Take the LEWS genus Nerodia and combine it with all the crazy action of a rodeo roundup and you have Nerodio. Nerodio is the term we use for our annual Lake Erie watersnake population census. Held for two weeks every year in late May/early June, the census is used to help establish population estimates for LEWS on the Lake Erie Islands. Over the past decade, over 15,000 watersnakes have been marked and recaptured.
To process a snake we will take their length by measuring their body from their nose to their general opening called the cloaca. This is known as a snout vent length and allows us to get an accurate measurement of the snake even if they are missing a portion of their tail. Then we will check to see if they have already been "marked" with a PIT tag. PIT stands for passive integrated transponder, which means that we are able to get the tag number once we have the snake but cannot use the tag to track a snake. If they have not been marked we will give them a tag which will stay with them for their entire life! We will also record if the snake is a male or female and the extent of dark colored banding on their body, known as their morph. We may also take a Snake Fungal Disease swab. Finally we will get the weight of the snake and we are ready to move on to the next one!
Nerodio can be a lot of work. On a busy day we can catch over 200 snakes that all need to be weighed, measured, and tagged. Working 8-10 hour days is pretty typical. But working hard just means we get to play harder. Nerodio evenings are filled with bonfires, beverages, and trips to our favorite island restaurants! This mix of good hard snakin’ and fun has made Nerodio an annual 'must' for many of our volunteers. Many working members of Team Snake actually use vacation time to come to the islands and help catch snakes! Over the years, Nerodio has had hundreds of volunteers come help out from dozens of different organizations and universities.
Once the fun of Nerodio is over, the job is not done! Nerodio used to be the only time that we took a census of our Lake Erie watersnake population. Now that it is possible to have a research assistant working on catching snakes for much of the summer, we will continue to catch and take data on the watersnakes long after the completion of our Nerodio. We continue to monitor the population of the watersnakes by going into the field and taking surveys throughout the summer. Typically the snakes are the most active from May to September, so we focus our efforts on this period of time. We rotate through the study sites that we have on five different islands: South Bass, Middle Bass, North Bass, Gibraltar, and Kelleys Island.
Special thanks to Ryan Wagner, one of our volunteers, for some of the great action pictures.
The three different color variations of LEWS: unbanded, intermediate, and banded
Measuring the SVL
Giving this snake a PIT tag