With respect to size, the very longest and most massive extant species are the Reticulated Python (Malayopython reticulatus) and Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus). Even bigger snakes existed in deep history. The fossil record of the Paleocene (Cerrejón Formation) showcases a boid species (Titanoboa cerrejonensis) from Colombia, South America that likely attained adult lengths up to 14 m (46 ft). All of these giants must be considered as apex predators. Just as impressive but at the other end of the size spectrum, the tiniest snakes (several Leptotyphlops species from the Lesser Antilles) are among the smallest of any terrestrial vertebrate. In both cases of extreme size, snakes have successfully pushed anatomical and physiological boundaries.
With over 3,500 extant species, snakes are among the most important vertebrates with respect to abundance and diversity. Despite certain so-called limitations, such as being limbless, they are a highly successful group.
Snakes are widely dispersed both on land, occurring on every continent except Antarctica, and all oceans. They even occur north of the Arctic Circle. Along with the Norwegian Rat (Rattus norvegicus), the Brahminy Blind Snake (Indotyphlops braminus) is arguably one of the most widely distributed terrestrial vertebrates, largely by way of the activities of humans. Owing to its pelagic habits, the Yellow-bellied Sea Snake (Hydrophis platurus) has an enormous world-wide distribution which continues to expand, likely as a result of on-going climate change.
Similar to passerine birds, many snakes are stunningly beautiful with respect to color and pattern. Who can argue that the Gaboon and Rhinoceros vipers are not worthy of any wildlife artists’ brush? Our honored guests are the world’s leaders in capturing this exquisite beauty.
Snakes have done it all.
It has been a long road, but scientists have come around to see that snakes are important models to study key question in ecology, behavior, physiology, and evolution. Even their medical importance is undergoing a Renaissance.
Finally, we need to pay attention to the conservation of snakes. Unfortunately, many activities of humans, both deliberate and inadvertent, have reduced populations of certain species to critically low levels or even to extinction. Any loss is entirely unacceptable. As we will learn at this conference, emergent diseases are another alarming threat to the well-being of many populations. We need to become much better at being good stewards. There are many ways to thread the needle.
To celebrate their importance, beauty, and conservation, the Chiricahua Desert Museum & Geronimo Event Center has organized the first Biology of Snakes Conference. Past conferences on snakes have emphasized certain lineages, predominately the viperids, but here we throw out the broadest net possible to inspect and discuss the entire group. This is a very tall order. Hopefully, we can accomplish much at this meeting, but we will need frequent reevaluation and adjustments. It is the intention of Chiricahua Desert Museum & Geronimo Event Center to sponsor this meeting every 4 years.
As the organizers of the Biology of Snakes Conference, it is our hope that you will find it educational, innovative, inspiring, and enjoyable. Thank you for your valued support and participation.
Dr. Gordon W. Schuett
Dr. Chuck Smith
Dr. Warren Booth
Titanoboa illustration by Paul Mirocha (Smithsonian Magazine)