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Baby Snakes a Conservation Ssssuccess at Columbus Zoo

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: February 4, 2021 12:30 pm

massasauga rattlesnakes columbus

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake hatchlings at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Photo Credit: Amanda Carberry/ Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio is celebrating the successful birth of seven eastern massasauga rattlesnakes on January 20th 2021. This is an incredible conservation milestone with only five facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums ever having bred this subspecies of snake.

Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are listed at a federal level as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act and also listed as endangered by the State of Ohio.

massasauga rattlesnakes columbus

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake hatchlings at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Photo Credit: Amanda Carberry/ Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

This breeding occurred as the result of a recommendation from the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Species Survival Plan® (SSP). This program is coordinated by the AZA to ensure that genetic diversity remains within the populations of threatened and endangered species in human care.

The parents of these snakelets are a female who came from the Toronto Zoo in Canada during 2016 and a male who came from Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo in 2018.

“From species across the world to animals we can find in our own state like the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the Columbus Zoo is dedicated to protecting the future of wildlife. The eastern massasauga perfectly represents how we are working to advance knowledge about them through important breeding efforts and data collection from the field. Conservation is complex and it takes a great deal of patience, hard work and collaboration to be successful. We are proud to work with our partners to benefit eastern massasaugas and other species that rely on the massasaugas’ presence within their ecosystems,” said Columbus Zoo and Aquarium President/CEO Tom Stalf.

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Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes are one of only three venomous snake species found in Ohio. They are rarely seen preferring to remain hidden in their habitat. Rattlesnakes are feared by many but have played an important role in the development of many modern medicines used to treat complications such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis and polio.

Unfortunately their populations have declined as a result of wetlands being drained for human expansion. Columbus Zoo work with other AZA accredited facilities, universities and wildlife agencies on a field study to analyze eastern massasauga rattlesnakes. Over 800 snakes have been caught and studied as part of this research.

The Columbus Zoo has sent staff to participate and offer their expertise in this important study, including Dr. Randy Junge, the Zoo’s Vice President of Animal Health who also serves as the Veterinary Advisor to the Eastern Massasauga SSP.

massasauga rattlesnakes columbus

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake hatchlings at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Photo Credit: Amanda Carberry/ Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

In a single clutch a female eastern massasauga rattlesnake will give birth to between five and twenty young. Unlike most snakes they give birth to live young.


Mother eastern massasauga rattlesnakes only care for their babies for a few days after birth guarding them from predators. Already these snakelets have been separated off and are living independently behind the scenes.


Already the young snakes have clocked up a number of milestones including their first meal and first shed.

At birth the young snakes only had a single rattle segment (known as a button) at the end of their tail. As they grow they will shed their skin adding a new button each time they do this. Older segments gradually become weak and break off.

Guests visiting the Columbus Zoo will not be able to see the babies but can view their father in the zoo's reptile building. Currently you can take advantage of half price admission till the end of February.

massasauga rattlesnakes columbus

The eastern massasauga rattlesnake hatchlings at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Photo Credit: Amanda Carberry/ Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Learn more about the Columbus Zoo on their website – Columbus Zoo

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