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The Viper Leaves

by Brandon LaBumbard

One of Brandon's field sites in Peru

Like many of us, I once thought that plants were just the backdrop for observing wildlife. There were times where I would stop and observe the plants around me (outside of botany classes) but I really only focused on a few types of plants - flowers, pines, and ferns.

Frogs Brandon studied in Peru (Hypsiboas gladiator)

My plant story that changed my mind happened in Peru, catching frogs, for my Master’s degree research. We were always told to look out for pit vipers (Bothrops) because they love to eat frogs, and as such, would be found in the areas we were looking for frogs. I saw an amazing little frog sitting on a leaf and when I went to grab it, I felt a sharp shooting pain in my hand. I screamed, thinking I had been bitten by a snake. Soon I realized it was actually the plant I had grabbed, and I noticed the cute little stinging hairs on the leaves. It only hurt for a few minutes, but the memory will last a while.

It was a huge relief that I hadn’t been bitten by a pit viper. You think plants are passive, just swaying in the breeze, and in just a matter of seconds I was stung, bringing a realization once and for all, that plants are not just a backdrop for animal viewing enjoyment.

Brandon LaBumbard is a herpetologist and PhD student at UMass Boston, studying amphibian disease. You can see more of his fab photos on instagram at frogz4dayz, and on twitter @b_labumbard.


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