Two Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Garter Snakes

Update: The photograph below (taken by my daughter) is now part of the Wikipedia article on Garter snakes, and is the best picture of a posterior tooth I’ve seen.

Garter snakes are probably the best known species of snake in the US. They are easy to recognize, and they occur just about everywhere in North America. Most people will tell you that garter snakes are harmless, which they are, but probably not quite as harmless as you might think.

Garter Snakes Have Pretty Big Teeth

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The picture above is of the snake I recently caught which taught me that garter snakes have relatively large teeth. Although he was very aggressive, I caught him without being bitten, however while holding him, he managed to get one of his teeth into my thumb (I would have been more careful if I’d known what he was packing). For a moment, I thought I’d misidentified him, but his markings couldn’t have been more clear. I used a small stick to (very gently) open his mouth, and sure enough, he had two needle-sharp teeth in there. While doing some research when I got home, I discovered another surprising fact:

Garter Snakes are Venomous

It was recently discovered that the saliva of a garter snake contains a very mild neurotoxin. Rather than injecting it through fangs, they spread it into wounds (presumably caused by those teeth) through a chewing motion. Although the venom of a garter snake is only potent enough to cause some minor swelling or itching in a human, it can stun a toad or small rodent enough to make swallowing it much easier.

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Snake Rescue

This is why it’s so important to clean up debris you find outside. This deer fencing probably blew out of someone’s yard in a storm and ended up in a creek by the Potomac. The garter snake inside was so ensnared that the fencing was cutting through his scales in several places.

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It took about 30 minutes to fully cut him out of the nylon mesh. We’re keeping him until his wounds heal since they may become infected.

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Artificial Photosynthesis Becomes Reality (as Predicted in “Containment”)

My science fiction record is getting better. Last week, scientists theorized that it might be possible to use the LHC as a time machine (which is the premise of my story The Epoch Index), and this week, artificial photosynthesis, one of the themes of my novel Containment, becomes a reality.

Check out the article on the ACS website for more details, but the general idea is that Dr. Daniel Nocera, a scientist at MIT, says his team has successfully developed the first practical artificial leaf. In his own words:

A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades. We believe we have done it. The artificial leaf shows particular promise as an inexpensive source of electricity for homes of the poor in developing countries. Our goal is to make each home its own power station. One can envision villages in India and Africa not long from now purchasing an affordable basic power system based on this technology.

In Containment, the concept is called AP, or artificial photosyntheses, since the scientists are not so much interested in creating an artificial leaf as mimicking (and improving on) the chemical processes that happen inside the leaf. Interestingly, the scientists’ objective in Containment isn’t the energy that photosynthesis creates, but the oxygen byproduct.

Here’s a quote from one of the lead scientists studying the problem from Ishtar Terra Station One, humankind’s first permanent outpost on Venus:

The Agriculture Department has perfected stemstock, or meat without the animal, and now we need to perfect photosynthesis without the plant. As much as I love our ferns, the day is coming when we’re going to need more oxygen than they are able to provide us. Without more oxygen, V1 is as big as it’s ever going to get, and it will always be vulnerable to things like pathogens and any number of other events that can unexpectedly destroy plant life.

If this is the kind of thing you’re into, give Containment a try. It’s available in all digital formats, and for this much hardcore science fiction, you can’t beat the price.

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My Science Fiction May Become Fact: The LHC and Time Travel

lhcMy friend PolyGeek forwarded a story to me this morning that completely caught me off guard. The article is called Atom Smasher Could Be Used As Time Machine, and it describes a proposal put forth earlier this month by two physicists that the Large Hadron Collider could be used to send particles — and hence message — forward and backward in time.

Other than being incredibly cool, why was I so intrigued? This is precisely the premise of a story I published in August of last year called The Epoch Index.

An excerpt from the article:

The scientists outline a way to use the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile long (27-km) particle accelerator buried underground near Geneva, to send a hypothetical particle called the Higgs singlet to the past.

And an excerpt from The Epoch Index:

But the LHC ended up finding something which most people consider to be far more interesting. As the data analysis algorithms parsed through the petabytes of recorded data, they began to uncover very regular patterns in the spins of newly discovered particles. While the direction of the particles’ spins initially appeared random, the analysis began detecting a repetition which looked increasingly like sequences of bytes, and which were eventually decoded into various forms of digital data: text, images, audio, and even simple video. When it was determined beyond a doubt that the encoded information referenced people, events, and dates that did not yet exist, the site was immediately secured and the project promptly put under the control of a small team from the UN. The name of the mysterious particles whose spins had turned out to be tiny windows into the future was changed from “saxions” to “tachyons” — a term derived from the greek word takhus meaning “swift.” The LHC had proven for the first time and beyond any doubt that it was possible for matter to travel faster than the speed of light. At least at the particle level, time travel was possible.

I’ll let them take the Nobel Prize for physics as long as I get the one for literature.