MSU Researchers work to protect rattlesnakes

Posted at 8:15 AM, Jul 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-21 08:12:43-04

Michigan State University researchers are wading through wetlands in Southern Michigan, on the hunt for our state's only venomous snake: the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake.

"A lot of times we refer to them as EMRs," says Dr. Henry Campa III, PhD, a professor of wildlife ecology at MSU.

Maybe you've spotted one if you live in a marshy area, but the EMR is pretty elusive.

"A lot of times they just try to kind of get away from you without you knowing they are there," says MSU PhD student Stephanie Shaffer.

It's hard work to locate the EMR, which primarily lives in Southern Michigan. Funded by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the goal is to learn more about these rattlesnakes and their habitats.

"Based on what we learn from that, how can we improve the habitat quality in other areas to help those populations as well?" says Dr. Campa.

Everywhere else the EMR lives, it is under endangered or threatened status, except Michigan. It's a species of special concern here.

"Michigan is considered one of the strongholds for the species, probably the stronghold for the species," says Shaffer.

The rattlesnake is an important part of Michigan's ecosystem.

"While people may not like rattlesnakes," says Dr. Campa, "the fact that they are a major predator for small mammals in some of these rural areas is an important function that they play."

These researchers are on a mission to protect Michigan's only venomous snake.

While the rattlesnakes are venomous, the researchers say they really aren't a threat to humans. But, don't go searching them out.

The team has more field work to do next spring and summer, before releasing findings.