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Rare Rattlesnake Advances Towards Protection Under the Endangered Species Act

Desert Massasauga Rattlesnake Threatened by Habitat Loss, Human Persecution

Washington, DC – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) will announce in tomorrow’s Federal Register that it will consider the desert massasauga rattlesnake for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“These rattlesnakes have more to fear from us than we do from them,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We’re pleased that the Service is recognizing the threats to these important animals.”

This small snake is a subspecies of massasauga that occurs mainly in the grasslands of central-western and southern Texas, southeastern Colorado, southern New Mexico, southeastern Arizona, and northern Mexico. It feeds on a wide variety of prey including lizards, small mammals, and centipedes. It rarely interacts with humans as it is nocturnal, shy, and elusive.

Despite this snake’s nonaggressive nature, it faces threats from human land uses and related factors, and even intentional killing. For example, the Service found that the species is threatened by vehicular strikes, accidental and also intentional, as drivers will sometimes swerve to hit rattlesnakes in the road. The snake has also lost a significant portion of its habitat to agriculture and heavy livestock grazing, which occurs on most of the species’ range.

WildEarth Guardians filed a petition to list the desert massasauga during our “Halloween Week” Bioblitz in October 2010.  The weeklong series of actions celebrating “creatures of the night” also sought greater protections for 15 bat species, rare parachute spiders sold as “tarantulas,” the Gila monster in Utah, and the Mexican wolf.


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