Species Profile

Massasauga Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population

Scientific Name: Sistrurus catenatus
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
COSEWIC Range: Ontario
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2012
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: C2a(i)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: The number of adults may be fewer than 10,000 and is declining because of continued degradation and loss of habitat, increasing mortality on roads and ongoing persecution of this venomous species.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: The species was considered a single unit and designated Threatened in April 1991. Status re-examined and confirmed in November 2002. Split into two populations in November 2012. The Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population was designated Threatened in November 2012.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-01-12

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Federal Protection

The Massasauga, Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population, is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.



PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

14 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Massasauga Sistrurus catenatus in Canada (2013-10-30)

    The Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) is a relatively small, thick-bodied rattlesnake with a segmented rattle on its tail tip. It is grey, tan or light brown with dark brown, bow-tie shaped blotches on its back and is often confused with other banded or blotched Ontario snakes. The Massasauga has elliptical pupils and a pair of heat-sensitive pits between the eyes and nostrils. The Massasauga is Ontario’s only remaining venomous snake and provides a unique opportunity for us to respect and co-exist with a creature that can cause us harm. Despite widespread persecution, Massasaugas pose little threat to public safety. In First Nations traditions, Massasaugas are the medicine keepers of the land, a reminder to tread lightly and to take only what we need.

Response Statements

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in Canada (2015-07-24)

    The Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) is a stout-bodied, relatively small rattlesnake that feeds primarily on small mammals. It is assessed as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) due to a historical population decline, continued habitat fragmentation and loss, and human persecution, and is listed as Threatened on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Canada hosts 8-10% of the global distribution of this species. The eastern Georgian Bay and Bruce Peninsula Massasauga populations are believed to be the largest and most secure found anywhere across the species entire range.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Bruce Peninsula National Park (BPNP) and Fathom Five National Marine Park (FFNMP) lie at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula which separates Georgian Bay from Lake Huron. The peninsula is 90 km in length and its most prominent feature is the Niagara Escarpment which runs along the entire eastern edge. Within BPNP, the escarpment forms the Georgian Bay shoreline and is recognized as part of the core area of the Niagara Escarpment UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.  BPNP was established by the federal government in 1987 to protect a representative example of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Lowlands natural region. Because of the fragmented nature of the park properties, many of the stresses on the park’s ecosystem originate from outside its boundaries. For this reason, First Nations, local residents, non-governmental organizations, and other groups and land users play an important role in managing, restoring, and protecting the northern Bruce ecosystem. 
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada (2016-11-22)

    Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located in southeastern Georgian Bay in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Georgian Bay is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, the 30,000 Islands, and the park acts as a southern gateway into this area. Comprising 63 dispersed islands and shoals the total area of the park is 14 km2 from the Centennial Group in the south to McQuade Island 50 kilometres northward. Situated just 150 km from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), GBINP is within a half-day’s drive for millions of Canadians. Created in 1929 it is Canada’s smallest national park straddling two natural regions and forms a core protected area of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. The park lies on the edge of the Canadian Shield and is home to both northern and southern plants and animals. The islands are renowned for the variety of reptiles and amphibians they support. The park also has significant cultural value, having been occupied continuously for over 5,500 years. Maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is the first priority of national parks (Canada National Parks Act s.8(2)). Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are therefore protected by existing national park regulations and management regimes. In addition, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibitions protecting individuals and residences apply automatically when a species is listed, and all critical habitat in national parks and national historic sites must be legally protected within 180 days of being identified.


  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (volume 151, number 12, 2017) (2017-06-14)

    His Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, acknowledges receipt, on the making of this Order, of the assessments done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) with respect to the species set out in the annexed schedule.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 152, number 4, 2018) (2018-02-21)

    Biodiversity is rapidly declining worldwide as species become extinct. Today’s extinction rate is estimated to be between 1 000 and 10 000 times higher than the natural rate. Biodiversity is positively related to ecosystem productivity, health and resiliency (i.e. the ability of an ecosystem to respond to changes or disturbances). Given the interdependency of species, a loss of biodiversity can lead to decreases in ecosystem function and services (e.g. natural processes such as pest control, pollination, coastal wave attenuation, temperature regulation and carbon fixing). These services are important to the health of Canadians, and also have important ties to Canada’s economy. Small changes within an ecosystem resulting in the loss of individuals and species can therefore result in adverse, irreversible and broad-ranging effects.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report – 2012-2013 (2013-09-24)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2012 to September 2013) from November 25 to November 30, 2012 and from April 28 to May 3, 2013. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 73 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2012-2013 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 2 Endangered: 28 Threatened: 19 Special Concern: 19 Data Deficient: 4 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 73 Of the 73 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 50 species that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 26 of those species resulted in a confirmation of the same status as the previous assessment.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#46582), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2021-02-01)

    Environmental DNA (eDNA) methods are being developed to aid in the assessment and monitoring of species that are rare or difficult to observe directly. Effective eDNA programs require the development of reference primers (based on sample tissues/DNA obtained directly from target species) to accurately detect when target species are present in the environment. This project will collect DNA from water and genetic material from dead specimens of species at risk for development of an environmental DNA (eDNA) primer or to test the efficacy of an existing primer. The collection of the eDNA samples will take place in the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic Site, the Rideau Canal National Historic Site, Point Pelee National Park, Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Elk Island National Park and the Rouge National Urban Park.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#BPNP-18-01), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2018-04-01)

    Cyprus Lake Campground is the only front-county camping experience for visitors to Bruce Peninsula National Park and the Park is taking the opportunity to make campground enhancements and facility upgrades with infrastructure funding. While improving standards by building a shower facility, and responding to the number one visitor request for showers, the Park will also enhance learning opportunities in this multifunctional space and provide other much needed services for the campground. The total project footprint for the new shower hub and electrical corridor is approximately 0.4 ha, of which 0.3 ha will be newly disturbed. The remaining project footprint occurs on existing disturbed gravel areas and roadways, within 20m of Cyprus Lake Road. The new shower building will occupy approximately 200 x 200 m2 of the total footprint, with a permeable parking lot on one side and a concrete patio, amphitheater seating, and wooden deck on the other. Graveled and concrete garden walkways will lead from the patio area, through the pollinator garden, to the raised wastewater filter bed. Almost 0.1 ha of the newly disturbed footprints, in the gardens and over the new filter bed, will be revegetated with native and low maintenance plants. The site is considered to be critical habitat for basking, foraging and mating and will no longer function as critical habitat after these changes.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#BPNP_17-03_Singing_Sands_Parking_Lot), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2017-02-20)

    A new 88 car parking lot is being developed at the Singing Sands visitor node in Bruce Peninsula National Park. The new lot will be located off Dorcas Bay Road across from the current site access. The current 45 spot gravel parking lot near the beach will be removed along with the other infrastructure in this area so the site can be restored to a more natural state. The new lot will be a stabilized gravel surface and will be accessed using a grated bridge to minimize impacts to sensitive habitats. A stabilized permeable trail leading from the lot to the crosswalk on Dorcas Bay Road is being built for pedestrian access to the site. This project will affect individuals and/or critical habitat for Dwarf Lake Iris and Massasauga.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#BPNP_17-10_HWLD_Gatehouse), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2018-04-01)

    Halfway Log Dump is a popular shoreline destination for day visitors, and launching point for backcountry camping in Bruce Peninsula National Park. To access the site, visitors must drive down Emmett Lake road, a 10km gravel road. Currently, the system to collect fee payment and redirect visitors, when the lot has reached capacity, is inadequate for a site that receives 80,000 visitors a year. This project includes trenching ultilities along Emmett Lake Rd from Hwy 6 for 0.48 km to the future gatehouse location, expanding the turn-around footprint and installing a prefabricated gatehouse and gates at the current turnaround location on Emmett Lake Road. The project footprint will destroy 0.1 ha of Massasauga critical habitat for foraging and mating. This represents less than 0.015% of the area within in which critical habitat may occur in BPNP.

Related Information

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA) Listing Plan 2016 to 2018 (2017-09-29)

    The status of wildlife species is assessed by an independent panel of expert Canadian scientists, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). 149 terrestrial species were assessed as at-risk by COSEWIC between 2009 and 2016 and are eligible for listing under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) to be considered by the Governor-in-Council (GIC) on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment: 86 species would be new additions, 54 currently listed species would be reclassified and 9 species would be updated to reflect changes in their recognized designatable units. A three-year listing plan has been developed to address all 149 terrestrial species and listing decisions for most species are anticipated by the end of 2018. Making amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA is a two-step process. The first step is for the GIC to propose an amendment through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part I, for a 30-day public comment period. The second step is for the GIC to make a final decision on whether or not to make amendments to Schedule 1 of SARA, taking into consideration comments received during the 30-day public comment period. The amendments are made through an order in council published in the Canada Gazette, Part II. Both orders are accompanied by a Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement (RIAS) which presents the implications of listing the species or changing their status. Publishing this plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency about the Government of Canada’s plan to make listing decisions under the Species at Risk Act. NOTE: The information presented below is intended to provide openness and transparency with respect to when terrestrial species might be considered for listing under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. It is intended to assist anyone who may wish to provide comments on such listing considerations. Given any number of factors can affect the timing of a listing decision; the Plan is subject to change. Accordingly, the Plan will be periodically updated.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

  • Description of critical habitat of Massasauga in Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada and Fathom Five National Marine Park of Canada (2016-07-02)

    The Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) is listed on Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act as threatened. The Massasauga, eastern Canada’s only venomous snake, is a stout-bodied, relatively small rattlesnake; adults are typically 50 to 70 cm long. It is found in a broad range of natural communities (e.g. forests, wetlands, grasslands, and alvars), and is known to occur in four separate regional populations in Ontario. The Recovery Strategy for the Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) in Canada identifies critical habitat for the species in a number of areas, including two national parks.
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