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Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

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Land Snakes Alive

Snake on a Sign
Periodically, wild snakes
make themselves visible.
Photo by Karl Betz

Land Snakes Alive is a Jacksonville Zoo conservation initiative designed to involve our zoo-going guests in the discovery of snakes in their natural habitat on zoo grounds.  Snakes are animals that very few people are neutral about.  We would like everyone to see that snakes have a unique and necessary position in wild ecology, and that they are not bad to have around.

Periodically, wild snakes make themselves visible as they move about on our zoo grounds.  When snakes are spotted, guests can tell a zoo staff member, who then calls herpetology staff on the radio.

Staff members then come with a field kit and process the snake right there with the guests, answering any and all questions.  Each snake is identified by type such as Yellow Ratsnake, Black Racer, Eastern Garter Snake, etc.  It is then checked with a microchip reader to see if it has already been captured as part of the program. Previously captured or not, field data is collected next. Each snake is weighed using a hand-held field scale, probed to determine sex, and measured using a folding ruler. 

Checking for Existing PIT Tag
Checking for
existing microchip
Photo by Dino Ferri

Photo by Dino Ferri

Establishing Sex
Establishing Sex
Photo by Dino Ferri

Microchipping, if needed
Photo by Dino Ferri

A microchip is then inserted for future identification of recaptured animals.  All of this information is recorded on our Land Snakes Alive “capture logs” along with the temperature, general weather description, and the location where the snake was found.  We also record any significant scars or markings such as stubbed tails, missing or marred scales, etc.  Once all of this pertinent data has been recorded, the snake is released very near where it was found (although not directly on the public pathway).

Snakes are released near where they are found.
Snakes are released
near where they are found.
Photo by Dino Ferri

If the snake turns out to be one that was previously captured and microchipped, collection data is still very important.  By weighing and measuring the snakes at each capture, we can determine how much the snake has grown since we last found it.  By checking where it was found, we can track each snake’s movements throughout the zoo’s grounds.  Our chips also allow us to check on the snakes’ body temperatures to see at what temperatures they are most active.

In our first year, we have captured and “chipped” 58 individual snakes of 7 different kinds.  We have also recaptured 10 of the original 58 snake a total of 26 times.  Clearly some of these snakes are not at all put off by a little human interaction. 

Brahminy Blind snake
This Brahminy Blind snake
is too small to microchip.
Photo by Karl Betz

There are even some snakes that are found on grounds that are too small to be able to microchip.  These are released without entering them in the program.  Some are young and may be big enough to chip the next time they are caught, and some are just a type of snake that stays too small for chipping, such as Pine Woods Snakes and Brahminy Blind Snakes.  Young and old, zoo-goers have been thrilled to watch our herpetologists in action as they process these interesting reptiles.

Stay alert and maybe you too will get to participate in Jacksonville Zoo’s Land Snakes Alive program.  Please remember that the snakes on zoo grounds are wild animals and may only be captured or handled by our trained zoo staff members.

If you are interested in knowing more about snakes, please visit the following web sites.  You can find the Online Guide to the Snakes of Florida at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/FL-GUIDE/onlineguide.htm, or find out about Dealing with Snakes in Florida’s Residential Areas – Preventing Encounters at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/UW260.  The snakes of Duval County Florida (where Jacksonville is located) can be found at http://members.tripod.com/duvalherps/duvalsnakes.htm.  To find out more about snakes in zoos see http://www.snaketag.org.