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Contains articles and advice on a wide variety of venomous snake species. Answers and addresses questions on species husbandry, captive status, breeding, news and conservation issues concerning venomous snakes.

Snake Conservation in 2013 – The “Year of the Snake” Begins

Eastern Indigo SnakeIn 2010, I highlighted a study that documented steep declines in a number of snake species.  Despite disturbing similarities to the “Disappearing Amphibian Crisis”, the snake situation seems not to have generated widespread concern.  In my own career as a herpetologist, opportunities to become involved in snake conservation were also limited. Although I was fortunate enough to work in programs designed to bolster the populations of several species, including Green Anacondas, Indigo and Hognose Snakes, most such efforts were short-lived.  I was pleased to learn, therefore, that a partnership of several major conservation organizations has made the plight of the world’s snakes a priority for the year 2013.

The Year of the Snake…your input needed

The Year of the Snake effort is spearheaded by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, and was preceded the Year of the Turtle and the Year of the Lizard.  PARC will be joined by the Center for Conservation Biology, the Orianne Society and other notables (please click here for a complete list).  In addition to field research and captive breeding programs, public education will be a major component of each group’s activities.  I was very glad to see that input from interested non-professionals will be solicited.  This is an all-too-rare step, despite the fact that professionals, being limited in both numbers and financial resources, cannot begin to address the myriad conservation needs of the world’s threatened snakes.  Please see “What Can I Do”?, below, if you wish to participate. Read More »

Venomous Snakebites – My Experiences and Notes on Well-Known Victims

Indian CobraTV personality Mark O’Shea’s recent King Cobra bite brought to mind the many experiences I’ve had as a snakebite responder for the Bronx Zoo.  Mr. O’Shea survived, but venomous snakes claim a surprising number of lives worldwide (4.5 million bites, possibly 100,000 deaths; please see article below).  Some bites, as you’ll see, occur in a most unlikely place –New York City!  As is fitting for my fair city, few were “routine” – guns, odd characters, suicides, and drug dealers all made appearances.

Zoos and Snakebite Emergencies

The Bronx Zoo cooperates with health authorities in the treatment of venomous snakebites.  Antivenin is typically stored at the zoo, not in hospitals.  A doctor called upon to treat a bite might not be able to identify the snake involved, and hence would be unable to administer the correct antivenin.  In the event of a bite, Bronx Zoo reptile keepers and other staff are summoned by zoo security, a hospital, or the NYPD. Usually, NYPD transports us to the hospital. Read More »

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake Facts – the World’s Largest Rattler

Eastern DiamondbackToday I’d like to cover a snake that, while not suitable as a pet, stands out in the minds of many as North America’s most impressive serpent – the Eastern Diamondback (Crotalus adamanteus). In my youth, the nearby Staten Island Zoo’s Reptile House was under the direction of the legendary Carl Kauffeld.  The collection contained every known rattlesnake species but, somehow, a massive pair of Eastern Diamondbacks stood apart.  Several years ago, I was thrilled to be chosen as consultant for the renovation of this building , and Rattlesnakes, including the Eastern Diamondback, again take center stage there.


The record length of this largest of the world’s 33 rattlesnake species is 8 feet, 3 inches; most adults top out at 3-6 feet.   In the USA, only the Indigo, Bull, Gopher and Black Rat Snakes approach or, very rarely, exceed this measurement.

The background color of this heavy-bodied, venomous snake ranges from olive through brown to (rarely) near-black.  The back is patterned in white-centered dark diamonds that are sharply outlined in cream or yellow.

Captives have lived in excess of 22 years, but longevity in the wild has not been well-studied. Read More »

Snake Hunting with Romulus Whitaker – Learning from the Master

Gharial and TurtleA life engrossed in herpetology has provided me with more adventures than I dared expect. From tagging Leatherback Turtles in St. Croix to heaving Green Anacondas from a Venezuelan swamp, I’ve been quite fortunate. But I’ve always known that natural wonders are also plentiful close at hand. In fact, one of my most exciting herping trips took place in a NYC suburb.

Note: I’d enjoy hearing about your own unforgettable (and “wish you could forget”!) herping experiences. Whether your tales involve garter snakes in the backyard or crocodile monitors in New Guinea, please write in so that I can share them with other readers, thanks.

Turtle Enthusiasts Gather at SUNY Purchase

In July of 1993, I attended an amazing, week-long international conference held in Westchester County, NY – The Conservation, Restoration and Management of Tortoises and Turtles. Hosted by the dedicated folks at the NY Turtle and Tortoise Society, this gathering of leading professionals and serious hobbyists has, in my experience, yet to be matched. The 500-page conference proceedings are an invaluable resource, and I highly recommend them to anyone with more than a passing interest in turtles and tortoises. You can order the proceedings, for the unbelievable price of $20, here. Read More »

Skinks, Sea Snakes and Caecilians – Surprising New Species Discovered

Pygmy Spiny tailed SkinkNew reptiles and amphibians turn up regularly, but, being generally small and inconspicuous, most excite only hard-core herp enthusiasts.  In recent days, however, a string of good-sized, colorful and totally unexpected discoveries have drawn attention from even “regular” people.  The new species include a spiny, brick-red skink, a sea snake with uniquely-raised scales, and a new family of hard-headed caecilians, those oddest of amphibians.

Western Pilbara Spiny-Tailed Skink (Ergenia cygnitos)

The beautiful, deep-red color of this spine-covered skink closely matches the rocks of its desert habitat in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.  You can see its photo and learn more in the article linked below.

Over the past 12 months, 9 other new species – 7 reptiles and 2 frogs – have been found in the same area.  Several related skinks (please see photo) and a “barking” gecko are included among the newly-described creatures.  Mining proposals spurred the surveys in Pilbara.  Hopefully, the discovery so many previously unknown species will limit commercial activities until further studies have been completed. Read More »

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