A researcher for Washington University in St. Louis and colleagues at the Saint Louis Zoo and Saint Louis University are tracking timber rattlesnakes in west St. Louis County and neighboring Jefferson County to see how close to civilization the snakes are getting as humans developing subdivisions invade the snakes turf.
The researchers are studying timber rattlesnakes and also copperheads in their Pitviper Research Project. They hope their efforts will educate the public and convince people that they can live with the species without destroying them. Wayne Drda is the Washington University researcher. Jeff Ettling, reptile curator at the Saint Louis Zoo, is another member of the research team. Third member is Ryan Turnquist, a biology major at Saint Louis University, Friends of the three and the Missouri Department of Conservation also assist in the study.
Most people detest snakes, so the first instinct is to eliminate them, said Drda, who researches at Washington Universitys Tyson Research Center and who recently assisted Corey Anderson, former Washington University biology graduate student, in his doctoral thesis. Anderson, a student of Alan Templeton, Ph.D., Washington University professor of biology, now is a postdoctoral researcher in biology at Arizona State University.
You can live with the knowledge that timber rattlesnakes and copperheads are in your area, and if you have a problem, you need to go to herpetologists, who can figure out a plan or help remove the snakes, he said. We dont want to see people become nature vigilantes.
The researchers take captured snakes and implant a small radio transmitter to follow the snakes movement and migration patterns and to study habitat use.
I am the field manager, organizer, and I oversee the equipment, Drda said. Jeff will be doing the DNA analysis work, and Ryan helps with the field work and is our GPS"GIS computer whiz.