Meeting a rattlesnake

As I was walking a trail at Georgian Bay Islands National park, I was startled by a buzzing right beside me. It was a Massasauga Rattlesnake! I’m sure it was more startled than I was. They are venomous, but only two people have died from their bites in Ontario, and neither of them were treated in a hospital.

This species is very shy, and bites are rare, but hospitals in the area where they live (around Georgian Bay, which is part of Lake Huron) stock antivenin (an antiserum containing antibodies against venom, in this case rattlesnake venom). I have been told by experts that the best first aid is the key to your car (in other words, just go to a local hospital.) Massasauga venom is strong but they don’t deliver much of it, and there is enough time to get to a hospital for treatment.

One theory about why rattlesnakes “rattle” as a warning is that they lived among large herds of animals, like bison, and had to avoid being stepped on – therefor the warning rattle!

Massasauga rattlesnakes eat mostly small mammals, like mice, so they are valuable rodent control. They are listed as “threatened” in Ontario’s Endangered Species Act, due to habitat loss and persecution. People have learned not to kill them, and protecting habitats where they live and supporting conservation groups like Ontario Nature are ways to help this amazing species of snake.

Scared by a passing human, this Massasauga Rattlesnake rattled (sounds like a buzz) as a warning to stay back.

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