Eastern massasauga rattlesnake in exhibit

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

Scientific Name
Sistrurus catenatus catenatus
Geographic Range
Eastern and Midwestern United States and southeastern Canada
Small rodents like mice and voles (also frogs and other snakes)
Eastern massasauga rattlesnake in exhibit Endangered Status Graph - Least Concern Endangered Status Graph - Least Concern

More Information

At about 2 feet long on average, eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are small snakes with thick bodies and heart-shaped heads. Adults are gray or light brown with large brown blotches on their back and smaller ones on their sides. Younger snakes have more vivid colors.

These snakes reside in wet areas such as prairies and marshes. They hibernate alone in burrows or under logs and tree roots, generally close to water level. After mating takes place in early summer, females hold the eggs inside their bodies instead of laying them. After about 3.5 months, they give birth to up to 20 offspring.

Did You Know?

  • Like all vipers, eastern massasauga rattlesnakes have enlarged, hollow fangs at the front of their mouths. The fangs inject a venomous saliva into prey.
  • They are sit-and-wait predators. They detect prey using vibrations in the ground, heat-sensing pits near their eyes, a strong sense of smell, and sharp vision.
  • As venomous snakes, Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are often feared by humans, leading to persecution. Since they also depend on disappearing wetlands, their numbers are declining. Lincoln Park Zoo, along with state and national authorities, are working to conserve them.


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We cooperate with other members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to manage the zoo population of this species through a Species Survival Plan®.

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