Northwestern student, biology professor receive more than $2,200 for summer research

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Northwestern student, biology professor receive more than $2,200 for summer research

After the semester at Northwestern Oklahoma State University ends in May, Anjeela Shrestha, a Nepalese junior, will begin research on “Mimicry in allopatry: The long-nosed snake as a coral snake mimic,” with help from a $2,272 grant from the Oklahoma Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCOR).

Shrestha will team up with Dr. Aaron Place, associate professor of biology, to conduct a research project with the objective to determine if the coral snake-like pattern of the long-nosed snake prevents predation by birds that may experience coral snakes in other portions of their yearly range.

To test the hypothesis, Shrestha will create clay models that look like long-nosed snakes and brown snakes. Mimicry occurs when a palatable organism prevents predation by looking like a dangerous or unpalatable species. This experiment will determine if mimicry provides protection to the long-nosed snake.

The biology major has taken Place’s animal mimicry class and said she has always wanted to explore the topic more because she finds it very interesting. She approached Place about working on a research project, and by combining their interests they came up with this idea and applied for the grant.

“This is my first research project as an undergrad, so obviously I will get to experience various aspects of research like the process (how is it done, written), how to cope with problems that might come up during the process and so on,” Shrestha said.

“Secondly, I will have better knowledge about the topic, and along with knowledge and experience I will have more confidence to help me in my future researches.”

Long-nose snakes are non-venomous, typically harmless snakes that exhibit a body color pattern strikingly similar to the western coral snake. These snakes live in the desert southwest of the United States.

Shrestha and Place hypothesize that if avian predators avoid coral snake patterns, that the long-nosed snake models will have fewer talon and beak impressions than the solid brown control models.

“When birds or mammals attack the clay models their beak, talon and tooth marks are left behind as a record for Angeela to determine what animal attacked which models,” Place said.

“If our hypothesis is supported we will see more avian attacks on the brown models than the long-nose snake models.”

If the long-nose snake models are depredated on less than the brown control snakes a second series of experiments will be undertaken to rule out decreased predation due to disruptive coloration. The same models will be placed on white paper background and on a natural background. If the birds are truly avoiding the color pattern, models on the white background will not be attacked.

Fifty replicas of each type of snake will be used and checked on every four days. After recording data, the models will be moved to another location.

Shrestha was involved in writing portions of this grant proposal and read several key papers in order to make valuable suggestions in designing the experimental protocol. She will deploy the models and collect the data on the depredated models. Following data collection, she will assist with the data analysis and manuscript preparation.

“The skills she will learn while undertaking this project that includes designing the experiment, collecting data in the field and writing, will be invaluable in her future career,” Place said.

Place thinks that Shrestha’s experience is far better since she has participated in the project from inception to publication.

Place said Shrestha is the first one at the university to get the Research Experience for Undergrad grant to complete the research.

“I would encourage other students to apply for the grant so that we would have more research opportunities within the university,” Shrestha said.

“I think research opportunities help our university stand out.”

Upon graduation, Shrestha intends to pursue a career related to wildlife conservation and management. 

For more information about the Research Experience for Undergrad grant, visit