Friday, February 15, 2013

FTV 2/15/2013 Aruba's Endangered Rattlesnakes


The ship arrived in Aruba and everyone is anxious to explore the island.  Aruba is an island in the  Caribbean Sea, just north of Venezuela. A rather small island at just 193 sq km (69 sq mi.), it is only slightly larger than Washington DC. Aruba is a flat, riverless island renowned for its white sand beaches.  The Climate is tropical with very little seasonal temperature variation due to the constant trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Located outside the Caribbean hurricane belt it’s temperature is almost constant at about 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit).

Aruba is the home of the The Aruba Island rattlesnake is one of the rarest rattlesnakes in the world . Its short and stocky looking body has an overall brown color and a lighter brown tail tip and its scaly skin has distinctive pink, blue and brown diamond shaped markings. Males and females are similar in appearance though males are larger in size. The tail creates the rattling noise that gives this snake its name. This species belongs to the family of vipers, and like other vipers it has a V shaped head, and venomous long hollow fangs which fold against the roof of the mouth when they are not being used. The scientific name for the Aruba Island rattle snake is Arubian cascabel, that is about 95 cm long and weighs between .9 - 1.4 kg.

This snake is nocturnal in the warmer months, though during the rest of the year it is active in the early morning and late afternoon. It feeds on small rodents, birds, and lizards, locating them with a pair of heat sensitive pits that are found between the eyes and nostrils. Like other rattlesnakes it injects its prey with a lethal cocktail of chemicals which kills the prey and begins to digest it from the inside. The snake then swallows the prey. In the wild, the Aruba Island rattlesnake may only eat a few times a year.

The mating season lasts from September to January, and unlike most snakes, the Aruba Island rattlesnake is viviparous with females giving birth to live young rather than producing eggs. Females have small litters of five to nine young. The young are born weighing about 14 grams and are only a few inches long. They have fully functioning venom sacs or glands, and are independent from birth. Individuals live for between 15 and 20 years.

This species is threatened because it only occurs on one small island, where just ten square kilometers of habitat remains undisturbed. In past centuries much of the island’s trees were cut down for charcoal and firewood, removing this snake's shelter and prey. Recent threats include resort development on the island and other forms of human encroachment. Goats have been introduced and have wreaked havoc on the vegetation. This species is also caught and illegally exported for the pet trade.  For that reason it is currently classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007.

The Government and people of Aruba do recognize this endemic species as important, and have set aside a large area of interior land as protected habitat for this and other species. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) Aruba Island rattlesnake Species Survival Plan (SSP) is currently building on the island’s conservation efforts. Field research is being carried out to determine population size, natural history traits and factors affecting the survival of the Aruba Island rattlesnake in order to best inform conservation efforts. There is also an ongoing public relations campaign to change local people’s perceptions of this venomous snake. Captive breeding has also been initiated in zoos associated with the SSP program, to increase population numbers and the genetic health of this threatened snake.

Click here to see more pics of the Aruba Island Rattlesnake

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