|Objects may be smaller than they should be.|
A sewage incinerator in Russia has six enormous snails on the payroll to monitor air pollution conditions at their smokestack. The snails are eight inches long; they probably ambled over from Chernobyl. The idea is that even though smokestack emissions are already monitored by conventional means, the snails will give them a heads-up if things are starting to go south, because they are more sensitive, and if they get queasy, something’s up. True, it might be a while before they made it over to the infirmary, so I assume they’ve got them rigged up with sensors that will light up in some way if they get sick. They’ll put out a gastropodcast, or something.
This is a new wrinkle on the age-old coal mine canaries. Each miner had his own canary in a cage to take down to the depths with him, and if the canary keeled over down there, it was time to come up with a new plan, or at least come up. So the concept is time-tested, if not ideal from the point of view of the canaries or snails.
The coal miners took this pretty seriously because their lives depended on it, but most of us no longer have any idea what our lives depend on. As Olga Rublevskaya, the director of wastewater disposal at the Russian plant, said, “live organisms won’t deceive anyone about the danger of pollution.” That is, they won’t deceive anyone who doesn’t want to be deceived. I’ve got my doubts that most of us would take a chocolate-covered hint. We’ve got organisms sounding alarms all over the place, but most people don’t get too worked up about snail urp. Our fish stocks are down or depleted. Birds too. Don’t even get me started about the amphibians. Acid rains down from the sky. Glaciers are in full retreat and islands are vanishing. Hundred-year storms are stacking up like a pile of unread New Yorker magazines. And everywhere you look, people are aggravated as hell if their pages load slowly or their mangoes aren’t ripe.
The snails are being observed by personnel who are trained to recognize when they’re starting to lose some of their zip. These might even be people who are authorized to do something to mitigate the conditions that trouble snails. I think that’s terrific, but I’ve got no faith that the rest of us are so finely attuned. Already we’re hip-deep in dead canaries on this planet.
The folks in charge think we’ve got a canary disposal problem and are looking for shovels. The rest of us are just wiggling our fannies in the soft, soft canaries.
the snails will give them a heads-up if things are starting to go south, because they are more sensitive, and if they get queasy, something's up.
Well, they can't be relying on human reactions to give the same warning, since the very fact of having to watch eight-inch-long snails would make most humans queasy. And considering the normal drinking habits over there, the monitors wouldn't be able to see conventional instrument read-outs through all the pink elephants.
Already we're hip-deep in dead canaries on this planet.
A lot of money is being spent, by people who have even more money at stake, to convince the public that all those dead canaries are not dead, but merely resting or pining for the fjords. The situation closely parallels past decades' promotion of fake "research" denying the dangers of smoking.
And the Japanese are indeed killing whales for scientific research. And the animals the tree huggers believe are in danger of extinction are just a tad shy of strangers. And, and, and. Sometimes (often) I am ashamed to be human.
I take my canaries and snails very seriously. But then I'm the sort of gardener who sees her first swallow and starts potting up tender plants for my beds. Swallows know more than my calendar.
(Send this off to The Sun! They're more readable than the New Yorker, and I suspect more interesting than North Dakota Living.)
I'm thinking monitoring 8-inch snails would take some serious training and dedication…and if you possessed ample quantities of both, wouldn't you rather DO something more proactive?
(trying not to envision a snail that big)
They have to be that big to deliver the mail.
"…and everywhere people are aggravated as hell if their pages load slowly or their mangoes aren't ripe." We will deny, deny, deny, until it's too late, too late, too late. And it's later than we think. Outstanding post, Murr.
Animals have long been used to test conditions for us humans. I did not know about the snails.
I'll watch for that gastropodcast, Murr. As always, I smiled when I saw there was a new post, but as I read it, other than the expected cleverness, I realized the canaries and the snails have already told us everything we already know. The ship is going down.
I agree with Elephant Child.
Eight inch snails! Hefty. I've seen 5 inch slugs…
Are the people trained to monitor the snails a bit quicker than their subjects? Because if they are not, we may never know if there is a problem until it is much too late.
As someone wise once said, "Global warming doesn't care if we believe in it or not."
As a species, we humans can be pretty arrogant.
(And thanks for stopping by!)
In 2010 West Coast Canada experienced the largest salmon run in 95 years (and no one knows why!) Once an endangered species, our Canadian beaver is abundant once again. The Bald Eagle and the wolf continue to grow in numbers. There are a few success stories!
My daughters have four snails living in a terrarium in their room. I'll have to start watching them for signs of distress that comes from something other than the excessive love they get from the kids. Seriously – the snails have names and get taken for walks.
Aye. If those in power payed closer attention to the impact of human activities on the natural world, the environment would be much healthier.
Unfortunately, Infidel753 has a point. There are powerful factions in the world that have a vested interest in denying environmental problems.
As for snails getting queasy, I now have a mental image of cute little snails barfing.
You're welcome for that. And Infidel753 doesn't have A point, he has THE point.
Mary W, I love The Sun. It's my only subscription. And they have the NICEST rejection letters. I have four. Keep those market suggestions coming though!
I've volunteered with the UC Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group: there were two pairs of nesting peregrine falcons left in the 70's in California, zero on the East Coast. UCSC biologists were turned down for grants on the grounds that it was too late to rescue the species, but they did it anyway: rappeling up and down cliffs to replace eggs with wooden dummies so the parents wouldn't desert the nests, hatching them, rappeling again to put the hatchlings back in. They dedicated their lives (and risked them at times) to bringing the peregrine back.
At the December count there were 56 seen just around San Francisco Bay and there are about two dozen known nests where they hope to band the babies shortly.
As I drove down a city street the other day I saw a Cooper's hawk on a streetlight. A Redtail over the freeway. I grew up in the 60's and 70's in a house in the woods, feeding the birds, and we never, ever saw a hawk.
I saw a Zone-tailed hawk in my yard last week. 51" wingspan. Wow!
Those who pay attention and work to save species DO make a difference. My new grandson will get to see birds I never did as a kid. And I've got a Cooper's nest right next door.
Thank heavens for those like you who pay passionate attention. It changes everything.
Murr, thanks for this post……we tree huggers cannot yell loud enough about the murderous damage we are doing to the Nature that sustains us.
I love ya' when you are funny…..I love ya' when you are serious.
I thought those pretty yellow things were flowers. Guess I'm in deep doo doo over here!
This is a nice, shiny new laptop, dammit – don't make me spit on it!
Here(Australia) giant African snails are a problem. They are doing serious damage to local species.Maybe we could sell them to Russia…
Great post, Murr.
"… if they get queasy, something's up."
I'm afraid I would get more queasy trying to determine how queasy the snails are.
Come to think of it, wouldn't ALL the snails in France already be pretty damn queasy??
I didn't hear the peepers doing their Spring hallelujah chorus in the woods across the road this year. It is making me really, really nervous. You go, snails!
One of our best-known Canadian environmentalists, David Suzuki, had this to say: "We're in a giant car heading towards a brick wall, and everyone's arguing over where they're going to sit."
Excellent post, Murr!
Murr…you're singing my song. (Somebody has to take the place of all those canaries.)
@Tiffin…Perhaps they all moved down here. I think ours are especially boisterous this year. Peculiar.
Happy to report they are singing tonight!
I'll tell the box turtles to check out the gastropodcast. They love gastropods in ways gardeners and Russian treatment plant staffers don't. Here in Portland they miss the French garden snails they used to enjoy in the Bay Area. (The turtles got their veggies via the food chain.) And Murr, I'm awaiting my first reply/rejection (?) from The Sun. They pay too well; it ups the competition.
They're very polite at the Sun, Rose. In fact, they write my very favorite rejection letter of anybody. Good luck!
And Tiffin? Thanks for the update. You had me worried. Peepers are one thing I miss about the east coast.
Murr, thank you. This is my first visit to your blog and I'll be reading regularly from now on 🙂
"Canaries in the mines" … snails on the incinerator … I can't help but wonder if the southern-central US is somehow a 'canary of the continent' this spring … The storms have been horrific and are occuring out of season and with increased frequency … I read your piece here after scanning several reports re: the storms —
Last night around sunset I walked down to the dock where I found a manatee searching for food along the silt-covered river bottom. I turned on the water hose and dangled it over the edge so the big fellow could have a drink of fresh water. He came immediately over to me and would alternate between drinking and slowly rolling over as I tickled his back and belly by spraying him with the water. As he did so, the prop scars along his back where speed boat propellers had cut him, and a large sore spot near his tail were clearly visible. They are so gentle. They struggle to survive. It brought a tear to my eye.
DJan says the ship is going down. It sure is. I think the wealthy people think they will be immune to the destruction of earth that they have a big hand in causing. We weren't paying enough attention and we gave away our voice. I wonder how many generations will be on this planet.
Well, maybe if SOME people start paying attention, MORE people will…that's pretty interesting. I know they plant roses at the ends of grape fines to detect disease and pests and some other plant does the same for orchard trees. People have done it for generations. One wonders what the strip miners, frackers and oil drillers are using for their litmus testers…
It was great meeting you at Chrysalis. I enjoyed your blog
How timely! http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/intersex-fish-potomac-river-raise-concerns-about-impact-humans
I, too, have found that the problem is most common among large-mouths and males: http://bossip.com/239937/random-ridiculousness-toxic-garbage-from-toilets-are-turning-male-fish-into-trannies/
Great post, and great comment from Infidel.
I started reading this all cynical as usual, and by the time I got through all the comments, I almost feel like there's some hope for humanity after all.