Tag Archives: snakes

How Massachusetts plans to save the timber rattlesnake

Massachusetts state officials plan to designate the uninhibited island Mount Zion as a safe haven for the endangered timber rattlesnakes. The 1,350-acre wide site will be populated with adult snakes and authorities will keep a close watch on their progress.

Aww look he’s waving! I think he wants to be friends!
Image by Wikimedia user Rkillcrazy.

Timber rattlesnakes are one of the Commonwealth’s most endangered species of snakes. While other species in the area have seen an increase in population over the past several decades, the number of timber rattlesnakes has been steadily going down over this period. This venomous species has been heavily affected both by habitat loss (as the snakes require hard-to-find deep hibernation sites to survive the winter) and by humans killing the animals out of fear.

There’s a real danger that there won’t be any timber rattlesnakes to rattle their tails around if steps are not taken to protect the species. With only 200 known individuals (including those in zoos) currently living in the state of Massachusetts, officials have begun an official conservation program. But where do you put animals that a) most people are terrified of and b) require some pretty rare terrain to survive?

Right there! Image via The San Diego Tribune

Right there!
Image via The San Diego Tribune

Cue Brazil’s solution to a similar problem, Ihla da Queimada Grande, or Snake Island. Following their example, officials plan to designate the largest island in the Quabbin Reservoir, named Mount Zion, as a protected habitat for the species. This 1,350-acre uninhabited island is perfect for the snakes because of it’s isolation and protective habitats. The program calls for adult snakes, grown at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island to be taken to the island where authorities will monitor them until a healthy population is established.

Unsurprisingly, some of the local residents want none of that. Despite the readily apparent need for conservation, everyone would rather that the conservation itself take place somewhere else. Somewhere far, far away would be best. However, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife project director Tom French wants to assure everyone that neither the plan nor the beasts pose any real danger to locals.

“As a venomous snake, the Timber Rattlesnake certainly has the potential to be dangerous but the reality is that there has been no harm inflicted on the public by these reptiles,” says French.

“Timber Rattlesnakes are generally mild in disposition and often rattle their tails to alert animals and people of their presence.”

Locals need not be concerned with a reptilian invasion of the mainland, French adds. Timber rattlesnakes are competent swimmers but they need to find well protected, deep hibernation sites to survive the local winters. There simply aren’t any suitable boulder fields of deep fissures left for them to live in. Without adequate protection, these cold-blooded creatures will not easily establish themselves beyond the island.

The snake conservation plan has been in development for years and has the support of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

“People are just petrified of snakes,” says Peter Mallett, a local resident.

Still, seeing as most locals are starting to warm up to the project, Mallett hopes that human beings and snakes can coexist peacefully.


Mad snake disease makes snakes tie themselves in knots they can’t get out of


One of the oddest behavior biologists have witnessed is Inclusion Body Disease (IBD) – a fatal disease that affects captive pythons and boas causing them to tie themselves in knots they can’t untangle out of. The source of this extremely erratic and suicidal behavior was unknown until recently when researchers have found it is caused by a viral infection. Specifically, it’s a type of arenavirus that can’t be categorized in any of the two known categories of New World and Old World arenaviruses. More importantly, this is the first time scientists have found that an arenavirus can infect non-mammalian organisms.

‘This is one of the most exciting things that has happened to us in virology in a very long time,’ said snake expert Professor Michael Buchmeier, from the University of California at Irvine.

‘The fact that we have apparently identified a whole new lineage of arenaviruses that may predate the New and Old World is very exciting.’

The bizarre condition apparently has only been observed in captive snakes. It causes boas and pythons to move erratic, often as if they’re in a drunken state, and sometimes to get in a tangle they can’t escape after. Also, IBD also causes the snake to become stargazed – looking upward for long periods of time. Yup, these are some crazy snakes!

[ALSO READ] Scientists find snake no one believed existed

The researchers investigated an outbreak of IBD at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, California. After analyzing DNA samples, the researchers uncovered unusual signs that tell of the presence of a virus. Further testing revealed the virus belong to a family called arenaviruses, which typically infect rodents. It’s most likely that the snakes become infected by diseased rats on which they fed. This is the very first time  an arenavirus has been found to infect non-mammalians.

IBD was documented in a paper published in the journal mBio.




Dr. Nobuo Masataka, captioned above, lead a study which found women are more naturally adapted to detecting outside threats faster during premenstrual periods.

Women make for excellent snake spotters before their periods

In what might seem an oddball experiment in the first instance, later revealing some very interesting scientific facts, a Kyoto University researcher asked 60 women participating in a study to look at a 9-photo grid (eight were of flowers, and another captioned a snake) and identify as quickly as possible the snake photo. Women who were in their premenstrual phase of their menstrual cycles scored the highest, suggesting they’re more responsive to threatning stimuli than otherwise.

Dr. Nobuo Masataka, captioned above, lead a study which found women are more naturally adapted to detecting outside threats faster during premenstrual periods.

Dr. Nobuo Masataka, captioned above, lead a study which found women are more naturally adapted to detecting outside threats faster during premenstrual periods.

Nobuo Masataka, a Kyoto University Primate Institute researcher, asked 60 healthy, naturally cycling women ages 29 to 30 to look at grids of nine photos and to touch the photo in each grid that contained a snake. Flowers are considered neutral, while snakes are considered scary. Of the correspondents, 20 were in their  follicular phase of their cycle, or the fifth day after the start of the menstrual period, and other 20 were in their early follicular phase and the luteal phase, when ovulation begins, while the rest of 20 participated during the late follicular phase and the luteal phase.

Results showed that women in their luteal phase,  or premenstrual portion of the menstrual cycle, were quicker at detecting photos of snakes  than they are during the early and late follicular phase of the cycle. There was no difference in snake-detecting ability between the early and late follicular phases.

The study suggests that in this phase of their natural cycle, often associated with PMS, but also maximum fertility, women experience a heightened state of anxiety, naturally evolved, the researchers suggest, to keep pregnant or soon to be pregnant women safe from outside threats. It’s worth noting that the study is just preliminary, and the data collected was correlated with dates participants gave for their last periods, not on direct hormone measurements.

The findings were recently published in in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

A Stunning New Species of Black-and-Yellow Horned Viper discovered in Tanzania

Hyderabad, Jan 12,2012: A strikingly black-and-yellow snake with horn-like scales above its eyes has been discovered to stun the wildlife enthusiasts world over.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has just announced the discovery of the spectacularly colored snake from a remote area of Tanzania in East Africa. The animal, identified as Matilda’s horned viper, measures 2.1 feet (60 centimeters) and looks very majestic with its has horn-like scales above its eyes.

The discovery is described in the December issue of Zootaxa. Authors of the study include: Michele Menegon of Museo delle Scienze of Trento, Italy; Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society; and Kim Howell of the University of Dar es Salaam.

Fearing poaching, the authors have kept the exact location of the new species a secret. Its habitat, estimated at only a few square miles is already severely degraded from logging and charcoal manufacture.

The species may soon be classified as ‘critically endangered’ and as such the authors have already established a small captive breeding colony.

The conservationists desire to keep the wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, with its whooping annual turnover of $160 Billion, away from the site so that the scientists could discover more such stunning species in the region.

“Wildlife trade is now the second largest illegal trade in the world after drugs.  Reptiles play a large part in this and unfortunately the illegal trade – especially in wild-caught reptiles – is having a devastating effect on wild populations, the conservations aver.

They maintain that in many parts of Africa, it is the single biggest threat to the existence of many species in the wild. The colourful, fascinating African bush vipers of the genus Atheris are popular pet snakes in many countries. Their natural habitat is seriously threatened and the numbers of wild caught animals destined for the pet trade continues to be unsustainable, they deplore. The snake is named after the daughter of co-author Tim Davenport, Director of WCS’s Tanzania Program.

Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide, through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo.

Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. //EOM//