Working in snake country

Photo by Eric Hacke

As people who spend a lot of time crawling around on the ground, our maintenance crews encounter a fair share of wildlife.

It’s always a thrill to spot toads or snakes in the plant beds – it’s a sign of a healthy ecosystem. And every now and then, if we’re very lucky, someone will catch a glimpse of a rattlesnake.

A lot of cottagers are unaware that rattlesnakes exist in Ontario. In fact, Muskoka and Parry Sound have some of the best rattlesnake habitat in the province.

But forget everything the movies have taught you about rattlesnakes: these snakes are venomous, but they’re shy, rare, and really not dangerous.

The snake is the Massasauga Rattlesnake, one of 35 species of rattlesnakes found in North America. They’re all venomous, but the power of their venom and their willingness to strike varies enormously by species.

The Massasauga Rattlesnake is definitely on the mild end in both factors. In a typical year, around a dozen people get bitten by rattlesnakes in Ontario. A disproportionate number of them have been drinking – they’re often either people who step on one in the dark around a campfire, or decide to try and pick one up.

Treatment is simply a matter of going to the hospital and getting an anti-venin shot. Only two people in Ontario are known to have died from snakebite – none in the past 40 years – and both of them failed to get the bite treated. There’s no need for dramatic tourniquets or sucking out the poison as they do in movies, or even driving particularly quickly to the hospital, all of which are much more dangerous than the snakebite.

If a dog is bitten, particularly a small dog, the situation is more urgent: get the dog to a vet right away.

Most snakebites are treated at the Parry Sound hospital, because the snake population is highest near Georgian Bay. You may spot a snake at a Lake Rosseau cottage, but you’re much more likely to find them on Lake Joe or the west side of Lake Muskoka.

As the name implies, rattlesnakes will give a warning rattle if you get too close. They rely mainly on disguise, so it’s possible to get quite close without even knowing they’re there. Most often, they’re seen sunning themselves on open rocks – or, to their detriment, on highways. When the new Highway 400 was built through prime snake territory, a low fence was installed to keep snakes as well as turtles off the road.

Officially listed as ‘threatened,’ rattlesnakes can use all the help we can give them. Be aware when driving on cottage roads, and try to avoid hitting snakes (or any other wild creatures that share the environment with us.)

If your cottage is in snake territory, the best way to help snakes is to avoid attracting them. Wood piles, long grass and overgrown areas near the cottage can be attractive to snakes, giving them shelter and a place to hunt for mice. We’ll work with you to keep the property well-trimmed, and tidy.

While it might be a thrill to see a Massasauga Rattlesnake in the wild, the real goal is to keep them well away from you so that nobody gets hurt by accident.





Posted in Connecting with Nature.