The Embeddedness of a North American Snake in the Wildlife Pet Trade and the Production of Assemblage Biogeographies

J. Anthony Stallins, Lauren Kelley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The wildlife pet trade has the potential to threaten the viability of free-ranging animal populations. Yet there are potential benefits from the informal biological knowledge produced by breeders and caretakers for these taxa. How the evolution of a species shapes and is shaped by its embeddedness in the unique and changeable spatialities of the pet trade is also of relevance. To convey these points, we invoke materialist approaches from human geography to construct an assemblage biogeography for hognose snakes (Heterodon spp.), one of several North American reptiles in the pet trade. Mixed methods delineated what aspects of hognose biology facilitate their trade, what social and economic sites define their commercialization, and how the snake's natural history is dynamically embedded within them. Interviews with breeders, participatory observations at reptile shows, and content analysis of herpetological Web sites indicated that one of three species of Heterodon, western hognose (H. nasicus), has characteristics desired by breeders and pet owners. Its smaller size, less dramatic displays of bluff aggression, variability in color, and flexible diet make it more suitable than eastern or southern hognose. The contingencies of dispersal and speciation leading to these life history traits for western hognose are embedded within transitory social networks of breeders operating under sharply contrasting state wildlife regulations. Although contextual, these legal asymmetries and situational social arrangements bootstrap the international trade in hognose. They demarcate a self-organizing horizontal assemblage with the potential to crowdsource production of information and skills of value for conserving a growing number of endangered organisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-436
Number of pages20
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2013


  • assemblage
  • evolution
  • pets
  • reptiles
  • scale
  • wildlife trade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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