A case of mistaken identity: Massasauga Rattlesnake versus Milksnake
Every year, KCCA staff field calls from the public concerned they have seen, captured or sadly even killed what they believe is a Massasauga Rattlesnake. The Massasauga is Ontario’s only venomous snake that lives for the most part along the eastern shore of Georgian Bay and the northern Bruce Peninsula. Having a confirmed sighting in the Kettle Creek watershed would be remote if not implausible.
In every case where staff have had the chance to identify the snake, it has always been a Milksnake.
“But, it rattled its tail at me!”
The Massasauga is Ontario’s only rattlesnake but it’s not the only one that vibrates its tails in self defense. The Eastern Foxsnake and the Milksnake are non-venomous snakes that mimic the rattlesnake by quickly vibrating the tip of their tails when threatened. If the tail comes into contact with leaf litter as it’s vibrating, it can make a buzzing sound. The Massasauga also tends to be quite docile, preferring to retreat and hide under cover when threatened.
Many of Ontario’s snakes, including the Milksnake and the Massasauga Rattlesnake are protected under the Ontario Endangered Species Act and the federal Species at Risk Act, which makes it illegal to harass, harm or kill them. Please be respectful and observe from a distance.
The following table compares the identification features of a Milksnake to a Massasauga Rattlesnake.
If you have any questions about snakes or any other wildlife you encounter please send me an email at email@example.com .