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Shake, rattle and...Mass-a-saw'-ga!

Learning about Rattlesnakes in Orion

Brian Cressman, a member of Michigan Partners for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, was on site to answer questions -- as from Caren L’Esperance, right. Photo by Laura Colvin (click for larger version)
May 05, 2010 - Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnakes are shy, secretive and seldom-seen creatures. But they're here.

"We've had confirmed sightings in Orion Oaks Park," said Kathleen Dougherty, an educational resource specialist with Oakland County Parks.

Michigan's only venomous snake, the Massasauga's been spotted at Independence Oaks and Lyon Oaks, too, she said, and plenty of other places.

Dougherty was at the helm of "Rattlesnake Response for Dog Owners," an informal expo held Saturday at Orion Oaks Dog Park.

Those who stopped by learned to identify the snake -- Massasaugas have thick bodies -- gray, grayish brown or brown -- large dark brown blotches on the back and smaller, lighter patches on the sides. With a wide triangular head and eyes, adults measure 18" to 30," and have grayish yellow "rattles."

Massasaugas are considered a Species of Special Concern in Michigan and are protected by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Experts recommend those who live in Massasauga territory know what to do if they encounter the snake, and say "prevention is the best policy."

•While walking, control your dog with a six–foot leash and don't allow him to explore holes in the ground or dig under logs or other natural objects.

•Stay on the trails and be alert; if you see or hear a rattlesnake, keep your pet at your side, locate the snake and move away.

If a pet is bitten, look for swelling, pain, or signs of discomfort. Massasauga bites are distinguished by 1–2 puncture wounds. Try to identify the snake, but avoid getting bitten. Do not let the dog walk. If possible, keep the bitten area below heart level, and don't apply tourniquets, ice or suction to the wound. Take pet immediately to a veterinarian.

If a human is bitten, contact 911 or contact a medical care provider for further direction.

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