Snakes, Mistakes, and the Power of Storytelling

Season {2} Episode {6}: Melissa Amarello


This episode features one of the most unique nonprofit organizations I’m aware of. In fact, as far as we know, this is one of only two organizations with this mission in the entire world. Let’s set the stage a little bit.

Season {2} Episode {6}: Melissa Amarello
Photo of young girl with braids holding a small snake
A very happy Melissa holding Peanut (Eastern Ratsnake) in 1986.

Like many of you, my family switched to watching Sunday Services online when the pandemic was declared. Last week’s sermon was based on a passage in the book of Numbers in the Hebrew Scriptures where the people were being bitten by snakes. Not exactly the kind of story you’re expecting to hear on a Sunday morning! Then the priest shared a story about her own experience being trolled by a snake in her backyard. She cannot stand snakes!

Maybe you’re now thinking about all the movies you’ve seen where snakes are the representation of evil, or maybe even they’re the villains themselves.

Well, today we’re here to flip the narrative around snakes and learn about them from a completely different perspective.

My guest today is Melissa Amarello, the founder and executive director of Advocates for Snake Preservation (A.S.P.).

Season {2} Episode {6}: Melissa Amarello
Me photographing Alice and her new babies (Arizona Black Rattlesnakes) in 2010.

Asp! Isn’t that a cool name for this organization?!

Melissa has been fascinated with snakes since she was a little girl, but it wasn’t until she was in college that she saw her first rattlesnake out in the wild. And that experience changed the trajectory of her career.

Over time, Melissa realized that she had a gift for helping people better understand snakes. She found that being face-to-face with people, she could break through the misinformation and help people care about the snakes they might encounter in their yards or out on a trail.

Melissa focused her passion, started a nonprofit from scratch, and is now the first paid staff at her organization, the Executive Director. Her story will inspire and educate you.

🎧 Click here to listen to this episode:

Season 2 Episode 6: Melissa Amarello

About Melissa Amarello

Season {2} Episode {6}: Melissa Amarello
Our first den! ASP Co-founders, Jeff Smith and Melissa, observing a
den of Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnakes in 2004.

Melissa’s lifelong fascination with snakes led her to work on a variety of projects on natural history and conservation of reptiles in Arizona, California, and Mexico.

Season {2} Episode {6}: Melissa Amarello
🔗 Connect with Melissa on LinkedIn

After witnessing how negative attitudes can stifle conservation efforts, she incorporated education and outreach into her research to foster appreciation for snakes by sharing stories and videos of their behavior in the field. In the spring of 2014 she co-founded Advocates for Snake Preservation (ASP) with Jeff Smith, to change how people view and treat snakes. In 2017 they received the Jarchow Conservation Award for “commitment and creativity in studying snake behaviors and tireless and continuous efforts to use scientific knowledge to advocate for snake conservation through outreach and social activism.”

Melissa received her B.S. in wildlife, watershed, and rangeland resources at the University of Arizona and her M.S. in biology at Arizona State University, where she studied rattlesnake social behavior.

Our Snake Country Survival Guide provides guidance for snake encounters at home or on the trail. My favorite snake story is our series: A Tale of Two Trash Snakes. The most popular snake story on our site is A Day in the Life of a Rattlesnake Family.

🔗 Connect with the Advocates for Snake Preservation:

🙌 Connect with Melissa Amarello

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