July 17, 2013 12:58 pm
Updated: July 17, 2013 1:40 pm

Rattlesnake bites increase in Ontario: MNR

The Massasauga Rattlesnake is Ontario's only poisonous snake and is found primarily along the eastern side of Georgian Bay and along the Bruce Peninsula.

AP Photo/Chris Gardner, File

TORONTO – Massasauga rattlesnake bites are on the rise in Ontario and, according to the Ministry of Natural Resources, it could have something to do with the weather.

So far in Ontario this summer there have been six confirmed rattlesnake bites in the Parry Sound-Georgian Bay region, according to the MNR.

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“We think there are three reasons (for the increased bites) according to our biologists,” said Jolanta Kowalski, a spokesperson for the MNR. “The first is mating season, so (the snakes) are moving around more. The second is it’s cottage season so there are more people up around the snake’s upland habitat. But the most likely reason is that June was cooler than normal so the snakes stayed in their upland habitat longer and out of the wetlands. This led to more snake and human interactions.”

The massasauga rattlesnake is the province’s only poisonous snake and is found primarily along the eastern side of Georgian Bay and along the Bruce Peninsula.

Other provinces with venomous snakes include Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan who each have a single species of rattlesnake, according to provincial agencies.

Although the massasauga is  poisonous, it will only bite in self-defence if threatened or harassed, said Gary Allen, a species conservation specialist with Parks Canada.

“The nice thing about these snakes is that they’re just little guys and try to avoid people,” said Allen. “They are really camouflaged well. You can be standing on a trail and they can be right beside you, and nothing will happen. If they do feel threatened they will start to rattle their tail that makes a very noticeable and loud sound.”

The massassauga is also classified as a threatened species, and is protected by federal and provincial legislation.

If a person encounters a snake it’s best to leave it alone.  Killing it could also cost thousands of dollars and potentially lead to prison time.

“Under the Species at Risk Act, the fine can be as high as $250,000 and five years in jail if the snake is intentionally killed,” said Allen.

If a person is bitten, the MNR and Parks Canada recommend getting to a local hospital as quickly as possible to receive anti-venom.

“If you get bitten, get to a hospital, don’t apply a tourniquet or suck out the poison. Get yourself to a hospital,” said Kowalski.

In Ontario, the West Parry Sound Health Centre operates Ontario’s Massassauga Rattlesnake Anti-venom Depot, and distributes the anti-venom to local hospitals.

According to Parks Canada there have only ever been two fatalities from rattlesnake bites in Canada, and recommends proper attire when in rattlesnake country.

“It’s tough in the hot weather but if you’re going into massassauga country do not wear flip-flops. Wear proper hiking boots and long pants,” said Allen.

© 2013 Shaw Media

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