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Keeping Ratsnakes Away From Power Lines To Keep the Power On

ratsnakes can cause power outages

Recently on a hot day in June, Kevin Hamed was driving down a road close to Kentland Farm when he noticed a snake on the road.
Immediately, he saw the chance to acquire an extra specimen for use in a study he is conducting at Virginia Polytechnic. He just needed the car ahead of him to drive past the creature, but unfortunately, this did not happen. Rather, the car ahead of him deliberately turned its wheels to crush the defenseless Eastern ratsnake.

This made Hamed cringe. To date, for each ratsnake he has collected from the Montgomery County backroads with his team, he has discovered at least a couple of others killed.

All of a sudden, the car in front of him flashed its brake lights, and Hamed gasped in horror as the motorist reversed over the wounded animal, before driving forward to crush it once again.

However, the destruction did not end there, as the motorist did the lethal forward and reverse maneuver a third time. Regrettably, these types of incidents are a common occurrence, even though the law in Virginia forbids them.

Snakes Are Pests?

“Many people regard snakes as pests and think they should be killed”, said Hamed. Nonetheless, it is vital to look after these reptiles to improve the economic prosperity and to protect the health of humans.

For this reason, over the summer, Hamed has collected a number of snake species often found in Virginia. He and his students have been observing how these creatures climb up things.

Hamed’s study has received $8400 in funding from TE Connectivity, a Pennsylvanian company that manufactures components for electricity suppliers. This research will allow devices to be developed that keep reptiles away from electric transformers and power lines.

TE produced a white paper detailing the impact of power cuts caused by wildlife. Reportedly, these incidents cost energy firms across the world billions of dollars each year. Birds are responsible for about fifty percent of power cuts, however company spokesperson Lori Lyons also highlighted snakes as a major cause.

Frequently, the reptiles are chasing birds that have nested in the equipment on top of electricity poles. These agile creatures can climb the poles to prey on the birds and consume their eggs.

Typically, this is a fatal error for the reptiles. They cause the equipment to short circuit, electrocute themselves, and knock out the power to homes and businesses.

Each one of these power cuts can have a five figure repair bill, and result in fines for businesses that fail to safeguard wildlife sufficiently. Therefore, TE concludes, stopping this damage should be the utility industry’s number one priority.

According to Hamed, this is also vital for ratsnake conservation, which reduces rodent crop destruction and stops tick-borne illnesses from spreading.

“Every farmer will tell you how valuable snakes are,” said Hamed. “They eat things that are considered pests by most people. They are eating small mammals, including rodents.”

Certainly, chipmunks and mice spread ticks that cause diseases, so lowering their populations is beneficial for everybody. Hamed pointed to research indicating that areas with low snake populations frequently have higher instances of tick-borne infections, like Lyme disease. These conditions can be particularly unpleasant, because they attack the nervous system in humans.

Ratsnakes specifically consume invasive species of birds, such as house sparrows and starlings – both imports from Europe that displace indigenous songbirds, he remarked.

Eastern Ratsnakes Have No Venom Or Fangs

Another pertinent fact is that Eastern ratsnakes are basically harmless to humans, even when they enter a home. Although they are capable of biting, they do not have venom or fangs, said Hamed. And, compared to other types of snakes, they strike at a slow speed.

“They are the reptile equivalent of a Labrador” he remarked.

That claim was substantiated by Aidan McCarthy recently, who brought a ratsnake measuring three-feet into Hamed’s laboratory, before placing it on the part of a telegraph pole.

The snake was calm while McCarthy held it, and remained so when placed onto the pole. To get the reptile to move, McCarthy needed to stroke its tail. Throughout the experiment, the animal scaled the length of the pole a couple of times, in a leisurely manner. It took a different route on each occasion. Sam Van Noy, who is a wildlife conservation student, captured its movements on film for subsequent evaluation.

Hamed said that Ratsnake Number Nineteen was one of twenty-four reptiles that his team will analyze. The creatures were filmed over a three-day period, then released back into the areas they were taken from.

Van Noy and McCarthy both stated that they had empathy for snakes, due to their childhood experiences. Van Noy was raised in the local area and used to play in woodlands as a child, “turning rocks over to find out what was beneath them,” in his words.
While McCarthy, on the other hand, grew up in Fairfax where it was more difficult.

“I often saw them on television, then went out to attempt to locate them,” he explained. Since arriving in Blacksburg, “I don’t have to look so hard.”

When it comes to snakes, there is not much middle ground. Hamed highlighted surveys showing that the majority of people either detest them and are afraid of them or defend them with a passion. He is hopeful that this research will persuade people who dislike ratsnakes that conservation is important.

Snake Species Must Be Prodected

“Snake species are a vital part of the eco-system. Usually, that is difficult to communicate to people who fear them,” said Hamed. “Of course, you might be startled briefly if a snake gets onto your deck, however they benefit everybody overall.”

Furthermore, he noted, stopping snakes from entering power boxes keeps the lights on.

Article written by:

I am a writer and reporter for the clean energy sector, I cover climate change issues, new clean technologies, sustainability and green cars. Danny Ovy

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