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Gettin' Snakes Respect: USU Grad Student Blogs for Science Outreach

Thursday, Dec. 05, 2013

Andrew Durso
In his native North Carolina, USU doctoral student Andrew Durso holds a giant aquatic salamander known by locals as a 'hellbender.' Durso joins fellow scientists for a Dec. 9 blog carnival to promote snake conservation. Photo by Jeff Mette.
USU Science Unwrapped’s Blog Station
Aggie scientists increasingly use social media as a tool for science education, outreach and networking. USU Science Unwrapped's Blog Station at www.usu.edu/science provides links to many blogs authored by USU students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Snakes are a ‘Rodney Dangerfield’ of the animal kingdom. They don’t get the respect they deserve, according to Utah State University graduate student and avid herpetology blogger Andrew Durso.


Often vilified in popular media – think “Snakes on a Plane” or “Anaconda” – many people are afraid of the reptiles and view them as dangerous pests.


“But snakes provide valuable ecosystem services that greatly benefit humans and other species,” says Durso, a doctoral candidate in USU’s Department of Biology and the USU Ecology Center. “For one, they eat small mammals such as mice and help to keep those populations in check.”


To dispel negative perceptions of the reptile, Durso and fellow bloggers around the globe plan a ‘blog carnival’ Monday, Dec. 9, to educate the public about the slithery creatures and promote reptile and amphibian conservation. During that day, the authors will post snake articles to their respective blogs and tweet about snake ecosystem services using the hashtag #SnakesatyourService.


“As scientists, we’re realizing the power of social media for effective science education and outreach,” says Durso, who started his blog “Life is Short, But Snakes are Long” just a few years ago.


Doubtful he’d attract much of an audience, Durso soon garnered hundreds of readers. To his surprise, Scientific American, a leading science journal with a worldwide audience of millions, featured his site as a 2012 “Guest Blog.”


In addition to Durso, scientists participating in the Dec. 9 blog carnival include David Steen of Virginia Tech, author of Living Alongside Wildlife; Heidi Smith of the University of Texas at Austin, author of Nature Afield; Emily Taylor of California Polytechnic Institute, author of Ophidiophilia; Mark Scherz of Munich, Germany’s Ludwig-Maximilian University, author of The Traveling Taxonomist; Melissa Amarello of Arizona State University, author of Social Snakes; Bree Putman of San Diego State University, author of Strike, Rattle and Roll and Jodi Rowley, author of the Australian Museum’s News Blog.


The inaugural blog carnival, which the participants hope to repeat in future years, was inspired by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s 2013 Year of the Snake conservation initiative.


“We think reptiles and amphibians, as well as our audience, have much to gain from this event,” says Durso, who studies snake ecology with faculty advisor Alan Savitzky, professor and head of USU’s Department of Biology. “We hope our efforts will spark sustained interest and discussion.”


Related Links

“Accidental Communicator: USU Scientist Building Broad Cyber Audience,” Utah State Today 

USU Department of Biology 

USU Ecology Center 

USU College of Science 


Contact: Andrew Durso, 919-349-7967, amdurso@gmail.com

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu


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