6 Things Homeowners Need To Know About Massasauga Rattlesnakes

There are many types of snakes that can slither into Canadian backyards, but while they may all terrify you, most aren't going to hurt you. The one exception to this rule is the massassauga rattlesnake, the only venomous snake in Ontario. Here are six things you need to know about this dangerous snake. 

What do they look like?

Massassauga rattlesnakes are fairly small. Adult snakes can be anywhere between 50 and 80 centimetres long, but their bodies are thick and heavy which can make them look more menacing. Their heads are diamond-shaped and their eyes have vertical pupils, unlike other types of Canadian snakes. 

There are lots of snakes that imitate the massasauga rattlesnake, like eastern milksnakes, fox snakes, and eastern hognose snakes. The way that you tell them apart is by looking at their tail. Massassauga rattlesnakes have a rattle on the end of their tails, while the lookalike snakes do not. 

Where do you find them?

Massasauga rattlesnakes have a very limited range within Canada; they're only found in some parts of Ontario. Historically, they have been seen throughout southern, southwestern, and central Ontario, but now, their range is much smaller. This is because human settlements have expanded and pushed the snakes out of their habitat; also, because people are scared of these snakes and kill them. 

Currently, most massassauga rattlesnake sightings are reported in the counties that surround Georgian Bay. The counties of Parry Sound, Muskoka, and Bruce contain most of these sightings, but massassauga rattlesnakes have also been reported in northern Simcoe County. Isolated sightings have also been reported in the Niagara and Windsor regions.

Are they dangerous?

Like other types of rattlesnakes, massassauga rattlesnakes have dangerous venom. Fortunately, bites from this type of snake are rare in Ontario and are usually not fatal. There have only been two reported snakebite fatalities in Ontario history, and neither of those happened in the last 40 years. 

That said, it's still possible to get bitten, so you need to be careful. Most bites happen when people step on or near the snake, so watch where you're going when you walk around your backyard. At night, make sure to wear boots to protect your feet and legs since visibility is reduced. Other bites occur when people try to catch or kill the snakes, so if you see a massassauga rattlesnake in your backyard, don't get too close to it. 

What attracts them to backyards?

These snakes are drawn to backyards for the easy access to food. Mice and rats tend to live around human habitations, and these rodents are a delicious meal for massassauga rattlesnakes. They're also drawn to hiding places which are easy to find in backyards. Your landscaping features like thick shrubs, decorative rocks, and logs provide a safe place for these snakes to hide.

How can you get rid of them?

These snakes are classified as threatened, and they are a protected species. The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act specifies harsh penalties for people who kill these snakes. The maximum punishment is a $25,000 fine and/or one year in prison. If you see these snakes in your yard, you can hire a wildlife control company to safely transport the snake somewhere else, but you can't do it yourself. 

How can you keep them from coming back?

Getting rid of their food and hiding places should keep these snakes from wanting to live in your backyard, but if that isn't enough, consider building a fence. Snake-proof fences need to be flush with the ground so that snakes can't slither underneath, and they should also be sloped outward to keep snakes from climbing over them. 

Massassauga rattlesnakes are a protected species, but they're also dangerous and don't belong in your backyard. Try to make your backyard less appealing to them, and if that doesn't work, seek professional help from a wildlife control professional.