Sensors duct taped to snakes are used as moving Geiger counters.
Scientists are still pondering the dangers of the area nine years after the Fukushima Daichi nuclear disaster in Japan.
A team of researchers sought out unlikely help and found nine Japanese rat snakes living in the area. The Guardian reports that scientists attached GPS trackers to the varmints using superglue and duct tape. This allowed them to measure radioactivity while the snakes were moving about.
The majority of those who fled the disaster are now home. However, the study on snakes published in Ichthyology and Herpetology could be used to help officials devise a plan for the 444 miles remaining that have been fenced off by the Fukushima Exclusion Zone.
Circle of Life
It may seem odd to use snakes. It was actually a deliberate decision.
Earther was told by Hannah Gerke, University of Georgia researcher and lead author of the study, that although snakes are often overlooked in relation to other animals, they are a crucial part of many ecosystems. They can be both prey and predator in the food web. This means that they could accumulate contaminants from the prey they eat, and may also act as a source of contaminants to other animals that eat them.
The idea is that if snakes are exposed at high levels to radioactivity, then the rest of the ecosystem will be too. This gives researchers a better understanding of the area's ecological health.
Scientists discovered that the findings varied greatly from one area to another. According to the study, this suggests that radioactive elements didn't fall in the same area in an uniform manner and were affected by the terrain. Scientists believe that the Fukushima Exclusion Zone may be more complicated than initially thought because snakes from different habitats experienced different levels of radiation.
However, scientists have determined that radioactivity levels can be measured by monitoring snakes and other animals. This could allow them to identify areas that will soon become safe for humans.
READ MORE: Radioactive Snakes Help Scientists Monitor Fallout from Fukushima Nuclear Disaster [The Guardian]
Fukushima is now home to radioactive boar-pig hybrids
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