Kevin McNelis holds a container with
the eastern massasauga rattlesnake
inside. He and his wife Paula,
right, are concerned their son
Joe, 4, will pick up one of the snakes.
Photo by Josh Kastrinsky.
By Josh Kastrinsky
Joe McNelis now wears his tall boots when playing out in the yard. McNelis, 4, is prone to picking up harmless ring snakes, his father Kevin said, but since they found a venomous rattlesnake in their yard off Ind. 142 near Wilbur Friday, they’ve become much more cautious.
When the family originally found two adult sistrurus catenatus, or eastern massasauga rattlesnakes, in their front yard, they assumed the incident was related to limestone transported into the area. Having found a baby rattlesnake near a pond in their back yard, Paula McNelis said, she is convinced adults are still nearby. “It’s just a baby, so we’re looking for mom and dad,” she said.
With several acres of untouched woodland behind their house, Kevin said there’s certainly a possibility of more venomous snakes being found near them or their neighbors. “The animals have a right to be here, but people need to be aware that they are here,” he said. “It’s definitely changed gardening.”
The eastern massasauga rattlesnake is native to an area that extends north to southern Canada and south to central Indiana. Within that range, the snake is largely endangered because of disappearing wetlands that have been replaced by development, according to information from the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
Massasauga rattlesnake venom is not often fatal to humans because they only inject a small amount in defensive bites. Humans near wetlands known to house snake populations are advised to wear boots and not to cut a wound or apply ice on a snakebite, should one occur.
State herpetologist Zack Walker said a sighting of the rattlesnake this far south in Indiana is almost unheard of, as the furthest south it has been sighted in the state is north of Indianapolis. Near Wilbur, much of the land is drier and less likely to host the snake species, he said, so there is a good chance the snake was introduced unnaturally and not does indicate a large group. “Chances that it has a good breeding population are very low,” Walker said.
Because of their endangered status, people who come across the rattlesnake should leave it alone unless it poses a threat, he said. Many different breeds of rattlesnakes have a similar anti-venom, he said, but hospitals would probably have to order it in case of a snakebite.
Anyone who sees one of the rattlesnakes is encouraged to call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife at (317) 232-4080.
Walker said that the massasauga is one of the most misidentified types of snakes, but if multiple confirmed sightings were proven to be the venomous rattlesnakes, the department would act. “If it turns out to be a population - I wouldn’t be too worried - but it would be something for us to look into,” he said.