Japanese rat snakes don’t usually travel long distances, moving around 213 feet per day. Some time ago, a study found that the levels of radiocesium in these snakes were correlated to the levels of environmental radioactivity in their habitat.
“Snakes are good indicators of environmental contamination because they spend a lot of time in and on soil. They have small home ranges and are major predators in most ecosystems, and they’re often relatively long-lived species,” said James C. Beasley, associate professor at SREL and Warnell.
Led by Hanna Gerke of the University of Georgia, this research focused on capturing and labeling nine snakes. They used VHF transmitters that could even tell whether the snake is on soil or on a tree.
The team tracked the nine snakes for a month as they roamed around Abukuma, northeast of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. In total, the tracking showed 1,717 locations, with just one of the snakes traveling over 800 miles in total.
“Our results indicate that animal behavior has a large impact on radiation exposure and contaminant accumulation,” Gerke said. “Studying how specific animals use contaminated landscapes helps increase our understanding of the environmental impacts of huge nuclear accidents such as Fukushima and Chernobyl.”
The team tracked the snakes throughout the whole summer which is when Japanese rat snakes tend to be more active. They hibernate during the winter, which may also take a toll on how exposed they’re to radiation, according to researchers.
Also, considering the different environmental features of the habitats these snakes move around, there could be a sizeable variation in their radioactive exposure, even among snakes that coexist in the same area.
Now, further investigation will look to clarify the relationship between how they use their habitat. Also, they want to know how exposed they’re to radioactivity, and the levels of radionuclides found in snakes.