A Clemson University Ph.D. student is looking for some local help for a research project on Eastern kingsnakes.
This spring, Bryan Hudson began Urban Kings, a citizen science project to track kingsnakes in counties north of Atlanta, where he is engaging the public and using data gathered over the next three years with the help of individuals to study the area’s snake population as the human population grows.
“In terms of things like snakes, a roadway or a parking lot or a lot of apartment buildings, when you start to compile all of that into the actual acreage that it covers, it can really negatively affect wildlife populations and especially things that we consider dispersal-limited, such as small-bodied organisms like lizards, for example,” Hudson said.
Hudson said roadways, in particular, can cause issues for smaller animals since they have issues crossing to the other side.
“If it confines their movement by fragmenting the landscape, it’s also going to fragment how they spread their genes, how they interact with each other, the sociality behind them,” Hudson said. “The whole structure of the community of organisms can change if we take a landscape and break it up.”
Snakes can be a tricky research subject as they like to hide and many people are not fans of them, but Hudson said he decided on kingsnakes because they are easy to identify and have a better reputation than some other species.
“These are really the ones that if you blindly ask people that know anything about snakes, even if they hate all snakes, they say, ‘Well, kingsnakes are the ones that I do want to keep around,’” Hudson said. “The backbone of that statement would be the natural history fact that kingsnakes do like to eat venomous snakes as well as all the other prey items for snakes, being rats and kind of the small mammal community.”
Another reason for studying kingsnakes is the population in general is decreasing but seems to be going up in the metro Atlanta area. Hudson said once the information is compiled, future researchers can look at the data to determine whether the local population is increasing or decreasing.
“We want to see why that is,” he said. “It could mean that maybe that kingsnakes will eventually be a common species in our future urban landscape or there are patterns that we can’t see yet because we don’t have enough data and kingsnakes are actually in trouble and urbanization is, in fact, negatively impacting the snakes.”
Hudson pointed out that they are using public input but will not be removing, relocating or killing snakes. Dead snakes may be collected to do genetic testing, and some live snakes will be collected to be implanted with a radio tracking device at the University of Georgia before being returned to where they were found.
“Over time, if we have enough points, enough data from kingsnakes in the area, we can statistically exactly say what about urbanization, whether it hinders or helps these kingsnake populations, and we can draw from that data sort of a conclusion about what might be occurring now versus what might happen if we know sort of the rates of urbanization that is to occur in the future,” Hudson said.
Hudson is also undertaking a study on pine snakes, which he said are located in north Forsyth and “one of the rarest vertebrate animal on the east coast.” He said the species has only been reported 17 times in Georgia, not all of which were credible.
“The cool thing is they still exist in Forsyth County,” he said. “Just last year, I had an individual call me and send me a picture of one that was in his yard, and it just blew my mind. It’s such a rare and amazing animal that people have no idea even exists.”
Those with information on kingsnakes can contact Hudson at (404) 556-1863 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Samantha Kennett at (678) 315-2020 or email@example.com, and information on pine snakes can be sent to Hudson or Zach Felix, who can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at Facebook.com/UrbanKingsProject and Facebook.com/ProjectPineSnake.