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13 years ago, as an eight year old kid, I purchased my first pet snake, a Florida Kingsnake, with money I raised at my lemonade stand (photo ©Michael Bentley)

Hi, my name is Alex Bentley and I am a student at Wofford College studying to be a Herpetologist. This has been my dream career since I encountered my first wild snake (a small Ring-necked snake) as a young boy. Now, as a young adult, I am pursuing my passion in the form of field based research. I have recently gained interest in working with pitvipers, and have been involved in several Crotaline studies over the past few years.

Now I am pursuing my biggest project yet! I will be venturing into somewhat unchartered territory, applying an emerging technology to tracking in hopes of expanding the field of snake ecology. Radiotelemetry has been critical to spatial ecology and natural history studies for years now, yet this technology is limited. However, with advancements in GPS and GNSS technology, new horizons are appearing. There’s no literature on GPS tracking of snakes, and only within the last couple years have people begun to experiment with this. No one has tried it with rattlesnakes yet!

 

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Mike Martin and I drawing blood from an anesthetized Diamondback, Crotalus adamanteus, following radio transmitter implantation. (photo © Charles Smith)

 

In partnership with Telemetry Solutions we have developed a custom design for GPS devices that will be used specifically for tracking rattlesnakes. These units will be attached to the rattle using epoxy, tape, and light weight zip ties. A lot of time and effort has gone into planning this project, and now it is finally time to test things out! This year I will be working with a Virginia population of Timber Rattlesnakes, Crotalus horridus, to implement this methodology and determine its viability as a tracking technique.

There are many unknowns at play here. Will canopy coverage and dense ground vegetation interfere too much with signal transmission? Will snakes spend too much time under rocks to get regular fixes? Will the attachment technique stand the test of time, weather, and snake travel?

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 Telemetry Solutions is a company committed to working with wildlife biologists to design GPS telemetry tracking devices tailored to specific projects.

It won’t be done easily, so I will need your help. Each GPS unit costs about $1,000, and to fully test this methodology I will need at least 10 units. I have received grant money, but it won’t be nearly enough to purchase all my units. The future of snake tracking has been waiting for this, whether or not it can be done is still unknown. So lets find out…