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Missing seabirds spell trouble for snakes

Cara J

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On Seahorse Key, an island on Florida’s Gulf Coast, seabirds used to swoop into the water to pick up fish, and fly away while inadvertently dropping some on the ground for Florida cottonmouth snakes (Agkistrodon conanti)​ to indulge in. But last spring about 20,000 colonial nesting birds — herons, egrets, ibises, pelicans, cormorants and others — mysteriously abandoned the 150-acre mangrove-covered dune in a hurry — leaving in their wake some very hungry snakes. “Snakes rely heavily on fish or carrion that the birds drop,” said Coleman Sheehy, the associate director of Seahorse Key Marine Laboratory and a research assistant and professor at the University of Florida. “Marine and colonial nesting birds bring in fish to feed their young that can either get regurgitated or fall on the ground. Snakes rely on that to eat at Seahorse Key, and with the birds gone, snakes are getting very hungry.” Sheehy has found now that they’re going into the second summer without fish falling, he is seeing far fewer snakes as well as more dead snakes and ones with poor body condition. And with a reduced menu, the snakes are resorting to cannibalism. “We’ve seen that twice,” Sheehy said. “We had never seen [...]


Read more: http://wildlife.org/missing-seabirds-spell-trouble-for-snakes/

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