Snakes in Suburbia

  • The timber rattlesnake has been wiped out in several states in the East and Northeast and is not doing well in the Midwest. (Photo by David Larson, Saint Louis Zoo)

Scientists are worried that
snakes living in sprawling areas could be affected.
In one region, researchers have implanted dozens of
snakes with radio transmitters. Julie Bierach reports, it’s part of an effort to prevent a
decline in the snake population and educate people
that they can live with them:

Transcript

Scientists are worried that
snakes living in sprawling areas could be affected.
In one region, researchers have implanted dozens of
snakes with radio transmitters. Julie Bierach reports, it’s part of an effort to prevent a
decline in the snake population and educate people
that they can live with them:


Wayne Drda loves snakes:


“I think they’re really neat animals.”


In this wilderness area, Drda and his team are studying the basic movement patterns and habitat use of
Timber rattlesnakes and Osage copperheads:


“A lot of the wildlife areas, are being surrounded by subdivisions and homes, and some are
completely surrounded. And so the animals tend to wander out of the wildlife areas into
backyards and many of them don’t survive that.”



The timber rattlesnake already has been wiped out in several states in the East and Northeast. And the
timber rattler is not doing very well in many states in the Midwest. Drda says snakes in general get a
bad rap. A lot of people don’t like them, so otherwise peaceful people can turn into what he calls “nature
vigilantes,” and they kill snakes on sight:


“Well, I guess the most common way is with a shovel. That’s always the common joke, the
shovel. (Laughs)”


Drda wants to prevent that from happening as often in his area. He’s the field manager for the Pitviper
Research Project at Washington University’s Tyson Research Center near the suburbs of St. Louis,
Missouri. He’s trying to help suburbanites understand that the Timber rattler is a much less aggressive
species of rattlesnakes.


Drda and his team have implanted 26 snakes with the radio transmitters, and track them daily using a
GPS system. Ryan Turnquist is one of the students tracking the snakes:


“And basically we use that to map it on an area photo and determine how far the snake moved,
where the snake moved, what kind of habitat they used, home range size.”


On this day, they’ve already tracked 8 snakes. And now, they’re on their way to find another. Turnquist
turns on the GPS system. And we begin to plow through the woods. Each snake has been named and assigned its own frequency on the transmitter.
The 4-foot-long male rattlesnake we’re tracking has been named Aron.


As we get closer, the signal gets stronger. Turnquist leads the way pointing the big steel antenna in
several directions. And then, we see him. Aron is lying in the sun, half coiled, near a log . He blends in
with the pile of leaves that surround him. He doesn’t rattle, but instead is still, hoping we don’t see him.
Wayne Drda has been studying snakes for 40 years. He knows what Aron is up to:


“This snake is probably in the most conspicuous situation you can find him in, except being out in
the road. He’s not going to give away his position by doing anything until he feels like he’s
really threatened. I mean he knows we’re here, but he’s probably not going to rattle.”


That happens a lot more often than you expect. Drda says they’ve already tracked some snakes that
have made their way to backyards of homes in the area. And the homeowners don’t even know it:


“We’ve been trackin’ this one snake, her name is Hortence. She’s basically been in somebody’s
backyard now for three weeks I guess.”


So far, the team has learned that the male timber rattlers have a larger home range. They breed in late
summer, or early fall, and they never breed with females from the same den where the males hibernate.


Jeff Ettling is with the St. Louis Zoo. He’s conducting a DNA analysis to determine which areas need to
be kept open so the snakes can travel back and forth without running into someone with a shovel:


“If we can get enough samples within a given area, we should be able to tell what the relatedness is
and which males are moving between dens. That’s what we’re hoping to find out. I mean, we have a good
idea by tracking them where they go. But which females are they breeding with from different
dens we really don’t have any idea right now.”


The research team is finding new scientific information about the snakes. But, they say the ultimate
goal is to explain to the people who live in the area that you can live with the rattlesnakes. They don’t
have to kill them. Drda wants people who find a timber rattler in their backyard to call a herpetologist,
instead of running for the shovel.


For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Bierach.

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New Method to Stop Spread of Invasives

  • Garlic mustard is an exotic species in some places, so it doesn't have any natural predators. That means it can push out native plant species and disrupt ecosystems. Researchers are trying to find ways to prevent this by targeting smaller populations. (Photo by Corbin Sullivan)

Invasive species cost the United States economy some 120 billion
dollars per year. Adam Allington reports some researchers plan study
new methods of controlling and eliminating some invasive plants:

Transcript

Invasive species cost the United States economy some 120 billion
dollars per year. Adam Allington reports some researchers plan study
new methods of controlling and eliminating some invasive plants:


Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are developing a
model that targets small populations of invasive plants before honing
in on big clusters.


Dr. Tiffany Knight says the idea is that small populations often spread
quicker then larger ones:


“If you can focus your efforts on satellite individuals that are just
at the front of where the population is spreading, it might be a more
efficient method which saves time and money of managers.”


The invasive plant they’re working with is garlic mustard. It’s a
European species that spreads by out-competing native plants on the
forest floor.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding the research, banking on
the idea that a method which effectively controls garlic mustard, might
also be applied to other invasives such as kudzu, which is
devastating Southern forests, or spartina, which is causing troubles in
coastal areas.


For the Environment Report, I’m Adam Allington

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DAMS MAKE MAJOR FLOODS WORSE? (Short)

  • The Army Corps of Engineers installed these wing dams to force the current to the middle. The rushing water scours the bottom of the channel to keep navigation open. A new study alleges the wing dams slow the current during major floods and cause flood waters to be higher. Photo by Lester Graham.

A recent study concludes that some of the flood control projects along the Midwest’s largest rivers might be making the severity of some floods worse. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

A recent study concludes that some of the flood control projects along the Midwest’s largest rivers might be making the severity of some floods worse. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

The study, published in the journal Geology, looked at the history of flood stages and river flows along portions of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. It concludes that the dams, dikes, and levees constrict rivers so that when there are massive floods, such as on the Mississippi in 1993, they make the situation worse. Everett Shock is a professor at Washington University and one of the authors of the study.

“There needs to be some very clever thought on how to go about some differences in management practices so that we aren’t making large floods worse.”

The Army Corps of Engineers, which built and maintains the flood control projects along rivers, says the study is flawed because it doesn’t use updated data and it doesn’t consider the role that man-made reservoirs play in holding backwater during floods. The Corps also notes that before the flood projects, the rivers often damaged homes, businesses and property on a large scale, something that the Corps says rarely happens now.

Midwestern Refuge Aids Wolf Reintroduction


A Midwestern sanctuary for wolves is helping re-introduce the
Mexican Grey Wolf. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports… worldwide the animal’s numbers had dwindled down to five:

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