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Snake Survey, southeastern Virginia – 2014

As part of our mission to conserve native wildlife,  the VLM staff donates time and effort to many field projects in addition to our efforts at the museum. The most recent conservation project we are involved with is run by Amanda Guthrie, DVM for the Virginia Zoo; she has been investigating the possible prevalence of Snake Fungal Disease (SFD) among Virginia’s native snakes. The study locates, identifies, and takes blood and or tissue samples from native snakes in Southestern Virginia. Our Herpetology Curator Travis Land organizes our staff efforts to aid in the field portion of the survey. Aquarium staffers Carol Paulson and Patrycja Lawryniuk accompanied Travis and VLM  herpetologist Thomas Waser on the survey at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on June 7.

Field days are stringently planned around weather conditions, as the surveys rely heavily on snakes sunning themselves or being active. SFD has been confirmed in nine states, but the disease has not been confirmed in Virginia at this time. Amanda’s project seeks to investigate SFD in Virginia snakes by collecting blood and skin biopsies. These data will be used to identify an overall health assessment of snake populations in eastern Virginia. This is the second year of a three-year study.

Throughout this field day, researchers sampled one eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), one northern water snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon), and multiple brown water snakes (Nerodia taxipilota) — three species found on exhibit at the VLM. They additionally found an eastern cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus piscivorus), many fouler’s toads (Bufo fowleri), longnose gar (Lepisosteus osseus), and brown bullhead catfish (Ictalurus nebulosus) — all found on exhibit at the VLM.

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Longnose gar are common in swamps and backwaters

This survey will contribute to the knowledge and understanding of SFD in Virginia, and VLM staff was enthusiastic to get involved and experience working in the field on a conservation-based research project.

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Virginia Zoo researcher Amanda Guthrie collects a blood sample from a snake onsite.

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Blood sample collected at Back Bay NWR and preserved in formalin.

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VLM staff Patrycja Lawrynuik holding a northern water snake she caught during the survey.

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One of the snakes assessed during the survey.

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