Awesome Snake Science!

Do you know what an ophiologist is? After you read today's featured book, Awesome Snake Science! 40 Activities for Learning About Snakes by Cindy Blobaum, you might want to become one yourself! 

What is an ophiologist? As you probably have guessed, unlike a herpetologist, who studies amphibians and reptiles, an ophiologist is a person who specializes in the study of snakes.

Why would anyone study snakes?  Snakes are fascinating (yet also sometimes feared creatures) that deserve further study. They can be important predators of pests like mice, rats, insects and slugs. Researchers are finding new medical uses for snake venom. Understanding snakes helps keep people safe from the venomous ones. Studying snakes helps us understand our natural world. The list goes on and on.

Do you need live snakes to do the activities from this book? No, Blobaum has created scientifically-relevant activities that can be done with items from around the home, although they beg to be supplemented by a trip to a zoo to see some live specimens. For example, learning how to estimate the length of a snake lying on the ground is something snake scientists must do in the field quickly and accurately. In Blobaum's "Snake Survey" activity, snake stand-ins like lengths of yarn and belts to help children learn the estimating, measuring and data-collecting skills that can definitely be applied in the real world.

Other activities sure to appeal to children include making foldable fangs, creating a model of snakes' eyes, investigating snake venom using an enzyme found in pineapple, and creating a bad odor to mimic snake defensive compounds. These are fabulous for the young hands-on learner.

Although I only have highest praise for the text in the book, I should mention that the photographs used to illustrate the activities are not printed in color like the vibrant cover. Some of the photographs are too dark to be really effective. It was probably done to reduce printing costs, which is unfortunate because the rest of the book is so good.

Awesome Snake Science! is an amazing book that sets a new standard for how hands-on science should be done. It is sure to appeal to budding scientists, particularly those interested in becoming ophiologists. 🙂

Our own learning adventures, inspired by the book:

Snake Identification Activity

Snakes can be hard to identify because you often only catch a glimpse of one slithering by, because many species are camouflaged, or because they may mimic other species that are well-defended. The good news is that these days there are Internet sites and even apps to help with snake identification.

Let's figure out which of the following photographs is of a Sonoran gopher snake, a desert king snake and a desert blind snake using the Discover Life snake identification guide.

First of all, these snakes are all from western North America (Arizona to be exact).

A.

Make a guess which of the three snakes this might be.

Click on the Discover Life snake identification guide. Select the following choices (I provided the choices because they may not be visible in the photograph. Feel free to modify them.)

1. Body bottom color: other

2. Body bottom pattern: solid

3. Body color: solid

4. Scales:  smooth

5. Divided? don't check box

6. Range:  North American West

Now hit one of the "search" buttons on the far right side

You should see matches come up in the column on the left side. Click on your guess for which snake it is (hopefully it will be in the list) and check the photographs to see if it matches. If not, try one of the other names. Remember, snakes can vary a lot in color, so look other characteristics, too.

B.

Click in the top menu to "restart"

Which snake is this?

1. Body bottom color: other

2. Body bottom pattern: blotches

3. Body color: spots

4. Scales:  smooth

5. Divided? don't check box

6. Range:  North American West

This time only one of the names will probably come up in the list on the left. See if this snake matches.

C.

If all went well, there's only one name left. Let's see what kind of snake this is.

Characteristics:

1. Body bottom color: white

2. Body bottom pattern: solid color

3. Body color: spots

4. Scales:  keeled strongly

5. Divided? don't check box

6. Range:  North American West

Skip all the rattlesnakes, because it doesn't have a rattle on its tail.

How did you do?

See answers below the ad for the book.

Even more about snakes for kids:

All about snakes at the San Diego Zoo.

Check out our previous post with more information and activities about snakes, including a snake craft

Looking for a science fair project idea? Dragonfly TV has a show about a snake experiment testing snake senses. Caution for sensitive types: the video shows a dead mouse being immersed in water.

Reading level: Ages 9 and up
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (July 1, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1569768072
ISBN-13: 978-1569768075

The copy reviewed was purchased.

Answers to snake identification:  A. desert blind snake B. Sonoran king snake C. desert gopher snake

More books for kids about snakes:

Verdi by Janell Cannon - Lovely fiction picture book to pair with nonfiction

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 56 pages
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books; 1st edition (April 1, 1997)
ISBN-10: 0152010289
ISBN-13: 978-0152010287

Nonfiction:

Snakes by Seymour Simon

Reading level: Ages 6 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (March 13, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0061140953
ISBN-13: 978-0061140952

The Snake Scientist (Scientists in the Field Series) by Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop (Photographer)

Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Sandpiper; None edition (February 26, 2001)
ISBN-10: 0618111190
ISBN-13: 978-0618111190

Garter Snake at Willow Creek Lane (Smithsonian's Backyard Book) by Janet Halfmann and illustrated by Anne Wertheim

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Soundprints; First Edition edition (June 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1607272083
ISBN-13: 978-1607272083

Snakes by Gail Gibbons

Reading level: Ages 7 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Holiday House; Reprint edition (June 10, 2010)
ISBN-10: 082342300X
ISBN-13: 978-0823423002

National Geographic Readers: Snakes! by Melissa Stewart

Reading level: Ages 5 and up
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books (April 14, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1426304285
ISBN-13: 978-1426304286

Snakes of the World Coloring Book by Jan Sovak

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Paperback: 48 pages
Publisher: Dover Publications (March 30, 1995)
ISBN-10: 0486284719
ISBN-13: 978-0486284712

Nic Bishop Snakes by Nic Bishop

Reading level: Ages 4 and up
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Nonfiction (October 1, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0545206383
ISBN-13: 978-0545206389

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

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