Conservation research for the Martinican pit viper

Conservation research for the Martinican pit viper

Biotope Amazonia-Caribbean - September 2013

The Martinican pit viper (Bothrops lanceolatus) is endemic to the island of Martinique. Present over the entire island, it is concentrated in the forests and mountains in the wetter, more pristine, northern parts of the island. This emblematic species faces mounting pressures on its survival. Its ongoing conservation is a high priority for Martinique.

In light of this situation, Martiniques’ ministry, the DEAL, have entrusted Biotope’s Amazonia-Caribbean branch with a research project on the state of Bothrops lanceolatus populations.

This initiative, featuring several phases, has resulted in the following conservation measures:

  • Proposals for priority species conservation sites (modelling of niche and distribution patterns);
  • Proposal for IUCN conservation status of Bothrops lanceolatus to be placed in the ‘Vulnerable’ category and a request for a review of its regulatory protection status;
  • Proposal for a long term monitoring program to evaluate the effects of conservation measures.

The illustration below is of tissue sampling on a Martinican pit viper. A third of the Bothrop’s length is held in a PVC tube whose diameter is slightly wider than that of its body. This precautionary measure reduces any risks. Using fine scissors, four to five ventral scales are removed and preserved in 95% proof alcohol for genetic analyses. The snake is released after the procedure.

Manipulation d’un Trigonocéphale pour un prélèvement de tissu - Crédits : Nathalie Dewynter


To determine if several historically distinct genetic groups of Martinican pit vipers comprise the populations of this species, nine biopsies were undertaken from live and preserved specimens obtained from the ONF (National Forestry Office) in Martinique. The samples were sent to the University of Basel (Sylvain Ursenbacher) and the results indicated an absence of distinct genetic groupings at the island scale. As a result, in terms of conservation, a single genetic group was identified. Updates on the project over the coming years will be provided.

This type of conservation work, combining research, GIS modelling and scientific data analyses, marshals Biotope’s collaborators motivated by nature conservation.

Le serpent trigonocéphale (Bothrops lanceolatus) - Crédits : Nathalie Dewynter