Massasaugae  (Sistrurus catenatus) - Endangered

We introduced our three boys to the wonders of nature and the outdoors when they were young. We loved to camp and scout for interesting wildlife. When we decide to go camping at Killbear Provincial Park we were very excited when we heard their were Massasaugas there. The park did not let us down. We found several rattlesnakes on our hike through the park.


The Massasauga is a small and stout rattlesnake; most adults are only 50 to 70 centimetres long. It has a triangular head and a tail that ends in a small rattle that creates a buzzing sound when the tail shakes. The body is grey to dark brown with darker brown blotches down the back, with alternating blotches along the sides. The Massasauga is the only Ontario snake with a vertical (cat-like) pupil. 

Like all rattlesnakes, the Massasuaga is a pit viper and can see thermal images using two heat-sensitive pits between its eyes and nostrils. With it’s heat-sensitive pits, venom and camouflage, the Massasauga a very effective predator of small mammals.


The Massasauga is the only rattlesnake left in Ontario and they are endangered. They have been extirpated from much of its previous range in southwestern Ontario and is now restricted to the eastern shore of Georgian Bay and the northern Bruce Peninsula. A tiny population may still exist on the Niagara Peninsula. Unfortunately, people frequently kill rattlesnakes on sight, out of fear. Which is very sad as it is a very docile snake. When threatened, it rattles or retreats under nearby cover. The Massasauga bites only as a last resort, and its striking range is less that half of its body length (about 30 centimetres).


Here is a Massasauga that was killed in a provincial park. Although the cause of death is uncertain, the fact that the only part missing on the snake is the rattle, makes us a little suspicious that it was senselessly killed for a rattle souvenir.