Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Ask a Naturalist: let's jump right into it

We've got a question!

Keith Kline (@synkline) asks:
Just how long does a garter snake live?

That made me laugh, because I feel like I was indirectly set up by Todd. It was his newsletter article I reposted yesterday (and should have credited. I'll go back and fix that), and you'll notice that it's one of the questions he asks -- and doesn't answer -- in his opening paragraph. The answer to the freezing frogs, by the way, can be found in our Winter 2012 newsletter, which should be in your mailbox in the next few days. If you're not a Friends of the Kerry Wood Nature Centre member and would like a copy, just drop by the Nature Centre to pick one up.

Anyway. Back to garter snakes. We have three species of garter snakes in Alberta: the Red-Sided Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), the Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix), and the Wandering Garter Snake (Thamnophis elegans). Here in Red Deer we see the Red-Sided and the Plains, but not the Wandering, which is also known as the Western Terrestrial.

I had a look in the Kerry Wood Reading Room library and found a little bit of information, but a bit more searching on the internet led me to Simply Wild Canada and its summary page of Canadian Garter Snakes. It seems to agree pretty well with some of the other sources I looked at so I'll use their figures here. Red-Sided Garter Snakes are our longest-lived local garter snake, with a lifespan of up to 14 years (although Snakes Alive says that only 1 in 5000 snakes makes it to 12 years). The Plains Garter Snake lives up to 7 years, and the Wandering Garter Snake up to 9 years. Keep in mind that for any snake to live that long requires a fair amount of luck, since especially in their early years they can be eaten by a variety of predators.

Remember, you can send us your nature and environment questions via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail (general at waskasoopark dot ca). Please use the hashtag #ecospeak on your question, or put Ask an E-Naturalist in your e-mail subject line.

Thanks for starting us off, Keith! 

Monday, December 03, 2012

Ask an E-Naturalist

How do snowflakes form? Why do leaves change colour in the fall? Do frogs really freeze solid in the winter, really? What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?  How many years will a garter snake live?

Well, except for the swallow question – you’ll need to consult the higher powers at Monty Python for that one – we can provide you the answers to these and all your other nature and environment-related questions. And as part of the bargain, you get to try out our handy Twitter feed and/or our Facebook page by asking us your questions.

In the past we’ve run “Ask a Naturalist” columns in the daily paper. These columns had their pros and cons. On the upside we generated a lot of interest in myriad nature topics. On the downside with only a weekly column and limited space, we couldn’t answer all the questions in a timely manner. So, in order to get to all the questions out there, as efficiently as possible, we’ve evolved the concept. Effective immediately we are accepting questions for our new Q&A forum, Eco-speak. The way it will work is this:

  • Send us your nature and/or environment-based questions via Twitter, Facebook or email. Make sure to use the hashtag #ecospeak. We prefer getting submissions through Facebook and Twitter as people can see all the questions being asked. However, all questions will be answered in the order we receive them; regardless of how they were submitted.

  • We will research, write and post the answers on our blog at waskasoopark.blogspot.ca, and publish a link to the post on our Facebook and Twitter, again using the hashtag #ecospeak.

  • You can then read the answers and share the links with your friends and social media networks.

You can find us on Facebook by liking the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society page, and you can follow us on Twitter @NatureCentre.

Now, I know there are people out there with some reluctance to join the conversations on Twitter and Facebook. For you I have two options.

  1. Please feel encouraged to send us your questions in whatever form you feel comfortable using. If electronics are not your thing, you can phone us, send us a real letter or drop in for a visit and a cup of tea. We’ll answer your questions.
  2. Jump in to the social networks with both feet. We have been truly amazed by the amount of feedback we get through our Facebook page and our Twitter account. If you’re intimidated, call us and ask for help. You can come down to the Nature Centre and we’ll walk you through the basics of setting up an account, sending messages, following people and organization that interest you and, help you begin to contribute to the dialogue. In fact, we’d love to do this with you.

Now, we know that you could simply ask Google your questions. But then, only you have that answer. If you send your question to us then you, our hundreds of regular blog readers, our 500 Twitter followers and their followers, and our Facebook audience of thousands will be in on the conversation. The potential for sharing nature and environment-related information is huge.

Todd Nivens, Programs Coordinator