Efficacy of an online native snake identification search engine for public use

Scott E. Henke, Samantha S. Kahl, David B. Wester, Gad Perry, David Britton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Visual methods of species identification are used both in research and recreational contexts because they are inexpensive, non-invasive, and believed to be effective among uniquely identifiable individuals. We examined the ability of the general public to identify live snakes (Serpentes) that are native to the United States using an online snake identification search engine (SISE) produced by the North America Brown Tree Snake Control Team (NABTSCT) website, http://www.nabtsct.net. The SISE consisted of participants answering 7 descriptive questions concerning a snake and then reviewing photographs of snakes that matched that description. Using 3 species of snakes native to Texas, USA, 21% of 395 participants were able to correctly identify all of the snakes using the online SISE, 54% correctly identified 2 snakes, 18% correctly identified 1 snake, and only 7% could not identify any snakes. Participants identified the distinctly marked checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus) more readily (87% of participants) than the gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) and Trans-Pecos rat snake (Bogertophis subocularis; 55% and 46% of participants, respectively). The probability of participants correctly identifying a snake using the online SISE increased substantially if ≥ 4 of the 7 descriptive questions were answered correctly. The age of participants and affinity toward snakes affected participant ability to correctly answer questions about snake morphology and identify snakes. In general, participants who displayed fear of snakes were less likely to correctly identify snake species than those who expressed a snakeneutral or enthusiast attitude. Additionally, younger participants performed better, on average, than older participants. Most participants (97%) claimed they would be able to use the online SISE to correctly identify other snakes in the future. We believe the public can use the online SISE to identify snakes, and hence, it can be an educational tool for the public to learn about an often neglected wildlife suborder.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-307
Number of pages18
JournalHuman-Wildlife Interactions
Volume13
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2019

Keywords

  • Bogertophis subocularis
  • Internet
  • Native snake species
  • Pituophis catenifer
  • Search engine
  • Serpentes
  • Snake identification
  • Taxonomic key
  • Thamnophis marcianus
  • United States

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