RODEO – Why Do Sidewinder Rattlesnakes Move the Way They Do? What happens when Mojave and prairie rattlesnakes meet and interbreed? What can we learn from studying timber rattlesnakes for 40 years?
For herpetologists wondering about these things and more, their questions were answered last week at the Biology of the Pitvipers 4 conference, held in Hidalgo County, New Mexico. Nearly 250 top scientists in biology and snake research gathered at the Geronimo Event Center, part of the Chiricahua Desert Museum, for the four-day convention.
The friendly environment, state-of-the-art facilities and shared interest in Pitviper snakes made the conference a huge success.
The highlight of the event: a lecture on nature given by the famous evolutionary biologist, Dr. Harry Greene, of Cornell University, whose lecture entitled “Rewilding the Earth, rewilding our lives” was the favorite a crowd.
“I think Gordon Schuett deserves a ton of credit for the subtle aspects of how this is all arranged,” Greene said. “It’s in a wonderful location, you walk out the front door, drive to where you sleep at night, you can’t help but be amazed by the scenery, can’t you? It is also a classic herpetological locality.
Greene is considered one of the world’s foremost experts on snakes and their biology. His writing career was shaped by his friendship with Norman Maclean, a University of Chicago professor who wrote “A River Runs Through It.” Greene also witnessed the 1966 shootings at the University of Texas-Austin and helped with funeral preparations for some of the students killed.
Dozens of other renowned herpetologists and authors also spoke, including Dr. Joseph Mendelson III of Zoo Atlanta, Dr. Rulon Clark of San Diego State University, and Dr. William Brown, who has spent over 40 years in the wild collecting data on timber rattlesnakes. .
Dr. Brown, who lives in New York, is considered the world’s leading expert on timber rattlesnakes.
“This is by far my favorite lecture,” said Dylan Maag, Ph.D. student from San Diego State. “My very first bonafide conference was Pitvipers 2 in 2013. It’s my favorite.”
Maag studies a unique “hybrid” area located in Hidalgo County where Mojave rattlesnakes breed with prairie rattlesnakes. Maag’s research found that traits from both snake species combine in landrace hybrids, including the two types of toxins present in each hybrid snake.
Harry Ridgway of Hidalgo County spoke about veonomics. The final speaker was Mendelson, whose team discovered how Sidewinder rattlesnakes are evolutionarily adapted to climb mounds of sand. By studying specially designed “sidewinder” robots, Mendelson was able to model the exact patterns and movements of the snake that allow it to move quickly over a liquid surface of fine sand.
Rodeo’s Chiricahua Desert Museum and Geronimo Event Center, owned by Bob and Sheri Ashley, have hosted many such conferences over the years, greatly increasing the local tax base and placing dozens or hundreds of tenants in housing in Lordsburg. The facility features a massive collection of Native American artifacts, particularly Apache. A desert botanical garden, full gift shop, and live poisonous snake exhibits are included.
For event photos and short videos, visit the official website at BiologyofthePitvipers.com. The conference was sponsored by BTG, Bioclon, RDT: Rare Disease Therapeutics, Inc. and Herptech.
This article was reprinted with permission from the Hidalgo County Herald.