“What is that weird sound?” “Wait – there it is again.”
The thought my husband had just moments before noticing a large, coiled snake just to the right of his foot. He suddenly knew what that weird sound was – it was a rattle. This realization happened at the exact moment he started slowly backing away.
We have been going to Massasauga Provincial Park for 15 years and I have never personally seen a rattlesnake. Lots of water snakes but no rattlesnakes. About 10 years ago someone in our group saw a rattlesnake as we were packing up to leave a site. We all believed him but didn’t want to believe him. This time we all got to see it because it did not leave.
It was about an hour after we arrived at the site, and it was about 15 feet from our tent. On occasion we forget to zip up our tent, but we knew that wouldn’t happen on this site.
The picture is a bit blurry because I used the zoom on my phone – I didn’t want to get too close, and I didn’t want to return with a better camera. After a quick look, we all left. We then broke the news to our dog – he was going to be on a very short leash while we were on this site.
We never saw it again and I can tell you we were all watching the ground.
The next day I was walking past a rock near the water, and I saw something move. I looked down and there was a baby rattlesnake sunning on the rocks. There was no noise but a definite tail ‘rattling’ movement. I was glad for the movement because it really did blend into the rocks. When someone from our group walked past the rock, the snake lunged out. Then it decided it had had enough so it left the rock and literally disappeared under the pine needles. It was like a magic trick. It was likely enjoying the sun because it was a cool day, but it was not interested in sharing with us. We were OK with this decision.
In researching the Massasauga Rattlesnake, I realized that I am not the only one skilled in anthropomorphizing. Many sites describe it as shy. If this is the case why do these snakes hang out on an active campsite? I also read that they tend not to leave their home territory, so it is likely that they were there long before it was a campsite. They are likely wondering why anyone would put a campsite on their home?
When I tell people about sharing a site with a rattlesnake I get one of two reactions.
- “Why did you stay and no I don’t want to see a picture.”
- “That is so cool, I wish I could see one.”
We feel lucky to have seen these snakes. However, I think I prefer campsites without rattlesnakes. On the other hand, if we are staying on a site with a snake family, I would prefer to know.
When I got home I did a bit of research.
- They are on the “species at risk” list in Ontario
- There is a maximum fine of $250,000 and/or a year in jail for killing a Massasauga Rattlesnake
- No one has died from a Massasauga rattlesnake bite in more than 50 years.
- They give birth to live young
- Massasauga rattlers have ‘butterfly’ shaped markings
- This is good to know because other snakes can also rattle their tail
- The venom of a Massasauga is more toxic than other rattlesnakes, but the amount they inject is smaller
- 25-50% of the time a Massasauga Rattlesnake bite contains little to no venom – dry bites
- They have a striking distance under 30 centimetres
- It is recommended that people stay on trails
- Don’t step over logs – step on and then over
- It is best if they are just left alone
- The #1 cause of bites are friends daring friends to pick it up (think intoxicated teenagers)
If you are interested in learning more: