You Can Tell She's a Road Ecologist...
"You can tell she's a road ecologist by the way she swerves around the snow-toads." – 21 January 2018, Canada: Ontario: Grenville County: Oxford-on-Rideau Township: County Road 18, 1.5 km NNE Bishops Mills. (100 m along road), 31B/13, 44.88332° N 75.69096° W TIME: 1749. AIR TEMP: 1°C, overcast, calm. HABITAT: flat tilled-, oldfields, hayfields, between creeks. OBSERVER: Aleta Karstad Schueler, Frederick W. Schueler. 2018/005/g, weather (climate observation) (event). natural history, driveby. no snow falling, continuous snow cover in the fields.
In the course of work on the “Wildlife on Roads” book, we asked e-mail lists and facebook about their terms for things most often mistaken for on-road wildlife, their characteristics, and names used for them. We received comments from Heather Christine, Erinn Lawrie, Susan Smethurst, Christopher Hampson, Neil Balchan, Sherri Moulton, Amanda Green-Verma, Taylor Kennedy, Bev Wigney, Elizabeth Anke, Madison Wikston, Anna Best, Neil Balchan, Candace Robin, Jane Fuller, Marilyn Pallister, David Tomes, Parker Pickles Boulder, Donald Sutherland, Genèvre Arsovsky, Michelle Lauren, Rachel Young Moffatt, Tyler Hake, Gloria Allan, Mhat Briehl, Jordan Dertinger, Mike Pearsall, Holly Anderson, Sara Ashpole, Sue Hayes, Corina Brdar, Hannah Maciver, and Christina Davy (facebook or e-mail names, in the order received), and have distilled them into a list of vernacular names, which provide a vocabulary that can enhance the quick decision-making and classification needed for drive-by identification of objects that might or might not be roadkill.
Snow-toads are rarely seen in the same season as real Toads, but stand on the road in a similar upright posture. Holly Anderson's BLOBs (Bird Like Objects) are often comprised of the “plonkers of snow from behind tires on the road in a cunningly raptor-shaped slump,” and Candace Robin's Snow Turtles fall from the snow that accumulates behind the tires – “the ones that fall off transports have the hardest shell.”
Bananacondas in their various distortions and changing colour are the classic mistaken object. These peels are found at surprising densities along some roads, twisted into diverse snake-like shapes, and darkening from yellow to black as they dry and age. Madison Wikston “once pulled over to help a bananaconda cross safely.”
Leaf-frogs are often Maple leaves, standing up on their lobes in an Anuran posture, though Poplar leaves can also twist into a frog-like shape. Leaf-mice often run straight across the road without bouncing when there's a fairly stiff breeze, and ”they have a funny way of skittering forward, stopping suddenly as the ends of the pointed leaves catch for a second, then on they go” (Bev Wigney).
Glove Birds are may be sprawled open, or rolled into a shape like that of a small Mammal. Pebble Peepers are emblematic of small mistaken creatures (on a gravel road their namesakes will often only be distinguishable when they jump or after they've been hit). Catkin Salamanders fall from Poplar trees, and a wide range of organic and mineral detritus can be mistaken for small invertebrates.
Stick-snakes come in a wide range of sizes, and like all faux-serpents must be distinguished by the difference between the way they bend or twist from the sinuous increasing-from-the-head – decreasing-to-the-tail loops of a living Snake, and the varied crumpling of DORs. Bungee-cord Snakes have smooth loops in garish colours, Fanbelt Snakes have broad black curves and straight segments, and rubber tarp straps are curved in upon themselves, sporting big S-hooks on both ends.
Retread Alligators: are especially common along superhighways, or they break up into Tire Turtles – they always exhibit a solidly black coloration.
Various kinds of cans or reflectors can appear to be the eyeshine of a mammal in the headlights. Stump Bears, which are distantly related to Stump Bucks, are often just off the road in northern Ontario. And then there are Bag Owls, Hat Turtles, Dogturd Toads, Trash-bag-cat-corpses, Garbage-squirrels, the Cardboard Hawk Wing, and the Plastic Bag Pigeon. In many areas of New Brunswick most roadkills are Bark Bodies.
Christina Davy “had a good track record of stopping to yell at stupid road-crossing Pine Cone Hedgehogs while working in Europe,” Tyler Hake “stopped for discarded bras at least 3 times because the cup was facing upwards and made me think they were Box Turtles.” Many of us have had to move one particular Rock Turtle or Boot Turtle, “that we mistook for a Box Turtle every night....” (Neil Balchan) from one of our transects, and black tire Skid-mark DORs can often repeatedly appear to be the same spurious species on a frequently traveled road. For a final bit of good news, discarded paper coffee and drink cups are almost always recognizable before one drives past or over them.
This kind of terminology is not just amusing – recognizing roadkill from a moving vehicle is a very high-speed process, and identification is facilitated by having names for the non-target objects which link with mental search images to reduce the time the eye spends on an object, and to reduce the number of stops made in error. If you've got terms of this kind that we haven't listed here, be sure to contribute and explain them in a comment.