Eastern Massasauga Habits and Habitat

Massasaugas utilize low-lying, poorly drained open habitats in the spring, fall, and winter. Crayfish burrows and other fissures are utilized to gain access to ground water that remains unfrozen throughout the winter for hibernation (October through April).

massasauga habitatThis habitat allows the snakes to find refuge from the freezing temperatures of Pennsylvania’s winters and retreat from predators in the spring and fall. After the spring emergence in April, they begin feeding on small rodents and sunning in the lowland areas for a period of about a month. In late spring and summer, they move to more upland, drier, old fields, prairies, or meadows nearby. During this time, males and non-pregnant females will spend the summer foraging, and breeding takes place in August and September. Pregnant females will choose sparsely vegetated dry areas to bask until they give birth to their young in August or early September. Females reach breeding age at four years and give birth to an average of six or seven young every other year. The average seasonal home range for the massasauga in Western Pennsylvania is 3.7 acres.

How is Massasauga Habitat Managed?

In general, massasauga habitat can be established and managed using a variety of practices, including

  • Brush clearing
  • Carefully timed biannual mowing
  • Establishing/seeding prairie grasses, wildflowers, and other native plants
  • Prescribed burning
  • Selective use of herbicides

Most of the management activities would occur during the hibernation period when the ground is frozen (between November and March).

Reclaimed massasauga habitat must be maintained periodically to keep forest encroachment in check. This may require management as often as every few years to as rarely as every 20 years, depending on the site.

Sustainable Land Uses with Massasauga Habitat Conservation

There are many sustainable ways to enjoy your land while simultaneously protecting massasauga habitat.

  • Floral– Depending on your habitat plan for your property, grasslands or meadows can be planned to provide a colorful, vibrant backdrop for you to enjoy. These grasslands and meadows may contain beautiful wildflowers that attract songbirds in the spring and summer.
  • Agricultural – Many agricultural activities, if conducted in a sustainable manner, will not negatively affect the massasauga and its critical habitat. Sustainable agricultural activities can be conducted in accordance with a soil conservation plan that minimizes adverse effects on wildlife.
  • Hunting – Massasauga habitat is utilized by many game species. It is not uncommon to find deer, turkey, grouse, woodcock, and rabbits in the grass and underbrush of massasauga habitat.