Green Snakes and Beer

From a humble missionary to excessive amounts of green colored beer, what is the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day? I can assure you in the 18th century the celebrations were much quieter–people celebrated by going to church the second quietest place I know (behind libraries). I don’t care how you celebrate, I love holidays even the ones that have nothing to do with my own family heritage (Cinco de Mayo may be my favorite non-heritage holiday) mainly because I like food and a holiday is a great excuse to try new foods. Before celebrations commence, here is a little background on the day and like many traditions it absolutely has something to do with natural resources and conservation!

According to legend, St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, chased snakes from the island and into the sea after they began attacking him during a 40-day fast he undertook on top of a hill, thus ridding the island of the reptiles in the 5th century. However, historians say snakes have never inhabited the island. The reptiles are slow to colonize new areas and they just didn’t make it to Ireland before the Ice Age. Afterwards, the island was (and is) surrounded by water. A little harder to cross a water bridge than a land bridge.

Even though this folk tale is not true, it is an excellent reminder of what could happen if the island became inhabited by any species of snake or other non-native animal. Islands seem to be a make or break place, both fragile and resilient. Some invasive species have been (purposefully or accidentally) introduced to islands such as Australia and Hawai’i. Some have survived and wreaked havoc while others have not. The brown tree snake has done damage on Guam and other islands, and scientists fear it could also be a threat to Ireland. Invasive species removal can be incredibly costly and take years to control–many of them are never completely eradicated.

While St. Patrick is really celebrated for religious reasons, this story connects to modern conservation and stewardship initiatives. Invasive species prevention is important, and not just when it comes to getting rid of things that make us shiver (even the pretty invasive are evil). With Earth Month right around the corner, that is something we can all drink too.

 

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