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Spring 2018 Download Cover
Bentley

Student Participates in Pit Viper Conference

Even as a 5-year old boy Alex Bentley ’17 dreamed of becoming a herpetologist.

In June 2014, the Wofford student took advantage of an unusual opportunity to bring that dream closer.

With financial support from Wofford, Bentley joined several hundred scientists at the second Biology of Pit Vipers Conference (BOPV2) at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

Dr. Chuck Smith, assistant professor of biology at Wofford, made the opportunity possible. Under Smith’s guidance, Wofford has become known for its leadership in the study of pit vipers in the Southeast, and Spartanburg is now the home of the Copperhead Institute. The off-campus facility consists of two animal holding rooms, a temperature and humidity-controlled environmental chamber, a research laboratory, a behavioral laboratory and a facility for developing and testing field research equipment. It was Smith and his reputation that brought Bentley to Wofford.

“This conference was everything I hoped it would be and more,” says Bentley. “Dr. Smith offered me the job of moderating some of the presentation sessions, which allowed me to be noticed by some of the renowned herpetologists who participated.”

Bentley plans to continue his work with reptiles at Wofford and beyond.

“At the conference, I made connections that I certainly hope may lead to future opportunities. I also had a chance to participate in an unforgettable night ‘herping’ session,” he says. “I had never been walking in a natural environment like that of Oklahoma, and those observations definitely were enlightening.”

According to Bentley, most pit vipers in the American South fall either into Rattlesnake or Copperhead families, but even within species, there are fascinating variations.

“Evolutionary changes produce different venoms that seem specifically designed for specific predators or prey,” explains Bentley. “We also find pit vipers adapting over time to urbanization and closer contact with humans. Still, there are far more deaths from car accidents and gunshot wounds than snake bites.”

Bentley is the son of Dr. Michael L. Bentley and the Rev. Sunday E. Bentley of Salem, Va. A recipient of a Benjamin Wofford Scholarship, he was a 2008 Grand Prize Winner in “Snakes Alive,” a national photo-essay contest sponsored by the National Geographic Society.