FOLKS GET TO SEE A GLOSSY STRANGLE A CRAW
received the request via email: Let me know when you see that
glossy strangle a craw. I replied in the affirmative.
not become a spy and this was not code for some hush-hush operation
designed to exterminate a criminal mastermind. It was a request from
Noel Vick, who had given me the glossy crayfish snake, to let him know
if I was able to observe the snake preparing to eat its favorite prey,
crawfish or as some call them, crayfish. I was able to catch
several craws that did get strangled, but I never did see it happen.
The glossy has now moved on, so I will have to wait to see one in action.
harmless watersnakes have a black, brown or olive green body that has
an iridescent sheen when wet. When a glossy crayfish snake captures
its favorite prey, it wraps coils around the pinching claws to keep
them out of play and proceeds to swallow this dangerous catch backward,
tail first. An impressive feat. The snakes are only found where crawfish
abound, so their presence is usually a sign of a healthy aquatic environment.
crayfish snakes deliver several ecological messages. The first is that
they are part of our hidden biodiversity. Though seldom seen, they are
nonetheless susceptible to pollution and other habitat degradations
that adversely affect crayfish and other members of the natural food
web. We tend to focus on highly visible species without considering
that our actions can also eliminate those we do not see.
point is that capture records of glossy crayfish snakes are too scarce
to determine their conservation status. Consequently, they are offered
no environmental protection because their ecology is too poorly understood
for scientists to advise what should be done or not done to protect
them. Their geographic range includes a spotty distribution in the coastal
plain from Virginia to Texas. Most herpetologists have never seen one
in the wild. An out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality toward conservation
is not in the best interest of countless unseen species of native wildlife
that are affected by human actions. But to protect them, we must first
understand their ecology.
lesson is that under the right circumstances a single individual can
advance ecological knowledge. For example, Phil Vogrinc, a University
of Arkansas student who conducts his thesis research in South Carolina
wetlands, has probably caught more glossy crayfish snakes than anyone
else in the world. In two summers he captured more than 800 snakes,
of which 154 were glossy crayfish snakes. He has gathered more information
about the ecology and behavior of the species than herpetologists have
done collectively since the snake was first discovered almost 200 years
research is not easy. Persistence, perseverance and hard work are essential.
Phils study involved using minnow traps, which are
plastic mesh funnels about a foot in length with an opening at either
end. Traps are set with a few inches protruding out of the water so
that a snake that swims in can still breathe. For days at a time he
set out hundreds of minnow traps in wetlands. Walking waist-deep through
mucky habitats choked with aquatic vegetation several hours a day, he
checked each trap at least once daily twice if it rained
to ensure traps remained above water. Phils major professor, J.D.
Willson, used the same technique extensively while studying wetland
snakes in the same area during his dissertation research with the University
of Georgia a few years earlier.
animals out there that are part of our hidden biodiversity are waiting
for someone to develop the right technique to study them and
then to persevere in gathering information about them? Only when we
understand the ecology of a species can we determine what environmental
protection it needs. Fortunately for the glossy crayfish snake, Phil
Vogrincs research promises to be enlightening about this secretive
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