Radioactive Rat Snakes May Help Monitor Fukushima Fallout

“Driving around the small, curvy mountain roads, we watched for snakes crossing the road,” said Gerke, noting that snakes are active when the weather warms up. “Any time we find one, we jump in, get it, and take it back to the Fukushima University lab.”

Until a snake was large enough, Gerke and his team wrapped a piece of tape around its body. Next, they supplied a small GPS tracking device and a small dosimeter – a radiation resistance device – to the tape, making sure they could retrieve the devices after the study. Afterwards, they returned the snake to its natural habitat. The team equipped the nine snakes in this way, after which they collected the data remotely.

Scientists have identified more than 1,700 locations in the region that are frequently visited by snakes. Fukushima rat snakes, it turns out, avoid evergreen broadleaf forests but spend time near streams, roads, and grasslands. They are also often trees and buildings.

What to do with exposed to snakes? Some of the radiation exposure to snakes in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone comes from the contaminated prey they eat, but most – 80 percent – comes from contact with contaminated soil, trees, and plants.

“Understanding how pollutants move across the ecosystem and how they move different animals across the food web site gives us a much better picture of the effects. [of the nuclear disaster] in the ecosystem, ”Gerke said.

The exposure of an individual snake is related not only to the small region where it spends time but to its behavior. For example, snakes that spent time in abandoned buildings had lower doses relative to those left, suggesting that the buildings could serve as shields from contamination. Likewise, snakes that spent a lot of time on the trees had a lower dose compared to snakes that spent a lot of time on the ground. Gerke thinks that species that spend their time primarily on land have the potential to be even more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of radiation, if there are adverse health effects for snakes.

“At the population level, we don’t think they’ve been affected that much [by radiation]. But there are things happening at a cellular level that we don’t know about, ”Gerke said. He noted that scientists understand the level of radiation that can harm animals like mammals, birds, and frogs. , but not snakes.

The present study is the first to plot the house size, mobility, and habitat selection of Japanese rat snakes. The results suggest that these animals may be effective bioindicators of local environmental contamination in nuclear disaster zones. But many questions remain. For example, can scientists create models that explain the relationship between habitat use, radiation exposure, and radiation accumulation? If so, they can provide insight into the health effects of chronic radiation exposure in animals or humans.

Why spend time to understand snakes? “I’m scared of snakes,” Gerke has always heard of revealing that he is a herpetologist. Some offer unsolicited evidence suggesting that people’s bad behavior about snakes has the potential to harm animals: “I found a snake in my yard, and I killed it.” Gerke grew up in Florida with a pet rat; he was confident that he could not relate to that sentiment.

“Teaching people to hate snakes is an ecological disaster,” Melissa Amarello, co -founder of Advocates for Snake Preservation, wrote in an article. According to psychologists, the fear of snakes is known, unnatural. Of the 3,000 species of snakes on the planet, only about 200-7 percent can harm or kill humans. Meanwhile, snakes prey on rodents that carry the disease. And they play an important role in almost every food chain in the ecosystem.

In addition to the fear of man and hatred of snakes that can harm them, these animals face additional challenges that threaten their populations around the world, including legal and illegal collection, loss of puy. disease, disease, and climate change.

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