More on Lake Erie’s algae blooms, the Toledo water crisis and looming urban sprawl: this week in environmental news

Toledo Mayor Michael Collins drinks tap water in front of the community after the ban was lifted. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

Toledo Mayor Michael Collins drinks tap water in front of the community after the ban was lifted. Photo by Karen Schaefer courtesy of the Great Lakes Echo.

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news related to the environment from around the state and country. Here are a few highlights from what happened this week in environmental news:

Toledo water crisis passes but long term threat looms (Great Lakes Echo): Despite the scare and being unable to drink water, residents still found themselves apprehensive to drink Toledo tap water — despite Mayor Michael Collins drinking the water in front of them. Although there is no longer a ban on drinking the water, a larger problem prevails not only in northern Ohio communities but those along the Great Lakes Basin.

NASA satellite view of Lake Erie.

NASA satellite view of Lake Erie.

Behind Toledo’s water crisis: A long troubled Lake Erie (New York Times): Like the MNA post this past week about Lake Erie and damage of algal blooms, Michael Wines of the New York Times offers an in-depth look into the problem. The story tracks down the past of Lake Erie and discusses the trouble its faced in the past and how now scientists and government officials are taking serious concern to the issue due to the recent water crisis in Toledo.

6 Ways Nature is Inspiring Human Engineering (Forbes): Biomimetics, or the imitation of nature for the purpose of solving human problems, has led to new breakthroughs in technology. Researchers are looking at the eyes of moths to understand how their structure can be applied to solar technology as well as using spider silk for bulletproof vests.

Just how far will urban sprawl spread? (Conservation Magazine): The World Health Organization has predicted by 2050, 70 percent of the global population will reside in cities. This will inevitably increase urban sprawl — an issue that affects natural habitats and ecosystems worldwide.

 

Chemicals in the Great Lakes, starving waterfowl and sand dune development: this week in environmental news

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Every Friday, MNA gathers news stories relating to conservation and the environment from around the state and country. Check out some of what happened this week in environmental news:

Common mergansers are just one species of waterfowl that have been found dead due to starvation from the harsh winter. Photo by Andrea Westmoreland via Wikimedia Commons

Common mergansers are just one species of waterfowl that have been found dead due to starvation from the harsh winter. Photo by Andrea Westmoreland via Wikimedia Commons

DNR: Harsh winter leads to starvation, death for waterfowl (mlive): A large number of waterfowl have been found dead across the state due to harsh winter conditions. The die off can be attributed to the large amount of ice coverage on lakes throughout Michigan, preventing the birds from getting food.

Chemicals take various routes to Great Lakes (Environmental Health News): Flame retardants and combustion pollutants from PCBs that Toranto exports to Lake Ontario reach the lake even though they is transported by air. The routes that these chemicals take are important to understand in order to help regulators determine where specific chemicals come from.

Michigan’s DEQ issues permit in controversial dune project near Saugatuck (The Detroit News): Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit to allow the company Singapore Dunes LLC to build a road and 18 housing sites through a sand dune that lies near Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan. They are avoiding the steep slopes, internal wetlands and endangered species. Those opposed to the project are concerned that this could destroy features of Michigan that make it stand apart from other states.

Extreme precipitation closes beaches, may endanger human health (Great Lakes Echo): Due to runoff from agriculture caused by intense precipitation, officials may close beaches due to E. Coli and other bacteria in the water. Due to high levels of snow and a potentially warmer spring, there could be implications of increased runoff and overflow sewer systems, increasing the transport of bacterium, viruses and other disease-causing microorganisms.

Rattlesnake hunters commonly use the controversial method of gassing rattlesnakes out of their holes. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Rattlesnake hunters commonly use the controversial method of gassing rattlesnakes out of their holes. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Rattlesnake Wranglers, Armed With Gasoline (The New York Times): To encourage rattlesnakes to come out, gasoline is often used to pump fumes into their hole to draw them out. The state of Texas’s wildlife agency is considering banning the use of gas fumes to capture rattlesnakes, adding Texas to the list of more than two dozen states that have outlawed the practice.

ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered and threatened plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Eastern Massasauaga Rattlesnake
By Yang Zhang

The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus), also known as the Massasauga Rattler, Black Massasauga Rattler, Michigan Rattler and Swamp Rattler, is Michigan’s only venomous snake.

A species of special concern in Michigan, the rattlesnake plays an important role in the ecosystem. They eat voles, mice and other rodents and help keep their populations in check. They are also part of a larger food web, serving as prey for eagles, herons and some mammals.

Photo credit: Nick Scobel

Physical Appearance:
Adult rattlesnakes are stout-bodied with broad, triangular heads and vertical pupils. Some measure 18-to-40 inches in length, with the average being 27.5 inches. The Eastern Massasauga’s back is marked with a row of large, black or dark brown hourglass-shaped blotches with three rows of smaller dark spots on its sides. A dark bar with a lighter border extends from its eyes to the rear of the jaw. Some adults, however, are all black.

Young rattlesnakes have small, yellow buttons, or rattles, at the tip of their tails. Adult rattles are grayish yellow, like pieces of corn kernels on top of dark rings. It is formed from loosely attached, hard, horny segments. A new segment is added each time the snake sheds.

Though its bite is not necessarily fatal to humans, the rattlesnake kills prey by releasing toxic venom. Rattlesnakes can even control how much venom is released when biting, and sometimes snake bites are dry bites, meaning that venom was not released.

Preferred Habitat:
Derived from the Chippewa language, “massasauga” (pronounced mass-a-saw’-ga) translates to “great river mouth” and refers to the snake’s preference for wet habitats.

In the cold wintertime, they hibernate in open shallow wetlands or shrub swamps. Massasauga rattlesnakes can be found in crayfish chimneys or small animal burrows, which are adjacent to drier upland shrub forests. In the late spring, massasaugas move upland to drier areas where they can find mice and voles, their favorite foods. You will most often find them “sunning” in open fields, grassy meadows or farmed sites.

In Michigan, the rattlesnakes only live in the Lower Peninsula. You may spot them at MNA’s Butternut Creek Nature Sanctuary, Big Valley Nature Sanctuary and Lambs Fairbanks Nature Haven.

Life Cycle:
An Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake can live 14 years, but nearly half of its life is spent in hibernation.

They hibernate during winter in burrows in moist lowland areas and emerge from winter dormancy in mid-April. In early October, they migrate back to hibernating areas, in some cases traveling more than 1.5 miles.

Female rattlers give birth to 8-to-20 live snakes in late summer instead of laying eggs. The breeding season usually occurs during May or June, but mating can occur almost any time from late April until September. It takes a young rattlesnake three-to-four years to become sexually mature.

List Status:
Historically, rattlesnakes were found in a variety of wetlands and nearby upland woods throughout the state’s Lower Peninsula. They are becoming rare due to loss of wetland habitat to development and agriculture and unregulated hunting and snake collection by humans. The massasauga is listed as a species of special concern by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and is protected by state law.


Protection Efforts:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently evaluating the snake’s population in the Great Lakes region to determine if it should be listed as a threatened species.

Current efforts to protect the species include working with land managers to practice techniques that avoid harming the rattlesnake and its habitat.

How You Can Help:
Massasaugas, like many snakes, are mistakenly perceived as a threat to humans, and the first human reaction may be to kill them. However, these snakes are shy and sluggish in nature. They avoid confrontation with humans and are not prone to strike. When rattlesnakes feel disturbed, they vibrate their tails, making a distinct buzzing sound. If you encounter a snake, leave it alone. If pets are in the area, it is important to confine them until the snake moves on.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered and threatened species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.