FGCU professor tags and tracks rattlesnakes on campus

John Herman caught his first eastern diamondback rattlesnake near the FGCU Food Forest about four years ago. In that moment, he decided to start a research project that would track the snakes’ movements on campus.
“We are trying to better understand how this species utilizes the landscape surrounding FGCU, which has both heavily disturbed human habitats and fairly undisturbed conservation areas,” Herman said. Herman, who is now an assistant professor of wildlife biology at FGCU, has been using radio telemetry to study snakes for the past 15 years.
In the past three years, he has been tracking the federally threatened eastern indigo snake in South Florida with the help of Win Everham, Dave Ceilley, Brent Jackson and Matt Metcalf.
Radio telemetry is a technology used to transmit data between two distant instruments via radio waves. In this case, the radio transmitters were surgically implanted in the rattlesnakes by Dr. Jeff Noble at the St. Francis Animal Clinic.
“I believe that this is the first time any snake has been tracked using radio telemetry on the FGCU campus,” Herman said. “I have been working on obtaining the state permits and proper FGCU IACUC permissions for well over a year now.”
The project officially started in December 2015 and is being led by Herman, with the help of some of his undergraduate and graduate students throughout the process. The research is covering main campus and the conservation areas.
“For the safety of the snakes and everyone else, I will not give exact locations,” Herman said.
The funds to purchase the radio transmitters and the radio telemetry equipment used in tracking were received from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Biological Sciences. Herman is hoping to determine things such as the snakes’ home range size, seasonal habitat use, life history characteristics — such as mating season — and others.
“This is important to inform any current and future management plans that deal with the conservation of this species,” Herman said. “Additionally, it is evolutionarily interesting to understand how snakes in general utilize the landscape by making comparisons across species.”