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People as Python Prey – Giant Snakes Attack 150, Kill 6 in Philippines

Fluffy the Reticulated PythonThe subject of giant constrictor attacks upon people always brings out wild claims.  While working with Green Anacondas in Venezuela, I tried to track down 2 reports of human predation, but was unable to prove or disprove either.  I recall reading several well-authenticated accounts in old issues of Herpetologica, and sadly, have first-hand knowledge of a tragic incident involving a captive Burmese Python in NYC.  But a recent article on the Agta people of the Philippines took me very much by surprise – from 1939-1973, 26% of all Agta men, and 2% of the women, had been attacked by Reticulated Pythons!

Living with Giant Pythons

The article, published in a recent issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA, was co-authored by a prominent herpetologist and a scientist who lived with the Agta people, in a remote region of the Philippines, for 24 years; some impressive photos are included as well (please see abstracts, below).  Read More »

The Corn Snake and its Relatives – Natural History and Captive Care

Corn SnakeAlso known as the Red Rat Snake, the Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttata), is one of North America’s most beautifully-patterned reptiles, and the world’s most popular serpent pet.  Corn Snakes figured prominently in the development of American snake-keeping, and their history is tied up with the legendary Carl Kauffeld and his famous collecting site, Okeetee, South Carolina.  My own history leads me to Corn Snakes as well…I was in awe of Mr. Kauffeld as a child, and in later years I was the consultant for the renovation of his beloved reptile house at the Staten Island Zoo.  So, despite having crossed paths with hundreds of species, I reserve a special fondness for these interesting, undemanding beauties.

Recent Name and Classification Changes

The taxonomy, or classification, of the Corn Snake and its relatives has recently been revised. All have been moved from the genus Elaphe to Pantherophis; several species have been combined, and new ones have been described.  We are left with the following (please see article below for details): Read More »

Venomous Snakebite – a New Study, and my own Experiences

Viper FangsAs a career herpetologist, I’ve had several opportunities to study venomous snakes in the field, and have spoken with many people who live in areas where they are common.  My experiences led me to believe that venomous snakebite is a far more serious problem than is typically reported.  Recently, two important studies have established that at least 4.5 million people are bitten annually – 1.5 million in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.  Yet snakebite was only recently included on the World Health Organization’s list of Neglected Tropical Conditions, and in many countries few victims receive appropriate treatment.


The most intensive study to date, published in the journal Toxicon (V.57, N.4; see abstract below), reviewed 40 years’ worth of African medical reports and surveys. The authors concluded that at least 1.5 million people, 95% of whom live in rural regions, are bitten in Sub-Saharan Africa annually.  At least 7,000 people die as a result, and up to 14,000 require limb amputations.  Antivenin, the most effective snakebite treatment, is administered to only 10% of those bitten in Africa. Read More »

Newly Discovered Black and Yellow Viper is Already Endangered

A remote, mountainous forest in southwestern Tanzania is the only place where Matilda’s Horned Viper (Atheris matildae) resides.  Described as a new species in the December, 2011 issue of Zootaxa, the boldly-colored, arboreal snake seems limited to 100 square miles of somewhat degraded habitat.

Natural History

Named for the daughter of one of the researchers who discovered it, Matilda’s Horned Viper is stoutly built, sports horn-like scales above the eyes and is highly-adapted to life above ground.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several of its brightly colored relatives, but this did not prepare me for the new species’ amazing appearance; the effect of the black and yellow zigzag pattern is hard to describe (please see article below for additional photos).  I’m not sure if these colors serve as a predator deterrent or as camouflage in sun-dappled forest clearings, but look forward to reading future reports on its natural history.

Bush Viper Diversity

The forests in which Matilda’s Horned Viper lives are separated from others by open grasslands, which effectively isolate the snake from related species.  Genetic studies have revealed its closest relative to be the Usambura Bush Viper (Atheris ceratophora), from which it likely evolved some 2 million years ago.

An additional 16-17 Atheris species, commonly known as “Bush Vipers”, range throughout Sub-Saharan Africa (please see article below).  With a single exception, they have prehensile tails and are highly-arboreal.  Many are brilliantly-colored, and populations of a single species may vary greatly in appearance from others of their kind.  Five species inhabit Tanzania, but their ranges do not overlap that of Matilda’s Horned Viper.

Endemics Galore

Tanzania is chock full of species found nowhere else on earth, known as endemics – 64 reptiles, 55 amphibians, 24 mammals, 108 freshwater fishes, 19 birds – and surveys are far from complete.  Tarantula enthusiasts also know it as a country of unique, unstudied spiders.  Please see the article below for a complete list of Tanzania’s endemic reptiles.

Conservation Strategies

Rare, beautiful snakes, even venomous ones, are worth a great deal of money.  With this in mind, the exact location of the new species’ habitat is a closely-guarded secret, and a captive population has been established as a hedge against extinction.

In a surprising twist on traditional conservation techniques, researchers have announced that captive-born young, if produced, may be offered to collectors free-of-charge. It is hoped that this will deter the taking of wild individuals.  Odd perhaps, but “desperate times require desperate measures” – after all, prohibitions on hunting rhinos and other valuable animals have proven largely ineffective in much of Africa.

CITES I and IUCN Critically Endangered designations have been proposed for Matilda’s Horned Viper as well.

Other New Vipers

Ngorongoro Crater2011 was a banner year for viper researchers, with several new species being described.  Please see the article below for more on Ruby-Eyed Vipers and other surprising finds.




Further Reading

Abstract of article describing the new species

More photos of Matilda’s Horned Viper

Newly Discovered Yellow and Ruby-Eyed Vipers

Tanzania’s Endemic Reptiles

Bush Vipers: species and ranges


Atheris ceratophora image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Al Cortiz
Matilda’s Viper image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Christine Dell’Amore

Ngorongoro Crater image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by William Warby

Gulf Oil Spill Update – Sea Turtles and Other Wildlife Still Face Threats

Ridley’s TurtleFive species of sea turtle, all threatened or endangered, inhabit waters affected by the April, 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the 20 months that have passed since, many have been rescued, but problems still linger. Unfortunately, we cannot yet determine how this ecological nightmare has affected their survival prospects.

It is estimated that over 6,000 sea turtles of 5 species, along with 82,000+ birds, 26,000+ marine mammals and untold numbers of other creatures, were impacted by the Gulf Oil Spill. It is impossible to determine how many other turtles were killed as a result of fires that were set in order to burn off surface oil (the Center for Biological Diversity sued to force a change in that strategy, please see article below). Read More »

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