Rounding Up Rattlesnakes

You may not have noticed, but it turns out last week’s weather was perfect for spotting eastern massasauga rattlesnakes. That’s the report I got from the field in Michigan, where our experts were busy finding new ways to save this species.

President and CEO Kevin Bell offers an update on work to save endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnakes.

One of the record number of eastern massasauga rattlesnakes found in the field in Michigan.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are endangered in much of their range, including Illinois. But they’re doing slightly better in Michigan. So every year, researchers and animal caregivers from 15 zoos—as well as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Northern Illinois University—gather at the Edward Lowe Foundation to learn from these thriving rattlesnakes.

By finding rattlesnakes in Michigan, collecting samples, marking the individual snakes so they can be identified in the future and releasing them again, we can fill in details on survival, breeding, population growth and nutrition, lessons that can then be applied to help the species elsewhere. This year, the snake spotters brought in a record 116 individuals—more than double last year’s total of 51!

Cool, overcast weather probably boosted the numbers by prompting the hard-to-spot snakes to venture out of vegetation to warm up. But it still took a lot of hard work to find them all. I’m happy to report that each Lincoln Park Zoo representative spotted at least one.

By the way, in case you’re worried, walking among all these snakes isn’t as hazardous as it sounds. Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are venomous, and our experts take every caution when they approach them. But this shy species would rather sit unnoticed than harass anything larger than a mouse.

That’s the latest update from the field—just one small example of how Lincoln Park Zoo is conserving wildlife around the globe.

Kevin Bell

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