Study looks to save rattlers from Canadian roads
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...