Warming Trends: Global Warming Means Happier Rattlesnakes, What the Future Holds for Yellowstone and Fire Experts Plead for a Quieter Fourth
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Good News for Rattlesnakes
Contrary to a body of research showing that many plants and animals will suffer in a warming world, rising temperatures may actually help cold-blooded rattlesnakes thrive.
A new study led by Hayley Crowell, then a graduate student researcher at California Polytechnic State University, found that most Pacific rattlesnakes currently operate at body temperatures around 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit below their optimal temperatures. If climate change warmed their environments enough that rattlesnakes could get closer to their desired temperature, then they could fare well.
Crowell and her team discovered that the snakes’ optimal temperature was 86 to 89 degrees Fahrenheit by putting them in a cage with a thermal gradient, where they could choose their ideal temperature. But temperature gauges surgically implanted into snakes in the field found that the average temperature for the rattlesnakes was between 70 and 74 degrees.
“With a one or two degree increase in general ambient temperature, a lot more of the environmental temperatures fall within the preferred body temperature range of the snakes,” Crowell said. “If it warms up, it’ll be closer to where they actually want to exist and be a little toastier.”
If snakes are at their optimal temperature, their bodily functions like digestion and reproduction can operate more effectively, Crowell said.
Although the temperature conditions might be ideal for rattlesnakes in a post-climate change world, other ecosystem conditions may not be. Pacific rattlesnakes live in Western North America, including California, where water may become highly scarce for wildlife.
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