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Looking for Rattlesnakes on a Sunny Day in Idaho

Boise State University Master’s student Kristina Parker and her volunteer assistants are on the lookout for rattlesnakes on a sunny September day in Idaho.

She is studying how habitat disturbances in the Great Basin, such as wildfire and invasive plants, affect reptile population numbers, their genetics, and connectivity across habitats. Her thesis project is part of a larger study led by Dr. David Pilliod that is looking at changes in reptile abundance over a 40-year period in southwestern Idaho. This study uses survey data dating back to 1977 from the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area and is a partnership between the USGS, Idaho Army National Guard, and Bueau of Land Management. Kristina and her crew captured 11 rattlesnakes on this day, two of them being repeat captures from last year at the same hibernaculum – a place where a creature seeks refuge, like a bear’s den. They swabbed each snake for snake fungal disease, took blood samples for RNA analysis, and tagged each snake with a Passive Integrated Transponder, or PIT tag. PIT tags are used to track animal movement and are the same technology as the microchips you can get for your dog or cat to help identify it as yours should they get lost. 

Learn more about what the USGS is doing in Idaho by visiting our Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center and Idaho Water Science Center websites.


All photos by: Justin L. Welty. (Public Domain)

two women use snake tongs to hold down a rattlesnake
Boise State University Master’s student Kristina Parker and a volunteer use snake tongs to catch and hold down a rattlesnake.
rattlesnake held up in the air by snake tongs
A Great Basin rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus lutosus) held by snake tongs. The Great Basin rattlesnake is the only venomous snake in Idaho.
rattlesnake held by snake tongs with head in a plastic tube
The rattlesnake is coaxed into a plastic tube. This plastic tube allows researchers to safely handle the rattlesnake.
Woman carries a rattlesnake with its head in a tube in one hand and snake tongs in the other
Kristina carries the rattlesnake back to the sample processing area. The snake’s head is completely enclosed in the plastic tube, allowing her and her crew to safely handle it during the biological sample collection process.
woman using a syringe to collect blood from a rattlesnake
A volunteer holds the rattlesnake while Kristina uses a syringe to collect blood from it. She will analyze the blood’s ribonucleic acid, or RNA, to track genetic change in the snake from habitat disturbances. RNA, along with deoxyribonucleic acid – or DNA, are the molecules that carry genetic information.

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