USU faculty member passionate about snakes

The monthly USU Science Unwrapped event Friday puts herpetologist Andrew Durso in the spotlight this week in a presentation he calls “Life is Short, but Snakes are Long.”

A doctoral candidate in biology, Durso was fascinated by snakes as a youngster growing up in North Carolina where he eventually volunteered at a science museum and met several people who were passionate about snakes.

That experience got him hooked.

“First I want to share some of the amazing elements of snake biology with those who attend,” said Durso, “such as, how do they move without legs? How do they eat things that are much larger than they are without legs or a fork or a knife or even the ability to chew their food?”

Durso said there is a huge diversity of snakes, over 3,500 species around the world, and there is no shortage of examples of interesting snake biology which he said could take up his entire talk.

“The second half of the talk I will share some statistics on venomous snakes, snake bites to humans around the world and also some of the misconceptions about snake bites.

“In reality about 20 percent of the snake species around the world are venomous and that is true in Utah as well. In northern Utah, Cache Valley, we have eight species. Only one is venomous. If you don’t know how to identify them you’re much safer pretending they’re all venomous.”

He said there have been 20-to-30 new species of snakes discovered each year over the last 15-20 years. He said that is the result of still exploring areas of the world that are relatively remote and also because of better methods of detecting these species, especially using DNA which scientists didn’t have access to 40 years ago.

Friday’s Science Unwrapped begins at 7 p.m. in the Eccles Science Learning Center Auditorium.

Afterward there will be an hour of hands on outreach activities.

“We will have a lot of live snakes for people to see up close and touch and there will also be demonstrations from other departments, like chemistry and physics.”

The event is free, everyone is invited and there will be refreshments afterwards.

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