Brain Food: NAU Herpetologist Studies Rattlesnake Relocation

Mar 19, 2015

Relocating rattlesnakes is tricky business for more than just the obvious reason. Removing them from their home range or habitat can be stressful to the point of death for the reptiles.

Erika Nowak, a herpetologist with the Colorado Plateau Research Station and Department of Biological Sciences at NAU.
Credit NAU

Erika Nowak is a herpetologist at Northern Arizona University. She's been studying southwestern rattlesnakes for more than 20 years. She says, "Rattlesnakes are often relocated because they occur in places where people don't want them. In most cases, the animals will try to come back to where they were removed from, and if it's an urban area, they are very likely to be killed, either hit by a car, or show up in someone else's yard, or show up in another area and be killed."

Nowak says the snakes try to hard to get home that they take on risky behavior, like crawling during the winter when they should be hibernating, or moving during the day when they would ordinarily be hiding from predators. The normally hardy creatures can become physiologically stress and die from disease.

Erika Nowak believes relocating rattlesnakes may be more successful if their entire community is moved with them. " A lot of the research has been showing that they have really complicated social lives," she says. "So, one thing that we know that encourages survival is moving social groups, or moving animals - even if they're not physically related - at least moving a group of animals that know each other. Moving those animals together into a new habitat."

Nowak says that could mean transferring all the other snakes in the area to the new location, as well as the animals that den with them like gila monsters and desert tortoises.