For Rhett Rautsaw Ph.D. ’22, it was a means to an end. To complete his doctoral research — exploring whether the evolutionary theory of character displacement (when two species live in the same area and evolve to avoid competing over resources such as food) extended to pit viper venom — he needed to know where each pit viper species lived.
There was one problem. There was no comprehensive source of that information readily available. So he created VenomMaps, a database and web application containing updated distribution maps and niche models for all 158 pit viper species living in North, Central and South America. While Rautsaw needed the information for his evolutionary biology research, the maps provide vital information for conservation efforts, citizen scientists and medical professionals.
“Pit vipers [which include rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths] are responsible for more than 98 percent of snake bites in North, Central and South America,” Rautsaw said. “Having accurate species distributions is critical because snake venom can vary tremendously between and within a single species.”
The publicly accessible app is best viewed on a desktop computer at rhettrautsaw.app/shiny/VenomMaps.