Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County
444 Cherrycreek Road, Lincoln, Nebraska. Phone: 402-441-7180. University of Nebraska-Lincoln



The "Can You Guess It??" photo is featured in the May 2005 NEBLINE

The western massasauga has been found in southeastern Nebraska. They are found in prairie or grassland areas, often in marshy sites or on rock outcroppings if available. The name massasauga is a Native American term meaning "swamp dweller," referring to its use of marshy or wet habitat areas.

These small rattlesnakes are about 20-30 inches long. Young massasaugas are born in mid to late summer. They are about seven to nine inches long at birth, and number two to 19 in a litter. Massasaugas eat mostly small rodents, shrews, frogs, lizards, birds and other small snakes.

When approached, massasauga's remain silent and try to retreat. If aroused or picked up, they will bite!

The following information is from Poisonous Snakes and Snakebite in Nebraska EC89-1761 available from your Nebraska Cooperative Extension office. The publication covers tips for recognizing poisonous snakes, range maps for poisonous snakes in Nebraska, avoiding poisonous snakes, snakebite.

Poisonous Snakes in Nebraska:

Nebraska has four kinds of poisonous snakes - the prairie rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, western massasauga, and copperheard.

Many Nebraskans enjoy outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing and camping, and farmers and ranchers often check fields by walking. Understanding poisonous snakes will help you enjoy the outdoors without undue fear of snakes.

The chance of being bitten by a poisonous snake is rare. However, snakebites do happen, so think before venturing out where poisonous snakes occur.

Watching for poisonous snakes, at a distance be alert for...

1. Blotched or banded body pattern. Several non-poisonous snakes in Nebraska are also blotched or banded (like the bull snake), but all snakes that have a lengthwise stripes are non-poisonous (see garter snake photo below right).

2. A triangular head distinctly wider than the neck. Other snakes including garter snakes, hognose snakes and bullsnakes can also display this characteristic, especially if alarmed.

3. A warning rattle - a buzz or dry, whirring sound. Rattlesnakes usually, but not always, sound a warning rattle. You may see rattles or a "button" (first rattle) at the end of the tail. Some nonpoisonous snakes, including bullsnakes, vibrate their tails rapidly when alarmed; it can sound like a warning rattle.

Garter Snake - nonpoisonous4. In daylight, elliptical (cat-like) eye pupils - see the photo above. Nebraska's non-poisonous snakes have round eye pupils (see photo of garter snake at right).

5. Small pit on the side of the head between and slightly below the eye and nostril. Snakes with this pit are called pit vipers. All of Nebraska's poisonous snakes are in this group.

Never handle or meddle with a poisonous snakes. Be aware that killed snakes and even separated snake heads can bite for some time through reflex action.

Did you know that rattlesnake heads that have been frozen, dried and mounted into tie tacks have cause poisonings when someone caught a finger or thumb on a fang!

Sources for more information:

Reptiles and Amphibians of Nebraska: Interactive Identification Guide - University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension

Poisonous Snakes and Snakebite in Nebraska EC89-1761 available from your Nebraska Cooperative Extension office. If you live outside of Nebraska and would like more information about the publication, email

Controlling Snakes Around Homes - University of Nebraska-Lincoln Cooperative Extension

Photo Credits:

  • Massasauga Close-Up: Dr. R. Hays Cummins, Miami University, Web site
  • Garter Snake in Pond: S. Cochran

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