Some Possible Ecological Effects of "Rattlesnake Roundups" in the Southeastern Coastal Plain

For several years, ecologists, naturalists, and others have been concerned over the possible ecological effects of wide-spread gassing ofgopher tortoise burrows by snake hunters in the southeastern Coastal Plain. Research was conducted on some of the effects of tortoise burrow gassing at several localities in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in 1969, 1970 and 1971. Forty-one tortoises were gassed in their burrows with amounts of gasoline ranging from 0.25 ounce to 6 ounces. They were recovered by excavation following exposure periods of from 6 hours to 42 days. None of the tortoises died or showed any ill-effects of having been gassed. Of fourteen eastern diamondback rattlesnakes gassed, 3 died and 2 nearly died, apparently from the effects of the gasoline. Tests were made on 3 indigo and 2 Florida pine snakes to determine their reaction to gassing and the effects of gassing upon them. All 5 snakes were confined overnight in separate tortoise burrows with screened entrances and each one was gassed with 2 ounces of gasoline which was put into the bottom of the burrow the following morning. They all came to the mouth of the burrow within 3 to 35 minutes of the time the gas was introduced. Two of the 3 gassed indigo snakes died within 12 to 14 days after the gas treatment. The 2 pine snakes were dead within 24 days. A test was made in the summer of 1971 to determine the time required for snakes to become overcome by gasoline fumes. Snakes were confined from 5 minutes to one hour in the bottoms of tortoise burrows in bags made of plastic screen. It was found that a period ranging from IS to 40 minutes of exposure to 2 ounces of gasoline applied through a hose was enough to render the snakes unconscious and unable to leave the burrow. Recommendations are made concerning protection of desirable species endangered by gassing.

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