Sistrurus tergeminus
(Say 1823)

sĭs-trū-rŭs — tĕr-gĕm-ĭn-ŭs

Adult Western Massasauga from Barton County. Image © Suzanne L. Collins, CNAH.
A juvenile Western Massasauga from Morris County, Kansas. © Lisa Wehrly.
An adult Western Massasauga from Harper County. Image © Travis W. Taggart.
An adult Western Massasauga from Stafford County. © Jacob Basler.
A juvenile Western Massasauga from near Cheney Reservoir, Reno County. © Cole Campbell.
An adult Western Massasauga from Comanche County. © Maci Loughrea.
A neonate Western Massasauga from Pottawatomie County. © Jacob Basler.
An aberrantly patterned adult Western Massasauga, from Russell County. © Curtis J. Schmidt.

DANGEROUSLY VENOMOUS (a threat to life or limb): Smallest rattlesnake in Kansas. Small pit on each side of the head between and slightly below eye and nostril, a small rattle on the tail and nine large scales on top of the head. Head, body, and tail are gray or light brown with 20–50 dark brown blotches on back; smaller bands on the tail. Belly mottled, blotched or light with an indistinct pattern. Young look like miniature adults.
The Western Massasauga is a short and relatively thick-bodied snake. There is a cheek-stripe on both sides of the head that starts at the eye and runs diagonally down and backward to the jaw. The top of the head is marked by two stripes that continue on to the neck. The dorsal background color is tan to light grey, with black-edged dark brown blotches along the back, and smaller alternating diffuse dark brown blotches on its sides. The dorsal blotches form crossbands near the tail. The belly is white to cream with scattered small diffuse black markings. The end of the tail has a relatively small rattle on it. Unlike other Kansas rattlesnakes, the Western Massasauga has nine enlarged scales on the top of their head.
The Western Massasauga has elliptical pupils and a heat-sensing pit between (and below) the nostril and eye on each side of its head. It also has a large, triangular head that is wider than the neck when viewed from above.
Adults normally grow 457-760 mm (18- 30 inches) in TL; largest specimen from Kansas: male (KU 197200) from Coffey County with a TL of 850 mm (33½ inches, including rattle) collected by G. Lairson on 14 June 1984; maximum length throughout range: 39½ inches (Conant and Collins, 1998).

Locally abundant throughout much of the eastern two-thirds of the state, yet conspicuously absent from the Ozark Plateau and rare in the Drift Hills. Makes it into the western third of the state along the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers.

(, Museum Voucher) (, Observation) (, Literature Record)
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  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 659 Total Records 
  • 545 Museum Vouchers 
  • 114 Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Allen (7); Anderson (10); Atchison (1); Barber (53); Barton (119); Bourbon (3); Butler (5); Chase (30); Chautauqua (1); Clark (1); Clay (1); Coffey (5); Comanche (46); Cowley (27); Dickinson (1); Douglas (6); Elk (3); Ellis (29); Ellsworth (55); Finney (2); Franklin (9); Geary (1); Greenwood (24); Hamilton (1); Harper (7); Harvey (2); Jackson (1); Jefferson (1); Kingman (3); Kiowa (15); Labette (2); Lincoln (4); Linn (3); Lyon (13); Marion (1); Marshall (1); McPherson (2); Meade (6); Miami (1); Mitchell (3); Montgomery (2); Neosho (2); Osage (8); Osborne (1); Ottawa (4); Pawnee (1); Pottawatomie (11); Pratt (1); Reno (15); Republic (2); Rice (2); Riley (3); Rooks (2); Rush (2); Russell (51); Saline (5); Sedgwick (1); Shawnee (4); Smith (2); Stafford (16); Sumner (2); Trego (2); Unknown (3); Wabaunsee (4); Washington (5); Wilson (2); Woodson (1);

Natural History:
Found in a wide variety of habitats ranging from arid open sagebrush prairie and rocky, prairie hillsides to open wetlands; seems to reach a peak of abundance in grassy wetlands where it overwinters in crayfish burrows. Diurnal during spring and fall and prowls at night during summer. Three to 13 young per litter are born in July and August. Eats frogs, lizards, other snakes, and rodents.

Occurrence Activity:
White dates indicate there is at least a single recorded occurrence on that date. The darker blue a date is, the greater the relative number of observations for that date.
Woodburne (1956) first commented on the isolated population in Meade County and adjacent Oklahoma. Small populations exist along the Arkansas River between larger contiguous populations found east of Kiowa County, Kansas, and west of Prowers County, Colorado (see Hammerson, 1999).
In Kansas, this taxon reaches its peak observable abundance in two distinct habitat types. The first is the upland grasslands of the eastern Smoky Hills, particularly above the Saline and Smoky Hill rivers, and the eastern Red Hills Prairie. This species is also observably abundant in the vicinity of large marshes such as Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, Quivira National Wildlife Refuge, and Jamestown Wildlife Area.
Burt (1935) reported a specimen found under a rock in a prairie ledge one mile northeast of Otto, Cowley County, Kansas, on 6 May 1934.

1857 Hallowell, Edward. Notice of a collection of reptiles from Kansas and Nebraska presented to the Academy of Natural Sciences, by Doctor Hammond, U. S. A. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia 8():238-253
1859 Cope, Edward D. Catalogue of the venomous serpents in the Museum of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, with notes on the families, genera, and species. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia 11():332-347
1877 Mozley, Annie E List of Kansas snakes in the museum of the Kansas State Univeristy Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 6():34-35
1885 Cragin, Francis W. Recent additions to the list of Kansas reptiles and batrachians, with further notes on species previously reported. Bulletin of the Washburn College Laboratory of Natural History 1(3):100-103
1885 Cragin, Francis W. Second contribution to the herpetology of Kansas, with observations on the Kansas fauna. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 9():136-140
1895 Stejneger, Leonhard. The poisonous snakes of North America. Annual Report of the United States National Museum 1893(2):337-487
1901 Brown, Arthur Erwin. A review of the genera and species of American snakes, north of Mexico. Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia 53(1):10-110
1904 Branson, Edwin B. Snakes of Kansas. University of Kansas Science Bulletin 2(13):353-430
1907 Ditmars, Raymond L. The Reptile Book; A comprehensive, Popularised Work on the Structure and Habits of the Turtles, Tortoises, Crocodilians, Lizards and Snakes which Inhabit the United States and Northern Mexico. Doubleday, Pae, and Company, New York. 472pp.
1911 Hurter, Julius. Herpetology of Missouri. Transactions of the Academy of Science St. Louis 20(5):59-274
1912 Tucker, Henry. A review of the dangerously poisonous snakes of the United States. Therapeutic Gazette 36(5):313-323
1922 Loding, H. P. A preliminary catalogue of Alabama amphibians and reptiles. Geological Survey of Alabama, Museum Paper (5):59
1928 Burt, Charles E. Some distributional and ecological records of Kansas reptiles. Transactions of the Academy of Science St. Louis 26():186-208
1929 Taylor, Edward H. A revised checklist of the snakes of Kansas. University of Kansas Science Bulletin 19(5):53-62
1931 Haltom, William L. Alabama reptiles. Alabama Museum of Natural History Museum Paper (11):1-145
1931 Smith, Hobart M. Additions to the herpetological fauna of Riley County, Kansas. Copeia 1931(3):143
1933 Stejneger, Leonhard and Thomas Barbour. A Checklist of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. 3rd Edition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge,Massachusetts. pp.
1935 Burt, Charles E. Further records of the ecology and distribution of amphibians and reptiles in the middle west. American Midland Naturalist 16(3):311-366
1935 Burt, Charles E. and William L. Hoyle. Additional records of the reptiles of the central prairie region of the United States Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 37():193-216
1953 Schmidt, Karl P. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. 6th Edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. 280pp.
1955 Gloyd, Howard K. A review of the Massasaugas, Sistrurus catenatus, of the southwestern United States (Serpentes: Crotalidae). Bulletin of the Chicago Academy of Sciences 10(6):83-98
1956 Diener, Richard A. New records of snakes in southwestern Kansas. The Southwestern Naturalist 1(1):27-29
1956 Loomis, Richard B. The chigger mites of Kansas (Acarina, Trombiculidae). University of Kansas Science Bulletin 37():1195-1443
1956 Woodburne, Michael O. Notes on the snake Sistrurus catenatus tergeminus in southwestern Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma. Copeia 1956(2):125-126
1959 Prophet, Carl W. An outline for conservation teaching in Kansas. Kansas School Naturalist 5(3):16
1962 Gish, Charles D. The Herpetofauna of Ellis County, Kansas. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 34pp.
1973 Knight, James L., Eugene D. Fleharty, and Jerry D. Johnson. Noteworthy records of distribution and habits of some Kansas herptiles. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 75(3):273-275
1978 Harris, Herbert S. and Robert S. Simmons. A preliminary account of the rattlesnakes with descriptions of four new subspecies. Bulletin of the Maryland Herpetological Society 14():105-211
1980 Clarke, Robert F. Herptiles and fishes of the western Arkansas River in Kansas. United States Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 55pp.
1983 Minton, Sherman A., Jr.. Sistrurus catenatus. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles (332):1-2
1996 Dundee, Harold A. Some reallocations of type localities of reptiles and amphibians described from the Major Stephen H. Long Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, with comments on some of the statements made in the account written by Edwin James.  Tulane Studies in Zoology and Botany 30():75–89
2000 Taggart, Travis W. Biogeographic analysis of the reptiles (Squamata) in Ellis County, Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (121):7-16
2000 Taggart, Travis W. KHS spring field trip sets record for attendance. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (120):5-5
2002 Taggart, Travis W. Results of the KHS 2002 fall field Trip. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (4):11-13
2003 Washburne, J. Geographic distribution: Sistrurus catenatus. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (6):8
2004 Delisle, Jennifer M. and William H. Busby Biological inventory for vertebrates at Fort Larned National Historic Site of the southern plains network. Natural Heritage Inventory, Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence. 61pp.
2006 Bender, David J. Graduate research on the Massasauga in Kansas. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (18):8-9
2006 Taggart, Travis W. Distribution and status of Kansas herpetofauna in need of information. State Wildlife Grant T7. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. vii + 106pp.
2008 Taggart, Travis W. KHS 2008 spring field trip. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (25):2-3
2009 Bender, David J. Population Characteristics and Diet of Western Massasauga in Central Kansas with Inference from Stomach Contents and Stable Isotopes of Carbon and Nitrogen. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 122pp.
2009 Patten, Tracy J., James D. Fawcett and Daniel D. Fogell. Natural history of the Western Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus tergeminus) in Nebraska. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (30):13-20
2010 Busby, William H., W. Dean Kettle, Jennifer M. Deslisle, R. Moranz, S. Roels, and V. B. Salisbury. Monitoring and Habitat Management for Species of Greatest Conservation Need: Anderson County Prairie Preserve. Open-file Report No. 164. Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence. 99pp.
2011 Kubatko, Laura S., H. Lisle Gibbs, and Erik W. Bloomquist. Inferring species-level phylogenies and taxonomic distinctiveness using multilocus data in Sistrurus rattlesnakes. Systematic Biology 60(4):393-409
2012 Crother, Brian I., Jay M. Savage, and Andrew T. Holycross. Comment on the proposed conservation of Crotalinus catenatus Rafinesque, 1818 (currently Sistrurus catenatus) and Crotalus tergeminus (currently Sistrurus tergeminus; Reptilia, Serpentes) by designation of neotypes for both species. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 69(1):1-2
2012 Rohweder, Megan R. Spatial conservation prioritization of Kansas for terrestrial vertebrates. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 151pp.
2015 Brown, Kasandra A. Occupancy Modeling Of Herpetofauna And Grassland Nesting Birds At Quivira National Wildlife Refuge. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 72pp.
2018 Mead, Joshua Spatial Ecology of the Western Massasauga (Sistrurus tergeminus) in a Large Interior Wetland. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 69pp.
Account Last Updated:
10/19/2018 3:41:41 PM

Travis W. Taggart © 2020 — Sternberg Museum of Natural History, Fort Hays State University