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Jacob McCartney

Major Advisor
Nathan Kley
BS, General Biology | Pennsylvania State University, 2005
BS, Geosciences | Pennsylvania State University, 2005


Research Interests
My main research focus is on the vertebral morphology of snakes. Part of this research entails study of the variation that occurs within the vertebral column of individual snakes. This variation is gradual, but over long distances in the column it is dramatic, and documenting it is important for ensuring that comparisons between different species are valid. Another aspect of my research is an examination of the relationship between vertebral morphology and various aspects of snake ecology. This study is twofold, first considering the morphology of the vertebrae themselves, and how vertebral morphometrics relate to habitat preference (i.e., locomotory differences due to arboreal, aquatic, fossorial, and terrestrial habits) and feeding behaviors (i.e., constriction or striking). The second part examines the morphology of the vertebral column as a whole, by looking at the relationship between total vertebral number and the same ecological factors. The final part of this research is an extension of the study to the fossil record, which for snakes is dominated by vertebral elements. The results of the study of isolated vertebrae of extant snakes will enable inferences to be made about the paleobiology of extinct forms.
    A second area of research in which I am involved is the study of several extinct snake faunas from Africa and one from India. Most of these faunas are of Cenozoic age, and they span from the middle Paleogene to the early Neogene, thereby covering a time of broad turnover in snake faunas that is well known in the northern continents. However, this turnover is poorly documented in most of the southern continents, particularly so in Africa. The addition of these faunas to the record will help to clarify the timing and rapidity of the faunal turnover in Africa specifically, and help to grow the record of Cenozoic Gondwanan snakes in general.