Good news from the state of Iowa: there are rattlesnakes around!

That's right, this is good news. For years, conservation efforts have been focused on restoring habitats in the state, and the recent sightings of two endangered species of venomous snake are twin signs that things are looking up.

Both snake species – the massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus) and the larger prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) – are found in many of the United States, but they're highly threatened in Iowa, and rarely seen. The local branch of the Nature Conservancy reports spotting both of them in nature preserves this year.

"Whether you love the slithering serpents or shiver at the thought, snakes are an important part of the Iowa ecosystem," the organisation said on its Facebook page. 

massasauga rattlesnake_2017_07_24.jpg
The massasauga rattlesnake was found in Lower Cedar Valley Preserve. Image: Josh Spies via The Nature Conservancy in Iowa/Facebook

The massasauga was found in Lower Cedar Valley Preserve in the eastern part of Iowa. The snakes are relatively small, usually under 70 centimetres (30 inches) long. It's thought that habitat encroachment and recent flooding in the area may have pushed many resident massasaugas out of their homes.

"The massasauga 'swamp rattlers' have become increasingly rare – this is the first time in 15 years one has been documented on our preserve," said the Nature Conservancy team. In fact, there's been some concern that the snakes might never be seen in Iowa again. 

The prairie rattlesnake, meanwhile, made its appearance on the other side of the state, in the Broken Kettle Grasslands not far from Sioux City. A single one-metre-long (3ft) individual spotted earlier this year turned out to be nine for the price of one – because she was full of eggs! By September, there will be eight more prairie rattlers slithering around the preserve, a great sign for the local ecosystem.

prairie rattlesnake_2017_07_24.jpg (1)
The prairie rattlesnake was spotted in the Broken Kettle Grasslands, home to Iowa's largest remaining prairie. Image: Amy Crouch via The Nature Conservancy in Iowa/Facebook

This area of western Iowa – complete with rocky hibernation spots for the winter and abundant burrows of tasty little mammals for the summer – is a great spot for prairie rattlers. But this is a small and isolated population, many miles from the nearest patch of these snakes in other states. This has conservationists concerned that a single bad year could wipe them all out, so the area is under continuous monitoring.

The fact that both snakes are present and apparently doing well is comforting for those invested – as we all should be – in the health of local natural habitats. "We're absolutely thrilled to have them back," spokesperson Shelly Hiemer told Radio Iowa. "It means the work we're doing to restore the prairie and to restore the swamp fen (peat fens) is working."

And just in case you're wondering what a prairie rattlesnake sounds like, here you go:



Top header image: Patrick Randall/Flickr