The Zoo’s Living Amphibians, Invertebrates, and Reptiles (LAIR) program welcomed a record-breaking 61 snake babies this summer and fall, making it the most successful breeding season at the L.A. Zoo to date. The list of rare and endangered snake babies includes Armenian vipers, black-tailed horned vipers, European nose-horned vipers, Santa Catalina Island rattleless rattlesnakes, Aruba island rattlesnakes, banded rock rattlesnakes, and southwestern speckled rattlesnakes.
“The staff at the LAIR has a special talent when it comes to breeding snakes,” said Ian Recchio, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the Los Angeles Zoo. “The fact that our numbers continue to increase each breeding season is the result of years of observation, tinkering with new breeding tactics, and doing our best to mimic a snake’s natural habitat in the wild.”
Over five years ago, LAIR staff embarked on a plan to create an environment that best replicates the mountainous, rocky crevices where most of their rare and endangered snakes make their den during the coldest part of winter. Staff purchased a scientific refrigerator, typically used for storing pharmaceuticals, to house the snakes during the four months of the year they go through brumation, or a hibernation-like state necessary for successful breeding.
The scientific refrigerator is located in the LAIR’s hibernation room, a behind-the-scenes room stacked wall-to-wall with sleeping snakes. Staff begins cycling adult snakes into brumation in mid-to-late November by taking preparatory measures such as ceasing their feedings, soaking them in water so they are well hydrated, and cleaning out their gut of feces so there are no traces of food left. Temperatures in the hibernaculum are generally brought down to a chilling 55 degrees, but some snakes need temperatures brought down close to freezing. In early Spring staff begins warming up the snake’s chambers and waking them up so that they can be put into breeding pairs again. The entire cycle was made to replicate the snake’s natural environment and circumstances they would experience in nature.
As each new season brings a surplus of snake babies, the LAIR increases the number of species sent to other Zoos as a part of several Species Survival Plans (SSP) among accredited Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facilities.
“Every season we are sending rare and endangered snake species to Zoos across the country and the world,” said Recchio. “We are committed to strengthening the numbers for a lot of these species that are critically endangered, but we’re also excited for guests far and wide to see these unique creatures up close since they may never have the chance in the wild.”
L.A. Zoo Snake Species Currently in Species Survival Plans (SSPs):
Santa Catalina Island rattleless rattlesnakes – This venomous pit viper is currently critically endangered and can only be found on one tiny island called Isla Santa Catalina in the Gulf of California just off the east coast of the state of Baja California Sur, Mexico. This small and swift rattlesnake is known for its most distinctive feature – it lacks a rattle!
Aruba island rattlesnakes – This snake is one of the world’s rarest species of rattlesnake and occurs only on the island of Aruba. It is a stocky, medium-sized snake with a light brown body covered in distinctive pink, blue, and brown diamond-shaped markings. Its venom can be life threatening to humans, but the rattlesnake is not considered dangerous because it is not aggressive and will only bite when provoked.
Armenian vipers – This venomous viper is a “near-threatened” species found in the Armenian Highlands and surrounding countries such as eastern Turkey, western Azerbaijan, and northwestern Iran. Adult vipers typically have a charcoal gray coloring with bright orange patterns throughout the body. Its population has decreased by 80 percent over the past 40 years as a result of habitat destruction and over-collection for the exotic pet trade. Fun fact – Male Armenian vipers “wrestle” for the opportunity to mate with females. During combat, the two rivals rear up and entwine the front portion of their bodies, each trying to push the other to the ground. Eventually, one of the snakes (usually the larger) will succeed in driving the other snake away. The victor can then mate with the female, who has remained coiled quietly nearby.
Guests can now view all of these snake species in their habitats at the LAIR daily.
About the Los Angeles Zoo
Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the landmark Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, drawing nearly 1.8 million visitors each year, is home to a diverse collection of 1,100 animals representing 250 different species, many of which are rare or endangered. Its lush grounds on 113 acres feature a botanical collection comprising over 800 different plant species with approximately 7,000 individual plants. The Zoo is located in Griffith Park at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. Admission is $21 for adults and $16 for children ages 2 to 12. The Zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call (323) 644-4200 or visit the L.A. Zoo Web site at www.lazoo.org.