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Turtles, Snakes, and Spiders
July 20, 2012 1:52 PM   Subscribe

NASA Scientist Investigates Driver Behavior SLYT (spoilers inside)

An amusing informal scientific experiment in which a NASA scientist places rubber turtles, snakes, and tarantulas along the side of a highway and films them as vehicles drive by. About six percent of drivers intentionally hit the rubber animals and about six percent stop to get them off the highway. Around eighty percent of those drivers who swerve to hit the rubber animals were driving SUVs or pickup trucks.

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posted by GregorWill (63 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Just wait 'til they try to run over a juvenile gorilla....
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:58 PM on July 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Welp, the science proves it; SUV and truck drivers are dicks.
posted by dazed_one at 1:59 PM on July 20, 2012 [29 favorites]


Yeah, after being nearly run off the road twice in the past week by people in SUVs who were texting(!), this is my surprised face.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:05 PM on July 20, 2012


43 years ago today we walked on the moon.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:05 PM on July 20, 2012 [62 favorites]


A little while back, I was driving with the family on the road from Visalia up into Sequoia when I swerved the car and uttered a phrase I never would have guessed I would say: "Wow! I almost hit that spider!" I had to swerve to miss another one a few minutes later. Spiders the size of squirrels, walking across the road. Crazy.
posted by The World Famous at 2:08 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a fairly classic study that's been done in one variant or another since at least the '80s. Last semester my herpetology class did "Responses of Kansas Motorists to Snake Models on a Rural Highway" (abstract there, full version via MeMail if anybody wants it) which was similar, except with snakes. It showed that motorists will actually go out of their way to hit snakes, as compared to a length of rubber hose.

Also, it talks about survey results for other types of animals. For me the most disturbing statistic was that 22% of male respondents (and 8% of female respondents) reported intentionally hitting cats and dogs.

Humans, man. Can't trust 'em.
posted by Scientist at 2:10 PM on July 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Hmm, actually it's a big ambiguous about whether or not that was 22% of all respondents or 22% of those respondents who reported intentionally hitting animals on the road. Either way, damn.
posted by Scientist at 2:17 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


43 years ago today we walked on the moon.

SISS*

*staring into space, sighing
posted by theodolite at 2:17 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spiders the size of squirrels, walking across the road

I am going to pretend that this took place in Australia because that is what I need to do to sleep at night.
posted by elizardbits at 2:17 PM on July 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


Also, it talks about survey results for other types of animals. For me the most disturbing statistic was that 22% of male respondents (and 8% of female respondents) reported intentionally hitting cats and dogs.

What was the language on that question? Does it include those "intentionally" hitting a cat/dog at a point in which swerving would be dangerous (put possible)?
posted by Algebra at 2:18 PM on July 20, 2012


For me the most disturbing statistic was that 22% of male respondents (and 8% of female respondents) reported intentionally hitting cats and dogs.

Question: What's worse, the statistic, or that people were apparently OK with admitting that they intentionally killed cats and dogs?

Answer: I hate this world and want to go away in my mind.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 2:22 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait. There were spiders the size of squirrels and you weren't running their fuzzy asses over?!?!
posted by 2N2222 at 2:23 PM on July 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Human flesh search activated for cold blooded rubber turtle killers.
posted by Winnemac at 2:23 PM on July 20, 2012


I had to swerve to miss another one a few minutes later. Spiders the size of squirrels, walking across the road. Crazy.

My mom and her mom used to take road trips (from Chicago) to CO every year; one year they came upon a lot of spiders crossing the road they were driving on.

Tarantulas migrate.
posted by rtha at 2:23 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Would these same people step on a turtle if they encountered one on foot? Or pick up a cat and break its neck? I'm guessing not. There's something scary about what happens to people behind the wheel of a car.
posted by knave at 2:23 PM on July 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


For me the most disturbing statistic was that 22% of male respondents (and 8% of female respondents) reported intentionally hitting cats and dogs.

I am going to pretend that these people were eaten by giant Australian spiders because that is what I need to do to sleep at night.
posted by Blue Meanie at 2:24 PM on July 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


The survey itself, annoyingly, is not included in the document I have. Here is the entire paragraph, the only one which discusses it directly except in the introduction where it is mentioned that a survey of 364 University of Kansas students was administered to determine attitudes toward hitting animals crossing the road:

"Responses from the questionnaire survey showed that 13 percent (25/193) of the males and 4 percent (7/171) of the females deliberately hit a snake crossing the road. Those who reported hitting an animal deliberately, hit a snake more often [males 25/64 (40%) and females 7/11 (67%)] than an opossum (29% and 18%, respectively), cat or dog (22% and 8%) or rabbit (17% and 3%). A different trend occurred for animals hit accidentally. Only 48% (8/193) of the males and 3 percent (5/171) of the females reported hitting a snake accidentally. Those who reported hitting an animal accidentally, hit a snake less often than rabbit (25% and 27%, respectively), bird (23% and 26%), cat or dog (35% and 17%)."

I think that it's therefore only 22% of those who intentionally hit animals, but I wish the wording were clearer.
posted by Scientist at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Humans, man. Can't trust 'em.

At least within a 95% confidence range. You might get lucky, now and again.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:27 PM on July 20, 2012


I've hit exactly one squirrel in my life and it was one of those "happened so fast there was nothing I could do" situations. I still feel guilty about it. Hitting an animal on purpose is a concept I can't even wrap my brain around.

Wasn't there an FPP at one point about how some drivers deliberately try to his bicycle riders?
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:28 PM on July 20, 2012


43 years ago today we walked on the moon.

What do you mean 'we,' kemosabe?
posted by blue_beetle at 2:33 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


2bucksplus and me. We walked on the moon. It was awesome. Then we had nachos. You should have been there, man.
posted by The World Famous at 2:34 PM on July 20, 2012 [16 favorites]


The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs, trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that?
posted by zamboni at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


I backed over a toad when I was exiting my garage. I joked that I just killed Prince Charming; but I felt bad for the poor toad I smashed.

I have had many, many near misses with squirrels. They are everywhere and they jaywalk. I would never hit one on purpose, though. I don't know what goes through the minds of people who deliberately swerve to hit an animal (as opposed to hitting one by accident). It puts me in mind of Billy Nolan from Carrie - in the book (not the movie) he is described as running down stray dogs for sport and pulling into his garage "with the bumper dripping" (shudder; there's no one quite like Stephen King to take the mundane and turn it into nightmare fuel).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:36 PM on July 20, 2012



43 years ago today we walked on the moon.

What do you mean 'we,' kemosabe?


I think 2buckplus means: We = Humans less the rubber turtle killers.
posted by Mojojojo at 2:36 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Around eighty percent of those drivers who swerve to hit the rubber animals were driving SUVs or pickup trucks

A meaningless statistic without some idea of what the proportion of SUVs among the general traffic was, but I suppose it's intended to be misleading.

Not that SUV drivers aren't typically assholes in my experience, but I'd like some SCIENCE to support my prejudices thankyou.
posted by hattifattener at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs, trying to turn itself over, but it can't. Not without your help. But you're not helping. Why is that?

Because I just now found out about it and you haven't even told me where it is or how I get there to help it. You've apparently known about the poor turtle and its struggle this whole time while we've been talking, but you waited until now to tell me about it. So why aren't you helping, smart guy?
posted by The World Famous at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


As a bicycle commuter and someone who recently pulled a u-turn on a 2-lane highway to help a turtle cross the road and the next day saw a smushed snake in the middle of the dead end camproad I camped at with less than 10 campsites beyond the smushed snake, the video though funny is also profoundly saddening. Does it have something to do with the fact that 43 years ago we made it the moon and haven't been there since? Is the empathetic part of humans, the six percent that stop to help, the part that is pulling us forward or holding us back? Is the space race and "human progress" running over turtles? Or is it stopping to help them cross the road?
posted by GregorWill at 2:40 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was a teen, my mom and I went on a long road trip with lots of 'car camping'. Pulling in to one of the campgrounds, we saw lots and lots of rabbits which had been struck by cars - my mom slowed down to literally 5 mph and drove the rest of the road at a crawl, so we'd have enough time to spot a rabbit before we hit it.

In other words, my mom is awesome, and as far as I know I've never hit a bird or a mammal on the road but I admit I've smashed hundreds, perhaps thousands of spiders in my time.
posted by muddgirl at 2:41 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I stop for turtles. Like, actually stop the vehicle, dash out into traffic, pick up turtle and put it in the safety of the grass. I imagine that I've ruined a number of turtle plans by picking them up and putting them on the wrong side of the road, but that's what happens when you don't use crosswalks.

Sadly, I no longer swerve to avoid animals when it's raining due to a pretty impressive accident I had as a teenager. Rainy night, saw a cat standing in the road, swerved to avoid cat, lost control of the car, flew off road and into cow pond. On a cow.
posted by teleri025 at 2:45 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, I never see the little wooly bear caterpillars until they are too close to avoid. Do they spend all their day crossing and recrossing the roads?
posted by jjj606 at 2:46 PM on July 20, 2012


snakes: "Usually they would stop and throw rocks at you, and then run you over anyway."
posted by caddis at 2:47 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So why aren't you helping, smart guy?

They're just questions, The World Famous. It’s a test, designed to provoke an emotional response. Shall we continue?
posted by zamboni at 2:48 PM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sure, just don't ask me about my mother.
posted by The World Famous at 2:51 PM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


They're just questions, The World Famous. It’s a test, designed to provoke an emotional response. Shall we continue?

Sorry for the derail.

We now return to your regular scheduled programming.
posted by Mojojojo at 2:55 PM on July 20, 2012


Is it a turtle, or is it a landmine?
posted by scruss at 2:57 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't those squirrel spiders have acid for blood?
posted by angrycat at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2012


I have had the unfortunate luck of hitting two cats and a raccoon, all at night in situations where I had no time to react. I tell myself all three had suicidal tendencies.

Now there are a number of things that stick out in my mind from Grapes of Wrath, but one is early in the book when the family has left the homestead...where one of the main characters makes a sport of running over animals. Yeesh!
posted by Atreides at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2012


Conclusion: SUV drivers are replicants.
posted by palidor at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2012


I am always moving turtles from the road. There's a special place in hell for people who intentionally hit animals.

Lots of other road users, too.
posted by workerant at 3:07 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have had the unfortunate luck of hitting two cats and a raccoon, all at night in situations where I had no time to react. I tell myself all three had suicidal tendencies.

Maybe it was a parasite. Here's an infected cricket that was compelled to jump into a body of water so that the parasitic worm could hatch.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:09 PM on July 20, 2012


Fucking hell. I guess 6% is about the middle of the range of estimates as to how many people are on the psychopath spectrum.

Makes me wanna make some anima shaped spike strips.
posted by cmoj at 3:09 PM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


This was a triumph...







I'll let you guys just fill in the rest.
posted by cthuljew at 3:14 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


My mom is one of those people who stops for any animal she sees in the road. Once, when I was 4, she stopped for a box turtle. I took it in the next day for preschool show-and-tell and told the lily-white suburban kids and parents that the turtle's name was Honky.

Anyway, I picked up some of these genes from my mom. The time I hit a squirrel with my car at age 17, I had to pull over and call my three best friends, then my mother, crying. And my siblings still make fun of me for the night in Florida when, at age 8, I stepped on a succession of snails and started sobbing. (In my panic, I stepped on a few more, compounding the situation. I was a wreck.)
posted by quadrilaterals at 3:15 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Perhaps it's the lack of fur and big floppy ears that triggers the urge to intentionally run over snakes and turtles. A certain rabbit said hrududil don't pay any attention.
posted by CancerMan at 3:15 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll also take parasite.
posted by Atreides at 3:15 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was in high school, I was flirting with this girl at a party, we'll call her Betty for this story. Now then, this whole flirting thing was going WAY better then it ever has for me before, so I'm having a great night. A friend calls the party (this was pre-cell phone days) and asks me to come pick him up. And Betty decides she is more than happy to come along with me!

Now understand, this was out in the middle of the country, there was tall grass on all sides of the road and it was very dark out.

We're driving along to go pick up my friend, and a rabbit jumps in front of my car. I do what I can to avoid it, but alas little Thumper goes to his final resting place. I am, genuinely, apologetic about this and Betty seems to completely understand that these things happen.

And then it happens again.

The second time, my still quite genuine apology is met a little more... coldly. Betty seems to be an animal lover and is less than impressed by my inability to dodge a lagomorph*.

The third time, shortly before we picked up my friend, permanently and with extreme prejudice terminated any chances I had with the lovely Betty.

Same thing happened over a year later when going on a date with another girl, that time it was frogs. Oh god the frogs.

*I swear I was not trying to kill those bunnies, I really did (and do) feel terrible about their senseless deaths/cockblocking
posted by KirTakat at 3:19 PM on July 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


That 6% of drivers would intentionally swerve onto the road berm in order to run over what they presumably thought was an animal is much higher than I would have predicted, but it retrospect I suppose it doesn't really surprise me. I was, however, completely surprised by the fact that 80% of those drivers were driving SUVs or pickup trucks. I would never have guessed that this value would be anywhere as high as 80% — I'm having a hard time thinking of the cause behind this correlation.

Maybe if you're in the small minority of people who feel so threatened by animals on the road that you'd deliberately swerve to hit them, you're also more likely to purchase a larger vehicle in order to feel safer on the road? Perhaps demographics have something to do with it (it's my understanding that SUV owners are more likely to be young males)? Alternatively, I also recall reading that owners of SUVs are more likely to have children, maybe the underlying cause is having children, i.e. have children -> heightened protective instincts -> crush interloping animals with your vehicle?
posted by RichardP at 3:38 PM on July 20, 2012


Maybe there are just more SUVs and pickup trucks on little country roads than in other places. I wonder what the overall distribution of cars to SUVs and pickups was in the entire sample.
posted by The World Famous at 3:42 PM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]



43 years ago today we walked on the moon.

You know, this strikes me as an excellent use of a NASA scientist's time, because as long as we humans are like this, the infection must remain confined to a single planet at all costs.
posted by jamjam at 3:51 PM on July 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe there are just more SUVs and pickup trucks on little country roads than in other places...

Yes, absolutely. If 900 of the 1000 vehicles in his sample were SUVs and pickup trucks, than it's the sedan drivers who disproportionally strike animals.
posted by RichardP at 3:54 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Tarantulas migrate.

Male tarantulas migrate, apparently, according to the linked article. Possibly to avoid being eaten by lady tarantulas. Or maybe the females eat the males because they're gone all the time.

Does anyone know if roadkilled turtles and snakes are predominantly male or female?
posted by christopherious at 3:56 PM on July 20, 2012


Yeah I wish he had published the number of SUVs out of the thousand or so vehicles that passed by. I wonder if he has the information?

Also I misquoted the stat. It is 89% of the vehicles that drove over the rubber animal were trucks/SUVs not 80%. Also the road where he is filming looks like it is possibly Mulholland Freeway outside of Los Angeles. So unless 890 of the vehicles in his sample were trucks/SUVs then it is the truck/SUV drivers disproportionally striking the animals.
posted by GregorWill at 4:04 PM on July 20, 2012


To provide the opposite perspective, I rescued a cat who'd been hit by the car in front of me several years ago. He's a little crazy, and he's got some wicked scars, but he's mostly fine now. And still very grateful.
posted by byanyothername at 4:09 PM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


One of the driver's ed teachers at my high school would teach his students to try to hit squirrels. His reasoning was that he didn't want them to crash trying to avoid them, but I think he was a little unstable. Also, around the same time, I worked with a guy who would swerve into the other lane trying to hit groundhogs. Evidently he lived on a farm and saw a few horses break their legs in groundhog holes. I thought it was just a Pennsylvania thing.
posted by Drab_Parts at 4:13 PM on July 20, 2012


this has given me a wonderful idea for a new pastime, it involves a rubber turtle with a big metal spike inside, and a camera.
posted by moss free at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also the road where he is filming looks like it is possibly Mulholland Freeway outside of Los Angeles.

Does he say at some point that it's Mulholland Highway? I live in L.A. and the stretch of road in the video looks to me like just about any two-lane highway in all of Southern California, many of which are in areas where I would expect to see a higher proportion of SUVs and pickups than in an urban area. Is something specific about the video leading you to believe that it is Mulholland Highway specifically?

this has given me a wonderful idea for a new pastime, it involves a rubber turtle with a big metal spike inside, and a camera.

One word you're going to get tired of over the course of a few years of court proceedings is "foreseeability."
posted by The World Famous at 4:18 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


You are right. It could be just about anywhere in Southern California. Its probably close to JPL, as the videographer works there. I live in LA as well. 89% truck/SUV is higher than any road I've been on.
posted by GregorWill at 4:44 PM on July 20, 2012


Yeah, I'd agree with that. 89% is probably too high for anywhere in metro L.A.
posted by The World Famous at 5:02 PM on July 20, 2012


I would like to see a psychological follow-up study in which the fake animals are filled with caltrops and a hidden camera records the reactions of the drivers who intentionally hit them after their tires blowout. For science.
posted by homunculus at 6:38 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


....where it is mentioned that a survey of 364 University of Kansas students was administered to determine attitudes toward hitting animals crossing the road...

Oohh. Okay. Kansas Students. Whew. I feel a lot better now.

I was a truck driver for a few years. I will not take my outfit off the road for small mammals. Sorry.

One afternoon on I-40 in the Texas Panhandle I came across a herd of about 10 skunks, who were hunkered over the body of one of their brethren who'd been hit by a car. I don't think they were praying, but who knows? I didn't have time to change speed much, and I couldn't change lanes. I guess I hit most of them. The driver behind me and I had been carrying on a pretty decent conversation on the CB until this happened. For the rest of our trip to Hunts Point, he had to park at the extreme end of the truck stops. During the early part of our little two-truck convoy he called me by my handle, Snowshoe. After I hit the skunks he called me "that motherfucker up there."
posted by mule98J at 9:59 PM on July 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


One time on my morning commute, I stopped and found myself standing on the double-yellow in the middle of the road, sheepishly holding a particularly large pine cone I had mistaken for a box turtle. Passing motorists must have thought now there's a guy who really, seriously hates pine cones. Or that I was some sort of lunatic turtle-kicker.
posted by steef at 6:08 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have my dog because the asshole in the pickup in front of me ran the stray puppy over and didn't stop. Broke one of his hind femurs clean in two, but he recovered nicely.

He's a really great dog. (I was driving an suv at the time)
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:25 AM on July 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


GregorWill: "Also the road where he is filming looks like it is possibly Mulholland Freeway outside of Los Angeles."

The World Famous: "Does he say at some point that it's Mulholland Highway?""

And I was thinking it was Potrero Road or Kanan-Dume Road in the Thousand Oaks area. But TWF is probably right in that it could be any semi-rural two lane highway in Southern California.
posted by deborah at 12:02 AM on July 22, 2012


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