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MA Press: UMass snake conference

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Thu Dec 6 22:58:00 2007  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  
   

THE REPUBLICAN (Springfield, Massachusetts) 30 November 07 UMass conference devoted to snakes (Stan Freeman)
Amherst: The island of New England. To snakes, that's what the region is.
Bordered on the east and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the north by the St. Lawrence River and on the west by the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, New England is nearly impossible for a new species of snake to reach.
That's why dramatic declines in the populations of at least three of the 14 species of snake that are native to Massachusetts is troubling wildlife biologists.
"Very few things are going to be immigrating in. We're sort of limited to that list of snakes we have until something else manages to swim across the Hudson River," said Alan M. Richmond, a herpetologist at University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
The Snakes of the Northeast Conference opens today on UMass' Amherst campus, and population declines among some of the region's native snakes - including hognose, smooth green and black racer snakes - will be a major point of discussion during the two-day event.
"As a kid, I used to catch hognose snakes all the time," said Richmond, who grew up in Wilbraham and still lives there. He will be a speaker at the conference.
"I'd dig up their eggs to hatch them at the house. I haven't seen one in the vicinity of my house for 10 years, and it's not because I caught them all. The places we used to catch them back then were cow pastures and hayfields and there is not a cow in Wilbraham now as far as I know," he said.
Part of the reason for the population decline among certain snakes may be that farms are disappearing, and the open fields and forest edges the snakes inhabited and hunted are also vanishing, Richmond said.
"But I don't think it addresses all of the problem. We really don't know why these declines are happening," he said.
Four of Massachusetts' native snakes - the Eastern wormsnake, Eastern ratsnake, Northern copperhead and timber rattlesnake - are endangered or threatened in the state and are protected. The state has only two native snakes that are poisonous, the copperhead and rattlesnake. Both are endangered and both are found only in a few isolated locations on rocky hillsides or mountain tops.
Peter G. Mirick, a wildlife biologist for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife who will also be speaking at the conference, said that it is difficult to say much about population levels of the some of the commonwealth's snakes "because we just don't have any data on them."
He said that one change that has aided the survival of many snakes is the improved attitude of humans toward them.
"When I began my career, most snake calls I got were, 'I just killed a snake. What is it?' That attitude has changed. People are a lot more ecologically aware now and snakes are not thought of as some sort of evil animal. They are just another component in our ecosystem," he said.
"There are still an awful lot of people who are afraid of them, but now, when they come across one hiking, instead of lashing out at them and acting on their fears, they are more apt to say 'I'll just walk the other way,'" Mirick said.
http://www.masslive.com/news/republican/index.ssf?/base/news-2/119641232944350.xml&coll=1
UMass conference devoted to snakes


   

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