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Desert Diary



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Undercover cops sometimes carry hidden radio transmitters to relay evidence to nearby colleagues; in common parlance, they are said to be wired. Thanks to technological advances over the past few decades, it's not only detectives who are wired—now it's even snakes. No, not the human kind, but the real thing. Small radio transmitters can be surgically placed into the body cavity of a snake, with an antennae just beneath the skin, with only minor discomfort to the snake. Now why would anyone want to wire a snake? After all, none of them is plotting criminal behavior. Ah, but behavior IS what it's all about.

Most snakes are nocturnal and tend to spend at least part of the time underground. This makes it difficult to monitor what a snake's doing, and without knowing that, we understand little of its natural history. Now, though, thanks to handy-dandy directional receivers, we can quickly zero in on our subjects. We even have a good chance of seeing with whom they're consorting. And best of all, so far, at least, no privacy laws!

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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.