Blog Archives

Fall Snake Count Has Begun!

Snake Count Participant –  

Please share and forward as appropriate – 

Are you ready to count snakes?  The forecast for the opening weekend of the Center for Snake Conservation Fall Snake Count is for more rain at the CSC headquarters.  However, despite the rain, we plan on turning up a few gems this weekend and then count many, many snakes next week.  Follow us on Twitter (@CSCSnakeTweet) or on Instagram (cscsnake) to see what the CSC finds during the Snake Count as we find them.  We have folks registered for the snake count in 47 of the 48 states with snakes (missing Delaware so get there if you can!) so this is going to be an amazing Snake Count!  

The Snake Count is a first step towards understanding the conservation needs of snakes.  We need your help to make it successful.  We are excited to partner with Project Noah (www.projectnoah.org) to help collect and manage data.  Project Noah is a GREAT tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere.  Sign up and download their free smartphone app today.  Do not worry; we will still accept data via email, our online webform, or hardcopy if you do not have a smartphone or GPS.  This count is going to be incredible!  Check out the FAQ page on www.snakecount.org to help you have a great Snake Count.  This next week will be a very exciting one here at the CSC and I sincerely hope you can share in our excitement! 

Participants have expressed concern about the collection and potential release of specific geographic locations during the Snake Count and the effect this may have on snake populations. The CSC shares these concerns for many rare, threatened, or endangered species across the world.  Please see the Snake Count FAQ and below for more information about how to protect these sensitive locations.

 

Thank you, please be safe, and have fun counting snakes!  

Cameron

 

— 

Cameron A. Young
Executive Director
 
 
 

Snake Count Frequently Asked Questions:  You can review the Snake Count FAQs here:  FAQs.

Specific Geographic Location Concerns:  Participants have expressed concern about the collection and potential release of specific geographic locations during the Snake Count and the effect this may have on snake populations.  The CSC shares these concerns for many rare, threatened, or endangered species across the world.  That said, we do ask that you collect and provide data at least to the county level during the Snake Count.  This will help us analyze trends, look for new distributional records, and provide current, accurate data to scientists and state wildlife agencies after the count.  If you use the Project Noah smartphone application, GPS coordinates will automatically be recorded for you.  If the location you are in is sensitive or your secret spot, the Project Noah software will allow you to move the pin for the location.  We ask that you move the pin to the nearest town or other landmark and notify us that the pin was moved in the “comments” field when entering data.  This way we can protect sensitive snakes and locations while conducting a thorough census of snakes during the Snake Count. 

Snake Count Contest:  Herpers are naturally competitive so we added a Contest to the Spring Snake Count.  In short, each snake species in North America has been assigned a point value (Range is 1-50 Points) based on its rarity, detectability, and geographic range.  Bonus Points will be awarded for submission to Project Noah (5 Points Each), New County Records (10 Points Each), and New State Records (Range from 15-50 Points Each).  Prizes will be awarded to the Overall Highest Point total and each Highest Point Total for each Snake Count Region.  We will be announce prizes during the Snake Count which include a personalized Center for Snake Conservation Snake Hook, GoPro Hero 3 (prize pending), and other snake related items. 

Snake Count T-shirts:  We are selling Snake Count T-shirts through the CSC CafePress online store.  Get yours today!   http://www.cafepress.com/centerforsnakeconservation 

Facebook:  We will be posting daily results of the Snake Count on our Facebook page.  Don’t forget to go to the CSC Facebook page and “like” us to stay updated. 

Snake Count Toolkits:  Don’t forget to visit the Snake Count Toolkit for datasheets and protocols to use during thesnake count if you are not using the Project Noah software.  Snake Count Tool Kit

 

Events:  Do you want or need to look for snakes with someone else?  There are several events being organized by CSC volunteers across the country.  If you want to host an event or are interested in having people join you during asnake count, please send us information so we can post it on our event link (send email toevents@snakecount.org). 

Prizes:  Yes, we will be giving away prizes to individuals who count the most snakes during the Snake Count.  We will also be drawing random names from the list of registered participants to give away free CSC memberships throughout the week.

Need Help Identifying Snakes?  Send your photo to us and we will identify the snake for you.  Email photos tosnakeID@snakecount.org.  If you are using Project Noah to submit your results, just click on the “Help me identify this species” to alert us and Project Noah’s team of Rangers. 

Official Snake Names:  The CSC has adopted an easy to use 9-letter shorthand code for snakes in North America.  You simply use the first three letters of the genus, species, and subspecies to record a snake with NO overlap.  If the species does not have a subspecies, simply enter XXX at the end of the code to make it nine-letters long.  If you don’t know the scientific name of the snakes you observe, you can find the 9-letter code for each species in the state lists on the Snake Count website here.  Please use this code on your datasheets to help simplify and organize your data.  If all else fails, just write in what you know and we can figure it out.

Reporting results:  There are 3 ways you can submit your observations from the Snake Count.  

1.     You can use your smartphone or computer through Project Noah to submit your data. Be sure to enter your spotting into the Snakes of the United States Mission or Snakes of the World Mission.  If you are worried about giving away your secret location, remember to relocate the pin to the nearest city or other landmark.  Please note in the comments that you did this so we can get it into our records.

2.     You can submit data online using the form on the Snake Count website (www.snakecount.org/submit-results)

3.     You can scan and email your datasheet to data@snakecount.org

4.     You can mail your datasheets to the Center for Snake Conservation, 1581 Ridgeview Drive, Louisville, CO  80027

Advertisements

Announcing Baby Snake Month in September

It is baby snake season – yes that is right: Baby snake season. What does that really mean? It means a lot to a herpetologist but it also should mean a lot to all humans.

To a herpetologist, baby snake season means we are about to find a lot more snakes. We understand that the snake population is going to grow and the baby snakes are going to move around a lot and be easier to find. Unfortunately it also means we will be finding a lot more road killed snakes which is depressing for someone who loves and appreciates these amazing predators.

To other people, baby snake season should be a season of learning and amazement. It is a time when they can find and observe snakes relatively easily. Other times of the year snakes can be almost impossible to find. Not during baby snake season though. Plus baby snakes are tiny and cute (I hardly ever say a snake is cute but if I had to admit it I would). Baby snake season is a perfect time to learn to love and appreciate baby snakes.

September is going to be Baby Snake Month at the Center for Snake Conservation. We are going to bring you lots of baby snakes and tell you about them, where they live, what they eat, and what they become as adults. It is going to be an exciting month so be sure to subscribe to SnakeTalk or like our Facebook page to see them all.

Cameron
Center for Snake Conservation

Baby Yellow-bellied Racer – Coluber constrictor flaviventris

20130828-131315.jpg

Baby Prairie Rattlesnake – Crotalus viridis

20130828-133025.jpg

Carpet pythons exercising outdoors

A pair of carpet pythons outside for some sun, exercise, and enrichment. This pair are crowd favorites at our presentations with their color, feel, strength, beauty, and size. These are also out favorites because of their good nature and inquisitive personalities. Carpet pythons are from Australia and typically range from 5-10 feet long depending on the variety.

Cameron
Center for Snake Conservation

20130826-092701.jpg

20130826-093212.jpg

Dead Snakes Sadden Me – graphic photo

My run yesterday took me along the South Platte River in downtown Denver. There are lots of trails and green ways closed to cars that I like to run in order to avoid the cars on the street. This pair of baby gartersnakes were found within 6 feet of each other suggesting that a maintenance vehicle may have hit them at the same time.

This experience saddens me as these little snakes should have had a great chance for survival living in green space along the river. Instead they were victim to the rare maintenance vehicle. I do not think a bike or pedestrian killed them because they were both uniformly flat but I could be wrong.

The next 6-12 weeks depending on where you live should be full on baby snakes moving far and wide searching for their first meal and a place to spend the winter. In the coming weeks I hope to raise our spirits with photos and storied of live baby snakes. Please feel free to share your baby snake encounters with me and the Center for Snake Conservation by emailing them to babysnakes@snakeconservation.org.

Cameron
Center for Snake Conservation

20130801-154621.jpg

Running Snakes

I run. I really enjoy it. Running helps me think, reduces stress, and gets me outdoors one days without field work. I try to run where I will find snakes. I also run with my phone to record my path and in case I need to photograph a snake. Today’s lunch time run took me along the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in downtown Denver. My route today always has a good chance to find a snake and today’s run did not disappoint.

One mile into today’s run, I found this Wandering Gartersnake crossing my path. While a very common snake, I still welcome finding these gartersnakes in Denver. They give me a sense of security that some snakes are capable of surviving in even the most heavily human-impacted areas. Very few species of snake can truly be called “Urban Snakes” and this species is definitely one of them.

Today’s snake was also special because a walker stopped while I was photographing it. I was able to tell him a little about the snake and there existence in Denver. He even took a picture to share with his friends. Conservation Through Education.

Do you run? Please feel free to share your “running snake” photos and stories with me and the Center for Snake Conservation via email at snakestories@snakeconservation.org. I hope you can enjoy this snake as much as I did even if I can only share its story and photo.

Cameron
Center for Snake Conservation

20130730-165415.jpg

20130730-165432.jpg

Wandering Gartersnake

Wandering Gartersnakes are known to occur at high elevations even up to heights above 13,000 feet. This one was found on a family hike to Bierstadt Lake which is 9,416 feet high. Amazing little snake.

Cameron
Executive Director
Center for Snake Conservation

20130729-152650.jpg

20130729-152712.jpg

Blogs, blogs, blogs

Blogs.  Yes, I need to starting blogging.  As the Center for Snake Conservation continues to grow, I want and really need to record its milestones here for everyone to read, share,and comment on.  Plus – YOU DESERVE TO BE INCLUDED IN OUR SUCCESS! I will strive to write a daily blog (maybe even more than one a day) to inspire us all to promote snake conservation in our lives.  With this blog, you will get to know me, the other folks behind the Center for Snake Conservation, what we are doing DAILY for snakes, our dreams, our wishes, and our plans. I certainly will enjoy this journey with you!

Cameron
Executive Director
Center for Snake Conservation

Is there a question you are just dying to ask about snakes? Send it to blog@snakeconservation.org and maybe I will pick your question to discuss and enjoy.

Here is a quick photo for you to enjoy while I work on new blogs – a very pretty Eastern Mudsnake taken by JD Willson. Mudsnakes are amazing predators that eat giant salamanders called amphiumas. They occur in the southeastern United States.

Eastern Mudsnake

Snake Pinwheel:

Image

Egg-eating Snakes by Andrew Durso

This blog post comes from Andrew Durso – author of the blog ” Life is short, but snakes are long”.  You can follow Andrew and his blogs here:  http://snakesarelong.blogspot.com/

To view this blog post in Spanish, click here!   Para ver este blog en español, haga clic aquí!

I think we can all agree that amniotic eggs are delicious. They also happen to be one of the best sources of energy out there, and this is at least partially why we, and many other animals, enjoy eating them so much. In addition, they rarely fight back, and they almost never have physical defenses, such as spines, or chemical ones, such as deadly toxins. In fact, on the inside they’re pretty much all lipids (a group of molecules including fats and cholesterol), surrounded by either a leathery (in monotremes and most reptiles) or a hard, calcified (in birds) shell. I’ve already written about a species of burying beetle that specializes on snake eggs, apparently with great benefit to its fecundity relative to other burying beetles that use carrion. Turns out, snakes aren’t above specialized oophagy themselves.
There are a few snakes that eat anamniotic eggs, such as the turtle-headed sea snakes (about which I’ve written before) and the South American goo-eaters. These have many amazing adaptations to eating shell-less eggs, but I’d like to focus on the amniotic egg-eating snakes for now. To review, an amniotic egg is one with a shell and several other embryonic membranes, called the amnion, chorion, and allantois. These structures physically protect the embryo and facilitate gas and waste exchange between the embryo and its surroundings, because the shell is too thick to allow the embryo to breathe and excrete by diffusion alone. These eggs are laid by birds, many reptiles, and monotremes (egg-laying mammals such as the platypus and echidna). In placental mammals (including humans), which are also amniotes, some of these structures are part of the umbilical cord, while others are vestigial. Amniotic eggs are adapted for being laid on land, and even the most aquatic of amniotes, such as sea turtles and pelagic birds, must come to land to lay their eggs.
Because of the resilience and self-contained nature of amniotic eggs, many organisms that lay them have done away with parental care. Choosing a nest site, usually under a rock, log, or pile of poop, or in a nest dug underground, is the extent of it. Beyond that, a female snake or turtle will most likely never see her kids hatch, let alone grow up, graduate, or become successful. This also means that their eggs are basically undefended from predators, except for being concealed and not smelling very much. Birds are slightly better parents, but they risk giving away the location of their nest to predators by flying back and forth to it many times a day. Experiments conducted by herpetologist Steve Mullin and ornithologist Bob Cooper have shown that gray ratsnakes locate bird nests over twice as quickly when parents are attending than when they aren’t, a phenomenon so prevalent that it has its own name (Skutch’s hypothesis) and is thought to influence the evolution of optimal clutch size in birds (because more offspring need to be fed more often, necessitating more trips to and from the nest and increasing the likelihood of detection by a predator).

Ok, enough – let’s get to the pictures of snakes eating eggs!

African Egg-eating Snake, Dasypeltis scabra

 

Holy shit, how do they do that!? That snake is going to choke itself! Got to be a faked, Photoshopped image, right? Think again:

Damn, that’s impressive. If you watched the video above, you saw an African Egg-eating Snake, perhaps the most specialized oophagous snake there is, swallow a bird egg whole, crack it open, and regurgitate the  shell. How does it do it? The highly kinetic, flexible skull of this snake allows it to maneuver its jaws around an egg many times bigger than its head, despite the smooth, round surface and the snake’s lack of hands. It’d be like a human trying to eat a whole watermelon. Egg-eating snakes lack teeth almost entirely, not needing them for gripping their prey. In addition, the snake’s skin is stretchy enough to accommodate the egg’s passage – the scale rows are clearly visible, widely separated by the skin in between. Most of the time, this skin can’t be seen, because the skin is relaxed so that the rows of scales are in contact with one another.

 Once the egg is in the snake’s esophagus, how does it get cracked open? Snakes have strong digestive juices, but waiting for them to dissolve the shell of an egg would take too long. OK, are you ready? This is the coolest part:

Vertebral hypapophyses of
African egg-eating snakes, Dasypeltis

See those spines? Those are called hypapophyses, which is a fancy term for things that stick off the bottom (ventral side) of vertebrae. You’ve got them too – but in egg-eating snakes, they’re modified to be much larger and sharper, the better to pierce eggshells with, my dear. At least, the ones on vertebrae 17-38 are, the vertebrae that sit right above the esophagus and thus above egg once it has been swallowed. The esophagus itself is modified as well – it has loose folds, like pockets, into which each of the hypapophyses fits, so that they don’t puncture the esophagus itself. See how it works in the following video, from the BBC’s Life in Cold Blood:

Starting at 2:45, you can see the moving x-ray of the egg-eating snake swallowing the egg. Continuing through the end of the video, the snake cracks the shell, allows the yolk inside to drain into its stomach, and regurgitates the eggshell. Most amazing, young Dasypeltis don’t appear to have these hypapophyses – they grow as the snakes get older, which raises questions about what the juveniles eat. Even though eggs are nutritious, Dasypeltis must feed relatively often for a snake – one that my advisor kept in captivity ate several quail eggs a week.

Lateral view of the skull of Dasypeltis, from Gans 1952

The adaptations of the nine species of Dasypeltis allow them to eat eggs that are very large relative to their body size, and as far as we know they eat almost nothing else. Several generalist snakes also eat eggs; adult Eastern Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula), Western Hog-nosed Snakes (Heterodon nasicus), and Formosa Kukrisnakes (Oligodon formosanus) frequently consume reptile eggs, and many members of the rat snake genera Pantherophis and Elaphe opportunistically feed on both eggs and nestling birds. These snakes, however, have no special morphological or behavioral adaptations to assist them in the consumption of eggs. One species, the Japanese rat snake (Elaphe climacophora), can ingest relatively large eggs, and has several vertebral hypapophyses. However, E. climacophora ingests the entire egg, including the shell. Only Dasypeltis, and possibly a poorly-known species from India called Elachistodon westermanni, specialize in ingesting large eggs, then crushing the shell and retaining solely the contents.

Defensive display by Dasypeltis scabra
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Thanks to Armata, Tony Phelps, and the BBC for images and videos.
REFERENCES

Coleman K, Rothfuss LA, Ota H, Kardong KV (1993) Kinematics of egg-eating by the specialized Taiwan snake Oligodon formosanus (Colubridae). Journal of Herpetology 27:320-327
Gans C (1952) The functional morphology of the egg-eating adaptations in the snake genus Dasypeltis. Zoologica 37:209-244
Gans C, Oshima M (1952) Adaptations for egg eating in the snake Elaphe climacophora (Boie). American Museum Novitates 1571:1-16
Gartner G, Greene H (2008) Adaptation in the African egg-eating snake: a comparative approach to a classic study in evolutionary functional morphology. Journal of Zoology 275:368-374
Mullin SJ (1996) Adaptations facilitating facultative oophagy in the gray rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta spiloides. Amphibia-Reptilia 17:387-394
Mullin SJ, Cooper RJ (1998) The foraging ecology of the Gray Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta spiloides)—visual stimuli facilitate location of arboreal prey. The American Midland Naturalist 140:397-401
Savitzky AH (1983) Coadapted character complexes among snakes: fossoriality, piscivory, and durophagy. American Zoologist 23:397-409