Study looks to save rattlers from Canadian roads

Tue Aug 12, 2008 11:04am EDT
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By Todd Korol

DINOSAUR PROVINCIAL PARK, Alberta (Reuters) - In this arid river valley in southeastern Alberta, Adam Martinson is trying to find out why rattlesnakes cross the road.

Martinson, a University of Calgary student working on a Masters degree has come to Dinosaur Provincial Park, listed as a United Nations World Heritage site, to study why snakes slither onto -- and too frequently die on -- the asphalt blacktop of the region's roads.

"Road mortality is a significant factor of influencing snake populations around the world," Martinson said. "In southern Alberta it's particularly important because the snakes aren't moving very fast across the roads and there is a huge amount of development."

Snakes are pressured by both oil and gas exploration in the Western Canadian province's semi-desert southeast, but also by residential development in the booming region.

For prairie rattlesnakes, considered to be potentially a "species at risk" by the Alberta government, and bull snakes, their nonvenomous cousins, roads are a deadly hazard.

The snakes move onto roads looking for safety, food, mates and the heat absorbed by the asphalt. However, when a vehicle approaches the snakes don't move.

They coil themselves up in a defensive posture and the rattlers shake their tails to warn off the danger.

It's a strategy that has served them well for millions of years but is of little use in fending off a truck.   Continued...

<p>A prairie rattlesnake warns approaching hikers with a rattle of his tail in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta in this picture taken August 7, 2008. REUTERS/Todd Korol</p>