Chesterton Tribune



Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, once common here, could be listed as threatened

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed listing the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service will not propose critical habitat for the species, deeming it not prudent, according to a statement released by FWS on Tuesday.

Eastern Massasaugas are found in scattered locations in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. They used to be not uncommon finds in the Indiana Dunes, with reports of sightings--and bitings--occasionally appearing in the pages of the Chesterton Tribune during the first half of the last century.

It’s been fully 13 years, however--as far as anyone knows for sure--since an Eastern Massasauga has been identified in the Dunes. The last one was trapped in September 2002 by a biotechnician with the U.S. Geological Survey, as part of an inventory of the vertebrates at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Eastern Massasauga’s rarity here is indicative of its rarity pretty much everywhere, FWS said. Since 1999 its been a candidate for listing as a threatened species, “due to loss of its wetland habitat and intentional killing by people who fear the snake.”

“More than 30 percent of the historical populations are now extirpated and many more (20 percent) are of uncertain status,” FWS noted. “Of those populations that are known to remain, most are experiencing ongoing threats, meaning additional population losses are anticipated in the future.”

FWS describes the Eastern Massasauga as a small timid snake with a thick body, heart-shaped head, and vertical pupils. The average length of an adult is about two feet. The snake’s tail has several dark brown rings and is tipped by gray-yellow rattles. Eastern Massasaugas eat small rodents such as mice and voles, but they will sometimes eat frogs and other snakes.

“People’s fear of the Massasauga and the species’ resultant persecution are largely unwarranted,” FWS said. “These are docile, secretive snakes that will try to escape rather than fight.”

Eastern Massasaugas live in wet prairies, marshes, and low areas along rivers and lakes. In many areas Massasaugas also use adjacent uplands during part of the year. They often hibernate in crayfish burrows but they may also be found under logs and tree roots or in small mammal burrows. “Massasaugas use a mix of wetland and upland habitat that is important to many other species of wildlife as well as to humans,” FWS said. “Wetland habitats increase groundwater resources and improve water quality.”

The Eastern Massasauga is currently listed as endangered, threatened, or a species of concern under state or provincial laws in every state and province in which it lives. The Fish and Wildlife Service and partners have been working together to conserve Eastern Massasauga populations since the species was named a candidate in 1999.

FWS’ proposal appears in the Sept. 30 Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period. Submit comments as follows:

* Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal In the search box, enter FWS-R3-ES-2015-0145, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”

* By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWSĐR3ĐESĐ2015Đ0145; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803

All comments will be posted at

After the comment period closes, FWS will consider all available information before determining whether to list the Eastern Massasauga under the Endangered Species Act.

For more information, visit


Posted 9/30/2015




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