Planning the Future for Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes

In addition to searching for massasaugas in the cattails and mud puddles of southwest Michigan recently, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan® (SSP) committee that coordinates zoo management of the species also held their annual population planning meeting.

An eastern massasauga rattlesnake at Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House

Yes, it’s just like it sounds—the group of zoo representatives recommending which snakes are paired and which get to breed. While there are 23 zoos who are members of the SSP, not all zoos can participate in the breeding program because only 28 of the snakes are old enough to breed (but not so old they can’t breed). Of the 14 pairs the SSP recommended for breeding, three are at Lincoln Park Zoo, a leader in the program.

Because of eastern massasauga rattlesnakes’ slow reproductive biology (pairs breed one summer and give birth the next summer) we might not have any good news to share for another year. The breeding pairs are in a special breeding facility off exhibit, but visitors can see a 7-year-old male massasauga when they come to Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House. Look closely—like his peers in the wild, he can be tough to spot!

Joanne Earnhardt

Joanne Earnhardt, Ph.D., is a conservation biologist in the Alexander Center for Applied Population Biology.

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