Years ago, I used to frequent a website that catered to field-herpers. Field-herpers aren’t people suffering from herpes caught while engaging in questionable sexual behavior in the outdoors. These are people who search for reptiles and amphibians in their natural habitats. And among the denizens of this site were a certain number of herpetologists. These are biologists who study reptiles and amphibians. And most of these scientists are just regular folks doing their jobs for either a college or for the state or federal government. They do population studies and other more esoteric scientific analyses.
But a very small percentage of these were individuals who each made it his life’s work to make sure that nobody but a “scientist” kept reptiles and amphibians on his own. In some areas of the country this is essentially a fait accompli. In a place like Massachusetts, almost any reptile or amphibian less common than a bullfrog is already listed as an endangered or threatened species. Even the rattlesnakes are protected. And as for turtles, you can probably keep a painted turtle or a snapper but everything else is sacrosanct. Even the turtles that they admit aren’t endangered or even uncommon are treated as contraband such that if you were caught in possession of one you’d get more prison time than if you were discovered hauling a tractor trailer full of cocaine into the state.
Now in less densely populated states like Kansas and Missouri it was pretty common for a farm boy who had an interest in nature to catch a rat snake or a bull snake around the hen house and build a cage for it and figure out how to feed it and keep it alive. Many famous early 20th Century herpetologists got started in just that way. A Snake is a very interesting and unusual creature. Other than horrifying his female relatives it is a harmless endeavor for a pre-teen boy from which some knowledge of the outdoors can be easily gleaned including the usefulness of snakes as a rodent exterminating agent. And since snakes do not require companionship or affection it is relatively guilt-free for the keeper.
In these farming states it was difficult for the zoological SJWs to claim endangered status for these rodent eating snakes. After all corn fields breed rats and mice at a prodigious rate. And that ensures a plentiful supply of snakes. But the SJWs are a persistent bunch and with enough time and warped thinking they can always make up something. And what they’ve come up with is the “convenient sub-species.” Let’s say you have a species with an enormous range and the ability to inhabit a wide range of habitats. As an example, take the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). This animal extends the length and breadth of the continental United States and even occupies large parts of Canada and even the southeast tip of Alaska. It’s ridiculously common. And because it thrives in widely varying habitats it has adapted and has developed different patterns and coloring to blend in better with its environment. There are striped populations and checked ones. There are almost totally black populations (melanistic) and there is a whole suite of color groupings. On the west coast there are some areas that have populations that tend to red and orange. And even in the same geographic location you can find differences in appearance that show how camouflage has been successful in selecting a phenotype for survival. Okay, so far so good. The common garter snake is a prodigy of ecological success. What a shame for SJWs. How can you ban a little boy from catching a garter snake and keeping it in a terrarium for a few weeks until he gets tired of feeding it worms and throws it back in the field where he found it? After all it’s ubiquitous. A thousand get diced in the blades of suburban lawnmowers every Saturday in August around every good-sized town in America. What harm is there in a little boy keeping one. Well the harm is he’s having fun and he’s not doing it in a classroom, sanctioned and facilitated by the state. He’s doing it himself!
But how to stop him? Well, the common garter snake is a tough nut to crack but give the SJW credit. He’ll find a way. And the answer is the convenient sub-species. So back to the SCIENCE! Thamnophis sirtalis is one species. If you look at one population in Massachusetts and then looked at another one a hundred miles to the west you might find very small color differences and yet if you let them mate, which they would, the offspring would be almost indistinguishable from both parents. And you could do the same every hundred miles west all across the continental United States until you reached Oregon or Washington and each time you’d find the same thing, very tiny gradations in color and pattern. By then the populations would be significantly different from the Massachusetts tribe but they’d still be the same species and in fact they could breed with their Bay State cousins and produce common garter snakes. But what if we decided that there was such a thing as sub-species? Let’s say that we look at the garter snakes on the West Coast and compare them directly to the garter snakes on the East Coast. They are fairly distinct. Without looking at the progression of gradations from one coast to the other you might even be able to convince yourself that they are different species. So sub-species is something that rather arbitrarily can be designated along the range of a species that spans large geographic areas. Well, even if it is arbitrary, there are noticeable differences in form (morphology) to base such a classification on and since biologists have a lot of time on their hands in the winter they go to their collection of bottled alcohol-preserved snakes and draw lines on the range map showing where sub-species X ends and where sub-species Y begins. Once again, fine. Anything that keeps biologists off of fieldherper websites is a good thing. And the SJW scores a great victory here. In the whole universe of garter snake habitats, it would have to be San Francisco that combines an attractive and distinctive local subspecies with a shrinking range due to local land usage that almost (well not quite almost) justifies providing a protected status to the population. But, of course, the draconian measures employed undermines the legitimacy of the case for protecting the population. Captive bred populations of the San Francisco garters exist in Europe and many other places but ownership in the US is prohibited and extreme measures are taken to prevent these foreign blood lines from being brought into the country. Scientific studies of the genetics of the SF garters and other red colored garters from the west coast show no differences in genetic makeup. In other words, the SF garter snake is no more than a local population that differs in genetics no more than those garter snakes that lived a hundred miles from the ones we talked about earlier. The biggest difference is that the academics in San Francisco made a stink about their local snake and dragged the Feds in to make it a federal case.
And so, the example has been set. Find a distinctive population of a common species and declare it endangered. But this was just the beginning. Suppose you have a common species whose range only barely extends into a particular state. Where a change of topography limits the range of a species to a small area that overlaps with the jurisdiction of a state government it is possible to have a situation where the species is extremely common on both sides of a state border but only inhabits a tiny area within that state. Because of the limited area of the snake in this state, the local scientists will decide that it’s threatened. Does this make any sense? None. But that’s now standard operating procedure. And step by step you build up a patchwork of restrictions on common species and laws to punish anyone who is interested in keeping them.
And finally, we come to the last stage of the convenient sub-species. Population biologists start performing morphological studies on the prevalence of small differences in appearance between small populations of a common species. As an example, imagine that a certain snake has a range of scale counts on its chin. Let’s say the count can vary from a minimum of eight scales to a maximum of twelve scales. And suppose on Hill A the population has 66% eight scale average and 33% 12 scale average. Meanwhile on Hill B about half a mile away the proportions are reversed (33% lower, 66% higher). The field biologist will declare these two populations sub-species and because of their limited ranges they are endangered sub-species. Think about that.
So, this is the strategy. Break everything into smaller and smaller populations, declare these smaller groupings distinct and then use the small size to declare them endangered. Pretty brilliant. And we pay the salary of these government and academic scientists who do this to us. And the same system is used for plants, insects, birds, snails, fish and everything else that gives bureaucrats power over businesses and ordinary people who come in contact with the natural world.
It’s a racket and it works. And the way it effects hobbyists who keep pets is just the tip of the iceberg. Every time a small population of a common species is identified as an endangered species it can be used to prevent a dam from being built or someone from using his own property as he likes. It’s about power and demoralizing a free people.
So to answer my original question, a sub-species is whatever government and academic scientists need it to be in order to assert power over the actions of the citizens of this country. There’s no objective standard. Just whatever it takes to assert the government’s power over its citizens. Fake science.