Radioactive rat snake can help monitor Fukushima radiation


“Driving on these curvy hill roads, we watched for snakes crossing the road,” Geck said, noting that when the weather gets warmer, the snakes will be very active. “Whenever we found one, we jumped out and grabbed it, and then brought it back to the laboratory at Fukushima University.”

As long as a snake is big enough, Gok and her team will wrap a piece of tape around its body. Next, they attached a miniature GPS tracking device and a miniature dosimeter (a radiation measurement tool) to the tape to make sure they can remove these devices after the research is completed. Then, they put the snake back into its natural habitat. The team equipped 9 snakes in this way, and then they collected data remotely.

Scientists have discovered more than 1,700 snakes frequently in the area. It turns out that the rat snakes in Fukushima avoid evergreen broad-leaved forests, but spend time close to streams, roads, and grasslands. They also often appear trees and buildings.

What have you done Snake reveals? The radiation exposure of some snakes in the Fukushima exclusion zone comes from the contaminated prey they eat, but most (80%) come from contact with contaminated soil, trees and plants.

“Understanding how pollutants move throughout the ecosystem and how they move among different animals throughout the food web allows us to better understand their impact [of the nuclear disaster] To the ecosystem,” Geck said.

The exposure of a snake is not only related to the small area where it stays, but also to its behavior. For example, the dose of snakes that stayed in abandoned buildings was lower than those that did not, which suggests that the building may act as a pollution barrier. In addition, snakes that spend more time on trees have lower doses than snakes that spend more time on the ground. Gerke hypothesized that if there are negative health effects on snakes, species that spend time primarily on the ground may be more susceptible to the negative health effects of radiation.

“At the demographic level, we don’t think they have been greatly affected [by radiation]But maybe something we don’t know has happened at the cellular level,” Geck said. She pointed out that scientists understand the radiation levels that harm mammals, birds, and frogs, but they don’t understand snakes.

The current research describes for the first time the habitat size, activity and habitat selection of the Japanese rat snake. The results show that these animals may be effective biological indicators of local environmental pollution in nuclear disaster areas. But there are still many problems. For example, can scientists develop models to clarify the links between habitat use, radiation exposure, and radiation accumulation? If so, they may gain insights into the health effects of chronic radiation exposure in animals or humans.

Why spend time Anyway to understand snakes? “I’m afraid of snakes,” Gerke often hears when she reveals that she is a herpetologist. Others provided unsolicited testimony indicating that humans’ negative attitudes towards snakes may harm animals: “I found a snake in the backyard and I killed it.” Geck grew up with pet rat snakes in Florida Big; she confessed that she could not accept such emotions.

“Teaching people to hate snakes is a disaster for the ecology,” Melissa Amarello, co-founder of the Snake Conservation Advocacy Group, wrote in an article. According to psychologists, the fear of snakes is acquired, not born. Among the 3,000 species of snakes on the planet, only about 200-7% can seriously harm or kill humans. At the same time, snakes prey on rodents that carry diseases. They play an indispensable role in the food chain of almost every ecosystem.

In addition to human fear and hatred of snakes that may harm them, these animals also face other challenges that threaten global populations, including legal and illegal collection, habitat loss, disease, and climate change.



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