You’d think road-side trash cans would be an unlikely thing to be nostalgic about. Unless you’re from Manitoba, and the trash can is a four-foot white fibreglass globe with a round opening. That was Orbit, a highway litter program that used space-age symbolism to encourage drivers to, as the signs put it, “put your trash into Orbit.” I remember the globular trash cans well from childhood road trips in the 1970s. But in the end they were abused—set on fire, shot or filled with all kinds of garbage—and increasingly expensive to replace, so the program wound down in the 1990s. CBC Manitoba has the story of Orbit, and what may be the last surviving Orbit receptacle—which was also featured in James Rewucki’s 2013 short film, Where Have All the Orbits Gone?
A Herpetological Roundup
- Neil Balchan is upset, and so am I. The garter snake researcher visited a wintering den where he was doing field research only to discover that dozens of harmless red-sided garter snakes had been beaten and butchered at the site. CBC News has more.
- Here’s TVO on the fragile state of the eastern hognose snake in Ontario.
- And here’s the Great Lakes Echo on scientists’ efforts to track the elusive—and, in Ontario, endangered—rat snake.
- The Tennessee Aquarium has created the first map of North America’s biogeographical turtle communities.
- Burmese pythons might be an invasive scourge in Florida’s Everglades, but they’re not doing well in their natural range. The Guardian looks at conservation efforts on the python’s behalf in Bangladesh.
- An interesting read in Smithsonian magazine about taxonomic vandalism—the act of exploiting international rules to name new species without the science to back it up, usually for self-aggrandizing reasons. It’s endemic in herpetology; Raymond Hoser’s name turns up here, and not for the first time.
- Tiger keelback snakes are both venomous (it’s a rear-fanged colubrid)
and poisonous, thanks to the toads they feed on. The snakes store the toad toxins in their nuchal glands. But do they know they’re packing toad toxins? According to a new study, yes: the snakes’ defensive behaviour changes depending on the toxicity of their diet. [Journal of Comparative Psychology]
- Commercial reptile collection has been banned in Nevada, where it’s been more or less unregulated for decades. Nature’s Cool Green Science blog has the story behind the ban.
- Sean Graham has some advice for field herpers: instead of spending money and effort on finding rare species for your life list, they should spend that on field work that might actually do some good. “Imagine if instead of trying to find their lifer Pigmy Rattlesnake in Apalachicola National Forest, they instead went looking for them in central Alabama where records are few and patchy? If instead of herping for fun, everyone made their herping count?”1
- Using the Internet to identify snakes is definitely a thing; I’ve gotten my share of requests. Sierra, the Sierra Club’s magazine, looks at how the Snake Identification Facebook group does the job. Turns out the challenges the group faces are as much about social dynamics—dealing with frivolous requests, not attacking people for killing snakes—as they are scientific.
- If you can’t feed a snake mice, does that mean you can’t keep snakes at all? I answer this question on Quora.
John Harvard, 1938-2016
Former Manitoba MP and lieutenant governor John Harvard died Saturday at the age of 77 (CBC News, Winnipeg Free Press). A longtime broadcaster, first with CJOB and then with CBC Manitoba, he made the jump to politics in 1988, when he won the riding of Winnipeg St. James, a longtime Conservative stronghold, for the Liberals. Re-elected in 1993, 1997 and 2000, he remained a backbencher, twice acting as parliamentary secretary, before being appointed Manitoba’s 23rd lieutenant governor in 2004.
I worked on John Harvard’s first election campaign in 1988; we got to know each other quite well.