Debunking Massasauga misinformation


By Elli Earwood

Darke County Parks

My name is Elizabeth (Elli) Earwood and I have just begun my seasonal position with Darke County Parks as their Naturalist Educator. I am just beginning my career, but I have learned I have a passion for education and conservation. Herpetology, or the study of reptiles and amphibians, has been a large focus of my studies. If you have followed the news lately than you have probably seen that a massasauga was found during a routine snake survey in May around Huron county. This has sparked a large amount of controversy and some misinformation to be spread about the species. This misinformation is incredibly dangerous to the conservation of the species as they are considered to be threatened, bordering on endangered.

I am here to help educate and debunk some of the information that has been spread in headlines. I think we often see clickbait titles with scary headlines and immediately assume we are in grave danger. The use of the word “rare”, “venomous”, and “viper” have struck fear into some people. I am here to tell you that snakes really aren’t that scary, especially the massasauga. With that being said, I am not saying you should approach or touch wildlife. I am a firm believer in leaving that to the professionals. The rule of thumb with snakes is if you leave it alone, it’ll leave you alone. Most of the time they’re actually coexisting with you and doing you favors, regardless of if you’re aware of it. A great example of that, which are much more common, are midland rat snakes. You may see them scaling trees, or maybe at your local nature center (his name is Jasper, you should come meet him!). These are a species that mean no harm and no foul, but if they’re really a bother to you, can be moved by professionals. All you have to do is give them a call. This same rule of thumb applies to the unlikely instance that you may meet any form of venomous snake on your journey.

While venom is something to be taken incredibly seriously, massasaugas are not as lethal as the headlines are making them sound. They have small fangs that inject a small amount of venom, not enough to kill a healthy adult. It also takes a great deal of effort to agitate them enough to get them to strike. They are known to steer clear of humans, which is another reason the state was so ecstatic to have spotted one. Not to mention, the chances of your spotting one in our neck of the woods are almost zero, so there is nothing to fear. Overall the likelihood of you spotting a massasauga are slim to none, but in the off chance you do, respect it from afar! Here at the parks we believe in coexisting with nature, and more importantly in the conservation of species. The best snake is one that plays its vital role in the ecosystem. Come see our live classroom and meet a few scaly animal ambassadors, ask any questions you may have, and enjoy learning something new. If the scaly critters aren’t for you make sure to keep up with our events. Our staff works hard to keep the community engaged with the outdoors. We hope to see you soon!

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