CAN OFFER LESSONS IN ECOLOGY
time of year has come when you may begin to experience a common wildlife
phenomenon anytime you drive somewhere. Roadkill. As I have said before
on this topic, don't be grossed out just because an animal is dead.
Certainly no reasonable person likes to hit an animal with a car or
see a dead creature on the road, but wildlife victims of highway accidents
can enhance environmental education. Scientists have preserved road-killed
specimens in museum collections for decades.
notice animals, dead or alive, especially small ones. Anyone can see
a dead coyote by the side of the road. But what about a leopard frog
the size of a deck of cards or a scarlet king snake that looks like
a peppermint stick? Developing a search image for small animals on roads
is not that difficult. Most herpetologists can spot a salamander the
size of a matchstick in the rain at night.
conditions allow, stop and look at interesting dead animals. Most do
not smell bad because few remain on the roadside once crows or other
scavengers see a dining opportunity. Possums are part of the nighttime
cleanup crew. Take a good look at your find and snap a photograph of
it so you can identify it when you get home. Check out the habitat along
the road to get a sense of where such animals live. We determined the
habitat of rare coral snakes in a region by finding road-killed specimens
over a period of several years.
victims provide a different kind of continuing education material. In
my talks I have used many possums that were acquired by searching for
babies in the pouches of road-killed females. A litter of orphaned babies
who have stayed with the mother can be raised with a high success rate.
I know of an Australian educational program that does the same with
baby kangaroos, known as joeys. In some talks to schoolchildren, I show
them a 3-pound snapping turtle. We acquired it as a result of a large
female being killed on a local highway. Inside her were 51 ready-to-be-laid
eggs. We incubated them at home and several hatched. Most were released
back at the pond the mother had come from, but the education outreach
program kept two, and they provide great learning opportunities for
to examine roadkill, your foremost concern should be not becoming roadkill
yourself. No animal, no matter how rare or unusual, is worth stopping
for in an unsafe spot or stepping onto a busy highway. Such advice smacks
of common sense, but in the excitement of finding something new, enthusiasm
can override caution. I know of two college students who were hit by
oncoming traffic while jumping out of a vehicle to look at an animal
on a highway. When children are along, the safest approach is not to
let them get out of the car, except in a residential area or on a country
road with no traffic.
hazards include animals that could harm you. For example, an almost-dead
copperhead can still bite and inject venom. Rabbits sometimes have an
ailment known as tularemia or rabbit fever that can be transmitted to
a person if blood from an infected rabbit gets into an open cut. In
some regions, fire ants are the first animals to find fresh roadkill.
Do not pick up an animal that is covered in ants. Following these guidelines
will help ensure that the experience is safe as well as educational.
animals are an unfortunate yet inexorable feature of an extensive highway
system. Once you develop a search image for small creatures on roads,
you will be astounded at the number of dead animals you see and will
probably run over fewer yourself. One day perhaps we will develop protocols
to minimize damage to wildlife whose habitats we have fragmented with
roads. Meanwhile, let's learn something about animal ecology while we
you have an environmental question or comment, email