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Wild Things

The weird and wonderful in the natural world

Sarah Zielinski

Wild Things

Wild Things

‘If you build it they will come’ fails for turtle crossings

Snapping Turtle

Traffic stopped for this snapping turtle crossing a road, but most reptiles aren’t so lucky. And a new study finds that the animals don’t use safe routes built by kindly humans when fences lining the roads are flawed.

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It’s really too bad that turtles can’t read.

If they did, it would make saving them so much easier. When people create an ecopassage so the reptiles can safely cross a road by going underneath or over it, they could let the animals know with little signs saying “Don’t become roadkill! Safe crossing, left 20 meters.”

Instead, we have to rely on fencing to keep the turtles and snakes off roads, which is a good idea because 98 percent or more of turtles are killed in their first attempt at a road crossing. But the reliance on fences may be a problem, a new study shows. When there aren’t effective fences to keep the reptiles out, they don’t use the ecopassages, James Baxter-Gilbert of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, and colleagues report March 25 in PLOS ONE.

The study looked at the effectiveness of a series of ecopassages built along a 13-kilometer stretch of Highway 69/40 near Burwash, Ontario, near Lake Huron, a region with high reptile biodiversity. The passages ran beneath the highway and were paired with fencing along the road. The researchers looked at reptile activity along the roadway before and after the project was constructed, and also used another stretch of highway, near the Magnetawan First Nation, as a comparison.

They surveyed the roadside and put up cameras in the ecopassages to see what kind of animals used the crossings. They captured Blanding’s turtles and snapping turtles, and tracked their movements with radio transmitters. And they took painted turtles and placed them on the other side of the highway from their wetlands to see if they could make their way home through the tunnels.

Animals used the ecopassages, the study revealed, but the most common patrons of the underground passageways were ducks and geese. Few reptiles traveled through them. And, worse, turtles and snakes didn’t stay off the roads. The number of reptiles on the roadway near the ecopassages actually increased after they were put in place, resulting in lots of dead snakes and turtles.

A small part of the problem may be that many turtles, at least, don’t really want to use the ecopassages. The researchers tested the turtles’ willingness to enter the passages, and most turtles either took so long that the scientists gave up (69 percent) or the turtles refused to go in (22 percent).

But the bigger failure was in the fencing. Along three kilometers of road, rips, holes and washouts had caused 115 gaps. During the spring melt, up to 30 percent of the fence was submerged. And other areas had been left completely unfenced. In total, the researchers calculate, about two-thirds of the road was lined with permeable fence.

The solution: Build better fences. “Roads are meant to be long-lasting structures,” the researchers note, “and mitigation measures [to protect wildlife] should be equally long-lasting.”

Animals,, Conservation

Conservationists should make friends with hunters

By Sarah Zielinski 1:22pm, March 20, 2015
A survey of outdoor enthusiasts in rural New York finds that both hunters and birdwatchers are likely to engage in conservation behaviors, such as donating money.

Evidence of ‘yeti’ probably came from a Himalayan black bear

By Sarah Zielinski 2:21pm, March 17, 2015
Last year, a genetic analysis revealed two hairs from an unknown species of bear in Asia. A new study finds that they belong to rare Himalayan black bears.
Animals,, Evolution

Getting stabbed is no fun for land snails

By Sarah Zielinski 2:39pm, March 16, 2015
When hermaphroditic land snails mate, they stab each other with “love darts.” But being darted comes at a price, a new study finds.
Animals,, Ecology

Flowers make the menu for nearly all Galapagos birds

By Sarah Zielinski 12:38pm, March 11, 2015
Almost every species of Galapagos land bird has been found feeding on the nectar and pollen of flowers. Such an expansion of diet has never before been observed.
Animals,, Biophysics

How a young praying mantis makes a precision leap

By Sarah Zielinski 2:56pm, March 6, 2015
Videos of juvenile praying mantises flying through the air reveal how the insects manage to always make a perfect landing.
Animals,, Climate

Insects may undermine trees’ ability to store carbon

By Sarah Zielinski 11:08am, March 4, 2015
Insects eat more leaves on trees grown in carbon dioxide-rich environments than those grown without the extra CO2. That may undermine forests as carbon sinks in the future.

Delicate spider takes down tough prey by attacking weak spots

By Sarah Zielinski 3:05pm, February 27, 2015
The Loxosceles gaucho recluse spider can take down a heavily armored harvestman by attacking its weak spots, a new study reveals.

Where an ant goes when it's gotta go

By Sarah Zielinski 12:17pm, February 24, 2015
Scientists found black garden ants defecating in certain spots inside their nests. The researchers say these spots serve as ant toilets.

Five surprising animals that play

By Sarah Zielinski 2:33pm, February 20, 2015
No one is shocked to find playful behavior in a cat, dog or other mammal. But scientists have documented play in plenty of other species, including reptiles and insects.

Cliff swallow breeding thwarted by bird version of bedbugs

By Sarah Zielinski 12:15pm, February 18, 2015
A 30-year study of cliff swallows in Nebraska finds that the birds will abandon nests, rather than have a second brood, when their homes are infested with swallow bugs.
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