Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Roundup-Western Diamondback Shortages and Sailfish Taking the Bait

An Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake from Georgia
A Scarcity of Rattlesnakes in Texas? This week, a newspaper article about the Sweetwater (Texas) Rattlesnake Roundup caught my eye. Rattlesnake roundups out West are a little different from the roundups in the southeastern United States. First of all, there are more of them (there are only two left in the Southeast) and second of all, they collect different species; specifically, the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox, is the animal most often captured for Texas and Oklahoma roundups.

It is generally thought that, in contrast to the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Crotalus adamanteus, there are plenty of Western Diamondbacks. That's why I was surprised to read that this year, the organizers of the Sweetwater Roundup have increased the bounty they are paying on snakes. They say that there were few rattlesnakes brought in last year, and the increased bounty will offer a greater incentive for people to catch more animals. This turn of events reminded of an economic phenomenon related to rare species. When an animal becomes rare, the value of that animal increases and people will pay more for it, whether it's for medicine, food, or as a pet. The more the animal is worth, the more incentive have for people to catch it, and on and on. It's a cycle of increasing value and rarity until the animal is extinct, or nearly so. Now, it is true that wildlife populations fluctuate in size over time, so I don't know for sure that this cycle of rarity and economics is what's happening with the Western Diamondback, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Me with a NY Snapper
The Iconic Snapping Turtle: Ted Levin writes an excellent article about the natural history and ecology of the Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina, in New England. The article features an interview with one of my favorite authors, David Carroll; his writing had a profound impact on how I perceive the natural world and, in particular, wild turtles.

The Aquatic Ballet of Predator and Prey: I recently found, thanks to Blogfish, an incredible video of two dozen sailfish (I'm not sure of the species, there are two potentials) feeding on a school of baitfish. Using slow-motion technology, we are able to see both the defensive maneuvering of the small fish and the hunting strategy of the huge predators. The sailfish strike their intended prey with their bills, stunning them and making them easier to catch with their mouths. Amazing stuff.

Interested in learning more? Check out these scientific articles:

L.A. Fitzgerald, & C.W. Painter (2000). Rattlesnake commercialization: long-term trends, issues, and implications for conservation Wildlife Society Bulletin, 28 (1), 235-253

Brook, B., & Sodhi, N. (2006). Conservation biology: Rarity bites Nature, 444 (7119), 555-556 DOI: 10.1038/444555a

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