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Snakes Alive!

Originally appears in the Winter 2017 issue

SAKES (OR SNAKES) ALIVE! is an old idiom meaning ‘surprise’, which is the emotion that most people experience when they unexpectedly see a live snake in the wild. Snakes on exhibit and snake programs have always drawn the public’s attention. Park rangers report that live snake programs are always well attended and draw a very bi-modal clientele – people who love snakes and people who hate snakes, making presentations especially challenging. It is likely that your grandparents and maybe your parents and maybe even you were raised with the notion that ‘The Only Good Snake is a Dead Snake.’ We’re out to prove that mantra wrong!

Our Snakes Alive! summer program for high school students teaches students about snake identification, anatomy, ecology, and behavior while building empathy for snakes. Although it was designed for informal science educators we believe that it is a program that can be implemented by high school biology and ecology teachers. This article advises educators on how to implement the week-long program which is available on The Herp Project website.

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Ann Berry Somers is a Senior Lecturer in Biology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. Ann holds leadership positions in several herpetological organizations. Catherine E. Matthews is Professor Emerita of K-12 Science & Environmental Education at the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She has worked with herpetology education for over three decades. Both authors are award winning teachers who have worked together for over twenty years. The authors would like to thank former UNCG student Courtney Anderson and all other Student Research Assistants for Snakes for their support and ideas over the years. They also thank the National Science Foundation for the informal science education grant (DRL-1114558) that made this project possible.


1. Gibbons, J. W. & Dorcas, M. (2005). Snakes of the Southeast. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
2. Somers, A.B., Matthews, C., Huffing, L. & Anderson, C. (2015). The Snakes Project Curriculum. Available online at
3. Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods: saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
4. Gibbons, J. W. (1983). Their Blood Runs Cold: Adventures with Reptiles and Amphibians. University of Alabama Press.
5. Beane, J., Braswell, A., Mitchell, J. & Palmer, W. (2010). Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia (2nd ed.). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

6. LaVere, A. & A.B. Somers (2015). Build It And They Will Come: Miracle Brush Piles. pile-fact-sheet.pdf
7. Tomasek, T., Matthews, C. & Hall, J. (2005). What’s Slithering Around on Your School Grounds? The American Biology Teacher, 67 (7), 419 – 425.
8. App download
9. Carolina Herp Atlas
10. Herpmapper
11. iNaturalist