by Ojibway Massasauga
As our field season comes to a close I wanted to share with you the stories (or tails) of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes we have found this year. Like the story about Alice, each snake has a unique history in the region, and the team’s encounters with these animals provide us with a small glimpse into their secretive lives. Every sighting of one of these rare and endangered snakes was a major moment for all of us working on this project.
The second snake we found in 2015 was quite a surprise for me. She was found under a cover object. Now for Essex region rattlesnakes this turns out to be fairly common, however my experience with rattlesnakes in Georgian Bay and the Northern Bruce Peninsula rattlers are rarely found under cover. So I was shocked to see this female right under this piece of tin. I had to do a double take before calling Taryn over in excitement to share my find. We called her Becky and she was found on May 28th, twelve days after our last sighting of Alice.
Becky was a “new” snake; She had not been found and photographed by us in previous years. She was our first and only new adult snake of the year, which is very exciting to know that there are still individuals we have not encountered out there.
Rattle Tales Part 2
Our third snake of 2015 came just one day after finding Becky, we were on a roll! During the last week of May, a local couple who were originally from the Georgian Bay area stopped us and told us about this rattlesnake they had seen on the walking path. At first I was afraid they were going to tell me how they killed it (a common story people share with myself and the other techs), instead they told me how they pushed her off the path with a stick so she wouldn’t get hit by a bicycle and they even took pictures of her. We extend a big thank to the two local residents for being great stewards!
From the pictures of the snake we could tell that it was not Alice or Becky. Working on a hunch from Jon, we started surveying a new site in the hopes of finding this snake as she traveled between a known hibernation location and the closest known gestation area. The hunch paid off; walking through a wooded area I noticed the dark brown and black pattern of a rattlesnake sunning itself on some thatch.
Our second rattlesnake in just two days! While not as big or heavy as Alice, Catherine (we named her immediately of course) is a pretty good size for a local Rattlesnake. Taryn and I were pretty excited to say the least. What happened next turned into the easiest capture I have ever experienced with a snake. I was chasing her through the thatch trying to pull her into the open (with snake tongs!), and several times I lost sight of her under the grass only to see her pop again somewhere else. Next thing I know she gets behind me and rushes over to our equipment, and lying on the ground is the tube I had set aside to capture her with. To my shock and immense joy she crawled right into it! Capturing herself right before my eyes, it was pretty simple to just pick her and the tube and marvel at our luck.
Cathy (for short) was first seen in May 2014 in an area we have focused much of our habitat enhancement efforts. Later she made the move to a known gestation area where she was seen twice more. Becky is also quite the traveler, and has been recorded moving up to 680m from her hibernation area to her summer home.