Friday, September 6, 2019

Getting a Handle on Desert Massasaugas: TTU Venomous Snake Training & Safety Resources

Photo - Graduate Assistant, Mandy Leach, safely handling a
Desert Massasauga rattlesnake in a snake tube.
**The photographed snake was not harmed in any way
and handling was directly overseen by four certified venomous
snake handlers.
Photo Credit: Dr. Samantha Kahl.
For my research, I will be capturing Desert Massasauga rattlesnakes to collect baseline morphologic information vital to understanding the ecology and natural history traits of this species. It is very likely I will encounter various other venomous snake species throughout my surveys and is important that I am prepared to relocate these animals from areas that put them or humans at risk. Handling venomous snakes, when utilizing established techniques and personal protective equipment, can be safe for both the handler and the snake. Earlier this month I completed my IACUC approved Venomous Snake Handling Training through TTU with Dr. Samantha Kahl and Dr. Lou Densmore so I can complete these tasks efficiently and safely.

While venomous snake bites can be dangerous, it is not in a snake's best interest to bite a human, and therefore will most likely flee when approached. Snakes are ectotherms and rely on conserving energy for survival. Venom production requires a lot of energy, and as the most important tool for securing a meal, venomous snakes are highly unlikely to waste it on humans.  Most venomous snake bites are inflicted on people who are attempting to persecute them or on amateur/untrained reptile enthusiasts. However, there are circumstances when a snake is encountered in an area that puts itself or humans at risk. Below are some general tips regarding such venomous snake encounters.

1. Avoid handling any snake if it can be avoided. Under normal circumstances, snakes can only strike up to 2/3 of their body length. If encountered in the wild, give the snake a wide radius as you pass it. If encountered in a household or urban setting, you can encourage snakes to flee the area by lightly spraying them or by sweeping a broom or similar tool in their direction. Become familiar with your local animal removal companies for such encounters if you are uncomfortable handling the situation yourself.
2. Do not attempt to handle any snake that you cannot positively identify. Even if you know all venomous snakes in your area, there are rare occasions where non-native species are introduced or escape from zoos/households.
3. If you must handle a venomous snake due to a clear risk to humans or the animal, clear the area of bystanders and use protective equipment such as snake hooks and tongs to ensure no harm comes to you or the animal.
4. Consult local wildlife agencies about handling and relocating venomous snakes. Do not attempt long distance relocations as this increases the risk of envenomation and has been shown to be detrimental to some species.
5. Educate yourself about snakes! Snakes play an important role in ecosystem function as both predator and prey. The fear of this unique and mysterious animal is common across the globe, but with a little research and understanding, your next encounter with a snake may be more rewarding than traumatizing!

Browse the links below for more information on venomous snake handling and general safety.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
3. Adaptation Environmental Services - Venomous Snake Safety and Removal Techniques
4. UF Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation - Dealing with Snakes; Safely Handling Encounters

Photo - Graduate Assistant, Mandy Leach, safely handling a Desert Massasauga rattlesnake in a snake tube. **The photographed snake was not harmed in any way and handling was directly overseen by four certified venomous snake handlers. Photo Credit: Dr. Samantha Kahl.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Crafting Research: Find a Way

Author: Charles Jacobi, MS Student

This summer I've been drafting my research proposal the spot-tailed earless lizard project, and I've only had to enroll in one online class, so I had the privilege of time. I've learned to really enjoy the academic writing process if I've honest. There's something satisfying about working on something for multiple days, finally getting a response of "This looks good.". It's a brick-and-mortar process, and it's enjoyable watching the structure make itself by your own accord. 

Photo Credit: C. Jacobi

            My research will be focused around behavioral patterns of the spot-tailed earless lizard in relationship environmental factors and cover in-habitat. The problem is, detection of this species is so low due to their secretive nature and cryptic physiology. It would be difficult to draw conclusions about a species if you had a small sample size, Dr. Kahl and I suspect this to happen. I've come up with something to order to get around this, whilst still satisfying my own research interests and general research validity requirements. I've proposed to take some-what of an ethological approach to all lizards we encounter during visual encounter surveys – using an extensive protocol to measure approach distance, distance fled to cover once approached, and utilization of cover before approaches. My theory is that the spot-tailed earless lizard has some behavioral characteristics we are ignorant to, and if we can unravel those behaviors, detection can be improved. Additionally, recording this for all lizards encountered may glean the same information for other species, while ensuring I have enough data to form a MS project.