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

1999 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 13th year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society Bulletin.

February 1999

Ranavirus found in Australia, in snakes!

"Smuggled green pythons intercepted at Cairns airport in May [1998] were carrying a new virus that may have 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.' AQIS Executive Director Paul Hickey says, `Australia's geographical isolation protected us in the past, but rapid travel now makes us terribly vulnerable to exotic diseases. We should always remember that it's often difficult to spot any signs of disease until the animals become seriously ill -- and that's too late to prevent infection of other animals.' Two people were sentenced in a Cairns court... for their part [in all this]." Read more on - - and - - [From Steve Grenard via James N. Stuart October 6, 1998]

Algae linked to alligator deaths

GREENLines reports "... recent surges in the growth of algae and associated toxins may be causing a wave of alligator deaths in Florida. Many species of blue-green algae release chemicals toxic to the nervous system and liver of animals. Some scientists believe algae may also be linked to non-cancerous tumors being found on sea turtles. The increase in algae has worsened in the past year and is caused by runoff of fertilizers, sewage, and other nutrients into the water system. [October 23, 1998 from Roger Featherstone]

If you destroy it, they will go.

"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... 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." [From Allen Salzberg and Jim Harding]

New species

"The latest issue of Australia's major herpetological journal Monitor has announced the discovery of a new species of highly venomous snake. Until recently the species had been confused with the King Brown Snake (Pseudechis australis), but research by several prominent herpetologists has confirmed that the snake is not only different to the King Brown Snake, but substantially so. The species, now known as the False King Brown Snake (Pailsus pailsei) is currently only known from the Mount Isa area in Queensland, although anecdotal evidence suggests that it may in fact be widespread throughout tropical Australia." The species was named by contributor Raymond Hoser, a Melbourne zoologist. The entire scientific paper (and photo) from Volume 10, Number 1 of Monitor is posted on - - with a mirror site at - -. The photo can be republished anywhere (including in newspapers) without permission, provided the photographer is acknowledged.

Smile, crocodile!

According to the Associated Press, a popular Iraqi newspaper accuses Israeli spies of putting crocodile eggs into two lakes in northern Iraq. The Babil daily newspaper owned by Saddam Hussein's oldest son, Odai Hussein, reports that the latest attack follows the release of "large quantities" of cobra snakes near Iraqi forces in the north. AP continues, "Northern Iraq is under the control of Kurdish factions helped by a no-fly zone enforced by U.S. and allied warplanes. Adnan Mufti, a representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which controls the region around the lakes of Dokan and Darbandi Khan, called the report `silly and stupid propaganda.' [and added] `How can one do that in lakes where thousands of our people live and eat from their fish?' he said from Cairo, Egypt. [Babil] did not elaborate on the goal of the operation." [From James N. Stuart, October 26, 1998]

You are what you respire

A new article on a positive association between pesticides and frog deformities is posted on - - [From Gary Casper, Chair, Great Lakes Declining Amphibians Working Group, November 9, 1998]

Suit seeks to protect tortoise

A... press release from the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity announced it is suing the Department of Interior for failure to protect the threatened Mojave desert tortoise from grazing livestock. The release stated, "[T]he tortoise is in a dangerous downward slide that is a result of criminally disgraceful mismanagement." The suit says grazing across 3.4 million acres of public land in the Southwest has imperiled the tortoise, and seeks the removal of livestock from tortoise habitat on public lands. [GREENLines, November 10, 1998 from Roger Featherstone]

Turtles to get luxury hotel

On November 12, 1998 Reuters reported that Sol Melia, a Spanish resort company, is going ahead with plans to develop one of the last undeveloped stretches of beach on Mexico's Caribbean coast. X'Cacel beach, 75 miles south of Cancun, is a likely source of up to 30 percent of the genetic diversity for the green and loggerhead sea turtles. [GREENLines, November 16, 1998 from Roger Featherstone]

News! Snakes eat rats.

Reuters news agency reports "Hundreds of snakes are helping out Thai rice farmers in northern Ayutthaya province by eating hordes of rats that have invaded their fields and ravaged grain. Three months ago, a government-owned snake farm released into the fields about 450 non-venomous snakes of a kind sometimes found there following pleas from area farmers to help them get rid of the rats. The farmers claim millions of rodents in the fields have eaten nearly half of their paddy production. Also, about 22 Thai farmers have died from leptospirosis, a disease that develops from a virus in rat urine and causes infection on close contact. Hundreds of other people have fallen ill from the disease. Now the farmers are claiming an early success in their war against the rats. `Each villager used to catch about 100 rats per day from the rice fields. But after the snake were released into the area only six or seven rats have been caught' said Anan Nongkrajok, the headman of Klongnoi village in the Baanpeh district. `Having snakes eat rats in rice fields is the natural way of balancing ecology' said Montri Chiobamroongkiat, a veterinarian at the snake farm who initiated the project. He told Reuters the snakes released into rice fields in the Ayutthaya area could consume more than 18 million rats per year. `I would like to appeal to the villagers to refrain from killing or eating the snakes. They will decrease damage to the rice fields, halt the spread of leptospirosis and help balance the ecology,' he said." [November 16, 1999 from Joanne Tinsley]

Refugees plunder turtle eggs

A recent story in The Christian Science Monitor reported 80 percent of Southeast Asia's green turtle population is being threatened by refugees fleeing into the Philippine islands. The refugees can legally collect the eggs, but the recent influx of refugees has led to 70 percent of the eggs being collected for sale as delicacies in neighboring Malaysia. Egg production in the area has dropped almost 90 percent since the 1950s. [GREENLines, December 9, 1998 from Roger Featherstone]

Editorial blasts bison disaster

A recent editorial by Sylvia Torvik in the Seattle Post Intelligencer criticized Montana and federal officials for their "numbskullery" in managing bison around Yellowstone National Park. Officials are proposing to build a $2.1 million quarantine facility to prevent the spread of brucellosis, and "to protect a mere 1,000 head of cattle whose owners the US Treasury less than $5,000...a year to graze their cattle." For more information see - - [GREENLines, January 6, 1999 from Roger Featherstone] See, it's not just reptile issues. Unclear thinking permeates many other wildlife management attempts.

Reptiles seized from enthusiasts

The Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management [CALM] seized more than 70 reptiles which were allegedly being held illegally in homes in suburban Perth. The West Australian [January 9, 1999] reports: "The people that CALM have targeted are not elusive back-yard operators as portrayed, but are all licensed members of the volunteer `Snakebusters' team who for many years have been removing dangerous snakes and other reptiles from private and commercial properties around Perth. The 'Snakebusters' list is held by CALM and most calls are referred via CALM. Believe it or not, two of the three individuals raided on Thursday night have since had snake removal calls referred to them via CALM, [said Brian Bush, president of the local herpetological society. He continued] "... two of the alleged culprits ... have carried out numerous field surveys of reptiles for CALM and for the West Australian Museum... [and] assisted in metropolitan nature reserve surveys... [One is] listed as an official tour leader in CALM's own 1999 Landscape Expeditions Program, where he is described as "an honorary technical officer with CALM." ... After many years of lobbying by the Western Australian Society of Amateur Herpetologists (WASAH) and other concerned parties, the Minister for the Environment and CALM publicly acknowledged the inequities of this situation, and set about working on replacement regulations to facilitate private keeping under the current Wildlife Conservation Act 1950... "People might reasonably ask why the three `culprits' couldn't wait for another six months before getting licenses under the new system?," asks Bush. "The fact of the matter is that quite a lot of the snakes and other reptiles picked up on 'snake-removal' calls are not local animals, but have been brought into the Perth area either from up north or from interstate. This often happens accidentally, with frogs or reptiles getting a ride on a truck or in a fruit-box, but some animals are also brought to Perth by less-dedicated animal-keepers who subsequently release the animal into a garden or nearby bushland. This is bad-news from the biological point of view, as the `foreigners' can compete with locally occurring species or may be carrying new diseases or parasites". Under CALM's snake-removal license, the snakebuster has 72 hours in which to dispose of the animal. For a locally occurring species, such as a Dugite or Tiger Snake, this can be done by releasing the snake into one of the larger suburban bushland areas. "Non-local species pose a real dilemma," says Bush. "In most cases, we don't know exactly where these animals come from. And even if we did, who is going to travel to the Pilbara or Kimberley to release a snake or lizard? Perth Zoo is not able to accommodate the numbers of animals involved and CALM itself does not have any facility or procedure in place to deal with these animals... Our other big worry at the moment," says Bush, "is the welfare of the 70 animals seized by CALM on Thursday evening. The CALM Wildlife Officers simply don't have the expertise to adequately care for such a large number and variety of reptiles and frogs. Many of them need special diets and have very specific routines that can't be altered without seriously stressing the animals". [Forwarded by Raymond Hoser]

Put `em back!

Mudpuppies may be ugly creatures, but they still deserve to live. That's why the Michigan Department of Natural Resources urges ice anglers to throw mudpuppies back into the water - and not leave them "on ice" to die. In southeastern Michigan, mudpuppies are often caught on Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River. "Sometimes anglers leave mudpuppies on the ice to die, because they feel these salamanders are worthless or even dangerous," said Gary Towns, DNR District Fisheries Biologist. "But every species, including the mudpuppy, is important in the environment and has a role in the food chain. They are not a throw-away species." Mudpuppies are native to North American lakes and streams, but their populations have been declining severely in recent decades. They have flattened heads, slimy skin, and four legs with four toes on each foot. They also have bushy, reddish gills behind their heads. Their color varies, and ranges from a brown to a grayish-brown with scattered dark spots or blotches. Those caught by anglers are typically eight to 12 inches long. There is no evidence that mudpuppies damage fish populations. They are not a menace to game fish. Their diet consists of crayfish, snails, insect larvae, worms, and some fish eggs. If a mudpuppy is caught this ice fishing season, the law requires its release back into the water. "Mudpuppies are technically considered salamanders and are protected under the laws that protect salamanders," said Lori Sargent, DNR Wildlife Division. Mudpuppies cannot be taken out of the waters from November 15 through the last Saturday in May. For more information visit - - [January 14, 1999 Michigan DNR news release forwarded by Jim Harding]

Sweet home, Kentucky

"A few days before Christmas, Jim Harrison, the director of the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, received an email from Dan Badgley of the Columbus Zoo. Dan had received word that about 260 Asian cobras, Naja kaouthia, had been confiscated in Singapore. The snakes were on their way to Canada and Hong Kong where they would have been killed and eaten as a delicacy. However, the Singapore authorities were unable to properly care for the snakes and they needed a place to go. Presently they are being kept in snake bags and offered water daily, but this is hardly a way to maintain them. After some debate, Jim decided that the KRZ would take the snakes. The zoo is a non-profit organization... has an exhibit open to the public and also houses one of the few venom extraction labs in the country. Venom from many species of venomous snakes, including N. kaouthia is being used in medical research worldwide. These venoms are being used in research on AIDS, Parkinson's disease, high blood pressure, cancer and strokes. The zoo supplies these venoms to various researchers. The KRZ is in need of donations to help house and care for these snakes. Therefore, we are reaching out to the herp community. Monetary support as well as used cages and supplies, would be greatly appreciated both by us and our scaly friends. If you are unable to donate anything, support the zoo by dropping by the next time you are in the Kentucky area, and see over 75 species of reptiles on display. I guarantee you won't he disappointed! Kristen Wiley." For more information, contact KRZ, 1275 Natural Bridge Road, Slade, KY 40376 [From Lisa Koester]

Action alert

"We have just learned that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) funding for protection of the Kemp's ridley nesting beach in Mexico has NOT been approved. It is vital that US funding continues. Kemp's ridley turtles are the most critically endangered sea turtle and one of the world's most endangered animals!" Visit - - for more information.

Cell phone tower considered in Grand Canyon

The Southwest office of the Sierra Club announced [that] the National Park Service is considering placing a cellular phone tower at Hopi Point in Grand Canyon National Park. CellularONE claims existing radio and telephone service is not adequate for the canyon, and wants the tower to increase cellular phone coverage for tourists. Rob Smith, Sierra Club's Southwest representative said people should, "[G]et in touch with the Grand Canyon, not the office." [GREENLines, January 26, 1999 from Roger Featherstone] I include this article because in an early CHS Bulletin, the debate about whether to dam or not to dam the Grand Canyon was a major story.

Corps' Everglades plan panned

"... The National Park Service is criticizing the US Army Corps of Engineers' plan for restoring the Everglades. According to the paper, the Park Service officials believe the plan is inadequate for restoring natural water flows and `might worsen problems' for the Everglades and Biscayne Bay National Park. The Park Service said the Corps' plan diverts too much water to cities and not enough for the environment. The Corps is supposed to have a restoration plan ready for Congressional approval later this summer, but the criticism is expected to complicate approval." [GREENLines, January 20, 1999 from Roger Featherstone]

Smuggler off hook

According to the Environmental News Network, a federal judge released a Costa Rican citizen captured smuggling endangered sea turtle meat and eggs into the US. The arrest resulted from a sting operation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at New York's JFK airport. The Costa Rican could have received a possible five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. [GREENLines, January 19, 1999 from Roger Featherstone]

Thanks to everyone who contributes to this column,

and special thanks to those CHS members who include me on their holiday lists. I really enjoyed receiving greetings from: Bill and Jean Peterson, David and Margaret Blatchford, Bill Burnett, Karen Furnweger, Holly Collins, Amy Hixon, Dez and Dave Crawford, the Morton Arboretum, the Education Department at the Field Museum (love that Sue card!), and Ellis Jones. This column apologizes for its absence last month and hopes to receive enough clippings from members to fill a plump February column! Send whole pages (or clippings with date/publication slug firmly attached) to: me. Letters only to [my] email.

March 1999

Care in Captivity: Humans in Herp. Society

The recent swirl of letters about the proposed "new" stuff for the Bulletin prompts me to point out some very basic facts. If anyone wants to see "new" stuff here (and really none of these ideas are new, many having appeared here over the years in articles, columns and sidebars), they need to consider writing - or at least contributing - something to the Bulletin. No one who works on this publication receives recognition (financial or otherwise) for their hours, weeks or years of work. I know some readers may not be aware that this is entirely voluntary and a contributor- driven publication, but I was still struck by the anger in the second Tympanum letter - as if the people who write, edit and put out the Bulletin were getting paid not to fulfill [the letter writer's] expectations. I looked in all my files and couldn't even find a clipping, note, photo, or anything from that writer ever before. What if all that negative energy had - instead - been focused on writing something that she would like to read? Then we would have had a positive contribution to our publication and not made a lot of hurt feelings all around. I applaud Mike [the editor] for printing the letter; we need all voices to be heard. But people who say "There's nothing for me there," really need to consider their options. (1.) Go somewhere you will find what you want, or (2.) Help make what you want a reality. You say you have no time. I will compare schedules with you any day or any night. And yet, I crank out not only this column, but another, month in and month out with only the rarest (Nov. 1995, Jan. 1999) rests. You say there is nothing of interest to you. So write it. And be prepared for people who understand little or nothing to criticize even your best efforts while doing nothing themselves. Perhaps that's where President Kennedy's head was at when he delivered his famous challenge, "Ask not what your country can do for you - but what you can do for your country."

On the other hand

My regular contributors sent notes by e and regular mail asking what happened to the January HerPetPourri. Imagine no conspiracies, gentle readers! It was a direct consequence of the blizzard. Apparently my column left my machine just about the time that the power lines dropped. I thought it went; but it didn't and Mike had to leave for vacation (column or no column) on schedule. We figured it out when the Bulletin arrived, a flurry of phone calls resolved what had happened. So your February column was a quick rewrite of the January - and new material and a new year start here. Hopefully there will be something for everyone below.

Mystery solved

Contributor Ray Boldt: "Just a quick note to let you know it was me who had the broken right wrist. 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... and I have been playing catch up ever since." Ray also sent some lovely pictures of fall sunset at Ryerson Conservation Area. Thanks to Ray for all his help and contributions over the years!

Truck, tractor cap and turtle?

Regular contributor Bill Burnett sent his annual Christmas photo. It shows him by his brand shiny new 4x4 Truck. At first, I didn't see the herp, but looking carefully found the license plate "Tortuga!" Thanks Bill for the monthly big envelopes (no origami here, folks) - all decorated with herp stickers and stamps.

Ribbet and groan

Some of my contributors exceed themselves... This all started when I e-mailed contributor Roger Repp about a desk-top juxtaposition. Lying under an issue of FrogLog was a beautiful color poster I received from contributor Jim Harding. It features the Jim's photos of Frogs and Toads of Michigan in full color. I found the punch-line of a joke swirling in my brain; Roger supplied the jokes.

Q. Where do frogs bank?
A. Under FrogLogs.

Q: Where do frog researchers save money?
A. At the River Bank.

Q. Why?
A. Cuz they're saving up for a Ranidae. [Thanks Roger!]

Croc Bank finances Andaman project

Romaine Andrews or the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust Centre for Herpetology writes: Greetings and best wishes for the New Year! Enclosed are recent articles... which Harry [Andrews] has asked me to forward to you. He is mostly based in the Andaman Islands these days where he has been concentrating efforts over the last two years in getting our conservation, research and education base in South Andaman functional (it's now complete), besides conducting survey work. One positive outcome of his collaboration with the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Forest Department is the formulation of a management plan for leatherbacks - providing further protection of their nesting beaches and feeding grounds. It is hoped that the recent forthcoming UNDP project in India, will take up the protection of sea turtles on the Indian coast... The Crocodile Bank partially supported most of the sea turtle research activities... but we are still struggling to get funding for a comprehensive sea turtle monitoring and study project in the Andamans, that would provide the data required for a complete assessment of the situation in the islands." You can support the Croc Bank. Contact them at Mamallapuram, Post Bag 4, Tamil Nadu 603 104 India or Fax 91-44-491-0910 & 91.

Continuing threats to India's sea turtles

Olive Ridley sea turtles which annually nest on the Orissa coast in India face a new threat, testing and implementation of defensive missiles. This test range is part of the program which has produced long and short range ballistic missiles. Another part of the agency was involved in India's first nuclear bomb test. Local environmentalists fear that the arrival of the military will further endanger turtle nesting beaches. [Deccan Herald, December 29, 1998] This is the same set of beaches where shrimp trawls have been implicated in the deaths and strandings of over 2,000 sea turtles during ten days of the 1998 season. Trawler owners expressed interests in Turtle Excluding Devices (TEDs) when they were demonstrated to them by American wildlife officials. However, no one in India is making TEDs and it hasn't occurred to international wildlife groups to just send TEDs or instructions on how to make a TED, and so the turtles continue dying. [Sunday, Vol. 25, #7, February 1998 both from Romaine and Harry Andrews] Meanwhile, the US lost its restrictive import clause banning imports of non-TED shrimp. The World Trade Organization in Geneva ruled that "the restrictions were an illegal attempt o impose US standards on other countries." [The New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 13, 1998 from Ernie Liner]

Watching exceeds killing

A recent press release by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that the number of people who watch wildlife vastly exceeds the number of people who hunt, even in Texas! Expenditures in millions for wildlife watching for the top five states were California $2.4 , New Jersey $1.8, Florida $1.6, Washington $1.6 and Wisconsin $1.5. The number of people resident in the state in which they watch wildlife, also in millions, California 5.9, Texas 3.5, Pennsylvania 3.4, New York 3.1 and Illinois 3.1. By contrast, the states with the most number of ammunition purchases were Texas 636,000, Michigan 211,000, Wisconsin 166,000, Missouri 162,000 and Ohio 155,000. You can get the whole release by calling Eric Eckl at 202-208-5634.

How to protect a species by killing individuals

"Federally protected gopher tortoises were plowed under by bulldozers at the building sites for new elementary schools in Clermont and Astatula because officials said they didn't have the time to move them... the Lake County school district faces an estimated $75,000 in fines from the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission because [the district] did not get the necessary permits to either move or kill the tortoises. " The director of facilities for the school district said, "All of those construction dollars sitting there idle for that time exceeded the possible fine." He also "acknowledged that school officials made a conscious decision not to get the needed permits because they were in a hurry to get the two schools finished by next July... [A member of the school board] said, `We are teaching our kids to violate the law if it is convenient.'" The fines will go to a fund to purchase land for the rapidly disappearing tortoises. [The Lake Sentinel, October 27, 1998] Local pundit Ramsey Campbell suggested that the school superintendent be forced to take a class on why killing gopher tortoises is wrong and then be "forced to write `I will not kill gopher tortoises' on the blackboard a couple gazillion times." [same paper, November 4, 1998 both from Bill Burnett]

Big snake stories close to home

Writing this column for more than 10 years now has filled my files with many "big snake found slithering loose" stories, but few have been from around here until now.
  • Midsummer there was a report of a "huge" snake, wrong name, right photo - still getting copies of that story as it bounces around the US. [Ray Boldt, Claus Sutor and ??? no name on clipping]
  • Police apprehended a 12-foot long python which was found, not slithering around Schaumburg's giant mall, but sunning - instead - on a grassy embankment along Meacham Road. It was noosed and put in a large cat cage and transported to a vet for a checkup. The snake appears to be in good health. Whether it escaped on its own or was released for being "too big," we may never know. [October 14, 1998, Chicago Tribune from Claus Sutor]
  • Now in 1999 we hear of a 14-foot-long, 81-pound Burmese removed from its seven-year home in south suburban Thornton by police and animal control officials. The animal was taken to the clinic of Mike Miller, DVM (contributor to the CHS "Care-in-Captivity" brochure and many other CHS projects over the years) where the python received a check up and an overnight stay. The next day, Brookfield Zoo offered a temporary home for the snake. According to Mike, the owner hopes to regain custody, although state law makes keeping of a potentially life- threatening snake of more than 6 feet as a house pet. [Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1999 from Ray Boldt]

Other local tales

First Chicago Bank had a cute frog picture on the cover of its home equity brochure. The caption reads "Use your pad for a major purchase."

The 61-year-old Lockport, Illinois man arrested last September by Illinois Department of Natural Resources officers when they discovered hundreds of turtles (including 158 baby turtles) in his home and yard and more than 100 pounds of turtle meat in the home, pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay fines and court costs in excess of $1,000. Had his case gone to trial, he might have been jailed and fined far more than a grand. [Chicago Tribune, November 21, 1998 from Claus Sutor]

Another big snake heist

Thieves stole 68 snakes for a private home in Mesa, Arizona - in broad daylight! Their owner is offering a $10,000 reward towards recovery of his boa constrictors and ball pythons. A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife raid seized allegedly smuggled monitor lizards from the same home. Although the owner was not indicted in the operation, he feels that publicity about the case may have led to the thefts. [The Arizona Republic, October 31, 1998 from Tom Taylor]

Ex-dealer admits smuggling

Tom Crutchfield entered guilty pleas to one count of conspiracy and six of smuggling, aiding and abetting the importation and sale of rare reptiles during a hearing in Orlando, Florida. He was a former owner of Tom Crutchfield's Reptile Enterprises near Bushnell, Florida, before fleeing the U.S. and fighting extradition from central America. At the time of his flight, he was on federal probation for a 1995 conviction for smuggling Fiji Island iguanas. More time may be added for leaving the country without permission during probation. Three other charges were dropped by prosecutors in exchange for the guilty pleas. Sentencing in the case has been set for April 16. Crutchfield was the 18th person charged in a single probe stemming from a customs bust at Orlando International Airport in August 1996. Still being sought are Mrs. Tom (Penny) Crutchfield, and two German nationals. [The Orlando Sentinel, January 12, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

Time to buy a water filter

A wave of recent alligator deaths and sea turtle tumors may be the result of algal overgrowth. Algae, is a natural thing, but too much of anything can prove bad for a system, so the increase in algae due to increasing fertilizer runoff, is of concern. The study focussed on the deaths of about 50 alligators at Lake Griffen in Lake County. Public health officials are concerned that blue- green algae may cause more than taste and odor problems in public water supplies. [Orlando Sentinel, October 19, 1998 from Bill Burnett]

Too much of a good thing?

Residents of Desha County, Arkansas are concerned because a 7-foot alligator was recently found in their area and because a child was bitten by a gator in the next county south. Alligators were imported years ago to help with the "beaver problem," but both beaver and gator still exist on the county's 150 miles of riverbanks. Animal control officers pointed out that while people are afraid that they still have more reports of trouble with bears than gators. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 24, 1998 from Bill Burnett]

A sad zoo loss

The white alligator "Paleface," a star attraction for a decade at the New Orleans Aquarium for the Americas died after choking on a coin which was tossed into his habitat by a visitor. The animal was found in 1987 along with his 17 brothers and sisters. While not technically albinos, they have white skin and bluish/gray eyes, which makes their mutation leucistic, an even rarer form of whiteness in alligators. [December 26, 1998 The Houma, Louisiana Courier, from Ernie Liner]


Cane toads, originally native only to South America, are the first species to provide evidence of lopsidedness in visual stimuli processing in amphibians, according to two researchers in Australia. They found that cane toads are more likely to throw a punch at another cane toad if the second one hops to the left side than to the right. Curiously, prey are zapped more often on the right than on the left. [Science News, November 7, 1998 from Mark Witwer]

Time to get shot full of Lyme

Gary Casper writes: "For those of you field workers at risk from Lyme disease, this may interest you. The Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article today on the new Lyme vaccine now available and covered by most insurance companies. See - bin/stOnLine/article?thisSlug=lyme05 -.

Special thanks to:

  • Lori King-Nava, Ray Boldt and Claus Sutor for the "No newts is bad news for tour" article which briefly quoted my husband, Ken Mierzwa, as "an expert on newts." We newt that.
  • Julian Bentley for dropping in on O'Hare airport for a few brief minutes to catch up on our home/family/herp news. It was great to see Julian again, even if for such a short time! For those of you who know him, he's been posted to Australia by his employer (from the U.K.). Since Julian is a salamander expert - this must be close to torture. Perhaps he'll develop an interest in venomous snakes or cane toads or something instead!
  • My email correspondents for making new stuff magically appear in my mailbox which I really appreciate, but cannot (due to copyright) use unless I receive an original of the article, too.
  • Bill Burnett's mom for being our best Florida correspondent!
  • Bill Burnett for contributing material to the CHS for the Newsletter long before I started doing this column!
  • Ernie Liner for a decade of super contributing from Louisiana. I don't think a single clipping escapes his scissors from any of five newspapers!
  • Mark Witwer for covering Science and Science News for many years!
  • P.L. Beltz for clipping before, during and after his cancer treatments.
  • Kim and Wes von Papinešu, two fantastic newts-gatherers, for going electronic with their massive, global contributions! Even though it took several tries to iron out e-bugs, I think we'll save two trees this year.
  • The government of Canada for its continuing contributions to herpetology.
  • Don Wheeler for drawing "The Adventures of Spot" for longer than most of us have been members! How about a collected works of Wheeler for our 30th Anniversary?
  • To Gary Kostka and Debi Hatchett for writing about CHS meetings. That is far and away my favorite written section in each Bulletin, followed closely by Board Meeting News, classified ads and upcoming meeting announcements.
  • To John Murphy and Mike Dloogatch for everything they've done and everything they will do to put out the CHS Bulletin.
  • The regular CHS volunteers and board members without whom we'd have no membership, no meetings and no Bulletin.
  • To everyone who has ever contributed to this column, a big heart-felt thanks.

We can't write without you.

Please contribute news and magazine articles, letters, photos, news about herps and your herps (and you!). Previously published articles need to have the date/publication slug attached to each page. Whole sheets of newspaper can be mailed for a first class stamp - so save your scissors and just send the page! Be sure your name is on each piece. I credit every contributor, but we have a lead time, so it may take a while for you to see your name in the Bulletin. Mail contributions to me. Email text only.

April 1999

Still in committee

Thanks to everyone who wrote, called, screamed, yelled, e-mailed, quietly worked behind the scenes, actively lobbied - it seems as though the attempt to delist the state-threatened Eastern massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) is not going to happen. The same bill number may be used for an amended bill which does not include delisting the snake. What a sad tale. This being a highly politicized state, I urge you to read the whole story in The Chicago Tribune [March 8, 1999 from Ray Boldt] and realize that the developer is a "politically connected river boat casino co-owner and president of a local horse racing track." The legislator said, "I don't want to wipe the snake out; we are not going to end the species. In my area, this is a joke. The snake is rather plentiful down here." The developer said that he didn't know there was a snake problem and never lobbied for or against the species. The local mayor blames the problem on "environmentalists." For the past 20 years, the community around Lake Carlyle has been trying to develop something to bring in the tourist dollars to their otherwise quite ordinary downstate Illinois dammed lake. It was the federal government that built the dam which made the lake which cost the community its natural canyons with their hunting/fishing tourism attraction. For the latest proposed lodge development, the snake was not originally raised as an issue - there were other issues like human fecal material and groundwater contamination. Nevertheless, the snake was blamed (shall we call this "Adam-syndrome"?) and the bill was written and released. Illinois got worldwide media coverage. Several herpetologists e-mailed the world; websites were set up and linked. The legislators got buried under calls, faxes, e- mails, visits, lobbyists (thank you Shedd Aquarium and Brookfield Zoo!) and newsprint. The bill has not been called, yet - even though it was going to be "rushed through" for a vote two days after anybody heard about it. I love e-mail! To be included in further efforts of this type, please e-mail me your address. Congratulations to everyone and especially to the snake which is still state listed and should be federally listed, too.

Reptile Fest - May 1 and 2

The continuing construction at Northeastern Illinois University has forced Reptile Fest to slither into the Physical Education Building instead of Alumni Hall this year. I think people will like the P.E. space better. Even if it is a little farther to walk from the parking lot - the way is beautifully native landscaped through an oak savanna. Watch for our local garter snakes along the way! You must contact the committee in order to volunteer or show an animal. Or just come and see everybody else's critters and let Don Wheeler, Kim Smith or myself tattoo you! They'll be there both days - I'll be there Sunday. Buy some tchotchkes from John Schoenfelder. Pet Bubba. Have your photo taken with the giant snake. Borrow a child or take your own. Please do not feed the animals, however, they have special diets. Pet the turtles. Watch the giant iguana habitat dominance games and head bobbing. Fun for all! See you there! Call Lori King-Nava or Gary Fogel for more information.

Don't drink the water

"A new study suggests that atrazine - the nation's most popular weed killer - may be partly responsible for the abnormal hormone levels and undersized male genitals found in some Florida alligators... computerized wind models show that large amounts of atrazine are wafting from sugar fields and falling or raining into four lakes north of Orlando. Those are the same four lakes where [researchers]... have found sexually altered alligators... [A vice president for one sugar company said,] "He's jumping to conclusions..." Atrazine's Switzerland based manufacturer, Novartis Crop Protection, has shown that any amount of the chemical falling with rain would be far to diluted to harm wildlife, said ... the company's environmental products manager." [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, January 3, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

Arroyo toad receives active protection

Once a common hopper in Southern California, the arroyo toad is now endangered, driven from 75 percent of its former range. Only 22 populations are known south of Ventura County, so it's great news that the U.S. Forest Service closed 3,000 acres of the 650,000-acre Angeles National Forest to use (including ATVs) until February 2003 to help the toads recover. Even noise from a nearby campfire has been shown to disturb the males' mating calls. [The Daily Triplicate, January 27, 1999 from Bradford Norman] Only a few days later, organized off-road vehicle users are reported to be "furious" over the closures. A rider says, "This isn't about the toads, it's about us. The Forest Service has been trying to get rid of off-roaders for the past five or six years. They blame us for the trash and all the damage here, but it's not us doing it." [The Sacramento Bee, February 1, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

5/16ths of an inch in 10 years

Salamander stories are so few and far between that I've kept all their clippings in one slender file. Now - in one month - come three more salamander stories, two from the February 10, 1999 Baltimore Sun from Mark Witwer. "Yikes," starts the photo caption which continues, "State Comptroller... seems less than thrilled with a tiger salamander being restrained by [a worker with] the Department of Natural Resources and [Maryland's] governor... The reptile made an appearance yesterday at the State House." Oops. Tiger salamanders aren't reptiles. The wee beastie was at the state house because the state is planning to spend nearly $300,000 to buy the home of the largest-known surviving population of this struggling amphibian. A local ecologist said that tiger salamanders are "classic victims of habitat destruction." The plan includes other purchases including 439 acres for nearly $400,000 to save a rare plant. Meanwhile China Daily reports that thieves made off with 16 of 17 giant salamanders on display at Southwest China's Chongqing Zoo on December 10. Officials said all were older than 10 years of age; the one remaining female is over forty years old. [December 17, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

See you later?

Workers at Brookfield Zoo hope that their two, tiny hand-raised green sea turtles will survive their open ocean life and return to their release point in Hawaii in about 2015 when they are sexually mature. "Magnum" and "Higgins" were the first turtles provided to Brookfield from the program sponsored by Oahu's Sea Life Park Aquarium. Turtles were sent to zoos around the nation for head-starting and to raise awareness of sea turtles issues. [The Chicago Tribune, February 16, 1999 from Ray Boldt and Claus Sutor]

Or maybe not

Invasive water snakes in Lafayette Reservoir apparently died out completely and experts are puzzled as to what caused their decline and local extinction. The snakes are native to North America, but not to California. Fishermen had complained, boaters had complained as the diamondback water snakes gulped down frogs and turtles as well as stocked fish. Some have suggested the especially wet El Nino weather system as the cause. Others have asked why an aquatic species as tenacious as a water snake would be harmed by a wet weather system. [Contra Cost Times, January 31, 1999 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Less is same

Frogs feel pain. Researchers had long felt that since frogs only have one kind of pain receptor that they didn't feel pain in the same way as "higher" vertebrates which have three receptors. Surprise then, awaited a researcher at Oklahoma State University when he found that analgesics which work in humans work in frogs and that the potency of these analgesics in frogs matches the potency in mammals. [Science News, Volume 155, February 6, 1999 from Mark Witwer] Weep, then, for the frogs who die in agony for dissection and for those mutilated by "toe clipping" or other "humane" scientific methods. Weep for us also; too self-centered to see or feel the pain of other species, or even our own newborn male children.

Local coop legally harvests sea turtle eggs

The 300 member legal egg-harvesters cooperative at Ostional, Costa Rica has worked out a deal whereby their members can harvest sea turtle eggs for the first three days of each wave of turtle nesting. Authorities believe the indigenous people's reports that the first lays are usually crushed by later arriving turtles' nest excavations. The government also grants 1,600 permits to kill sea turtles along the Tortuguero coast. The Caribbean Conservation group estimates that 8,000 more turtles are illegally harvested each year and claim that Costa Rican authorities do not enforce the hunting laws and do not fund anti-poaching initiatives. A spokesperson for C.C. said, "We have to learn that turtles can generate more money alive than dead, because of the tourists they attract." [The Times-Picayune, December 29, 1998 from Ernie Liner]

Eggs-celent source of vitamins and minerals, eh?

Nutrients provided by sea turtle eggs and fecal material provide the "bottom of the chain" for much of the Melbourn, Florida beach ecosystem studied by researchers from the University of Florida. These nutrients are gathered by the sea turtles thousands of miles away and deposited where plants and local animals can get them. The loss of sea turtles may result in increased erosion and increased cost to beach front communities for beach stabilization. [National Wildlife April/May 1999 from Mark Witwer]

$200 million talks

The Austin American Statesman reports that the Texas Gulf of Mexico shrimp industry brings in about $200 million a year to the local economy. Texas' Padre Island National Seashore has now hosted nesting Kemp's ridley sea turtles while shrimpers have filed a challenge in federal court against using turtle excluder devices in their nets. A biologist with National Marine Fisheries point out that shrimping "is the biggest single cause [of sea turtle strandings], but a shrimping activist replied "they do die of natural mortality once in a while, and they do die of pollution, and ... disease. I think this is what everybody forgets." Records show that there have been 379 stranded sea turtles along Texas shores since 1998 with 37 adult Kemp's ridley sea turtles lost in 1998 alone. [January 4, 1999 from William Montgomery] Shrimpers should also check out the cash box. A report in the Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial says "Shrimp lovers are in for a treat... low prices. A jumbo shrimp harvest along with fewer export sales to Asian fish markets combined to drop the price of shrimp to about a dollar a pound less than last year." [from Bill Burnett] I've got an idea. Instead of millions of dollars in enforcement and hard feelings all around, how about a one-time only investment in a fixed number of TEDs. We'll buy one for every boat on the water on a particular day minus any commissioned between the announcement and the day announced. (No fair adding boats.) Then treat the TEDs like taxi medallions in New York or Chicago - only boats with government purchased TEDs can shrimp. In return, current shrimpers are guaranteed a life style, we save a life form and we all go home happy. Or is that too easy for the U.S. in the quarrelsome nineties?

Native versus native

Ravens following development in the Southwest are eating desert tortoise babies. One researcher said that until their shells harden around seven years of age, baby tortoises are "like walking raviolis," to the ravens. Other threats include loss of habitat, road kills and an upper respiratory disease. [National Wildlife, April/May 1999 from Mark Witwer]

INHS websites

The Illinois Natural History Survey has posted the entire amphibian and reptile collection and part of the insect collection at - -. They are working on a geographic information system (GIS) which will permit remote users to produce maps of species distributions based on collections data. [Reports of the Illinois Natural History Survey, March/April 1999] They don't say, but I suspect Illinois State Herpetologist Chris Phillips had a lot to do with the herp database! It's really neat. You should visit.

Strange genefellows

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have found that crocodiles are more closely related to turtles than to lizards, snakes and birds, putting turtles in the middle of the reptile family tree - rather than on a slender branch off to the side. In addition, tuataras have been placed closer to crocodiles than lizards. The full study is in the February 12 Science. [March 6, 1999 Science News from Mark Witwer]

To bite or not to bite, that is the question

Researchers working on Arizona's twin-spotted rattlesnake report that weather, not snakebite, is their major field worry. One graduate student handled about 100 specimens without a single bite. The researcher pointed out that most of the 200 rattlesnake bites reported in Arizona result from people (often young males) "messing with the snakes." [Tucson Citizen, March 8, 1999 from Tom Taylor]

"Daddy, there's a rattler on the sand pile," cried a child on the Canadian Bruce Peninsula where endangered massasaugas are a fact of life. Residents are urged to help perpetuate the species, not decimate it. Workshops and outreach by the Toronto Zoo and wildlife officials have resulted in a human/snake partnership not common on this earth. Incidentally, "Daddy" came and moved the 2-foot massasauga off into the woods. The kids went back to playing in the sand. [Rattlesnake Tales, Spring 1999 from Bob Johnson]

On a sadder note, a 21-year-old Phoenix, Arizona man died at the fangs of his roommate, a 20 inch diamondback rattlesnake. When found on the floor of his bloodstained apartment, he had been dead for hours. The snake was found under shards of glass in its tank. Possession of venomous snakes is not illegal in Arizona; selling them is outlawed. This owner apparently free handled the animal often and showed his neighbors and others that he let it crawl all over him. Police report the man had been drinking earlier in the evening and speculate he may have been trying to feed the snake. [The Tribune, January 12, 1999 from Tom Taylor]

"What does it take to make a cottonmouth strike?" asks a sidebar in Natural History Magazine (11/98). The article by Whit Gibbons and Michael Dorcas is about field methods in their study which looks at what exactly makes a cottonmouth decide its day has been ruined enough to ruin yours, too. What they found was that venom is used as a last resort; snakes usually choose not to waste it on an item too big to be food.

Love's labour lust?

The Shedd Aquarium recently sent their 16-year resident giant alligator snapper to the Tennessee State Aquarium as part of a breeding loan. He was weighed (249 pounds), packed and shipped in a van for his 10-hour drive to the Chattanooga palace of love. The alligator snapper is a state threatened species in Illinois; other states list them as threatened and endangered. [Shedd News, early 1999?] I wish some of these journals would put source/date on each page!

Frank and Kate Slavens have done it again. Their latest Reptiles and amphibians in captivity: Breeding, longevity & inventory current January 1, 1998, weights in at 423 pages, lists 33,659 specimens in 311 worldwide collections. See older records on the web - - and is available from the authors by writing P.O. Box 30744, Seattle, WA 98103.

Time to ante up

For those who have supported the Wildlife Conservation Society Turtle Recovery Program in the past - thank you. Projects have been funded in North, South and Central America, Asia and Africa. Results are in press or being published in journals worldwide. Turtles and tortoises everywhere benefit. You can support them by sending your checks to "WCS -Turtle Recovery Program." Mail to Dr. Michael W. Klemens, International Conservation Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo), 2300 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY 10460-1099. I only wish they had a nifty website where all this would be available to you!

Thanks to everyone who contributed

and thanks to Wes and Kim von Papinešu, Walt Loose, Sam Ristich, Vicky Elwood, Ernie Liner, Ray Boldt, Jack Schoenfelder, Claus Sutor, Ellis Jones, Gary Fogel, Lori King-Nava, MOKO, David Blatchford, Roger Repp, Mike Pingleton, Karen Furnweger, Roger Featherstone, Jack Fertig and Elias Trevino for all their letters, cards and contributions to herpetology this month. You can contribute, too. Send the whole pages, or cut clippings, but be sure the publication name/date slug and your name are firmly attached to each piece (those freebie address labels work great for this!) and mail to me. I held back only three clippings for next month. Help!!!

May 1999

Quote of month club

"Everything is perfect, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Shunryu Suzuki." [from Karen Furnweger]

Web wrigglers

Thanks to James N. Stuart, Lisa Koester, Gary Casper, Allen Salzberg, Gideon Ben Lachman, Philip Thomas, Jim Hatfield, Paul Sereno, Gabrielle Lyon, and Andrew Holycross for sending the [the latest weblinks].

Letters needed now

"A bill has been entered into the 1999 Louisiana legislature to prohibit the commercial harvest of wild box turtles, regulate the taking of wild box turtles for noncommercial purposes and provide for penalties. The bill is Senate Bill SB937... sponsored by state senator Robert J. Barham [who] is considered as a moderate by his fellow legislators. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries may try to persuade Senator Barham to withdraw the bill. We need people to write or call Senator Robert J. Barham, thank him for introducing SB 937 and tell him that the box turtle needs this protection now in order to survive. Also write or call Mr. Phil Bowman, Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and tell him that a sustained harvest of box turtles is not feasible. Addresses: Senator Robert J. Barham, P. O. Box 249, Rayville, LA 71269. Mr. Phil Bowman, Assistant Secretary Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, P. O. Box 98000, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-9000. We thank you for your help and assistance in preserving Louisiana's box turtles." Martha Ann Messinger and George M. Patton. [forwarded by Allen Salzberg and James Harding, March 29, 1999]

It's cache food, not cash food.

A letter to the editor of The Times Picayune discussed the death of "Pale Face," the white alligator at the Aquarium of the Americas mentioned in a previous column here. "It was not a freak accident where one coin was thrown in his tank by one visitor a volunteer did not stop. It was a conglomeration of a number of coins over a period of time that collected in the alligator's windpipe and choked him to death. He had about 30 coins in his stomach. The volunteers could not stop anyone from throwing coins into the exhibit because of its design. The exhibit at the Audubon Zoo for the white alligators is even worse. I saw visitors stand above the white alligators on the bridge of the exhibit and drop coins on them... there are now only 17 leucistic white alligators in the world with none breeding... many volunteers have complained... Let us hope that the Audubon protects the rare and endangered animals in the care in the future. Mark Houghton, New Orleans." [February 16, 1999 from Ernie Liner]

We're calling - are you listening?

March 24, 1999, "Twain's frog in court: Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and a coalition of groups announced they are suing to protect Mark Twain's infamous Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. The suit says the US Fish and Wildlife Service failed to list critical habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog. EJLDF's [spokesperson] said, `Since April 1996, the [agency] has not once designated critical habitat without being forced by the courts. This policy violates the law and is failing the frog in California.' Meanwhile, "The April 15 Nature reported scientists studying in Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest found a strong link between climate changes and amphibian extinctions. The report says changes caused by El Nino and the overall warming of ocean currents has led to reduced moisture in the cloud forest. This appears to have caused the disappearance of 20 frog species in Costa Rica. The Billings Gazette April 19 highlighted frog declines in Yellowstone National Park. Populations are estimated to be only a quarter of numbers counted in the 50's, with human impacts and habitat destruction the likely cause. [GREENLines, April 2 and 21, 1999 from Roger Featherstone]

At a conference hosed by the San Diego Zoological Society, amphibian researchers agreed that "reports of amphibian abnormalities have increased dramatically in recent years and that at some sites, for some species, the percentage of abnormalities is higher that would be expected... the majority of limb abnormalities appear to occur during limb development in tadpoles and salamander larvae... It is unlikely that there is any single common cause for the various types of abnormalities observed, and more than one factor may be operating at any given sites... A formal consensus statement is being prepared..." [Jamie K. Reaser writing in Froglog, February 1999]

With Australia reporting 10 species of frog disappeared and 15 more in decline and New Zealand having lost half its frog species (3/6), herpetologists down under are concerned. Like the rest of the world, many factors are at work. Pesticides, herbicides (including Roundup) and other chemicals may change soil and water chemistry to the point where frogs can no longer survive. Habitat fragmentation has been implicated in declines. However, a recent article in Moko pointed out some unusual causes of antipodean declines. Rheobatrachus silus, the gastric brooding frog, used to swallow its eggs and regurgitate them at hatching. The species was discovered in 1973 when large numbers were reported from a southeastern Australian rain forest. The frogs had disappeared totally by 1981 after continuous disturbance and scientific collecting as well as a series of dry summers and later than usual rains. Other non-native animals including rats, cats, dogs, cane toads, mosquito fish and others have assisted in the reduction of native frog populations. [Summer (our winter), 1998]

"Police in the southern Czech region of Moravia closed a busy road to give local frogs safe passage to their mating areas. Traffic was diverted along a pond near the town of Brno, located 125 miles southeast of Prague, to protect the amorous amphibians from being killed by passing vehicles. Hundreds of frogs are killed in the Czech Republic each spring while migrating to mating areas. A special frog tunnel was opened in north Moravia last year to reduce the number of deaths." [The Oregonian, April 7, 1999 form Jim Hatfield]

Whining will get you nowhere

A business owner in Fishkill, N.Y. erected a half-inch mesh four foot fence around part of his property. He said, "They're rattlesnakes. They're poisonous [sic]. They're deadly." The odd thing is that he's known about the snakes for a couple of years. The snakes are an issue in a permit application for stone mining on Sour Mountain. The businessman claims that the state is stalling him and casts the whole issue as jobs versus snakes. [March 18, 1999: Albuquerque Journal from J.N. Stuart and, from Ernie Liner The Advocate and The Times-Picayune] Read all about it at - - . Type "rattlesnake" in their search box.

Bright snakes on web

Isn't it odd how keepers often anticipate research? We all knew our snakes were clever, but everybody else told us how dumb they were. Now comes neuroscientist David Holtzman who has found that snakes regenerate neurons in their brains essentially building new storage for new information. Previous researchers had put snakes in mazes - like rats - and found that they were unable to get out. (Keepers know that the snakes probably found a nice corner and went to sleep having no reason to waste calories moving around a safe, enclosed space.) What's new this time is that the test pit is a large open space with limited escape points. Only one of the holes is open at any time. Then (because it's science) there are the iterations. Put snake in pit. Scare the snake; watch it escape. Do it again. See if the snakes learn anything. And (no surprise to us at home!) they did. Your ophiophobe friends will be happy to know that the reason we "need" to know this is that humans don't build new neurons the way snakes do and it might be of great benefit to people with head injuries to be able to regrow lost brain cells. [Read all about it at - - ] New contributor Emily Forcade wrote: "David Holtsman's full report was published in the January Animal Behavior... I'm new to the CHS and enjoy your column there and in Vivarium as well."

Micro-metapopulation dynamics

Recently I was told of a fascinating teaching exercise to illustrate metapopulation dynamics for primary school children. Natural populations of amphibians grow and flourish in ponds which may or may not be a good long-term site. What is often seen is that one pond supports the population in times when other ponds are reduced or eliminated. Russ Hendricks of the Lake County Forest Preserve District used these concepts in a recent primary program by having the children pretend to be frogs. He divided them into a permanent pond population and temporary pond populations. As the temporary ponds dried up, the "frogs" were forced to seek new habitat in other temporary ponds or in the permanent pond. After they'd been hopping for a while, he told them that a major fast-food chain had just built a restaurant on their permanent pond. The "frogs" were forced to live only in temporary ponds. Random events then pinched out these ponds one by one - leaving the "frogs" no where to turn. Congratulations, Russ on a fantastic program - and one I think I'll swipe for my college classes!

New Zealand News

From the other down under comes news of a total change in management at the New Zealand Herpetological Society as a new group of directors takes over all the positions in the society and continues the fine traditions of the society's newsletter Moko. In this issue are stories about herps and herp people on the islands. Perhaps my favorite was about a volunteer discovering a rare Black-eyed gecko hundreds of kilometers from its only known habitat. Also more than 300 rare Maud Island Frogs were transferred from island to island in the Marlborough Sounds in an effort to preserve the species. The transferred frogs bred, as juveniles were discovered this year. New Zealand frogs are considered some of the most primitive living frogs. You can subscribe: Write them at NZ Herpetological Society, P.O. Box 6046 Moturoa-New Plymouth, New Zealand. The cost is 40 dollars New Zealand for overseas members.

It's gonna be a long, hot summer

An eleven-foot python was seized by Champaign, IL police after his owner decided to take him outside for a walk on a nice day in January. The city has an ordinance against large snakes and the snake was also over the limit imposed by the Illinois Dangerous Animals Act. [The News-Gazette, January 29, 1999] Contributor David Blatchford writes: "It's amazing the effect snakes can have even on the most phlegmatic official. We were recently on holiday in Plymouth (the one in Devon, England) and heard of a corn snake that vanished whilst being washed in the bath. The ex-owners phoned police who toured the streets broadcasting through a megaphone warning people that the snake had infested the sewage system and could pop up through a toilet when they least expect it. Apparently the notion that reptiles are obsessed with the sewage system and consider it an ideal domicile is still popular. The theory being that the corn snake had realized from its low vantage point in the bath that a toilet - entry into the enchanted kingdom - was just a slithery porcelain crawl away and at the first opportunity had hurled itself into the malodorous and very chilly depths. Reason - like the snake - just vanished round the bend... Keep up the good work." The clipping actually crossed the Atlantic twice; it was sent to David in Scotland by a friend in Illinois - then mailed to me! Curiously, no U.S. member sent me a copy of this story.

If you're passing through Ontario, Canada this summer, plan a visit to the Indian River Zoo. Over 200 reptiles and amphibians are on exhibit including "Canada's largest Rattlesnake Exhibit," "Live demonstrations," "Gator Feedings" and the "Serpentarium." Call 705-639-1443 for more information. [from Wes von Papinešu]

"A 7-foot long, 175-pound alligator that was pushed out of its natural feeding grounds by development in Rio de Janeiro resorted to dining on local pets, authorities said. The ravenous reptile invaded a home near a swampy nature park... and gulped down the owner's dog along with four chickens that were in the yard. Four officers from Rio's environment patrol captured the alligator, tied it to a stretcher and took it to a zoo." [The Orlando Sentinel, March 20, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

A breeder of boas and pythons recently set the pole vault record at the USA Championships. His jump was 19 feet, 5 inches erasing the mark of 19 feet, 4 and 3/4 inches he set at the last championship event. [The Albuquerque Journal, February 28, 1999 from J.N. Stuart] We are left to wonder if he trains at home or in a gym.

A lovely photo of a smiling gator on a concrete circle is captioned: "The gator is soaking up the sunshine... on the fountain fixture in the pond adjacent to the Delta Orlando Resort near Universal Studios Escape. Wildlife officials have been trying for some time to snare the gator which is about 5.5 feet long and has been frequenting the pond since it was a baby. The rascally reptile manages to escape capture by slipping through the drainage pipes to a nearby retention pond. Maybe that's why it's smiling." [The Orlando Sentinel, March 20, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

A reptile trapper caught the four-foot monitor which had been terrorizing Tampa, Florida. The animal had lived under a house in a subdivision; the owners of the house saw it and feared to outside. The trapper placed a live trap, baited it with chicken and finally caught it. The monitor is headed for a licensed reptile facility. [The Orlando Sentinel, February 11, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

The principal of an elementary school in Louisiana promised students that if they would read 650 books for the Read Across America celebration of Dr. Seuss' 95th birthday, she would kiss a pet iguana provided by one of the students. The kids read 843 books in three days, forcing the principal to pucker up. [The Times-Picayune, March 6, 1999 from Ernie Liner]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Bill Montgomery, Marcia Rybak, Tom Taylor, Claus Sutor, Ray Boldt, Bill Burnett, Ernie Liner, J.N. Stuart and others who have sent clippings and letters which I will be using next month along with a full report from Reptilefest! You can contribute too. Just send whole pages of newspaper or clippings with date/publication slug firmly attached. Put your name on each piece (those freebie address labels work great) and mail to me.

June 1999

Reptile Fest `99

Every year, Lori King-Nava and Gary Fogel continue to amaze me with the time and effort they put into Reptile Fest. I was only able to be there Sunday, but I saw Ileen Sievert, Bob Bavirsha and son, the whole Spitzer clan, Mike and Joan and Ron and Dottie (would there be a CHS event without this tetrarch?), Lisa Koester, Jenny Piccolo, Jim Nesci and "Bubba," Marco and Ryan, Gino Martinez, Gary Kostka, Jack Schoenfelder, the Australian frog guys, the Michigan Massasauga Madam, the Iguana Squad, the Turtle Patrol, and about 500 kids. We also had vendors of embroidered clothing, Dan Rowen's photography ("Herps that don't eat!"), live food shippers, and a bunch of other stuff. Audrey Vanderlinden was pointed out to me by several CHS members, but we didn't get a chance to talk this year. I'm sure I'm forgetting people who will all be really upset with my poor memory - but just remember, now that I'm really a college professor, I am entitled to be (and often am) absentminded. So if I have forgotten you, don't shoot me, I'm doing the best I can. Also, I guess I'm not the best correspondent for the event, because from when we opened to about 0.5 hours before the close, all I saw were kid's arms, ankles and wrists. Don Wheeler and I were "tattooing" children again - our colleague Kim Smith had knee surgery and between the casts and the pins was unable to join us. So our tattooing lines were a little longer than usual - but we all survived pretty well. We did a fair number of adults this year - which was a change from last year. And we had a lot of repeat customers which I found surprising. I also had a chance to meet a couple of people who bring home more rocks than I do from their trips. Paul and Gabe Sereno ("Project Dinosaur") exhibited a model of Suchomimus - the crocodile mimic dinosaur - and had real bones for people to see and touch. Totally amazing. Before we opened Paul drew a Suchomimus on me and Don Wheeler drew "Spot" on him but we ran out of time to illustrate Don, too! Besides the incredible display stuff from Bob Bavirsha, he also brought a huge blue cattle trough and let his snapping turtle and caimans swim around for everybody. I never really noticed before, but monitors tuck their arms against their sides and wiggle like salamanders to swim. And something Bob taught me years ago was demonstrated to a whole new generation of Festers - crocodile pupils stay vertical even if you tilt the croc. I showed that to my students in a National Geographic video in lab - I don't know why it is so, but it is very interesting. Although I wasn't there, Jenny tells me that the Friday night set up crew from Shedd Aquarium included Shannon Nelson, Dave Juarez, Eileen Semeniuk, Nellie Gianni, Debbie Schwarz and Patrick Liu (these tireless volunteers also helped with animals all day Sunday) and McWilliams Electric workers Daniel Furse, Michael Hudson and Mike Knight powered the show with equipment donated from Intelligent Lighting Solutions. Gary Fogel set up an exhibit of just about every kind of model dinosaur ever made (and if I ever find my old ones, I know who to give them to). Some stood, some flew, some fell over - but it was really really cool. If you were not there - you missed the high point of the CHS calendar. Plan to be there next year!

Thawed for food

The Wall Street Journal reports that there is a shortage of feeder rats and mice. The shortage is due to the rise in popularity of reptile pets. It is currently estimated that nearly 20 million people keep mice-eating reptiles. "What used to be a haphazard assortment of backyard rodent-raisers has become a $235 million-a-year industry replete with air-conditioned breeding rooms, Internet catalogs and competitors scurrying to expand. About 93 percent of the 180 million rats and mice raised in the U.S. this year will be sold as food, and that still won't meet the demand. An additional two percent are sold as pets, and five percent are destined for research laboratories... Helping to worsen the shortage is a wave of so-called power feeding of reptiles -- tossing them two or more rodents a week, which encourages far faster growth... All this eating can be unhealthy for the reptiles..." Many people, zoos and other institutions have started breeding their own snake snacks, both to avoid high prices and temporary shortages. [May 13, 1999 from Rob Streit whence also the dyslexically hysteric headline] Meanwhile in a recent issue of Science (read but not clipped as it was the SCR copy) a researcher reports the possible transmission of mouse disease by means of mouse serum. Seems that some work with serum in the same labs as are kept priceless genetic strains of live mice. Serum can transfer disease to captive mice and the scientist was pointing this out to colleagues in his letter. What's next, mad mouse disease?

Reptiles redux

While some researchers claim that Head Start programs do sea turtles more harm than good [Orlando Sentinel, February 14, 1999 from Bill Burnett], others are heartened by the nesting of another Kemp's ridley turtle which was part of the repopulation efforts on Padre Island. The actual turtle was observed by a volunteer. It was tagged with a satellite transmitter, the eggs were taken to an incubator and will be released on the beach when they hatch. [The Austin American-Statesman, April 13, 1999 from William B. Montgomery]

Send your favorite herp

The U.S. Postal service released a series of stamps on the Sonoran Desert flora and fauna. They are the first in a series of "Nature of America" stamps. The poster which accompanies the stamp set shows desert tortoises, lizards, rattlesnakes and a gila monster. [Tempe Arizona Tribune, March 31, 1999 from Tom Taylor]

Big, fat, happy and green

That's how one volunteer described about 200 Jackson's chameleons in a rehab center. They weren't always in such good shape. In fact, they were in pretty bad shape when they were rescued from smugglers by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They were found in burlap sacks, dry, pale and unhappy. Volunteers sorted them out by age and sex - because male Jackson's will eat newborns and gave them warm lights, water sprays and lots of bugs. Jackson's are originally natives of Tanzania but they have become popular pets around the world. [Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1999 from new contributor (to this column!) Marcia Rybak]

Fireflies not on the menu

Researchers at Cornell University report on the deaths of three lizards that ate fireflies (Photinus sp.). Two of the lizards were bearded dragons and the other was a leopard chameleon. Fireflies, or "lightning bugs," contain poisonous steroids named "lucibufagins." These compounds are believed to be responsible for the lizards' deaths. You can read all about it at - [Herpetofauna, December 1998 from the New Zealand Herpetological Society]

Time to mind our p's and q's

A prominent University of Kansas professor emeritus recently admitted in a scholarly journal that he illegally shipped amphibians and reptiles from South America to his institution for three years in the early 90s. In addition to the $5000 fine, he has agreed to stop collecting for a year and to write an apology. [States News Service (Kansas), May 10, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Gets paper out of thin air

Researchers at the University of Miami blame climate shifts associated with apparent global warming for the extinction of the Golden Toad in the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. It seems that moisture which used to read the continental divide in quantities sufficient to support the forest has suddenly been reduced - coincident to the disappearance of the toads. Curiously, Monteverde was settled by U.S. Quakers in the 1950s. They set aside a large nature reserve in the cloud forest, and it has remained protected since. Other species have declined or moved their ranges in response to what researchers describe as a combination of El Nino effects and general apparent global warming trends. The researchers did point out that since no one realized the toads were vanishing until they were gone - that no research on the exact cause of the extinction is available and all else is speculation. [The Edmonton Journal, April 25, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Don't forget 3,000 years of inter-island trade

Curiously, lizards are being used as evidence of time and direction of inter-island Polynesian migrations. It has long been recognized that the Indonesian islands, Australia and New Guinea were populated by about 40,000 years ago, but there were later waves which colonized islands farther east. While human genetic information appears to support origins in the Indonesian islands, rather than mainland Asia as had been previously put forward, lizard genetic information from Lipinia noctua showed that it was most genetically uniform on the Polynesian islands - essentially opposite. Some had proposed that the lizards (or even one pregnant female) stowed away on the boats which carried the first Polynesian voyagers - hence the genetic bottleneck effect. In a parsimonious proposal, one researcher wrote in Nature that if the lizards are bottlenecked and the humans show bottlenecking - then both bottlenecks must be the same. However, others have pointed out that the lizards don't live on the mainland, that the Polynesians are more closely genetically to Indonesian populations and that all this pretty much blows the "one race, one event" argument all to pieces. [Archaeology, May/June 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Thanks for the starlings...

A man in Darlington, England was bitten by a California King snake and treated in the hospital for his bite because - for a few hours - no one knew if the snake was venomous or not. [Sunday Mirror, May 2, 1999] A short eight days later, a Southsea, England hairdresser found a 2-foot orange and yellow snake on the door step of her shop. They tried to put it in a plastic container, but it started hissing and striking. A former Royal Marine then used a cardboard to push the snake into a four-foot high cardboard box. A pet shop worker identified the snake as a male American corn snake and assured everyone it wasn't dangerous - even if it was a bit annoyed. [Portsmouth News, May 10, 1999 both from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

One more for Dave Chiszar

A Thai snake charmer was killed by his own python. He had the snake in a sack and pulled it out for a show. The snake wrapped itself around his neck and did not let go until he was dead. [Canadian Press, May 4, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Greed versus nature

Many news outlets are reporting the tragic decline of southeast Asia's turtles. The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that "profiteers... have been gathering every turtle in sight and selling them for food and folk remedies in the turtle markets of China... collectors have made such a clean sweep in countries like Vietnam and Laos that it can be impossible to find a single turtle, even in ideal habitats in national parks and remote preserves. In the parts of Southeast Asia where turtles do persist, they are fast disappearing to satisfy the huge demand in China. Scientists have been reduced to looking for turtles in China's markets, as they say an entire fauna is being bought, sold and eaten into oblivion." [May 5, 1999] One researcher called the Chinese markets "a black hole for turtles." [from Kim and Wes von Papinešu] This was also the cover story of Vivarium (10.4).

"A Malaysian man was sentenced... to a week in jail and fined $2,900 for smuggling and torturing a load of 2,546 endangered snakes that he tried to slip through a border crossing from Thailand... [he] stuffed the reptiles in nylon sacks and plastic baskets... [including] 105 Asiatic cobras and 2,441 oriental rat snakes, both of which are protected species under Malaysia's Wildlife Protection Act. Most of the snakes would have ended up in soup bowls in Chinese restaurants or on dinner plates in many Asian cities, where snake meat can sell for around $6 per pound. Some people also drink snake blood, believing it can cure ailments ranging from backaches to impotency." [Reading Eagle/Reading Times, April 20, 1999 from Walt Loose]

Meanwhile more than 17,000 turtles intended for Moscow dinner tables were seized at the Tajik-Uzbek border. The illegal shipment would have been worth between $17,000 and $35,000 on the street. Customs officials spent three days counting the turtles which were released in a forest near where they were confiscated. [Russia Today, May 5, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu] It will be interesting to see if any survive.

"A Florida man was sentenced to 2.5 years in federal prison for smuggling rare reptiles from Madagascar to the U.S... Tommy Crutchfield, who pleaded guilty in January to smuggling and other charges involving more than 200 snakes, iguanas, turtles and other reptiles... as part of a conspiracy between Crutchfield and two Germans, Wolfgang Kloe and Frank Lehmeyer, who smuggled the reptiles out of Madagascar... Kei Tomono of Japan, also was involved... Kloe and Tomono have received prison sentences. Lehmeyer remains at large... Crutchfield was considered one of the largest reptile importers in the U.S. before he fled to Belize in 1997, when authorities notified him that he was under investigation. Last August (1998), he was expelled from Belize and arrested in Miami as he returned to the U.S." [Reading Eagle/Reading Times, April 19, 1999 from Walt Loose]

Thanks to everyone who contributed

clippings, notes, photos (thanks Gary!) and other stuff this month. I have a few things still in the folder for next month, but don't let this stop you from sending in things for this column. Just take whole pages of newspaper, attach your name (mailing labels are great for this) and fold a minimum number of times and mail to me. If you must clip, be sure the name and publication slug and your name are firmly attached to each piece. All contributors are acknowledged. So, don't delay. Send stuff. Letters only to my email.

July 1999

Sherman Minton

Last week arrived the sad news that Sherman Minton had passed away. Besides being a wonderful husband (to Madge) and father of two non-herpetological offspring, Dr. Minton was a prominent herpetologist and professor emeritus at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Sherman and Madge travelled the world with their daughters and recorded some of their experiences and much herpetological lore in their books "Giant Reptiles" and "Venomous Reptiles." I know several colleagues who refer their early interest in herps to the Minton's books. I read "Giant Reptiles" on vacation in Block Island when I was a child. All the kids in the hotel then went out reptile hunting - but we didn't find much. In fall, I borrowed "Venomous Reptiles" from the New York Public Library and was fascinated all over again. Years and years later when I met the Mintons at a CHS meeting, I asked them to sign my really beat up copy of "Giant Reptiles," and told them how much the book had meant to me when I was a child. Both Sherman and Madge smiled at this remark; they remembered their own girls - all grown up now - but children then. I was fortunate to meet Sherman and Madge many times since, at SSAR meetings, at an amphibian conference and at regional meetings. They were always so kind and so encouraging to newer people. They would sit with the Bechtels if all were at the same meeting; rather quietly - unless the boys were talking herps. Then it could get fast and furious. One time, at dinner, Sherman and Madge and Ken and I were talking about feeding snakes. We were having a lively discussion of fuzzies and hoppers, pinkies and pinky pumps. Then I overheard a woman at an adjoining table say, "They look so normal, but they're talking about RATS!" Perhaps my favorite memories of the Mintons is from one meeting several years ago. They sat next to each other as always, shoulders just touching. Every time Sherman looked over at Madge he smiled gently; later he took her hand and held it for quite a while. I saw their love in their eyes, in their hands. A love which had withstood innumerable years, two children, careers and experiences from the Great Depression, through World War II, the Cold War and the Internet. And through it all, they smiled - for each other and for us. We'll miss you, Sherman. Thank you for everything.

Quo vadis

In the May 20 Washington Post reports that scientists have discovered that pollen from genetically altered corn poses a threat to the monarch butterfly. Genes from a bacteria known as Bt were transferred into the corn. Insects eating the corn died and so less pesticides were needed on the crop. At first this looked like a great solution, but then somebody noticed that corn pollen blows around the fields a lot. Altered corn pollen which fell onto milkweed plants killed nearly half of the monarch butterfly larvae on those milkweeds. Altered corn is now 25 percent of the total U.S. corn crop and the corn belt is along the monarch's migration route from their overwintering site in Mexico. Illegal logging of that forest also threatens the species. [GreenLines, May 20, 1999 from Greg Clouser]

Prince Charles of England is refusing calls by Prime Minister Tony Blair to shut down his website which features "vigorous denunciations" of genetically modified crops, which result in "sterile fields offering little or no food or shelter to wildlife." See - -. [GreenLines, June 4, 1999 from Roger Featherstone] In the Prince was also the sponsor of the First World Congress of Herpetology held in Canterbury, England an astonishing ten years ago.

Like father, like son

"In the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Turtles (HEART) placed a full-page ad in the New York Times on June 23 urging Texas Governor George W. Bush to create a marine reserve around Padre Island to protect endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles from shrimp trawling. So far activists say Bush has dodged their inquiries by referring them to state fisheries officials `whose primary responsibility is to protect the shrimp fishery.' In the National Academy of Sciences found that shrimp trawling kills more sea turtles than all other human activities combined." [GreenLines, June 28, 1999 from Roger Featherstone]

Readers share new websites

While we didn't get as many of these as we did to begin with, here are this month's latest suggestions for reptile and amphibian websites.
  • See the "Lizard Man of Matobo" at - -. From James N. Stuart.
  • "Malaysian Guilty of Snake Torture" at - -. From Bob Cihak, by e- mail.
  • Macau has lifted its ban on importing turtles and the trade will resume. In the island had banned turtle imports after finding some mainland Chinese turtles contained cholera. Read all about it at - From Wes and Kim von Papinešu by e-mail.
  • A new version of a reptile data base has been posted at - -. Please contact Peter Uetz - if you find any errors, omissions or broken links. [From J.N. Stuart, via e-mail] In the posting from U. Wash. neglected to say what their acronym meant, so I have omitted it. Also, please read this site with caution. Since the post contained significant typos; one assumes that the site will also have mistakes.
  • "A grade-school student won a science fair with this report on the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide. It's posted on - -." Eloise Beltz-Decker, by e-mail.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month,

you will be seeing a regular, clipping-format column next month. I have found that there is a "critical mass" of material needed to build a good column - so please contribute any reptile and amphibian clippings you may find in your local papers, magazines and web site addresses. Send whole pages of newspaper or magazines with the date/publication slug firmly attached and your name on each page to me.

August 1999

Greetings from lizard land

As I write this, Chicago swelters under tropical heat and humidity and Dave Chiszar presented last night down in the air conditioned Field Museum. I'll leave it to Gary to tell you about meetings (hint and thanks for the photos!) and get right down to all the cool clippings I've received this month.

Borrow a child and go

Dinosaur Expedition is open for the rest of the summer at the Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier, 700 East Grand Avenue, Chicago. The exhibit recreates conditions on an actual dinosaur expedition to the nation of Niger just like the one on which CHS members Paul Sereno and Gabe Lyon discovered the crocodile mimic dinosaur, Suchomimus. You enter through a tent into the field camp in the Sahara desert. A tent, a truck and the dig await you. You'll sift through up to 10 inches of "clean clay," a toy material which does not stick to clothes (unlike real Sahara dust!) to excavate cast dinosaur bones. A few things you will miss however, include 5000 pounds of garlic powder and a few thousand gallons of truck fuel. The site is also air conditioned and it only costs about $7.00 (you save plane fare to Tunisia and you can go home the same day, too). [The Times, June 20, 1999 from Jack Schoenfelder]

Two frog mysteries solved?

Researchers in Australia noted frog die offs in pristine, unpolluted areas. They studied UV light and found that it is not on the rise in Oz as it is here. But the frogs kept dying. What they found in the dead frogs' skin was a fungus called chytrid. They suspect the foreign chytrid landed near the port of Brisbane - perhaps on an exotic frog shipped in the 1970s. It traveled about 100 kilometers (66 miles) a year; striking in urban areas first. By last year, it had jumped the continent, perhaps in a frog stowaway in a fruit box or other suitable but unintended shipping container. Meanwhile in Central America, researchers were noting the same, puzzling patterns of decline. When they checked for the chytrid - they found it on 10 different frog species from western Panama. Others have confirmed its link to other die offs in Costa Rica. Experiments in the lab confirmed that the chytrid organism causes the disease. One researcher had proposed in 1993 the name "post metamorphic death syndrome" because he had noted that newly transforming tadpoles died almost instantly. Chytrid lives in tadpoles' mouths, and spreads through frogs' skin after transformation - killing the froglets. The chytrid prefers cold water, so it may be implicated in amphibian winter kill. But it is still being questioned if ALL amphibian die offs could be linked to the one organism. One researcher pointed out that there is no pathogen which kills all mammals, so why would we expect one pathogen to wipe out all frogs? [Science, April 30, 1999 from Eloise Beltz-Decker]

On the next page is a news article suggesting that some deformed amphibians may be suffering from trematode infections. All the deformed amphibians in certain Palo Alto, CA ponds studied were analyzed, and trematode cysts were found around their deformed limbs. Infecting frogs with the trematode at certain development points results in these particular deformities. Retinoids have been studied and it was found that caused only some mirror image duplications and deformities from elbows - not from shoulders. (Please be reassured by this last point.) So far, no one has found the trematode, Ribeiroia, in Midwestern U.S. ponds. Read all about it: April 30 Science from Eloise Beltz-Decker; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from Bill Burnett; Chicago Tribune from Claus Sutor - May 1 Tempe, Arizona Tribune from Tom Taylor; Science News, Volume 155 from Mark Witwer.

Why did the snake cross the road?

"National Wildlife magazine reports that every time a snake or turtle crosses the road, there's a one chance in 12 that he won't make it... [the researcher] found that 87 percent of the motorists observed went out of their way to avoid [the rubber snake]... and that twice as many drivers made a special effort to hit a [rubber] snake than to strike a [rubber] turtle." [The Outdoor Times, May 28, 1999 no name on the clipping]

To get caught on the bridge

"Morning rush hour traffic slowed to a crawl... on the Pensacola Bay Bridge as motorists gawked at a 6-foot-long boa constrictor lying on a side wall near the middle of the three-mile span... one driver alerted police... within minutes [the officer] confirmed the motorist was not nuts... [and called the] reptile removal service `He picked it up like it was his wallet, put [it] into the back seat of his station wagon and then drove away,' the officer said." [Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial April 13, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

Why did the gator cross the road?

Because he's in love. Or at least that's what Arkansas Game and Fish Commission District officers in Hope are telling people. Several vehicles including a logging truck have become entangled or run over or ran over alligators, some up to 11-feet long. Officers say that there's no more movement than usual. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 5, 1999 from Bill Burnett] I'd point out that not too long ago there weren't enough alligators to actually see one - let alone call "ordinary." Humans pushed them to the edge, but on returning they took every pond all the way up to the Mississippi Embayment fall line. Were they in all those ponds before? If not, I wonder what kept them down in the past: climate, diet, pests, hunting, etcetera. Or is this just another version of the story of people moving into places that young alligators are also using. Would it all quiet down eventually when these teens reach maturity - or is this just the tip of the iceberg of "Gator ate me" stories yet to come? Stay tuned.

To close the loop

So far, only one chicken farmer in Arkansas has been brave enough to seek a license to use farm alligators to eat waste bits from chicken production houses. There is a lot of interest, but until hides, meat, heads or whatever is more in demand than it is now, other farmers are not going to invest. While farmed hides are cleaner than wild caught, demand from the fashion industry is stagnant and we all know wild alligators are increasing. [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, May 11, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

Headlines and tombstoning

Anyone who ever set type recalls "headlines," those cute little phrases to catch the eye. And I've often been accused of "tombstoning," running headlines which read oddly together. More curiously, one outraged reader was upset at the way they were arranged by my editor and published which seems rather out of my control. True tombstoning is actually when the writer or the editor doesn't get it. For example, from the Albuquerque Journal, "S.C. Man Mauled by Alligator," then "Computers May Contain Clue." [June 7, 1999 thanks to J.N. Stuart] The best headline in this month's clippings read "Life was bad enough, then some giant lizards show up. The ugly, fierce-looking creatures have wandered into yards in DeLand, Florida and frightened residents haven't hesitated to call the police... a 5-foot Malaysian monitor was shot dead last week by ... police, [one of whom said,] `This is kind of like a crocodile on crack cocaine. They're skinnier and faster and pretty aggressive... It may look cute when it's young, but they get big and nasty.'" [Orlando, Florida Sentinel from Bill Burnett's mom and Bill, too - of course]

Ozzie conference approaches

Folks wanting last minute directions to the Conference (to Mark the 50th Anniversary of the Australian Herpetological Society) on Captive Husbandry and Conservation of Reptiles and Amphibians can contact Daniel Holloway P.O. Box 1099 Sutherland NSW 1499 Australia. [Stuffed in Herpetofauna, Volume 28, Number 2 from the New Zealand Herp. Society]

Speaking of anniversaries

This month I wrote my 50th column for Vivarium (10.6), have been married for 10 years to fellow herpetologist Ken Mierzwa and celebrate three years of teaching at colleges and Northeastern Illinois University where I will be in the Earth Science Department as Visiting Lecturer for at least the next year. Wow. Time flies. Can I eat them?

Psychic toads

Contestants for the annual Conway, Arkansas Toad Suck Daze were harder than ever to find this year. One toad hunter said, "It's almost like they know when the season begins." One runner who uses a trail regularly said that there were "millions" of toads along the trail in recent weeks; when the season opened, there were none. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 30, 1999 from Bill Burnett] One hopes they all hop back out the day after the party's over.

Snake charming in the 90s

A Phoenix, AZ dog trainer uses "defanged rattlesnakes and a shock dog collar, which administers an electrical jolt. As soon as a curious dog moves to investigate the rattler, the pooch gets zapped." She says that they "want to instill fear in these dogs." Another trainer said, "Shock collars are severe, but look, the alternative in this situation is a dead dog." [Chicago Tribune, April 25, 1999 from Ray Boldt]

Right where this belongs

News of the Weird reports that a judge ordered a Fishkill, New York business owner to remove a four-foot high fence he had erected on his property to protect his workers from the horrible rattlesnakes who lived in the rocks nearby. [The Reader, June 25, 1999 from Ray Boldt]

One wave of immigrants rejected by the golden lamp

Iguanas, dingoes and pythons, snapping turtles, prairie dogs, ferrets, wombats, vultures and dozens of other species have been outlawed as pets in New York City because they are "wild, ferocious, fierce, dangerous or naturally inclined to do harm." The Board of Health actually included a list of 150 species by name so pet owners could no longer claim their animals were not wild, ferocious, fierce, dangerous or naturally inclined to do harm. [New York Times, June 30, 1999 from Karen Furnweger, who adds "who wants to live in NYC anyway."] I want to see N.Y. outlaw some exotic muggers, loose footpads, all cutthroats and fiends, ruby-nosed perverts, common gangbangers and other few other subspecies next - and make it stick in both cases.

Deal with it

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear Volusia County's sea turtle lawsuit, but refers it back to the federal district court in Orlando, where a hearing is scheduled for next February. By not hearing the case, the court left in place an appellate court decisions which makes Volusia responsible for artificial lighting long beaches which harms sea turtles. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, April 20, 1999 from Bill Burnett] What's the problem with this county? It seems like I have been reporting this story for years. Local turtle people have pointed out the baby turtles are disoriented by the lights and die. Every year they die. Every year some developer gets more lights for another shopping center or home site. Surely someone can get creative and keep the lights low - or even have light levels change to darker at times when the turtles are hatching. Pretend they're WWII submarines and douse the lights. It might even be "romance weekend" on the beach. C'mon folks, you make all your income from tourism - and an increasing amount from ecotourism to see these same turtles - can't you get with the program and just fix the lights?

Chicago's urban jungle

From Laurie Goering in Rio De Janeiro, some lovely writing about our hometown. "Chicago, I'll admit, has no shortage of wildlife. Raccoons rattle the garbage cans in back alleys. Beady-eyed opossums take up furtive residence in garages. Occasionally the odd coyote makes a wrong turn off the banks of the Chicago River and ends up skulking through Lincoln Park. Nowhere, however, does the urban wildlife match that in Brazil, and if you think living in the country with the world's greatest biodiversity is a treat, wait until it all sneaks into the living room with you." [Chicago Tribune, June 24, 1999 from Ray Boldt]

Don't call; ribbet and write

The Declining Amphibian Task Force is now active in countries from Argentina to Venezuela, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Switzerland, England and others too numerous to list. Contact John Wilkinson, Department of Biological Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA UK. [their brochure in Froglog, Number 32] Also in this issue is a study by Jennifer C. Daltry and Gerard Gray on the effects of the Montserrat Caribbean volcanic eruptions on the Endangered Mountain Chicken Frog (Leptodactylus fallax). Tim Halliday requests information from "anyone who has data on changes in amphibian breeding dates in relation to climate." And Tony Gent weighs in with an interesting article on "The UK Pool Frog Species Action Plan." At first Rana lessonae were thought to have been an 18th century introduction, but some seem different from their Belgic and French relatives and records of the species go back further than the supposed introduction date. So now England faces the possibility that this possible native anuran has been ignored in conservation - having had the status of "illegal alien" for so long. Finally, he notes "unfortunately, just as we started to look at this issue, the one surviving native population had dwindled to very low numbers and is now possibly extinct... gross habitat change does not appear to have happened at the remaining site... but we need to address the cause of the decline before [anything else can be done]."

Here they go again

As many as 30 pet turtles were taken from the backyard of a Northeast Heights, NM (near Albuquerque) resident. They had been living in "a turtle Eden - a walled garden filled with a diet of fruits and vegetables tailored to their nutritional needs," according to the Albuquerque Journal. [June 8, 1999 from J.N. Stuart]


  • Center for Marine Conservation - -
  • Virtual swampland adventure with Nile crocodiles - -
  • International Iguana Society - -
  • By the way, if you have trouble with typing in the long and exacting web names, try this trick. Call up [a search engine] and type in the "key words" of the page you would like to see. The key words can be the name of the group or a specific phrase. The search engine will bring up sites that match the words you used. Try putting in your own name and see what you get. Also look up City of Chicago for answers to every question you ever had about water/air quality, links to transit and the CTA as well as all city services. Quite amazing; the web is like an electronic encyclopedia. Have fun.

Thanks to this month's contributors

and to Bill Burnett, Tom Taylor, Suzette Sosa, E.A. Zorn, Karen Furnweger, Mark Witwer, J.N. Stuart, Rob Lovich, Chicago correspondents Claus Sutor and Ray Boldt, Jack Conrad, Gabe Sereno and her Junior Paleontologists for a super field trip, Jon Myers, my students at NEIU and NEIU/El Centro and everybody who is going to send in a clipping for next month's column. Send whole pages of newspapers and magazines (they're light - it's still cheap to mail) with the date/publication slug firmly attached and your name on each page to me. Letters only to my ancient email system.

September 1999

Sad but true

"A 7-foot pet African python was blamed Monday for suffocating a 3-year-old boy in downstate Centralia.... [His] body was found...[on August 29] in the family's home with compression marks around his chest and bite marks on his neck and ears.... His parents' pet, which they obtained three months ago, escaped from an aquarium and wrapped itself around the boy's chest while he lay sleeping with an aunt and uncle near the base of the aquarium." [Chicago Sun-Times, August 31, 1999] Then "the parents of a 3-year- old boy squeezed to death by a pet python were charged Wednesday with endangering the life of a child and possession of a dangerous animal.... [The father] said he didn't know the snake was vicious enough to kill his son,...who was asleep on the living room floor of the family's mobile home.... [He said,] `I wouldn't have had a snake in my house if I'd thought it was going to kill my son. That boy was everything in my world.'" [Chicago Tribune, September 2, 1999]

More loose snakes

A small pet dog out for a walk one evening was found by his owner with a large snake wrapped around him in the corner of the family yard near Washington, D.C. The Washington Post pointed out that this "was not a normal occurrence in Montgomery County." The dog's owner screamed, then watched as her husband and son beat the snake off the dog. The dog was revived and taken to a veterinary hospital. The snake was described as either a boa constrictor or a Burmese python. It was beaten senseless by the family, then killed by a neighbor with a .22 rifle. [July 28, 1999, from Kathy Bricker]

A 10-foot albino Burmese python slithered out a screen window in "its room" and escaped into the Pennsylvania night. A local snake breeder pointed out that the snake "was too small to pose much of a danger to humans." [Reading, Pennsylvania, Eagle/Times, June 29, 1999, from Walt Loose]

The same 10-foot snake was accused in absentia of "murdering a family pet in Oley Township [Pennsylvania]." A woman who lives next door to where the python escaped, found the chain that had been attached to her 3-year-old Pomeranian, followed it and found her dog dead under a shed in her yard. She said, "Everybody around here is petrified. You're talking a humongous snake. This isn't a garter snake you can shoo-shoo. All around us are kids. All our neighbors have children, and they're all small." The snake's owner claimed his pet had never taken anything even the size of a small rabbit in captivity. A herpetologist at the Philadelphia Zoo stated that if the snake were responsible, it would have swallowed the dog "chain or no chain." [Reading, Pennsylvania, Eagle/Times, July 6, 1999, from Walt Loose]

Curator pleads guilty

"The longtime curator of reptiles at the San Diego Zoo admitted in federal court...that he embezzled more than $70,000 from the sale of rare zoo animals.... [He] sold Australian pythons...[that are] worth more than $10,000 apiece and can't be purchased through normal channels because they are a protected species in their native country according to Justice Department officials.... [The curator] pleaded wire fraud and theft.... He apparently was caught by accident in a government sting called Operation Chameleon." [San Diego, California, Union-Tribune, from Ralph Knepper] Bradford Norman sent in the Eureka, California, Times-Standard, which added that a zoo spokesman had declined comment other than to say that the curator had retired from the zoo where he had worked for 37 years. He had apparently been commingling personal and zoo funds at least since 1994. [both August 4, 1999]

Myth of the month club

Aeschylus, the Greek playwright, considered by many the "father of Greek tragedies," died because an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head. The ancient Greeks had observed that eagles would pick up tortoises and terrapins and drop them on rocks to try to open the shells. Apparently, an eagle mistook Aeschylus' bald head for a rock --- and the rest (as they say) is history. [from J. N. Stuart]

Modern medalist into herps

The best U.S. pole vaulter also keeps reptiles. Jeff Harwig has pole vaulted 19 feet, inch, which is about the same length as his largest python. He has 45 other pythons and boa constrictors, two monitor lizards, an iguana, some tortoises, and a very understanding wife. [Chicago Tribune, June 24, 1999, from Ray Boldt]

Commercial harvest prohibited

Just when you least expect it, along comes a surprising article. This month it is from Martha Ann Messinger, who writes, "Act 81 of the 1999 Session of the Louisiana Legislature prohibits the commercial harvest of Louisiana's native box turtle populations. This law, which is effective August 15, 1999, was unanimously passed by both the Louisiana Senate and the House of Representatives. This is an outstanding victory for one of Louisiana's turtles and will have far reaching impact on box turtles in other states. Any box turtles native to the state of Louisiana will be considered as originating from Louisiana. Therefore it will no longer be possible to smuggle box turtles out of other states where harvest is also illegal and claim they originated in Louisiana. Recreational possession is limit to four box turtles. Since January of 1995 a total of 29,896 box turtles were collected for the pet trade and shipped from Louisiana. This law will help to insure that future generations of Louisiana adults and children will be able to take a walk in the woods and view box turtles in their native habitat. [from Martha Ann Messinger]

Ozzie algae the culprit?

"The deaths of about 150 alligators in Lake Griffin [Florida] over the past two years could have been caused by a rare algae. The green and slimy Cylindrospermopis looks like harmless pond scum, but it can release deadly toxins, scientists say. The algae now covers almost all of Lake Griffin and has been found in three other Lake County lakes, a Seminole County lake and the St. Johns River. In the United States, the algae has previously been found in Kansas, Minnesota and Texas, but none of those cases involved dangerous toxins. Scientists don't know much about the algae but they fear it may be disrupting the lakes' environment.... Trying to get rid of the algae can produce horrific results. Officials in Queensland, Australia, tried to eliminate it from the Solomon Dam in 1979 with copper sulfate. The algae, as it died, released poison which caused gastrointestinal, liver and kidney damage in 150 people who drank the water. So far a growing number of birds around Lake Griffin have shown symptoms similar to those of the dying alligators: lethargic behavior, convulsions and then death. Scientists believe that if it's not the algae killing the alligators then it's a pesticide or an unknown virus. Lake Griffin has no public swimming beaches and fewer people are using it for water recreation because of deteriorating water quality." [Naples, Florida, Daily News, July 23, 1999, from Wes von Papine„u] Thanks also to Bill Burnett, who first brought the mystery of Lake Griffin to my attention years ago.

Meanwhile downstream...

The Los Angeles Times reports that an 8,000-square-mile dead zone exists in the Gulf of Mexico. This area, equal in size to the commonwealth of Massachusetts, has no marine life more than 30 feet from the surface. It is believed that annual nitrogen-enriched "fresh" water from the Mississippi River spring-melt floods leads to the growth of organisms that completely deplete oxygen in deeper waters by summer. Scientists suggest that preserving or restoring wetland buffer zones may reduce the amount of nitrogen reaching the Gulf. [GreenLines, August 10, 1999, from Roger Featherstone]

And on the other side of the sea

From David Blatchford in Scotland: "I came upon a cheering tale in the Daily Mail whilst lining a snake box; I get a lot of my information that way. It is a bit old and convoluted but nevertheless out of the ordinary. A re-possession order for a house that was surety against a loan was held up as the owner's daughter had a pet water dragon. The judge ordered a stay of execution so a new home could be found for the lizard. The humans were to be turfed out onto the street. Watch out for this one --- it's in the post." [And it's still in the post...] David added a P.S. "There is another item. You may wish to alert your readers to a new book that might well be coming your way. Called `Big Snake,' it is by Robert Twigger and is published in the UK by Golancz at Ō15.19. As I have no intention of contributing to Mr Twigger's income I can only comment on the content of the book from having watched a television programme, of the same name, that coincided with the appearance of this volume. Twigger learned of the longstanding reward offered by (I think) the Bronx Zoo for the capture of a 30-foot snake. The reward had initially been offered to debunk traveller's tales of snakes of fantastic size and not as an attempt to procure such an animal for the collection. Nevertheless Mr. Twigger took it at face value and with a complete ignorance of snakes, set off to capture such an animal. The programme culminated with the capture of a sizeable reticulated python which was hauled from its lair by the simple expedient of attaching a noose around its neck and pulling. To Mr. Twigger's obvious disappointment it failed the size test and was of no further interest to him; its teeth were smashed repeatedly with a machete and then it was butchered and eaten by Twigger and his team. One reviewer, Georgia Metcalfe of the Daily Mail (April 16, 1999), described it as a "fantastic book." I cannot believe that `Big Snake' will appeal to members of the Society; I am simply informing you of its likely content such that you are not misled."

Websites of the month

  • Check out the Show & Tell pictures on the CHS web site!
  • The family Dendrobatidae is well known for elaborate parental care behaviors. Hugo Claessen has recently discovered a new addition to this repertoire in the rainforests of French Guyana --- froglet transport in Colostethus degranvillei. For photos of this amazing discovery go to [From J. N. Stuart, forwarded from Steven J. Waldron]
  • On August 27, 1999, the BBC reported that "many of the world's turtle species, which have survived for millions of years, are now at risk of imminent extinction." Read the rest on the website or watch for news of a conference in Nevada to discuss turtle conservation. Some amazing points include: "Scientists frequently see turtles rarely spotted in the wild on sale in markets and restaurants. They think several Chinese species discovered within the last two decades may already be extinct.... China imports large numbers of turtles from Vietnam, Bangladesh and Indonesia. And the USA, where many species have little or no protection, exports more than seven million turtles annually, as pets or for food." [from Eloise Beltz-Decker]
  • Drop in on "Project Exploration" at [from Gabrielle Lyon]
  • Read the latest on UV-B exposure and its controversial possible link to amphibian declines in the United Nations Environment Programme "Ozone Depletion Report." Choose between for PDF format or for HTML. [Froglog, June 1999, from John Wilkinson]

Story updates

J. N. Stuart writes: "Re: The theft of about 30 box turtles from a Northeast Heights Albuquerque backyard (in your August column), all has ended well.... The Albuquerque, New Mexico, Journal, June 25, 1999, [reports] `As mysteriously as they disappeared, Thomas Beck's missing turtles have returned. Beck, who reported earlier this month missing some 30 turtles from the herd he keeps in his Northeast Heights back yard, said they returned while he was away on a business trip. He suspects a neighborhood prank. "They seem none for the worse --- My `A' turtle and my `C' turtle, Big Red --- all my favorites are back," he said. He said he received numerous calls from concerned turtle lovers and has been given several new ones. "I'm definitely at capacity," he said.' A photo with this text shows him with six Terrapene ornata which look like subspecies luteola."

This is the 33rd year of human effort to save the Kemp's ridley sea turtle. Program workers hope to continue efforts until the species can be considered recovered. [USA Today, July 20, 1999, from Bill Burnett]

Congratulations to Chris Phillips, Illinois' state herpetologist, on the publication of his "Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Illinois." You can call (217) 333-6880 to order a copy.

"The Amphibious Order of Frogs...assembled, as they have yearly since 1934, to devour upward of 6,400 frog legs, along with copious amounts of chicken [and other stuff]." While the organization started on local frogs, now they're forced to import frog legs from China and the Philippines. [Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 1999, from Mark Witwer]

Next he's doing hare

A field east of Lawrence has been trimmed to create "Turtle Island Maze" by a Kansas crop artist. The 5-acre artwork is in honor of the Kansas state reptile, the box turtle, and is open to the public to explore as a labyrinth attraction. [Orlando, Florida, The Sentinel, July 14, 1999, from Bill Burnett]

Herp household hint

For those plagued by loose fruit flies, place two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and one tiny drop of dish soap in a salt shaker and screw down the perforated top. Place in the area of greatest infestation and watch all the loose fruit flies jump in and die. If you don't want to kill the flies, you can put fruit fly medium (from the biological supply houses) in open tubes, let a bunch of wild flies assemble in the tube. Then cover the top with your hand really fast and push in a foam plug. Two days later, release outside and keep the tube at room temperature. Eight days after the tube was started, put the whole tube in with the critters and when the new fruit flies hatch out (at 10 days total) your amphibians/reptiles can self feed ad libitum. I have both tubes and death pits when I have flies. I figure they get a choice --- and my toads get their offspring. :)

Salamander suits --- past, present and to come

The Southern Oregon Forest Coalition obtained internal memos of the Bureau of Land Management which indicated that some central salamander habitat would be logged even though up to 300 acres of the area has never been surveyed. The BLM manages about 800,000 acres of public land in southern Oregon, alone. [Econews, June 1999] The next month, the same journal reports that an Ashland, Oregon, group has sued to stop the BLM from further logging in the Siskiyou Mountain salamander habitat. The issue is the 1997 Middle Thompson lumber sale which could clear cut nearly 100 acres of salamander habitat to create a "fuel break." Finally in August, Econews reported that the twice appealed "Twice Helicopter" timber sale on the Salmon River has been suspended by the Klamath National Forest. The group won the appeal because no surveys had been done by the Forest Service in two timber sale units. Meanwhile, the August 6 Times-Standard reports that "The Ninth District Court in Seattle, Washington, ruled that the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management cannot proceed with [timber] sales before completing surveys for more than 77 rare species believed to depend on old-growth forests. The ruling affects about one-fifth of the federal timber that was slated to be cut this year west of the Cascades. The species involved are a mouse, five salamanders, and 71 plants, insects and mollusks." Follow it in live time at [All from Bradford Norman]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Lori King-Nava, Marcia Rybak, Bill Burnett, Tom Taylor, Rob Lovich, Mark Witwer, Walt Loose and Kim Smith for articles, pictures and ideas. Thanks also to Harold Dundee, George Pisani and Bob Aldrich for the 1999 Directory of Herpetologists. You can contribute to my upcoming 138th C.H.S. column. Just find articles about reptiles and amphibians. Take the whole page out of the paper or magazine. Be sure the date/publication slug stays attached to each page or write it on. Then put your name on it and send to me. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

October 1999

Sea turtles swim away

After the Hong Kong government confiscated the parts and pieces of 16 dead sea turtles from religious establishments last year, they began to pay more attention to endangered sea turtles and local religious groups. Now comes word that the authorities have released one sea turtle which was being kept and venerated on a floating temple dedicated to the sea goddess, Tin Hau. More than 100,000 people visited the temple last year, each patting the turtle and throwing coins into its enclosure for good luck. The man who runs the floating temple said that fishermen caught the turtle as a baby four years ago and donated it to the temple after discovering it had mysterious powers. The man said, "Before a typhoon or bad weather, it would flip its flippers furiously and make us all wet, as if it was warning us not to go to the sea.... [It] was given to us to protect us." The Agriculture Department said it had nothing to do with religion, but released the animal in an effort to preserve endangered species. [August 14, 1999: Charlotte Observer from Dave Lee, and the Monroe, Louisiana, News-Star from Martha Ann Messinger]

"An ancient sea turtle, nearly half the size of a full grown steer, was rescued near the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York Harbor," reports the Chicago Tribune. The Coast Guard estimated the turtle weighed about 600 pounds and told the reporter it was probably a century old. The turtle had snagged its fin on a line attached to a lobster cage fixed near the bow of an 800-foot Cyprus-flagged tanker. It was treated and released rather than take it to an aquarium. [August 11, 1999, from Claus R. Sutor]

Venomous snakebites

He's okay now, but it was very real and very scary for researcher Howard Reinert at the College of New Jersey. He was found unconscious at the bottom of a flight of stairs at school, foaming at the mouth, after having been bitten by one of the venomous snakes on which he does research. It was the cries of his four-year-old daughter that alerted other people in the building that her father was hurt. Police found the snake they assume to be the culprit, neatly tied up in a bag in a bucket in a sink in the lab. They said, "We believe after the snake bit him, he had the presence of mind to tie the bag and put a lid on the bucket," and added that he tried to lock the door, because they found his keys in the lock. [Philadelphia Inquirer, September 22, 1999, from Mark Witwer] By E-mail we heard from Bob Zappalorti that Howard (while totally out of it for two whole days) came to himself and was talking with his family apparently fine after a very traumatic experience.

A 39-year-old man was bitten by a rattlesnake while he was walking in the woods near Titusville, Florida. He managed to flag down a corrections officer driving by and she put him in the front of her car and called for help. By the time the deputy sheriff arrived, the man was unconscious and his right hand was swollen around a puncture wound between the thumb and the forefinger. He was given antivenin at the parish hospital where doctors said they thought his fast reaction to the toxin may have been the result of the snake hitting a vein during the bite. The man's father said his son had been bitten before.... [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, August 21, 1999, from Bill Burnett]

A licensed snake handler in Orlando, Florida, was bitten on the hand by a 10-foot-long black mamba. He took 10 vials of antivenin with him to the emergency room and was considered much improved by the afternoon. What he was doing when he was bitten was not reported. Black mambas are native to Africa. [Orlando Sentinel, August 24, 1999, from Bill Burnett]

A mystery we may never understand

The decaying body of a 46-year-old man who had been dead for days was discovered in his New Orleans apartment, "sur- rounded by dogs and snakes," according to the News-Star. The neighbors had noticed a stench, but thought it might be a dead animal or some trash in the yard, but when they went to feed the man's dogs which had been left out, they saw a cloud of flies in the house. Animal control workers had to wear gas masks to take out the dogs and look for loose snakes before the coroner could remove the corpse. All told, seven snakes and a 1«-foot water monitor were found in aquariums or homemade cages. Neighbors told reporters that "the man was an eccentric who stayed aloof from the chummy neighborhood atmosphere, seldom speaking to other residents." The animals were taken to the Audubon Zoo, which will try to find homes for them. [September 6, 1999, from Martha Ann Messinger]

Another decline blamed on chytrid fungus

Colorado state biologists were studying a large die-off of boreal toads when they found that the toads were infected with a species of chytrid fungus. The fungus covers the toad's belly and legs and it is suspected that it suffocates amphibians by making it harder for them to breathe through their skin. A veterinary pathologist at the National Zoo in Washington said, "There is little doubt that this is a worldwide phenomenon." Declining amphibians have worried biologists and even the public because they are perceived to be "canaries" in our global "coal mine." Chytrid fungus has damaged 10 species of frogs and toads in Australia, seven in Panama and six more in American zoos and aquariums. [Philadelphia Inquirer, September 12, 1999, from Mark Witwer]

Way to go Travis!

The Kansas Herpetological Society chose Travis W. Taggart as the first recipient of the "Suzanne L. and Joseph T. Collins Award for Excellence in Kansas Herpetology." He received a commemorative plaque and a check for $1,000. The Collins Award is the largest annual biological award in the state and the largest annual award in the U.S. to further research on amphibians and reptiles, according to FrogLog. [August 1999, from John Wilkinson]

Don't miss it

Long-time contributor to this column Ray Boldt has --- from time to time --- sent me beautiful black and white photos of special places in Lake County. Now arrives a copy of an announcement "The Photography of Ray Boldt --- Impressions of Ryerson." The show runs November 6 through December 19 at Ryerson Woods Visitors Center in Deerfield. [Lake County Forest Preserve Newsletter, September 1999]

Put `em on the menu!

Some things make no sense. I'm tired of running "we eat snake" stories from Asia. Now comes an even odder story from Hong Kong. "Diners screamed in terror and leaped on tables as snakes suddenly slithered across the floor during lunch in a Chinese restaurant.... About 100 customers [were there]...when several men, believed to be debt-collectors, released the snakes and some grasshoppers from two bags.... Police had to call a snake handler, who rounded up 28 nonpoisonous snakes. One woman was so scared that she had to be carried out weeping on the back of a fellow patron." [August 22, 1999: Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate from Ernie Liner and the News-Star from Martha Ann Messinger]

Did we need to know this?

Gator farmers used to throw away alligator guts, but no more, something in the guts is important for production of certain perfumes. This is good news since gator meat is down to 50 cents a pound, down from $1.25 a pound last year. Skin prices are up a little to $24 a foot on perfect skins. [The Courier, September 4, 1999, from Ernie Liner]

A lucky escape from the jaws of death

A couple was cooling off in a pond behind the Jolly Time Bar in Kissimmee, Florida, when the woman was grabbed and nearly dragged away by a 7-foot alligator. Her boyfriend managed to kick the gator off her and pull her out of the water. The woman had tried to leap away from the gator, but it locked down on her calf. She said, "It felt like a Rottweiler had grabbed me.... It started to twist me into the water." [Baton Rouge Advocate, September 2, 1999, from Ernie Liner]

Loose, wild and free - but not welcome

Residents of Reading, Pennsylvania, were more than a little disturbed to find out that a 14-foot, 125 pound pet python had slid out from its cage and was somewhere on the loose on their quiet block of homes. Some people are leaving their cats and dogs inside and being very careful as they walk around their houses. Others question why keeping large snakes is even legal, now that they have now been implicated in human and pet attacks --- and some fatalities. The cute little graphic attached to the article pointed out that the missing Burmese is the same length as a brand new Volkswagen Neubeetle! [Reading Eagle/Reading Times, August 26, 1999] Remember that it was only one month before that a family near Washington, D.C. had pulled their little dog, Dusty, from the jaws of a 12-foot snake which they beat and then killed with a .22. [July 29, 1999, Reading Eagle/Reading Times, all from Walt Loose]

Meanwhile, in Indiana, a Plymouth homeowner is very upset after finding a snake in the dirt crawlspace below the family house. A wildlife conservation officer suspects the snake is a python from the size of the slither marks, but he was unable to catch it. The snake was first seen by the daughter of the family after hearing something sliding around in the cellar. She opened the door and saw the snake, holding the limp body of a cat in its jaws. She called the police, who said they could do nothing until the snake turned back up again, so the family called the conservation department. The family said they'd been hearing odd noises but had thought nothing of them until this latest incident. One family member took to sleeping in the car. [South Bend Tribune, September 11, 1999, from Garrett Kazmierski]

Neighbors in a quiet cul-de-sac were up in arms when their kids found a "dragon" on a day trip to Clear Lake. They caught it and found it to be some kind of a "mysterious lizard," and plopped it into a fish tank and took some pictures. They looked in an encyclopedia and decided their catch was a monitor lizard, but then found that the animal had slipped away from the aquarium, knocking aside the recycling bin which had been placed on top. And four kittens disappeared too. [Orlando Sentinel, August 8, 1999, from Bill Burnett]

Now we've seen it all

More than a dozen loggerhead sea turtle babies that had wandered the wrong way had been caught by the National Park Service, put in buckets and left for a few minutes while workers when to look for more. While they were gone, someone stole the buckets and dumped the turtles out on the ground. So then they had to go try and catch them again! They were finally all released in the ocean off Pensacola Beach, Florida. [The Sentinel, August 19, 1999]

Volusia County gets real

Following a string of losses in court over continuing failure to protect baby sea turtles from light disorientation, Volusia County, Florida, is finally getting serious about enforcing beach lighting. The fines are up to $250 per day or $5,000 for non- compliance with the rules "prohibiting light sources that are directly visible from the beach or indirectly illuminate the beach," according to the Orlando Sentinel. The county has sent out 300 letters to property owners whose lights do not comply with the rules. When they got no response, they started writing violations. Some county officials said they'd prefer to see voluntary compliance. It's pretty easy anyway. Just turn off the lights from May 1 to October 31 or redirect them so they don't shine on the beach. Save money, turn off a light, eh? A record 612 nests have been counted; 23 disorientations have occurred. [August 10, 1999, from Bill Burnett]

A giant leap for amphibians

The Detroit Zoo has opened the National Amphibian Conservation Center. The zoo has successfully bred the golden mantella and the Puerto Rican crested toad. This will be the first zoo in history to have a major center for the study and conservation of frogs and toads. The facility cost $6 million to build on its two-acre re-created Michigan wetland site. Visitors stroll wooden walkways and observe native species through spotting scopes as well as look under the surface of a pond at salamanders and frogs swimming around. [Wildlife Conservation, August 1999, from Lori King]

Monitors rescued from death trap...

Shouts the headline in the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Herald, which continues: "the Bangalore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BSPCA) has rescued the monitor lizards recently from being killed for the extraction of oil to be used for medicinal purposes. Monitor lizards, found in the deserts of Rajasthan, are under the threat of extinction.... These lizards have an elongated snake-like body which will be about 1« to 2 feet long having protractive tongue. According to BSPCA president...these animals are being killed for oil by about 20 tribal families from Rajasthan. The extracted oil is being used as a curative for diseases like paralysis, arthritis and other joint pains and [is] a lucrative trade.... These tribals, in order to immobilize the animal, break its backbone and keep it in captivity without food and water. The oil is extracted from the lizard after putting it into the boiling water.... About 150 to 200 ml of oil can be extracted from one lizard.... The rescued lizards are kept in the animal shelter of BSPCA and will later be rehabilitated in the Bannerghatta forest area." [July 5, 1999, from Rom Whittaker] Rom points out that while the lizard is strongly protected on paper, magistrates rarely take animal issues seriously and so this sort of thing is --- unfortunately --- becoming far more common.

A Halloween message to us all

When was the last time you saw a frog, toad, salamander, turtle, snake or lizard in the wild? When was the last time you saw a wild place? Did you know that the population of the Earth surpassed 6 billion humans for the first time ever (that we know about) on October 12 this year? How much time do you think our scaly or smooth friends have in their wild places before those places are no longer wild? What have you done to help them out? Let's individually and collectively start a movement to "plant something wild" in our yards, farms and fields. Let's resolve to let a little bit of nature make it through to the next millennium. Skip the weed whacker; take a child out for a nature walk today. They are our future --- and the future of the critters we love the most.

Thanks to all my contributors

and to Ray Boldt, Joyce Fox, Garrett Kazmierski, Martha Ann Messinger, Lori King-Nava, one no-name-on-clipping, Ernie Liner, Walt Loose, Eloise Beltz-Decker, John Mason, and Jack Fertig for stuff I enjoyed reading but didn't use in the column. Please send more clippings! The file is almost completely empty and I only have three weeks til the next column! Take whole pages of newspaper with herp articles, put your name on each page and mail to me. Check out the CHS home page; send letters only to my email.

November 1999

Some dinos run fast...

Gabrielle Lyon of Project Exploration writes "DinoRun Update: We won the Chicago Marathon Celebrity Online Challenge! With 42 percent of the votes (more than 600,000) we overwhelmed the competition. Votes came in from far and wide --- almost every state in the U.S. as well as Japan, France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. Paul [Sereno] ran an amazing race of 3 hours, 16 minutes and two seconds! It was his first competitive race and after nearly six months of intense training, he was thrilled. Not only did he come in with a very respectable time, but he also came in third of the `celebrity challenge pool.' Paul's time, in addition to his percentage of the online vote, gave him the best rank of the celebrities! The Marathon will award $7,500 to Project Exploration to build the new dinosaur! DinoRun fundraisers really made tracks! We've already received more than $6,300 (well beyond our goal of $5,000) --- and checks are still arriving! Everyone is now waiting to learn the name of the new dinosaur. Not long now: We will be announcing the name and the scientific significance in mid-November at National Geographic Headquarters. Watch for the story! In addition, CNBC will air the National Geographic Explorer Documentary on November 14. We're delighted that this dinosaur (as well as a juvenile of the species and a carnivore from the same area and time period) will be on display for free starting January 14, 2000 at Navy Pier's Crystal Gardens. This exhibit, Dinosaur Giants, will showcase enormous skeletons --- and include a tribute to all of the people who helped build the dinosaur. Thank you and go see your dinosaur. It's free. Keep an eye on for more information about the new dinosaur." [by email] And set your browser on for more about the Junior Paleontologists. Paul and Gabe threw a wonderful party yesterday for contributors to DinoRun. We saw the bones. We heard part of the name. We plaster-casted fossils, watched slides and nibbled cake and cookies whilst dreaming of that floodplain long long ago in a country far far away. Don't miss the show. These dinosaurs are cool!

One of the oddest stories of 1999

"I just had an interesting morning doing something that was not on my anticipated schedule. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish got a call late yesterday afternoon from a business in the heart of downtown Albuquerque. Their maintenance worker found a taped-up plastic box in their dumpster labeled SNAKES. NMDGF retrieved the box and found it full of snakes bound for the dump in a sealed box. They called me and I got the box this morning with 137 Thamnophis elegans (wandering garter snakes) ranging from 257 to 822 mm SVL; 55 females/82 males. What a sick bastard who would box up that many snakes and put them in a dumpster headed for the dump!! Charlie Painter" Then arrived a clip from the Albuquerque Journal in which their columnist pointed out that there would have been a huge uproar if "somebody had chucked 137 puppies into the dumpster...[the] story would be on the front page, soon to be followed by offers to find homes for the abandoned.... CNN, MSNBC, People, Time, Newsweek, British tabloids and Oprah." But these were snakes, after all, and only special people enjoy that scene in Indiana Jones where he's just surrounded by Ophis in all her manifestations. The columnist pointed out that snakes are good for the ecosystem and tried to encourage some local people to support snakes in their yard. [October 17, 1999, from J. N. Stuart]

Too few of them or too many of us?

GreenLines reports that: "A meeting of 60 of the world's leading turtle experts has `concluded that about half of the 270 turtle species around the world are in deep trouble'.... According to one scientist, `Half of the species will probably disappear in our lifetimes.' While 21 of the 55 species of U.S. turtles are protected by law or under consideration for protection, more than 7 million other turtles are exported annually as pets or for food. Sea turtles are the most endangered, but `many freshwater turtles --- especially large river-based turtles --- may not survive unless their habitats are better protected.'" [September 6, 1999, from Roger Featherstone]

"A new Worldwatch Institute report finds that `more plant species are threatened in the United States than any other country --- 4,669 or 29 percent of all varieties'.... With some 30,000 plant species threatened worldwide and `thousands of plant species nearing extinction,' the number of natural cultivated varieties is also sharply declining largely due to the growing importance of genetic engineering in agriculture. In the U.S. `more than 80 percent of seed varieties sold a century ago no longer are available.'"

It's a global issue, now

Eloise Beltz-Decker forwarded this piece from the Chicago Sun Times in which Richard Roeper vents one of his pet peeves: "There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who have exotic pets, and those who say, `Look at that attention-starved weirdo walking around with the cockatiel on his shoulder! What's his deal?'... Of course it's wrong and unfair to make sweeping generalizations damning anyone and everyone who indulges in a particular activity --- but the truth is, I'm creeped out by anyone who has taken possession of a creature that goes beyond the normal, socially acceptable pet groups of dog-cat-goldfish-canary.... Many exotic pet owners can't resist showing off their prized animal companions. I've seen guys on the beach and women at flea markets with gigantic, brightly colored birds on their shoulders; men and women at parties with pythons and anacondas curled around their bodies; and people who walk around with ferrets or other sharp-teethed little monsters peeking out from their purses or jackets. Gross." There is more

Japanese government ministers tackled the issue of loose reptiles on the streets of Japan. As the number of people keeping exotic pets has climbed, so have the number of escapes, and the government is concerned that loose exotic animals could wreak havoc on what is left of that island nation's ecosystem. Japanese people like exotic pets because conventional Eurasian animals like cats and dogs are often banned in their cramped apartment complexes. The most recent escapee was a snapping turtle, rounded up on a Tokyo street. [Chicago Tribune, October 3, 1999, from Emily Forcade]

Remember "-cide" means "killer"

Two new studies which cap 18 months of laboratory analysis on Minnesota pond waters suggest that "a combination of chemicals appears to be causing malformations of the frogs' limbs, eyes, mouths and other parts." These deformities are anatomically different from those now attributed to the development of nematodes in the joint buds reported here previously. The studies were published in the October issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. The studies found that "deformities included skull and face defects and abnormal development of the mouth and eyes. Filtering the water to remove some of the chemicals reduced the deformities significantly. The most obvious deformities seen in Minnesota frogs have been twisted spines or malformed hind limbs and other problems such as webbed skin or missing digits." Perhaps the oddest finding was that some compounds are more toxic in natural ponds than the solutions prepared for the laboratory analysis. Several of these chemi- cals are believed to affect the thyroid gland which regulates growth, development and maturation in most animals. Whether these chemicals are affecting Minnesota's human population remains to be seen. [from Gary S. Casper, by E-mail] The nematode studies were published in Science and by Associated Press, April 30, 1999, from Ernie Liner].

Hopefully Alive

Little "Wanted" posters are being put up on trailheads in Colorado wilderness areas this year. Not for the new trend in outdoor experience, the serial murderer, but for an endangered amphibian. The state Division of Wildlife is seeking information on the boreal toad. Biologists hope that hikers will help tie down the distribution with pictures, tapes, letters and so on. Contact Mark Jones, Colorado Division of Wildlife, 317 W. Prospect Road, Fort Collins, CO 80526 (970-472-4361). [High Country News, Paonia, Colorado, September 27, 1999, from J. N. Stuart] It's to be hoped that they sell the posters in support of the project, too!

Don't believe everything you read here, either

Lisa M. Davis writes, "I now live in Michigan and am still a member of the CHS and I just received the October 1999 issue of the Bulletin. I was reading in [your column about] the Detroit Zoo article that was printed. I just completed my internship at the Detroit Zoo this summer and can report that the National Amphibian Conservation Center is not open at this time. It was due to open in September 1999, but it only has a few cement foundation walls up at this time. The new completion date is set for March 2000. By the looks of things they will be lucky if they make that deadline. This is not an official report from the zoo public relations department obviously, but you can verify with Andy Snider, the curator of herps there...." Thanks for the heads up on an incorrect article, Lisa!

Ophiophobia or Ophiophilia?

The Plymouth, Indiana, family who came home to find a giant snake (not theirs) wrapped around a cat in their basement had had enough. After many people tried to find and catch the animal, they had their home sealed and filled with poison which they were assured would kill the snake if it was still inside. The family had moved out of the house but moved back in after the poison was installed. [South Bend Tribune, October 17, 1999, from Garrett Kazmierski]

Meanwhile people in Louisiana were enjoying reptiles at the first ever Louisiana Snake Festival at the Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center in Baton Rouge. Visitors could pet pythons and learn about the state's native animals as well. [Sunday Advocate, May 23, 1999, from Ernie Liner]


Villagers in Beixing in Shaanxi Province, China, insist that the local frogs are better weather forecasters than the professionals on television. China Review reports, "If the large green frogs of the area rattle off a machine-gun like barrage of croaks, a gale will blow in six to eight hours. When the black and white-striped frogs with a flower-like pattern on their backs emit muffled croaks, a heavy rain will fall within two or three days. A small frog with black spots on its back can predict a drought. Most frogs are silent when it is raining, but the croaking of a small black frog signals a clearing. This unique phenomenon is not without scientific basis. Frogs in fact breathe through their skin and when temperature and atmospheric pressure change, they do vary their croaking patterns." [February 1999, from P. L. Beltz]

Researchers in Baltimore have found that a dozen genes become more active during frogs' transformation from tadpoles to froglets. Previously it was thought that hormones were the only influence on tail resorption, this work showed that frogs with too much growth hormone just get fat and die fast. [Science News, July 17, 1999, from Mark Witwer and Emily Forcade]

Salamander Ecstasy

Mating male salamanders release a pheromone during courtship that makes the females more receptive to their amorous nose-nudging and spermatophore deposition. Quite a bit of the head-bobbing and head-tapping observed in courtship studies is now demonstrated to be the delivery of this pheromone from glands under the male's chin to the female. [Science News, September 18, 1999, from Mark Witwer]

Desert Gecko Storm

The American military seems to have a new view of "downsizing" these days. They now have a team studying small animals to find tricks and tips to use in the field. For example, gecko feet are being studied to determine how they climb up vertical surfaces and stick to ceilings so well. The end goal is to build wall-walking machines which could be used for maintenance, painting or spying. [USA Today, October 7, 1999, no name on clipping]

Now on your computer menu

"Tortoise Aid International has launched a petition drive to stop the abuse and sale of wild turtles in San Francisco's China Town. The use of wild turtles, both in the U.S. and overseas, for food and medicine is leading to a mass extinction crisis that could see the loss of half of the world's 270 turtle species," according to GreenLines #962. [September 21, 1999, from Roger Featherstone]

A long time ago...

The CHS ran a story about proposals to build a big dam down in the Grand Canyon and back up the Colorado in just one more damned lake. It didn't happen and the American conservation movement has grown ever since. Now, the Los Angeles Times reports that environmentalists are now trying to ban the use of motorized equipment in the Canyon because the "the hum of raft engines, the drone of sight seeing planes, plans for commercial development outside of the park and the roar of tourist buses," are in violation of federal laws which require "that areas deemed suitable for wilderness be managed as such, including a prohibition on mechanized equipment." [September 19, 1999, GreenLines from Roger Featherstone]

Thanks to everyone who contributes

to these columns and to Ray Boldt, Walt Loose, Eloise Beltz-Decker, Wes von Papinešu, Bill Burnett, Ernie Liner and John Mason for items I enjoyed but couldn't use this month! You can contribute too. Send whole pages of newspapers, or if you must clip, be sure the date/publication slug is firmly attached with tape. Put your name on each piece, stuff in an envelope and mail to me. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

December 1999

Most disgusting behavior by a corporation in 1999 award

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines will never again ship rodents, reptiles and endangered animals following an outcry over its destruction of hundreds of squirrels in a shredding machine, the company said... [they had already] suspended shipments of rodents, amphibians and reptiles earlier this year after admitting that [they] dumped 440 illegally imported squirrels into an industrial meat processing machine on April 12 after failing to find them a home, according to The News-Star, October 30, 1999 from Martha Ann Messinger.

Just not his day

A 30-year-old licensed gator trapper in Florida is in the red after being attacked by an alligator which he tried to remove from the middle of a golf center road. Turns out the man, who has been a trapper for five years, has no health insurance to cover the treatment of having big chunks of meat the size of half dollars [ripped] out of [his] calf, according to The Reading Eagle/Times. [October 2, 1999 from Walt Loose]

Snakes, apples; how fin de siecle

A London Observer story warns Britons who plan to visit the big Apple that the latest fad in Manhattan, NY is colorful live snakes in ladies purses. Somehow I fail to see why one would have to warn tourists about anything done by native New Yorkers (like myself) as one usually expects the worst anyway on the Island. And why would the author have been looking in ladies purses anyway? [News of the Weird, Chicago Reader, October 1, 1999 from Ray Boldt] This reminds me of the time one of my sisters in law went in my herp pack (it really wasn't a purse) and found the tin of maggots I had just bought to feed a lizard. You could hear the screams all the way out in the yard. She did promise never to go in my "purse" again and no one had the heart to ask her what she d been in there for in the first place!

Another New Jersey reptile fire

I had to read the date on this one several times before I was sure I d never used it before. The story reads, A fire sparked by two explosions gutted an aquarium in [Ocean City, NJ]... killing at least three dozen animals. A few survived, including a turtle, an 18-foot African rock python and three alligators... investigators had not determined the cause of the explosions... at least 12 iguanas and 24 snakes were killed. Firefighters spotted the python slithering through the building as they were putting out the last of the flames. [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 1, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

The Pennsylvania Perspective

Walt Loose sent in a whole bunch of stories from The Reading Eagle/Times of which the next two tales really stuck out. I m so accustomed to "eek a horrible snake!" articles that it's refreshing to hear about the discovery of a two-headed queen snake by a 13-year-old Latrobe resident. The picture shows both heads alert and snaking around the finder s fingers. [October 2, 1999] Another was headlined "Actually, there s a lot to like about turtles and snakes," and advises, "If you encounter a reptile in your back yard, in most cases, it's not just a good idea to refrain from using your Louisville Slugger; it's the law. Anyone discovering a snake on the property is advised to call the police or animal control." The article points out " Unfortunately for most reptiles, human imagination creates a venomous copperhead or timber rattlesnake out of every slithering reptile that trips a surprise button." Believe it or not, Pennsylvania still permits rattlesnake hunting with a bag limit of one in a two week season - and you must have a paper permit from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission - -. [August 1]

Only in the U.K.

David Blatchford sent this lively piece from the Daily Mail: As a judge presiding over eviction proceedings, Lord Johnston was well used to hearing tales of woe, heartache and suffering. So he stopped a repossession effort by a bank against a family based on the argument that the 10-year-old child's seven-inch pet water dragon has a right not to be turned out in the cold, which would endanger its life. The judge asked the bank s lawyers, Will you give me an undertaking not to do anything for 24 hours at least in the interests of the lizard? And the counsel for the bank promised that the animal would not be disturbed and suggested that animal welfare experts become involved. This all started when Sheriff s officers began the eviction process, but came across the lizard. They tried to find it an alternative home but were concerned that it might die if they took it away from its environment. The owner of the house said, Everything I own is at stake here. I can t believe the fuss about the lizard. [March 30, 1999]

Another cool website

I really enjoyed reading the eighth edition of the Box Turtle Research and Conservation Newsletter sent to me by Heather Kalb. You can visit their website at - - or write her at the Department of Biology, T.A.M.U., College Station, TX 77843. I really enjoyed the fascinating article about how poorly translocated captive turtles do when released, fed and monitored in a nature education center property. Apparently some long-term captives do not learn to pull their heads in at night - leaving them easy prey for feral cats and other predators. Other articles was the whole scoop on the Kansas sting operation which busted oodles of people for selling ornates and an update on the Louisiana box turtle legislation. Anyone interested in turtles needs to subscribe to this publication - it gets better with every issue.

Cutest Y2K bugeater

Some unknown sculptor came up with a lovely stylized Ranid which is bright green and shaped so that he perches on the corner of a computer monitor with one large webbed foot hanging over the edge. The text says it will eat Y2K bugs and do regular debugging of all your files and they claim its tongue is so lightning fast that you ll never even see it move. [Toscano Galleries Catalog, Winter]

A more primitive disaster averted

An animal control officer in Mount Dora, Florida saw an alligator swimming toward a small child playing in the shallows at a duck-feeding area in a local park while the child s minder was on a bench about 20 feet away. He ran and jumped feet first between the gator which was just opening its mouth and the toddler. He then grabbed the child and passed it to the grandmother who had been on the bench. The gator swam away, but was later destroyed. [The Orlando Sentinel, October 19, 1999 from Bill Burnett]

OK, 60 feet long is HUGE!

Quite a few CHS members saw Jobaria for the first time the other night. And for all of us, it was the first time we had seen both individuals casts fully articulated and mounted as they will be for the Navy Pier exhibition which starts January 14, 2000. Because I had late lab that night at NEIU, Ken Mierzwa, Kevin Goldman and I got to the dinner after cocktails were over. So we enjoyed walking through the cocktail area actually being able to see all the displays and the tables - the excavation pits - the photo stations and the tents without a whole bunch of people there, too. We went down the stairs and into the Grand Ballroom of Navy Pier just as Bill Kurtis was putting on his mike as the Mesozoic Master of Ceremonies, in charge of introducing both Jobaria individuals to the assembled multitude of about 450 people. He hopped into a jumping jack - one of those lift scaffolds used most probably to assemble the dinosaurs - the stage lights came on, and for the next two and a half hours we were entertained by a series of videos, slides, music, African drummers, and rabblerousing speeches by Paul Sereno, Gabrielle Lyon, the chairman of the event and Bill Kurtis. Meanwhile a whole bunch of money was raised for the next expedition; including one lady who big $40,000 to go on it as a guest! But even with all this, I was most amazed by the creatures themselves. They're Cretaceous sauropods, but odd sauropods. They're primitive compared to their contemporaries; they have remarkably short necks and very odd forefeet and claws. But I kept finding myself fascinated by a series of spines on the underside of the few neck vertebrae and how they move on the specimen which is mounted rearing up with it's head curved forwards. The more juvenile animal (teenager) is mounted with the neck out flat and these spines all line up and protect the throat in this configuration. It was the juvie which had the Afrovenator bite marks, but whether the carnivore killed it or merely scavenged it after the flood event which buried both individuals is unknown. What is known is that there s another new dinosaur still buried over there. And that Paul and Gabe are going back for it in the summer/fall 2000 season. And that one extremely lucky lady (and the friend of her choice) is going too. Don t miss the Dinosaur Giants on Navy Pier, January 14 through March 19 next year. Afrovenator will be with them in the Crystal Garden. And it's free - because these are your dinosaurs for helping with Dinorun and all the other fundraising events. Hat s off to Lori King-Nava, Gary Fogel and all the other CHS members who helped make the Dino Dinner such a fun event. Big waves to the Junior Paleontologists, especially Marco Mendez who told the multitudes what it means to be a J.P. And to the chair of the event who looks so good in a predatory dinosaur mask and who must have worked like a slave to pull it all off! Thanks to the grad students who would be staying after the party ended at 10 to disassemble and pack both mounts because the next worthy cause to use the Grand Ballroom was beginning their set up at 4:00 a.m. the next day. And thanks to the 450 who came, saw, ate and gave generously to support Project Exploration and Paul Sereno's efforts.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month.

Don t hesitate to send stuff - including your cutest herp holiday cards to me. Send whole pages of newspapers or publications. Be sure your name is on each piece. Have a happy and safe holidays and let s all hope Y2K is just a tiny bug - not the grasshopper that ate Wrigley Field. See you again in the new year!

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