By Lynne Beauchamp,

Michigan’s only venomous snake, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is declining in numbers. This information comes from Yu Man Lee, Conservation Scientist with Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MFNI) of the Michigan State University Extension. Lee, along with Katie McGlashen, Park Interpreter at Waterloo Recreation Area and Jim O’Brien, Park Manager with Waterloo Recreation Area educated the public on these snakes at the Eddy Discovery Center at Waterloo Recreation Center in Chelsea on July 14.

The presentation provided information on what the rattlesnake looks like, which snakes resemble it, its habitat, its life cycle and what one should do if bitten.


The Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is a thick-bodied snake and measures between 18-24 inches. It is gray or light brown with large, light-edged, chocolate brown, often saddle-shaped blotches on the back and smaller dark spots along the sides of its body. The tail is blunt-tipped with a segmented rattle on the end. It has heat sensing pits between its eyes and nostrils. The rattlesnake can be found in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Its habitat range is often in wetlands but also in uplands like meadows and prairies.

There are many snakes that resemble the Eastern Massasauga in appearance and include the Milk Snake, Fox Snake, Hognose Snake and Northern Water Snake.

The Eastern Massasauga is venomous,  its venom contains toxic proteins and digestive enzymes that kill its prey and break down the tissue for easy digestion. It is generally non-aggressive, usually only biting if feeling threatened. While Eastern Massasauga bites are uncommon (according to Michigan Poison Control, an average of 1/year), one should seek medical attention if bitten. Often the snake does not inject venom, however remain calm, remove jewelry, do not apply ice or tourniquets or try to suck out the venom, in the meantime.

In Michigan, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake is listed as a species of special concern and is protected under a special Director of Natural Resources’ Order. It is unlawful to kill, harm or take these snakes from the wild.

MFNI and the Waterloo Recreation Area are interested in those who may have seen the Eastern Massasauga and share a photograph (if safely possible) including its location. . To share information of sightings near the Waterloo Recreation Area, contact Jim O’Brien at For sightings throughout Michigan, contact Yu Man Lee at .






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