Thursday, September 9, 2010

Snakes and People: Coiling or Recoiling?

There has apparently been considerable controversy about the direction in which snakes coil, clockwise or counterclockwise. Dr. Eric Roth (Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma) has tested these reptiles for the direction they prefer to coil.  Dr. Roth studied the coiling behavior of 30 cottonmouth snakes over a six-month period.   Adult snakes (16 of 20 snakes) preferred to coil in the clockwise direction. Many female snakes (15 of 20 snakes), but few male snakes (only 4 of 10 snakes), also tended to coil in a clockwise pattern.  Roth’s article seemed to come to the conclusion that on average they preferred turning clockwise to the right (Roth, E.D., 'Handedness' in snakes? Lateralization of coiling behaviour in a cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus leucostoma, population. Animal Behaviour, 66:337-341, 2003.)

A more recent study by Harold Heatwole, Peter King and Samuel G. Levine arrived at a different conclusion. They studied the direction of for two species of viperid snakes—copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) and cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus). Overall, neither species showed a significant preference for coiling in a particular direction. Only 1 of 22 snakes exhibited an individual preference, a result displayed random direction of coiling. Roth’s previously published claim for laterality in coiling direction by cottonmouths actually presented similar results but came to the opposite conclusion. The data from the combined studies suggest that if laterality in coiling direction does occur, it is extremely weak and inconsistent. Oddly, the only snake which exhibited a distinct preference for turning right responded with apparent interest when the name “Glenn” was called. (“Laterality in coiling behaviour of snakes: Another interpretation”  Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, Volume 12, Issue 6 November 2007).
This brings me to the upcoming mid-term elections.  Many people, including some respected pollsters have come to the conclusion the electorate is turning distinctively in a clockwise direction, i.e. to the right.  On the other hand the Pew Poll of only committed registered voters arrived at the same conclusion as Heatwole’s second Copperhead snake study, namely that people, like their viper counterparts, seem to be undecided about which direction they should turn.  They turn equally to the left and right.    
According to the latest Pew Poll, it will be easier to encourage younger folks to turn to the left this November, with the promise an improved economy and other benefits, than to the right (57% to 32%) than their 50+ year old elders who are turning to the right by 11 percentage points.  The problem is, how to get younger people to actually vote.
Facts help.  This year, the Obama Administration's Health Care Plan began preventing insurance companies from denying children coverage due to pre-exisiting conditions, like autism.  In another three years it will protect everyone else. If you are college age, beginning this year, young people who are not covered through their employer will be able to stay on their parents' health plan until their 26th birthday, which is a boon to young people looking for jobs.  The Republicans have promised to reverse these gains if they achieve a majority in the House and/or Senate in November.  Rachel Maddow's (MSNBC) famous "bikini graph" showing consistent reversal of job losses sustained under the Bush administration and gradual job growth, provides further encouragement that we're moving in the right direction.
Here's another idea. Maybe a YouTube video featuring House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner lip synching to Taio Cruz’s “Break Your Heart" would help generate some interest among young voters.  Remember Boehner’s “Hell No!” podium pounding tantrum during the health care debate? Clips of those outbursts would look great interspersed with verses from Break Your Heart…. “and I know karma’s gonna get me back for being so cold/ like a big bad wolf, I’m born to be bad and bad to the bone…”  Someone out there with a laptop and digital editing software could put together a YouTube video in a Sunday afternoon, which with a little luck could go viral. 
One last thing about snakes’ coiling. When snakes are scared, they find a hiding place and coil up together. Some snakes rattle their tales, like people shouting and holding up signs claiming Obama is like Hitler or Stalin and that he doesn’t have a birth certificate. Tail rattling. If disturbed, snakes strike, pretty much like people who are disturbed by what they don't want to hear. 
Just goes to show there’s much to be learned from studying the snakes' and people's behavior when they’re scared.

No comments:

Post a Comment