Michigan's rattlesnake may be endangered species

South Bend Tribune Staff Report


Michigan residents who catch a glimpse of the state's only venomous snake, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, are encouraged to report the sighting to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The request is part of a multistate survey effort in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The goal is to establish the current range and status of the species, which is a candidate for the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Its population has been declining due to habitat loss and human harassment, the DNR reports.

"Michigan appears to be the remaining stronghold for this snake's population," Raymond Rustem, DNR Natural Heritage Unit Supervisor said in a news release.

"When you look at any other state, there are only one-to-six localized populations. Michigan has massasauga populations ranging from Oakland County through southwest Michigan and populations scattered throughout northern Michigan."

Adult massasauga rattlesnakes are thick-bodied and can be 18- to 30-inches long. They are brown to grayish color with large brown blotches on their back and smaller lighter brown patches on their sides.

In the past, sightings of the snake have been reported in Berrien, Cass, Van Buren, Kalamazoo and Allegheny counties, according to Earl Flegler, acting southwest management supervisor for the DNR.

The snakes typically hibernate in swamps and can be found in shallow wetland systems and adjoining upland areas, he continued.

A report form is available on the DNR Web site, www.michigan.gov/dnr, under "wildlife observations."

To assist with verification, the observer should include a color photograph or slide of the observed snake, but are asked not to pick up the snake or kill it.

Flegler said that, while the snake is venomous, it is "generally a very docile snake."

"Almost the only people who get bitten are the ones who handle it," he said.

The Web site also contains color photographs of the adult massasauga along with photographs of two snakes that are often mistaken for the massasauga -- the milk snake and the hog-nosed snake.

The massasauga survey is being supported through Nongame Fish and Wildlife Funds and Federal State Wildlife Grants funding.


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