The Copy-Cats of the Longleaf
(bolded words in text indicate key words
The venom of the coral snake
is similar to those found in the cobras of India. Although this
snake has no rattles like the rattlesnake its colors are very bright
and attracting to other animals walking around the woods looking
for food. The red, black and yellow colors of the coral snake symbolize
to other animals to "stay away, I'm trouble". On the other
hand, the scarlet and scarlet
king snakes have no poisons (called non-venomous).
However, both of these non-venomous snakes are able to avoid these
same hungry animals because they look like the
venomous coral snake. Scientists call this "mimicking".
You can tell the two snakes apart by looking at their colored bands
and remembering, "red next to black is a friend of Jack but
red next to yellow will kill a fellow". However, it is important
to treat all snakes with respect and observe them from a safe distance.
Besides the concept of species mimicry,
there are a few other important ideas that can be drawn from this
picture. Mimicry is only one defensive
mechanism that plants and animals have evolved to protect
themselves from predators. Some plants and animals have actually
developed toxins as a predator deterrent. Although used primarily
for the capture of prey, the coral snake has neurotoxins that may
also serve for its protection. The tiny pine scorpion
packs a strong punch if you happen to be stung by him. Poison
ivy (far left in picture) contains oils that act to irritate
the skin if you happen to come in contact with it. The stinging
nettle (middle right in picture) has small hair-like filaments which
create a painful stinging sensation when they come into contact
with skin. The deer briar (top-right in picture) has a slightly
different mechanism of deterring predators. Though it contains no
chemical skin irritants, a walk though a patch of this plant often
leaves one scratched and bleeding from tough thorny projections.
Downed woody logs (called coarse woody
debris) play an important role in the longleaf pine forest.
When a dead tree is still standing (called a snag
by scientists and a widowmaker
by foresters), it may be host to a myriad of various species of
plants, animals and insects. Pine and black turpentine beetles,
termites and other invertebrates feast of the decaying wood of the
snag. In turn, woodpeckers and other critters feed on these beetles.
Woodpeckers often construct cavities
in snags for roosting and nesting. These cavities are usually only
used for one year by the woodpecker. After abandonment, these cavities
may become dens for flying squirrels,
screech owls, bluebirds, wood ducks and a host of other animals.
When the tree falls, it will become home to dozens of different
species. Often times, many reptiles (such as snakes and lizards)
seek refuge in these downed trees.
With fire creeping along the ground every few years, this woody
habitat is in constant flux. Fire ignites these logs causing them
to smolder for days or sometimes even weeks depending on the weather,
e.g., with low humidity logs burns faster. The pile of ashes where
the log once laid can have become so hot during the fire that the
soil may become temporarily devoid of important nutrients (like
nitrogen). During times such as this, native beans like the butterfly
pea (upper left in picture) play an important role in the nutrient
cycling by taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and replacing
it to soil. In addition, the butterfly pea needs fire to help crack
the seed coat and assist in germination.
Key Words and Concepts (click
on for glossary definition): coarse
woody debris, construct,
king snake, scorpion,