Coffee Hour: Of Timber Rattlesnakes, Red Beds, and Groundwater: in Pursuit of the “Holy Grail”

Friday, April 15, 2016 - 3:30pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.



Photo: Michelle Herman     

About the talk

Biologists are known to spend inordinate amounts of time and resources seeking the animals they study. The endeavor becomes even more burdening when rare, imperiled or elusive species are targeted. An understanding of “where to look” is a critical first step in facilitating wildlife study and by extension, the protection of the targeted species or the specific environment critical to its survival. Snakes rarely come to mind when “species protection” is mentioned as no other vertebrate group is as feared, loathed or misunderstood. Some snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, do enjoy legal protection and protective measures often extended to their critical habitat(s). Overwintering sites occupied by snakes during the long, bitter winters typical of northern latitudes is by definition a critical habitat as survival in its absence is impossible. Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) in northcentral Pennsylvania spend nearly half of their lifetime in subterranean retreats to survive winters. Not surprisingly, overwintering sites are the focus of National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) driven studies when Timber Rattlesnake-occupied areas are proposed for development. Identifying overwintering sites in the absence of high-resolution studies is an important unsolved problem even when the desire and means to protect them arguably exists. The development of a GIS-based procedure designed for desktop identification of potential Timber Rattlesnake overwintering habitat in portions of the north central Appalachians is presented as a solution. Application of the procedure especially in consideration of the currently proposed “status” change for the Timber Rattlesnake in Pennsylvania may provide an invaluable critical habitat screening tool.

About the speaker

Gian RoccoGian Rocco is a research associate with Riparia and a fixed term research faculty member in the Department of Geography at Penn State. He earned a B.Sc. at the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, an Msc. at Central Michigan University, and a Ph.D. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science at Penn State. His research within the field of herpetology has focused on ethology, bioindicator development, conservation planning, and in general, how to minimize, manage, and counter the ever-growing problem of human impacts on amphibians and reptiles, the often-neglected, typically overlooked, and not infrequently, still-persecuted vertebrates.


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Angela Rogers   office: 814-863-4562  email:

Coffee Hour