My new book!
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz

1998 HerPET-POURRI Columns by Ellin Beltz


1987 . 1988 . 1989 . 1990 . 1991 . 1992 .

1993 . 1994 . 1995 . 1996 . 1997 . 1998 .

1999 . 2000 . 2001 . 2002 . 2003 . 2004 .

2005 . 2006


This was my 12th year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society Bulletin.

January 1998

Happy New Year!

To all readers from your loyal scrivener. This column marks the 12th year of columnification on news of interest to herpetologists from around the world. It functions as a reader-supported column by using only those items received from readers. You can contribute, too. Merely send whole pages of newspaper/magazines/etc. or clip the article being sure to attach the date/publication slug and your name to each page. All contributors are acknowledged either with their story or at the end of each column.

Lost and found in Wisconsin

A 4-foot iguana known as "Sweet Pea" disappeared from a third story balcony in September and was found ten miles away in a tree. "We got her in the nick of time, especially with the weather getting cold," said the lady in whose care the animal was when it disappeared. The Wisconsin State Journal reports: "It is unknown how a lizard could travel that far from a busy downtown location... A big lizard is not the sort of animal to which a motorist would offer a ride..." [October 18, 1997 from Dreux Watermoelen]

A three foot ball python vanished in a University of Wisconsin - Madison dormitory. Authorities are not amused and have instituted a search even though residents seem undismayed. Some speculate that Merlin did not slither away solo, but was taken from its cage in a female student's room in Sellery Hall. One resident said that officials were "acting like it's some kind of national emergency." [Wisconsin State Journal, October 7, 1997 from Dreux Watermoelen]

At least they're consistent

"Two Japanese men headed to a reptile breeders show in Orlando are in the Seminole County Jail this weekend after their arrests on animal-smuggling charges... at Orlando International Airport by agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with help from the U.S. Customs Service and Orlando police. Agents found eight snakes thought to be from Southeast Asia in [one man's] suitcase. Two turtles were in [the other man's] suitcase... thought to be worth up to $70,000." wrote The Orlando Sentinel [August 17, 1997, from Alan Rigerman]. The story added that one of the men arrested in this incident had been charged by an Orlando grand jury only ten days previously for the smuggling of 64 Fly River turtles and 113 snakeneck turtles in April of 1996. A spokesperson for the Orlando Reptile Breeders Expo said that the group requires all live merchandise to be captive bred and does not condone smuggling.

Regular readers will recall news stories from 1995 when a man in Prince William County, Virginia was envenomed by a pet cobra. At that time, authorities seized 22 venomous snakes and seven tarantulas from his apartment. He said he would buy no more cobras while he lived in the County and avoided punishment for violating the law of possessing wild or exotic animals in the county. The December 5, 1997 Roanoke Times reports: "A man who was bitten as he milked venom from his pet cobra required a double dose of lifesaving antivenin to save his life doctors said. [it] was the second time in two years he had been attacked by one of the deadly snakes he kept in his Prince William County apartment. After he was bitten, police removed 10 poisonous [sic] vipers, including Indian cobras and a water moccasin, said Prince William County police spokeswoman... In 1995 [the same man] was bitten on the hand as he reached for a cobra that had started to leave its cage... No charges had been filed... relative to the snakes seized this week..." [from Mark T. Witwer]

Wander Indiana safely

The Indiana state Department of Natural Resources issued an emergency regulation prohibiting the sale of any native or dangerous snake, frog, crocodile, turtle or other reptile or amphibian in direct response to the numbers of sales of native reptiles and amphibians. The director of the Department said that over-collection of native animals would upset the ecological balance. In addition he said that the regulation protects the public by prohibiting the sale of dangerous reptiles and amphibians. Possession of the animals remains legal. "Dangerous" is defined as including any venomous or poisonous snake, frog, toad, lizard or other species that can seriously injure a person or animal. Crocodiles over 5 feet and lizards over 6 feet are not permitted to be sold and no portion of the animal, eggs or offspring of a dangerous animal can be sold. To receive the full text or to comment on their intention to enact permanent rules on this subject, contact: DNR, Division of Fish and Wildlife, 402 W. Washington Street, Room W273, Indianapolis, Indiana 46204. [The Chesterton Tribune, December 9, 1997 from Chuck Keating and The Courier-Journal, December 17 from E.A. Zorn]

Your traffick hot spots

Over a thousand animals about to be smuggled into the U.S. were found by Peruvian authorities. Anacondas, water snakes, black crocodiles, iguanas and rare species of frogs, lizards and turtles from Peru's Amazon jungle, were packed in crates marked "ornamental fish" bound for Los Angeles, California. Nearly a third of the animals were dead when discovered, apparently killed by sedatives given them by the herpetotrafficantes. [The Albuquerque Journal, August 26, 1997 from J.N. Stuart] The story continues in the Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat- Gazette [August 28, 1997 from Bill Burnett], "While the exact number of exotic animals captured and sold in Peru is unknown, they can be easily purchased in downtown Lima. Until city authorities swept through Ayacucho Street last month, the animal market resembled a sidewalk zoo... The World Wildlife Foundation estimates global trade in illegal animal trafficking at more than $5 billion a year." One wonders how much the legal trade is worth.

A Kansan and a Louisianan were indicted in Topeka, Kansas on charges of illegally buying and selling more than 1,000 box turtles. "Kansans view [the turtles] as cute curiosities, with their small dark shells marked with yellow and orange-yellow lines. But to those who engage in the illegal business of capturing and shipping them abroad, they look more like four-legged dollar signs," according to the Houma, Louisiana Courier [October 26, 1997 from Ernie Liner]. The story adds a quote from Joe Collins, herpetologist emeritus of the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History, that while American collectors get about $5 to $10 for each turtle, Japanese collectors pay $300. Most of the animals are put in ornamental gardens and cared for carefully, however mortality rates between capture and final sale are "inordinate," he commented. If convicted, the two men face sentences of up to eleven years in jail.

"Brazilian authorities have saved about 8,000 freshwater turtles and other wild animals that were destined to be served up as illegal delicacies in the Amazon region, an environmental official said... police arrested four people aboard a boat carrying the animals on... one of the Amazon River's main tributaries... Traditional Amazonian dishes include grilled turtle steak, a stew of turtle innards and brains and a turtle roast served with manioc flour piled in the animal's shell," according to The Chicago Tribune [August 13, 1997 from Scott Keator and Ray Boldt].

UV-B determined cause of salamander decline

"Biologists have shown for the first time that excess ultraviolet rays from natural sunlight kill amphibians, an ominous sign of the dangers of solar radiation leaking through a thinning ozone layer... natural sunlight contains enough ultraviolet-B radiation to kill most embryos of the long- toed salamander in mountain lakes of the Cascade Mountain range... [one scientist] cautioned that the result applies to only one animal species and does not prove that UVB is the cause for all of the declines of frogs, toads and salamanders [worldwide]," as reported in The Chicago Tribune, December 9, 1997 from Claus Sutor and Ray Boldt]

Adam Smith at work in the bayou

The skins of Louisiana alligators have fluctuated over the last 25 years. For those who like this sort of things, the raw numbers are:

YearUS$/foot
1972 $8.10
1982 13.50
1992 23.00
1993 23.00
1994 37.00
1995 41.00
1996 25.00
1997 18.00


Wildlife officials speculate that the large catch in the last few years may have driven skin prices down, but also point to world market conditions and farm-raised alligators as factors in the price changes. [The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 10, 1997 from Ernie Liner]

More numbers

Another interesting factoid is U.S. state spending on endangered species by type and in percent

Type of Endangered SpeciesPercent of spending
Birds 37
Mammals 33
Fishes 13
Plants 8
Invertebrates 5
Reptiles and Amphibians 4
Source: Endangered Species Survey, 1996 from the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reprinted in Audubon, September-October 1997 from J.N. Stuart


Farm bites state

A judge has ruled that the state of Louisiana must pay more than $4.6 million in damages to an alligator farm raided by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in 1991. Agents had seized 358 alligator skins and issued summonses to the company and one employee for alleged violations of alligator tagging and skinning laws. Charges were dropped in 1992, and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The judge ruled that the company "proved that the outrageous actions of the defendant (DWF) caused serious damages," and the state plans to appeal, noting that Louisiana does not maintain insurance for this type of situation and would be forced to spend tax funds to fulfill the court order. [The Times-Picayune, July 4, 1997 from Ernie Liner]

The following not suitable for more sensitive readers

From Clifton, New Jersey comes the story of a man "attacked by his pet 8-foot python... rescued by his sister, who heard his screams and cut off the snake's head with a butcher knife. The snake sprang up and bit [the 28-year-old man] on the cheek after he opened the top of its tank to give it a drink Monday. It curled around his neck as it hung onto [his face] police said... [his sister] cut off the python's head. When the snake would still not let go, she cut off another chunk of its body, which fell to the floor and slithered under a bed, police said. She then pulled the head off her brother's face... He was treated at a hospital and released. [CNN, September 2, 1997 and UPI September 3, 1997 both from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy, and Orlando Sentinel from Bill Burnett]

An ode to amplexus and a plea for the horny toad

From the Sonoran Herpetologist [10(8) 1997] comes the following with apologies to Paul Simon and to the tune of "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover." "The problem is all inside you head, she croaked to he. It's been ten long months; the answer's plain to me. So let me feel your thunder while it's raining, see, you got fifty days to breed your lover. She croaked, `It's really not my habit to be bold. But your song's so nice and your colors green and gold, (sigh) have me wanting you; love has taken hold. You got fifty days to breed your lover... [chorus] Just slip on the back, Jack. Amplexus' the plan, Stan. Don't need to be coy, Roy - sing your night songs to me!... " There's more (probably from the inimitable pen of Roger Repp), but - as the CHS has always been a "family" herpetological society, I leave you to search the THS herp society page for the rest and their update on conservation of the flat-tailed horned lizard lawsuit.

Not limited to North America

From Rod Douglas of the National Museum at Bloemfontein South Africa comes two clippings of advertisements not beneficial to reptiles. The first shows a rock python and is captioned "Its 53 degrees in the shade, and you haven't eaten for seven days. You have three choices, Braii it. Fry it. Grill it (on our advertised gas grill)... rumour has it that when cooked on the global range, a choice cut of rock python will melt in the mouth. But even we find that a little bit hard to swallow." Please remember that the temperature is in Celsius. The second ad shows a cooler being held by an alligator skeleton. The caption reads: "The Nile crocodile's tenacity is legendary. So is its stupidity." Both appeared in Getaway magazine, September 1997. Rod wrote the manufacturer and received a reply: "I can assure you that these advertisements are not intended to encourage any harm... we understand and appreciate your discomfort however, in our pretesting of the advertisement, we confirmed that most people fear snakes especially larges (sic) ones and would do their level best to avoid any close contact with a snake... We have nevertheless passed on your letter to our advertising agency for their comments and a response..."

Florida environmentalist dies

Marjorie Carr, the widow of Archie Carr, and a passionate environmentalist in her home state, died at the age of 82. She served on numerous committees, testified, wrote letters and lobbied legislators and was instrumental in the preservation of Florida habitats. Expressions of sympathy may be made by donations to Florida Defenders of the Environment, 4424 NW 13 Street, Suite C-8, Gainesville, FL 32609, according to a family spokesperson. [The Gainesville Sun, October 11, 1997 from Kenneth C. Dodd, Jr.]

Quote of the month

From the Arizona Tribune: An East Valley lawmaker wants colleagues to honor something with a small brain. An no, it isn't a politician... introduced legislation to make the Dilophosaurus the official state dinosaur... it is the only known dinosaur unique to Arizona." [December 12, 1997 from Tom Taylor]

Letters:

"Your snippets of information are always most interesting and HerPet-pourri is most popular. As Chairman of the, unfortunately, now defunct Free State Herpetological Association, I reprinted many items from your column in our Newsletter. I know that sometimes you most probably feel the task is rather thankless, but remember that there are people all over the world, like myself, who read your column and appreciate it, but perhaps never have reason to write and tell you so - keep up the good work. Rod Douglas" Bloemfontein, South Africa. Thank you for writing. I sometimes wonder if there's anybody out there, but then along comes a letter like this to remind me that we really do have over 1,000 members around the world!

"Sorry to hear about your misfortune. Hope you are able to get your household back to normal - as is possible - after such a disaster. Ray Boldt" Chicago, Illinois. We're getting there. December was the month of living out of the half-bath and the kitchen sink while the regular bathroom was getting new walls and floor. The tub is laying on it's back in the living room with it's four little feet pointing straight up. It looks like it died or something. We hope to finish everything by about May this year.

"Hope your e-mail situation is resolved soon... E.A. Zorn" Yup. It is now.

"Best wishes for the holidays, like `Have a toadally herpy New Year'. Claus Sutor." We did have a very merry hiss-mus and a hoppy New Year. Thanks for thinking of ussss.

February 1998

A really big thank you! to all the folks who wrote sympathizing with our house-disaster and its ongoing "Home Improvement" nightmare. I always thought I was busy before, but working and having one's house worked on combined, don't leave much time for other things - like writing. The other day when I sat down to start to write, my computer kept going "ping" and putting up messages like "out of memory - unable to run Windows." I had too much stuff on my hard-drive, so instead of writing, I started moving files to a zip disk. Several hours later in the process, I found a story that I wrote a couple of years ago. Hope you enjoy it! We'll return to clippings next month, so please keep sending herp stories with date/publication slug attached to me.

It's turtles all the way down...

Growing up in the heart of New York, on Manhattan Island, I rarely saw any wildlife except for the ubiquitous roaches, rats, mice, pigeons, and drunks. But one day, my friend Daria-Jean Sullivan bought a baby turtle (probably a red-eared slider) at the five and dime. She bought a little plastic bowl with a palm tree and she fed the turtle hamburger meat and lettuce. We would take the turtle in our hands and marvel at its aged and knowing features. One day, by accident, I dropped the turtle on a rug. I was mortified, ashamed and embarrassed. I was sure it would die. I confessed to Daria and she wasn't worried since she'd dropped it too, and it had survived. So we started to let the turtle roam in the apartment while we watched carefully and found that baby turtles are very hardy little creatures capable of climbing draperies and facing down pet cats. It particularly liked to sit on the window sill and hiss at pigeons. It was growing quite nicely, but one day it just died. I was disconsolate; Daria more pragmatic. She bought another turtle but this one had no personality and no appetite and it soon perished.

That summer, we went to camp and were able to watch wild turtles in the small pond near our tents. We also tried to catch frogs and ended up in rather dirty mud and a lot of trouble for not being "team players" and knotting lanyards or whatever "happy camper" the grownups had organized. I don't recall ever catching any frogs. I always liked just sitting quietly on the edge watching to jumping in the water, anyway. Daria-Jean always insisted in jumping in after them; but that was her way in most everything.

We also visited my family in southern New Jersey often. They lived on a barrier island north of Atlantic City. The only turtles down there were diamond back terrapins which glided among the grasses and reeds of the inland waterway where we also went fishing for flounder and crabs. I'll never forget the first terrapin I saw out of the water - it was so huge and cumbersome compared with how gracefully they swam in the brackish waters of "the bay." My grandfather told me that they used to get sea turtles in the inlet in early winter. He said they were "football sized," what I now know to be juvenile turtles, and that they all left right before the bad weather set in. He encouraged me to beach comb for shells, sea week and sargasso and taught me to see the migrations of the ancient horseshoe crabs in the Atlantic by counting the strandings. But no sea turtles, except at the Aquarium at Steel Pier where they looked rather pitiful, swimming round and round in tanks.

I saw my first box turtle on Long Island. I don't remember why we went out there, but we stopped at a farm stand for something and the man had a box turtle as a pet and said that they lived in his strawberry fields. He showed us a turtle's burrow next to one of his fence-posts, but my mother wouldn't let me go exploring out in the field - even though he said it was o.k. because she didn't want me to get dirty. (Did she know me or what?)

An unforgettable early childhood experience is when I saw my first snapping turtle in the bottom of a fisherman's boat. It had come up on one of his freshwater crab traps and he was taking it home for dinner. He showed me how hard the jaws snapped shut by teasing it with the end of a pole. I was extremely impressed. To this day, I have never touched, nor ever intend to touch, a snapping turtle with a shell longer than six inches. About the same time, we went to Florida and saw one of the famous alligator wrestling shows out along the Tamiami Trail in the Everglades.

Back in the City, Daria-Jean and I went to the American Museum and looked at the herpetological exhibits, dreaming of trips to the Galapagos and Komodo Island. I was so interested in all this stuff that one day my nurse took me to the Bronx Zoo. We were waiting in line for something when a man came up to Bridie and asked if I could pose with their Galapagos Tortoise for a picture. It was later published in The New York Times and shows a much younger me wearing a Mickey Mouse hat riding the back of the tortoise.

picture of me, 1962
A photo of me from about 1962 from The New York Times.


Perhaps it was a prophetic picture for turtles and tortoises have provided several turning points in my life. My reputation as a turtle-ophile probably started from the newspaper picture which I kept pinned up in my room. It's not every day you get your picture in The Times!

Then we moved away from New York and after a bunch of moving around finally ended up in Chicago. The latter had even less wildlife since the downtown was, in the late 1960s, practically deserted. Surrounding the city was a small ring of postwar suburbs, then miles and miles of corn. My grandparents came out to visit us and we took them to all the museums and the Aquarium and one day we drove on North Avenue all the way to the Mississippi River. There was no nature outside Chicago, at least not of the type I recognized from the east coast, just miles and miles of flat land given over to mechanized agriculture. There were no hedgerows, no contour plowing. I remember my grandfather saying that the farmers didn't remember the Dust Bowl and were going to have it again when the weather changed. We stopped at a restaurant along a river which was built in an old mill. The mill pond was full of ducks and one algae- covered turtle. It looked at me with wise-old eyes, decided I was not to be trusted, and plopped into the millpond.

The next turtle I met changed my life. I had married, had a child, and divorced. I was living in an old building in downtown Chicago and decided to plant a garden in a tiny patch of bare dirt behind the house. One day, I dug a pond. Knowing nothing of aquaculture, I decided I needed water lilies for this 500-gallon hole and got some bags, a shovel, my daughter, and a large cardboard box into the car and headed for "nature." In 1985, "nature" was still to be found in Lake County; the huge building boom of the late 1980s had not yet turned every patch of bare dirt into corporate plazas, shopping malls, residential subdivisions or parking lots.

We drove along until we saw a sign for "Lily Lake." That sounded promising, but when we got to the lake we saw speedboats going around and around in circles (which is all they can do in Illinois' tiny lakes) and no lilies. A young man on a bicycle said that there had been lilies, but the speedboats had wrecked them and they were no more. However, he described some lilies in a farm ditch some distance ahead; so we drove on. I braked to a sudden stop when I saw a turtle crossing the road. We took the turtle, which immediately baptized us, the car and everything. We plopped it in the cardboard box.

Now, fellow herpers, this was a really stupid thing for me to do. I knew nothing about keeping turtles and it was very irresponsible to just drive off with a living being for whom I had no facilities and no clue. But it was done and cannot be changed. At the time, I thought nothing of it, but that I had a turtle for my pond. After all, you can feed them lettuce and hamburger, can't you?

We did get the lilies, just where the youth had said, and returned to Chicago. The lilies and the turtle were dumped in the pond and I went to the local bait shop and bought a box of night crawlers for the turtle. Within a few days, the turtle was hand-feeding. I'd dangle my fingers in the water, and she'd come swimming over, eat her worms and disappear. This went on for all of July and all of August, but I was getting worried about what to do with her over the winter.

One day, I saw a notice in the free paper for turtle races sponsored by the Chicago Herpetological Society to be held at a big, fancy downtown hotel. We went, but Rosie didn't feel like racing - she just stayed on the bottom of the hotel's reflecting pool and reflected. I think it was all too much for her. I did get some information on the C.H.S. from Mike Dloogatch and went to their next meeting with my daughter. The speaker was Michael Lannoo (now with DAPTF). His topic was "Cannibalistic Morphs of the Tiger Salamander." My daughter and I really enjoyed the talk and I later asked Dloogatch what I could do to get involved with the group. He invited me to his home for the next "stuff the newsletter" party and board meeting.

It was at that meeting that I met Ken Mierzwa. Our first conversation was about mouse traps and how to catch the wild mice which had invaded my house and were driving me nuts. Eloise and I went to the next few meetings; by January, Ken and I were seeing each other every day. I had started going to Mike Dloogatch's office to type in parts for the C.H.S. Newsletter. In December, I replied to a letter received from a reader - this was the start of my "Her-pet-pourri" column in 1986. I also started researching captive care of amphibians and reptiles. The C.H.S. had a looseleaf collection of "Care-in-Captivity" pages which everyone said were good but "needed updating."

Rosie, meanwhile, had disappeared. I had planned to take her inside to a playpool I set up in the living room, but she was nowhere to be found. I muddled the whole pond, dug up half the yard and - to this day - have never seen her again. All I can assume is that she was taken. The local kids swore up and down they'd not seen her walking away, so I had to assume she was carried. I was very sad, but soon I was getting pets of all kinds from other C.H.S. members and other people because they knew I'd take care of them. The playpool had a few too many turtles that winter; in spring, I gave them to people with bigger gardens because I didn't want another garden turtle if people were going to steal pet turtles out of my yard.

About this time, the Newsletter was merged with the Bulletin and Mike asked me to summarize newspaper clippings for a regular column in the new, monthly bulletin. I was later appointed editor of new "Care-in-Captivity" pages. After much work with the original care sheet authors, three different C.H.S. members to review for each page and the three really involved veterinarians then active, "Care-in-Captivity" was published in 1989. I have continued to collect revisions, additions and accounts of other species and hope someday to be able to produce a newer version for the Society. Curiously, both the booklet and the bulletin were being desktop published long before there were programs for publishing. What Mike figured out was how to use "command characters" to control our printers, so our documents looked like alphabet soup - but printed beautifully. It was this early experience with computers that would later prove so helpful.

In fall, 1989 I was given the opportunity to attend the first World Congress of Herpetology in Canterbury, England. I had attended Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles meetings and so knew some of the attendees, but I was pleased and privileged to meet some of the most famous herpetologists in the world at the Congress. Many knew of C.H.S. and I was able to encourage some of them to write for our bulletin.

A year later I was contacted by our state's department of conservation to do a frog survey of the Illinois Chorus Frog (Pseudacris streckeri illinoensis). To be completely honest, I think they called me because nobody else in the state was dumb enough to say "yes" to the project specifications. So I said "yes" and spent the next month of my life driving around corn fields, at night, in 30 degree weather, with the windows down, in the middle of nowhere, listening to frogs. There were moments of pure terror like when I buried my Buick up to the door handles in a sand road and was later shot at by a paranoid farmer; but all-in-all the experience was very positive and formative.

That fall, I went back to school. I had two years of work to finish an environmental biology degree. I'd been out of school for 17 years and was plunked right down in 300 level biology and science courses. I don't think I ever worked so hard in my life as I did that first semester. Meanwhile, I started writing for the American Federation of Herpetoculturists' magazine, the Vivarium, as well as continuing to write for C.H.S. I was elected editor-in-chief of the student newspaper - that early desktop publishing experience was now translated into production on a roomful of Macs and other "all-pro" equipment. Then I received a contract from the state to do a baseline survey for the Massasauga Rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus), a potential endangered species, as well as to continue to the frog work which I did on spring break.

Massasaugas were hot that year. In spring, a conference was held at Toronto Metro Zoo and I submitted a paper I had done on historical Massasauga distribution in North America for presentation. Was I ever surprised to find out I was third on their program, behind Keith Corbett and Francis Cook! I was also scared to death. I'd given nature center programs and class presentations, but never something like this. Thank heavens they had a microphone, or I don't think anyone would have heard me more than two feet away.

That fall, I was on a field trip to the Fox River led by Gene McArdle of NEIU. One of the people whose property we visited described seeing a snapping turtle lay eggs on the bank of the Fox earlier that year. She asked Dr. McArdle if he would consider digging up the nest to "see if the babies were alright," even though he had explained to her that some nests overwinter and actually emerge in spring. He suggested that since I was the herpetologist in the bunch, that I should be the one to dig up the nest. I told him that I knew zip about nests except from models I had seen in museums or drawings in books and he told me to start digging. The depression the female had made was still somewhat visible along the edge of the ornamental plantings, so I made a small hole in the turf with a teaspoon and started digging down by hand. After about eight inches, I found the first egg. It was shriveled and at first I feared the worst - that all the babies were dead. I should have known better. These were snapping turtles after all. As I held the first egg up for the other students to see and photograph, the shell split open, and the turtle's head poked out. He slid out of the egg on his yolk sac. We carefully removed all the eggs and had 53 live turtles and 14 dead ones. The dead ones were mostly on the bottom of the nest. The lady wanted to keep some of the babies to show her friends, and the professor suggested that the students should each take one home and feed it over the winter. In spring, we returned to the Fox and compared our turtles, then had an impromptu turtle race as the babies scrambled for the water.

All this herpetological field work had an unexpected effect. While flipping rocks, I became interested in rocks. While studying a sand-dependent frog, I got interested in sand. Finding that massasaugas like a particular type of clayey soil got me interested in learning more about Illinois glacial deposits. One of the long-time C.H.S. members, Ron Humbert, had shown me his rock and mineral cases one time at a board meeting and only a little bit had stuck. I bought some rock books and tried to teach myself, but it was too complicated. So I signed up for a geology class (which would count towards my degree). Just the one class, and I was hooked for life. I got my undergraduate degree, and reentered NEIU in the fall as a graduate student in Earth Science.

That winter, my husband and I went to the island of St. Lucia which had rainforest for him, and an active volcano for me. Although we did see the endangered St. Lucia parrot in the wild, the herps of the rainforest eluded us. Probably had something to do with the line of loud tourists to which we were attached. Back at the hotel, we went frog hunting at night in the ornamental landscaping. I think the staff thought we were nuts, but it was really neat to see tropical treefrogs in nearly natural habitat! We also had geckos stuck to all the walls in the hotel. The same gecko usually was in the same place each night and carefully defended its territory against invaders. Ken thought I was off the wall when I gave them all names including Gordon and Ivana. The only turtle we saw on the island was in a batik, but members of the St. Lucia Naturalists Society count sea turtle nests "in season."

I found out one thing in graduate school. Most geologists hate snakes. It is a very valuable thing to have a grad student who is not afraid of snakes to remove said snakes from the area surrounding the professor who is afraid of snakes. I also found that residents of former Gondwanaland are more afraid of snakes than descendants of people from Laurasia. Perhaps it is because more Southern Hemisphere snakes are venomous? Field camp in Wisconsin was a blast. I found about 35 reptiles and amphibians and carefully noted each one in my field notebook while taking great care that my fellow students and my professor never saw any of the snakes. I got every species of snake in the county except rattlesnakes (which may be extirpated). What I didn't know was that I had to hand in the notebook! I'll give the prof. credit, though. He got a field guide and looked up all the Latin names (I can never remember the "common" names) and when he returned the book to me, there was a "post-it" that read "I am very glad I did not see all these snakes. Do you have pictures?"

My major professor was terribly afraid of snakes and he had a really naughty habit of playing practical jokes on students. So, for his birthday, I gave him a present. It was a critter cage, with newspaper, a water dish, a hide box, a branch and a rubber snake just peeking out of the hidebox. As soon as he pulled the paper off, he blanched! He went "Oh, oh, oh. There's a snake in there. What shall we do? I cannot keep this!" It was a full two minutes before he noticed that the snake didn't move much and a long time before he would even touch it! We thought it was hilarious. He was unamused. We never saw the rubber snake again.

He and I went to New Orleans and I presented my graduate work to the Geological Society of America annual meeting. There were lots of herps in New Orleans. They sell freeze-dried "voodoo rattlesnakes" and preserved baby gator heads as well as gator skulls and skeletons. Worse was the ubiquitous shrimp that every chef in the city insisted on stuffing into every meal. My vegetarian herpetological friends Dez and David Crawford came to my rescue at this point - showing me that Cajun does not have to be cruel (or too hot!) to be good.

I came home from this trip to find that the excavator for the new building next door had caused severe damage to my house and had undercut our foundation. We spent that winter on one heated floor - the engineers didn't want the downstairs heated for fear we'd slip off our foundation into the hole! I gave away most of my turtles at this point because it was too cold to hibernate them downstairs and too cold to keep them active upstairs. My last baby went to John Archer - a C.H.S. member who also took one of my classes at the Arboretum. I hear she is plump and happy and lives in a walk-about larger than my kitchen.

Looking back, I see that I have some very special turtles (and other herps) to thank for the wonderful way my life has turned out, for my education, my husband, my hundreds of correspondents and contributors, and my vocation.

March, 1998

Olympic speed slithering?

New contributor Kelli Swayne sent a calendar page from Bayer Pharmaceuticals for January 2, 1998 which reads: "The black mamba, a snake from southern Africa, has been said to move 25 to 30 miles per hour while chasing a man on horseback." She wrote, "Most of my snake books tell me that the average snake moves at a top speed of five to six miles per hour on land. Is the Black Mamba an exception? Also why would a snake chase a man on horseback? I know those snakes are aggressive, but why would they chase non-prey animals that could kill them?" Well, I'm no expert on this topic, but I think what Bayer has reprinted here is what we call an "urban legend," except in this case it's more like a "countryside legend." How about it, readers? How fast can a black mamba slither, with or without the man on horseback?

New turtle excluder

Science News reports that researchers have developed turtle excluder devices for crab traps in an effort to reduce mortality of diamondback terrapins. The researchers found that, on average, one terrapin is killed every five crab trap days, although one trap killed 49 turtles in a single day. Diamondback terrapins used to be very common in brackish water along the Atlantic coast of North America, but were decimated by overcollecting for the restaurant trade around the turn of the century. Researchers in this study found that 15 to 78 percent of local turtle populations can be killed in a single year by shallow water crabbing operations. [Volume 152, November 1, 1997 from Karen Furnweger]

Tick tick tick

Veterinarians are finding large African ticks on imported reptiles and warn that tick-borne diseases may spread to Florida livestock and wildlife. The African ticks grow up to about the size of a 5-cent piece and carry heartwater, a disease which can spread to deer and cattle - but not to humans. One imported tortoise taken to a vet was found to have 50 ticks tucked under its shell. If you have imported reptiles, please check them carefully for ticks or take them to your vet for a check up, advises the United States Department of Agriculture. [Orlando Sentinel, November 10, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

When the weather acts like a child

Humans are not the only species affected by El Nino, the odd weather system caused by warming of the Southern Pacific Ocean by underwater volcanos. Turtles in the Mazunte, Mexico center for sea turtle studies had the roof of their center blown off by hurricanes Pauline and Rick which whipped the coast of Mexico in November. Hurricane Pauline tore up the Escobilla nesting beach on October 8 and destroyed up to six million sea turtle eggs. Turtles returned to the beach immediately after the storm and laid more eggs. Volunteers estimate that another 100,000 turtles laid eggs after the beach was storm damaged. A local biologist said that they don't believe the storm damage will cause a long-term problem for the nesting beach or turtle populations. [November 13, 1997: Orlando Sentinel from Bill Burnett; UNM New Mexico Daily Lobo from J.N. Stuart]

Do unto others...

A Bay Lake, Florida man claims he wasn't poaching alligators last June 12, merely making the lake safe for his stepsons who wanted to go frog-gigging. The Circuit Court judge was unamused and the man was sentenced to a year of probation, fined $500 and ordered to pay $800 in court costs. In addition, he was banned from using firearms off his property; but his guns were returned to him. The man claims his legal fees cost him $4,500. The charges arose from the discovery of a dead 6-foot alligator in a 20-gallon garbage can in the man's pickup truck by an officer with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. [Daily Commercial, Leesburg, Florida, October 22, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Get involved if it involves you

The "Proposed Rule for the Humane and Healthful Transport of Live Reptiles and Amphibians" has been put forward by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Contributor Joseph Jannsen writes: "Everybody agrees there is a need to regulate the transport of herps into this country. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's job is to protect reptiles and amphibians being imported into the U.S., not draft regulations to make it easier to do so. However, with the input of parties on both sides of this issue, perhaps the Service can insure the herp you buy at your local pet shop reached there healthy and humanely, while allowing herp importers to continue to do business." January 28, 1998. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources goes to all the local reptile shows and conservation officers set up a public information booth to educate consumers and keep an eye on dealers. One officer has been part of the scene since the early 1980s when he says that there were only three professional dealers in the whole state. In 1995, there were more than 250 - business is booming. An emergency rule enacted on December 3 prohibits the sale and transportation for sale of dangerous reptiles and amphibians, and other reptiles and amphibians native to Indiana. This rule expires November 30, 1998 and the state is taking comments at this time. [The Times, Porter County, Indiana December 28, 1997 from Jack Schoenfelder]

Life in reptile land

  • "Scientists hope the bog turtle's designation [as a threatened species] will help stem a decline in the reptile's numbers, a reduction blamed primarily on an illegal pet trade. Only a few thousand of the species remain." [Chicago Tribune, November 5, 1997 from Ray Boldt]
  • A video, titled "The Reptile Dude" by Scott Davis includes his original reptile songs and is supposed to be available through Blockbuster or at Tachell Films. [Los Angeles Daily News, August 7, 1997 from E.A. Zorn]
  • Houma Courier, January 2, 1998: "Alligator wrestler vows return." A 27-year old Florida man plans to return to his job after a 10-foot, 350-pound alligator "clamped down on [his] head and wouldn't let go for about two minutes." [from Ernie Liner]
  • An applicant for a job "arrived with a snake around her neck. Said she took her pet everywhere." [Managers Intelligence Report, January 1998 from Jack Schoenfelder]
  • A man in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia who raises tortoises on a farm awoke recently and saw a car and a van parked near his ponds. Four suspects escaped, although police did catch one apparent thief loitering near a van full of piles of tortoises and terrapins, according to Sheikh Mustafa Sheik Ahmad, the police chief for the district. [The Courier, Houma, Louisiana, December 27, 1997 from Ernie Liner]

One tale from two newspapers

"Incredibly lucky" was the comment of officials at the Long Island Reptile Museum about the recovery of their colleague after being bitten by a West African gaboon viper. He was rushed by helicopter to the regional center for snakebite treatment at the Bronx's Jacobi Medical Center; antivenin was provided by the Bronx Zoo. Within an hour, the man had been treated with antivenin and was also receiving oxygen, antibiotics and tetanus shots. It is also believed that the snake did not inject a full load of venom. "Minor surgery" was performed to reduce swelling in the forearm, but the actual bite site on the hand was still intact. The manager of the museum was asked why the snake had struck its keeper and replied, "It's hard to figure what went through the mind of this reptile, which has a brain the size of a grain of rice. We'll never know, of course, but maybe it felt some sense of danger. It certainly wasn't hungry." The last person in the U.S. who nearly died from a gaboon viper bite was a 16-year-old boy who stole two gaboons from the National Zoo in 1983. [Newsday, December 30, 1997 from Joseph Jannsen] The New York Times, December 29, 1997 wrote: "The establishment refers to itself as a museum, but visitors and neighbors called it a commercial showplace that attracted tourists, people wanting to buy pets and parents wanting an exotic venue for children's parties." [from Mike Dloogatch]

While on the other side of the mountains...

"A 38-year-old man passed away in Jenkins Township, Pennsylvania, in November, a couple of hours after going to the home of a friend to see his snakes. According to the friend, the man had playfully reached into a cobra's tank, picked up the snake, and was bitten. Refusing a ride to the hospital, the man said `I'm a man, I can handle it,' and instead went to a bar, where he had three drinks and bragged to patrons that he had just been bitten by a cobra. An hour later he was dead." Chuck Shepherd. [News of the Weird, Reader, January 9, 1998 from Ray Boldt]

A tale of two states

"A boa constrictor and a python are believed loose around Makawao [Maui]" reports the Honolulu Star Bulletin. The daily searches began when shed skins were found at a ranch. It has been said time and again that an isolated island ecology like Hawaii's is very fragile and alien escapes usually lead to ecological damage if not outright catastrophe, so the hunts continue even though some have suggested the skins might have been only a prank. "Hawaii, as a virtual snake- free state, is vulnerable to these kinds of alien species. I want to remind all our residents to be vigilant," said the snake expert for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources who added that species at risk include the nene and other ground-dwelling native birds that have no defenses against snakes. Boa constrictors are native to South America and Burmese Pythons belong in India, Sri Lanka, Indochina, southern China and Indonesia. "Officials said they will try to capture the snakes alive." [January 9, 1998 from Sean McKeown and January 11, 1998 The Maui News and the Haleakala Times January 21-February 3, 1998, from Erik Frye] These arrived from his dad who wrote: "These articles detail what may be a humongous hoax and are, with the insight of herpetological experience, rather humorous. After reading them, I immediately thought about you and your monthly column. Enjoy! By the way, not only are sea snakes native to the Hawaiian Islands; tiny "blind" worm snakes, Rhamphotyphlops bramina, were brought to the island years ago in potted plants. They are now very commonly found almost everywhere the soil is sufficiently moist to support a population of tiny ... invertebrates upon which it feeds. Many people seeing these four to six-inch (parthenogenetic, all-female) creatures exposed during digging in their gardens, mistake them for earthworms. I can well imagine what people thought when they came across that 17-foot shed python skin! Fredric L. Frye"

Brown Cuban Anoles (Anolis equus????) are displacing native green Florida anoles (Anolis carolinensis). "Floridians have heard the invasion story before. Hydrilla weeds plug the rivers. Medflies destroy the oranges. Love bugs splatter windshields. Florida is the most invaded territory in the continental United States," writes Tyler Gray in the Orlando Sentinel, September 14, 1997. The researcher working on the native and alien anoles marks his study specimens with numbers in Sharpie marker. Gray says, "they look almost like tiny race cars - minus the corporate sponsors and STP decals." The marker wears off at the next shed. [contributed by Bill Burnett]

Good news for a change

The Shedd Aquarium new master plan for Galleries I and II includes flooded Amazonian forest, Phillipine coral reefs and presettlement Illinois wetlands. A new outdoor building under the south terrace will house a series of large habitats and the coral reef in the center of the Rotunda will be remodeled. If you've ever dreaded cleaning a tank, consider this: "After Labor Day, the 90,000 gallon exhibit will be closed to repair the ravages of saltwater on its systems since the last overhaul 12 years ago." It will reopen to the public by Thanksgiving. New video monitors will permit everyone in the Rotunda to both see and hear the diver more clearly. [WaterShedd, January/February/March, 1998]

"On 30 October, approximately 1,800 Ramsey Canyon leopard frogs/larvae, headstarted at the Phoenix Zoo, were reintroduced to historic localities. Zoo staff, volunteers, and agency biologists backpacked the frogs to suitable sites in ... southeast Arizona... less than 25 adults [now] inhabiting an artificial pond on [The] Nature Conservancy property... survivorship of these head-started frogs will be closely monitored by agency biologists for one year before additional releases are scheduled." [American Zoo and Aquarium Association, January 1998 both from Karen Furnweger]

Instant replay

Lake Okeechobee, Florida: "Researchers have found young alligators along Lake Okeechobee's northern shore have very low levels of hormones controlling reproduction, growth and resistance to disease. `Our results raise a very large red flag,' said Louis F. Guillette Jr. of the University of Florida. `Something is clearly causing dramatic changes in the environment for these alligators,' he said." [The Chesterton Tribune, February 10, 1998 from Chuck Keating] Didn't somebody find out that it was pesticides mimicking hormones already?

Outer space all over again

A four-year-old newt is making its third journey aboard the spacecraft MIR, arriving on a cargo ship with eight other newts and 120 snails, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. It made its first space journey in 1995. Scientists are studying if it retain skills from previous missions and whether it gets accustomed to space faster than its newbie companions. The Russian-American team will film the animals to study movement in weightlessness. [Albuquerque Journal, December 25, 1997 from J.N. Stuart]

Isn't Conservation Biology nice?

Anolis lizards transported onto previously lizard-less islands in the Bahamas in 1977 and 1981 have been found to have adapted to the vegetation of their new homes. "On those experimental islands with shorter vegetation, the lizards had shorter limbs... The amount of morphological change we found, given that it had only been a decade, was remarkable," said a Washington University (St. Louis) biologist. [Popular Science, September, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]

Studies on the Panamanian golden frog reveal that not only do the frogs hear with their lungs (as do other species from torrential streams) but use a form of sign language by waving their forearms. Researchers played calls to their study subjects in the frogs' natural habitat and recorded their response. They then observed the forearm waving. [National Wildlife, June/July, 1997 from Mark T. Witwer]

Tadpoles go deaf from two to four days before metamorphosis, other than that, they hear just fine according to researchers at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. This was the first study that measured hearing in water; previous workers had only measured hearing in air.

It's nice to know I wasn't dreaming all those years I kept my pig frog. Bought as a tadpole after a CHS show in 1987, Taddie became a frog I thought was a bullfrog until my husband pointed out the toe webs and proclaimed it a pig frog. This might explain why the poor animal was so shy that it spent all its fully grown time hiding by remaining motionless adjacent to cover in the aquarium. I used to sit with my back to the tank and do homework for school, or write this column. Every so often I'd hear a kind of a "groink" but it was not the same as the call, being very low pitched and hard to hear. Sometimes it was a sharp call about one third as long. But try as I could I never got to see Piggy making the noise until he was very old in 1995. What I thought I was seeing was the noise being made by his just clicking the typanum, but I was never close enough to be sure. Now a researcher at the University of California has found that the loud "jug-o-rum" call of the mature Bullfrog comes mostly through the ears. He demonstrates this by covering the ears with his fingers during the croak. The cry then becomes muffled and quieter. During the study he made little frog earmuffs out of bits of foam and a spring. Ever since other workers tried to prove that most of the sound of a frog cry comes through its vocal sac by placing the frog in helium (and it didn't work), scientists have been trying to find where the volume for the cry originates. [Science News, Volume 153, January 3, 1998 from Mark T. Witwer] Perhaps somebody will see the second call of the Pig Frog, vibrating their ears at each other in the canebreak someday.

Thanks to everybody who contributed

the articles above and to Ray Boldt, E.A. Zorn, Mark T. Witwer, Claus Sutor, Garrett Kazmierski, J.N. Stuart for stuff they sent that I heartily enjoyed but which my poor, tired fingers and tweaky tendons are tired of typing. You can contribute, too. Send clippings with date slug/publication and your name firmly attached to each piece (address labels rule!) to me. O.k., so I'm a dinosaur, but letters only to my email.

April 1998

Spring Snake Stories

An unidentified resident of South Dade, Florida was bitten by a black mamba and taken to the emergency room by ambulance. Bill and Nancy Haast were contacted by the poison control center, but had no black mamba antivenin. They called a private collector who quickly sent nine vials of antivenin. Haast said, "I heard that the man did not receive a very serious bite, that perhaps it was only one fang." [The Miami Herald, March 14, 1998 from Alan Rigerman] The average cost of medical treatment for a venomous snake bite is $11,000.

Researchers videotaped rattlesnakes striking and found that the snakes' struck perfectly on target in 20 of 21 attempts. In addition to heat sensing, it appears that the snakes use touch. Slow motion analysis of the tapes showed that the rattlesnakes modified the position of their fangs after first touching the prey item. [Science News, March 14, 1998 from Mark Witwer]

Little Rock, Arkansas fire fighters used a metal bar to pry open the mouth of an 8-foot-long Burmese python which tried to swallow his owner's hand in a feeding accident. The 23-year old man told police he was getting ready to feed the snake a rabbit, but put the rabbit down to move the snake when he was struck. The python then coiled around his arm and began to squeeze. {Finally enlightenment among the authorities! E} The fire fighters put the snake back in its cage and it ate the rabbit. [Little Rock Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 1, 1998 from Bill Burnett]

China Daily reports: "In a cave near a village named Recaoka (Kangba Plateau in Sichuan Province), snakes are frequently seen crawling out from the cracks in the cave. Some of them even slide into the spring to swim with the local people. It is said that these snakes will no hurt good people, attacking only those who are evil." [February 28, 1998 from P.L. Beltz]

"... A male golden retriever recently killed a ball python in the area of the backyard where 2 1/2 year old [child] of Medford, New York plays. At first Sundance tried to get [the family's] attention by barking through the window, but they ignored him... [they] later found the dead python in the yard and realized that Sundance had been trying to warn them of the snake." [Suffolk Life Newspapers, February 11, 1998] Contributor Joe Jannsen writes: "Practically in my own backyard! Although the evidence of Sundance the Savior seems pretty circumstantial."

Where the laws come from...

Their teenage owners reportedly got "a thrill" taking exotic pet snakes and iguanas out in public. Fed up with complains from people in malls, schools, churches and even the town hall, the San Juan (Manilla), Philippines town council unanimously passed a law banning residents from taking exotic animals out in public. They stopped short of an outright ban because some of the councilors have exotic pets at home. [South China Morning Post, November 28, 1997 from P.L. Beltz]

Easter "Ribbets" 1998

  • Frog calls http://www.oit.itd.umich.edu:80/bio108/Chordata/Lissamphibia/frog_calls.html [Popular Science, December 1997 from Mark Witwer]
  • FROGLOG, the newsletter of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force http://acs- info.open.ac.uk/info/newsletters/FROGLOG.html. Incidentally, DAPTF car or window stickers ($2 US) and sew-on patches ($5 US) postpaid. Order from: John W. Wilkinson, Department of Biology, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA, United Kingdom.
  • Abstracts of the Declining Amphibian/Deformed Amphibian conference March 20 and 21, 1998 at the Milwaukee Public Museum http://www.mpm.edu/collect/vertzo/herp/daptf/Midwest.html.
  • North American Amphibian Monitoring Program http://www.im.nbs.gov/amphibs.html.
  • North American Reporting Center for Amphibian Malformations http://www.npsc.nbs.gov/narcam. [National Wildlife, February/March, 1998 from Mark Witwer]
  • New terrestrial salamander monitoring program site http://www.im.nbs.gov/sally/.
  • Deformed amphibian conference proceedings http://www.im.nbs.gov/naamp3/naamp3.html.
  • Interactive Frog Dissection Site http://teach.virginia.edu/go/frog/menu.html
  • Researchers analyzing new county records for North American amphibians noted that some species are moving northward in response to gradually warming temperatures. [FROGLOG, January 1998 from John Wilkinson]
  • Wood frogs were reintroduced into Cunningham Park, Queens, New York City, NY. They are part of the "Project X" experiment, an attempt to restore plants and animals once native to New York which have disappeared. Most of the translocations have been plants, but box turtles were moved into Staten Island's High Rock Park, but they aren't breeding. Over a thousand eggs of the Fowler's toad were released in Canarsie Park, but no one has seen a toad yet. [The Miami Herald, January 4, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
  • "In September in Cormierville, New Brunswick, [a man] peeled an orange and an inch-long, orange Pacific tree frog leaped out. A local zoo official said the frog must have entered the orange through a tiny hole and then survived on the juices." [Chicago Reader, January 16, 1998 from Ray Boldt]
  • Thinning ozone is blamed for the death of embryos of high altitude long-toed salamanders in mountain lakes in the Cascades in Oregon. Eggs shielded from UV developed normally [The New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 9, 1997 from Ernie Liner]
  • A tourist to Isla de Ometepe, Nicaragua, reported seeing numerous dead frogs lying on the shore of a crater lake. There are two volcanoes associated with the site. [FROGLOG, November, 1997 from John Wilkinson]
  • A Field Guide to Australian Frogs, by John Barker, Gordon Grigg and Michael Tyler has "been designed for use by both amateur and professional naturalist, and by students at all levels... an asset on any naturalist's bookshelf," according to Surrey Beatty and Sons, Australian natural history publishers.
  • Mountain yellow-legged frogs have had a rapid decline since the 1970s when they were relatively abundant in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. Researchers have found that state sponsored trout-stocking programs may be responsible for in ponds with fish there are no frogs and the reverse. A California Department of Fish and Game fish biologist said that he plans to use this new data to "modify the agency's fish stocking program in the region," according to National Wildlife. [February-March, 1998 from Ray Boldt]
  • A series of deformed frogs from a lake in Minnesota examined by researchers from the University of California-Irving have a particular series of extra legs and other characters. The deformities are consistent with those seen in other vertebrates deliberately exposed to retinoic acid in experiments during development. Retinoids are vitamin A compounds. Excess amounts of retinoic acid have been shown to produce birth defects in humans. The work was presented at The DAPTF/Declining Amphibian conference in Milwaukee. [Chicago Tribune, March 17, 1998 from Claus Sutor]
  • The Frogeye Car Company will begin production on a new series of the Frogeye Supersprite. The new Frogeyes will comply with emission requirements, but otherwise look like the popular sportscars, made between 1958 and 1961. The company has made 25 cars so far, all for export to Japan, where they sell for 25,000 pounds. [Financial Times, July 27, 1997 from P.L. Beltz]
  • The Financial Times reports: "... Compassion in World Farming staged a graphic demonstration in London's Trafalgar Square against the growing trade in frogs' legs. The organization said the 16 tons of legs sold in Britain each year would require the slaughter of 1 million frogs. Its action mirrored a similar protest in Paris by Protection Mondiale de l'Animal de Ferme." There's times I wish we could reproduce photos and this one is the best so far. The picture shows three guys in wet suits, masks and flippers (all brightly colored) with protest signs that read, "Say `Non' to Frogs' Legs ... CIWF." The photo catches the men in motion. One is crouched like a frog, the other two are in the process of hopping up and down! [Financial Times, December 10, 1997 from P.L. Beltz]

Volunteers needed

Do you like frogs? Like to drive around slowly on back roads at night with the windows down? If so, Chris Phillips of the Illinois Natural History Survey wants you for frog surveying! Contact him at 607 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign, IL 61820.

Landscaping ideas

A columnist with the Chester County Living insert in the Daily Local News described how he puts out boards and metal in his yard to see the amphibians and reptiles which live in his subdivision. Scott Shalaway wrote "Backyard habitat improvements to encourage snakes, toads and salamanders are probably not for everyone, but if you're so inclined, you now know what to do with those scraps of plywood and sheet metal cluttering the garage." Incidentally, his wife thinks he's wierd.

Thanks to the contributors!

Michael W. Klemens, Director of the Turtle Recovery Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY sent a copy of their newest Turtle Recovery Program. They've had some successes and some setbacks, but the part I really enjoyed was reading the names of the 1997 donors. It's a real who's who of turtles and you can help, too. Write TRP-WCS, 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460-1099; http://www.wcs.org.

News of the truly weird

Researchers installed temperature-sensing radio-tracking devices in gila monsters and have learned a lot a more than they expected. Some of the surprises include the distance the animals move, the number of shelters they occupy, that each fork of the tongue gets independent scent reception used for navigation and that the gila's venom is for defense against coyotes, hawks, and owls and is not injected into food items. Gila monsters have an unusually low metabolic rate, but oxygen consumption can zoom to produce highly active aerobic mating behavior. "The scientists retrofitted a motorized treadmill with a cardboard enclosure designed to measure the creatures' oxygen intake," reports National Wildlife. [February-March, 1998 from Ray Boldt]

Science News ran a feature on tuatara, the only members of the order Sphenodontida to survive whatever killed all their immediate relatives and the dinosaurs. Tuatara have been protected since 1895 in New Zealand where they had gone extinct on the mainland in the middle of that century. In this century it has been learned that the animals mature after 15 years, mate cloaca to cloaca like birds, then the female takes about 8 months to shell the dozen or so eggs. Incubation takes another 12 to 15 months. Tuatara moms need four years to recharge from a mating, but all the adults may live to one hundred years old or more on this slow and poky lifestyle. Tuatara have been reintroduced to islands where they had been driven to extinction by introduced rats. They are hard to find, being totally nocturnal, the growth in refound individuals shows that they are thriving. [November 8, 1997 from Mark Witwer]

Save the Salamanders, Round II

Two scientists claim that pool-maintenance procedures at the Barton Springs attraction are killing endangered salamanders in violation of federal law. They filed formal notices of intent to sue the City of Austin and the Federal Interior Department under the Endangered Species act. The videotape they released showed a salamander perched on a rocky section of the pool, isolated by falling waters during "routine" pool maintenance. More than two dozen salamanders died last year when a spring adjacent to the pool dried up while water levels were lowered in the swimming area for cleaning. Since the city has only filed for an incidental take permit, and not obtained it, the scientists claim that the city is in violation of the Endangered Species Act. However, a lawyer for the Save Our Springs Alliance said that the worst threat to the species is development in the 354-square-mile watershed of Barton Springs. [Austin American-Statesman, January 21, 1998 from William B. Montgomery]

And the toads, too

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Southwest Center for Biodiversity gave Texas Parks and Wildlife, the National Park Service and the Secretary of the Interior notice of intent to sue under the Endangered Species Act on behalf of the Houston Toad. Apparently federal funds are being used to build nine more holes on a golf course in Houston Toad habitat. The settlement reached to expand the golf course included acquisition of mitigation habitat by August, 1997 and that has not yet occurred. [Elgin Courier, Texas, February 4, 1998 from William B. Montgomery]

Home sweet home

"My cat was not sad to see `Snappy' [a much too large pet snapper] go back to the exact place where he hatched on the Fox River. She had lost part of an ear a few years ago when she got too curious and tried to investigate his tank. My dogs were smarter; when I let him walk the kitchen floor for exercise, they followed him as a group (safety in numbers?) from a respectable distance of three feet. Perhaps the cat told them something? I'm sure Snappy is buried deep in the mud now waiting for the first warm days of Spring to emerge and terrorize his immediate neighborhood! Margo Milde"

Do unto shippers?

The Caymanian Compass reports "Willemstad, Curacao - Hundreds of tropical lizards suffocated in cardboard boxes without ventilation on a flight from the Caribbean Dutch island of Bonaire to Amsterdam, KLM Dutch airlines said... the airline... halted shipments of unaccompanied animals from Bonaire while it investigates... Eight hundred lizards arrived dead at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport ... after a nine-hour flight... It was not the first time the lizards... had been exported ... to Amsterdam, but it was the largest shipment yet... [A] local government official... said the reptiles were not protected and no export license was required." [February 13, 1998 from L.W. Reed]

Herp Watchers Wanted

Earthwatch Institute has the following opportunities for herpetological volunteers who also pay a share of expedition costs and transport: (1) Radio track and census Mohave desert tortoises in Joshua Tree National Park in southern California; (2) Monitor nesting and success of Leatherback Turtles in the Virgin Islands; (3) Study population dynamics of bug-eating lizards of Baja Island in the Gulf of California; and/or (4) Monitor loggerhead turtles in Baja, California. For more information, visit their website http://www.earthwatch.org.

Mikey does not like it

"[The] Argentine ant is forcing a dramatic change in the diet of the horned lizard, once common but now declining in Southern California... researchers studied lizards both in the lab and in the field. They offered caged lizards a choice of native or Argentine ants... [which] are either unappetizing or too small to be worth much effort... horned lizards always prefer native ants over exotic ants..." Horned lizards switch to beetles if Argentine ants displace native ants. [Science News, August 23, 1997 from Mark Witwer]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to R.G. Schmitt, Frederic Frye, Ray Boldt, Dreux Watermoelen, Bill Burnett, Karen Furnweger, Jack Schoenfelder, Mark Witwer, Joseph Jannsen, Garret Kazmierski, and Ardis Allen for repeats and other stuff. You can contribute, too. Take whole sheets of newspapers/magazines with herp stories, or cut out the clippings being sure to attach the date/publication slug and your name to each page. Fold a minimum number of times and please, no staples! Send to: Ellin Beltz, 1647 N. Clybourn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614-5507. If you've been sitting on stuff, this would be a good time to send it in as the file folder is extremely skinny right now!

May 1998

Long-term data on frog populations

Researchers in Switzerland have released data from their quarter century-long studies of the common grass frog (Rana temporaria) in three areas of farmland outside of the town of Bern. Two of the three populations showed a pattern of several years of decline, followed by rebound. That the third population continued to decline was blamed on invading goldfish eating tadpoles. [Science News, April 4, 1998 from Mark Witwer]

Up close and personal with the Wyoming Toad

The four-year-old Wyoming Toad breeding program uses several techniques in an effort to simulate in-the-wild breeding conditions for the endangered toads. While the aquariums are flooded with water from Mortensen Lake (their last known breeding pond), and stereos play toad calls, males and females do what researchers keep hoping they'd do - lay eggs. Wyoming toads are actually relatively easy to keep and breed in captivity say researchers. Despite intense efforts, no one knows why the toads, once common around Laramie, Wyoming, have become so rare. The last two dozen were taken from the wild in 1994 and put into the captive breeding program. Only six pairs of toads bred, but then had about 10,00 tadpoles. The tadpoles began to die and only a couple of hundred were saved. Water analysis showed high copper levels in the local water, so water from the lake was trucked in. By 1995, one-year-old toads were breeding at the center and successful breeding occurred in Zoos in Toledo, Cincinnati and Omaha. More than 3,500 tadpoles and toadlets were released into children's wading pools covered by fiberglass screen, but not restrained. The baby toads made their own way into Mortensen Lake, Lake George and Rush Lake. They were later found at all three lakes. Three age-classes were found last year at Mortensen Lake so this may be the first year that Wyoming toads will again breed in the wild. "We're violating the first law of reintroduction - you're supposed to solve the problem of what drove them to near extinction. And we don't know... The species isn't by any means secure," said a biologist involved in the program. [Wyoming Wildlife, March, 1998 from Mark Witwer]

Unclear on the concept at the [Jesse] helm?

U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt signed a novel conservation agreement between federal, state and Native American governments in an effort to avoid legal battles over endangered wildlife. Later, he was taken on a tour of a manmade marsh which is intended to provide habitat for frogs. None were found as they were all still hibernating, with usual emergence around tax time. The Raleigh, NC News and Observer reports, "... a staffer gave Babbitt a plastic frog after he had jokingly wondered why the wildlife agency hadn't planted a few live ones for his trip." [April 3, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Silent spring, 1998

Alligators in lakes in Florida are showing some curious mortality and non-hatching egg patterns. Most affected are gators in lakes which are surrounded by agricultural, urban or commercial users. Least affected are gators in lakes in wildlife refuges, parks and other preserves. It could be a bloom of blue-green algae, or pesticides, or sewage or any of a dozen other nasties like no food, nutrient excess or something completely different. We don't know. But all the researchers agree that the problem requires immediate attention. Gators and people have a lot in common - we're both at the top of our food chains. [News Press, April 1, 1998 from Ardis Allen]

For the first time in a four year project at McHenry County Conservation District, all the eggs taken from female Blanding's turtles failed to develop. Researcher Sue Hayden said, "This was a bad year, all the eggs were infertile." She continues to pit tag and enlist the aid of the Shedd Aquarium's turtle staff to help headstart baby Blandings from previous years. Several adult turtles are radio-tagged and all collected by district staff are pit tagged for positive identification purposes. [WaterShedd, 19(1), 1998 from Karen Furnweger] The Indiana Department of Natural Resources reports that deformed amphibians have been found four counties. The deformities included misshaped legs, missing eyes, missing limbs and split forelimbs. Katie Smith, of the Division of Fish and Wildlife said, "There are always a small percentage of deformed amphibians in a population. I'm hesitant as a scientist to make anything of this." She later states that the IN-DNR cannot do a population survey of frogs to help put the deformity data in a statistically significant framework as there are only three biologists in the field for the agency and none is an expert on reptiles and amphibians. [The Chesterton Tribune, March 27, 1998 from Jack Schoenfelder] Does anybody have data on the small percentage of amphibians that are "always deformed" or is the lady just outside her field of expertise here? High water on a part of U.S. 441 over Paynes Prairie near Gainesville, Florida has resulted in a killing field for alligators, snakes, turtles, frogs and birds. The state Department of Transportation has been patrolling to keep the floating orange barrel lane markers in place and have pushed wayward animals back into the flooded prairie. The agency now wants to put 3- foot high barriers parallel to 441 across the prairie. [Gainesville Sun, April 2, 1998 from Kenneth C. Dodd, Jr.]

About two dozen mutilated sea turtles have washed up on Texas beaches this spring, but two Kemp's Ridley turtles have nested on South Padre Island. [The New York Times, April 27, 1998] Meanwhile, National Marine Fisheries is not only requiring Turtle Excluder Devices on all shrimp trawls, now they require a finfish excluder to be mounted in the nets as well. [Water Shedd, 19(2), 1998 from Karen Furnweger] And the World Trade Organization used some twisted logic to overturn the U.S. policy that rejected imports of shrimp from countries which do not require the use of Turtle Excluder Devices. [Financial Times, April 7, 1998 from P.L. Beltz]

News of the truly weird

Contributor Bill Burnett sent one of those round-up articles of the oddest stories of 1997. He circled "The Clouseau Award for Alertness by a Customs Officer: In Lima, a man was arrested for trying to smuggle 35 animals out of Peru in his suitcase. The contents of the bag included 17 monkeys, two boa constrictors and five crocodiles." On the opposite page was an hysterically funny photo of the crash of the Sinclair dinosaur balloon. When it came to rest on a house in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it looked as though it was eating the garage, while laying on the house! [Arkansas Democrat - Gazette, January 4, 1998] If only life truly imitated art.

Nice guys don't eat

China Daily reports: "HAIKOU - Fisherman Wang Mutang is happy that he was able to return a 100-year-old sea turtle to the sea, even though some of his friends are sorry that he turned down a chance to make money. Wang captured the turtle - 1.9 meters long, 1.1. meters wide and weighing more than 250 kilograms on March 9 while deep sea fishing. Some buyers had contacted him with an offer as high as 4,000 yuan ($481.92 U.S.). However, upon learning that the turtle is a rare species under second-grade State protection that rarely survives life in captivity, Wang immediately decided to set it free." [March 27, 1998 from P.L. Beltz]

Imports ok, native commercialism not ok

A California Fish and Game Commission voted four to nothing not to ban importation of live bullfrogs and turtles used for food and medicinal purposes by members of California's Asian community. Some of the arguments against importation was that some of the non-native animals were being released in Buddhist ceremonies and that introduced reptiles and amphibians could carry disease or outcompete local animals. Curiously, the bullfrogs are mostly imported from Taiwan and China. The turtles - spiny softshells and red-eared sliders - come from Texas, Arkansas and Florida. A spokesperson for the Fund for Animals said, "You can't catch hundreds of thousands of them and keep up with demand." [April 2, 1998: Contra Costa Times and The Los Angeles Times, from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

The owner of a Zoological supply house in Warren, Michigan said that the proposed new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations on humane shipping of amphibians and reptiles would "hurt the livelihoods of pet store owners as well as the people who catch exotic animals... [he] picked up a chameleon, tortoise and a Sumatran python at Detroit Metropolitan Airport... [and] said restrictions on the trade of birds is already hurting the pet business," according to The Herald-Palladium. Teresa Telecky of the Humane Society of the U.S. said, "They're depleting their own resources anyway. Eventually there will be no more of these animals for them to catch... they're paid only pennies... it would be smarter to promote ecotourism. Many travelers are enjoying trips around the world to see wildlife, even reptiles." [April 12, 1998 from Claus Sutor]

My gator is purple, your gator is green

After coming face to face with an alligator, a New Bedford, Massachusetts detective said, "[Criminals] have graduated from pit bulls to alligators," and added that law enforcement officials are increasingly finding big reptiles during busts of suspected drug houses. A public health veterinarian pointed out "you can't train a caiman to attack," and added, "I'd rather face one than a Rottweiler." [Fox News Network, March 18, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Nearer my golf to thee

Don't lick your balls, warns the medical establishment. Seems golfers are getting a dangerous chemical-induced liver condition in disproportionally high numbers because they lick their golf balls, thus ingesting fertilizers and pesticides used in abundance on the courses. [Self Magazine, May 1998 from I. Canreadtoo] As if that was not enough, The Tribune from Tempe, Arizona warns "if playing golf on a desert course, don't reach for a ball that has landed in bushes or scrub. Snakes [especially rattlers] often seek shelter there. Instead, use a golf club or ball retriever to get the ball out." [April 2, 1998 from Tom Taylor]

Not just snake oil anymore

An ad for Lawson Software company shows a coiled rattlesnake, a rattlesnake head with the fangs and tongue out and reads, "It charms it prey, strikes quickly and disappears. It's your typical business software company." The snake is identified as "Smoothus Talkus Reptilius." [from P.L. Beltz]

Range extension

An alligator was rescued by a fisherman from the Great Miami River near Middletown. After occupying his family's bathroom for four days, it was taken for relocation by a member of the local Herpetological Society. The rescuer's wife said, "I'm glad it's gone. [He] did the right thing by not leaving it down there, but I'm happy it's out of my house." [Telegraph-Forum, Bucyrus, Ohio, December 21, 1997 from Bill Burnett]

Oregon Herpetological Society rises again

"Herpetoculture and herpetology are under attack in the United States. Hobbyists are going to prison, and spending massive amounts of time and money in court battles while super-collectors suck our ponds and lakes dry of turtles for the Asian food market. Raids on hobbyists look like assaults on crack houses. Inane state laws are being utilized to entrap hobbyists into committing federal offenses. The battles are being fought in the press... Shipping regulations are being proposed that will literally shut this hobby down... We can't wait around for PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) to do something. They don't even have a web page." Unfortunately, the article in the latest Oregon Herpetological Society Newsletter (March 1998) forgot to put the web address, but you can contact OHS at P.O. Box 1518, Eugene, Or 97440-1518 or by e-mail webmaster@kingsnake.com for more information and the site address.

Much better than LD-50, guys...

The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles has put out a brochure on "Conserving Amphibians and Reptiles." It suggests that "research must focus on causes and solutions, and conservation programs need to be on guard against `half-way' technologies that provide a false sense of accomplishments." You can visit their website http://falcon.cc.ukans.edu/~gpisani/conservation.html. The debate on amateurs versus professionals has also apparently been rethought by this kinder, gentler bunch of herpetological researchers. The only citation provided in the brochure is for CHS member John Levell's excellent Field Guide to Reptiles and the Law. [Brochure from Ken Dodd]

Signs of our times

Rather than the freeze-dried rattlesnake souvenirs first suggested when the Arizona Diamondbacks franchise baseball team was founded, the newest promotional tie in is a bottled beverage called the "Rattle Shake." It will be available at the ball park and convenience stores. [The Tempe, Arizona Tribune, March 30, 1998 from Tom Taylor]

Ann Landers is now running positive snake stories which is quite a switch from a few years ago. Perhaps all the cards and letters helped change her mind. On the other hand, material published lately is likely to contribute to "snakes on the loose" media coverage in future. One of the suggestions she published read: "Snakes make great pets because you don't have to exercise them. If you live in an apartment, you can let them loose, and they will wriggle around on their own and enjoy themselves." Another read: "Snakes are cool. Anybody can have a cat or a dog, but having a snake makes you a celebrity. All the kids at school want to come to your house and look at it. I got an albino Burmese python from a kid at school whose mom wouldn't let him keep it..." [March 16, 1998: The Chicago Tribune and The Halifax Daily News from Ray Boldt and K and W Herp Haven respectively]

"Dear Santa: I want a snake!! I want a turtle! I want a big pair of socks. I want a clueless telephone. C.F., age 7" [The Herald-Times, December 11, 1997 from E.A. Zorn]

Iguanas are the latest "in" pet in Hollywood. Thousands were given as living Christmas gifts and there is a Winged Iguana shop in Burbank where many of the glitterati come and go for stuff for their pets. One actor even hired a cook for his iguana on the movie set - saying that iguanas take so much time and he wanted to make sure his was well kept. [Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1997 from Claus Sutor]

One summer = 150 feet

"I have two three-toed box turtles (Terrepene carolina triungis). Last year, I built a new outdoor enclosure, and on the first day of spring, September 21st, I put most of my collection, including my box turtles in the new pen. At the end of that day, I took stock, and found one box turtle was missing. I frantically searched... eventually I gave up and gradually resigned myself to the loss, though, all through the summer, I peeked under the odd shrub, just in case... In April, my other box turtle went into hibernation. I should mention that, here in the central North Island, we get heavy frosts, minus 8C sometimes. Eight months later and in mid winter (July), my wife and I went away for a couple of weeks. On our arrival home, our daughter proudly announced that the missing box turtle had been found... Some cattle... were just outside [our] fence. They came to a patch where the neighbor tipped grass cuttings and garden waste, munched up anything edible and must have disturbed one hibernating box turtle. Somehow, the turtle ended up in a pile of cow dung. [Our daughter] was walking the dog when she noticed a movement, and immediately recognized the culprit! The turtle had managed to walk about 50 meters during the entire summer!... [it] has been renamed `Pat'." [Nick Webb in Moko, the newsletter of the New Zealand Herpetological Society, Spring (our Fall), 1997 website]

Thanks to this months' contributors

and to Ernie Liner, Karen Furnweger, Bill Burnett, Tom Taylor, Mark Witwer, Martin Felix, and Brian Bankowski for stuff I enjoyed reading but couldn't figure out how to summarize. You can contribute too. And I hope you will as I am down to just three articles for next month's column. Send whole pages of newspaper, or clippings with the date/publication slug firmly attached to me. Letters only to my Jurassic-e-mail.

June 1998

First the frogs, then the rest of us

The April 21 Washington Post reported that a Louis Harris poll of 400 scientists from the American Institute of Biological Scientists ranked extinction of species as one of the planet's gravest concerns. "The speed at which species are being lost is much faster than any we've seen in the past - including those [extinctions] related to meteor collisions, said [a] University of Tennessee ecologist. Most Americans are unaware that the rate of present-day extinction of plants and animals is greater than during any other known extinction event in the past. [GREENLines #610, April 21, 1998 from Roger Featherstone]

Tale of two CITES...

U.S. Department of Justice - United States Attorney, Southern District of Florida, February 3, 1998, News Release: One of the nation's largest reptile import companies, Hollywood, Florida-based Strictly Reptiles Inc., yesterday had its export-import license revoked for five years for smuggling more than 1,500 rare reptiles into the United States, the federal government announced. In July 1997, the company and it's owner pled guilty to charges of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, a federal law that protects endangered wildlife, by purchasing Indonesian reptiles between 1993 and 1995. Yesterday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service revoked the company's license in connection with the plea. --- The company's owner and President, Michael J. Van Nostrand, is currently serving an eight month prison sentence followed by eight months of home confinement as part of his guilty plea. Under the plea agreement, Van Nostrand also had to pay nearly $250,000 to the World Wildlife Fund to implement a government supervised restitutionary program to protect specific habitat in Indonesia that is home to the very creatures that were illegally trapped and smuggled. Additionally, the agreement bars the company and its owner from trading, selling or handling any endangered or threatened wildlife, as well as, certain species specifically identified in the agreement for five years. ---"This case shows that those who rob a nation of its rare and endangered wildlife out of personal greed will be brought to justice," said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Trafficking in endangered wildlife is prohibited under U.S. law and international treaty, and will not be tolerated." --- Thomas E. Scott, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where the case was prosecuted, said "this case represents the finest in international environmental enforcement: cooperation among enforcement agencies to protect irreplaceable species, effective and timely punishment of the violators of conservation laws, and a creative effort to mitigate the harm from the criminal conduct. I commend the agents, both here and abroad, who contributed to this resounding success." --- Van Nostrand and his company conspired to purchase Frilled Dragons and Fly River Turtles they knew were exported in violation of Indonesian law. Van Nostrand and his company also pled guilty to purchasing Argentinean reptiles, including Argentine Boas, Chaco Tortoises, Rainbow Boas, Red-footed Tortoises, Tegu Lizards, and Yellow-spotted Amazon Turtles, all of which they knew were smuggled into the country in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty designed to protect wildlife from over-exploitation. --- The Indonesian chapter of the World Wildlife Fund will be responsible for operating the restitutionary program, which will focus on initiating, expanding, improving and maintaining wildlife projects in the Lorentz Strict Nature Reserve located on Irian Jaya--the Indonesian portion of the Island of New Guinea. The Lorentz reserve is home to the Frilled Dragon and the Fly River Turtle and other protected species often imported by Strictly Reptiles. --- Because all Indonesian national parks and nature reserves suffer from funding shortages, the restitutionary funds will be used for practical programs such as training and certifying park guards and conservation bureau staff, providing critical equipment, and setting up "mobile awareness teams" to work with communities near the project sites to increase awareness about habitat protection and the illegality of poaching reptiles and other species. A portion of the funds also will be used to help communities, which often depend upon the income from wildlife poaching, to develop alternative means of earning money which are consistent with conservation goals. --- The investigation was conducted with the cooperation of authorities in the Netherlands, including the Netherlands National Police and the District Office of the Public Prosecutor at Breda. The Netherlands National Police helped spur the investigation by providing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with audiotapes from electronic surveillance of Dutch reptile dealers revealing that protected Indonesian reptiles were being laundered through the Netherlands and shipped to Strictly Reptiles Inc., falsely labeled as captive bred to give them the appearance of lawful imports. [From Bruce J. Weissgold, February 6, 1998 forwarded by Steve Grenard and James N. Stuart]

More sea turtles

"A Sierra Club press release condemned a World Trade Organization [WTO] ruling against a US ban on the sale of shrimp caught without endangered sea turtle protection. To reduce the number of sea turtles killed while catching shrimp, the United States Endangered Species Act [US ESA] requires shrimp sold in the US be caught using Turtle Excluder Devices [TEDs].. [which] could save 97 percent of the 150,000 sea turtles killed in shrimp nets each year. Malaysia, Thailand, India, and Pakistan challenged the US ESA through the WTO. `Three unaccountable trade bureaucrats sitting behind closed doors in Geneva should not have the power to make up rules that sabotage global environmental protection,' said Carl Pope of the Sierra Club. `Americans will not submit to the unaccountable power of the World Trade Organization.' [GREENLines #584, March 17, 1998 from Roger Featherstone] Newspapers covered this story from sea to sea and even overseas. Thanks to Ernie Liner, Alan Rigerman, P.L. Beltz and Herp Haven for other copies!

A scary 523 dead sea turtles of all species washed up on Texas beaches last year. Of the total, 180 were Kemp's ridleys; 21 of these were adult. Sea turtle strandings dropped 90 percent during the eight weeks shrimp fishing closure from May 15 to July 15. [Naples Daily News, March 21, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]

But what happened to the animals?

"A federal judge in Miami showed leniency in sentencing a Slovenian caught smuggling... 49 Hermann's tortoises into the United States... [the] public defender... argued that the tortoises had been bred in captivity and were not, technically, wildlife... [the man] was sentenced to two year's probation that can be served in his home country." He could have gotten five years in jail. [The Miami Herald, March 29, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]

Babe is blue, but salamanders smile

"Associated Press reported [that] California gubernatorial candidate Lieutenant Gov. Gray Davis says he would ban old-growth logging. Davis told the Planning and Conservation League Foundation he would ensure `wetlands are preserved, rivers are clean, and all old-growth trees are spared from the lumberjack's ax.'" [GREENLines #584, March 17, 1998 from Roger Featherstone]

The last word on the Wisconsin Conference

"About 300 people attended the two day Midwest Declining Amphibians Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, hosted by the Milwaukee Public Museum on March 20-21, 1998. This was a joint meeting of the Central and Great Lakes Division Working Groups, of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force. The conference was organized by Gary Casper, chair of the Great Lakes Working Group, with assistance from Christopher Phillips (chair of the Central Division Working Group), and Michael Lannoo (US DAPTF Coordinator). There were 42 papers presented, and a panel discussion on amphibian malformities. Topics included survey and monitoring reports, population biology and ecology, and malformity causes and statistics. Abstracts are available through the Great Lakes Declining Amphibians web site at http://www.mpm.edu/collect/vertzo/herp/Daptf/daptf.html. Publication of a proceedings is being investigated. --- The new research presented by scientists investigating potential causes of frog deformities attracted national attention, including network television. There is increasing evidence implicating pesticides as causal agents, with retinoids or retinoid-like compounds suspect. The evidence now suggests that of the three leading hypotheses, chemical contaminants should now be considered the most likely (more so than either parasites or UV light). [The conference was attended and covered by] Reporters and camera crews from NBC Nightly News (Chicago), ABC (New York), National Public Radio (WUWM), Outdoor Wisconsin, The Green Bay Press-Gazette, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal... The Washington Post... [and] CNN attended. --- The mix of scientists, natural resource managers, and students attending came from as far away as Maryland, California and Guatemala. Participating agencies included seven state DNRs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Illinois Natural History Survey, the US Geological Survey, the Salk Institute, many universities and colleges, the Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Health Center, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. Gary S. Casper, Vertebrate Zoology Section, Milwaukee Public Museum, April 29, 1998."

Timber rattlers protected in Wisconsin

Rattlesnakes get a bum deal. Harvested, blasted out of dens, killed on sight, collected for science and venom extractions - it's no wonder they're on the decline and need protection. The newest state to join the ranks of the brave and protect this symbol of earliest patriotism is Wisconsin which officially listed it as a "Protected Wild Animal" as of April 1, 1998. "This designation... [makes] collecting, killing or possessing the rattler illegal except in situations involving an immediate threat to people, pets or livestock." [Tomah Monitor Herald, April 13, 1998 from Tom Zaremba]

Paradise lost

From Robert W. Hansen, editor of Herpetological Review (SSAR): "For those of you planning on flying for fun or field work this summer, watch out for those airport X-ray machines!... new `Film-killer X-ray' security equipment being used in [some] airports ... destroys film, exposed and otherwise... new equipment is InVision Technologies CTX-5000 baggage scanner... $900,000 each... an InVision official acknowledged that the `rate of scanned films that are damaged is 100 percent.' Apparently David Attenborough and crew found out this was too true. He and a BBC film crew spent five weeks in New Guinea filming on location and passed through the Manchester airport and lost everything... three options (1) insist on having your film hand inspected, (2) buy your film with you get there... (3) [find a shipper] who will guarantee no x-raying... These new x-ray machines are programmed to respond to anything mysterious [like a lead lined film bag] by re-scanning just that area with a high power narrow beam CAT scan which will penetrate anything, so the lead bag guarantees your film is ruined...[for security reasons] the FAA will not give out the list of the airports with these new x-rayers..." [from Bill Love and March 14, 1998 Democrat-Gazette from Bill Burnett]

Lizards zap Lyme disease

Ever wonder why Lyme disease is such a big thing in the east and no real problem in the west? Researchers found that the host cycle in each place was different. Out east, it's the white-footed mouse in which Lyme disease bacteria multiply until sucked up by a tick and passed along to the next meal. In the west, however, it's the common Western fence lizard which provides the tic- cafeteria; and something in the lizards' blood is killing the bacteria. [April 19, 1998 The Courier Journal, Louisville KY from Gary H. Kettring and Democrat-Gazette, Little Rock AR from Bill Burnett]

Miscellaneous things

Genetic engineers at the University of California, San Diego announced that they had introduced foreign genes from a fluorescent jellyfish protein into African clawed toads. Frogs are preferred subjects for this kind of transgenic work because of their large eggs and embryos. And, one researcher pointed out that they're cheaper than mice. Researchers noted that the process worked right up to the tadpole stage. The tadpole does not glow in the dark, but the fluorescence can be seen under the microscope in the cells. [Reuters, February 26, 1998 from Kimberley and Wes von Papinešu]

Back in February, a teenage girl was mauled by a crocodile along a storm water drain in Brisbane, Australia. Now a six-foot long crocodile has been spotted in this antipodean suburbia. It was seen sunning on the banks and fled after a man threw a rock at it. [The Times Standard, Eureka, CA April 20, 1998 from Bradford Norman]

The director of the Polish Academy of Sciences announced that scientists are studying a lizard which was preserved in Baltic Amber for 40 million years. It is only the second Baltic lizard ever to be found. The first was found by a Gdansk jeweler who gave it to the museum. [Fox News Network, February 3, 1998 from Kimberley and Wes von Papinešu]

Read the Ridley Turtles newsletter on HEART's new web page http://www.ridleyturtles.org or more information snailmail from Box 681231, Houston, TX 77268-1231.

Volunteer for any of three sea turtle research projects this fall with Earthwatch, http://www.earthwatch.org.

A woman from Germantown, Maryland wrote The Chicago Tribune: Last year I wrote to the Museum of Science and Industry regarding the museum's hatchery exhibit. I was referred to the Lincoln Park Zoo in response to my inquiry about the disposition of [the Museum exhibit] chicks... the zoo's general curator... [wrote] that the majority of the chicks are fed to the collection's reptiles... nothing is said [in the exhibit] about the eventual destination of these birds... The hatchery exhibit misleads the public to think that chickens do not have mothers or the need of a family life. It is a desensitizing display that should be eliminated... [the exhibit apparently] prevents them from patronizing the museum." [May 4, 1998 from Ray Boldt]

If ignorance is bliss, why aren't there more happy people? [Bumper sticker in NEIU parking lot May 2, 1998 at ReptileFest]

Are they alive? What do they eat?

We were trying to think what you give highly successful ReptileFest co-chairs Lori King-Nava and Gary Fogel. Hugs? Hisses? A round of two handed clapping? A month recovery? Free tickets to a psychiatrist if they start talking about "next year?" An original Don Wheeler tattoo? If you were there you saw the fabulous spaces, displays, layout, petting area, Klingon security (hey, like no problem, dude you know), photo booth with python, membership, giant crocodile, white crocodilian, zillions of fruit flies, waxworms and crickets, iguana trees and cages, turtle petting pens, wild frogs, odd lizards, placid turtles, green iguanas, and snakes everywhere. If you weren't there - you missed it. See you at the next one?

Thanks to everyone who contributed

to this month's column and thanks to all the CHS members who stopped by at ReptileFest to say "hi" including John Levell, daughter Jenny with his new granddaughter (how time flies!), Bob Bavirsha, Steve Barten, Ben Entwistle, Jack Schoenfelder, Ron and Dottie Humbert, Lori King-Nava and Gary Fogel, Jim Nesci, Ilene Sievert, George and Sara Richard, Gino Martinez, Bob Applegarth, Larry Marshall, Dave Bishop, Audrey VanderLinden, Don Wheeler, Gary Kostka, Brian Jones, Mike Dloogatch and Kimberley Smith. Don't forget to send clippings with date/publication slug (or whole pages of newspapers) to me for future columns! Letters only to my email. What happened to my email, to answer one contributor, is that my school cancelled all alumni accounts, so I had to go get a private account and the address changed. Why I can't load files is a post-crash software problem - so please, just letters electronically! Thanks.

July 1998

Duct tape is metal, guys

Agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service charged two men of smuggling more than 8,000 animals and a third man was charged as the Miami buyer of the alleged exotic reptile smuggling scheme. The animals had been ordered from the Amazon by a Miami tropical fish store. Included in the ten illegal shipments named in the charges were 3,836 tree frogs, 1727 mata mata turtles, 1,145 poison dart frogs, 418 Surinam toads, 15 dwarf caimans, eight rainbow boas, four black caimans, two caiman lizards, four fish and one green anaconda. Usually the shipments were packed in such a way that casual examination would show only legal manifested tropical fish. However, in one shipment, the turtles legs were secured with duct tape. I presume this showed on some type of x-ray scan even though the article doesn't say. Officials intercepted the box, and the 48 other boxes that went with it. All the animals are protected by Peruvian laws and many are protected by international treaty. The animals were taken to be cared for while the case proceeds and may eventually be sent back to Peru. [May 27, 1998: The Sarasota Herald- Tribune from Esther Lewis; and The Fort Myers News-Press from Ardis Allen]

Forty indictments in four countries

Following a three-year undercover operation in the U.S. and Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Panama, 40 people were indicted for involvement in illegal animal smuggling. "Pound for pound, there is more profit for smugglers in exotic birds than there is in cocaine," said an assistant customs commissioner. The seized animals were placed in zoos in Texas where some of the arrests occurred. Thousands of animals and millions of dollars are alleged to have changed hands as part of the scheme. [The Chicago Tribune, May 30, 1998 from Ray Boldt]

Media busted closer to home

The federal government created a sting operation called "Operation Arachnid" and charged a local exotic pet shop owner with smuggling 27 adult spiders along with a declared shipment of juvenile tarantulas from Germany four years ago. [The Chicago Tribune, June 4, 1998 from Ray Boldt] This story was "big news" for about one day here and the pet shop owner's name was repeated over and over again on TV and radio. In print, he questioned why it took the federal government four years to prepare the charges and then run a media circus around the him for 27 spiders.

Ribbit in Chinese

Pottery produced in China 6,000 years ago has frog images. Three newly discovered pots show unmistakable "totemic frog images" according to Chinese archaeologists. China Today reports "... frogs are among the most prominently featured figures - a decorative element common to all early civilizations... painted in a variety of styles. One type of frog pattern looks like the image of real frogs while another is rendered with vivid expression and in bold outline... some of the geometric frog figures on this pottery evolved into varying shapes of the Chinese character "mi," [frog]... Rainfall was especially important for agriculture in ancient times. Frogs frequently croak prior to the fall of rain. Since early people could not account for natural phenomenon in any kind of scientific way, they accepted that frogs had induced the rainfall. Also, frogs breed prolifically, and this presumably appealed to primitive people, to whom a high reproductive rate was necessary for survival... although frog totems no longer existed in the mainstream culture after the Zhou Dynasty (1100-221 BC) the vestiges of frog worship can still be found even today among rural people... Today, the deep attachment to frogs is still strong among several ethnic minorities... [some hold frog festivals]... and [some] paint patterns of frogs on the bodies of the deceased before they are buried." [Qi Huabian, March 12, 1998 from P.L. Beltz]

Amphibian environments

Articles on decline and recovery of spotted frogs, boreal toads and the Amargosa toad are included in the Proceedings of the Desert Fishes Council, (28:1997) available from phildesfish@telis.org. [Froglog (26:1998) from John W. Wilkinson] Save a tree, reduce dioxin; read Froglog on the web at http://acs- info.open.ac.uk/info/newsletters/FROGLOG.html and save a tree.

Science reports: "Amphibian experts are hopping to the defense of a Utah frog population that they believe is going to suffer from a controversial wildlife policy introduced by Interior Department Secretary Bruce Babbitt. Since 1992, Interior has encouraged states to craft conservation agreements on threatened species to avoid sanctions under the Endangered Species Act. Early last month Babbitt announced that the spotted frog, which probably numbers in the low thousands... would not be listed as endangered because state and U.S. wildlife officials had agreed on measures to help the frog bounce back. But herpetologists say... [that the] plan doesn't adequately estimate the frog's population trends and historical habitat and lacks a scientific basis for frog relocation plans... the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, the Herpetologists' League, and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists - are drafting a letter asking Babbitt to reconsider. The herpetologists say the spotted frog is only one of many cases in which conservation plans have been drawn up with inadequate scientific input." [280:22 May 1998 from Eloise Beltz-Decker]

Karen Furnweger sent in a clipping from the June 6, 1998 New York Times which discusses the declining amphibian issue all the way from the 1989 Canterbury, England World Congress to the present day. Apparently the problem is now so noted and so widespread that last week the National Science Foundation got together a group of environmental scientists to discuss what might be killing the formerly ubiquitous amphibians. Bruce Babbitt attended the seminar and "initiated an interagency task force to monitor the frog decline," according to The Times. Karen pointed out in her note that such an entity already exists. The Declining Amphibian Task Force grew out of the 1989 meeting. I remember the beginning of the discussion. The few, lonely frog researchers had been trilling gently to each other in an amphitheater that would have seated dozens more and as each rose to discuss frogs, the comment was made that "There used to be more frogs when I started." Or "There were more frogs when I was a kid." It got kind of eerie during the Q and A when every member of the audience (myself included) was able to name at least one species from our home area that was no longer as commonly found. Since then, amphibianology has grown (not always for the better) as a group of researchers from other fields with no practical knowledge of the species involved (I kid you not, see Froglog 26:1998). So I'm not really surprised that NSF is going to add to the DAPTF alphabet soup.

"The spread of sex-change chemicals in the environment could soon be tracked with a test that uses tadpoles and liver cells of frogs. The... chemicals... mimic female hormones... are present in many pesticides and plastics. They are causing increasing concern because they have been implicated in breast cancer and declining [human] sperm counts, and may also interfere with fetal development." [The Courier, Houma, Louisiana, June 8, 1998 from Ernie Liner] The organism being used is the Xenopus, the African clawed frog.

Speaking of hormone mimics, last year, U.S. Geological Survey biologists reported inducing frog deformities in a control study comparing two widely used mosquito suppressants. Amphibian deformities were found after spraying wetlands with methoprene. They plan to replicate the study this year. [South Bend Tribune, May 4, 1998 from Garrett M. Kazmierski]

A sample of Florida lakes shows that almost no baby alligators hatched in the last nesting season. "The reptiles' lack of fertility in certain lakes isn't linked to pesticides this time. And it might have ramifications for people," reports The Orlando Sentinel. [March 31, 1998 from Bill Burnett]

Somebody sent me a copy of a fantastic newsletter Herp-line which is being produced by the Froglife and the Herpetofauna Groups of Britain and Ireland. It provides a forum for articles about local herps in a non-technical but not difficult fashion. They offer an "enquiry service" for the general public. In six months they received about 700 calls, most were for "frog advice" followed by questions about "excess spawn" and "snake identity." Contact Froglife, Triton House, Bramfield, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 9AE, fax 01986-784579.

Records we could live without

The world began keeping records of temperature and weather in 1856. The World Meteorological Organization released a report which says that the global average air temperature is 1.35 degrees high than normal. They blamed the weather on El Nino a weather system driven by a large pool of abnormally warm water in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Indonesia, parts of the Americas, Mexico and Southern Africa are in drought conditions, while extra wet conditions continue over Ecuador, Peru and southern Brazil. Heavy rains fell over the Indian Ocean and east Africa where flooding has lessened for the first time since October. [The Orlando Sentinel, April 16, 1998 from Bill Burnett]

Indirect temperature sampling provides proxy evidence of temperature and climate far before the 150 years of direct thermometer sampling available to researchers. Using tree rings, ice cores, sediment samples and other proxy methods, temperature variations in the Northern Hemisphere since the middle ages have been compiled, then recent actual records have been added. The resulting graph shows a nice up and down motion of about six degrees from 1400 to about 1920. After 1920, the line still goes up and down a lot, but the trend of the line is up until the 1950s, then a slight drop in the 60s (but still not back to the average) followed by another sharp spike to the late 1990s. Researchers then analyzed the contributing factors of climate change, solar radiation, volcanic activity, carbon dioxide and methane emissions and so forth. Like most "Global Warming" work, this one will generate hot debate. [The New York Times, April 28, 1998] Curiously, the sidebar points out that El Nino weather systems are caused by warming of the Southern Pacific Ocean by the action of underseas volcanos which release mantle heat and create new sea floor. Just remember that the plants and animals will try to move to their optimum zones depending on the new climate. Are we ready for alligators, caimans and turtles in the Chicago River?

They may not survive the fires in Mexico

Many U.S officials fear that a major environmental disaster awaits in southern Mexico. Parts of the Chimalapas biological reserve, one of the most important tropical rain forests in the Americas were burning for weeks. Most of North America's migratory birds stop in the area, and thousands of plants species in the reserve are otherwise completely endangered. The fires started from lightning or agricultural arson and spread because of El Nino influenced drought according to U.S. climatologists. [The Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1998 from Ray Boldt and P.L. Beltz]

While Florida also burns

Flatwoods salamanders in the pine woods of northern Florida are being considered for the Federal Endangered Species Act. Logging remains the biggest threat to the salamanders. Pine tree farming is highly mechanized and bulldozers are used to clear the fields for replanting which totally destroys the tiny microhabitats favored by the salamanders. Federal officials are working with the forestry industry to study the salamanders and find ways to log and save the species. [Gainesville Sun, April 13, 1998 from Ken Dodd, Jr.]

In his own words

Signing himself "Proud to be a San Diego City Firefighter," the man who responded to the call of a snake biting a pregnant woman wrote his side of the story to Ann Landers. As printed in the May 4, 1998 Chicago Tribune he wrote: "... I am the San Diego city firefighter who responded to that snake attack. Four adults, two children and one 10-foot Burmese python were residing in the downtown San Diego hotel room where the attack took place. When the fire engine crew, paramedics and police entered the room, it was an immediate rescue situation. The snake had a full open bite on the pregnant woman's inner thigh and was constricting around her stomach. The woman's husband was straddled above her, trying desperately to yank the snake off. When I grabbed the snake behind its head, the husband passed out and hit the floor. The snake was constricting so hard that I could pick up the woman by pulling on the snake. I had no option but to cut off the head using a knife that I always carry with me. I have since received many complaints and threats from animal rights groups and activists for killing the snake. To them, I do not apologize. This was a vicious attack, and the woman was eight months pregnant. I wonder what these people would say if the attack happened two month later and the snake went after a defenseless infant..." [from Ray Boldt]

But the times they are a changing...

The police chief of a town in Louisiana was driving along one of those highways that parallels a canal. He saw a 10-foot gator in his lane, swerved to miss it and landed his police cruiser in the canal. The officer "has since had alligator nightmares," and promises to find the giant reptile for questioning. [The Times Picayune, New Orleans, Louisiana from Ernie Liner] Most of the media has made this a "stupid human tricks" story. Please note however, that the times have changed. The Southern law enforcement officer deliberately did not run the gator over, did not shoot the gator, did not harass the gator; instead he tried to drive around the gator and in the process got himself a bruised knee and a sore back.

Animal Control workers in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana captured a 12-foot, 95-pound Burmese python they found sunning itself on a sofa in the window of a vacant mobile home. The officer said the home was apparently abandoned with all its contents, including the snake. [The Courier, Houma, Louisiana from Ernie Liner]

A 4.5 foot alligator strolled out of the Bayou Lafourche and visited the local Walgreens drugstore drive through. The cashier said, "It was cool." The Manager said, "We' stay open 24- hours, and even serve alligators." Officers from the Thibodaux Police Department came and kept an eye on the alligator until she slipped back into the ditch. [The Courier, May 26, 1998 from Ernie Liner]

News and notes

Chicago Wilderness has established a delivery system for copies of their Atlas of Biodiversity. It includes some pictures of herps and an interesting perspective on the state of our wildlife and areas. For free individual copies, visit Volo Bog, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Fullersburg and Willowbrook Nature Centers in DuPage and the Nature Conservancy office in downtown Chicago. [from Stacy Miller]

The second International Symposium and Workshop on the Management of the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake will be on October 1, 2 and 3, 1998 at the Toronto Zoo. Contact Bob Johnson.

Thanks to everybody who contributed this month

and to Ernie Liner, P.L. Beltz, Bill Burnett, Ray Boldt, Kathy Bricker, Esther Lewis, Jon Covell, and Philip Drajeske for stuff I enjoyed reading, but didn't use this month. Become a contributor, too! Send whole pages of newsletter (or clippings if you prefer) with the date/publication slug and your name on each piece to me.

August 1998

Do cane toads eat Asian longhorned beetles?

Perhaps the top news story in all Chicago area media is the discovery of Asian longhorned beetles, mature and breeding in trees in a heavily forested residential neighborhood in the City. Quick surveys revealed the extent of the infestation to include two beautiful cemeteries (Rosehill and Graceland) and an area from the Clark Street beach ridge west to the Chicago River. The beetles apparently arrived as larvae in wooden crates shipped from their native China. Infested trees will have to be cut and burned as soon as the beetles go into hibernation. Homeowners and residents of the area are (of course) quite upset and concerned. Introductions of non-native plants and animals have been reported regularly in this column. Readers are strongly urged never to release an animal that has been taken into captivity - especially not one that doesn't even come from the area! Otherwise environmental disruption is caiman soon to a neighborhood near you, too. Entomologists have also recorded two new species of termites in Florida and Hawaii. The Times-Picayune reports" If the spread of these termites, major pests in their home territories, is anything like that of the Formosan [termites], the Gulf Coast, Hawaii and perhaps other parts of the country will be waging termite wars on multiple fronts. With infested wood being transported freely... invasions of new foreign termites [may] become routine in Miami and other Southern ports." Researchers suggest that the bugs may be arriving on pleasure boats, on firewood, or crates. [July 2, 1998 from Ernie Liner] Meanwhile, brown tree snake experts held a three-day symposium in Hawaii where they discussed new trap strategies, snake baits and snake-detecting dogs. Since the terriers were first used on Guam to check outgoing cargo in 1994, only one brown tree snake has been confirmed arriving in Hawaii compared with five snakes, one in each of the previous five years. About 10,000 snakes are captured a year on Guam, and the snakes have eliminated nine of the island's 11 species of endemic birds. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 25, 1998 from Bill Burnett] Don't forget American red-eared sliders and bullfrogs terrorizing Britain, eating the fauna of France and themselves becoming the cuisine of Asia; they were originally shipped as pets, and when the novelty wore off, were released. What we're seeing before our very eyes is the ends of our ecosystems and the development of a cosmopolitan world flora and fauna - a world, unfortunately where only the adaptable may survive.

70 years ago...

On June 26, 1926 a 3.5 foot long snake native to eastern Asia and Australia was found on the pavement in College Road, Cork Ireland. It was believed to have come from a bunch of bananas left in a fruit importer's car at a grocer's shop. [The Irish News, June 26, 1998 from from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Turtles and frogs at school

About 100 Ohio high school Environmental Club and science students worked together on a natural history catalog of plants and animals on a 10 acre site near the school. In addition, they studied turtle movements and plotted their data. It looks something like a football play-by-play chalkboard. Art classes, French language classes and even the math department have been using the turtle data. The last use turtle movements to teach algebra and trigonometry. [Box Turtle Research and Conservation Newsletter, Edition 7, June 1998 from Heather Kalb] Read the rest of it on their website http://www.bio.tamu.edu/users/heather/boxturt.htm.

Students at a Larkspur, California school discovered that they couldn't release 60 Xenopus frogs they had raised from tadpoles ordered from a Wisconsin biological supply house since the African clawed frogs present both a disease and predation risk to native and endangered species. The whole thing has been quite a lesson for the kids who have been turned into ardent conservationists. One parent took the frogs home while the school, students and parents debate what to do with them. Another parent suggested sending them back to the supply house! [Times-Standard, Eureka, California from Bradford Norman]

"Mad Salamander Disease" limits cannibals

It's been known for a while that if you crowd young tiger salamanders, they may develop into "cannibal morphs." They're larger, widebodied and widemouthed versions of the regular tiger salamander with the usual engaging tiger salamander personality and feeding habits. And they swim. I've always been really glad they stop at 10 inches. Larger and yuppies might have some competition. Now comes a new study on just why all salamanders don't turn cannibal since those that do grow so large, so fast. Turns out that a serious hemorrhagic disease is transmitted by cannibalism and salamander eggs from areas where the disease is endemic are less likely than others to develop into cannibals. [Science News, May 9, 1998 from Mark Witwer]

Not all gloom and doom on the amphibian front

Arizona frogs are disappearing at an alarming rate. Researchers and legislators fear that the dying frogs and salamanders may be sending us a message about our environment. Proposed causes of decline specific to Arizona include acid rain from copper smelters, introduction of non-native crayfish, a virus from non-native fish, and predation from introduced bullfrogs and bass. These or other human-influenced environmental changes are often implicated in global frog declines. Species gone or in decline include Tarahumara frogs, Sonoran tiger salamanders, Barking frogs, Mountain tree frogs, Lowland leopard frogs, Chiricahua leopard frogs, and Sonoran green toads. Ten of the 25 species of Arizona amphibians species are of "special concern" to the state's Game and Fish Department. [Tribune, May 5, 1998 from Tom Taylor]

"The Arizona Daily Star reported a newly discovered fungus appears to be the cause of an epidemic killing frogs and toads in rainforest in Australia and Central America, and may be the reason amphibians are in decline around the world. The large numbers of dead frogs found as part of an international study were `just stunning' said David Wake of the University of California at Berkeley." [Greenlines #658 from Roger Featherstone] The fungi are usually found in the soil, where they assist in the breakdown of rotting material. [The San Diego Union Tribune, July 7, 1998 from Claus Sutor] As the story proceeded around the world, The Arizona Tribune reported that the chairman of the biology department at Arizona State University said, "Chytrids have always been around. We need to look at why frogs are getting infected now." [July 27, 1998 from Tom Taylor] Meanwhile the New Scientist provides the full tale. It seems as though the fungus covers animals' bellies and legs and ends up suffocating the amphibians by blocking through-skin respiration. It has been found to be a new genus of a group of fungi related to the earliest life on earth. Chytrid fungi have never before been found to cause disease in vertebrates. The fungus was first noticed in a captive colony of arroyo toads (Bufo microscaphus californicus), but has been confirmed from specimens collected in western Panama, captive poison-dart frogs at the National Zoo, in ten species in Australia and three other American zoos, including the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. An experimenter put healthy frogs in water with skin scrapings from infected frogs. The formerly healthy frogs died. [June 30, 1998 from David Blatchford] New guidelines on handling and moving amphibians were prepared in an effort to stop the spread of the fungus by herpetologists.

When the Americas were first being explored for scientific specimens, an explorer named Pier Kalm sent many specimens back to Karl Linnaus at Uppsala, Sweden. Among them was one which stuck in my mind - it was a tree frog collected on Manhattan Island. That's where I was born and grew up. The island of my memory is more choking bus and car fumes, tightly packed canyonlike buildings surrounding one oasis of green than a moist, mesic environment suitable to support fragile treefrogs. Central Park was very nice when I was a child, but no one dared go north of 90th as there were all sorts of urban predators. In the 70s and early 80s the Park turned into a total weirdo habitat and the plants, trees, soils and waterways took a severe beating from overuse. The Parks Department realized what was being lost, but rather than just restore a Victorian garden, they took the opportunity to begin to try to replace original species lost to urbanization and all its ills. They are also working on a five-borough tapestry, not just improvements in Central Park. So far their program has butterfly weed blooming in Brooklyn, wood frogs calling in Queens and woodchucks chucking or whatever woodchucks do in the Bronx. Other reintroductions have included box turtles in Staten Island, luna moths in Manhattan, screech owls, bobwhite and weasels. Some of the project's introductions haven't worked, and researchers admit that the whole concept is rather "romantic... [but] a shot in the dark." [The New York Times, July 13, 1998] Someone should make a song about this, "I knew an ol' agency that released a fly, then released a spider to catch the fly, a frog to catch the spider, a garter snake to catch the frog..."

Last seen in Minnesota 17 years ago, a colony of northern cricket frogs was found in a swampy area not far from St. Paul by mosquito control workers. The director of the FrogWatch program center said, "I've seen the frog with my own eyes and touched the little critter. We're very excited." [Reuters, June 25, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Four or five male red-legged frogs have been calling at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, but researchers haven't seen any females. The frog is the same species as that in Mark Twain's story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and we all know that Twain enjoyed his reputation as a liar, but even I cannot believe the following statement quoted verbatim from the Eureka Times-Standard: "At night, researchers and volunteers with tape recorders and flashlights scour the reserve listening for the female's love song." The frogs were first seen on the plateau nine years ago, and listed in 1991 as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [June 8, 1998 from Bradford R. Norman]

Laws, lies and videotape

After thoroughly discussing all federal, state, local and international venomous snake owning laws, acts, permits and import regulations, and their various penalties, the Superintendent of the endangered species protection unit in South Africa said "You must decide what's more venomous - us, or the snake you illegally own." [The Saturday Star, November 4, 1997 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

July 15, 1998 The Chicago Tribune reported that a "jumbo boa" was found under a bush in an alley on the West Side of Chicago. It was identified as a boa constrictor by a veterinarian with Animal Care and Control. The 12-foot snake was installed in an aquarium at Animal Care and Control and a police sergeant said, "Based on its size, I would say it's pretty valuable. Somebody must have kept it a while to get it that big." Two days later, the same paper reads, "Stray python likely to get new home after law puts squeeze on owner." Seems in two days, somebody at AC and C figured out that 12-feet is over the limit for Illinois "dangerous animals act." The owner showed up to claim the snake with veterinary records and alleged it was stolen from its home about two miles from where it was found. The AC and C persuaded her to sign over custody of the snake to the city rather than taking it back to face prosecution under the act. [all from Claus Sutor and Ray Boldt who wrote "Note that the snake changed from a boa to a python, overnight."]

When police arrived at a Benton, Arkansas home after reports of shots fired, they found two men sitting on a sofa. While both appeared to have been drinking, one man had a gunshot wound in his side. He told the deputies that his pet iguana had shot him. A woman who also lives there told deputies that the iguana was sitting calmly in its cage at the time of the shooting. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 21, 1998] Contributor Bill Burnett wrote, "When guns are outlawed, only iguanas will have guns!!!"

Fifteen people were arrested on felonies and misdemeanors for allegedly selling endangered animals at a reptile show at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. NBC News reported that the raid was designed for television cameras, allegedly showing conservation officers and police buying native species from Indiana or venomous animals. [June 29, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu] The local newspapers covered the event in great detail, The Times reporting "The massive investigation began after the Department of Natural Resources determined Indiana was a laundering state for reptiles and amphibians because of little or no regulatory or statutory controls. There was a lot of trading done that would have been illegal in other states, the DNR said. Undercover DNR officers gained the confidence of dealers and went on collection runs in Indiana and out of state. Officers documented the illegal trade of endangered species, native species and dangerous and venomous species... DNR officers in uniforms discussed the [emergency order enacted January 1] with dealers, but the DNR said that ... some dealers sold to undercover DNR officials and told them about the rules they were breaking. The DNR said the Midwest Reptile Swap Meet ... Porter County was at the center of the investigation. [June 30, 1998] The Chesterton Tribune wrote: "Dealers in illegal reptiles and amphibians went from predators to prey Sunday as Indiana conservation officers sprung a trap two years in the making." [June 29, 1998 both from Jack Schoenfelder]

And a nod to her Latin teacher

A paper in the July 2nd Nature contains the new species Eucritta melanolimnetes a fossil that resembled salamanders with big heads and big feet that lived near present-day Edinburgh, Scotland 333 million years ago. The husband/wife team found the creature, a nearly complete skeleton about 8 inches from snout to vent. The name is derived from the Greek "Eu," true added to American slang. Added to the translation of the specific name "melanolimnetes," the new tetrapod's name translates "true critter from the black lagoon." [Chicago Sun-Times, July 3, 1998 from Ray Boldt]

Double click to start

We've all been told that it's only the males who call for sex in the frog world, but researchers working with Xenopus laevis, the African clawed frog, have found that female clawed frogs produce percussive clicks described as similar to the sound of a Geiger counter. The male replies with the trill and mating follows. A researcher said, "one could think of the female's advertisement call as a general love song and the male's answer call as a serenade to a specific love object." [National Wildlife 36(5), August/September 1998 from Mark Witwer]

No glo-in-the dark turtles, yet

Opponents of a nuclear waste site in the California desert, including Native Americans, have occupied the site west of Needles last February while waiting for legal decisions which they hope will prevent the site from being used as a "low-level nuclear depository." The proposed operator of the site has a history of allegedly leaving behind Superfund sites. Desert tortoises and Native Americans have lived in the area for centuries. The protest has now surpassed Wounded Knee as the longest-lasting Native American-led occupation in U.S. history. [EcoNews, Arcata, California, June, 1998, from Bradford R. Norman]

Thanks to everybody who contributed

and to Bill Burnett, Ernie Liner, Ray Boldt, Paul L. Beltz, Bradford R. Norman, Claus Sutor, Phil Averbuck and Jim Stuart for stuff I enjoyed reading but didn't use this month. You can contribute, too. Take the whole page out of a newspaper or magazine, make sure the date/publication slug is on it (or write or stick it on with tape). Put your name on the clipping and send to me. Contributors are all acknowledged! Cards, letters and photos also appreciated.

September 1998

A kindly word for toads

Sue Stocker, of St. Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital in Haddenham, England said, `Every year, hundreds of toads are run over on the roads as they attempt the journey [from over wintering area to breeding pond]. We should be trying to help them as they are very good to have in your garden because they eat all the pests. I have heard of people helping the toads cross by putting them in buckets and carrying them across... maybe signs could be put in place warning drivers that the toads are crossing." [Bucks Free Press, April 18, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Scent-sible lizards

Two Parisian researchers working with the common lizard, Lacerta vivipara, found that even in this species where the mother has no input rearing the young, juvenile lizards preferentially sought shelter in spots smeared with their mother's scent. The researchers say that identifying their parent "is likely to have some biological relevance," and suggest that it may have something to do with dispersal according to Science News. [153:24, June 13, 1998 from Mark Witwer]

More reptile busts

An August 7, 1998 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) news release reads: A 5-year investigation by USFWS special agents of illegal international trade in reptiles resulted in the August 6 arrest of Tommy Edward Crutchfield... a U.S. reptile dealer, is charged with wildlife smuggling, conspiracy, and money laundering. He is the 18th person charged to date in this wide-reaching case involving wildlife trafficking that spans six continents. Crutchfield was apprehended by Federal authorities in Miami as he returned to the United States after being expelled from Belize. The former Florida businessman has spent the last 5 months in jail in Belize fighting that country's February 28 expulsion order. He now faces U.S. charges based on his alleged involvement in a major international reptile smuggling ring. Last October, a Federal grand jury in Orlando, Florida, returned a multi-count indictment against Crutchfield, his wife, two former employees, and two other individuals based on the Service's ongoing scrutiny of the highly lucrative black market reptile trade. The indictment alleges that the six were part of an international smuggling ring that is believed to have brought hundreds of rare and endangered snakes and tortoises out of Madagascar into Germany. From there, the animals, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, were smuggled into the United States and Canada where they were sold to wildlife dealers and private collectors. Protected reptiles from Australia, Indonesia, and various South American and Caribbean countries were also traded. The smuggled reptiles, which were typically concealed in suitcases and transported aboard commercial airline flights, include highly prized Madagascar tree and ground boas, radiated tortoises, and spider tortoises- species that occur naturally only in Madagascar, an island off the southeastern coast of Africa. These animals, and the other reptiles allegedly smuggled, purchased, and sold, are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a global agreement that regulates world wildlife trade. Crutchfield, who was named in all 10 counts of the indictment returned by the grand jury in October, is charged with multiple offenses of smuggling, violations of the Lacey Act (a Federal statute that allows the United States to prosecute individuals for violating international wildlife protection laws, including CITES), conspiracy, and money laundering. If found guilty, Crutchfield could be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison and fined as much as $250,000 on each smuggling and Lacey Act count. Conviction on the money laundering charges could result in prison terms of up to 20 years and penalties as high as $500,000 per count. Crutchfield, formerly the president of Tom Crutchfield's Reptile Enterprises, Inc., located in Lake Panasoffkee, Florida, was generally considered one of the largest reptile importer/exporters in the United States before he left the country in the spring of 1997. He was on supervised release following completion of a 5-month prison sentence for a 1995 conviction for smuggling endangered Fiji Island iguanas when he fled to Belize after being notified by the Justice Department that he was under investigation. He also faces potential penalties for violating the supervised release. The reptile investigation has already produced significant results, according to Service law enforcement officials. In addition to the charges against Crutchfield and his associates, four individuals from Germany, South Africa, Canada, and Japan have been arrested and successfully prosecuted in the United States. Of these, German citizen Wolfgang Michael Kloe received the stiffest sentence--a $10,000 fine and 46-month prison term--after pleading guilty to six counts including conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering, attempted escape, and Lacey Act violations. Three other Germans charged in the case remain at large. The Service's investigation of the illegal reptile trade has also led to charges in the United States against three Florida residents and a European for dealing in reptiles. One of the Florida residents, Matthew Lerer, was sentenced June 25 to 6 months electronically monitored home detention, 100 hours of community service, and 3 years' probation. Friedrich Karl Artur Postma of The Netherlands, who was stopped at Orlando International Airport last August when he tried to smuggle in 13 radiated tortoises stuffed inside 5 socks, was sentenced to 1 year in jail and a $3,000 fine. In addition to these charges in the U.S., authorities in Germany and Canada have taken legal action against two Germans, a South African, and a Canadian for their involvement in illegal reptile trade. "As the world's largest importer of wildlife, the United States has a special responsibility to prevent the illegal exploitation of all imperiled species," Clark said. "The record of indictments, arrests, and prosecutions for reptile smuggling from the past 2 years shows that the Service, the Department of Justice, and many of our international counterparts are committed to finding and stopping those who try to profit from protected wildlife. I would like to thank law enforcement authorities in Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, and now Belize for their assistance in and support of this investigation. "This case should send a clear message to those who traffic in rare and endangered reptiles that profiteering at the expense of wildlife will not be tolerated by the United States or by the world community." [USFWS news releases are also available on the World Wide Web at http://www.fws.gov/r9extaff/pubaff.html They can be reviewed in chronological order or searched by keyword. This release from Jim Harding.

A wildlife exhibitor in Port St. Lucie, Florida was arrested for allegedly feeding kittens to Burmese pythons. Wildlife officers removed two pythons from the man's home. [June 4, 1998: The Baton Rouge, LA Advocate from Ernie Liner and The Little Rock, AR Democrat-Gazette from Bill Burnett]

More reptiles bite

"An Oak Park [Michigan] man's ill-advised attempt to catch a Massasauga rattlesnake is a startling reminder that there are, indeed, poisonous [sic] snakes in Metro Detroit. Matt Stefanson, 31, of Oak Park was in serious but stable condition Wednesday at POH Medical Center in Pontiac, recovering from a bite he got from a rattler at a county park in Oakland County's Addison Township. Stefanson spotted the 2-foot-long rattler along a path, grabbed it behind the head but relaxed his grip -- allowing the reptile to sink its half-inch fangs into his thumb. The eastern Massasauga rattlesnake is the only venomous snake found in Michigan -- and then only in the Lower Peninsula. The grayish-brown reptile likes wetlands, eats rodents, and grows to between 2 and 3 feet long. The lesson everybody should learn from Stefanson's encounter, said Lynn Conover, a naturalist at Independence Oaks County Park in Clarkston, is to leave them alone. `Most people get bit by snakes when they pick them up or step on them,' Conover said. `Snakes will retreat from a disturbance.' Since 1993, the state Department of Natural Resources has had Michigan's rattlesnake under study as a `species of special concern.' Runaway suburban development `is reducing habitat, especially in Oakland County,' Conover cautioned. Reptiles can pack up and move, `but how well they survive that move is debatable,' Conover said. `They don't adapt well.' She said the Massasauga leaves a scent trail behind it so it can find its way home. When its home is destroyed, the reptile's scent trail leads it nowhere. The eastern Massasauga snake is part of the rattlesnake family. It is also the only poisonous [sic] snake in Michigan. Measuring two to three feet long, the snake is covered in a camouflage pattern of brown and black with a black belly. Other features include vertical cat-like pupils eyes and a rattle at the end of its body. The Massasauga are typically shy in nature. Those that encounter them should be very cautious. They live in wooded areas, swamps and wetlands. Their diet consists of lizards, frogs, birds, insects, mice and rats. Life expectancy is 14 years." [Detroit News, May 21, 1998 from Jim Harding]

A 10-year-old boy was attacked by a 4-foot pet python at a neighbor's house in Phoenix, Arizona. A Fire Division Chief said that he didn't know what caused the attack, saying that "the snake probably just was doing what snakes do." Fire personnel dug the snake's fangs out of the boy's face and pried it off his arm. The boy was taken to hospital, the snake remained at home, but the "appropriate authorities" were notified. [Tribune, August 8, 1998 from Tom Taylor]

Good news for native water life

As of July 8th, "the National Park Service will ban personal watercraft such as Jet Skis from all National Parks, including nine where they are now allowed, under new proposed rules. The watercraft would be allowed at 11 national recreation areas and two national seashores. The Park Service said personal watercraft are `often operated in an aggressive manner,' leak oil and gas and cause frequent complaints about noise and unsafe operation. `This list could obviously change based on the number and type of comments we receive,' said Dennis Burnett of NPS. [GREENLines #666 from Roger Featherstone] More information at http://www.nps.gov.

Pets of the 90s

A British program "TV Animal Hospital" broadcasts from the RSPCA Hospital in Putney. "Week after week... we are seeing lizards being brought in with no appetite and lethargic. On being x-rayed, they are found to have thin, fragile skeletons caused by a lack of calcium and are often dehydrated. If you want to have an exotic creature, you must study their needs and be able to provide for them. This does not come cheap and takes a lot of time" reports The Surrey Comet. [May 9, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

"A block of flats was evacuated and West Wycombe Road closed as fire tore through a boarded-up building on Tuesday. [A 27-year-old] resident... carried his two lizards and two treefrogs to safety at the nearby White Horse pub, where he is chief barman" according to the Bucks Free Press. Two other neighbors were at work and returned from work to rescue their five pet rats. [February 28, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Deja view?

Those who have visited the building in Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo which used to house Eddie Almandarz and his fabulous hot herp collection may have noticed that not only is the reptile house not the reptile house any more - it has been turned into a trendy eatery for humans! The building was originally built in 1922 for an aquarium, then converted to amphibian and reptile use, when a new reptile house ("Creatures of Habitat") was built, the old one was converted to a restaurant food court. [Chicago Tribune, May 20, 1998 from Ray Boldt] I keep meaning to go over there. I remember the old, old reptile house with bottles and baskets and buckets with planks and bricks and snakes - everywhere snakes. It's one of those kid things. You go back and what you remember is gone.

X-rays redux

I was interested to read (eventually - international postage tends to slow things down somewhat) in my June edition of the CHS Bulletin, a note in HerPetPourri concerning the dangers posed by airport x-ray machines. Recently, this subject has received quite a lot of coverage in the UK photographic press. The introduction of the new CTX 5000 machine to airports in the UK was discussed in an article in the magazine What Camera (Summer 1998) and a fax received from the manufacturers, a US company called "InVision Technology," states that the equipment will cause damage to films even as slow as 100 ISO! The CTX 5000 employs the dual technology of x-ray and CAT scanning to scrutinise luggage and its prime target is plastic explosive... [even so] a suspicious package detected at Manchester airport last December was eventually discovered to be not Semtex but Christmas Pudding! However, this equipment is not very common even in the UK where we have been compelled to endure the murderous tactics of various noble freedom fighters for over a quarter of a century and airport security is at a far higher level than generally practiced, hitherto, in the USA. Apparently President Clinton has insisted that US airport security should be strengthened in the aftermath of the TWA flight 800 explosion and x-ray examination of luggage is now commonplace. Manchester and Gatwick airports use the equipment but it must be appreciated that its intention is to scan luggage destined only for the aircraft hold. Therefore hand luggage will not be subjected to this formidable equipment. So by carrying all film, whether it is exposed or not, in hand luggage you should be safe, well almost. Fast film i.e. ISO 3200 is still vulnerable but even then only after several passages through the small scale x-ray scanner. Far more susceptible to damage are all APS films. The small size of the cassette has only been made possible by making the film base itself thinner, the film more tightly wound and the plastic canister offers no resistance to the x-rays. Therefore if you are a user of this format then either carry the film in your pocket through the metal detector or ask for a hand search. 35 mm users may also ask, very politely, for this service, however beware. A readers letter in the Amateur Photographer (4th July, 1998) relates how he asked for his camera case to be hand-searched and was refused . Instead the customs officer insisted on emptying the case, then re-packing it and finally putting it through the x-ray machine for a second time. Apparently the film was undamaged despite this maltreatment. Whilst the international thuggery of terrorism continues to threaten innocent lives the use of this device and similar equipment will become increasingly common. Even non-travelers are not safe, according to the same article the Royal Mail routinely x-ray parcels too so mail-order processing of film is also at risk! David Blatchford P.S. ... The 25th July edition of the Amateur Photographer carried an editorial which I summarize: "Ian Hutcheson who is the head of security for all British Airports Authority has instructed all supervisors to "accommodate requests from passengers to have their film hand searched." In addition Mr Hutcheson states that "... new x-ray machines... used to screen luggage to be carried in the hold do cause damage to film... we are... advising passengers to carry films in their hand luggage." Mr Hutcheson reiterates that the x-ray machines that screen hand-luggage will not fog film. If you do wish to have film hand searched then it will simplify the procedure if you remove the film from its carton and canister then place them in a polythene [clear plastic] bag. The films and protective canisters can be reunited once you are through the security check and wondering what to do for the next few hours waiting for your flight."

Salamanders in the news

"The Philadelphia Inquirer reported recently a `most gruesome and rarely seen' animal of the northwest Pennsylvania woods is disappearing. The hellbender is `not exactly charismatic megafauna,' said biology professor Art Hulse, `but for a salamander, it is mega. OK, OK, it also looks dirty and ugly. But it is unique.' Hulse estimated the hellbender, a `salamander on steroids ... almost as long as the average man's inseam...' has disappeared from 60 percent of its original stream habitat in Pennsylvania. [GREENLines #701 from Jay Lee]

Introduced crayfish which were threatening southern California populations of Taricha torosa (California Newts) were swept out to sea by torrential rains associated with El Nino. David Wake at UC Berkeley said, "The newts crawled out on land and the crayfish were swept downstream. Our native species have evolved in our erratic weather patterns -- invaders are less able to cope with that." [Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Ssssstick `em up.

"Muggers are using snakes to terrorize and rob women in downtown New Delhi, a newspaper reported Monday. In the latest incident Saturday. Three men thrust snakes at a woman in a taxi and demanded her money and jewelry, the Times of India reported. The woman, Roshni, turned the valuables over. "Those bloodshot eyes and the snakes slithering all around keep coming back to me," Roshni said. The same men have attacked several other women, the newspaper said, citing police. [Albuquerque Journal, July 14, 1998 from James N. Stuart]

Quotes of the month

A sheriff involved in the search for a man alleged to be involved in Southern bombings and to be hiding out in the mountains of North Carolina said, "There's rattlers big enough up there to puke up a buck deer." A local person said that if the man "is in these mountains, they ain't going to find him. They're city people." [Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1998 from Ray Boldt]

Cool websites

Check out http://www.bankokpost.com/today/200798_Outlook03.html for a nifty story from The Bangkok Post about "how a school in Phayao province attracts visitors to see the strange tortoise with a big head and a nifty way of climbing trees." [From Phil Jones] For the latest on Sea Turtles drop by http://www.cmc-ocean.org. [From Kathy Bricker]

Thanks to everyone who has sent in stuff

and particularly thanks to John Mason for installing enough RAM in my old PC that I can now use the program Opera to look at websites and "surf" the Internet. You can e-mail me your web addresses and keep sending print articles, too. Be sure the date/publication slug and your name are firmly attached and send to me.

October 1998

Eyewitness account of DNR raid

Mike Wood: "Dear Ellin, In the August CHS Bulletin, there was a story about the DNR raid at the Midwest Reptile Show, June 28th, "Laws, lies and videotape." I have enclosed a copy from the Hoosier Herpetological Society Monitor that provides a different view point. I was there June 28th as a customer. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indianapolis City Police Department should be ashamed of the manner in which innocent citizens were treated that day. [We were] herded out in the sun for over an hour in 94 degree weather. A lady passed out. I tried to inform the Police a lady was down, I was told to `shut up' or I would go to jail! A true motto of `to serve and protect.' Many herps died of heat exposure. Lawsuits are pending regarding this raid..." The enclosed article by Ed Ferrer reads in part: "The `media circus' put on by news reporters of the local TV stations did little to inform the public with their sensationalized accounts of the raid. They took all sorts of video shots and gave the uninformed casual viewer the impression that any of the animals shown could have been illegal. Most of the animals shown were completely legal. If their intent was to discredit the Midwest Reptile Show and herpetology hobbyists in general, I think that was accomplished." For more information, see the HHS web site http://members.iquest.net/~hhs.

Eco-mess fouls fen

In late August, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stopped construction of a 455-mile crude oil pipeline, planned to go from Superior, Wisconsin to Chicago because the drillers leaked drilling mud below an environmentally sensitive fen and damaged endangered plants known to occur there. Bentonite is the drilling business name for a mixture of gypsum and silica. (Mineralogical Bentonite is a clay derived from volcanic ash.) Regardless of manufactured or natural, it is used as a drilling lubricant and is affectionately known as "mud" to drillers. A company official with Lakehead Pipe Line Company said, "We were aware that the mud could find a fracture and burp up to the surface, which it did in the fen." The mud covered a 10,000 square foot area and smothered three sensitive and restricted plant species including yellow monkey flowers. The company cleaned up the mess and planned to reroute the pipeline fifty feet deeper which would clear the river by 100 feet. But the USEPA wants to see a plan to minimize leaks and damages before construction resumes. [ENR Engineering newsletter, September 14, 1998] To see why this is so potentially damaging, look for the town of Sandwich in the lowest southeast corner of De Kalb County. Lakehead encountered a crack while drilling 50 feet under the Fox River approximately between Millhurst and Millbrook, nearly due southeast of Sandwich. Now lay a straightedge between Sandwich and Kankakee River State Park. That is the line of the Sandwich Fault, an ancient and apparently inactive structure which underlies some of the most rapidly populating areas in the state. It crosses the Illinois River in Channahon and is exposed in a quarry. [Illinois State Geological Survey Publications] Is it possible that the drillers encountered a crack associated with this feature? You can see the kinds of bedrock cracks they might have pierced by visiting Kankakee State Park and walking along Rock Creek. The fault is exposed along the creek about 100 feet north of the bridge on the west cliff. This is one of those textbook engineering problems which should be taught over and over again in school. Out west everybody knows that there's rocks down there and that rocks got groundwater in them and that faults act like pipes to bring groundwater to the surface or contaminants to the groundwater. There is no excuse in Illinois for subsurface drilling (or issuing permits for same) without a full review of geological conditions by an experienced Illinois geologist and a requirement that all subsurface drilling be monitored by a knowledgeable mudlogger or graduate student. As sorry as I feel for anyone involved in a federal lawsuit, USEPA is to be applauded for asking for more studies before drilling resumes. If it does.

Endangered species in the news

Officials doing a routine check on a plane at the Douglas, Arizona airport were surprised to find 15 wriggling socks with Gila monsters inside a secret compartment below the floor of the cabin. Two U.S. citizens were being held and a variety of federal charges may be filed against them. [Tempe, Arizona Tribune, August 8, 1998 from Tom Taylor]

Jerry Sullivan: "Opponents of the protections provided by endangered species laws are given to loud guffaws or apoplectic outrage when species that are unlikely to show up on heraldic shields are given protection. Their belief seems to be that endangered species laws are like the legal protections given landmark buildings. The criteria should be primarily aesthetic. If an animal is not beautiful or large or stately or otherwise imposing, it should not be on the list. It is obvious that these people were not paying attention during Biology 101..." Jerry points out that the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board has proposed four species be changed from state-threatened to endangered status, the alligator snapping turtle now limited to one state locality, the coachwhip, and two birds. [Chicago Reader, August 14, 1998 from Ray Boldt]

Wildfires which raged across part of the state of Florida this year may actually benefit native wildlife. Endangered indigo snakes and gopher tortoises survived in their underground burrows, while nearly a half a billion dollars of human property was lost. [Arkansas Democrat and Gazette, July 12, 1998 from Bill Burnett]

The names of three alleged international wildlife smugglers were published in the June 16, 1998. Those who want to read the entire story are referred to the internet. Search for the Tempe, Arizona Tribune [from Tom Taylor] and The Washington Post [from Kathy Bricker]. I'll let you know when and if the convictions happen. I'm lewinskied out and tired of vicarious media thrills. How about you?

A Metarie, Louisiana man was arrested for "trawling Lake Ponchartrain with his [turtle excluder] device sewn shut - and with a sea turtle in his trawl," according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. A spokesman for National Marine Fisheries Service said that it's pretty rare for enforcement officials to find turtles in the trawl nets and added, "But this guy had the whole nine yards: a TED sewn shut with a turtle in it, and it was a Kemp's ridley, the rarest of the rare sea turtles." Coast Guard officers boarded 2,050 boats along the Gulf shore and found only 23 violations. Some feel the real number of violators may be higher, noting that many shrimpers use CB radios. [July 14, 1998 from Ernie Liner]

Kemp's ridleys have been observed nesting on Volusia County beach. Remember that this is the same county which has been taken to court by a few brave citizens to change county ordinances on lighting and beach driving and changed all its policies in May. Only 17 of 47 beach miles may be driven on and the lighting will be changed or repaired. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, May 1, 1998 from Bill Burnett] The Volusia nest is only the fifth record for nesting by this species in Florida. Surprisingly, two reports of Kemp's ridley nests have been reported from Georgia and other sea turtles have nested farther north than usual. Warmer ocean temperatures which are considered to be a "fluke" or a result of El Nino seem to be responsible for the northerly shift of nesting sea turtles. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, June 11, 1998 from Bill Burnett] According to Carole Allen's memorable address to CHS males hover offshore the Mexican nesting beaches while the females lay the eggs. This would mean that both males and females are responding to temperature changes.

Juxtaposed with an article which describes the sorry tale of dead sea turtles washed up and rotting on Virginia beaches is an article headlined "Minnesota maker recalls cereal tied to salmonella." The carcasses can't be moved by local homeowners because they are endangered species and nobody knows how the salmonella got into the cereal which was distributed through 12 states and caused an unusual strain of the bacteria to show up in hospital admits. [Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1998 from Ray Boldt] Welcome to life at the edge of the new millennium. Read John Brunner's "The Sheep Look Up" for an interesting spin on the creation of multicontinental mega- and meio-fauna.

Ruling cuts both ways

California Superior Court Judge Carlos Bea ruled on the animal activist versus San Francisco Chinese food merchant case. For now, the merchants can continue to sell live food. The judge wrote, "The adoption of such standards may be urged to the Legislature, but not to this court, which must apply existing laws and cannot adopt new laws." With reference to Chinese traditional food and medicine practices which had been cited as a mitigating factor by the merchants, Bea ruled, "This `culture' argument is not only irrelevant, it is bothersome and it is rejected. The laws that apply here are Californian, not Chinese." [Contra Costa Times, July 23, 1998 from K and W Herp Haven]

Put that baby on the line!

The Sunday Telegraph reports that Britain's tortoise breeders are facing a new, regulatory dilemma. The E.C. passed two regulations which require all adult breeding tortoises to be implanted with a microchip and all offspring be provided with a chip, even though they cannot be installed in the babies until they are three years old. The idea is to stamp out smuggling, although malefactors have apparently found ways around the regs already. One Surrey breeder described the plan as unworkable, saying "if only every politician and official responsible for this law could have a mobile telephone inserted up their [anatomical part], they might realize just how idiotic their legislation is." [August 2, 1998 from David Blatchford]

Call on Timothy

The oldest known tortoise in Britain was born around 1850, served on various HMS boats and in two wars before retiring to a home in Devon, then a castle at Powderham where it was found that he was a she, but still wouldn't mate. In 1940, Timothy moved his digs to under the castle's front steps - an apparent response to German bombardment - and moved out to the wisteria bed after armistice. For the last 40 years, Timothy's awakening from hibernation has been one of the rituals of blustery and chill Britain. The dates are published in the newspapers and visitors to the castle are welcome to greet him, but are asked not to pick him up. Also, please do not disturb the wartime helmet to which staff refer as "Timothy's boyfriend." Call the castle for details (01- 626-8902430) in the UK. [Weekend Telegraph by Rory Knight Bruce, May 9, 1998 from David Blatchford]

Great quotes!

A 51-year-old alligator wrestler: "I always say that as a gator wrestler you have to have high reflexes and a low I.Q., but every time I get through a show, I know I've handled the alligator and gotten away with it, so it's very rewarding for me." [The New York Times, August 9, 1998 from K.S. Mierzwa]

A 36-year-old Panama City, Florida man was seized by an alligator in the Chipola River. After authorities killed the gator, the man said, "and I know it should have been me. I shouldn't be here... I was screaming bloody murder at the gator, but to myself, you know, I was thinking, `I'm a dead man.'" [Leesburg, Florida, The Daily Commercial, June 25, 1998 from Bill Burnett]

A frog expert at Conservation International speaking about drugs from poison-dart frogs: "Our basic understanding of biodiversity is pathetic. How many chemicals are out there? We have no idea." [The Chicago Tribune, August 30, 1998 from Lori King-Nava]

A contaminant ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland speaking about a Canadian study which links exposure to a commonly used organochlorine agricultural pesticide called endosulfan: 'This study give us cause for concern... we know so little about the effects of pesticides on amphibians that almost anything we find in these studies is going to be new." [Science News, September 5, 1998 from Mark Witwer]

A real croc of a tale

For those who saw or forwarded the latest Internet press release or letter about a golfer who got eaten by an American Crocodile on the seventh hole please be advised that not a single item in that story is true. If you forwarded the letter to your distribution list - please take a minute and send a retraction!

Letters from contributors

Attached to a clipping showing a group of smiling children holding a very long, very plump snake is a note from Jim Stuart: "This isn't entirely "clip-worthy" but made me wonder if anyone in the ... Public Schools got in trouble for this... [they have] instituted a policy where students are not allowed to handle reptiles in classrooms because of Salmonella scares elsewhere. Have you heard of this in other public school systems?" I've wondered about this, too. For every "scary snake on loose story," there seems to be a handful of the "nine kids and a snake" photographs. How about it readers?

Contributor Brian Bankowski sent a clipping from the Toronto Sun about the Grand Cayman Turtle Farm's plan to release thousands of head started turtles. He wrote: "This is where I sent you the postcard in March 98. It's quite the place... big compound and a sort of mini-zoo with a big gift shop, cafeteria... Unfortunately probably all these turtles just swim off to be slaughtered in Mexico or caught in shrimpers nets... If all green plants died, the Earth would die. If all the birds and animals disappeared, the Earth would die. If all the fish and reptiles died, the Earth would perish. If man disappeared, the Earth would flourish. Go figure."

A 36-year-old alligator which had peacefully lived in a family's backyard pond for 25 years was seized by authorities after the critter had escaped its enclosure and wound up in the yard of an extremely unhappy neighbor. His owner said authorities "tied him up like a big cigar" and drove him away to an empty pen at the Solana Beach, California zoo. [The San Diego Union- Tribune, June 6, 1998] Contributor Ray Boldt wrote, "Dear Ellin, A friend of mine from San Diego sent me this article. I took my son and his wife to the Reptile Fest... They were impressed by the reptiles, but also how friendly and knowledgeable the exhibitors were. And they are looking forward to going back again next year."

Thanks to everybody who contributed

and to those others who've sent me stuff that I haven't used yet! Just because I have a few things for next month does not mean you should not keep sending in new stuff as it appears. The easiest way is to just send the whole page of newsprint (it doesn't weigh much!) or be sure that you keep the date/publication slug firmly attached to each page. Put your name on each sheet; it's the easy way to get rid of those freebie address labels without feeling guilty! Mail to me. E-mail letters only. As we can see above, sometimes e- letters and official looking e-press releases need to be fact-checked before use! By the way, thanks to the contributor who sent in a clipping with a really big scrawled note apologizing for the handwriting, but saying "I've broken my wrist." Unfortunately, I can't figure out who this is! Please let me know - when you can write - of course.

November, 1998

Sailing away

In what's being described as proof of natural rafting events, a resident of Anguilla observed the arrival of a natural tangle of trees bearing fifteen large iguanas. Local scientists contacted North American colleagues and the result was a paper in the journal Nature. In a story covering the story, The New York Times reports: "The journey of the iguanas began in September 1995 when two powerful hurricanes moved through the eastern Caribbean. A month later the iguanas, fearsome-looking creatures up to 4 feet long that resemble dinosaurs, washed up on Anguilla's shores on an immense raft of trees, the Nature paper reported. Dr. [Ellen] Censky said the lizards, which rest in trees, were probably blown down with them into the sea. She and her colleagues studied the tracks of the two hurricanes, Luis and Marilyn, and ocean currents and decided that the lizards probably came from Guadeloupe. [October 8, 1998 from James Harding and P.L. Beltz] I have a few questions. If it turns out that human influenced global warming is responsible for more hurricanes, will future events of this kind be judged "unnatural?" And who is to say how naturally the Guadeloupe population was established? Isn't "rafting" on a U.S. Navy ship a natural event for the brown snake? It doesn't realize that a steel raft is different than a tangle of trees - or does it?

Dominion or stewardship?

The Christian Environmental Council released a resolution yesterday calling for the "end of all commercial logging on US National Forests." The CEC asks the Forest Service to redirect timber program money to fund forest restoration and to benefit logging communities. The unanimous resolution was passed in early October. CEC chair, Ann Alexander, said, "Paying timber companies nearly a billion dollars every year to needlessly decimate these irreplaceable forests, which God created and loves, is to commit a sin of greed and waste." [from Roger Featherstone" October 12, 1998]

The foodchain bites the hands which feed it

Fertilizer and sewage are among the nutrient sources blamed for the increase in the growth of blue-green algae in Florida waters. Since many algae release chemicals known to be toxic to liver cells and nervous systems of animals, scientists have suggested a link between the algae surge and the wave of mysterious alligator deaths this year. Others have suggested that algal toxins may be the cause of non-cancerous tumors found on sea turtles. [GreenLines, October 22, 1998 from Roger Featherstone]

Silent Fall

Several of the thought-provoking items to hit my in-box this month was so unsettling that I'd like you to read them whole. First item: "Help Ban the Harvest of Sargassum -- A Vital Habitat for Hatchling Sea Turtles. Sargassum sea weed is an essential component of the open-ocean ecosystem. It is particularly important to the survival of hatchling and post-hatchling sea turtles, which are known to spend portions of the first year or more of their lives drifting in the sargassum rafts that gather in the Gulf Stream and circle the Atlantic. Sargassum also supports a diverse community of marine invertebrate and vertebrate species, some of which are only found in floating sargassum, by providing food and shelter from prey. In the last few years, commercial fishermen operating along the east coast of the United States have begun to harvest sargassum weed for use as a cheap additive to livestock feed. Until now, there have been no real regulations on the harvest of this important marine resource--despite ample evidence documenting the role sargassum plays in the survival of countless marine organisms. Fortunately, the governmental body that oversees commercial fishing regulations is considering implementing a complete ban on the harvest of sargassum--before the commercial harvest gets out of hand. The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) will meet at the end of November to vote on the proposed regulation. Your help is needed to let Council members know that the public supports the ban. The vote will be close, but with your input this important sea turtle habitat can be protected. The SAFMC met on September 24, 1998, to vote on the measure, but several Council members were absent and the vote ended in a tie. We have until the end of November to make sure the ban is approved. Other background information: Research has found that sargassum provides nearly 60 percent of the primary productivity in the upper three feet of the ocean and provides nutrients to organisms at deeper water depths as the older plants die and eventually sink. Sargassum plays a vital role in the early stages of life for hawksbill, green and loggerhead sea turtles. Once hatchlings reach the ocean from their nesting beach, they swim out to the floating mats of sargassum sea weed. The floating mats provide a wide variety of food and provide cover, helping to increase their chance of survival at this very vulnerable stage in life. It has been suggested by proponents of continued sargassum harvest that sea turtle hatchlings and other wildlife can be removed and released alive while the sargassum is collected. In addition to the fact that hatchling turtles and other small critters would be difficult to spot in the weed mats, even the released turtles would likely die without the food and shelter provided by the sargassum. You can help stop the harvest by contacting the SAFMC and urging its members to support the proposed ban. You can mail or fax your own letter or sign-on to a convenient e-mail letter available on CCC's web site at http://cccturtle.org/act-now/sargassum.htm." [October 23, 1998 forwarded by James Harding by email]

Deadly virus crosses to reptiles

In our second scary story, Steve Grenard compiled emails and explained one of nature's latest mysteries: ``Ranavirus, found previously in amphibians and fish has, apparently crossed over to reptiles as the following compilation seems to indicate. It may be of interest to amphibian decline workers involved in studying the role of infectious disease in amphibian declines... "Smuggled green pythons intercepted at Cairns airport in May [1998] were carrying a new virus that may have had the potential to devastate Australia's native reptiles, fish and amphibians. The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) seized the 10 smuggled snakes as they were being brought into the country hidden in a man's trousers. Two of the snakes died soon afterward and were sent to the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) in Geelong, Victoria, for testing. A team of AAHL scientists isolated a virus from both snakes that belongs to a group of viruses that cause disease in Australian fish and amphibians. "It's possible that this virus, which hasn't been identified in Australia before, could have seriously affected Australia's valuable aquaculture industry as well as our wildlife," says Dr. Deborah Middleton of CSIRO Animal Health. "We know this type of virus can cause disease across a range of species, and survives well in the environment." ... Two people were sentenced in a Cairns court yesterday for their part in smuggling the diseased snakes into Australia. All the intercepted snakes have since been sent to AAHL for testing. As a followup, an Australian reptile keeper who is already before the Courts facing more than 50 unrelated charges involving his dealings with reptiles has been charged in connection with the above importations by both the Australian Customs Service and the Queensland Police Fauna Squad. The same man had been issued a wildlife demonstrator license in Queensland by a senior DEH law enforcement officer, despite the application having been originally rejected by the appropriate licensing officials, and despite having been previously convicted of wildlife offenses in New South Wales... He is due to appear in the Innisfail Magistrates Court... The virus isolated was identified by electron microscopy as an Iridovirus (family Iridoviridae) and further characterized as a ranavirus (genus Ranavirus) which differed from previously described ranaviruses. These viruses have been previously identified in fish and amphibians, but infections occur across a range of species. I understand that the snakes originated out of Irian Jaya and as for the motive I can only guess that these snakes are in demand and that money could be made." Malcolm Love, Regional Operations Coordinator, Cairns Region. "Since these animals came via a dealer in Singapore who sourced them in Indonesia, the presence of a potentially dangerous virus should be relevant to the US and Europe as well as to Australia, especially if cross-infection to other captive [reptiles] is a possibility." David Williams "One of the characteristics of the international wild animal trade is that the stressed animals and birds readily acquire infections while `in transit' as they are frequently held in unnaturally high densities in less than optimum hygienic conditions. So while this Iridovirus might have originated in Irian Jaya, it could just as easily have been, for example, a Thai virus rampant in the Singapore facility."'' [http://www.icomm.ca/venom from J.N. Stuart, October 6, 1998 by email]

The third and final story

``The USGS issues wildlife health alert: Associates virus with salamander die-offs. A recent die-off of salamanders in Utah has prompted USGS wildlife health officials to issue an October 21, 1998 wildlife health alert. The incident followed salamander die-offs earlier this summer in Maine and North Dakota. In all three cases a virus is believed to be responsible. The Utah event occurred in early September at Lake Desolation located east of Salt Lake City. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists reported finding about 200 tiger salamander carcasses littering the shoreline and lake bottom. Salamanders that were still alive appeared lethargic, swam in circles and were unable to remain upright. The sick salamanders also had red spots and swollen areas on the skin. A small number of seemingly healthy salamanders were also observed, but quickly swam into deeper water. No other species appeared to be affected. Dr. Carol Meteyer, a USGS wildlife pathologist at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, examined some of the salamanders and found bleeding beneath the skin and microscopic changes in the internal tissues that indicated a viral infection. Meteyer and Douglas Docherty, a USGS virologist, reported isolating a virus from diseased tissues. They are conducting further tests to identify and characterize the virus. In addition to the salamander die-off at the Utah site, Docherty also found a virus in dead tiger and spotted salamanders earlier this year from Maine and North Dakota. Until these viruses are identified and characterized, Docherty will not know if they are the same virus as the iridovirus isolated from Utah event. Data from these salamander die-offs are still being collected and evaluated. The health alert asks wildlife biologists to report any unusual observations of mortality or disease in salamanders to the USGS center. The die-offs are troubling to scientists because many amphibians (the group including frogs, toads and salamanders) have shown sharp population declines in many parts of the world in recent years. Whether the recently identified salamander disease is related to global amphibian declines is still unknown. Salamander die-offs have been reported previously, but scientists are not sure how common such events may be. USGS biologists say die-offs of tiger salamanders were recorded at the same Utah location during in the early 1980s but these deaths were thought to be caused by a bacterial infection. In 1995 researchers at the University of Arizona reported on a similar die-off of tiger salamanders living in stock ponds in southern Arizona. These deaths were also attributed to an contagious iridovirus infection. Canadian scientists recently announced that they too had isolated an iridovirus from a tiger salamander die-offs near Regina, Saskatchewan, in Canada. Salamanders are a member of the group Amphibia, a word which means "double life" and which refers to the ability of amphibians to live both on land and in water. Amphibians, which have been on Earth for some 350 million years are among the most ancient land-dwelling vertebrate animals. The international scientific community has expressed growing concern over population declines in all amphibian groups. These losses are now well documented and have occurred in a wide range of habitats, including remote and pristine areas in California, the Rocky Mountains, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Australia. On September. 22, the federal government's interagency Taskforce on Amphibian Declines and Deformity met for the first time. This group was formed at the initiative of Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to help investigate the causes of global amphibian declines. It will focus on science, conservation, international and education efforts. Researchers are trying to determine why amphibians are disappearing. Current hypotheses to explain the declines include widespread infection by viruses, fungi, bacteria or parasites; increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation due to ozone thinning; the spread of non-native predators; contamination from pesticides and other chemicals; and rising temperatures. Many biologists suspect that a combination of factors may be responsible.'' http://biology.usgs.gov/pr/newsrelease/1998/10-22.html [October 23, 1998 from Barbara Birmingham]

Thanks to everyone who emailed stories

to me this month. And back to clippings for December as the file folder slowly fills. Thanks to everybody who has sent stuff recently and to those who will be sending stuff after reading this appeal. Send whole pages of newspaper/magazine (weighs very little) and put your name on each page (address labels are great) and mail to me. Also, if you send your Christmas herp fotocard or photos, I will mention you in the December issue! Look forward to seeing lots of pictures of you and your friends.

December 1998

1998 remembered

May 3: "An enormous crocodile attacked and devoured a Costa Rican tourist after the man dived into a river to free a stuck fishing line... `People tried to help him, but every time they got close the crocodile went mad and they had to run for their lives,'" said an official of the local Red Cross. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel from Philip Averbuck]

May 15: "The Food and Drug Administration ... approved Merck and Company's Aggrastat, a medicine inspired by the venom of an African snake... it could help prevent up to 40,000 heart attacks and deaths." [The Houma, LA Courier from Ernie Liner]

April 28: "Venoms secreted by Gila monsters and Mexican beaded lizards have been analyzed chemically and found to bear a close resemblance to a human enzyme associated with blood pressure control." The results were announced at a regional meeting of the American Chemical Society. [The New Orleans, LA Times-Picayune from Ernie Liner]

June 1: A three-year-old frog named "Pretty Lady" won this year's Calaveras County Frog Jumping Contest in three hops totaling 19 feet, 4 inches. The frog "jockey" is a second- generation Calaveras County Frog Jumping contestant. He works in high-tech and races frogs for fun but admits that ever since he was a kid he just liked going out and catching frogs. [Eureka, CA Times-Standard from Bradford Norman]

June 16: An alligator warning was issued by a sheriff in southwestern Ohio after several people reported seeing one in the Great Miami River. A state spokesman pointed out that even though Ohio issues permits for the keeping of exotic animals, it has no specific legislation on the release of exotics and suggested the alligator might have been a pet released after it got "too big." [Bucyrus, OH Telegraph-Forum from Bill Burnett]

July 11: A 31-year-old Virginia man was bitten by a copperhead while "helping a parking lot attendant capture the snake." He said, "I had it pinned and when I lifted it up into the bag, it wiggled itself loose and just sank its fangs on my knuckles." When he arrived at the hospital, he identified the snake as a boa constrictor, but later "with the help of Internet pictures," identified the snake as a copperhead. He said has learned something. He said that he has learned "you stay away from it. [To say] `Oooh, a snake, pick it up!' that's what a 3-year-old would do. It definitely goes to show you that you should not do idiotic things.'" [The Washington Post, Kathy Bricker]

July 23: Police in Elsa, Texas were in hot pursuit of an 8-foot runaway python which slipped away from its backyard pen during the 100 degree heat wave. Three officers checked ditches and looked under houses and parked cars, but were unable to find the snake. So citizens were asked to keep away from the animal and call for help if they saw it. [The Daily Texan from Carl Gans]

July 31: Officials at the Jakarta, Indonesia airport were expecting a shipment of eels to wiggle some while being x-rayed before loading, but one noticed that they were "more active than usual." When the package was opened, 1,020 cobras spilled out. [The Baton Rouge, LA Advocate from Ernie Liner]

August 1: "Arkansas first lady Janet Huckabee can be seen in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated brandishing an ax over a 52-inch rattlesnake... [she] joined Cathy Keating, wife of Oklahoma Governor... to hunt rattlers in April's Mangum Rattlesnake Derby... held in April... the town's 33rd annual celebration. [The Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from Bill Burnett]

August 6: An autopsy on 18 sea turtles found mutilated on Texas beaches in 1997 revealed that the cut wounds on the turtles were typical to wounds caused by "the crushing jaws and teeth of a large shark" not by knives or axes as had been suggested. The autopsies could not reveal if the turtles were killed by the sharks or if the damages happened after the turtles were killed in some other way. Both the environmentalists and the shrimpers claimed there was "spin" on the report; each side claimed it benefitted the other side more! [The Houma, LA Courier from Ernie Liner]

August 10: The National Marine Fisheries Service equipped an enforcement team with small, fast boats capable of sneaking up on fishermen and found no serious TED violations and a decline in the number of dead sea turtles washing ashore. The government announced a new era in relations between the shrimp industry and regulators. [The New Orleans, LA Times-Picayune from Ernie Liner]

August 12: "Frogs falling silent across USA. Amphibious animals of all kinds are disappearing at an alarming rate. Are humans responsible? Scientists have yet to find a definitive answer." [USA Today from Bill Burnett]

August 26: Newspapers around the country picked up a story out of Los Angeles about homeless and aggressive iguanas. Seems they came into the U.S. as "cute little pets" and have now grown to their usual four to six foot of temperamental white meat and nobody knows what to do with them anymore so they are abandoned to feast on the neighbors' jacaranda and give junior reporters something to write about on an otherwise slow news day. Sooner or later, situations like this lead to laws and so it is no surprise to read that the L.A. Animal Regulation Commission now requires owners to buy $70 iguana permit and pet stores to disclose specific details on the animals' lifespan, dietary needs, vitamins/light/humidity requirements, and potential risks of disease and handling events. The law was passed because local shelters are too full of unwanted iguanas and have been forced to put some down because there is no place to put them anymore. [The Chicago Tribune from Claus Sutor and Ray Boldt]

August 26: "A Brazil, Indiana couple was convicted of trying to get money from Taco Bell by putting a withered frog in a taco... they bought in 1997... [they] told Taco Bell's insurance representative that" they would go to the media with their story if they didn't get from $50,000 to $75,000. A jury has just convicted the couple of fraud and false reporting, although the defense attorney said that they "jury disregarded polygraph results indicating the [couple] were telling the truth.' [The Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from Bill Burnett]

August 27: "Copperhead venom may curb breast cancer" screamed headlines over a story about a report at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society. However, it's a case of asp not because you cannot receive, yet. The test subjects were mice because as one researcher put it, they could "milk all the snakes in the world to get enough [venom] for a clinical trial." He added, "Obviously, that's not practical." Researchers hope to find a way to reproduce the natural protein in volume in the lab so trials in humans can be planned. [The Washington, DC Times from Mark Witwer]

August 28: A suburban Washington, D.C. woman personally paid $3,000 for four signs asking motorists to give turtles "a brake." The signs were installed between Leesburg and Dulles International Airport. [The Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from Bill Burnett]

September 2: "Raging rivers swamped new areas in northern India ... with cobras and vipers threatening a countryside ravaged by three weeks of flooding... Nearly 10 million people in 23,300 villages in Uttar Pradesh [state] were driven from their homes, stranded by high waters or lost their livelihoods... " [The Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from Bill Burnett]

September 6: Scores of loggerhead turtle nests in Tampa were wiped out by Hurricane Earl which came ashore at Panama City on the Florida Panhandle. Nests were damaged by high waves, being stuck under high water and drowned, or by being buried under huge piles of new sand thrown ashore during the storm surge. [The Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial from Bill Burnett]

September 8: "Forget Viagra; hundreds of people in Alcala de la Selva, Spain are turning to a fertility toad - with no unpleasant side effects. With torches lighting their way in the dark of night, residents climbed a hillside... to pay homage to a 17-foot square rock formation that looks like a toad and overlooks [their town.] ... According to legend, touching the creature three times - no need to kiss it - under a full moon will make great things happen. [The University of new Mexico Daily Lobo from J.N. Stuart]

September 16: "Reptile smugglers snared... `Operation Chameleon' nets arrests in alleged smuggling ring in which rare creatures fetch as much as $30,000... the indictment charges against the four men [arrested] charges them with conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering and violations of wildlife laws. The maximum penalty... is 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine." [USA Today from Bill Burnett]

September 16: "A Pasadena, CA man was charged with stealing more than 32 snakes from a storage area behind a pet store and selling them on the street... `Snakes are a lot more poplar than a lot of people would have imagined,' said ... the manager of the store who had been building his collection of snakes for years." [The Washington Post from Kathy Bricker]

September 17: Maryland officials have classified the hellbender as a state endangered animal. One biologist said, "They've been here millions of years, and we think they deserve to stay." Researchers know where to catch the long-lived amphibians, but have not recorded many eggs or any really young larvae. [The Baltimore, MD Sun from Mark Witwer]

September 29: "Large, green Cuban tree frogs have been showing up this year in the most unexpected places... [and it's making some people in Brevard County, FL] jumpy. [News-Press from Ardis Allen; and The Orlando, FL Sentinel from Bill Burnett]

September 30: "At the Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Moss Point, Mississippi... residents were trying to figure out how to round up the alligators who floated over the chain link fence. Workers said about 30 gators had escaped" in the aftermath of flooding caused by Hurricane Georges. [The Chicago Tribune from Ray Boldt; and The Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat- Gazette from Bill Burnett]

October 2: A 17-year-old fed his pet 8-foot python two rats, then tried to handle it. It bit him and constricted him. His friends called 911. Firefighters analyzed the situation, tried a few preliminary moves and finally cut the snake's head off. [The Springfield, MO News-Leader from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]

October 3: A Homer Township, Illinois man may face felony charges because state conservation officers found 158 live turtles and 154 pounds of frozen turtle meat at his home - way over the state bag limit. [The Daily Southtown from Bob Bavirsha] The Waukegan News, October 5 from Scott Keator reports that the 158 live turtles were baby turtles and that the 24-year-old man was captured with "a turtle in one hand and burlap bags full of turtles in the back of his El Camino." The man then told officers that his father (in Homer Township) had a pool full of turtles. Officers served a warrant and were shoved by another son. Then on October 9, came the charges for misdemeanor poaching against the 61-year-old father with penalties of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted and battery charges against the son. [The Sun Times from Ray Boldt]

October 4: An annoyed turtle in Tacoma, Washington had just had enough of being poked by its 8-year-old owner and so clamped its carapace and plastron shut that the boy couldn't get his finger out! They tried tapping. They tried food. Finally paramedics gave it a tiny whiff of nitrous oxide. The laughing gas worked, the turtle relaxed and the boy got his finger out with only a blood blister. A veterinarian who specializes in turtles was quoted, "That's why they're called box turtles - they can close up tight just like a box." [The Chicago Tribune from Ray Boldt, Scott Keator and Claus Sutor]

October 13: "Rescuers race against time to salvage sick sea turtles. Mysterious growths are destroying the hapless creatures." [USA Today from Bill Burnett]

October 16: "A Woodridge, IL man pleaded guilty... to selling an endangered Galapagos tortoise to an undercover officer for the Illinois Department of Conservation for $2,500 in cash in 1993... [The 27-year-old man] admitted he sold an American crocodile, also endangered, in 1993 as well." Sentencing is scheduled for March, 1999. [The Chicago Tribune from Claus Sutor]

October 19: Forest fires in Santa Barbara, California which charred 2,200 acres in the Los Padres National Forest have put the habitats for state-threatened red-legged frogs and endangered arroyo toads in danger. [The Chicago Tribune from Ray Boldt]

Things to do while waiting for January 1...

Visit the new Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network/ Roseau Canadien de Conservation des Amphibiens et des Reptiles website http://www.cciw.ca/ecowatch/dapcan. It's an interesting work in progress with a full key to their species and volunteer monitoring efforts. They plan to have a quiz by picture and call for Canadian frogs and toads soon. [Froglog, August 1998, Number 28]

Subscribe to Hamadryad, the Journal of the Centre for Herpetology, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, Post Bag 4, Mamallapuram 603 104 Tamil Nadu India. An individual subscription is $35.00, institutional $50. Imagine a year's worth of CHS Bulletin all full of Indian herpetology, wrapped in a front and back color cover and plopped in your mailbox and you will understand my delight every time I see the latest from Indraneil Das, Harry V. Andrews, Romulus Whitaker, Romaine Andrews and Luc Gastmans. I really liked the frog picture on the back cover, but found that I read the whole journal from end-to-end, too.

Follow sea turtle migrations on the Turtle Satellite Tracking System http://www.cccturtle.org/sat1.htm. Sea turtles migrate hundreds to thousands of miles a year as they move from breeding to feeding and back again. [The Chicago Tribune, September 28, 1998 from Claus Sutor] And watch the releases of green sea turtles on Seven-Mile beach on Grand Cayman http://www.turtle.ky/webcam.htm. [The Baton Rouge, LA Sunday Advocate from Ernie Liner]

Adopt a turtle from the Sea Turtle Survival League, part of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, founded 40 years ago to support the work of the late Archie Carr. For free information, call 1800-678-7853. [The Houma, LA Courier, June 19, 1998 from Ernie Liner]

Subscribe to Moko and Herpetofauna by joining the New Zealand Herpetological Society, P.O. Box 33, 1187 Takapuna New Zealand. You get to try to find out the exchange rates, but its $35.00 New Zealand for a single, $40.00 NZ for a family and libraries must enquire from the NZHS Secretary. They have some fabulous books, too. I particularly liked reading about the efforts to conserve and encourage tuatara populations in their native habitat.

Mystery solved

Contributor Ray Boldt writes: "Just a quick note to let you know it was me who had the broken wrist (right). It was so physically hard to write with a cast on that sometimes I would lose my train of thought. Anyway, the cast was removed September 8th and I have been playing catch up ever since."

Thanks to everybody who contributed this month

and to Jack Schoenfelder, Ernie Liner, Bradford Norman, Ardis Allen and Tom Taylor. Contributors send pages of newspapers or magazines with the date/publication slug firmly attached and their name on each piece to me.

My new book!
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz
Read another column...

1987 . 1988 . 1989 . 1990 . 1991 . 1992 .

1993 . 1994 . 1995 . 1996 . 1997 . 1998 .

1999 . 2000 . 2001 . 2002 . 2003 . 2004 .

2005 . 2006


Or learn the Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America:
translations of the scientific names, list of common names, biographies of those honored, citations of original descriptions and other information.
Visit my Homepage
Ellin Beltz / ebeltz@ebeltz.net
January 10, 2008

Valid HTML 4.01!