Evaluating Snake Density Using Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) Telemetry and Spatial Capture-Recapture Analyses for Linear Habitats

Wendy Leuenberger, Allison G. Davis, Jennifer M. McKenzie, Andrea N. Drayer, Steven J. Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Many snake species are elusive and difficult to study in field settings. As such, little is known about their population ecology despite conservation needs for many species. Advances in field techniques and statistical methods can improve our understanding of snake ecology. We used passive integrated transponder (PIT) telemetry to track Nerodia sipedon (Northern Watersnakes, n = 94) and Regina septemvittata (Queensnakes, n = 119) in six low-order streams in central Kentucky, USA from June to October 2016. We assessed snake density, spatial scale of detection, and detection probability using PIT tag relocations and spatial capture-recapture methods for linear habitats. Specifically, we modeled population density as a function of individual stream and land cover type, spatial scale of detection as a function of sex, and detection probability as a function of sex and time-varying covariates. Individual streams were a better predictor of snake density than land cover type; density estimates ranged from 6 ± 3 N. sipedon/km (mean ± standard error) to 107 ± 17 N. sipedon/km and 6 ± 5 R. septemvittata/km to 63 ± 10 R. septemvittata/km. Female R. septemvittata had a larger spatial scale of detection (55 ± 4 m) than male R. septemvittata snakes (40 ± 4 m). Spatial scale of detection did not differ between sexes for N. sipedon (females: 40 ± 4 m; males: 35 ± 3 m). The combination of PIT telemetry and spatial capture-recapture analyses can effectively estimate population densities and other population parameters for snakes and other reptiles and amphibians associated with linear habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-281
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Herpetology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments.—We thank M. Bandy, J. Hutton, M. Lambert, J. Matthews, S. Peters, and B. Slusher for their assistance with fieldwork. Funding for this project was provided by the National Geographic Society, Chicago Herpetological Society, Kentucky Academy of Sciences Marcia Athey Grant, The Wildlife Society—Kentucky Chapter, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists’ Gaige Award, the University of Kentucky Eller and Billings Student Research Award, and the Kentucky Society of Natural History Student Research Grant. The Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Kentucky, and the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program (accession number 1001968) also provided financial support. All protocols were carried out with approval of the University of Kentucky Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (identification number 2013-1073).

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2019 Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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