In May 2019, Parkinson Lab members Rhett Rautsaw (PhD student), Andrew Mason (PhD candidate), and Dr. Jason Strickland (Postdoctoral Researcher) traveled to Colima and Aguascalientes in Mexico to collect snakes with local collaborator Jason Jones of Herp.MX. The Parkinson Lab’s ongoing NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity research grant involves studying the evolution of snake venom. Our trip to Colima and Aguascalientes was part of this ongoing research with the goal obtaining complete sampling of all pitvipers in North, Central, and South America.
Our trip began in Colima, where we met with our collaborator Jason Jones and his 6 chihuahuas, black lab, and adorable rottweiler puppy. We extracted venom from snakes Jones had collected for us prior to our arrival – a process known as snake milking. Here are just a couple of the snakes from which we were able to get data.
After milking the snakes, we spent several days in Colima searching for additional snakes and enjoying our stay at this luxurious local hotel.
However, the trip to Colima wasn’t all pools and luxury. Sometimes we did actually “work” by going out and looking for snakes. In the process, we found some really cool wildlife! Including this Mexican Red-Kneed Tarantula (Brachypelma hamorii) and Balsa’s Coral Snake (Micrurus laticollaris). The Balsa’s Coral Snake is highly venomous and antivenom may actually be ineffective against this species’ venom. So uncovering the toxins that make up this species’ venom is incredibly important. Additionally, you might notice that the classic rhyme “red touches black, friend of Jack; red touches yellow, kill a fellow” doesn’t really work in Mexico. In fact, that rhyme sometimes doesn’t even work in the United States!
We then made our way to Aguascalientes to present our research at the 2nd National Congress of Mexican Vipers and Snakes. Along the way, we discovered a new fruit called a Pitaya and picked up Dr. Christopher Parkinson at the airport. After this, we spent a few days at the conference meeting people, practicing our Spanish (Andrew is getting pretty good), and talking with our local collaborators.