June 15, 2016
Let me set the scene for you. It was a lovely summer day a few years ago. Families in my neighborhood were celebrating Father’s Day with outside barbeques and picnics. It was an idyllic suburban scene – well, until I kind of ruined it. I had decided to mow the lawn. There I was, looking especially snappy in a mismatched outfit of old shorts, a torn t-shirt and paisley rain boots. No, it wasn’t raining. I was just afraid of what I might step on in the backyard. I also had earbuds in to listen to music while I mowed.
And then it happened. Just as I was almost done, a snake literally came flying at me through the air. I, in all my demure, ladylike behavior, let loose with language that would make a sailor blush. At the top of my lungs. While flailing about like a madwoman. In front of all the neighbors. With my music on, I had no idea just how loudly I had screamed, but suddenly the barbeque banter stopped and everyone was staring at me. But…but…it was a snake. I hate snakes. I know they’re important to the environment and circle of life and all that but…shudder. Please just stay where I can’t see you. Please.
I knew it wasn’t venomous and couldn’t really hurt me because it wasn’t rattling, and the only venomous snake we have in Michigan is the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. But that didn’t stop me from an absolute public freak out in suburbia. I have no idea how people in areas with really dangerous snakes ever go into their backyards knowing what’s out there. I still can’t believe I’ve traipsed through tall grass in remote Africa and never saw a snake. I honestly can’t imagine what I would have done if I’d come across a cobra or something.
Yet, I do know snakes are important to the environment. I also know that Michigan is the last stronghold for the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake. What is it about our habitat that helps them survive here rather than other places? Researchers at MSU are working to track them and collect data in an effort that could lead to preserving the habitat crucial for the survival of the species. Check out the video in the MSUTODAY FEATURE: Sustaining a Ssssssspecies, to learn more about the project. (I only shuddered a couple of times watching it.) I do want the species to survive. I just prefer that we not be friends.
However, I would totally be friends with an elephant. There’s something so majestic and sweet about these gentle beasts. Jessica Bell Rizzolo, a graduate student in sociology, decided during a family trip to India that she was going to dedicate her studies to helping elephants. Read her STUDENT VIEW: Preventing elephant abuse, to learn about her work to limit the effects and trauma elephants experience to fill the needs of tourists.
Animals have some pretty amazing capabilities that we can learn from. Take the gecko, for instance. Travis Hagey, a postdoctoral fellow at MSU's BEACON Center for Evolution in Action, is investigating the biomechanics, evolution, and ecology of gecko lizards with special attention to their adhesive toes, which are pretty amazing. Check out his FACULTY VOICE: Measuring maximum animal performance, to learn more about his research.
Even though a lot of things in nature make me shudder, each and every creepy, crawly animal has its place in a healthy, sustainable environment. Thank goodness there are Spartans who are willing to get down and dirty to do the work that will lead to a healthy planet today and tomorrow.
Photo by Kurt Stepntiz