Metal levels in blood, muscle and liver of water snakes (Nerodia spp.) from New Jersey, Tennessee and South Carolina

Joanna Burger, Kym Rouse Campbell, Stephanie Murray, Todd S. Campbell, Karen F. Gaines, Christian Jeitner, Tara Shukla, Sean Burke, Michael Gochfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Reptiles, particularly snakes, could serve as bioindicators of contamination because some are comparatively long-lived, exhibit different trophic levels, and are at the top of their food chains. We test the null hypothesis that there are no differences in the concentrations of heavy metals in the blood, muscle and liver of water snakes (Nerodia spp.) from rivers in New Jersey, Tennessee and South Carolina. While the former site is in an urban/suburban area, the latter two sites are relatively rural and are located on Department of Energy sites. For the snakes from New Jersey, there were significant differences in metal concentrations among tissues for all metals, the highest levels for arsenic and selenium were in liver and kidney, for cadmium were in the liver, for chromium and lead were in skin, and for mercury and manganese were in the muscle. Body length was not correlated with metal levels, and there were more significant correlations for skin with internal tissues than for blood with other tissues. There were more significant correlations for mercury than for other metals. In comparing metal levels among states, levels were generally higher for snakes collected from South Carolina. These data indicate that, since water snakes accumulate contaminants differentially as a function of location, they can be useful bioindicators of environmental exposure to contaminants. Moreover, because of their wide geographical distribution and use of varying trophic compartments, this genus can be useful for cross-site comparisons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)556-563
Number of pages8
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Feb 15 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Bioindicators
  • Geographical differences
  • Heavy metals
  • Snakes


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