Tera Edkins is tracking bull and yellow-bellied racers in the Big Muddy

By Everett Dorma Posted: October 14, 2015 6:00 a.m.

Up close with a yellow-bellied racer.
Up close with a yellow-bellied racer. Photo courtesy of Tera Edkins.

As part of her thesis Tera Edkins, a Master of Science biology student at the U of R, spent the summer studying two snake species: the bull and the eastern yellow-bellied racer in southern Saskatchewan’s Big Muddy Valley.

assistant Leagh Vermeylen tracking a snake with telemetry equipment
Field assistant Leagh Vermeylen tracking a snake with telemetry equipment. Photo courtesy of Tera Edkins.

The project involved catching the snakes and implanting radio transmitters into them and using radio telemetry to follow the snakes and learn about their movement and what habitat they need to survive.

“I’m essentially turning the snake into a living radio station, where it broadcasts a signal that leads me to the snake’s location,” says Edkins. “Using this technology I’m able to track snake movements throughout their active period.”

Eastern yellow-bellied racers are one of the rarest snakes in Canada, with known populations only in a small area of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta. Racers are currently considered to be threatened with extinction in Canada, mainly due to habitat loss, and as such they are protected by the federal Species at Risk Act.

Tera holding a bull snake
Tera Edkins holding a bull snake.  Photo courtesy of Tera Edkins.

Bull snakes are the largest snake species in Canada; however, very little is known about them including whether or not the species or specific populations are at risk.

“The snake populations in the Big Muddy Valley have not been studied previously, and the data I collect will add significantly to our knowledge of these two species,” says Edkins. “Our ultimate goal is to learn as much as we can about these snakes in order to ensure the long-term survival of these unique animals in Canada.”

Edkins’ thesis research on snake movement and habitat use is being supervised by Dr. Chris Somers, Canada Research Chair in Genes and the Environment, Department of Biology and Dr. Ray Poulin, Manager of Research and Collections with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

Tera’s research has received support from the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, and the University of Regina. Supporting research that has impact has been identified as a priority in the University’s strategic plan.