Rattlesnake populations could explode due to climate change

Rattlesnake populations could skyrocket due to climate change, according to a study which was conducted by researchers at California Polytechnic State University and two conservation organizations.

“We’re so used to climate change studies that predict negative impacts on wildlife – it was interesting to see such different results for these snakes,” said corresponding author Hayley Crowell, PhD student in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. Cal Poly News.

Found throughout the United States, rattlesnakes are most common in the Southwest. Snakes are pit vipers, which means they’re able to hunt even in complete darkness thanks to heat-sensing organs housed in their heads, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Although shy, they will not hesitate to attack if they feel threatened. Bites can cause extreme pain and even death in some cases, depending on the size of the snake and the availability of medical care for the victim.

Like all reptiles, rattlesnakes are cold-blooded and depend on external heat sources such as the sun for warmth.

Published in the scientific journal Ecology and evolution in May, the study suggests that some species may actually benefit from the numerically small but environmentally significant increase in ambient temperature that will occur over the next five decades. With some projections of rising temperatures between 2.5 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit Over the next century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the increase could inflate both the number of months per year and the number of hours per day of activity of rattlesnakes, thus giving them more opportunities to reproduce.

“Specifically, snakes will be able to emerge from wintering earlier in the year and, in turn, wait months later before returning to hide,” the researchers wrote.

Additionally, rattlesnakes are not susceptible to hunger or starvation. While rodents are expected to be negatively affected by climate change, potentially reducing the amount of prey available to advanced predators such as rattlesnakes, researchers have found that pit vipers channel their energy so efficiently as adult males. can survive on just 500 or 600 calories per year. For comparison, that equates to about half of a “big burrito,” according to the Cal Poly News press release.

“Rattlesnakes need very little energy to exist,” Crowell told Cal Poly News.

The results of the study could potentially predict an increased incidence of encounters and bites between humans and rattlesnakes. In 2019, the scientific journal Stat reported that snakebites are on the increase as snakes expand their range.

News week contacted Crowell for further comment, but did not get a response in time for complications.

The number of rattlesnakes could increase in the years to come thanks to the rise in temperatures caused by climate change. Above, a captive rattlesnake tastes the air of the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo.
CARL DE SOUZA / AFP / Getty Images

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