One of the goals of The Copperhead Institute is to support the intellectual growth of undergraduate and graduate students. In any way we can, we seek to offer research opportunities for motivated and serious students that will provide valuable experience in their undergraduate and graduate careers, and beyond. Some of the more recent research experiences of students are highlighted below.
Vicki Hill (right) and Victoria Dover (left) are using ultrasound technology to investigate the reproductive cycles of female copperhead snakes in the wild within southern populations. In addition, they are sampling females for evidence of recent mating and males for the presence of active sperm during the active season.
Alex Bentley is a third year college student with a great passion for reptiles, and aspirations to become a professional herpetologist. In 2010, he began a herpetofauna study of the Havens Wildlife Management Area, and subsequently published his findings in The Virginia Herpetological Society’s journal, Catesbeiana 2012(32):2. Alex attended the second Biology of the Pitvipers Sumposium in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2014, and moderated numerous oral presentation sessions. He is currently collaborating with Drs. Chuck Smith, Gord Schuett, Wolfgang Wuster, Warren Booth, and Nicholas Casewell on a venomics study of Agkistrodon contortrix. In addition, Alex is working during the summer of 2015 with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and The Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy on a field project designed to document the occurrence and distribution of at-risk upland amphibian and reptile species in Francis Marion Nation Forest, South Carolina.
Michael Carper applied his computer skills and his talents with using ImageJ (an image analysis software package) to convert a large set of neonate copperhead photographs (both dorsal and ventral photos) into a valuable data set which is allowing us to look at adult female energy investment in reproduction. His semester-long work provided detailed measurements of 144 neonate copperhead snakes, which would have been otherwise impossible without such a software package and a student with the patience and attention to detail of Michael.
Neil Choyce used data collected by Michael (above) to examine female reproductive investment in copperhead snakes in a population from the extreme northern limits of the species range, where both adults and neonates enter hibernation shortly after birth. Specifically, he tested if larger females in these populations produce larger neonates that are capable of surviving an extended period of hibernation, rather than more neonates as females get larger, as is the norm for most viviparous snakes. Neil's work constituted his Honor's Thesis and was be presented at the 9th Annual SC Upstate Research Symposium in April 2013. Neil is currently a Graduate Student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and the UTM Museum Curator Herpetologist.
Miwah Li, in collaboration with Rulon Clark and Shannon Hoss at San Diego State University, conducted an intensive research project centered on the social behavior of female neonate copperhead snakes. Specifically, the research team was interested in testing whether aggregation behavior in these animals is effected by genetic relationships (siblings) or by learning and imprinting. Using 27 randomly selected pairings of female neonate snakes, and with the assistant of infrared digital video cameras and recorders, they were able to determine that, contrary to what they expected, female sibling neonate copperheads do not prefer to group together. In fact, it is unrelated individuals that prefer to spend more time together. Miwah presented their research at the 9th Annual SC Upstate Research Symposium in April 2013.
In April 2013, Catherine Eason was awarded a SCICU (South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities) summer research grant to conduct research into copperhead genetics in Dr. Warren Booth's lab over the summer of 2013.
William Cornwell, Maria Davenport, Trevor Richards, and Caroline Sessions presented the results of their semester-long research entitled "Assessment Behavior in Neonates Copperhead Snakes is Correlated with Familiarity and Not Kinship" at the 2013 Wofford College Spring Undergraduate Research Symposium. Maria Davenport presented their research at the 50th Annual Conference of the Animal Behavior Society in Boulder, Colorado in July 2013.