Find the poisonous snake: La Selva Biological Station

Do you see it? Hiking kilometer after kilometer in the dark, all I  see are leaves, dirt and  the roots covering the trail as they pass under the gaze of  my head lamp. Leaves, leaves, leaves, leaves… for 3 hours…. then suddenly I shout, “SNAKE! At 2-oclock!” Nestled a 30 cm from were my foot would have fallen was a large, cryptic, and highly venomous Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops asper, in picture). Yelling “snake” is common protocol when doing field biology as a precaution for venomous snakes. It’s simple really, when you see a snake, yell “snake”. The majority of snakes are no danger to humans and a trained observer can tell if a snake is venomous in a glance. However, yelling “snake” serves two purposes, it can alert your field partner to a dangerous animal but also so they can see an elusive and amazing animal that often runs away in short order. In just last week I yelled snake more times for an actually venomous snake than I have in any previous 6 months. I was stoked.

Although I initially arrived in Panama, I took the opportunity to spend a week in Costa Rica with a few of my biologist friends. My current PhD lab has field sites in many countries around the world. However, the largest amount of work is done in La Selva Biological Research Station in Costa Rica. La Selva translates literally to “The Jungle” and it is one of the oldest and well know of any tropical research field station. La Selva is surrounded by primary and secondary forest making it a absolutely beautiful place to visit even if you are not doing any actual research. The opportunity to see some very elusive wildlife is amazing.

Costa Rica has dozens of snakes many of which are venomous and as a herpetologist I was very excited to knock a few off my “list” of things to see in the wild. I saw five Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops asper) snakes which are very dangerous and have caused many human fatalities. This beautiful snake has a reputation of being somewhat “bitey”. When in a location like La Selva, these snakes can be found anywhere. I saw two crossing the sidewalk while walking between a couple lab buildings. Wearing flip-flops, as I almost always do, is… not exactly advised, unless you are very wary. I try to wear large rubber boots when ever I am staying in bio stations like La Selva. In my short stay in Costa Rica I also saw a couple cute little hog-nosed vipers (Porthidium nasutum) and an eye-lash viper (Bothriechis schlegelii). The eye lash viper has been on my “list” for awhile, and it was fun to knock it off. I’ll toss up a pic of that guy tomorrow. For now, here is a little baby just cruising across the sidewalk in the middle of the night, another B. asper.


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