What Does a Herpetologist Do?
Science Soup
Posted: January 01, 2024
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    Herpetologists research reptiles and amphibians. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
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    Staff for the Urban Ecology Center put down plywood sheets. They provide shelter for snakes. (Urban Ecology Center)
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    Tachymenoides harrisonfordi slithers in Peru. (Edgar Lehr, courtesy of Conservation International)
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    A researcher extracts venom from a snake to produce antivenin. (AP/Andre Penner)
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    The spectacled cobra is one of the “big four” species. Those are responsible for the most snakebite cases in India. (123RF)
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Here, snakey, snake. Do you like reptiles? You might enjoy hanging out with herpetologists. They study and serve snakes in many ways.

Protect

Farms, ranches, and growing cities often spread into snake zones. Reptiles need plenty of space to have babies. They also need tasty food. (Most snakes enjoy earthworms, mice, eggs, and rats.)

Staff for the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, go into natural areas in parks. They put down sheets of plywood. Snakes crawl under the panels for shelter and warmth. Staff gather critters like Butler’s garter snakes. They measure and mark them to track their numbers and health.

Discover

A team led by biology professor Dr. Edgar Lehr trekked through remote terrain in Peru. The group spotted a skinny sunbather. It was a 16-inch-long male snake. No one had ever seen this bronze and gold wonder before!

The team announced the find in August 2023. They named it Tachymenoides harrisonfordi, or T. harrisonfordi for short. This little one is named for the actor Harrison Ford. His Indiana Jones character is famous for adventure and hating snakes. (Mr. Ford says he likes snakes!)

Research

Snakebites cause tens of thousands of deaths in India each year. That’s the highest death rate of any country.

Different snakes carry different levels of toxic venom. Venom levels change based on where snakes live. A single snake’s venom can shift over its life.

Scientists made antivenins. These medicines fight the venomous effects of four Indian snakes: the spectacled cobra, common krait, Russell’s viper, and saw-scaled viper. India has many other venomous snakes. The antivenins do not work as well for their bites. A new antivenin research center in Bengaluru, India, wants to make antivenins for specific snake bites.