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Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Sistrurus catenatus

Common names: swamp rattler, black snapper, pygmy rattlesnake


One of the three venomous and one of two rattlesnakes that are native to PA. The name "massasauga" comes from the language of the Chippewa tribe of Native Americans. It was probably derived from their name for the Missisauga River in Ontario--a likely habitat for the snake.

The massasauga won't bite unless it feels threatened. If it does strike, their short fangs can easily puncture skin and they do possess a potent venom. It is best to treat them with respect and leave them alone. The few bites that occur to humans often result from attempts to handle or kill the snakes. Any bite from a massasauga should receive prompt professional medical attention.

Its venom can cause dizziness, nausea, intense stinging and swelling - but it is rarely fatal. And although snakes have a long-standing bad reputation, they are important part of holding down the rodent population.


United States: IL, IN IA, MI, MN, MO, NY, OH, PA, WI, Canada


A shy rattlesnake that lives in wetland areas and is disappearing fast. These rattlesnakes are often killed on sight, and are listed with Threatened and Endangered Species System (TESS)


A shy, sluggish snake, with a short striking distance. When compared to other rattlesnakes found in the United States, the massasauga is the smallest and has the least toxic venom

The rattle is the distinguishing feature of these snakes in adults In the very young snakes, the rattle is represented by a "button". A new segment is added each time the skin is shed; the segments become increasingly larger until the snake reaches adult size. Two to four new segments are added to the rattle each year.

Females measure 18 to 28 inches. Males are found to be slightly smaller 14 to 25 inches long. . Its thick body is colored with a pattern of dark brown slightly rectangular patches set against a light gray-to-brown background. Occasionally, this coloration can be so dark as to appear almost black. The belly is mostly black. Vertical pupils in the eyes. The neck is narrow, contrasting with the wide head and body and the head appears triangular in shape.


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