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UWC citizen science study reveals valuable new info on snake diets

Since August 2015, researchers at the campus have been gathering images of feeding reptiles via a group they started on social media platform, Facebook.

Picture: Pexels

CAPE TOWN - A University of the Western Cape (UWC) citizen science study has yielded new information about reptile diets.

Since August 2015, researchers at the campus have been gathering images of feeding reptiles via a group they started on social media platform, Facebook.

They discovered that 75% of the predator-prey relationships reported via the page were completely new to science in this field.

UWC's Dr Bryan Maritz, from the Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, said that understanding the diets of reptiles, in particular snakes, was quite important for scientists.

"As predators, what snakes eat really dictates how they influence ecosystems. The other reason of course is that several species of snakes are quite dangerously venomous and have implications for snake bites in humans. Many of those venoms are actually driven by the kinds of prey that those snakes are eating, so venom biochemistry is strongly influenced by what snakes eat."

Maritz said that while an average of only 23 individual feeding records were recorded per year for the last century, this new method yielded about 200 per year.

"The problem is that studying snake diets is quite difficult because very few people see snakes feeding in the wild and what this project really does is yes we know that it's difficult to study snakes but you can harness enormous observational power by using social media to gain these observations and incorporate them into the scientific process."

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