BioPark Herpetologists Search for Rare Native Snakes

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An endangered narrow-headed garter snake. Photo courtesy of Doug Hotle.

BioPark Herpetologists Search for Rare Native Snakes

Jun 7, 2011

GILA MOUNTAINS, NM— ABQ BioPark herpetologists recently completed an eight-day search for the Mexican garter snake (Thamnophis eques megalops) with help from the N.M. Department of Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The trip began an intense conservation program aimed at protecting and understanding native New Mexican reptiles and amphibians.


The group set up drift fences with humane traps to capture the snakes and organized day and night visual searches. As part of an ongoing study by state herpetologist Charlie Painter, every snake caught would be microchipped for future identification and fecal samples would be taken to better understand the snake’s diet. Any caught snakes on the conservation list would be transferred to the Zoo to create a breeding population. Despite the group’s efforts, no Mexican garter snakes were captured.

“The Mexican garter snake hasn’t been seen in New Mexico for almost 20 years,” said Doug Hotle, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians. “It’s an aquatic snake, and we’re in the worst drought in New Mexico’s history. It was understandable we didn’t find anything.”

The group did collect a pair of narrow-headed garter snakes, another threatened species in New Mexico. BioPark herpetologists will search for the Mexican garter snake again next month using the already-installed drift fences.  “I’d like to think they still exist,” Hotle said. “You always want to hold out hope for rare species.”

The species conservation program gives BioPark herpetologists a chance to understand and protect rare New Mexican reptiles and amphibians. The program focuses on conserving six species, including the Mexican garter snake, sand dune lizard, northern leopard frog, Sacramento Mountains salamander and Jemez Mountains salamander. More excursions will be scheduled to find, study and collect assurance populations of each species.

The trip was made possible by a grant from the New Mexico BioPark Society Conservation Fund. BioPark herpetologists will also seek grants from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the N.M. Department of Game and Fish.

The BioPark is an accessible facility and a division of the City of Albuquerque’s Cultural Services Department. For more information, visit or call 311 locally or (505) 768-2000 (Relay NM or 711).

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