Rattlesnakes Like the Los Angeles Times

June 4, 2013

There are only ten days left until our new exhibit, Nature Lab, opens. Last week, I introduced you to some babies that are moving in, and this week I want to introduce you to rescued contraband!

 

This is Obsidian, our new Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus helleri.

 



Obsidian chilling with his morning paper!

 



Snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, are often maligned and misunderstood. But hold on a minute, any creature that is cultured enough to enjoy the Los Angeles Times should be given a second chance – surely.

 

Let me give you the back story first; Obsidian is a rescued pet from a drug bust that took place in Riverside. Although, his previous owners were purported drug dealers, he was extremely well cared for. So much so, that when the police gave the owner the option of having the rattlesnake put down or being adopted, he chose adoption. Okay, so maybe the fact that an alleged drug dealer cared about rattlesnakes isn't convincing you to have a change of heart. Here are some other reasons to give Obsidian, and all other rattlers, a second chance:

 

1) We feed Obsidian 1-2 rats every two weeks. He is currently 5 years old and will likely live for another 20 years. That means he has the potential to eat 1,300 rats in his lifetime. Imagine a world where rat populations were not kept in check by natural predators?

 

2) Although Obsidian isn't part of the National Institute of Health's funded Natural Toxins Research Center some of his cousins are! Scientists at this institution milk venom from snakes reared on site and send them to researchers who are developing medicines to fight medical conditions such as cancers, strokes, and  high blood pressure. Who knows what health benefits Southern Pacific Rattlesnake venom might have.

 

3) Rattlesnakes were one of this Nations first symbols! They appear on Gadsden's flag, with the moniker "Don't Tread on Me." As a Brit, I saw this flag and thought it was an environmental statement. Oh dear Lila, how wrong you can be sometimes!

 

 

 

4) Last but not least, they are just plain cool –  I mean how many other animals can grow their own rattle! Most people think that this rattle is only used as a warning device, but this isn't always the case. Leslie Gordon, our Vertebrate Live Animal Program Manager, related a nice little story to me. As she was heading out for the evening a few weeks ago, she stopped to check on Obi (that's what she calls him for short). He was curled up sleeping. He opened his mouth in a yawning gesture and seemed to stretch. As he did this he gently rattled his rattle and then settled down to sleep. Now if that doesn't seem cute to you, I don't know what will.

 

Maybe picturing him doing the Times' Sunday crossword puzzle?

 

 

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)


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Black Rats, Brown Rats, and the Plague

May 31, 2012

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about rats. Thankfully, it is not because I have a problem in my apartment! Unfortunately, for many people in L.A., rats are a serious pest, and it's not just one type of rat. The most serious rodent offenders in our cities are the brown (aka Norway) rat, Rattus norvegicus, and the black rat, Rattus rattus.

 



What species of rat is this?

Here on the North Campus we have camera trap images and footage of rats hanging out underneath the bridge. But what type of rat is this? Since Jim Dines, our Mammalogy Collections Manager, wasn't available, I decided to try and figure it out myself. Doing a Wikipedia search for brown rats, I came across a nice diagram that helped me to make an identification. What species do you think it is?

 

 



 

 

Comparison of the physique of a black rat, Rattus rattus, 

with a brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, from wikipedia

 

Using this diagram I looked closely at the ears and the eyes of the rat. Based on the relatively large size of the ears and the eyes, I determined the above image was of a black rat rather than a brown rat. I showed the image to Jim and he confirmed that it was indeed a black rat!

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

Black rat (top) and brown rat (bottom) from the Museum collection.

Note the tail to body length ratio.

 

Regardless of the species, why do people hate rats? As I referenced in the introductory paragraph, rats are sometimes pests in our homes, but what exactly do people think about rats? I did a Google search for, "why do people hate rats," and this is what I found. "Cute or not they're germ-ridden disease carrying vermin who in addition, can cause untold damage. THAT'S WHY." I also found this: "Rats are pests to humanity, but I personally believe that people especially hate rats because they subconsciously identify with them and see them as a reminder of themselves." Finally, someone else wrote: "A lot of rat-hatred goes back as far as plague. Rats were responsible for the disease that killed thousands of people."

But, is plague a worry for us today in L.A.? Not really here in the city (I hear a collective YAY)! Firstly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the last cases of urban, rat-associated plague occurred in L.A. in the 1920s. However, plague is present in L.A. County, and the principal mode of infection is from infected fleas living on wild rodents in rural areas. These rodents include California ground squirrels (remember the recent blog post?) and chipmunks! According to L.A. public health officials, "the major threat of plague to humans is in the rural, recreational and, wilderness areas of the Angeles National Forest, as well as the Santa Monica and San Gabriel Mountains." But, before you swear off recreating in our lovely parks forever, know that there have only been four cases of the plague in L.A. since 1979, none of which were fatal (another YAY for antibiotics and modern medicine).

P.S., Plague is actually caused by a bacteria, Yersinia pestis, that lives in the blood and other bodily fluids of fleas, rodents, and other mammals.

 


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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