Saturday, January 28, 2012

Clark Lab YouTube Channel Up and Running!

Our research relies heavily on wireless network security cameras, which we use to record natural animal behaviors. This makes our study unique in that we have hours and hours of video footage of snake behaviors without the interference of human presence. I like to view our work as peering into a short segment of the animal's life which would be impossible to observe otherwise. We have started a lab YouTube channel to propagate our remarkable findings. Below are some examples:

Our cameras are especially useful in capturing rarely observed strikes and our recordings have revealed that snakes in the wild are not as successful at striking prey as they appear to be in the lab. Wild rodents (unlike lab rats) are actually very good at dodging strikes in a split second, foiling snake hunting attempts. Thus, rattlesnakes may be very judicious with their strikes because missing could be costly to the snake (the snake is revealing itself to predators and other prey) See the video below. 

Normally rattlesnakes strike prey and release to prevent self-injury from the struggling prey. This is why venom is handy--it kills the prey, allowing the rattlesnake to release the prey and preventing further injury to the snake. Prey usually flee after being struck, and succumb to the venom a distance away from the snake. At this point, the snake will leave its ambush position to go find its meal. Our recordings have revealed, however, that rattlesnakes do not always strike and release. Especially with mice-prey, snakes strike and hold onto the rodent, and then injest it right away. Check out the video below:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Boy Scouts and California Snakes

Long ago in the days of my youth, I was once a wee Girl Scout. I enjoyed the camping trips and cross-stitching, but most of all I enjoyed learning about awesome animals (much like I do today). In order to give back to the community that inspired me, last month I gave a presentation to my little brother's Boy Scout troop. The boys in this troop live near undeveloped California foothills on which they hike often. More likely than not, they will at some point encounter a California snake. The goal of my presentation was to inform them how to identify California snakes (venomous vs. non-venomous), what to do when there is an encounter, and how to avoid/handle getting bit.

The fifth-grade boys in this troop were such a pleasure to talk to (much more fun than the undergrads I teach). They were very excited to ask and answer questions, participate in the group activities I developed, and they were all very respectful. As a treat, I brought in live snakes for them to look at (Rosy Boa, California Kingsnake, Long-nosed Snake, and Northern Pacific Rattlesnake), and I "tubed" the rattlesnake so that they could safely view and touch the rattle. Although the parents were initially uneasy about the tubing process, their fear subsided after they saw how docile the snake can be. To my delight, the children thought my presentation was the coolest thing in the world. Hopefully, I instilled in them a respect for these beautiful creatures that live in their backyards.

Looking at the Rosa Boa, Kingsnake, and Long-nose

Answering some of the boys' questions

Letting the boys touch the tail and rattle of "Mr. Cuddles"

Even the fathers got into it (too bad none of the moms were interested)