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Studying sidewinders

Last year I wrote about some baby sidewinder rattlesnakes, and today I am going to give you an update on these little guys.

Behind the scenes at the Conservation Breeding Center, we are conducting some data collection on our new baby sidewinders. This research project is led by Dr. Joe Mendelson, Director of Research, and his intern, Hannah Dallas. This summer, they will finally get to analyze the data we’ve been collecting for almost a year! As a herpetology keeper, I get to help collect the data, so every day, it’s my responsibility to monitor and record where the snakes are in their habitats, and what position they are in. I do this twice a day. We are analyzing and comparing which direction the snakes’ heads are facing, and their different body positions. Sometimes I find them in hunting, resting, or even defensive (if I accidentally spook one!) positions. I record all of the feedings, and in which area of the habitat they were fed (tracked with a simple grid system), in an effort to see if there is any correlation to where they feed, and where they like to just hang out.

Sidewinders are ambush predators, which means they remain in one spot for a while, waiting for potential prey to pass by. Snakes that use this hunting style have been known to return to the same location multiple times. Since we started this study with newborn baby snakes that had not begun feeding yet, we hope to gather unbiased data. We have already started to see some trends in some of the snakes’ more frequent location choices. It was very interesting watching how their behavior changed while they were brumating (reptile version of hibernation) over the winter. Because they do not eat during brumation, they had been a few months without food, but now (with the weather warming up) they have had a few meals and are more active. We are still in the early stages of compiling and comparing data. Perhaps we will be able to determine if they remember the feeding locations or not, stay tuned for more updates on this fascinating research.
Ash Taylor
Keeper II, Herpetology

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