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Metroparks Takes Important Step to Conserve Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Metroparks Takes Important Step to Conserve Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Ryan Colliton, HCMA Stewardship Coordinator

In September of 2016, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake was listed as threatened by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. As such, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake will receive special protections to avoid negative impacts on the species. The State of Michigan is the last stronghold for this rare species and southeast Michigan has some of the highest population concentrations in the State. Thus, the Metroparks, which services Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties, play an important role in the conservation of this species for current and future generations of park patrons.

In southeast Michigan, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake depends on open-herbaceous wetland habitat for surviving cold Midwest winters. The groundwater, which feeds these wetlands, allows the snakes to maintain their body temperature above freezing. Snakes emerge from their hibernacula in early spring when air temperatures exceed soil temperatures. After emergence snakes may leave the hibernacula area, traveling to nearby forest and fields in search of food.

So what is the Metroparks doing to conserve this rare and unique species? During the fall of 2016, the Metroparks’ Natural Resources Staff completed an eastern massasauga implementation plan to conserve massasaugas on Metroparks’ properties. This plan was reviewed and approved by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources. After review and approval, the Metroparks’ plan was included in the Candidate Conservation Agreement which allows the Metroparks to continue appropriate management in and around massauaga habitat.

Lastly, if you see a massasauga in the outdoors – do not panic! Eastern massasuaga rattlesnakes are typically very docile and rarely will bite. Most bites occur when individuals try to handle the snake. If you hear a rattle, slowly move in a circle until you locate the snake then move forward or backward away from the snake.

You can help! If you are fortunate enough to see a massasuaga rattlesnake on Metropark property, please report it to the nearest Metropark nature center. These records help us make determinations as to the health of the populations we manage.

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