Jason Strickland, a postdoctoral researcher in professor Christopher Parkinson’s research group at Clemson University, studies systematics, phylogeography and trait evolution of reptiles, focusing mostly on snakes. Through his research, Strickland is attempting to understand how traits evolve over time by getting at the molecular complexities of snake venom in species such as the Mojave Rattlesnake, Mexican Black-Tailed Rattlesnake, and Sidewinder Rattlesnake. His work—like that of many herpetologists—takes him to remote field sites in the United States and Latin America. He hunts for rattlesnakes in all the small places that they like to reside—under rocks, in holes, and across drylands—to carry out research that is equal parts adventurous and perilous. What follows are Strickland’s guidelines for preparing and conducting ethical animal research in isolated locations, centered on his rattlesnake studies.
Prior to the Trip
Plan your travel options carefully. Map out your travel schedule and transportation from site to site in advance, and know the locations of the nearest hospitals or other medical treatment centers in case of emergency. Carry a satellite phone when in remote locations and always have a plan for when something goes wrong, even if it is a simple mishap, such as a flat tire.
To collect venom from the snake and minimize the chance of snakebite, first restrain the snake in a snake tube until only its head is exposed. Then, place a cup covered with parafilm in front of its mouth. The snake will instinctively bite the parafilm and inject its venom into the cup. If the snake has recently bitten prey, it might not have any venom to inject, and you should care for snake for three weeks while the snake’s venom regenerates, then try the milking procedure again.
Further guidelines for collecting specimens from the snake, such as skin or scale biopsies, are outlined in the best practices for field and laboratory work by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Many professional societies that oversee animal research have similar documentation for other research goals.
Gregory Territo, Travis Fisher