Melissa Amarello, Co-founder, Executive Director
Melissa’s lifelong fascination with snakes led her to work on a variety of projects on natural history and conservation of reptiles in Arizona, California, and Mexico. After witnessing how negative attitudes can stifle conservation efforts, she incorporated education and outreach into her research to foster appreciation for snakes by sharing stories and videos of their behavior in the field. In the spring of 2014 she co-founded Advocates for Snake Preservation (ASP) with Jeff Smith, to change how people view and treat snakes. In 2017 they received the Jarchow Conservation Award for commitment and creativity in studying snake behaviors and tireless and continuous efforts to use scientific knowledge to advocate for snake conservation through outreach and social activism. Melissa received her B.S. in wildlife, watershed, and rangeland resources at the University of Arizona and her M.S. in biology at Arizona State University, where she studied rattlesnake social behavior.
Jeff Smith, Co-founder, Director of Research
Jeff has an abiding curiosity about small creatures in their natural environments. Although the rules of survival seem straightforward, the ways to survive are fascinating and complex, and these ways are illustrated by organisms every day. He hopes that, by illuminating the secret lives of snakes, people will come to admire and appreciate them and their place in nature. In 2017 he received the Jarchow Conservation Award with Melissa Amarello for commitment and creativity in studying snake behaviors and tireless and continuous efforts to use scientific knowledge to advocate for snake conservation through outreach and social activism. Jeff earned his B.A. in Biology and Spanish from Rice University and an M.S. in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona.
Board of Directors
Steve Marlatt, Chair
Steve’s passion for snakes began in college, when a wildlife professor happened to bring in a few animals and enlightened the class as to how unique, amazing, and misunderstood they truly are. He was instantly hooked! During his 26 years of teaching middle school science, snakes became an integral part of his curriculum. He has found that while many adults already have a fear and loathing of snakes, that is not an established perception in young people and they are fascinated and receptive to finding out more about them. Throughout the years, his students learned their traits, behaviors, diets, care, and how they were all individuals. Steve is also a founding board member of Gray Hawk Nature Center, which has introduced and educated thousands of students to the amazing world of snakes. He has a BS degree in Wildlife Management and a MA in Education from New Mexico State University.
Jesús A. Rivas, PhD, Vice-Chair
Jesús A. Rivas is a wildlife biologist who has been studying snakes for more than 30 years. He was born in Venezuela where he got an undergraduate degree and then came to the US to obtain a PhD in snake ethology. His research interests include snake natural history, ethology, and conservation. Most of his experience has been with Green Anacondas in various locations of South America but he has also done a lot of work in the southwestern US where he now lives. His recent projects are related to the effects of invasive species on the community of small animals in the Mora River in New Mexico.
Emily Taylor, PhD, Secretary
Emily Taylor is a Professor of Biological Sciences at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California, where she has been teaching and mentoring students in field-based environmental physiology research for 15 years. She fell in love with snakes as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, where she conducted research on the Baja California rattlesnake and wrote the senior thesis for her English major on the representation of the serpent in the Bible. She next got her PhD in Biological Sciences at Arizona State University studying proximate mechanisms responsible for sexual size dimorphism in rattlesnakes. Emily keeps busy teaching classes ranging from herpetology to medical endocrinology, conducting research on lizards and snakes with her students, co-authoring an introductory biology textbook, and most recently, starting a consulting business called Central Coast Snake Services where she helps people on the California Central Coast solve problems with rattlesnakes on their properties. Emily is passionate about her dogs, beekeeping, beer and wine, traveling, and anything to do with snakes, especially rattlesnakes.
Gordon M. Burghardt, PhD
Gordon Burghardt has been in love with snakes since early childhood, when he caught and kept Common Gartersnakes and especially Butler’s Gartersnakes. Indeed, one of his nicknames in grade school was snakes (also professor, also prescient). Although he has kept and studied many animals, especially reptiles of all kinds, snakes are his favorites. He is also interested in how snakes and other reptiles develop throughout their lives, particularly from birth or hatching, and much of his work has focused on the development of feeding, social, and antipredator behavior in snakes as well as sexual dimorphism, genetics, conservation, sensory processes, learning, and mating systems, and enriching the lives of captive reptiles. Gordon received his S.B and Ph.D. degrees in Biopsychology from the University of Chicago and currently is Alumni Distinguished Service Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee. He is on the editorial board of Herpetologica and Herpetological Monographs, author of many articles and chapters, and editor, co-editor, author or co-author of several books, including Iguanas of the World: Their Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation and the forthcoming second edition of Health and Welfare of Captive Reptiles and Secret Societies: The Social Lives of Reptiles.