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Endangered Species? Retiring Midwest Snake Targeted for Conservation

Oct 01, 2015 05:20 PM EDT

A "docile, secretive" snake that "will try to escape rather than fight" people and other foes--that's how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes the Midwest's Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, which was recently proposed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act, by that agency.

The snake, which generally measures about two feet, has a small, thick body, head shaped like a heart, and vertical pupils. Several dark rings are on its tail, and it has gray-yellow rattles. They are found in unconcentrated locations in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.

Its habitat is wetland and it has been declining since 1999, lost as a result of habitat reduction and being killed by people who fear it. "It's something that has been here longer than we have - we moved into their territory - and it would behoove us to make room for them," noted Chris Hoving, endangered species coordinator with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, on that agency's website

Michigan is the only one of its habitat states on which it is not yet listed as endangered. Zookeepers and snake researchers from at least eight states (and Ontario) go to Michigan to find the snake and research it, as part of the Eastern Massasauga Species Survival Plan®.

Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo also hosts a zoo-based breeding program of the snakes, spearheaded by state and federal wildlife agencies.

At present, the snake's historical populations are down by 30 percent. They eat mice and voles and sometimes frogs and other snakes, as the FWS release noted.

A 60-day period of comment will follow the FWS's proposal.

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