Life is Short but Snakes are Long

“Life is short but snakes are long.”

While some may recognize this as a quote from author David Quammen, it’s also the name of a place you can go to get some very cool information about snake natural history and herpetology research.

For instance, did you know that at least 15 species of spitting cobras in the genus Naja are capable of spitting their venom through the air as a defensive measure, and that some of them can aim “at targets the size of a human face with >90% accuracy up to 8 feet away”? Or that all 41 species of rattlesnakes are native to the Americas and are subject to “round-ups,” often rodeo-style, in many states? Or that the Aniliidae family contains just a single speciesAnilius scytale or the American pipesnake – and that it was illustrated by Maria Sibylla Merian, a remarkable woman best known for documenting the metamorphosis of insects? Or how about this one: Snakes have two penises. Yeah, go read more about that!

All of this information, and much, much more, is available on the blog Life is Short, but Snakes are Long. The mastermind behind that blog is Andrew M. Durso, a PhD student in the Biology department at Utah State University.

Studying snake and lizard ecology, physiology, and behavior, Andrew has been active in professional herpetology since high school. A fascination with the natural history of snakes, and a recognition of the need to education the public about snake and larger ecosystem conservation issues, compelled Andrew to start his blog as an outlet to share his research – research that is made significantly easier thanks to the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Andrew uses BHL weekly, reading pertinent titles online or downloading whole books or sections of books as part of his personal EndNote library. He’s even printed illustrations from BHL as decorative artworks for his home. These illustrations also often pop-up in his blog posts.

“I think BHL is one of the most important and useful resources online right now,” lauds Andrew. “Judging by how often I use it, I’d say it has an impact on my research commensurate with that of Google Scholar or Web of Science. It’s allowed me to discover and access literature that I would never have been aware of or have had access to otherwise.”

With such enthusiasm about accessing this literature on BHL, it’s no surprise that Andrew’s response to our question on what he would like to see improved on BHL was for us to add “more literature!” He also expressed a desire to see our scientific name finding tool and synonym harmonization continue to improve. As we implement multiple methods for improving our OCR (through projects such as Purposeful Gaming and Mining Biodiversity) and identifying the species in our illustrations (through Art of Life and Zooniverse), we expect to see the number of names recognized throughout BHL continually increasing.

Effective biodiversity research requires access to a multitude of natural history books and articles, but what if you had to single-out one title that had most impacted your research? Could you do it?

Andrew Durso can. Without question, his single-favorite item in BHL is Duméril, Bibron, and Duméril’s 1834-54 nine-volume masterpiece, Erpetologie Générale on Histoire Naturelle Compléte des Reptiles (which we profiled on our blog just a few weeks ago!).

“I have three prints on my living room wall from BHL’s copy of this book, and it includes some of the most gorgeous artwork I’ve ever seen,” affirms Andrew. “It is also the only book that contains more original descriptions of reptiles than Linnaeus’s Systema Naturae. This monumental work gives a comprehensive scientific account of all then-known amphibians and reptiles, including their anatomy, physiology, systematics, distribution, and associated literature. As such, it is one of the classical monuments of descriptive zoology.”

Be sure to check out Andrew’s blog for other awesome information about snakes and herpetology research! Do you use BHL to support your own research? Want to tell us about it? Send an email to!

Avatar for Grace Costantino
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Grace Costantino served as the Outreach and Communication Manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library from 2014 to 2021. In this capacity, she developed and managed BHL's communication strategy, oversaw social media initiatives, and engaged with the public to excite audiences about the wealth of biodiversity heritage available in BHL. Prior to her role as Outreach and Communication Manager, Grace served as the Digital Collections Librarian for Smithsonian Libraries and as the Program Manager for BHL.