The Truth is Powerful

What a room full of snakes can teach us about climate change

Among the most successful reptiles in North America, garter snakes thrive from the tropics to the edge of the Arctic. Photo by Oregon State University / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) This story was originally published by Atlas Obscura and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

Deep in the dimly lit recesses of Oregon State University’s Weniger Hall, more than 26,000 garter snakes lie in wait. Coiled and crammed into jar after jar of yellowing alcohol, this assemblage of pickled snakes is more than an ophidiophobe’s nightmare. Part of the university’s reptile and amphibian collection, this is the world’s largest assemblage of garter snakes. For several species, more specimens are housed here than in every museum in the world combined. This is no dusty collection of curiosities, however. For some researchers, the quest to better understand how animals will respond to our planet’s changing climate starts with the jars in Weniger Hall.

Garter snakes, a group of 30-plus species belonging to the genus Thamnophis , are found from Central America to the edge of the Canadian Arctic. Their widespread success, and a few quirks of their life cycle, make them ideal subjects to study how environmental changes affect […]

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