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    Protecting the Massasauga

    Protecting the Massasauga

    Photo By Angela Simpson | An Eastern Massasauga, gently and safely caught with ‘snake tongs’ is placed in a...... read more read more

    GRAYLING, MI, UNITED STATES

    05.17.2018

    Story by Angela Simpson 

    Joint Force Headquarters, Michigan National Guard

    If you aren’t familiar with the word, you might guess the ‘massasauga’ was a river, or a word that performers use to warm up their vocal chords and hone annunciation with – but it’s neither of those. The word, in Chippewa means “great river mouth” and is a description of the habitat in which you might find the only venomous snake native to Michigan, the Eastern Massasauga.

    The massasauga is one of the smallest members of the rattlesnake family. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources describes it as having a thick body with a pattern of dark brown rectangular patches on a light brown or greyish background. It has a small rattle at the end of its tail and a spade-shaped head shape with cat-like vertical pupils, and heat-sensing pits behind the nostrils. Massasaugas frequently eat small mammals but will opportunistically consume other prey such as other snakes, amphibians, and even small birds. They in turn function as prey for larger snakes, birds such as herons and hawks, and may also be eaten by larger mammals such as raccoon and fox. It is a shy snake, preferring to leave an area when disturbed rather than strike. However, it will protect itself from potential predators with its venomous bite as a last resort. People rarely see them out in the open though they will occasionally warm themselves on a log or other open area in the early morning sun from March to May.

    The small rattler was listed as a threatened species in 2016 under the Endangered Species Act. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the population of massasaugas had declined almost 40 percent in the last decade due primarily to habitat destruction. A total loss of the species would impact the overall ecology of the Midwest region because the snake serves a dual role as predator and prey. Without it, fewer rodents would be eaten and predators of the snakes would not be able to eat them.

    “They are a misunderstood species,” said Jonathan Edgerly, of the Michigan National Guard Environmental Department. “Many people hear ‘rattlesnake’ and think ‘aggressive’ but the massasauga is a small, shy snake, it will opt for flight over fight whenever possible. My department, and our environmental partners at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the National Guard Bureau Installations and Environment directorate, and other local, state and national preservation groups are eager to work together to gather data on this species and prevent it from advancing to endangered status or becoming extinct altogether.”

    To this end, Edgerly’s team and representatives from Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center offered to host the first large-scale massasauga population estimate effort, May 9-11, 2018, on the 147,000 acres that comprise CGJMTC. The national CGJMTC tagging effort is the first population survey to attempt this size and scope. Not every acre of Camp Grayling will be covered, of course, but at any one time up to 30 volunteers could be coursing the woods and other target areas searching for massasaugas. Once detected, a special tool called ‘snake tongs’ is used to gently and safely lift the snake into a collection bucket for tagging. Once tagged, the snake can be monitored over time to provide data for future population (and preservation) studies.

    “Knowing the range of the massasaugas is especially important at Camp Grayling,” said CGJMTC Post Commander Col. Ed Hallenbeck. “Thousands of military troops train here every year. Human safety and environmental stewardship are two of our highest priorities and we are blessed to have 147,000 acres to work with, so if a training exercise can be done in area X where no massasaugas have been tagged, instead of area Y where there is an existing massasauga population, then we will alter the training plan or if absolutely necessary, capture and relocate the snakes with assistance from herpetologists.”

    “I will make every effort to ensure that the Camp Grayling Environmental Division can uphold its award-winning reputation for environmental stewardship,” Hallenbeck added.

    Bookmark the Michigan National Guard website at: minationalguard.dodlive.mil, for more information.

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 05.17.2018
    Date Posted: 05.18.2018 11:11
    Story ID: 277506
    Location: GRAYLING, MI, US 
    Hometown: GRAYLING, MI, US

    Web Views: 454
    Downloads: 0
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