A Summer with Snakes

I spent this past summer in Grayling, Michigan working on a wildlife study through Purdue University Fort Wayne. This study was looking for the presence of snake fungal disease on lands owned by the state of Michigan. This is a widespread disease throughout the eastern United States, and we were there to determine where the disease was present in order to allow the environmental team to create a mitigation plan.

 This area was specifically chosen because it is home to a large concentration of the endangered snake species called massasauga. Though tracking the snakes themselves was not the primary objective, we did find several and recorded their presence for others on the environmental team to study. They are a species of rattlesnakes, but they are very timid. Their camouflage makes them hard to see, but once we still managed to find several over the course of the study. I enjoyed seeing them, and I thought it was interesting to learn about them. The graduate student told me their rattle does sound intimidating, but they only do so in order to alert other species of their presence because they do not want to be bothered. These snakes will always attempt to flee when they feel threatened and will only bite as a last resort if they feel cornered. My phone broke towards the end of my time there, so I don’t have any pictures, but this is an example of what they look like.

 I worked one-on-one with a graduate student who needed assistance doing field work for this study. Each workday, we would go into the field and collect soil samples, as well as measure pH, soil texture, and soil temperature. The soil samples that were taken were then analyzed for Snake Fungal Disease DNA. I thought it was interesting to apply the concepts I had learned in Soil Science to the field work I did in Michigan. In my free time there, I would go mountain biking at Boyne Highlands, and I also got to spend time kayaking. This was my second summer working with Purdue Fort Wayne to conduct wildlife studies. I had a great experience, and I would strongly recommend working with Purdue Fort Wayne’s biology department to any undergraduates who are interested in wildlife research.

-Owen

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