Thursday, March 26, 2015

What are Snakes Good For?

This is a question I was asked during a program last week at a senior center. And then this week, this photo appeared in my Facebook news feed, with the following caption:
"Just saw this from WTOC Mike Manhatton: Pat Long and his son in a blind to hunt hogs near Midway when this guy poked his head in! Pat's son shot the's 9'6" long...with 22 rattles, the head more than five inches wide, the fangs 2.5" long. Anybody going for a walk in the woods this weekend? Share with your friends and see who has good snake stories! 
What would you do if you came across this guy in the woods!?"

Now I'm not here to start a debate on the authenticity of the photo, because that is not the point (personally, I'd say the size is greatly exaggerated, as the snake is being held on a long stick toward the camera). The comments were filled with "hate snakes," "KILL IT," and "Who has a good snake story???? Sorry, there is no such thing!!!" 
Snakes are perhaps one of the most maligned, misunderstood creatures on Earth, right up there with sharks. From popular culture to the Bible, snakes don't get much of a chance of fair and equal press. Sometimes the fear or hatred that we have of snakes doesn't even have a clear origin, we just know that snakes are bad, and in turn this value system gets passed down to the next generation. I have seen many times in programs with children and their parents where a child initially seems interested in touching a snake, but when they see their parents wince, shake their head, or shudder, they then become fearful. (I have also seen parents who are fearful of snakes encourage their children to interact with them so that they don't pass on their own fears. Well done, parents!)

Just what good are snakes?

Snakes perform a valuable service as pest control. Being carnivores, they devour a variety of animals that we would rather not take over the planet, such as rats, mice, and insects. In my garden, there is a tiny species of snake smaller than a pencil called the northern brown snake that takes care of my prolific slug problem. Snakes in turn are also food for other species that people find more charismatic, such as foxes, bobcats, hawks, eagles, weasels, and herons.

If you have safety concerns about venomous snakes in your yard, first, know that the majority of snakes in the United States are non-venomous. However if you live in an area with rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, or other potentially dangerous species, if you get rid of the prey, you'll get rid of the predator. Killing one rattlesnake will only mean that another will likely occupy its now vacant territory. Get rid of debris piles in your yard such as brush piles, piles of lumber, and other sheltered spots where rodents can hide and breed. These are the same spots that snakes also prefer as shelter and hunting grounds. You may even need to consider taking down your bird feeders if your rodent population is really high. Instead of focusing on getting rid of the snakes in your yard, focus on getting rid of their rodent prey, and the snakes will move on. 

Before I wrap up, I want to offer some less-than-scientific evidence in favor of snakes: cute snake photos. Oh yes, my doubtful reader, they do exist! 
Like how about this little albino hognose snake in a tophat?

Or how about this tiny serpent that just wants to shake your hand and say "Nice to meet ya!"

And then there's the concept of a snake sweater. Looks like this corn snake prefers turtlenecks.

While this ball python loves holiday sweaters just as much as the next person.

I always say "You don't have to like an animal to respect it and know that it plays an important role in nature." I don't expect to turn you all into snake lovers after one silly blog. I am, however, hoping that I showed that snakes do indeed have value and are worth respecting and have the right to live in their own space. So the next time you see a snake, give it some space and imagine it in a tiny sweater. I'm hoping you just might crack a smile and if you do, my work here is done.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Costa Rica: Country of Ridiculousness

Pura Vida! I have returned from my 2 week vacation in Costa Rica! I could easily fill an entire blog on all of my experiences, but I won't put you through that much geeking out in one sitting. Instead, I have decided to focus on just how ridiculous everything is in Costa Rica. Let's begin, shall we?

The People are Ridiculously Nice
Let's start with man here, named Hurben:
(Yes, I whited out his phone number so that all you ladies won't blow up his phone. 
Sorry gals, this ridiculously handsome man is taken.)

First of all, his name is Hurben and his mother named him after Ben Hur. How ridiculously awesome is that? He is also just about one of the nicest people you will ever meet. And he's a ridiculous bird geek. If it weren't for Hurben, my new bird count would have been more along the lines of 50 new species instead of the ridiculous 127 that I achieved. 

In general, Costa Ricans as a whole were ridiculously nice, especially if you were brave enough to try out your mediocre high school Spanish with them. There are so many people I could talk about, from the young boy on a goat farm who raised ridiculously adorable goats, to all the merchants, to the 12 year old student I met at a local school who was a ridiculously good merengue dancer.

Then, in an example of "if there are geeks, they will find each other," there's this woman holding a ridiculously large beetle, Bryna:
The woman's name is Bryna. I don't know the beetle's name.
(Update: The beetle's name is Harold. That's a ridiculous name for a beetle.)

She and her husband, David, are the owners of the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens. We met when the group Mr. Nature Geek and I were traveling with went on a tour there. Not only were Bryna and David ridiculously good interpreters, but they invited Mr. Nature Geek and I to go on a night hike on their property to look for awesome Costa Rica insects. Which brings me to my next point:

Costa Rica has Ridiculously Large Insects
Like Timmy, the giant blabberous cockroach:

And this carnivorous rhinoceros katydid, who wanted nothing more than to kill me:

And although not an insect, this millipede was pretty redonk as well...
...which made me ridiculously happy.

I also managed to see 4 legs of a tarantula in its borrow. And as we all know, tarantulas are ridiculously large spiders.

Costa Rica Bird Colors are Ridiculous
I mean, just look at these things:
 Macaws be all like "What? This is just how we roll in Costa Rica."

And then there's this guy with the most ridiculously red butt you've ever seen, the Cherrie's tanager:

These silver-throated and blue-gray tanagers:

This collared aracari is colorful and has a ridiculous beak.

And then Costa Rica just started showing off. "Hey, let's combine a blue jay with a magpie, give it a quail crest, and call it a white-throated magpie jay. Because Costa Rica."

"Now let's just make tourists' heads explode by making a resplendent quetzal."

Costa Rica has Ridiculous Scenery
Costa Rica says "Oh, you want a volcano towering over a lake? BAM. Arenal."

"Oceans? Caribbean or Pacific, take your pick, dude."

"Waterfalls? Please. Challenge me."

"Sunsets more of your thing? Every night, baby."

And then just when you think you've seen it all, there's a ridiculous rainforest that's in the clouds.

So yeah, Costa Rica is a pretty ridiculous country. And if you don't go and visit someday, that's perhaps the most ridiculous thing of all.