Sadly, snakes are inactive this time of year in northern Utah. With lower-than-average temperatures dipping below 0° F every night, I've had a lot of time indoors to read and daydream about snakier times and places. You can imagine my envy of my colleagues Susannah French, Nick Kiriazis, and Lori Neuman-Lee, who are currently in the Galápagos Islands studying Marine Iguanas. Nick, a student teacher at South Cache Middle School in Hyrum, Utah, is blogging about their research experiences at his blog, The Learning Scientist, which you should check out. Before they left, I instructed them that they were not to pass up an opportunity to observe the endemic racers of the Galápagos, the only snakes to inhabit the famous archipelago (other than one sea snake species, found offshore).
|Galapagos Snake from Bartholome Island|
|Galapagos Snake eating a lava lizard (Microlophus sp.)|
|Plate from Steindachner 1876|
|Galápagos racers mating|
|A Galápagos Snake among some Marine Iguanas|
|Galápagos snake eating a small iguana|
I was surprised to find how poorly known these snakes were given the infamy of the islands they inhabit. Because they are probably important predators on Galápagos finches, mockingbirds, and small lizards, as well as on non-native rodents, they deserve more study (although as Nick has pointed out, permission to study animals in the Galápagos can be difficult to obtain). Along with many of the Galápagos' other reptiles and birds, the snakes were probably almost driven to extinction by introduced cats and rats, against which they had not evolved defensive behaviors. Their natural predators probably include Galápagos mockingbirds. Today, tourism and development, although limited in the Galápagos, probably threatens these snakes as much as invasive species, which are beginning to be brought under control. Nick, Lori, and Susannah are busy studying the effects of tourism on the Marine Iguanas - who is studying the Galápagos snakes?
Special thanks to Nick Kiriazis for inspiring me to write this article with his blog, and thanks to Lori Neuman-Lee, Manuel Mejia, Dave Irving, Jim Moulton, Rosalind Gomes, and Phillip Marsh for their pictures.
Grehan J (2001) Biogeography and evolution of the Galápagos: integration of the biological and geological evidence. Biol J Linn Soc 74:267-287 <link>
Günther A (1860) On a new snake from the Galápagos islands. The Annals and Magazine of Natural History 3:78-79
Parent CE, Caccone A, Petren K, 2008. Colonization and diversification of Galápagos terrestrial fauna: a phylogenetic and biogeographical synthesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 363:3347-3361 <link>
Steindachner F (1876) Die schlangen und eidechsen der Galapagos-inseln. Zoologisch-botanischen Gesellschaft, Wien, Germany. <link>
Thomas R, 1997. Galápagos terrestrial snakes: biogeography and systematics. Herpetol Nat Hist 5:19-40.
Van Denburgh J (1912) Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences to the Galapagos Islands, 1905-1906. IV. The snakes of the Galapagos Islands. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences (Series 4) 1:323-374
Zaher H, Grazziotin FG, Cadle JE, Murphy RW, Moura-Leite JC, Bonatto SL, 2009. Molecular phylogeny of advanced snakes (Serpentes, Caenophidia) with an emphasis on South American Xenodontines: A revised classification and descriptions of new taxa. Pap Avulsos Zool (Sao Paulo) 49:115-153 <link>
Life is Short, but Snakes are Long by Andrew M. Durso is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.