Monthly Archives: December 2012

Snakes of the United States Project Noah Mission – December 28, 2012 Update

This week at Project Noah, I am pleased to report that the Snakes of the United States – Center for Snake Conservation (CSC) mission has had an addition of 21 new spottings bringing the total number of snake spottings to 1,230. I am also pleased to report we added 14 new members to the mission, bringing the total to 510 users.

If you are a Project Noah member and wish to help us improve the database by recruiting new members and spottings to the CSC mission, please email Lisa Powers: froghavenfarm@hotmail.com

The Center for Snake Conservation needs your help to collect distributional data for all wild snakes in the United States. Please record all snakes including any snakes found dead on a road or elsewhere. Please include additional information about your spotting that can help us understand a bit more about the snake. As we collect spottings, we can increase our knowledge about snakes and help educate others that view our photos. Snakes are often unnecessarily feared and we can help change the human perception through our postings on Project Noah. http://www.projecthoah.org

Project Noah Snake Spotting of the Week

http://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/12863032

Photo by Courtney Jaeger.

This prairie rattlesnake (aka western rattlesnake) is being responsibly handled by scientists to collect data about the snake. The snake has been safely restrained inside a tube specially designed for such purpose. Rarely, do professionals directly handle venomous snakes. When it is necessary to interact with venomous species, snake hooks, tongs and tubes are used.

Project Noah has posted several snake related blogs. Have you read, “Snakes in Mythology, Religion and Folklore – Aaron Goodwin”

http://blog.projectnoah.org/post/31794894395/snakes-in-mythology-religion-and-folklore

Lisa Powers
Froghaven Farm
http://www.froghavenfarm.com

Tell me and I forget; Show me and I remember; Involve me and I understand.

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Snakes of the United States Project Noah Mission – December 21, 2012 Update

This week at Project Noah, I am pleased to report that the Snakes of the United States – Center for Snake Conservation (CSC) mission has had an addition of 28 new spottings, including 1 new subspecies (Pituophis catenifer deserticola) & 1 new species (Crotalus molossus molossus), bringing the total number of snake spottings to 1,209. I am also pleased to report we added 11 new members to the mission, bringing the total to 496 users.

If you are a Project Noah member and wish to help us improve the database by recruiting new members and spottings to the CSC mission, please email Lisa Powers: froghavenfarm@hotmail.com

A special thanks to Ashley Tubbs and Shelly Cox for volunteering to help!

The Center for Snake Conservation needs your help to collect distributional data for all wild snakes in the United States. Please record all snakes including any snakes found dead on a road or elsewhere. Please include additional information about your spotting that can help us understand a bit more about the snake. As we collect spottings, we can increase our knowledge about snakes and help educate others that view our photos. Snakes are often unnecessarily feared and we can help change the human perception through our postings on Project Noah. http://www.projecthoah.org

Project Noah Snake Spotting of the Week

http://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/15351052

This beautiful Colubrid snake is primarily found throughout the US, east of the Rocky Mountains, but ranges north into Canada, and south into Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. This is a juvenile shown here in the photo, as they get older they lose the pattern and become a solid brown or black on the dorsum with a white underbelly. Many younger snakes are prone to biting as many creatures will prey upon them and they have to be feisty to survive, and racers are no exception biting often. The bites are not especially painful (except to the face) but bleed a lot as their saliva has anti-coagulent properties. Racers are diurnal and have much better eyesight than most of our North American Snakes. Racers can be quite fast and have been clocked at speeds of up to 7 mph. They feed primarily upon amphibians but have also been known to eat rodents, lizards and other snakes (including venomous ones).

Lisa Powers
Froghaven Farm
www.froghavenfarm.com

Tell me and I forget; Show me and I remember; Involve me and I understand.

 

 

 

 

November was “Kids and Snakes” Month – January 2013 is “Women and Snakes” Month!

Last November was dedicated to “Kids and Snakes”. Each day we highlighted a young man or woman and their snake ranging from wildcaught (and released) snakes to home pets. This campaign was super successful and we look forward to bringing to to you again in the future. In the meantime you can enjoy all the photos in the slideshow below or visit them in our Picasa webalbum.

Get ready because January is “Women and Snakes” month at the Center for Snake Conservation.

November Kids and Snakes Month

Snakes of the United States Project Noah Mission Update – December 14, 2012

 
Rough Greensnake – JD Willson

Project Noah Update by Lisa Powers.

This week at Project Noah, I am pleased to report that the Snakes of the United States -CSC mission has had an addition of 7 new spottings, including the federally endangered Eastern Indigo Snake, bringing the total number to 1,181. I am also pleased to report we added 10 new members to the  bringing the total to 485 users.
If you are a Project Noah member and wish to help us improve the database by recruiting new members and spottings to the CSC mission, please email Lisa Powers: froghavenfarm@hotmail.com
Project Noah Snake Spotting of the Week
The rough greensnake is a gentle and often inquisitive snake. It is often arboreal and may be found in vegetation close by to water. They are a diurnal snake and as such have much better eyesight than many nocturnal and crepuscular snakes. They feed on spiders, katydids and other insects. They will rarely attempt to bite, and on the rare occasion they do, do not inflict any pain or harm. They are nonvenomous and found throughout the eastern United States except for the higher elevations in the Appalachians. It is listed as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN, meaning that it is a common snake and is currently not under threat of becoming extinct
The Project Noah Update is provided by Lisa Powers.
 

The snakes that eat caviar – Andrew Durso

This Blog originally was posted in Andrew Durso’s Life is short, but snakes are
long
 blog on Tuesday, May 22, 2012.

The snakes that eat caviar

 
Banded sea krait, Laticauda colubrina
Marine snakes are fascinating. Entire articles have been written about their morphological and physiological adaptations to marine life, from their lingual salt glands, which are more efficient than kidneys at removing sodium ions from their body, to their rudimentary left lung, which serves a function for the first time in millions of years, aiding in buoyancy control in a manner analogous to the swim bladders of many fishes. There appear to have been three separate invasions of the ocean by terrestrial snakes, all from the family Elapidae, which also includes cobras, mambas, and coral snakes. Although they have spread to east Africa and the south Pacific, all of these invasions have taken place in the shallow seas around Australia and southeast Asia. This is the center of elapid species diversity, so it’s no surprise that the greatest ecological diversity is also found here. Among the nearly 70 species of sea snake, however, two genera in particular stand out.
 
Most marine snakes eat eels and other tropical shore fishes, in accordance with their ancestors’ diets of large, bulky prey items that required venom or constriction to subdue. But in 1966, Harold Voris reported that the stomachs of two species of sea snake in the genus Emydocephalus, the turtle-headed sea snakes,were found to contain only fish eggs. This was a remarkable discovery, because most snakes eat prey that are relatively large compared to themselves, and they do so infrequently. It’s perhaps one of the evolutionary novelties that has allowed snakes to be so successful. But Emydocephalus eats tiny eggs, and it does so several times an hour, using a foraging mode similar to herbivorous browsing mammals, and to the lizard ancestors of snakes, than to other snakes. Turtle-headed sea snakes use chemoreception to locate the eggs, and the parent fishes are sometimes able to chase them away, despite being far smaller. The parent fishes are never eaten, and indeed they have little to fear, except for their fitness. Why?
 
There’s a reason there was no turtle-headed sea snake character in Finding Nemo
Voris also noticed that the dentition of these snakes was highly unusual, in that they almost completely lack teeth. Most snakes have teeth on up to five of their skull bones on each side: the maxilla, premaxilla, palatine, pterygoid, and dentary. Three of these bones (maxilla, premaxilla, and dentary) also bear teeth in humans and other mammals – the first two in your upper jaw, and the dentary (also called the mandible) in the lower. The palatine and pterygoid teeth of snakes are located on the bones that form the roof of your mouth, and they form what is essentially a second set of upper jaws inside of the first, which can move independently of the outer upper jaws and of each other. In Emydocephalus, only the pterygoid bone has any teeth, except for a single large proteroglyphous fang on each maxilla.
 
Partial skull of three species of sea snake, looking at the roof of the mouth from below. Figure modified from McCarthy 1987
 
It’s clear that a snake that ate only soft fish eggs wouldn’t need those teeth, but Voris couldn’t figure out how Emydocephalus actually ate fish eggs. He did notice that their stomachs also contained a good bit of sand, and occasionally a copepod (a type of crustacean). In 1987, Colin McCarthy proposed a mechanism that is very similar to that used by most fishes: suction. Based on his observations of the throat musculature of a closely related sea snake, Aipysurus eydouxi, also known to eat fish eggs, he suggested that the two genera of egg-eating sea snakes could create suction by contraction of the geniomucosalis muscle, which originates on the lower jaw and inserts on the oral mucosa (the lining of the mouth). The same mechanism is used by blindsnakes (Scolecophidia), the taxon in which the muscle was described only eight years earlier, to create suction as they feed on ant and termite pupae and larvae.
Graph showing the number of true sea snakes that feed on a variety of prey shapes From Voris and Voris, 1983
Other modifications of the head aid Emydocephalus and Aipysurus in finding and consuming fish eggs. Most snakes have six to eight labial scales (scales along the lip), whereas Emydocephalus has only three, giving it the appearance of a beak similar to that of a turtle (its genus name means ‘turtle-headed’ in Greek). McCarthy thought this helped keep the lips rigid during suction feeding. A spine at the tip of the rostral scale might aid in probing the sand for fish eggs buried there, but a secondary sexual function is also likely, because only adult male Emydocephalus have it.
 
Male Emydocephalus annulatus
In 1996, Michael Guinea published some of the first behavioral observations of wild Emydocephalus from northwestern Australia. While snorkeling, he watched as many as twenty individual E. annulatus interact on a circular coral mass only 25 feet in diameter. Algae grew on them, they moved so little. Mating males touched females with their spines, which might help them synchronize hourly trips to the surface for air and keep track of the female’s location as the pair return to the bottom, where Guinea observed pairs mating for over an hour. He also observed E. annulatus using their enlarged labial scales to scrape damselfish eggs off coral, but did not notice any evidence of suction feeding. He suggested that the geniomucosalis muscle was  instead used in rapid exhalation at the surface, and noted that exhalations of Emydocephalus can be heard, whereas those of other sea snakes lacking a geniomucosalis cannot (unlike Emydocephalus, other sea snakes exhale on their way to the surface, leaving a trail of bubbles).
 
Emydocephalus annulatus courting
You might have immediately associated sea snakes with potent venom, and you’re right to do so. It has been suggested that these marine snakes evolved simple, especially fast-acting venoms to immobilize their fish prey, which can escape in three dimensions rather than just two. However, Min Li and colleagues examined the venom of Aipysurus eydouxii and found a mutation that caused a 50- to 100-fold decrease in venom neurotoxicity. They also noted that A. eydouxii has greatly atrophied venom glands and relatively ineffective fangs. In their words, “It is interesting to note that a potent venom was not maintained for use in defense, thus reinforcing that the primary use of snake venom is for prey capture.” This is the first case of decelerated
evolution of toxins in snake venom, which is usually evolving rapidly, in an “arms race” with the immune system of the prey. Emydocephalus also have reduced fangs and venom glands, but no study of the chemical properties of their venom has been undertaken.
 
Aipysurus eydouxii
Are there any freshwater snakes that have similar adaptations to  Emydocephalus and Aipysurus? There are plenty that fill similar ecological roles to other sea snakes, eating fishes and crustaceans. There are lots of fishes and amphibians that lay tasty eggs in fresh water, but no freshwater snakes are known to have anything close to the morphological adaptations for oophagy of  Emydocephalus and Aipysurus. There are some terrestrial snakes that eat eggs, such as the neotropical Leptoderia, the African Dasypeltis, and the Australian Brachyurophis, the latter two of which  have lost many of their teeth and are incapable of eating other prey.
Leptodeira annulata eating Agalychnis callidryas eggs
Author:  Andrew Durso
 
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
 
Thanks to the Field Museum archive for many of these images, and to Klaus Stiefel and il_mare77.
REFERENCES
Guinea ML (1996) Functions of the cephalic scales of the sea snake Emydocephalus annulatus. Journal of Herpetology 30:126-128
 
Li M, Fry B, Kini RM (2005) Eggs-only diet: its implications for the toxin profile changes and ecology of the marbled sea snake (Aipysurus eydouxii). Journal of Molecular Evolution 60:81-89 <link>
 
Li M, Fry BG, Kini RM (2005) Putting the brakes on snake venom evolution: the unique molecular evolutionary patterns of Aipysurus eydouxii (Marbled sea snake) phospholipase A2 toxins. Molecular Biology and Evolution 22:934-941
 
McCarthy C (1987) Adaptations of sea snakes that eat fish eggs; with a note on the throat musculature of Aipysurus eydouxi (Gray, 1849). Journal of Natural History 21:1119-1128
 
Shine R, Bonnet X, Elphick M, Barrott E (2004) A novel foraging mode in snakes: browsing by the sea snake Emydocephalus annulatus (Serpentes, Hydrophiidae). Functional Ecology 18:16-24 <link>
 
Voris HK (1966) Fish eggs as the apparent sole food item for a genus of sea snake, Emydocephalus (Krefft). Ecology 47:152-154 <link>
 
Voris HK, Voris HH (1983) Feeding strategies in marine snakes: an analysis of evolutionary, morphological, behavioral and ecological relationships. American Zoologist 23:411-425

Indigo Snakes – Not Rainbow Snakes

The Center for Snake Conservation went to south Florida to catch rainbow snakes but what did we find – indigo snakes.  Four of them actually.  Eastern Indigo Snakes  (Drymarchon couperi) are probably and arguable North America’s most impressive snake.  They are the longest snake in the United States reaching lengths of over 8.5 feet long.  We had the privilege of meeting a 7.5 foot long indigo snake while in Florida that was just huge but that is a different story.  Today’s story is about the snakes we found in the wild.

We did not set out to find indigo snakes but this type of by-catch is too hard to resist.  Our mission during our expedition was to catch the South Florida Rainbow Snake (Farancia erytrogramma seminola) and we spent over 500 hours in the field looking for them as well as over 500 trap nights throughout Fisheating Creek.  During our short breaks from walking the creek and checking traps, we would take some time to walk the upland sandy scrub areas that were nearby. That is where the indigo snakes were found.  We were extremely lucky to have seen 4 of them and we want to share these magnificent snakes with you.  You can see each of them in the photos below.

Can you go out and catch indigo snakes?  Unfortunately the answer is NO.  Eastern Indigo Snakes are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 as a threatened species.  This protects them from “take” which is defined as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct”.  You can be arrested and penalized with a jail sentence and large fine if found guilty of “take” under the Endangered Species Act.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) carries the appropriate Endangered Species Act Section 10 Recovery Permit to conduct work with Eastern Indigo Snakes.  A permitted FWC biologist was a part of the Center for Snake Conservation South Florida Rainbow Snake expedition crew which allowed us to look for these incredible snakes.  Please, if you see an indigo snake, do not catch it.  Simply record its location and report it to the Center for Snake Conservation, The Orianne Society, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The Orianne Society is an organization dedicated to ensuring the survival of indigo snakes throughout their range.  They are doing amazing research throughout the indigo snake’s range while at the same time helping private landowners understand and manage their lands for the needs of this species.  All indigo snakes that we found were weighed, measured, and marked by The Orianne Society as a small part of their important mission.  We are absolutely honored to have been able to help in their research efforts in south Florida.

One neat thing that The Orianne Society does is name all the indigo snakes they study.  This not only gives each snake a unique identity; it personifies each snake to help humans understand their plight.  Snakes without a name are just a snake…snakes with a name are now recognizable individuals.  The Center for Snake Conservation is honored to have been allowed to name the four indigo snakes we found while in south Florida.  They are Naja, Obsidian, CSC, and Ripley.  You can learn more about The Orianne Society and their wonderful work on their webpage:  www.oriannesociety.org/

Here are the indigo snakes we found while in south Florida:

Naja is a 6.5 feet long male indigo snake with stunning coloration. He was found with his tail sticking out of a small patch of scrub oaks.

Obsidian is just over 6.5 feet long and was found in a small oak patch near a gopher tortoise burrow that contained a female indigo snake.

CSC is 6 feet 2 inches long male indigo snake. His scales were paler than the other indigos we saw on this trip.

Ripley is a subadult male indigo snake just under 4 feet long. This size class is extremely rare to find as indigo snakes quickly grow from hatchling size to 6 feet long. He was found crossing a sand road between two scrub patches.

Snakes of the United States Project Noah Mission Update – December 7, 2012

Project Noah Update:

There are now 1168 spottings and 475 members (40 new members this week) to the mission.

We picked up 16 new subspecies and species, also added 1 missed species this week as well.

PN – Snakes of the U.S. – CSC mission Spotting of the week:

Western Coachwhip

The Center for Snake Conservation needs your help to collect distributional data for all wild snakes in the United States.  Please record all snakes including any snakes found dead on a road or elsewhere.

Please include additional information about your spotting that can help us understand a bit more about the snake.  As we collect spottings, we can increase our knowledge about snakes and help educate others that view our photos.  Snakes are often unnecessarily feared and we can help change the human perception through our postings.

Project Noah Update is provided by Lisa Powers.

Western Massasauga Rattlesnake – By Shelly Cox

Western Massasauga Rattlesnake – By Shelly Cox

This Blog was originally posted on January 1, 2012 in Rattlesnake Education and Awareness (http://rattlesnakeawareness.blogspot.com)

Here is a snake hovering on the brink of extinction in Missouri as well as throughout most of its range. The Western Massasauga (pronounced mass-a-saw’-ga) Rattlesnake is one of the smallest rattlesnakes found in Missouri wetlands and marshes. Because these lands are greatly reduced due primarily to agriculture, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for these snakes to carve out a niche for themselves. Squaw Creek NWR has a fairly healthy population of these snakes in large part because the land is federally owned and the snakes are protected there. Ongoing studies help to determine population density and over all health of the snakes. The one pictured here is a captive snake used as an educational animal to help promote the importance of all creatures within their given habitat. Snakes are especially important in rodent control and as a vital part of the food chain and should be left alone. They are also indicators of the health of their environment.
In the Chippewa language Massasauga translates into “great river mouth” which describes the lands where they are found. Like all Missouri venomous snakes they are “pit-vipers” , meaning they have an extra sensory organ in the form of pits located between the eyes and the nostrils. These pits are heat sensing organs that help them locate prey. They also have excellent eye sight and a great sense of smell. All of these senses combined make for a formidable predator. They commonly prey on mice, frogs, insects. Juveniles are fond of other serpents with Midland Brown Snakes making up the bulk of their diet. These snakes are also an important part of the food chain and sometimes fall victim to eagles, herons, raccoons, foxes, and hawks. Not to mention the occasional motorist who would rather kill snakes as to look at them. This near-sighted viewpoint of snakes is what has led to the near extinction of many species. Humans should try to exercise tolerance for these misunderstood creatures and recognize their importance in the over all health of a given habitat.
These are a slow moving snakes that rarely strike unless being provoked or handled. Their venom is less toxic than that of most venomous snakes, but should still be considered dangerous. If bitten; immediate medical attention should be sought.  During the spring they will be found in lowlands near marshes and wetlands. In the hotter summer months they are found in higher ground near grasslands, farmland and open fields. Like all snakes they are often found sunning themselves on rocks, and roadways. Massasauga rattlesnakes reach lengths up to thirty inches. Their ground color is gray or tan with numerous darker spots, there are even melanistic black varieties found occasionally.
Massasaugas are ovoviviparous (eggs develop in the body of the parent and hatch within or immediately after being expelled). The female produces large, yolk-filled eggs which are retained within her reproductive tract for a considerable period of development. The developing embryo receives no nourishment from the female, only from the yolk. Eggs of the Massasauga hatch inside the female and the young are born “alive.” A female snake that retains eggs in her body can bask in the sun, thus raising the temperature of the eggs and speeding their development, resulting in a variable gestation period of two to four months. The average litter size is 8 with anywhere from 3 to 12 being possible.
After birth, the young are on their own—no maternal care is known in snakes. As is the case for all cold-blooded vertebrates, the growth of the young is heavily dependent upon the amount of food available.

CONSERVATION THROUGH EDUCATION – It works – pass it on!

CONSERVATION THROUGH EDUCATION – It works – pass it on!

“I wish every child could have the same experiences with snakes that I had growing up.   The Center for Snake Conservation exists to make education programs and factual information about snakes available to EVERYONE.  We hope that our efforts to dispel myths and share the fascinating lives of snakes will create change in human attitudes towards snakes.  Education is the key to ensure that snakes continue to play the same ecological roles they play today in the futures of our children.”

– Cameron Young (CSC Director)
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Center-For-Snake-Conservation/139157552809266#!/photo.php?fbid=429775283747490&set=a.141166035941751.25797.139157552809266&type=1&theater