LA Zoo uses innovative methods to breed a rare viper

Armenian viper

The Los Angeles Zoo has employed some strange new equipment in their efforts to breed the rare Armenian viper.

Two clutches of this snake have been born at the zoo with a total of eight snakes born. Unlike other snakes that hatch from eggs these snakes were born live on July 13 and 16 at the Living Amphibians, Reptiles and Invertebrates (LAIR) exhibit.

“Armenian vipers are difficult to reproduce in captivity because they come from a mountainous environment which has snow on the ground for a good part of the year,” explained Ian Recchio, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians at the Los Angeles Zoo. “In order to get them to reproduce here in sunny Los Angeles, we had to replicate a harsh Armenian winter which is close to freezing.”

So how does one recreate an Armenian winter which may fall to -5oC in sunny California? Weirdly enough the answer was a refrigerator specifically a scientific fridge normally used to store pharmaceuticals. The zoos four adult vipers were placed into the fridge so they could brumate ( a process which is like hibernation) for six months.

Armenian viper

Once the snakes emerged from their six month freeze the next step in this unique courtship could begin. Both males met both females going head-to-head in a wrestling match to win courting rights for the females.

“This was the first time we had the chance to house the vipers in near-freezing temperatures in the scientific refrigerator and let the males engage in combat,” said Recchio. “We had a specific plan, and once all of the individual parts came into place we were able to reproduce this interesting viper. I fully believe the positive results were due to creating a habitat that mimics the species’ environment in the wild.”

In their native Armenia this species is near threatened. They can also be found in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran. The Los Angeles Zoo and the Saint Louis Zoo run a Species Survival Program (SSP) which aims to save this species. Their population has decreased 80% over the past 40 years.

Currently the young vipers are on display in the Care and Conservation room at LAIR.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Zoo

By Cale Russell is a testament to Cale’s commitment to the education of people around the world on the topic of animals and conservation, through the sharing of topical and newsworthy information.

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