"Grab first, think later." That's what an expert herpetologist advised the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) to do when two fast-moving, non-poisonous Eastern racers showed up on agency property in 2004. Eastern racers hadn't been seen in the State (the northernmost fringe of their range) for 30 years. The species is large (5 to more than 6 feet long), but a bite from its tiny teeth hurts less than the sting from a blackberry bush. To learn how the snakes moved on and used the property, VTrans launched a research project with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife and Middlebury College. Spotting and catching the snakes onsite was a group effort. The researchers walked slowly and close together, scanning the flat terrain. As one snake made its move, one "fast" person grabbed it; several others helped put it into a dark pillowcase so it could be measured (and so it could calm down). The process was repeated with a second snake. After a volunteer veterinarian had inserted chapstick-sized transmitters into the racers' body cavities, the snakes were released back onto the property. Monitoring revealed the snakes moved a lot on the property and used it for foraging, basking, hunting, and travel--facts VTrans has used on easy-to-create snake-friendly habitats. And the transmitter-outfitted snakes also led researchers to a far-off den of six other adult racers--enough for a breeding population.
--Aug 21, 2006
|The Eastern racer snake.|