Jeremy Rouse knows all about the massasauga rattlesnake, and this year he's heard some alarming facts.

Rouse, a Ministry of Natural Resources species-at-risk biologist, says the number of poisonous bites is higher than normal.

“So far this year we've had six confirmed bites, which is a little out of the normal for this time of year,” he says. “Most of the bites occur usually after July 1, but we are having a lot occurring before July.”

It turns out these bites may be related to the weather.

“The reason that's happening we think is because we had a much cooler June, lots of rain, cold nights,” he says. “That keeps the massasaugas in the upland habitats and out of the wetlands. People also enjoy the upland habitats and not so much the wetlands. Therefore you have a lot more human-snake interactions and subsequently a few more bites.”

This massasagua is the only venomous snake in Ontario, and is common to Eastern Georgian Bay. The snakes make Eastern Georgian Bay home with its mix of granite and windswept white pine and red oak. Parks Canada says it is a key habitat for the species because it allows the snake to get in the open and sun in the day and then hide under rocks and keep warm in the evening.

For the most part they keep to themselves.

“Snakes generally don't want to be associated with people,” says Parks Canada manager of resource conservation at Georgian Bay Islands National Park Andrew Promaine. “They like to keep to themselves and camouflage is their primary tool of keeping hidden. They emit the rattle sound in order to allow people to know where they are. “

Even though no bites have happened at the Georgian Bay park, some cottagers and campers are still concerned.

“It makes me a little eerie,” says Owen Sound resident and camper Lee Wade. “But it's kind of ‘be aware of your surroundings’ and if you look for them and don't harass them and just stay out of their way, that's what I try and do.”

Terry Engesser, a Toronto resident cottaging in Honey Harbour says kids “don't pay attention as much as you do as an adult.”

“They are running around and not looking as they should be,” Engesser says.


The West Parry Sound Health Centre is in charge of distributing anti-venom for the province for rattlesnake bites. Five out of the six bites that have happened this year were treated at this facility. There are about 200 vials of anti-venom in the system. People in the six cases needed anywhere from six to 24 vials each for treatment.

Experts say the best way to stay safe is to keep your distance.

“The MNR always urges people to make sure they can see where they are going,” Rouse says. “That’s the biggest thing. Also if you see a snake in rattlesnake country just leave all snakes alone. Don't try to pick them up they will bite.”

Stiff Penalties

Even though the snake can be dangerous, people are not allowed to harm them.

“They are protected under the Species at Risk Act,” says Promaine. “Within the national park it is a $250,000 fine and up to five years in jail if a snake is intentionally killed.”

What to do

Contrary to what you might see on T V or the movies, if you're bitten by a snake, you don't want to apply a tourniquet, suck out the venom or put ice on the bite.

What you need to do is get right to a hospital.

“It is a life-threatening situation,” Rouse says. “If you get proper medical treatment there should not be an issue.”

The massasauga rattlesnake is currently at risk. They are considered small for a rattlesnake, measuring two feet long. Being bit by a massasauga is a much more serious issue for the elderly and the young. Most people are bit on their toes, legs or ankles.

The Ministry of Natural Resources says it is now mating season for the snakes, which means more could be visible. The agency recommends long pants and good hiking shoes when trekking into the bush.