Snake Bit

Snake Bit

By: Steve Roark

When you run across a snake, their normal reaction is to get away. But if they feel threatened enough all snakes will bite defensibly.  If you are bitten, here are some recommended first aide treatments.

Try to determine if it’s venomous or not. If you’re confident it’s not you can treat the bite like you would a puncture wound. Check with your doctor to see if you might need a tetanus shot booster.

If you know it’s a venomous snake or you’re just not sure, assume it is. Our two local poisonous snakes are the copperhead and the timber rattler.  Both are pit vipers that deliver a toxin through hypodermic fangs.  If the bite is on the arm or leg, keep the bitten area below heart level.  Keep calm and don’t exert yourself, as this will only spread the venom more quickly.  Snakebites are usually not fatal, so don’t panic. Call 911 or get to an emergency room as soon as possible. Give them a description of the snake if you can. The head of a venomous snake is bigger than its body with the jaws protruding out.  With non-venomous the head and body are the same diameter. Not as easy to see is the eyes.  Venomous snakes have vertical eye slits like a cat.  Non-venomous have round eye pupils.

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The treatment of cutting the bitten area and sucking blood from the wound is not recommended, as this may cause a bad infection or even sever a vein or artery.  Use of a tourniquet to slow the flow of venom is also not recommended.

When you see a snake out in the woods away from your home, try not to let fear control your actions to the point where you instantly kill it.  Keep in mind snakes provide beneficial pest control…they eat a lot of rodents.  A mutual respect for each other will keep both you and the snake alive and well.

If you’re outdoors a lot it’s a good idea to learn how to identify copperheads and timber rattlers, and there are plenty of references on line.  You are most likely to get bitten if you step on one, so watch where you put your foot down, especially in heavy brush. And please don’t let the fear of snakes prevent you from enjoying the outdoors.  Just be careful out there.

 

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Snake Folklore

Snake Folklore

By: Steve Roark

Snakes have fascinated and frightened people for centuries, which has led to some pretty interesting stories about some of them.  I did some research on some sayings about snakes I heard as a kid to see how they held up under scientific scrutiny and animal behavior.  Here’s a rundown of what I found.

Snakes Chase People:  This is usually attributed to a snake called a black racer (Coluber constrictor), noted for its slithering speed. According to herpetologists (folks that study reptiles) snakes don’t give chase, but rather their instinct is to flee.  What likely happens is the snake and the person are both scared silly upon contact, and both just happened to run in the same direction.  Black racers will show fight when they are cornered, lunging at you and rattling their tails in dry leaves so they sound like a rattlesnake.snake clip art.jpg

Copperheads Smell Like a Cucumber:  This one is the hardest for me to let go, because I swear I have smelled cucumbers twice, both times in the woods after dark, and I was creeped out.  But I did not see any snake around.  Many snakes do emit a fluid-like musk when frightened to discourage predators, and the smell is unpleasant and does not remind you of a salad. Some snakes will also poop when frightened, again to create a discouraging smell for predators.  Some of you may be pleased to know that when a snake scares the crap out of you, you were possibly doing the same to the snake.

Snake Revenge:  The story goes that some snakes travel in mated pairs, and if one is killed the other will try to get you back.  Snakes don’t have the brain power to grasp the concept of revenge, and do not travel in pairs.  The only time you will see two snakes close together is during mating season, or if they are sharing a common shelter.

Snakes Go Blind During Dog Days: Science dudes say nope. Snakes do lose vision as they shed their skin periodically.  To help the old skin slide off, a whitish lubricant is secreted under the old skin, which causes the scale over the snake’s eye to cloud over, temporarily impairing vision.  But snakes shed skin all summer, so it happens at other times besides the heat of August.

A Snake Must Coil Before It Can Strike:  A snake can bite or strike from any position.  Coiling does increase the distance it can strike.

Rattlesnakes Can Be Aged By Their Rattles: A rattlesnake adds one rattle every time it sheds its skin, which happens several times a year.  Rattles can also break off, so counting them is an inaccurate aging method.

 

 

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Wildlife Cover

Wildlife Cover

By: Steve Roark

From past biology classes you know that all animals require the right habitat that provides all that they need to survive.  Habitat needs can be broken down into three basic components: reliable water, food, and cover.  While water and food needs are easy to understand, cover is more dynamic, and its use varies from day to day and season to season.

In a nutshell, wildlife cover is a space where an animal can be kept safe from predators.  Vegetation is an obvious example of cover, but so are rocks and brush piles.  All wildlife species need a variety of cover types to survive.  The following is a rundown of some that should be provided for optimal wildlife populations.

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Nest Cover: Birds, small mammals, and insects use trees and shrubs for nesting.  This includes the leafy cover and cavities in trunks or limbs.

Brood Cover: Once born, cover to raise and nurture young to maturity takes on various forms.  Some raptors need trees with an open canopy, while some songbirds need closed canopies or heavy brush.

Roosting Cover: Every layer of vegetation, from tall overstory trees to grass and shrubs on the forest floor, is a favored cover while sleeping for wildlife of some sort.

Escape Cover: Animals often need a quick getaway place, and the type needed varies by species.

Loafing Cover: These are quiet areas where an animal are able to spend time in relative safety from predator or human disturbance.

Thermal Cover: This is most important in cold climates.  Protection from temperature variation, wind, and storms are essential in harsh weather.

When it comes to habitat development, if you build it they will come.  So, whether you’re attracting a single species or several types, a little research will assure you get satisfactory results.  Several sources for more information are from local state wildlife and forestry agencies, and County Extension offices.

 

 

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The Miracle of Plants

The Miracle of Plants

By: Steve Roark

As an amateur naturalist I have a curiosity to know how things work.  In college I once saw the chemical reactions involved in photosynthesis laid out on a large poster. This all-important method plants use to make food for themselves (and ultimately us) was incredibly long and complex.  It is so complex that it’s tempting to simply say that plants bring in carbon dioxide and water, add sun energy, then a miracle happens and out comes oxygen and food. While there is truth there, let me elaborate on the miracle part.

Photosynthesis occurs in green structures found in leaves called chloroplasts.  As mentioned the ingredients for making food include water brought by the plant roots, carbon dioxide that enters the leaf through pores called stomata, and sun energy.  The recipe is as follows:  take 6 carbon dioxide molecules, combine with 6 water molecules in the chloroplast-mixing bowl.  Use sun energy to blend well and recombine the carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms into a glucose sugar that has 6 carbon, 12 hydrogen, and 6 oxygen atoms.   Six oxygen molecules will float to the top of the bowl and can be poured off into the atmosphere for later breathing.  The plant may store the glucose molecule for later use as food energy, or link them into long chains to form carbohydrates such as starches and cellulose (wood) for use as construction material for building stems, flowers, etc.Plant in Sun.JPG

 

Since we’ve covered food production, might as well cover food consumption.  Green plants must have energy to function just like us animal kingdom types, and so there is a way to get energy from the glucose sugar plants made. This energy is chemically stored in the bonds that hold the molecule together.  Sun energy was used to create the bonds, and when the molecule bonds are broken, energy is released.  So the recipe for making energy from glucose sugar is as follows: You need a mixing bowl called a mitochondria (mi-toe-con-dree-ah), which is in every plant or animal cell.  It has the ability to pull molecules apart.  Place one molecule of glucose and 6 oxygen molecules in the bowl and stir until the glucose breaks down to 6 carbon dioxide and 6 water molecules, and energy is released for use as needed.  The water and carbon dioxide is poured out into the atmosphere where it is available to be taken up by the plant to turn it back to food, which is a very neat cycling event.

The same glucose breakdown to obtain energy is done in animals as well, but we must go through the added step of eating something that has stored food.  Bread from wheat is food stored in a form of starch made from carbohydrates, which are long chains of glucose.  The steak that we eat for energy is animal muscle made of proteins, which are also made from glucose molecules derived from the green grass the cow ate.  Next time you eat a big porterhouse, ponder the wonder of what you are eating.

 

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Got Water?

Got Water?

By: Steve Roark

Water is the world’s most healthy and inexpensive beverage. It can increase energy and endurance, prevent kidney stones, aid digestion, and regulate body temperature.  Yet few of us consume as much as we should.

It is surprising how much water your body loses in a day.  About two cups are lost just breathing, and another two cups are lost through perspiration just sitting around.  Another six cups are lost through kidney and intestinal function.  That’s 10 cups you lose just doing office work.

Because foods contain water, you obtain roughly 3 ½ cups of liquid a day through eating.  That leaves 6 ½ cups that needs replacement through drinking.  The standard recommendation is to drink six to eight cups of water daily.  But if you’re doing outdoor activities in the summer heat, you need way more than that.Water drop in water.jpg

The U.S. Army developed water consumption guidelines based on air temperature and activity level. When doing easy stuff in lower eighty-degree temperatures you need to be drinking a half quart of water an hour.  Hard activity requires three fourths of a quart.  Upper eighty temperatures require three fourths of a quart per hour for easy stuff, and a full quart for hard.  At temperatures above 90 degrees you need a quart an hour no matter what you’re doing.  And by the way, no amount of training or acclimatization can reduce your need for water.

Thirst is not always a good indicator of the body’s need for water, but there are some clinical signs that indicate a need for more water intake.  One is constipation, because the intestinal tract is given a lower priority for water than other parts of the body, resulting in hard stools. Dark, brownish yellow urine is also a sign of dehydration for the same reason, indicating the urine is highly concentrated.  This can lead to kidney stones and urinary infections. Dry mouth can also result from low water intake. Around 70% of your body weight is water, and almost every body function occurs in a liquid medium.  So face it, you need water, lots of it.

It’s best to stretch water intake throughout the day.  You wake up somewhat dehydrated, so drink a couple of cups first thing in the morning. Don’t drink a lot the first hour after a meal to give your stomach time to digest food undiluted by water.

When you first begin to increase your water intake, you may visit the rest room more frequently at first.  Not to worry, you won’t wear out your kidneys, and they will in fact have an easier time functioning.  Over time your body adapts and you won’t be going so often. It takes time to learn a new habit, but improving your hydration is a worthy health goal.

 

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Blackgum

Blackgum

By: Steve Roark

Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), also called tupelo gum and sour gum, can be found in almost any woodland in our area.  It grows on a wide range of conditions, from wet areas to dry ridge tops.

Probably the easiest feature to identify larger blackgum trees is the bark, which is dark gray to black, and with a blocky pattern.  The leaves are roughly egg shaped, smooth edged, and have a broad point on the end.  The leaf is broadest at the top of the blade rather than the more typical bottom. Branches are often at a 90-degree angle to the trunk, and the smallest twigs tend to bend backward towards the trunk.  The fruit is a blue-black berry that hangs from a long stem in twos and threes.

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In the woods, blackgum is moderately tolerant to shade, and is often found growing below the main tree canopy. But it can also reach into the canopy and becomes a large tree. Only occasionally found in pure stands, it is most often a scattered in mixture with almost every forest type. Blackgum is not an important timber tree, having poor form and a cross-grain that makes it very difficult to split for firewood.  It can be used as pulpwood and rough lumber for crate and pallet material.  It is very susceptible to damage from wildfire or mechanical injury, which allows a decay fungus to enter and hollow out the center of the trunk.

Many wildlife species consume the berries when they ripen in the fall.  Turkey, wood duck, robin, and several other bird species utilize the fruit, as well as black bear and fox. Deer and beaver feed on the winter twigs and buds. The tree is a good plant for pollinators, producing abundant nectar for honey.  And since the tree is prone to be hollow, it provides shelters and dens for cavity dwelling wildlife.

In pioneer times a hollow blackgum was cut to short lengths and made into beehives, hence the old name bee gum.  While avoiding it for firewood, farmers did use the wood for handles and rough lumber.  The bark had reported medicinal properties and was used by Native Americans to induce vomiting and as worm medicine for children.

Blackgum is a gorgeous ornamental if given plenty of room.  It is attractive at all times of year, but especially in the fall, when it is produces brilliant red foliage

 

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The Sounds of Nature

The Sounds of NatureSounds natural (1).JPG

By Steve Roark

When it comes to appreciating the natural world, getting out and seeing it is how it’s most often done.  We go on vacations or road trips to see beautiful things like forests, mountains, rivers, oceans, and canyons.  This makes sense, as we are wired to perceive the world mostly through the sense of sight. 30% of the neurons in our brain’s cortex is devoted to vision.  For comparison, 8% is used for smell, and only 2% is used for hearing.  One could conclude that sounds in our surroundings are not important, but I beg to differ. Sounds can have a profound effect on our emotions and sense of wellbeing.  Sounds can also be used to more accurately evaluate natural habitats.

First, let’s analyze sounds, which have three basic sources.  One is the geophony, the nonbiological sounds that occur in any given habitat.  Things like wind in the trees, gurgling streams, and thunder.  Another source is the biophony, which is all sounds produced by living organisms, such as crickets chirping or owls hooting.  The third source is any sound produced by us humans, called the anthrophony. Some sounds we produce are purposely pleasing, such as music. But a lot of it is chaotic and usually referred to as noise. Loud traffic, equipment operation, and so on.

It turns out that biological sounds can be used to better evaluate natural habitats and their health.  Normally field scientists determine wildlife presence in a given habitat by observing them. But this limits them to what can be seen in the viewing area their eyes can take in. Any wildlife hidden by vegetation is overlooked.  But many wildlife species vocally communicate in some fashion, and soundscapes can be recorded a full 360 degrees, even at night when viewing is limited. Recordings can be evaluated to determine the presence of individual species, along with an idea of their numbers. And if some voices drop out over time, it’s likely a sign something is wrong.

Along with visually enjoying our natural world, may I suggest that you also enjoy it phonically. Biophonies and geophanies are unique signatures of whatever natural area you find yourself in. So take the time and have the patience to stop, close your eyes, and listen. It will give you perhaps a better understanding and a sense of place. Concentrating on sounds will better allow you to be “in the moment”, which is good for the psyche according to health experts. Sounds have a powerful impact on our emotional state, affecting hormone secretions, breathing, heart rate, and brainwave activity. Think about how your alarm clock impacts you. That jolt you feel is also subconsciously felt when around other loud noises such as a jackhammer, and has proven negative impacts.  But things like ocean waves, birds singing, and whispering trees are found by most to be soothing and emotionally positive. So, get out there and see certainly, but also go listen.

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