Healthy respect for massasauga rattlesnake

Battlefords Vignettes

Despite the worms that dangle on strings and drop in our hair, I still think Saskatchewan doesn’t have any snakes. No, I’m not Googling it and I’ll be OK when it comes time to leave this beautiful Ontario cottage with the rattlesnake in the yard to go home again.

Unless a person is tramping around rocks or looking under a dock, it’s unusual to see a venomous snake near a Muskoka home, but that’s just what happened here.

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At first glance, a quiet massasauga rattlesnake looks just like a fallen branch.

When we startled it, the snake was looped in a loose rectangular shaped coil in the grassy area that slopes down toward some trees. It had a small head and its body was about the width of a man’s smallest finger. It was half a metre long and greyish with black markings.

It raised its head and made striking motions before it sped into the underbrush and tree trunks not far from the house.

Massasauga rattlesnakes, which are poisonous and will bite if they’re provoked, usually stay in the bleak Muldrew Barrens or the Torrance Barrens Conservation Area, which is a few miles away from this property where I am now on Muldrew Lake about 12 kilometres from Gravenhurst, Ont.

As a protected species, it’s against the law to harass these snakes. I’m wondering if one of the reasons the snake arrived in this yard for the first time is that the snakes are increasing in numbers and need to look farther afield for food.

The snake in the yard seemed young with an undeveloped rattle section. If the snacks are good, it could stay for awhile. Frogs and turtles are abundant.

The nearest hospital with anti-venom is in Parry Sound, which feels quite far from here. The drill is, don’t panic if bitten and call 911. A percentage of the bites the rattlers deliver don’t contain poison.

People say the snakes won’t waste their venom on something like a human, which is too large for them to swallow, but I’m cautious when I walk past the woodpile or go down to the dock. Wearing flip flops is out of the question.

I came here to look after this Muskoka house and the elderly cats while my sister and her husband went to work in Australia, which, speaking of snakes, seems to be a place that’s plastered with dangerous reptiles.

Everybody warned me about bears. 

I’ve seen groundhogs, squirrels and birds, as well as a raccoon and a fox and wild turkeys plus mosquitoes and blackflies. What can you expect back in the bush where there’s lots of water? My sister says she’s seen a moose near the house. Saskatchewan has all of these.

The bear scare when I was here last fall, doesn’t count. 

One morning, still in the dark, I pulled up the blind that covers the glass door to the deck and I saw bear prints in the fresh snow where the bear had come up to the house in the night and tried the door knob. My first thought was, “Good thing the blind was down.”

A cup of coffee later, I realized what I’d seen was a reflection on the glass of the paws motif on the doormat which is inside the house.

The creature in the grass the other day was a real rattlesnake.

When my sister and her husband returned from their travels and we were walking around the grocery store, my brother-in-law asked me if I wanted snake for supper.

I was sure I didn’t want snake for supper.

"Steak," he said. "Do you want steak?"

Well, OK, sure. We eat steak in Saskatchewan all the time.




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