Hibernation site selection by Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) near their Northern range limit

Daniel S. Harvey, Patrick J. Weatherhead

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hibernation sites at higher latitudes must protect snakes from colder conditions for longer periods of time. Because fewer locations are likely to be suitable, hibernation site availability may restrict the northern distribution of snakes. We considered overwinter mortality, hibernation site fidelity, and the abundance of suitable hibernation sites based on surface features to assess whether Massasauga Rattlesnakes are likely to be limited by hibernation site availability on the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada. We used three years of radio telemetry to locate 46 hibernation sites of 32 individual snakes. Snakes hibernated individually in old root systems, rodent burrows, and rock crevices in forested areas. Hibernation sites could be differentiated from forested areas generally available to snakes but not from locations with holes and crevices in the immediate vicinity of hibernation sites. Few snakes hibernated in the same location in consecutive years, although most (> 70%) hibernated within 100 m of their previous location. Overwinter mortality over three years (23%) was similar to mortality during the active season (21%). Our results suggest that Massasauga Rattlesnakes may be limited by the availability of suitable hibernation sites, but sites of similar quality to those used by overwintering snakes are locally abundant. The location of hibernation sites within forests could not be predicted reliably based on surface features. Therefore, efforts to conserve habitat for this threatened species should consider all forested areas on the Bruce Peninsula as potential hibernation habitat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)66-73
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Herpetology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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