Ecoview: Finding a snake is a good sign for the environment | Features



Want to know if you live in a healthy environment? Find a snake.

All snakes are carnivores, meaning they eat other animals. The presence of prey means there are also healthy plants around. Snakes serve as a touchstone for uncontaminated, undisturbed habitat. Despite the less-than-charitable attitude toward these crooked reptiles, the absence of snakes where they’re supposed to be can be a sign that something is wrong with nature. Snakes live in most natural habitats in tropical and temperate regions. The presence of a wide variety of snake species in most regions of southern Canada indicates that the food web is sufficiently diverse.

Food webs and food chains reveal the relationships between top predators and their food sources. A food web refers to the complexity of feeding patterns among organisms, or the paths energy takes as it passes through an ecosystem, from the sun to plants to herbivores (prey) to carnivores (predators) . Animals eat plants and other animals in a surprising array of ways.

A food chain is a pathway for the flow of energy through specific parts of an ecosystem. Oak trees absorb the sun’s energy and store calories. When a white-footed mouse eats an oak acorn, it transmits calories. The food chain is lengthened when a rat snake eats a rat, and even longer when a rat snake becomes prey to a kingsnake or hawk. Predators cannot survive without prey, and without plants there is no prey. The fact that predators are present means that the lower links in the food chain are functioning properly.

Certain animals, including some snakes, are specialist feeders, feeding primarily on one type of prey, or sometimes on a few selected prey types. For example, wild eastern pig snakes subsist almost exclusively on toads. Adult mud snakes primarily feed on large salamanders, and smaller crested snakes feed on centipedes. The snake’s prey may also be a predator itself, making the food chain longer. Therefore, toads need insects. Giant salamanders eat crayfish. Centipedes use their pincers to capture invertebrates in the soil for food.

Depending on the area where suitable habitat is available, all of the snakes listed above may live within a few feet of each other. Their collective presence in the ecosystem indicates that a healthy low-level food base exists in the form of plants and prey. If all the characteristic snakes in an area are present and active, you can be confident that a well-functioning habitat can support them. Regardless of other habitat issues, a strong and functioning food web is essential to any environment.

Another thing we should consider is if the snake is missing, what else might be missing? Are the beech snakes gone because we can’t find toads? Is the lack of toads due to insufficient insect supply? Did something happen at a lower level of the food chain that resulted in a problem appearing higher up? When something goes wrong at the bottom of the food chain, it creates an environmental domino effect that you can’t see just by looking at the landscape. may occur.

The discovery that a region has a rich biodiversity of native snakes should be seen as a positive sign. You may not like snakes, but you may dislike deeper environmental issues if you can’t find them where they’re supposed to be. With the arrival of spring, snakes will be out and about for months. Although some snakes are poisonous, they are overhyped as a threat to humans. Learn what to do about your chances of encountering a snake and what to do if you are unlucky enough to be bitten by one.

Next week: How can you avoid a snake bite? What if you can’t avoid it?

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