEC has removed shrubs on 32 plots totally just under one acre, thinned an additional 2.5 acres, and clear-cut 10 acres. … Did the habitat work help? Find out by reading the rest of the story here!

3 Comments on “Rattling support for the eastern massasauga

  1. nice job on this article!

    On Mon, Oct 28, 2013 at 9:28 AM, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regi

  2. Pingback: Rattling support for the eastern massasauga | State Wildlife Research News

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