This is the fifth post in this new series from SSAR! Our members often join SSAR to learn more about the organisms that fascinate them. Each month, we are excited to profile the herpetological interests of one of our community members and to feature their focal amphibian or reptile species/system.
Featured SSAR member: Rick Shine
What is your study species (or species group) and why is it interesting?
I have worked on many species of reptiles and amphibians—but mostly on snakes and on invasive cane toads, in Australia. I never met a herp species I didn’t like, but some fascinate me more than others. At the moment I am in the Pacific nation of New Caledonia, on my 16th annual trip for a mark-recapture and general ecological study of the sea snakes that live there. The challenges involved in the transition from the land to the sea make sea snakes a particularly fascinating group of reptiles. And snorkeling on coral reefs makes for very pleasant fieldwork!
What is it about this species that you study?
Sea snakes have attracted so little ecological and behavioural research, because it’s difficult to study animals underwater! But I managed to find some sites where these snakes are common and easy to study, so I have tried to take advantage of that opportunity by looking at many aspects of the lives of these creatures. That’s included conventional ecology (diets, habitat use, etc.) reproductive biology (mating systems), and conservation issues (why are sea snakes declining over so much of their former range?). We have even looked at why most of the Turtle-Headed Sea Snakes in inshore (polluted) bays are black not banded; we think it’s because the melanin in their skin binds to heavy-metal contaminants, so that the snakes can expel more pollutants from their bodies when they shed their skins.
Who are you, how did you get where you are, and what’s your story?
I was born in Australia, and have always been fascinated by herps. I’ve spent most of my career in Oz, primarily at the University of Sydney and as a research-only professor for quite a lot of that time. I recently transferred across to Macquarie Uni (which is also in Sydney) to another research position. I’ve had the enormous privilege of spending my professional life working with the animals that most excite me.
Why are you a member of SSAR?
I have been a member of all three major US herp societies for about 40 years, and I was president of SSAR for the last couple of years (2017 and 2018). SSAR has given me terrific opportunities to meet with my colleagues—both younger and older—and to share our knowledge and enthusiasm. Most members of the general public don’t have a passion for herps, and it’s a great experience to spend time with people who share my obsessions. Membership of the SSAR has been a boon for my career, and a hell of a lot of fun as well.