Michigan is home to around 17 species of snake, only one of which is venomous. The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is native to the state. It is a species of special concern in Michigan and receives legal protection. Other native snake species such as the eastern hognose and eastern milk snake can sometimes be mistaken for the massasauga.
The eastern massasauga is a medium-sized snake. It grows up to18 and 30 inches long and has a thick body. It's gray brown with darker blotches running the length of its back and sides. The snake has a broad, triangular-shaped head. Its eyes, as with most other vipers, have cat-like pupils. The rattle at the tip of the snake's tail is yellow in young snakes but becomes more gray yellow as the snake ages.
Range and Habitat
The eastern massasauga can be found most often in the wetlands of Michigan's lower peninsula, although numbers are in decline. Outside of the state, the snake lives as far east as New York state, west to Iowa and south as far as central Indiana. The snake prefers marshy habitats with plenty of undergrowth cover. Its northern home range means the snake hibernates during the winter either singularly or in small groups.
It's an ambush predator like most rattlesnakes, and will wait for its prey, coiled to strike. The snake strikes quickly, biting its prey and injecting a potent venom to kill it before swallowing it whole. It mainly feeds on small mammals such as rodents but will also kill and eat other reptiles including smaller snakes, nesting birds and amphibians. It is one of the smallest types of rattlesnake with a less potent venom than most, but bites to humans should be medically treated.
The breeding season of the eastern massasauga runs mainly between May and June although, depending on the weather, it can stretch between April and September. The eggs develop inside the female, often hatching just before or right after the snake lays them. A litter generally consists of 3 to 19 snakes between 6 and 9 inches in length. Once born, the offspring are on their own. The eastern massasauga can live up to 14 years in the wild.