Old Dominion University
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College of Sciences

Department of Biological Sciences

Dr. Alan Savitzky

Professor of Biological Sciences, University Professor
Graduate Program Director, Ph.D. in Ecological Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy, 1979
University of Kansas

Master of Science, 1974
University of Kansas

Bachelor of Arts, 1972
University of Colorado

Teaching Responsibilities:

Biol 301, Comparative Anatomy of the Chordates
Biol 404/504, Conservation Biology
Biol 473/573, Herpetology

Research Interests:

In broad terms, my research interests concern the evolutionary biology and conservation of amphibians and reptiles, with an emphasis on the biology of snakes. I have pursued a number of studies concerning the evolution of complex anatomical features in an attempt to elucidate the processes underlying the adaptive radiation of snakes. My interest has been in the patterns of morphological diversification, the functional basis for specialized structures, and the processes by which such specializations actually arise over both ontogenic and phylogenetic time. Much of my research has involved the evolution of complex feeding specializations, including the origin of venom delivery systems and the evolution of durophagic adaptations-those features that permit snakes to handle hard-bodied prey such as snails and arthropods. I have extended my interest in complex character suites to defensive mechanisms as well, examining the morphology of the vibratory musculature of the tail in rattlesnakes and the extreme modification of vertebrae in two ophidian genera presumably for defensive purposes. My interest in the evolutionary origin of complex anatomical novelties led me to initiate studies of embryonic development in snakes, including infrared receptors (pit organs), cranial bones, and integumentary characteristics (scales and rattles). As a consequence of those studies, my students and I have built a research collection of approximately 7,000 catalogued embryos of squamate reptiles. Recently I have been engaged in collaborative studies of the chemical defenses of snakes that consume toxic prey. Specifically, we are interested in the role that sequestered dietary toxins play in the defensive behavior or toad-eating and mollusk-eating snakes. Finally, I am engaged in a collaborative field study of the canebrake rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, a state-endangered taxon that is threatened primarily by loss of habitat to suburban development. Our work involves radiotelemetry of free-ranging individuals and currently is directed toward understanding the impact of habitat alteration on the movements of individual snakes following catastrophic damage to their forest habitat by Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

Selected Publications:

McCoy, Michael W., and Alan H. Savitzky. 2004. Feeding ecology of larval Ambystoma mabeei. Southeastern Naturalist, 3(3):409-416.

Hutchinson, Deborah A., and Alan H. Savitzky. 2004. Vasculature of the Parotoid Glands of Four Species of Toads (Bufonidae: Bufo). Journal of Morphology, 260(2):247-254.

Clark, A. M., P. E. Moler, E. E. Possardt, A. H. Savitzky, W. S. Brown, and B. W. Bowen. 2003. Phylogeography of the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) based on mtDNA sequences. Journal of Herpetology, 37(1):145-154.

Jackson, K., G. Underwood, E. N. Arnold, and Alan H. Savitzky. 1999. Hinged teeth in the enigmatic colubrid, Iguanognathus werneri. Copeia, 1999(3):815-818.

Velhagen, William A., Jr. and Alan H. Savitzky. 1998. Evolution of embryonic growth in thamnophiine snakes. Copeia, 1998(3):549-558

Savitzky, A. H. 1992. Embryonic development of the maxillary and prefrontal bones of crotaline snakes. pp. 119-142. In Campbell, Jonathan A., and E. D. Brodie, Jr. (eds.), The Biology of Pitvipers. Tyler, TX: Selva.

Savitzky, A. H. 1985. Vertebral protrusion in snakes: evidence for a novel defensive mechanism. Amer. Philos. Soc. Grantees' Rep., 1984: 42-43.

Savitzky, A. H. 1983. Coadapted character complexes among snakes: fossoriality, piscivory, and durophagy. Amer. Zool., 23(2): 397-409.

Savitzky, A. H. 1981. Hinged teeth in snakes: an adaptation for swallowing hard-bodied prey. Science, 212(4492): 346-349.

Savitzky, A. H. 1980. The role of venom delivery systems in snake evolution. Evolution, 34(6): 1194-1204.

Contact Information:

Department of Biological Sciences Old Dominion University
Norfolk, VA 23529-0266
Phone: (757) 683-3595
Fax: (757) 683-5283
e-mail: asavitzk@odu.edu