Status and Conservation of the Eastern Massasauga in Ohio

The Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) is a small rattlesnake associated with open canopy wetlands and adjacent upland and wetland areas.  In Ohio, the massasauga is listed as an endangered species, and is a candidate species for federal listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

Historically, the species ranged throughout much of the glaciated portion of Ohio, but is currently known from only a handful of areas.  A statewide project begun in 2005 identified priority sites for survey work.  From 2005-2007, a total of 95 massasaugas were captured at 3 northern Ohio sites.

The proportion of neonates, juveniles, and adults captured varied more between years than between sites, possibly indicating synchronized reproduction associated with environmental conditions. 

Ten years after threats to Massasauga habitat were identified in a range-wide status assessment (Szymanksi 1998), northern Ohio populations continue to face the same threats, including: agricultural activities, fragmentation of habitat, vehicle-caused mortality, vegetative succession, improper mowing and fire-related management activities, and invasive plant species.  Conservation strategies to benefit the Eastern Massasauga in northern Ohio should focus on increasing the amount of suitable habitat - through changes in management practices and the purchase of additional areas - as well as decreasing anthropogenic sources of mortality.

I have also helped with the collection of samples from Ohio snakes for the ongoing research being conducted in the Gibbs lab at Ohio State University on population genetic structure and venom variation in massasauga populations.

Currently, I am working on surveys of additional areas in northeast Ohio in hopes of documenting new localities.  During 2010, massassaguas were found at three new sites recently purchased by conservation organizations.

(Neonate Eastern Massasauga.  Note the single "button" located on the tail.  With each successive shed, an additional rattle will be added.)

This project is supported by the Ohio Division of Wildlife with funds donated through the Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species Program, and through sales of the Wildlife Legacy Stamp.