The Massasauga Rattlesnake.  Image from

The Massasauga Rattlesnake.  Image from

The Massasauga rattlesnake is both revered as an important species at risk and feared as Ontario's only poisonous snake.  While it is not necessary for cottagers around Georgian Bay to fear rattlesnakes, it is important to have a healthy respect for their habitat and to become educated about their behavior.  This way, both humans and snakes can peacefully co-exist.  

Being prepared by knowing what to do in case you or someone you know has been bitten is the best thing you can do.  Download and print our Rattlesnake Preparedness Guide and keep it by the phone or in a safe place at your cottage.  Don't forget to fill out your latitude, longitude and 911# so anyone needing to call will have the info handy.

Knowing how to avoid getting bitten and what to do in case you or someone you know is bitten can make all the difference.  The Cognashene Cottagers' Association has published these tips.

In Case of Rattlesnake Bite:


  • Do not panic.
  • Do not apply ice or a tourniquet.
  • Do not cut or apply suction to the bite area.
  • Do not try to capture the snake.
  • Do not try to kill or harm the snake.  
  • Do not ignore if you think the rattlesnake did not inject venom.  A 'dry' bite can only be confirmed through blood tests.
  • Do not leave the phone if you're alone.


  • Stay calm.
  • Call 911.
  • Ask the 911 operator about involving the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre. (The decision to send the Coast Guard is based on your location and which emergency service has the fastest response time.)
  • Know your dock number, latitude and longitude.
  • Reduce movement. 
  • Gently wash the snake bite with soap and water.
  • If you're alone, stay by the phone.
  • Remove tight clothing and jewelry.
  • Stay warm.
  • Place the limb at or below the level of the heart or lie down.

Tips to Prevent a Rattlesnake Bite

  • If you see a snake, leave it alone.  
  • Keep walking paths clear of brush and bushes so that snakes are easily visible.
  • Wear shoes (not open-toed shoes or sandals) at night.
  • Use a flashlight and consider carrying a stick to shake the bushes as you walk.
  • If you see a snake, stay away from it.  Rattlers usually only bite if startled or if they feel threatened.
  • Educate children and guests about what rattle snakes look and sound like.  It is helpful to know the difference between a rattlesnake, fox snake and a garter snake.
  • When working outside, wear work boots and long pants.
  • When gathering wood or cleaning up the yard, don't reach where you can't see.  Snakes like to hang out near wood piles, under leaves and amongst debris on the forest floor.  If you're reaching for a log, roll it over with a heavy stick first, or rustle debris piles with a stick until you know there's nothing behind, under or inside it.

More Information

The federal Species at Risk Act, and the provincial Endangered Species Act have designated the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake as a Threatened species. This designation legally protects the Massasauga from being harassed, captured, killed, bought or sold. A violation of either Act can result in a maximum fine of $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to one year. A violation for commercial purposes increases the penalty to a maximum fine of $1,000,000.

Download a map of rattlesnake habitat in southern Ontario.

Read this first-hand account from a rattle snake bite survivor.

To learn more, visit The West Parry Sound Health Centre Anti-Venom Depot.

Antivipmyn Treatment Protocol Smith, S., Sammons, S., Carr, J. Et al (2014). Bedside management considerations in the treatment of pit viper envenomation. Journal of Emergency Nursing, 40(6), 537-545.

Special thanks to the Cognashene Cottagers' Association (CCA) for providing this helpful information.