Courtesy photo Salamanders are predators of arthropods and insects. They are essential in keeping these populations in balance, which keeps the wetlands healthy.Ê
published: Sunday, February 17, 2013
Herps have a bad reputation, but they are beneficial to humans
Creepy. Slimy. Poisonous. Ugly. These are only a few of the words that describe many people's negative feeling towards snakes, lizards, toads and other reptiles and amphibians. They have a tough time getting people to think of them in a positive light. Even their collective name - herps - comes from a Greek term meaning "creeping things".
But these critters have their good points. While all snakes are predators, most are harmless. In fact, less than one-third of the world's snake species are venomous and less than 10 percent are dangerously venomous. In the United States, 90 percent of the snakes are non-venomous. Plus, they are actually beneficial to humans because they prey on rodents. As a matter of fact, snakes are the world's most effective natural control on rodent population.
These animals called herps - salamanders, frogs, lizards, snakes and toads - are part of the balance of nature you learned about in grade school. Their health is an indicator of the health of the environment.
Don't think of the lowly toad as an unwanted guest. If you have toads around, they will eat the things you most want to get rid of like slugs and mosquitoes, which are among its favorite meals.
Lizards are probably the most familiar of all reptiles. There are more than 3,500 different types of lizards throughout the world, existing in all climates. Lizards are as diverse as their dwellings. They are often misunderstood and feared because of a lack of knowledge and exposure. The truth is, lizards, like so many other reptiles and amphibians, are beneficial to humans. In many countries, lizards are welcome houseguests, catching and eating many annoying insects. They walk the walls and ceilings and live their lives unharmed by understanding humans.
Some lizards are not so fortunate and could become non-existent because of a lack of understanding. Beaded lizards and Gila Monsters, the only two poisonous species, are often killed out of fear. They are unlikely to bite pets or people. When they do, it's likely to be in self-defense. Left alone, both lizards are docile creatures.
Many countries use lizards in ceremonies. Some Indian tribes of North America used lizard tails in a recipe for love potions. They are also eaten and their skin used for leather. In the tropics, the Green Iguana is killed for its flesh and eggs.
And what about the slimy salamanders? Well, they too have a purpose. Salamanders are predators of arthropods and insects. They are essential in keeping these populations in balance, which keeps the wetlands healthy. They are also, like their relatives the lizards, a great form of pest control.
Common myths and untruths about herps:
- Toads and frogs cause warts - the defensive skin secretions of toads do not cause warts.
- Rattlesnakes add one rattle every year - Contrary to this belief, a rattlesnake adds one rattle every time it sheds its skin. Snakes may shed several times a year, each time adding a new rattle; in addition rattles may break off. For these reasons, counting rattles is not usually an accurate method of determining a rattlesnake's age.
- Snakes travel in pairs; the survivor seeking revenge if one is killed - This myth is entirely false; snakes hardly ever travel in groups or pairs. Snakes do not have any social bonds and would feel in no way vengeful if one of its conspecifics were to be killed. One possible explanation for this myth may be that in a prime habitat situation, several snakes of the same species may be observed in a small area. Another possible explanation for the origin of this myth could be related to the typical reproductive behavior of snakes. During the mating season a male snake may closely follow a female snake.
- Snakes must be in a coiled position to strike - In reality, snakes can bite or strike from any position. Coiling does however, increase the distance that a snake can strike. A common inquiry relating to cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorous), concerns their ability to bite underwater. Cottonmouths can in fact bite underwater, which makes sense since they live in wetland habitats, and feed on fish and water snakes.
- All reptiles lay eggs - Many reptiles are capable of giving birth to live young. This can either be through the form of simple egg retention, in which all the nutrients still come from the calcified eggs (ovoviviparity), or by having the babies actually grow inside the mother without an egg. At most the babies are covered in a membranous sack. This form of live birth is a type of viviparity, and it is commonly seen in vipers and chameleons. Still other reptiles, like the skink Chalcides chalcides give birth to live young using a placenta, just like mammals.
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