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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

How many wildebeest? Ask a satellite

By Sarah Zielinski 1:11pm, January 8, 2015
High-resolution satellite imagery could offer a reliable way to count large mammals in open habitats from space.
Animals

Little African cats need big parks

By Sarah Zielinski 9:19am, January 6, 2015
Protecting African wildcats requires large protected areas free of feral cats to avoid the risk of the wild species disappearing through hybridization.
Animals

China’s reindeer are on the decline

By Sarah Zielinski 9:00am, December 24, 2014
A small, semi-domesticated population of reindeer found in northern China is suffering due to threats ranging from inbreeding to tourism.
Animals

Starving mantis females lie to make a meal of a male

By Sarah Zielinski 9:02am, December 22, 2014
When in desperate straits, a female false garden mantid turns into a femme fatale, emitting false chemical cues that lures in a male to eat.
Animals,, Evolution

The dinosaurs in the backyard

By Sarah Zielinski 8:30am, December 16, 2014
Chickens are some of the closest relatives of dinosaurs, and though genetic tinkering the birds might even one day be turned into tiny dinos.
Animals

Australia’s unexpectedly dangerous creatures

By Sarah Zielinski 8:28am, December 12, 2014
Australia is home to an array of deadly things — from crocodiles to venomous snakes — but dangers can also be found among seemingly safe critters.
Animals

That puffed-up pufferfish isn’t holding its breath

By Sarah Zielinski 3:30pm, December 8, 2014
Pufferfish can breathe just fine even when they puff themselves out with water, a new study finds.
Climate,, Oceans,, Ecology

Resilience protects corals from hurricanes — and climate change

By Sarah Zielinski 4:54pm, December 5, 2014
Coral reefs have evolved to be resilient in the face of hurricanes that can devastate human populations. But climate change is reducing the ability of reefs to bounce back from disaster.
Animals

Platypuses are full of mystery

By Sarah Zielinski 10:05am, December 3, 2014
With duck bills, webbed feet and venomous spikes, platypuses are one of the weirdest animals you’ll ever be lucky enough to see.
Animals

Ten bites of turkey trivia for your holiday meal

By Sarah Zielinski 7:16am, November 26, 2014
Will turkeys really drown if they look up in a rainstorm? Can they fly? Where did the domestic turkey come from? Learn answers to these questions and more.
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