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Potential impact of rattlesnake roundups on natural populations

Potential impact of rattlesnake roundups on natural populations

Texas Journal of Science 41(3): 301-318

Rattlesnake roundups in Texas (USA) are annual events that result in removal of large numbers of snakes from natural habitats. In addition, the preferred collection method (spraying gasoline into dens) may affect other species living in rattlesnake communities and degrade the quality of the habitat. We examined the potential impact of these mass collections and the collection technique on natural populations through 1) qualitative surveys of three roundups, 2) a statistical analysis of the long-term dynamics of snake collections, and 3) a series of laboratory experiments designed to examined the effect of short-term exposure to gasoline fumes on the behavior of several vertebrae and one invertebrate species foundi n the natural communities affected. Our surveys indicated that the use of gasoline in collecting was widespread and that several species of snakes, other than Crotalus atrox, often were included in collections. The results of the analyses of number of snakes collected at the Sweetwater Roundup since its inception are difficult to interpret because of a lack of information on undisturbed rattlesnake populations. Our analysis indicated that, although there has been a general increase in total number of snakes collected through the years, number of snakes collected per hunter has not increased. We also estimate the impact of removal of reproductive females from populations. Results of laboratory experiments indicated that exposure to gasoline fumes had important short-term effects on the species treated, resulting in animals losing their ability to right themselves. Crotalus atrox, the western diamondback rattlesnake and the target species of roundups, appeared to be most resistant to gasoline fume exposure. Short-term exposure also affected the ability of collared lizards and toads to forage efficiently up to seven days after exposure.

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