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

2000 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 14th year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society

January 2000


"Since we cannot ever get enough of reptiles, check out the lizard sitting on the passport on the new Jobaria website: - - Lori King-Nava"

Mike Rapley sends this URL which is supposed to show "the future in snake reproduction." -

Don't forget to visit the Jobaria pair and Afrovenator on Navy Pier from January 14 through March 19, 2000. It's open every day and it's free. For more information, call 312-595-5043 or - [From Kevin Goldman, via email]

This story had legs

As a Barbados pet shop owner tried to pass customs at Miami International Airport, he stated that he had nothing to declare. Alert customs agents noticed that the man's pants were wiggling and that there were bulges in odd places - also wiggling - and searched him. They found 55 red- footed tortoises stuffed between the two pairs of pants the man was wearing. He was charged with smuggling and also transporting an endangered species, which is a treaty violation. [December 5, 1999: The Courier, from Ernie Liner; Chicago Tribune, from Claus R. Sutor; Eureka, CA Times-Standard from Bradford Norman; The News-Star, Martha Ann Messinger]

Lost, found, stolen and strayed

Hammond, Louisiana police had "to contend with a hissing, writhing 6-foot Burmese python after a 9-year-old boy found it in a driveway under the family car." The father said, "My son came in the house and said there was a snake under the car. I thought he meant an itty bitty thing. Imagine my surprise." [The Houma, Louisiana Courier, November 5, 1999 from Ernie Liner]

Officials in Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii have abandoned their search for a large snake spotted in the Wailua River and described to "mimic Loch Ness sightings." To those of us on the mainland, all this fuss would at first seem silly season reporting, but to snake-free Hawaiian islands, the possibility of a large constrictor or voracious predator like the brown tree snake, could sound the death-knell for hundreds - if not thousands - of native species. One Boat Tour worker said he saw a 20-foot snake crawling up a tree. Then a pair of kayakers saw it. Then the crew of a motor boat service company saw something they reported as looking like "a hump in the water." Local residents are suggesting that it might be an abandoned or lost pet anaconda. [The Honolulu Advertiser, November 3, 1999 from Sean McKeown]

Early fall flooding in Villahermosa, Mexico sent waves of crocodiles into the streets of that beleaguered town, adding to the muddy woe and misery of its embattled residents. Officials captured nine crocs in flooded areas adjacent to public parks and population. The Red Cross said that five people had also been bitten by snakes, but all were treated quickly and will recover. [The Courier, October 16, 1999 from Ernie Liner]

Alone again, naturally

The December 17, 1999 Los Angeles Times reports: A [33-year-old] woman who kept a menagerie of poisonous snakes, piranhas and other exotic animals in her... trailer was found dead after apparently being bitten by a rare African [Gaboon] viper... [she] was discovered... in her living room in a fetal position with two puncture wounds on the back of her hand... clutching a note that read 'Northridge hospital ask for ICU' ... Family members said [the woman]... had long tried to get a job at the L.A. Zoo. 'She was really an expert in snake handling, said her mother ... [and her sister said,] 'She thought she was immune to the venom at this point in her life.' [A member] of the Southwestern Herpetologists Society in Los Angeles said [that the woman] had been bitten at least six times by her rattlesnakes. [He added that] two months ago [the woman] brought a Gaboon viper from Texas, [and added,] 'The minute I found out about it, I told her to get rid of it. I told her many times [that] it's deadly.' [From Wes von Papinešu] For those considering handling venomous animals, please notice that a very important part of the venomous protocol did not happen here. Lazlo's rules state "Never Handle Venomous Animals Alone." It so often seems that envenomations become more serious when this rule is violated. Just recently there have been another handful of bites of herpetologists home (or in lab) alone. Do the Nancy; just say No to solo snakehandling (venomous or not). We need all our members alive and well in 2000!

Judge closes Pacific

Kathy Bricker writes, "This is exceptionally good news for anyone who cares about sea turtles, sharks, albatross, and the myriad other creatures killed accidentally on Hawaiian longlines! This victory gives us all one more blessing to celebrate this ... Thanksgiving!" November 23, 1999 via email. The press release reads: Court closes large area of the Pacific to the longline fishery to save endangered sea turtles. Hawai`i federal district court Judge David A. Ezra today ordered thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean closed to the Hawai`i-based longline fishery to reduce the longliners' impacts on threatened and endangered sea turtles. The closure, which extends north of 28 degrees north latitude, east of 168 degrees west longitude, and west of 150 degrees west longitude, becomes effective within 30 days from today, and will remain in effect until an Environmental Impact Statement analyzing the fishery's impacts is complete. "For once we are taking a precautionary approach while we look for a permanent solution," said Pam Plotkin, the Center for Marine Conservation's Senior Conservation Scientist. "The judge's decision may help save Pacific leatherback sea turtles from extinction." According to Todd Steiner, director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, "This is exactly the action we needed to start us on a solid path to saving the critically endangered leatherback sea turtles. Commercial fishing activities must be conducted responsibly to protect marine biodiversity and eliminate the wasteful killing of these magnificent animals. Judge Ezra has ordered a temporary closure while additional research is conducted. Ultimately, we may need to create permanent marine protected areas, where fishing is not allowed, to ensure the survival of this ancient species." The Sea Turtle Restoration Project and the Center for Marine Conservation, represented by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, had filed suit in February against the National Marine Fisheries Service and related government agencies challenging their failure to properly manage the longline fishery and comply with federal environmental laws. Judge Ezra had concluded, in an order issued October 18, 1999, that the government had violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an EIS for the longline fishery, and that a "carefully tailored" injunction was appropriate while the EIS process was ongoing. At that time, Judge Ezra requested briefs from the parties on how to craft an injunction that would balance the needs of the endangered species with the concerns of the longline industry, which intervened in the suit. The Court's decision today was based on scientific data showing that the leatherback turtle is in imminent danger of extinction in the Pacific, and that the great majority of leatherbacks (as well as loggerhead turtles) caught by the Hawai`i based longliners are hooked by the largest longline vessels fishing for swordfish hundreds of miles north of the main Hawaiian islands. These vessels also account for much of the shark finning that occurs in the longline fishery, as well as the deaths each year of thousands of albatross that are hooked on longlines Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff commented: "Judge Ezra's order was compelled by the National Marine Fisheries Service's persistent refusal to take any effective measures to save these endangered turtles from extinction. NMFS has stood by for years and watched as leatherback populations have plummeted. An Environmental Impact Statement will finally expose the devastation being caused by the longline fishery. This injunction increases the chance that there will still be leatherbacks left in the Pacific by the time the EIS is finished." Leatherbacks nest in Mexico and Costa Rica in the eastern Pacific, and, in the western Pacific, in Malaysia and Irian Jaya. Although in 1980 it was estimated that there were 126,000 adult female leatherbacks in the eastern Pacific alone, scientists estimate that there are less than 3,000 leatherbacks of both genders left in the eastern Pacific. The western Pacific nesting populations also have been devastated, and are near extinction."

Collins' KAMP followers rewarded

In addition to the straight awards including "excellence in Kansas Herpetology," and "Best Photograph of a Native Kansas Amphibian or Reptile" (all modestly named after the first family of Kansas Herpetology), "two other KHS meeting attendees were recognized as the first recipients of "The Big Croaker Awards," sponsored by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and the Kansas Amphibian Monitoring Program, and given to those individuals that monitored choruses of frogs and toads with diligence and excellence during the spring of 1999... Each spring, over 100 ... volunteers census choruses of amphibians on eighty 15-mile routes across Kansas, establishing baseline information that will eventually be used to determine whether amphibian populations are declining, increasing, or remaining stable." [News Release, Kansas Herpetological Society, November 14, 1999 via email]

Are we finis of what siecle, yet?

"Please note the article posted today on a "Turtle farmer" on CNN's Web site. A quote: '[The man and his wife] buy turtles from commercial trappers. Soft-shell, snapping and painted turtles can legally be trapped in Iowa, where the[y] get most of their turtles. He bought about 189,000 pounds of live turtles this year, including more than 10,000 soft-shell turtles, which will be shipped live to restaurants and seafood retailers around the country. Painted turtles are sold as pets or for their shells.' Somebody please remind me: What century is this? Dave Galbraith" [From James Harding, November 3, 1999 via email]

On a similar note, Ernie Liner sent along a piece from the Baton Rouge, Louisiana Sunday Advocate titled "Nuisance gators go in the pot." In Luling, LA, there's a gator trapper in the sheriffs office who is in charge of removing all gator pests in the parish and who just loves cooking up those nuisance gators later. He also owns the only alligator farm in the parish, but his gators have not grown to a size to harvest, yet. "A few years back, the federal government hired [him] to find some alligators which had made their home in a canal in Luling and were keeping a professional diver from his work on a pipeline. The diver... watched a cherry picker hoist an 11-footer from the water and into the back of the [hunter's] pickup as passersby stopped to snap pictures of the animal suspended 30 feet above the ground." Officials estimate that gators outnumber humans in the parish two to one. [September 26, 1999 from Ernie Liner]

Viper your feet, first

The November 21 Dallas Morning News reports that Texas cattlemen and environmentalists are working together on a common cause, saving the Guadelupe River and Cagle's map turtle. The threat is two proposed reservoirs that would flood 'more than 500 farms' and 70 percent of turtle habitat along the river near Cuero, Texas. While the ranchers see the Endangered Species Act like "a rattlesnake imported to control rats," the folks from the Center for Biological Diversity say they'll work with the cattlemen now and sue them later to get the cows off the river. [GreenLines 1021, December 8, 1999 from Roger Featherstone]

If your parents don't let you watch the news, skip this paragraph.

Lately around our local news here in Chicago have been a series of ads, which I suppose are an improvement over Bob Dole on a couch, but which my dyslexic ears mishear into one of the worst accidental puns ever to cross my feeble mind. Turning the pages of my CHS column file folder this month, I saw a photo of smiling pole vaulter Jeff Hartwig who "shows off... an 11- foot albino Burmese python [which is] one of 57 reptiles in Hartwig's collection." [from Bill Burnett Arkansas Democrat Gazette, August 8, 1999] Next clipping down is about "A business with bite," and the photo shows the smiling man and his alligator farm down in Cut Off, Louisiana. The man keeps regular and albino alligators and has built up one of the most successful alligator farming operations in the south. [The Houma Courier, August 22, 1999] Another photo shows a late-middle-aged white guy showing off a 40-inch long canebrake rattlesnake with two heads. The Tail is in his Left Hand. Both Heads are in his Right Hand. The man has taken care of the snake for four years after buying it for $850 from a junk dealer who found it as a neonate after shooting the mother that had just given birth on the front seat of a junk car. Only the two headed snake and his two headed sliders are in the man's portable attraction titled "Flukes of Nature." [The Times-Picayune, October 30, 1999 both from Ernie Liner] Then I'd ask you to cast your mind back on all the newspaper photo reptile stories you've ever seen... The man who loved lizards so much he had his name changed to "Iggy Iguana" ... Men with 100s of tortoises in enclosures - some in distinctly too cold native lands... Men with hundreds of snakes in sweater boxes at "swaps" ... Firemen giving mouth-to-mouth to a lizard... Men with iguanas on their heads or boas wrapped like living jewelry parading around some warmer than here beach boardwalk ... Remember the ad? So this is the face of a reptile dysfunction!

With thanks to everyone who contributed!

You can contribute, too. Letters only to email (attachments just don't come through!) and stuff from the print media by taking whole pages of newspaper/magazine and being sure that the publication and date slug and your name is on each piece.

February 2000

Busted down under

"Customs officers in Western Australia have arrested a German over the alleged attempted export of more than 80 native snakes and lizards. [The] Justice and Customs Minister... said the 36-year-old man was arrested at Geraldton on Christmas Eve as he tried to send 59 skinks by post to Germany. She noted skinks are a species of Australian lizard native to the Pilbara and Murchison regions of WA. "I am advised that further investigations and a search of a vehicle led to an assortment of 27 other Australian reptiles being discovered inside a portable cooler. `The reptiles included monitors, skinks, geckos and pythons.' [The Minister] said the arrest followed a month-long investigation. The German man was expected to appear before a magistrate in East Perth charged with offenses under the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act. The latest arrest follows the arrest of another German national this month when customs officers found 74 native lizards in baggage shortly before an international flight due from Adelaide." [The Age Melbourne, Australia December 27, 1999 from Raymond Hoser]

Real and virtual sites to see

Rainforest Conservation Fund has a new web site - - R.C.F. was founded in 1988 and is dedicated to the protection of the world's tropical forests via sustainable use of natural resources and education. [from Greg Neise]

Drop by - - and download the new posters and teachers' materials for your classes. Don't forget to visit Navy Pier; see Jobaria and Afrovenator in the Crystal Gardens for free! [From Gabrielle Lyon]

And mark your calendar now. March 29 at 7:00 p.m. will be CHS first meeting in the new Peggy Notaebaert Nature Museum. Our speaker will be Paul Sereno and we hope to have the Junior Paleontologists, the Dino-rama crew, the usual suspects and you there to see what our newest Chicago Academy of Sciences space looks like. After years of construction the newest home of the Academy is spectacular. Come and see!

Local iguana stolen from school

"A $200 reward has been offered for information leading to the return of an iguana stolen from the Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 science center, probably by children who didn't realize that iguanas make lousy pets, authorities said. [A police officer added that] he believes children probably stole the iguana, is requesting that any parents with an unfamiliar iguana in their house [to] contact police... someone smashed the window of the room housing the iguana, reached inside and grabbed the iguana, cracking the side of his glass tank. Fingerprints were left all over the area... Two other tanks inside the room were smashed, killing three fish inside... but nothing else from the room, which also holds turtles and a tarantula, was stolen or destroyed... Anyone with information about the missing iguana are being requested to call Oak Lawn Police at (708) 499-7846." [The Daily Southtown, January 7, 2000 from Wes von Papinešu]

Nitrates implicated in frog and toad deaths

According to a new study by researchers at Oregon State University, "Fertilizer levels the Environmental Protection Agency says are safe for human drinking water can kill some species of frogs and toads... [They] found some tadpoles and young frogs raised in water with low levels of nitrates typical of fertilizer runoff ate less, developed physical abnormalities, suffered paralysis and eventually died. In control tanks with normal water, none died. `We're looking at levels of nitrates so low we didn't think we'd get any effect,' said Andrew Blaustein, a zoology professor. In addition, the fertilizer runoff may be encouraging the growth of algae that feeds tiny parasitic flatworms called trematodes, blamed for causing deformities in frogs around the United States. The study indicates EPA water quality criteria does not guarantee the survival of some protected and endangered amphibians, Blaustein said. `I think this is clearly a significant problem,' he said. `The question I have to ask is, are you comfortable drinking water with levels of fertilizer that kills off frogs?' Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency regional office in Seattle said they could not comment until they have reviewed the study, published last month in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. Scientists internationally have reported a sharp decline in the numbers of frogs, toads and salamanders in many locations. Numerous explanations have been proposed, including water pollution and increased ultraviolet radiation from the sun because of a thinning ozone layer around the Earth. [CNN, January 2, 2000 from Jim Harding and K.S. Mierzwa]

Iguana find a good home?

"This Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, I read an essay that was disturbing to me. The author relates the story of her daughter's iguana which she basically unloaded on a pet shop when her daughter became a teenager and lost interest in the pet. We know this as a common problem caused by short-sighted and uniformed people when acquiring their iguana in the first place. The story actually romanticizes her `letting go' of this wonderful animal instead of the truth which is that she dumped the iguana on someone else when she no longer wanted the responsibility. Since the New York Times has seen fit to print this essay I think we should take advantage of this opportunity to enlighten everyone out there about the plight of this often neglected and abused reptile. The New York Times Magazine section has a very good Letters section. Please let them know how you feel about this by writing or e-mailing. I have included a copy of this essay which appeared in The New York Times Magazine dated 1/16/2000. Letters should be addressed: Letters to the Editor, Magazine The New York Times, 229 West 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036. All letters should include the writer's name, address and daytime telephone number. Marcia Rybak" [January 16, 2000]

I couldn't agree more

A writer from The San Francisco Chronicle mirrors the opinion of herpetologists across America. And it's so well written and so pointed that I am not going to change a word. Here follows the entire article: "Help, I'm Stupid And I'm Rich. So there is a television commercial. A prosperous-looking white couple are sitting on a big couch. They are talking to the camera about their adventure. They were driving in the desert when they got a flat tire. They wanted to change the tire, but when they looked out the window the ground was `crawling with snakes.' They hate snakes. So they pushed this button, the Special Blue Button that only Cadillacs have, and somehow a person spoke to them and sent a `service vehicle' - driven, presumably, by a member of a social class that does not mind wading through snakes to change a tire. Meanwhile, we are led to believe, they sat in their car with the motor running and the air conditioner going full blast, listening to a soothing CD and staring out at the bleak and terrifying landscape. How stupid and how vile. In my opinion. Let us deconstruct. I have spent a lot of time in the desert. I have camped in the Mojave and the Sonora and the Carrizo Plain, where a rattlesnake sighting is guaranteed by management on every hike. I have seen rattlers and red racers and gopher snakes and even Gila monsters, which are not really snakes but are poisonous. I have never seen the ground crawling with snakes. Only in an Indiana Jones movie have I seen that. Snakes do not hunt in packs. They do not attend snake conventions where they wear funny hats and attend seminars on slithering. It doesn't happen. Plus: There are even fewer snakes near large highways. Snakes have a certain cunning; they understand that, despite their little sacs of venom, they are likely to lose any encounter with (a) a human, (b) a 4,000-pound button-enabled vehicle. Snakes do not wish to be seen. We can only conclude that this couple were taking hallucinogens. They were out in the desert just like Jim Morrison, dropping acid and having visions, and suddenly the man screamed, `Oh my God, snakes everywhere snakes oh God they're beautiful.' The woman ran to her car and pressed the button placed there by the good people at Cadillac for all their drug-using customers, and the man from the detox center came and talked them down. `Deep breaths now. You are in a safe place. The world loves you. You own a button.' Later, they made up the story about the tire." [January 7, 2000 from Wes von Papinešu]

TEDs are too small

"Miscalculations by federal marine regulators may be responsible for the deaths of thousands of endangered sea turtles, a National Marine Fisheries Service study has found ... [that] the service's own mistakes in designing turtle safety chutes for shrimping nets has allowed more of the endangered leatherback turtles to drown than anticipated... The species' worldwide numbers have dwindled to 22,000 from 115,000 during the past two decades. The safety chutes, introduced in 1987, were supposed to save 97 percent of the turtles in shrimpers' paths. Researchers now say the openings were made too small and save less than half the larger species of turtles. A three-year study of thousands of turtle carcasses found that nearly 40 percent were too large to exit the current safety chutes. Autopsies conducted on some turtles further bolstered researchers' claims by showing many of the turtles had drowned - a fate most common to run-ins with shrimp nets... Essentially, regulators did not account for the height of some turtles, they say, meaning 30 to 40 percent of those they had planned on saving do not fit through the current openings." [The Arizona Republic, December 13, 1999 from Wes von Papinešu; and Daytona Beach, Florida The News-Journal, December 15, 1999 Philip Drajeske] Out of the shrimp zone, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center of Brigantine, New Jersey reports that only one Leatherback was washed up dead in their area this year. [Marine Mammal Stranding Center]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Ken Dodd, Dez and David Crawford, Marcia Rybak, Bill Burnett, Charlotte Newfeld, Ray Boldt, Ardis Allen, Ernie Liner, Marty Marcus, Chris and Kimberly Smith, David and Margaret Blatchford, Karen Furnweger and everyone from my non-reptile life who sent cards and holiday wishes. You can contribute to upcoming columns, too. Send whole pages of newspaper/magazine articles with your name on each piece (those holiday mailing labels are wonderful for this) to me.

March 2000

Chinese fossil a composite

Xu Xing, a Beijing paleontologist and scholar, claims that the fossil declared to be a missing link between dinosaurs and birds is actually put together from two different animals. This does not affect the theory that birds are living descendants of dinosaurs - merely that this fossil was a fraud. Even National Geographic will publish in March, 2000 that CT scans of the fossils seem to support Dr. Xu's denouncement. The current owner of the Archaeoraptor specimen which may have had the tail of some other contemporary animal grafted onto it promises to return it to China as soon as he has finished writing an article for Nature about it. He says that even ignoring the tail, the fossil is significant. [San Francisco Chronicle, January 22, 2000 from Bradford Norman]

Back in the salamander, again

China Daily reports that the Xinjian salamander (Ranodon sibiricus, Kessler) of the family Hynobidae has been found again in the area where it was originally reported 123 years ago. It lives in 6 degree Centigrade brooks which run out of ice-capped mountains at elevations of nearly 3,000 meters above sea level in an area so remote it took the researcher several weeks to arrive and get started. Then she found nearly 600 individuals hiding under rocks or in humid sand during the day. At night, they crawl out and wander up to four meters away, eating moths, beetles and small insects. Winter snows up to a half-meter cover the area; the salamanders hibernate for six months under rocks until the arrival of warmer weather. Researchers have been captive breeding these animals in situ since 1991 and have released more than 200 into another valley near the source population. [December 9, 1999 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

I-sang Newton's laws of filksinging

From Bradford Norman [Voices of Humboldt County, July 1999] comes the text of what is called a "filk-song" - new words for old music. In this case the music is "Tonight" from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein, the words were written by Kay Rudin during an amphibian trip several years ago: Two newts, two newts -we only found two newts - but they - ran away. Lift up a rock - and take a gander - we found a salamander - but it ran away. Which reminds me that years ago, my daughter Eloise and I wrote one for our pet garter snake "Sidney" to the tune of Greensleeves: What snake is this, who lays in grass on minnows fat is feasting? Who sheds his skin and with a grin, devours another fat fish-y? Snake, snake, who brings me joy; more interesting than any toy. Snake, snake, my heart's delight... And who, but my snake-y Sidney?" Horrid punsters (like Roger Repp!) are always invited to provide second stanzas for filksongs.

Time to hop to it

FrogLog needs you and your support. Join DAPTF by writing a check to "Smithsonian/Conservation and Science of Amphibians" and mail to Ron Heyer, Chair DAPTF, NHB Mail Stop 180, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC 20560-0180. U.S. contributions are deductible (but see your particular tax advisor for all details). $25.00 a year gets you the journal which is often quoted in this column. Read the rest of it. Join DAPTF today.

Websites from members

"I have been meaning to give you the URL to Robert Sprackland's new website - the Virtual Natural History Museum: - -" Lori King-Nava (who has nothing else on her desk now that Reptile Fest is only two months away!)

The Oregon Herpetological Society goes online - from Bill Myers. Articles by mail to Editor - OHS c/o Wistec Building, 2300 Leo Harris Parkway, Eugene, Oregon 97440. Their meetings are the third Thursday of every month except December.

EuroTurtle - - has been selected as one of Europe's top six environmental websites. Watch Mediterranean sea turtles and learn about conservation of these ancient and special animals. [From Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Watch a sea turtle swim across the Pacific Ocean at - - by clicking on "satellite tracking" on the left side of their website. A turtle captured in Baja was outfitted with a radio transmitter. She's been swimming along and was near Hawaii on January 12 when Business Wire reported on her progress. [From Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Visit - - for more information on volunteer vacations for science. They sent a press release, too, but it was too painfully written to quote. The website is more interesting anyway.

Sad news

Mike Dloogatch writes "We just had Tom Taylor's [Tempe AZ] renewal notice returned with a note from his sister that he died 11/27/99. I may have met him at one time, but I didn't really know him. I do know that he had been a member for nearly 10 years and that he was a fairly frequent contributor to HerPET-POURRI. I'm just letting you know in case you want to say something in your column." All I can say is I wish I had heard earlier. I had no idea why his letters stopped coming; sometimes contributors take a break for a while. And I have been very involved with my own recovery of late and perhaps not staying in touch as well as I should. I know that Tom was very involved with Arizona Herpetology and the organizations out there - he will be missed by many.

Are there four sexes of tuatara?

The tuatara curator at Invercargill New Zealand has proposed that there are actually four sexes in individuals of an ancient lineage which extends back to the Mesozoic era. While captive breeders have been determining baby tuataras' sex by temperature as is common in reptiles; researchers have found differences in DNA from males and females, leading the curator to propose that both genetics and temperature play a role in tuatara sex determination. Since tuatara lack copulatory organs, it takes up to eight years to sex one and some even seem to develop later than that. The curator said they might be making a big mistake forcing eggs into certain sexes, perhaps even creating "A whole lot of gay tuatara." They will be monitoring their 64 captive bred tuatara for several years to come. [Moko, the journal of the New Zealand Herpetological Society, Spring 1999 (northern hemisphere winter) from Warwick Brown] Also in this issue was a plea for cooperation from anyone with information about the smuggling of New Zealand species, particularly geckos. Contact Colin Hitchcock of the New Zealand Wildlife Enforcement Group, Box 29, Auckland. The article points out that many so called "captive bred" animals are actually wild caught. It has been pointed out over the years that captive bred animals and wild caught animals have very different parasite loads and that a fecal exam will often tell the source of the animal directly.

Do they drive Cadillacs, too?

The Washington D.C. animal control center received a call from a woman reporting a snake beneath her dresser. Responding to the call, an officer discovered that "the snake in question was an electric cable." [Washington Post, December 16, 1999 from Wes von Papinešu] "A man who scared his wife to death with a rubber snake has been jailed for three years. The 73- year-old knew his wife had a weak heart and wanted the insurance money..." reports The Sunday Mail (Scotland U.K). [From Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Have we reached critical mass?

Less than three months into our new millennium, an alarming number of reports seem to indicate a sudden increase in loss of wildlife. The following are all directly from GreenLines, the electronic journal of Defenders of Wildlife. And, none of these stories were sent in by contributors, perhaps showing that they "didn't make the wires."

A "sharp increase" in sea turtle deaths has prompted the NMFS to override state management and temporarily ban large mesh gill nets in parts of Pamlico Sound NC... Pressure is building for "further restrictions on commercial fishing" as sea turtles deaths have increased "193 over last year" to a total of 551. [December 27, 1999] A widespread decline in butterflies in and around CA's Sacramento Valley has entomologists very worried... Even very common species were "almost absent" and the "overall trend was way, way, down."... The collapse included many species from common to rare and sharp declines were also noticed in monarchs whose wintering numbers were less that a quarter of normal. [December 27, 1999]

As Colorado River "shareholders" met at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas... The Southern Nevada Water Authority said "the larger effort to permanently allocate water for the environment [is] unrealistic." [December 27, 1999]

Proposals by the National Marine Fisheries Service and Congress would ban long-line fishing in large areas of the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic in an effort to conserve rapidly declining populations of highly migratory species, swordfish, billfish, tuna and shark. Both closures would have significant economic impacts and represent the "first major effort" to protect the species "which are in danger worldwide." [January 4, 2000]

Researchers have found that key components of the marine food chain, plankton and krill, may be breaking down due to the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, says Japan's Asahi Shimbum. Population of krill, which eat plankton and are a food staple for whales and penguins, are now a quarter of what they were in the mid-1980s. [January 4, 2000] Costumed activists and a giant inflatable sea turtle will lead a march on Friday January 7 at the Texas state Capitol in Austin. The rally, organized by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, will call on Texas Governor George Bush to create a Kemp's Ridley Marine Reserve to protect critically endangered sea turtles. Last year, the Governor's last minute effort to enforce protective measures failed to stop the deaths of sea turtles from increasing to 450, with almost all dying during the shrimp fishing season. [January 5, 2000]

A study by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that in just the last five years the range of the Mexican prairie dog "has shrunk by more than half".... As a keystone species in the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem, concern is heightened because its disappearance would cause profound changes for many other species. The prairie dogs are important in maintaining open grasslands and to other animals who use their burrows as habitat. The primary threat is loss of habitat as land is converted to agriculture, "mainly for potatoes." [January 7, 2000]

Even very low levels of fertilizers, that the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] finds "safe for human drinking water," can be deadly to "some protected and endangered amphibians"... The fertilizers have a dual affect of killing the frogs and toads directly or indirectly by fostering algal growth beneficial to "parasitic flatworms called trematodes" which are known to cause deformities. The Oregon State study found that amphibians were adversely affected by nitrite levels "well below those that the EPA considers safe for warm water fish." Nitrite levels can be concentrated in shoreline areas containing lots of organic matter or subject to runoff from livestock manure. [January 7, 2000]

The Japanese are now questioning whaling, but only after finding out that whale meat is heavily contaminated with heavy metals and other chemicals... The oceans have become so polluted that eating even small amounts of meat from marine mammals can cause significant health problems or lead to birth defects. Research has found that whales and dolphins can accumulate the toxic chemicals at up to 70,000 times the levels found in the ocean. [January 12, 2000]

A new report from Conservation International warns that "25 species of apes, monkeys, lemurs and other primates" are critically endangered and on "the brink of a major extinction crisis" ... The main threats are familiar and include "destruction of tropical habitat," hunting, the "pet trade," and use in "biomedical research." [January 12, 2000]

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has reduced horseshoe crab catch by 25 percent along the entire Atlantic seaboard ... The cut came after demand from the booming conch and eel fishery had increased the catch fourfold from 1993 to 1996. The crabs, an ancient species more closely related to spiders, are an essential food source for migratory birds and sea turtles. [January 14, 2000]

The long-term ecological consequences of a ruptured pipe that spilled 69,000 gallons of oil beneath pond ice in Pennsylvania's John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, remain unclear... Clean-up operations further damaged some habitat, but a full assessment on the harm to wildlife, including the state listed red-bellied turtle and southern leopard frog, will have to wait until spring or even longer. [January 14, 2000]

The longline fishing fleet is now taking up operations in Southern and Baja California after driving Atlantic swordfish "to the brink of extinction," and decimating sea turtles in Hawaiian waters... Marine conservation groups contend that commercial longline fishing, which accounts for 98 percent of commercial fish landings, destroy sustainable local fisheries, have reduced marlin and sailfish by up to 80 percent and are responsible for drowning "large numbers of seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals." [January 14, 2000]

Overflow from a cyanide holding pond at a Romanian gold mine, has "destroyed virtually all aquatic life" in the Tisa River and contaminated the Danube in what is described as the "biggest environmental catastrophe since Chernobyl" ... Hungarian officials said that heavy metals also in the spill "will poison the whole food chain for years to come."

There's more than would fit in this whole Bulletin. For more information, visit their website at: - - [February 15, 2000]

EcoNews quotes biologist E.O. Wilson stating that the world loses a plant or animal species every 21 minutes; approximately 27,000 species annually.

World population is over six billion of whom half are younger than I am. See world demographics calculated for your age and place at - -. Click on "In English" then on the swirling picture to enter. You then put in your age (or anyone's age - try your parents or kids) to find out how you fit into our ever growing family of man.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Wes von Papinešu, Emily Forcade, Bradford Norman (I love EcoNews), Ardis Allen, Philip Drajeske, Ray Novotny, Bill Burnett (and "Mom"), and Ernie Liner for things they sent that we already used or that I couldn't figure out how to describe in words. You can contribute too. Send whole sheets of newspaper or magazine (clippings are too hard to unfold) and send to me. Be sure your name is on each piece. It gets to be quite a paper tornado in here some times!

April, 2000

Toad calling you...

Join the veloci-rappers and the cycad-elic crowd and come to Reptile Fest, 2000! We will photograph you covered in python (still living - not some trashy lycra print); tattoo you with your choice of washable reptile or amphibian; fill your shopping sack with books and other herpetological memorabilia; buzz your mind discussing dinosaurs with Paul Sereno, Gabe Lyon, Marco Mendez and the other fabulous folks from Project Exploration; and watch your eyes whirl after seeing the collections of the truly committed and obsessed herpetologists who annually give away one entire weekend to share with you (and everyone else in Chicago) our weird and wonderful world. Don't miss it. May 6th and 7th, Physical Education Building, Northeastern Illinois University, turn into campus off Foster or Bryn Mawr between Kimball and Pulaski. Full directions on the website and elsewhere in this Bulletin. Needless to say all proceeds benefit the Society. Bring all your friends who've ever asked you about reptiles. Borrow or bring a child for the most excitement in May. See you there.

Art imitates life

While I don't usually try to summarize cartoons, this month I am breaking my self-imposed rule because you just gotta hear this one. It's from McNelly's "Shoe," January 31, 2000 sent by J.N. Stuart from the Albuquerque Journal. A man brings in a box with holes to the veterinarian and says "There's something wrong with my python." And the vet says that it's a hard condition to talk about and the man replies, "You mean he has reptile disfunction?" Is this a case of great minds think alike or more like the chicken and the egg? You decide.

Keep washing your boots anyway

While a recent report in Science News suggests that frog killing chytrid organisms are implicated in declining amphibians, they also report that chytrids have been found in museum specimens from the 1970s from widely spread areas of the world. The earliest Australian specimen is from a dainty tree frog which was pickled in 1978. Closer to home, U.S. researchers have found that 2 of 12 preserved leopard frogs from various collections, and some Bufo canoris from the Sierra Nevada, California were also infected. The "wandering herpetologist" theory of the chytrid spread has also been discounted; one researcher pointed out that "you'd have to have a really active person who had nothing else to do," because the dieoffs are so widespread in place and time. She also pointed out that the "major cause of amphibian declines is habitat loss." [Volume 157, February 26, 2000 from Marty Marcus]

Life imitates art

Another writer was annoyed by that "we were surrounded by snakes" automobile advertisement which seems to have disappeared utterly and unlamentably from the airwaves. Writing in the Albuquerque Journal, Jim Belshaw (a westerner through and through) describes the commercial for a luxury sedan automobile with a built in help button. The couple claimed they had a flat tire and were surrounded by snakes and scared and that the nice people at "On Star" helped them get out of their distress. Belshaw interviewed a herpetologist who pointed out that snakes would have just left the scene of the blowout since most snakes would rather slither away than stay anywhere near a person with a tire iron. But it was what his nonherpetologist Western friend said that stuck with me even more than the reasonable argument. The man pointed out that the snakes were an allegory. "For `desert' substitute `Mission District.' For `snakes' substitute `people who look funny.'...the true subtext... If you break down in a weird neighborhood, all you have to do is lock the door ... and push that button and wit for the brawny guys from the towing service to come do whatever they do." Belshaw gives a third reason, "Plus it irritates herpetologists in the desert, and you never know when you might need one if your magic button breaks down about the same time your tire goes flat." [January 21, 2000 from J.N. Stuart] I finally realized that the luxury car maker is marketing a car to people too dumb to know how to get or use a cell phone. I haven't driven near one since.

And then I sat down to read a bunch of turtle articles...

Many of which came in recently from kind contributors Bill Burnett, David Blatchford, Ernie Liner and others. But as soon as I started thinking about sea turtles, I started thinking about how just one week ago I was swimming in the Pacific Ocean with Manta Rays and a few days before with real, live sea turtles and got so inspired that the rest of the clippings are going to wait and I'm going to tell you about one the most rocking and exciting geological field trips of my life. The major professor and the teaching assistant have been on similar trips for several years in the past and having them as guides really showed us a lot of the island that we probably would never have seen otherwise. Our trip was so full of stuff that the following only covers five days. I hope to be posting some pictures and text soon on my website.

[And I did... click here for the story about swimming with the sea turtles.]

May 2000

And your little iguana, too!

A 50-ish resident of Carlisle, Arkansas is a very lucky fellow after a tornado picked up his house, with him in it and then tossed the house down. Two other houses and two mobile homes were totally destroyed, other businesses and buildings in Carlisle were damaged. All the pets but one cat were found, including Izzie a 3.5 foot "cold and irritated" lizard. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 15, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Amphibians vanish while bureaucrats get paid

The Chicago Sun Times reports that "the world's frogs, toads and other amphibians are vanishing, and the decline began decades before scientists first sounded the alarm in the 1980s, according to the biggest statistical study of the topic...[published in Nature]." Previous evidence had been mostly anecdotal, but by studying data collected by others, researchers found data on 936 populations from 37 countries. Read all about it on - - FrogLog. [from Lori King- Nava]

Econews [March, 2000] reported about the possibility of endangered status for the Sierra Nevada Frog,. A petition was filed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in February to include the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa) on the list. Herpetologists note that only about 10 percent of the historic distribution of the species still has animals present. In the Los Angeles Basin, the yellow-legged frog may be listed as an endangered species - the proposal will be considered by USFWS this year. Further downhill, a local northern California group filed a lawsuit against the USFWS charging the agency with several years of delay in helping preserve the southern torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton variegatus). Populations of this species are in dramatic decline due to habitat loss from logging and other activities which impact stream sides and stream beds, not to mention degrading water quality from siltation and other forms of pollution. [from Bradford Norman and Los Angeles Times, December 26, 1999 from Marcia Rybak]

Chicago-area frog and toad survey underway

Volunteers in several counties around Chicago are participating in a frog and toad survey over seen and guided by the Chicago Wilderness group. All reports of local frogs are important. If you have or have had frogs in your yard, please mark down this information. If you want to volunteer for the survey, visit the survey through my frog and toad link page.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Surprise, surprise, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just found out that excessive fertilizer run off leads to growth of dangerous offshore algae. [Associated Press, March 8, 2000] The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to toughen the wetland destruction permit process and now narrows that down to one half acre sites. The new regulations also will impact building in floodplains and in areas at risk of flooding. [USA Today, March 7, 2000] The Justice Department charged a 47-year-old Florida man with trafficking in rare and protected reptiles worth about $120,000. The man who has been dealing reptiles since 1992, pled guilty to the charges and admitted that he ran a fake breeding farm in Peru to cover up wild caught Amazonian animals. [Daily Commercial, Leesburg, FL May 8, 2000] A Detroit Pistons basketball player got his nickname because he got thrown out of the team hotel because of his pet snake. Then he had to play. So he left the snake in his car, where it froze to death and now his teammates and the fans call him "Snake." [USA Today, March 1, 2000; all from Bill Burnett]


In an article that appealed to both my geological and herpetological interests, The Courier- Journal [March 14, 2000] reports on the real reason that there are no snakes in Ireland. With data they obtained from the Internet - - "You Try It - Plate Tectonics" from PBS, the reporters discovered that due to the movement of the continents there never were any snakes in Ireland for St. Patrick (or anyone else) to chase out. [from E.A. Zorn] My Irish friends tell me that the story is a reference to the Catholic Church chasing away the Druids who had blue spirals tattooed around their wrists which the (mainland) priests saw as snakes.

More information about the Yosemite National Park long range plan can be obtained at - - the National Park Service Yosemite planning page. [Econews, January-February 2000 from Bradford Norman.

Read more about the brown tree snake invasion of Guam at - - click on "Special Projects." [From a USDA pamphlet sent by Bill Burnett] All kidding aside, I keep waiting for USFWS to figure out that the most cost effective way to get rid of brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis) on Guam is to just give the Sweetwater Jaycees free vacations on their island until all the snakes have been rounded up, beheaded, skinned, eaten, sold as souvenirs and freeze-dried. This year's Sweetwater Rattlesnake Round Up is on as usual. [Abilene Reporter News, March 13, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Can we leak all over their CEO's house, too?

Animals emerging from hibernation in early February at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge found workers cleaning up more than 170,000 gallons of crude oil which leaked from an underground Sunoco Inc. pipeline. Workers took turtles and other animals to a rehabilitation center where the turtles were examined and blood samples sent for enzyme and liver function analysis. One red-eared slider was found to have died because it breathed oil into its lungs before the rescue efforts. [Philadelphia Inquirer, February 28, 2000, from Ned Gilmore and The Allentown, Pennsylvania Morning Call, February 29, 2000] Contributor Ribello Bertoni wrote: "The NWR is in southeastern Pennsylvania, almost totally surrounded by urbanization. This spill is a shame. What we need... is a law that makes oil companies buy and preserve one acre of land for every gallon of oil they spill!"

Revenge of the SIM-guinea pig

The New York Times reported in their Friday section on new technology that the inventor of the popular SIM-City group of games included some rather real events in SIM-downloads that players used to enhance the environment of the SIM-families. Seems as thought the SIM-guinea pig download had a Trojan horse variant in the coding which resulted in death of some SIM-family members. True to life, the SIMs only got sick if they didn't clean the SIM-guinea pig cage and then annoyed the SIM-guinea pig enough to get bitten. Then if that SIM didn't immediately take care of itself by sleeping and eating well after the bite, it would infect the other family members, sicken and die. Many SIM-game players were saddened by the loss of SIMs which they had spent hours developing and nurturing. [April 28, 2000] Hey, SIM-Creator! How about the night of the iguana next?

Go turtle ladies!

The National Wildlife Federation chose the Volusia sea turtle lawsuit as it's top victory of 1999 beating out fierce competition, including bald eagle and other charismatic megafauna successes. The suit began four and a half years ago when two dynamic ladies undertook to provide a little charity for the turtles from their new beach-front neighbors. All the new buildings had tons of lights outside (remember in this "On Star" culture that we must banish the night) - and these lights were confusing baby turtles who use sky glow to help them find the ocean. Finally, judges ordered what polite conservation minded individuals would have done in the first place: Use intelligent lighting so you can see - and not so much lighting as to kill endangered species. Last year, more than 60 cases of hatchlings being misled by lights were documented. I'm looking forward to seeing what is actually accomplished this year. [The Orlando Sentinel, December 16, 1999 and January 9, 2000 both from Bill Burnett] Personally, I had a hard time believing some of the testimony against turning the lights off when they weren't needed. Can you imagine leaving lights on all night just in case somebody wants to go out the door at 3 a.m.? We have motion sensors that cost $9.00 at a major discount hardware store. They save us a ton of money on our electric bill. Why would the people in these condos (some of whom are only there one week a year) care if the lights were on 24/365? Have we forgotten conservation and respect for our neighbors while celebrating Earth Day every year? Look around - let's see what else we could do simply for wildlife.

More turtle news

Dead turtles continue to wash up on Florida beaches. Volusia County alone recorded nine dead turtles in the last week of November, first week of December. Five of the dead were massive leatherback turtles. Researchers say that the sizes and the numbers are not accidental deaths, but that something is killing these giants in the prime of life. All sea turtles are endangered species. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials planned to do air surveys of the migrating turtles and the fishing fleets. [The Sentinel, December 2, 1999]

Ninety-nine Kemp's Ridley sea turtles washed up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts beaches last year. They were returned south as quickly as possible. [Newsweek, November 29, 1999]

A Kemp's Ridley which swam to faraway Britain was returned to Orlando by air. Nicknamed "Beakey - the wrong-way turtle" by her finders in Wales, the turtle was flown by British Airways to Sea World in a blast of publicity on which the sun did not set. [The Sentinel, December 11, 1999 and several others from Wes von Papinešu]

CITES side effects or tropical legend?

"The African countries of Botswana and Malawi both are plagued with burgeoning populations of crocodiles that have been killing local residents at an alarming rate... [reports of] two people per day, but the number could be even higher because the incidents have become so common that they are going unreported. The reptiles have flourished since the signing of the International Convention on Endangered Species, which limits the culling of crocodiles and some other animals. The booming croc population has put a strain on the reptiles' available food supplies and sent them into populated areas." [San Francisco Chronicle, January 22, 2000 from Bradford Norman and Marty Marcus]

"A young girl escaped from the jaws of an 8-foot crocodile when her little brother grabbed the beast's tail..." The father then killed the crocodile with an ax. [Albuquerque Journal, February 8, 2000 by J.N. Stuart}

I used to like Chinese food

None of my Chinese friends seem to eat this stuff, but reports are still coming out of the west coast about the culture clash between local Chinese and local environmentalists concerning the sale of live food (including frogs, turtles and snakes) in local groceries. Efforts to negotiate a compromise have not been successful and the state authorities have failed to enact a law, stating that it is up to local communities to pass appropriate ordinances. Chinese point out that westerners boil living lobsters and dispute the lack of cruelty in American slaughterhouses, inviting environmentalists to watch chicken and beef slaughterhouse operations before decrying as "cruel" their killing methods. Environmentalists point out that turtles and bullfrogs are flayed and dismembered alive. In addition, the sale of live animals encourages Buddhist groups to buy them and release them into wild habitats where they do not belong and to which they may transmit disease. Watch for more on this issue in years to come. Meanwhile, visit all your local grocery stores and check out what they have and how it is killed. I got a very nice Malaclemmys once from a Chinatown grocery store. [Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2000 from Marcia Rybak]

Calling all San Francisco grocers!

"A voracious Asian eel found near Everglades National Park could become a biological nightmare if it gets into the park... [it] has razor sharp teeth..." grows to three feet and is nocturnal. As usual with supertramps, it eats everything - frogs, fish, worms, crawdaddies and so on. The eel is native to warm parts of eastern Asia where it is eaten mostly by crocodiles and people. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 5, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Gross, but productive

National Geographic reports that researchers in New Jersey have been collecting road killed female diamondback terrapins, hatching out their eggs (which remain viable for a while postmortem of the mom) and raising the offspring to three inch size before release. The moms are killed crossing roads, trying to get to their dune nesting habitats. [December 1999 from Ardis Allen] I have heard of some local people doing this with local road kill. How about publishing your results, folks?

Gulping is good

Tiny Texas threadsnakes (Leptotypholops) have a jaw structure and feeding style unlike any others in the world, according to Science News. When studied, the six to eight inch long snake (which is as big around as an average spaghetti noodle) was found to "depend on their toothy lower jaw, which is divided at the midline." Rather like a pair of swinging doors into an old time Western saloon, the food items fly in through the jaws at the rate of several ants per second. [Volume 156, December 4, 1999 from Charles D. Miller, III and Emily Forcade]

No more Vivarium?

In a total surprise to everyone but the principles involved, California's Reptiles magazine bought out Vivarium, which had been the first color magazine of herpetology in the U.S. Publishers say that the book part of the business will continue, but the fate of the magazine is still unknown, including the last

perhaps phantom

issue which was ready to go to press when the sale took place. This was all the available information as this Bulletin goes to press.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month.

And to several other people for sending me really cool stuff that I'm saving for next time. You can contribute, too. Take whole pages of newspaper and magazines with herp related articles or do the careful clipping thing and attach the date/publication slug to all your origami. Make sure your name is on each page. Those little address labels they send free to a good home work really well for this. Mail to me and drop by my website for more herp stuff and a glimpse into my real life as a college professor at NEIU and other interesting things.

June 2000

Extinct may/may not be forever

Reuters reports from Madrid: "Spanish biologists have discovered a species of giant lizard that was previously thought to have died out around 500 years ago, newspaper El Pais reported on Saturday. The lizard... (Galliota gomerona) ... was only known to scientists through fossilized remains until the discovery of six living examples on the cliffs of La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands, El Pais said. "According to international criteria, the giant lizard of La Gomera is an extinct species in nature," said Juan Carlos Rando, one of the biologists who made the discovery last summer... The lizards were being kept in captivity but could be released into a protected area on La Gomera to reproduce under supervision. El Pais said the lizards, which measure up to half a meter (yard) in length, were slow moving and easy prey for predators introduced to the island by man, especially cats. Rando said a another giant lizard re-discovered in 1974 on El Hierro island, also in the Canaries, had grown in population after authorities took measures to protect its habitat. He told El Pais he was confident biologists would now find a long-lost type of giant lizard on La Palma island. Scientists believe the giant lizards arrived in the Canary Islands from Africa around 15 million years ago. [March 21, 2000, from Kathy Bricker]

"The Spanish Ibex, a mountain goat that once populated the Pyrenees mountains, became extinct this month. The end of this species merited one paragraph [in your paper]. Where's your priorities? How far up the food chain must we go for a life form to get appropriate coverage when it becomes forever dead? If you had made this story front-page news, maybe your readers could better recognize what's important in the bigger scheme of things. Dick Ahern, Oakley, California." [The San Francisco Chronicle, January 22, 2000 from Bradford Norman]

Good news for Carlyle couple

The parents of a three year old child tragically squeezed to death by their 7.5-foot python were acquitted by a downstate judge. Prosecutors had charged the grieving parents with child endangerment, but the judge said that they failed to proved the parents knew the snake was certain to endanger their son. The father had said that if he had known the snake would harm his son, he'd not have had the snake. Now he says he probably will not keep any snake again. [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 25, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

A virtual field trip to Peru

Greg Neise writes: "Drop by my website - - for the Rainforest Conservation Organization! [I've finished my] Species Data Sheets, ... scientific and anecdotal information about animal and plant species found at the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo Community Reserve in Northeastern Peru, [they are]... richly illustrated with photographs." Greg has photos of most of the herpetofauna of Peru; check out his website to see the ones he's scanned in so far. [April 2, 2000]

Florida is crowded these days

Quoting directly from the Daily Paper from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida: [A 15-year-old boy] was mimicking what he thought was a harmless kingsnake when the reptile suddenly bit the 15-year-old on his outstretched tongue. What the Howell Watkins Middle School eighth-grader didn't realize was that the 2-foot-long snake he scooped up in his front yard the day before was a poisonous coral snake

with cobra-like venom. [The youth] was showing the snake to friends when it bit him. He then jumped on his bike and raced a quarter-mile to his home... The family called 911. When Palm Beach Gardens paramedic Tony Vazquez and his fellow firefighters arrived ... [he was] going downhill fast. "Upon arrival (Rescue 61) found a 15-year-old male patient vomiting, drooling, diaphoretic (sweating profusely), extremely anxious, with bite marks to the patient's tongue," Vazquez's report said. Thirteen minutes later, [the youth] was at St. Mary's Medical Center, where he was given antivenin to neutralize the poison and a tube was put down his throat to retain an airway because his tongue was rapidly swelling, Vazquez said... He spent several days in critical condition on a respirator because his swelled throat interfered with his breathing, said his mother... Doctors told her he would have died without prompt medical care, she said...His mother said [he] loves fishing, animals and anything to do with the water, and has aspirations of working someday with marine animals. In the meantime, his close call hasn't scared him that much. Speaking from his hospital bed, he said he plans to continue collecting snakes. [The reporter collected the following background on "poisonous snakes" without ever realizing that it should be "venomous snakes." Poison is when you eat it and venom is when it's trying to eat you. eb] "Coral snakes have pretty potent venom but fatalities are rare," said reptile expert Philip Hall, who is an environmental specialist with the Florida Army National Guard. "They are not uncommon in suburban areas." U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports show that about 8,000 people are bitten annually by poisonous snakes in the United States, and as many as 15 people die. His mother said [he] loves fishing, animals and anything to do with the water, and has aspirations of working someday with marine animals. In the meantime, his close call hasn't scared him that much. Speaking from his hospital bed, he said he plans to continue collecting snakes. [April 7, 2000 from Greg Longhurst and James Harding] Meanwhile in Palm Bay, Florida, a 42-year-old woman was released from hospital after being treated for two days for swelling of her throat and fingers which resulted from a bite of a coral snake. The woman did not know the snake was dangerous when she and her roommate tried to catch it while it crawled up a flower pot on their port. She was bitten in the finger, but they caught the snake and took it to a pet store, where the manager convinced the woman to seek medical attention immediately. She told him that she thought it was a king snake. [Sentinel, Orlando, Florida, April 15, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Reliefangs your symptoms since 1999.

"More than half a million patients each year have their clogged arteries [cleaned] with balloon angioplasty. Now researchers report that a new clot-busting drug, Integrilin, derived from - hiss! - snake venom, can cut the risk of death and heart attack 40 percent during the first 48 hours after angioplasty." And it only costs $400, unlike the synthetic competition which costs $1,500 a shot. [Time, March 27, 2000 from Marcia Rybak]

Thanks for the sheep, cow, sparrow, and ...

The Daily Mail of Watford, England reports: "Giants from America set up home in Britain. They're over-sized, over-sexed and over here. The North American bullfrog, which can grow to the size of a dinner plate and weigh up to 2 pounds has been found breeding in the Home Countries. Horrified wildlife experts have discovered a colony of the fearsome amphibians, which eat small animals and birds, in a series of lakes on a farm near Edenbridge on the Ken-East Sussex border. Nearly 7 thousand have been captured after breeding successfully for the first time on our shores - but many more are thought to have escaped... Nobody is sure how the giant frogs got there, although it is believed a pair may have escaped from captivity and started producing offspring. [If so, the current year would not be breeding "for the first time." eb] Most bullfrogs are kept by specialist breeders, but before an import ban was imposed in 1997, some ended up in the hands of pet owners. They [the bullfrogs] terrorize other water-dwellers, feasting on our native marsh frogs, small mammals and even bird chicks. One specimen was found in America with an 18-inch mink in its stomach. They also reproduce alarmingly quickly. A female can lay up to 20,000 eggs in one sitting. The alarm was first sounded by a farmer, who noticed tadpoles up to three inches long in his lakes. `They are big enough to eat a full-grown water vole and still have room for a great-crested newt...[he said, and added] Bullfrogs are also partial to their English cousins.' ... English Nature" moved in and captured as many as possible then, "the ponds were drained and bulldozed. Barricades have been erected in an attempt to stop them [the bullfrogs] spreading. [March 29, 2000 from Bill Burnett's Mom]

Amphibians on decline since the 1960s

Researchers studying 200 worldwide population data sets on amphibians published a paper in Nature which showed that "overall numbers of amphibians dropped 15 percent a year from 1960 to 1966, and continued to decline about 2 percent a year through 1997... [they] suspect a combination of factors: loss of wetlands... fertilizers... pesticides... increased ultraviolet light... and the introduction of exotic predators." [Democrat-Gazette, April 15, 2000] To which we could add, increased use of road salt and strange chemicals to melt ice on parking lots and airplanes, dumped fuel and leaked gasoline, nematodes, road construction and suburbanization of farm lands, changes in farming practices, fish stocking, introduced diseases and fungi, collection for the food markets and the pet trades, and so on. The article did refer its readers to the - - FrogLog website for more information on this and other amphibian studies worldwide. Meanwhile, FrogLog's Ron Heyer wrote: "The importance of [individual donors'] consistent financial support is not lost on such benefactors as the Detroit Zoological Institute, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Wallis Foundation." Contributions to the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force are always welcome. More information on their website or contact Ronald Heyer, Chair, DAPTF, NHB Mail Stop 180, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560-0180 for more information.

Turtles of the World

Ruud Altenburg writes: "After an enormous delay, Turtles of the World 1.2 for PC finally has been sent to the printer. This means the CD for Windows will be available in early May. Please check our - - ETI website for availability... This summer, Carl Ernst and I will implement the taxa described or resurrected between December 1997 and April 2000 (mainly SE Asian and Australian taxa). An update to the CD-ROM including these taxa will be made available on our web site." Ruud is with the ETI (Expert Center for Taxonomic Identification) [forwarded by Jim Harding]

The folks at Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter kindly sent a copy of their Issue Number one, January 2000. If you are into turtles or tortoises, this is definitely a publication to get, and you can read their newsletter online - - at the Chelonian Research Foundation Website.

Turtles of Texas

An association of Texas Environmental Employees accuses their governor stating "Bush Presides over Sea Turtle Extinction" and "Accommodation of the Shrimp Industry." Read all about it on their website - -. [from James Harding, April 13, 2000]

"The Texas state Shrimp Advisory Committee is proposing new restrictions on shrimping gear and a no-trawling zone to protect endangered sea turtles... The proposal, endorsed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., includes permanent closure of state waters around South Padre Island to promote recovery of the critically endangered Kemp's ridley turtle. Conservationists want all state waters around Padre Island closed so the U.S. government can `follow suit' and close federal waters up to 17 nautical miles off shore." [GreenLines, April 25, 2000]

Curator sentenced for stealing zoo funds

In a bizarre story that starts with the prosecution and conviction of a Florida reptile dealer, a judge in San Diego, California has sentenced 66-year-old Earl Thomas Schultz, the former San Diego Zoo Curator of Reptiles to pay back some of the money, reside in a half-way house for 30 days, serve six months of home confinement, perform 400 hours of community service and serve probation for three years. In the sentencing, the judge said, "It really is a shame it ended this way. You didn't retire with a gold watch, but with a conviction... I think Mr. Schultz has been punished enough by the loss of his reputation." The former curator was charged with obtaining reptiles, laundering transactions, commingling funds (he claims he stole no zoo money, just cheated everybody else), and a host of other wheeling and dealing he said was to benefit the zoo, but which the judge decided the zoo was unaware of his activities in the reptile trade. [San Diego Union Tribune, February 18, 2000] Curiously, the zoo let Mr. Schultz retire with full benefits after 37 years when he pled guilty to these charges last August. The Zoo is studying its internal controls after learning that Schultz had imported Australian fauna which he stated would never enter the pet trade - then sold these animals to Tom Crutchfeld's Florida business. He deposited these funds into his personal account. The USFWS got a warrant and raided Schultz' office but even then, zoo officials took no action against him until he pleaded guilty. One administrator stated he was stunned by the charges because Schultz had been telling everyone that he was not the target of the Justice Department investigation. [both from the San Diego Union Tribune, March 7, 2000 from contributor Sean McKeown - who got his heart on Reptile Fest weekend!]

GreenLines and ...

March 27, 2000: The World Wildlife Fund released its list of species most wanted and most threatened by the "booming" illegal wildlife trade... [it] includes tigers, pandas, minke whales, hawksbill sea turtles, Sumatran rhinoceros, Tibetan antelopes, Asian box turtles, anteaters, Asian ginseng, and the horned parakeet. These and millions of other plants and animals are used to supply "wildlife luxury and food products, traditional medicines and exotic pets, for the $2 to $3 billion dollar trade, whose "profit margins" are comparable to the drug trade. [from Ed Lytwak and Greg Neise]

April 24, 2000: The death toll is mounting in the aftermath of the massive April 7 oil spill at the Patuxent River Chalk Point power plant ... so far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that 44 mammals, 52 birds and 4 reptiles are confirmed dead with many more in critical condition. Volunteers are desperately trying to find and save animals who have ingested or are covered with oil in the "irrevocably damaged" estuary. Much of the worst damage starts at the "bottom of the food chains" and can't "easily be seen." [from Ed Lytwak and Jim Harding]

April 24, 2000: Environmentalists are balking at recommendations to create a 2,000 square mile Mojave Desert reserve "to offset the loss of tortoise habitat," from expanding the Army's National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, California... "Dissidents" on a panel created to review the expansion's environmental impacts say such a reserve would still "not suffice to ensure the future of the threatened tortoise" since the 182 square miles targeted for the expansion is relatively pristine and "home to the desert's most healthy tortoises." Several panel members, including the USFWS representative, "refused to sign off" on the recommendations, saying there is "no evidence" the reserve would "benefit the tortoises." [From Ed Lytwak and original clippings from the Los Angeles Times from Marcia Rybak]

May 10, 2000: "Animal friendly roads [are] no oxymoron... State departments of transportation have started initiatives to keep wildlife including threatened and endangered species from becoming road kill says the Chicago Sun-Times, May 1, 2000. The Illinois Department of Transportation is building walls to protect the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake and culverts to help Kirtland's snakes. "Underpasses for turtles, goats, and bears" have been built in California, Montana, and Florida. For more info on the initiatives visit - - Florida Highway Department website. [From Ed Lytwak and Karen Furnweger]

Thanks to everyone who contributed for this month's column

and to others who have sent me things which I will use next month. Thanks to everyone who came to or participated in Reptile Fest. As usual it was a lot of fun and Gary and Lori deserve an awful lot of credit for their unflagging efforts to put on this extravaganza. I just wish they'd do it in February next year when I have some time!!! Julian Bentley (now of Australia, but from the UK) dropped in for the fest and we had to go out and chase herps. In two frantic field nights we saw most of the local amphibians, many as Julian enthusiastically remarked "In Amplexus!" and blew off about 15 rolls of film while thigh deep in the water surrounded by frantically calling males. What a blast!

Don't forget, you can contribute to this reader driven column. Send whole pages of newspapers or magazines with the date publication slug firmly attached to each and every piece. Be sure your name is on the pieces. It takes me a while to do my reverse origami every month; the simpler the folding, the easier it is to get to the articles. Big envelopes are great. Reuse some old junk mail envelopes and send to me.

July 2000

Gecko gloves

"Scientists analyzing the microscopic hairs on gecko feet have found that the lizards use a sort of molecular attraction to climb glassy surfaces, not suction or chemical stickiness.... the researchers are now trying to develop synthetic gecko feet that can be used on search-and-rescue robots to climb sheer walls, as well as a dry, self-cleaning glue that would work underwater or in a vacuum..." Geckos have about a half million seta (or adhesive hairs) on each foot. They "roll the hairs... onto the surface and peel them off, like tape, as they walk. The toes curl and uncurl like blow-up party favors." It is possible that molecular attraction called "van der Waals forces" are responsible for the adhesion, but research continues to find just how this all works. [Science, June 9, 2000 (me!); Democrat-Gazette, June 10, Bill Burnett; Los Angeles Times, June 15, Marcia Rybak; Chronicle of Higher Education, June 23 from Rob Streit] For cool micro photographs, check out Natural History, July-August, 2000 from Eloise Beltz-Decker.

Lizard held up Queen of England

Queen Elizabeth was planning to visit Canberra, Australia, until authorities there realized that their runway is too narrow for the Queen's plane; and that with an endangered lizard living adjacent to the existing runway, they could not widen it. So the Queen landed in Sydney instead. [March 7, 2000 Morning News from Brian Wettekin and Honolulu Advertiser from G. E. Chow]

Controlled burn burns NPS

By now, everyone knows that it was a "controlled burn" in a remote area in high winds which ignited a fire which burned part of the Los Alamos facility. Not to do Bambi-biology here, but there were effects on the wildlife due to this massive blaze, and probably damage to Native American sites within the burned area, too. One biologist suggested that smaller animals including reptiles would do o.k., but only if they were buried or underground when the fire swept over them. "Some habitat might be lost for the Jemez Mountain salamander, listed by the state as a threatened species. The salamander lives mostly underground except during the summer, when it emerges during monsoons to inhabit damp lots. If fire turns the logs to ashes, `when the salamanders reappear when it rains, they can't find habitat," said game department herpetologist Charles Painter. [Albuquerque Journal, May 14, 2000 from J.N. Stuart] Curiously, salamanders are doing very well in areas flattened by Mount St. Helen's last eruption in May, 1980 and biologists were afraid that the soft and squishy would never recover there. The salamanders, fortunately, do not read professional journals. Having that much more free time permitted them to migrate into areas (by means of underground burrow systems maintained by other species) which were completely devastated by shock waves, ash falls, mud slides and other volcanic effects.

Are the 90s over yet?

A woman in San Jose, California received an "animal nuisance" citation from animal control officers because of noisy pacific tree frogs mating in her backyard goldfish pond. The woman said, "The first day I thought I was funny. The second day I got angry. By the third day I got paranoid... What if they come and pour chemicals in the pond?" Her husband made 90 minutes of recordings and plans to market them if they truly need a "legal defense fund." [North Virginia Daily, March 21, 2000 from Bryan McCarty]


Hamat Gader, Israel has the world's only gator farm with ancient Roman ruins, hot springs, and a spa. Described as "a kitschy theme park on the Golan Heights," it's ranked among Israel's "stranger tourist attractions." But it may soon be part of Syria; or it may stall settlement talks altogether. Local people said, "we're ready to let the alligators free in the parking lot before we let this place go." A keeper said, "My snakes are more reliable than any of these politicians." [Kansas Star, March 12, 2000 from Tanya Holthouse]

Where have all the critters gone?

A photo from The Orlando Sentinel shows "... a scene that looks like something from an Indiana Jones movie. Thai customs officials count snakes... in Bangkok after 900 baskets containing 13,500 snakes were seized from a boat off the Gulf of Thailand before being smuggled into Taiwan. [April 22, 2000 from Alan Rigerman and Linda Hauser]

"Two hundred Jackson chameleons smuggled into the U.S. illegally were nursed back to health at a Culver City, [California] wildlife sanctuary... `These chameleons were smuggled in burlap bags and the majority died in transfer,'" said a museum worker. "She said the chameleons were given food, water and shelter, and the facility's museum has added a baby ward for newborn lizards." They were seized in March by U.S. Fish and Wildlife but no other details of the bust were available. [Los Angeles Times, April 13, 1999 from Marcia Rybak]

A giant oil spill "practically" killed the Surui River and adjacent mangrove habitats in Brazil. A pipeline at the federal petroleum facility, Petrobras, spilled more than 300,000 gallons of crude oil into the bay. Beaches at a popular tourist resort were covered in black muck and spawning grounds of fish and near shore birds were awash in crude. The spill widened out over 16 square miles, while workers tried to clean and contain it with rakes and pitchforks. Petrobras accepted responsibility for the accident; it remains to be seen how the ecology can recover. [Columbia Daily Tribune, Columbia, MO, January 22, 2000 from Oliver J. Sieckmann]


"Tens of thousands of endangered [olive] ridley turtles have returned to the shores of eastern India to nest. Wildlife officials said that at least 45,000 of the huge olive-green reptiles have returned to Gahirmatha Beach on the Bay of Bengal in Orissa state...[which] was damaged by a supercyclone that hit the area last October. [The Honolulu Advertiser, March 19, 2000 from G.E. Chow]

If only it were true!

"Along with assorted fish species [in the new display at the Shedd Aquarium] Amazon Rising shows off Cayman [sic] lizards, 3-foot-long [sic] poison arrow frogs, tarantulas and colorful exotic birds. It's a departure for an aquarium to feature these non fish, but [a Shedd worker] said it's essential to the idea of connectedness. [Chicago Tribune, June 9, 2000 from Ilene Sievert]

New! KAZORP mineral water

Researchers found high levels of many common medications including hormones, antidepressants, aspirin, ibuprofen, vitamins, cancer and seizure medicines and others in European rivers and near shore areas. Some blame these medications for mass deaths of aquatic organisms while others have documented the buildup of chemicals from musk perfumes and suntan lotions in other sea life. [Tacoma News-Tribune, May 12, 2000 from Marty Marcus]

Nuclear winter gets dryer

Just to show how little we know about our own planet, researchers working with actual satellite data (not a model on a computer) found that smoke from forest fires actually suppresses rainfall. This has great impact on rain forest areas where clearing is accompanied by burning. [Science Forum, October 18, 1999 from Gary Kettring]

Non-leaping lizards

"As many as 200 massive, fake lizards will soon be stationed throughout the city [of Orlando]. But rest, assured, these won't be your garden-variety lizards... decorated by local artists... in a project called LizArt... to promote downtown and the arts... The project is modeled after Chicago's `Cows on Parade' ... the first ... lizards will be on the loose in October... up for a year." [Orlando Sentinel, May 13, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

An ounce of prevention?

Mysterious alligator deaths in Lake Apopka and Lake Griffin don't seem so mysterious anymore. In an April 30, 2000 Orlando Sentinel article, everyone seems to agree that the deaths are due to a toxin produced by algal blooms which take up to 95 percent of Lake Griffin's biomass. The algae bloomed because of an excess of phosphorous which washes off adjacent farm (or former farm) lands and into the shallow, mud-bottomed lakes. Curiously, this article mentions two water-treatment efforts, one on each lake. At Lake Griffin last year, researchers dumped tons of phosphorus into the water to test the marsh. At Lake Griffin year, more alligators died than in any previous year - by more than double. No one in the article seems to have plotted phosphorus input versus alligator deaths, but it would be an interesting project. A side bar had a chronological history of the environmental insults to both lakes from the 1970s to the present. [from Bill Burnett]

Mourning their neighbor

A gator regarded as part of the scenery at a Safety Harbor, Florida condominium recently went for a swim in their pool. Someone called the state and the animal was taken away; even though by the time the trapper showed up, the gator was within feet of the swamp where he lived. Maintenance workers had captured him and were coaxing him home. One said, "It was a bad day at Sandal Cove." [Orlando Sentinel, May 15, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Might makes right?

Fisherman in Ecuador's Galapagos Islands kidnapped 300 baby sea turtles, demanding increased hunting privileges on the adults. Last year sales reached $3.5 million, in a one-month season. The Charles Darwin Foundation warned that the turtles are still in danger of extinction and criticized jeopardizing the babies survival for their cause. [Tacoma News Tribune, May 15, 2000 from Marty Marcus]

Urban legends

Brian Wettekin writes: Last year, I sent you a story about how to deal with an anaconda attack. I just found another description of how to deal with a python attack in Tales of Giant Snakes by Murphy and Henderson (page 131). It is quite obvious that this is where the anaconda story originated. They quote Rose, so the story has had years to be changed to the version I submitted. I just thought you may like the update!"

From Louis A. Somma comes a reprint from the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (149:109-114, 29 January, 1999) which straightens out a taxonomic urban legend I've been wondering about; but leaves open several questions of how it came to be. The following is entirely taken from the article. It started when a popular writer picked up a statement from a popular paleontologist to the effect that Edward Drinker Cope (honored in Cope's gray treefrog, among many other species) gave his bones to science so that he could be the "type specimen" of Homo sapiens. Then the popular writer took a skull labeled as such around to various places and took photographs which are all in his book (ugh!). The legend got on the Internet and (whoosh!) made it around the world in three days. However, it's hooey. There is no way for Cope to be the type species of Homo sapiens. That honor belongs to Carolus Linneaus (lectotype - Homo sapiens), of Uppsala, Sweden. The specimen is on deposit in the cathedral there, properly labeled and present if needed. However, there is no shortage of H. sapiens specimens, so it is unlikely that Linneaus the fossil will ever be needed for examination. Beware media science!

Urban reality

An auto mechanic in Kalamazoo, Michigan received a surprise when he found an 8-foot boa constrictor in the dashboard of the car. [Chicago Tribune, June 22, 2000 from Claus Sutor]

A jazz violinist who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan found a snake's shed skin in her sheet music. However, she doesn't own a snake and no one knows how an unknown snake got into her apartment. When she first found the skin, she thought it was some bubble wrap, but as it laid on the counter she said to herself that it looked more like a snakeskin. She said, "I thought I was losing it, that I had been practicing way too long." The Bronx Zoo identified it as a boa constrictor from the shed. The police said to call them if it came back; the super had the apartment searched to no avail. Some of the "experts" said that it could be a female which would lay eggs. Contributor Mike Dloogatch pointed out that boas are live bearers. [The New York Times, June 7, 2000]

He's kidding, ok?

Jake at the Orlando Sentinel writes about Florida frogs: What a species... Consider what the frog has going for it. Its one natural defense is to sit quietly, being just as green as all the stuff around it. ... if the frog wants to get anywhere, it has to jump up where it can be seen, and if it sits still, it feels compelled to holler for hungry things to come and get it... [and] nature gave it legs that taste good... they get into the screened enclosure... they try to hide on our windows. More-or-less green animals, fourteen acres of more-or-less green property, and they crawl up on the plate glass and think if they sit still, they won't be seen. Haven't any of them ever asked the other frogs if this works? Don't they wonder why frogs don't come back from in there? How long have they been sharing this planet with us? Don't they know about humans yet?" [no date, sent by Bill Burnett]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month!

And to Ray Boldt, Alan Rigerman, Bradford Norman, Nathan Tenny, Dominic Novielli, Andy Via, Emerson Sy, Vicky Elwood, Emily Forcade (a poem in the New Yorker!), Oliver J. Sieckmann, Ardis Allen, Ernie Liner, Marty Marcus, J.L. Lambert, Ed Clark, Carla and Miguel Ochoa, George M. Patton, and Martha Ann Messinger. You can contribute, too! Take whole pages of newspaper and magazines containing articles of interest and mail to me. Be sure your name is on each piece, it can get quite confusing in here on "column day."

August 2000

Researchers claim birds are not dinosaurs

In yet another paper in the ongoing debate about the origin of birds, study of one 220 million-year-old fossil has caused some scientists to claim that birds arose independently from reptiles, not from dinosaurs. The fossil is 75 million years older than the oldest known bird. It reportedly has feathers that may have been used to glide. The researcher who studied the creature, Longisquama insignis, said "Its skeleton also looks like a bird, although the creature may have been lizard like and lived in trees. Its frill is made up of 6 to 8 pairs of feathers, acted to help it glide... And it has a wishbone, a shoulder structure seen in birds. It may have been able to use its arms as a steering apparatus." He compared it to small flying dragons found in parts of Southeast Asia. The fossil was found more than thirty ago in central Asia by a Russian paleontologist specializing in insects. It toured the U.S. where the researchers saw it first in an exhibit. [All quotes from Reuters, June 22, 2000 from Marco Mendez]

New book on Chicago River

Lake Claremont Press has just released its newest book: "The Chicago River: A Natural and Unnatural History" by Libby Hill. Libby is not only an exceptional person in Chicago Natural History, but one of the few people to see a massasauga rattlesnake in the wild. For more information about the book and how to get it, contact Sharon Woodhouse at 773-583-7800 or visit their website -.

Judge rules in favor of sea turtles

"I am passing along this great news for turtles, ... with a caution not to be openly pleased about this decision around certain people [in] the State of Hawaii... Judge Ezra in Hawaii has reached a final decision on his order as a response to our joint lawsuit to reduce the harm to leatherback and other sea turtles from the longlining fishery... [specifically] Closed to longlining year round - 30 degrees north to 44 degrees north and 137 degrees west to 173 degrees east. We had asked for year-round closure of all water north of 29 degrees north, so this is very close to our request. Closed during April and May - 6 degrees north to 30 degrees north and 137 degrees west to 173 degrees east (Area A). We had asked for closure of these waters from April through July, two additional months. During the remaining 10 months of the year, only 636 longline sets will be allowed to occur in Area A. This is much less fishing than the 13,000 sets which occurred in this area last year..." [This issue was also covered by the Chicago Tribune, July 16, 200 from Ray Boldt]

Tick, tick, tick

"Good news! The interim USDA rule to allow the interstate movement of the leopard, African spurred, and Bell's hingeback tortoises was effective July 17 and will be published in the Federal Register this July 21. Below is language from the interim rule to explain what became effective: We are allowing the interstate movement of leopard tortoise, African spurred tortoise, and Bell's hingeback tortoise if the tortoises are accompanied by a health certificate signed by a Federal or accredited veterinarian stating that the tortoises have been examined by that veterinarian and found free of ticks. The certification will help ensure that the interstate movement of these tortoises will pose no risk of spreading exotic ticks. This action is warranted to enable the export, interstate commerce, health care, and adoption of these types of tortoises while providing protection against the spread of exotic ticks known to be vectors of heartwater disease. For more information contact (" [From - - NEWSFLASH, July 20, 2000]

Vegetarian crocodiles?

"New evidence challenges the idea that crocodiles are 'living fossils', surviving virtually unchanged while organisms around them become extinct or evolved beyond recognition... A researcher at Roosevelt University, Illinois, and colleagues, of a fossilized 'pug-nosed' crocodile found in Madagascar and dating back to the Late Cretaceous (97-65 million years ago). The researchers describe the fossil as `an exquisitely preserved specimen' and have named it Simosuchus clarki (from the Greek simos or pug-nosed and souchos, the Egyptian crocodile-headed god). Whereas other 'crocodyliforms' have an elongated snout with an array of conical teeth, a flattened head, and jaw which gives them a powerful bite, Simosuchus clarki is different. It has a short stubby snout, a rounded head, a jaw with little mobility apart from opening and closing, and cloven-shaped teeth suggesting that it may even have offended the 'crocodile' norm even more by being a herbivore. This new find shares several features with another Late Cretaceous crocodile found in Uruguay... [and] supports the biogeographical hypothesis that Madagascar and South America were linked during the Late Cretaceous." [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, June 26, 2000 from Wes von Papinešu]

Range extension

A juvenile American alligator was found in suburban Middletown, New Jersey by animal control officers who collected the three foot critter off a lawn. The township is trying to find an out-of-New Jersey home for the animal; probably the kindest thing, if you've ever had to live there - you'd know. [The Morning Call, July 22, 2000 from Ribello Bertoni of an adjoining state]

Species recovery or discovery?

"A rare community of Green and Golden Bell Frogs has been saved from a gas pipeline digging operation in New South Wales. The frogs, which have become the unofficial mascot of the Sydney Olympic games, were found during an ecological assessment along the proposed extension of a gas pipeline out of Canberra. [An] ecologist said that while discovering any endangered species in any area created excitement, finding this particular population of the frog was particularly significant. The population is of a mixed age and was found in the Southern Tablelands. The frog was thought to have disappeared from the area, the last sighting made in 1981. `Rediscovering this species gives hope to wildlife managers that other remnant Green and Golden Bell Frog populations may exist in the tablelands, and that the populations found may be resistant to some of the diseases that have been attributed to their decline,' he said. The company conducting the assessment, ... said it would review the proposed route of the pipeline to avoid the area, and said it would use low impact construction techniques if there was a need to pass close to the habitat. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, April 5, 2000 from Wes von Papinešu]

Gettin' more horny down in Texas

"Wildlife experts call it a Texas horned lizard. College football fans call it a horned frog. Kids, the primary observers of the species until it vanished from North Texas, about 1980, always called it a horny toad. Whatever its name, we were sure we could call Texas' most popular reptile a surefire goner. This news flash from West Texas: The hornytoad might be making a comeback. Given up for lost, written off as a helpless victim starved into extinction by chemical pesticides, the Texas horned lizard is proving tougher than we thought. The little horned devil is turning up in larger numbers out west between Lubbock and Wichita Falls, particularly near Childress and Paducah, a Texas Parks and Wildlife district biologist said this week... As any native will tell you - probably often - horny toads lived in North Texas yards until their favorite food, the large red ant, was wiped out by a one-two punch... chemical ant poisons left the hornytoad no choice but to move out of neighborhoods. Then, invading fire ants killed off red ants in the countryside." [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 15, 2000 from Wes von Papinešu]

On the other gill

"Tiger salamanders are dying off in Stutsman County [North Dakota] at an alarming rate, puzzling researchers who are worried about the effect on other wildlife...," Researchers who had previously captured and released 150 to 200 pounds of salamander per trap reported finding none at all on July 13, a first for the area and speculate a virus is to blame. "In May, researchers noticed that some salamanders in the wetlands had discolored skin [according to a]... wildlife biologist with the Jamestown research center. `In June, we started finding dead ones in the traps... the lesions tend to start up behind the head... the skin just basically falls off... their livers are also enlarged... [and enlarged] spleens, which is consistent to fighting off some kind of infection.'" The wetlands have been studied since 1967 and studying the salamanders in particular for about a decade. [All quotes from The Jamestown Sun, July 24, 2000 from new contributors Russell and Angie Keys.]

Deadly blaze down under

"About 1,000 rare and exotic creatures perished in a $1 million blaze at one of Australia's most popular tourist parks yesterday. The priceless crocodiles, snakes, lizards, frogs, turtles and platypuses were killed in the fire at the Australian Reptile Park and Wildlife Sanctuary on the Central Coast. Only two small turtles were rescued, one from the smoldering ashes by a firefighter, the other from a nearby water tank. Devastated staff, who have spent years collecting the rare animals, underwent grief counseling as busloads of tourists were turned back from the gutted building, at Somersby off the Sydney-to-Newcastle Freeway. The 50-year-old park has won many awards, including 1998 Best Regional Tourist Attraction in Australia. It is also home to Australia's leading snake and spider venom milking station, which is responsible for saving 300 lives every year. The New South Wales Fire Brigades said flames ripped through the building's animal and breeding enclosures and offices about 12:15 a.m.. The blaze, which took 50 firefighters three hours to bring under control, was not being treated as suspicious..." [Sydney Morning Herald, July 17, 2000] Damages are estimated at more than $1 million U.S. The Illawara Mercury of Wollongong, Australia reported on July 18, that an electrical fault near the goanna tank caused the fire. [Both from Wes von Papinešu] This story was also reported in a short note in the Chicago Tribune, July 17, 2000 from Ray Boldt.

News to them?

The Australian Customs Service says drug dealers are increasingly turning to smuggling native fauna overseas. The service today launched a campaign to counter the illegal trade, following an upsurge in smuggling, particularly in reptiles. The South Australian regional director, Richard Janeczko, says drug dealers are finding that smuggling native fauna can be equally as lucrative as the drug trade. He says some of the creatures involved are endangered, with Europe, Japan and the United States providing the main markets. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, March 23, 2000 from Wes von Papinešu]

Can't we just run out a water truck?

"Two dry winters have prevented the Mississippi dusky gopher frog from breeding in its only known habitat, an ephemeral pond adjacent to a proposed residential mega-development, and now biologist are warning that it has become `one of the most endangered amphibians in North America...' The frog's pond is on Forest Service land but its close proximity to a major development" has prompted the Forest Service to look at `a land swap or other ways to get a larger buffer around the precious pond.'" [GreenLines, July 25, 2000]

Military correctness

Commander Salamander, Newt-exceptional, inspiration to - -, long time contributor to this column, other columns and the CHS website, sent the following before his employer (an inadvertent supporter of herpetology) shipped him off to points unknown for months unknown. Enjoy!

"Differential Theory of U.S. Armed Forces upon encountering a snake in the Area of Operations [AO]:

Infantry: Snake smells them, leaves area.
Airborne: Lands on and kills the snake.
Armor: Runs over snake, laughs, and looks for more snakes.
Aviation: Has Global Positioning Satellite coordinates to snake. Can't find snake. Returns to base for refuel, crew rest and manicure.
Ranger: Plays with snake, then eats it.
Field Artillery: Kills snake with massive Time-On-Target barrage with three Forward Artillery Brigades in support. Kills several hundred civilians as unavoidable collateral damage. Mission is considered a success and all participants (including cooks, mechanics and clerks) are awarded Silver Stars.
Special Forces: Makes contact with snake, ignores all State Department directives and Theater Commander Rules of Engagement by building rapport with snake and winning its heart and mind. Trains it to kill other snakes. Files enormous travel settlement upon return.
Combat Engineer: Studies snake. Prepares in-depth doctrinal thesis in obscure 5 series Field Manual about how to defeat snake using counter-mobility assets. Complains that manoeuvre forces don't understand how to properly conduct doctrinal counter-snake ops.
Navy SEAL: Expends all ammunition and calls for naval gunfire support in failed attempt to kill snake. Snake bites SEAL and retreats to safety. Hollywood makes fantasy film in which SEALS kill Muslim extremist snakes.
Navy: Fires off 50 cruise missiles from various types of ships, kills snake and makes presentation to Senate Appropriations Committee on how Naval forces are the most cost-effective means of anti-snake force projection.
Marine: Kills snake by accident while looking for souvenirs. Local civilians demand removal of all U.S. forces from the A.O.
Marine Recon: Follows snake, gets lost.
Combat Controllers: Guides snake elsewhere.
Para-Rescue Jumper: Wounds snake in initial encounter, then works feverishly to save snake's life.
Supply: All anti-snake equipment is on back order.
Transport Pilot: Receives call for anti-snake equipment, delivers two weeks after due date.
F-15 Pilot: Mis-identifies snake as enemy Mil-24 Hind helicopter and engages with missiles. Crew chief paints snake kill on aircraft.
F-16 Pilot: Finds snake, drops two CBU-87 cluster bombs, and misses snake target, but get direct hit on an embassy 100 kilometers east of snake due to weather conditions which may include: Too Hot also Too Cold, Clear but Too Overcast, Too Dry with Rain, and/or Unlimited Ceiling with Low Cloud Cover. Claims that purchasing multi-million dollar, high-tech snake-killing device will enable it in the future to kill all snakes and achieve a revolution in military affairs.
AH-64 Apache pilot: Unable to locate snake, snakes don't show well on infra-red. Infrared only operable in desert AO's without power lines or SAM's.
UH-60 Blackhawk Pilot: Finds snake on fourth pass after snake builds bonfire, pops smoke, lays out VS 17 to mark Landing Zone. Rotor wash blows snake into fire.
B-52 Pilot: Pulls ARCLIGHT mission on snake, kills snake and every other living thing within two miles of target.
Missile Crew: Lays in target coordinates to snake in 20 seconds, but can't receive authorization from National Command Authority to use nuclear weapons.
Intelligence Officer: Snake? What snake? Only four of 35 indicators of snake activity are currently active. We assess the potential for snake activity as LOW.
Judge Advocate General (aka military lawyers): Snake declines to bite, citing grounds of professional courtesy.

Unfortunately, not funny

A 26-year-old New Jersey man was bitten by a four-foot-long rattlesnake. Witnesses said he been "fooling with the snake for 45 minutes and picked it up with his bare hands. After allowing people to touch the snake, he was bitten as he attempted to release it... the snake was calm at first, but became agitated as time passed." The man was one of about 65 people in an Appalachian mountain club's wilderness awareness school, but camp officials were away when he was bitten. He was transported to the hospital where his condition was not released. [The Morning Call, July 22, 2000 from Ribello Bertoni]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month!

And to Bill Burnett, Ray Boldt, Jim and Kathy Bricker, the folks at FrogLog, Marty Marcus, Alan Rigerman, Ernie Liner, Ribello Bertoni, Eloise Beltz-Decker, and the New Zealand Herp. Society for things they sent which I'm saving for next time or couldn't figure out how to summarize right now. You can contribute, too! Take whole pages of newspaper and magazines containing articles of interest and mail to me. Be sure your name is on each piece, it can get quite confusing here on "column writing day."

September 2000

Happiness is a warm sun

We hope it was satire, but a recent opinion article stopped me cold when I read, "Ferocious imported lizards have been released [in the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, CA] to end the peaceful lives of innocent Australian and German members of the Blattidae family [cockroaches]... geckos were set loose to devour defenseless parent and baby cockroaches alike. The justification... [was] the [roaches] attendance at a wedding where they partook of the cake and frightened the bride..." The writer points out that the humans held the wedding in prime roach habitat and suggests teaching the geckos to eat tofu. He concludes, "when the conservatory opens after its retrofit, the name could be changed to the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, Cockroaches and Tofu-Enhanced Geckos. Thank you for your empathy." I hope he was kidding! [San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 2000 from Bradford Norman]

"Thank you, God; they got it on camera!"

You may have seen some of this on television, but for those of us whose antennae were retracted in July, the story of the giant snake of Wallace, Arkansas is news. Few of the 51-year-old woman's friends believed her when she told them of seeing a giant snake around the ponds on her property. Her daughter believed her after seeing it slither between the ponds, and across the road to her house. A local camera crew saw nothing but the story went out on the wires on a slow day and pretty soon everyone shows up, including a National Geographic Explorer producer and crew. On their last day of filming, they got pictures of what seems to be a 12-foot long python, but it slipped away from them. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 28, 2000 from Bill Burnett] Stay tuned for the capture.

Sea turtle roundup

According to the Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, turtle watchers in Florida "say they have seen more nests than usual on Florida Panhandle beaches this year... Loggerheads, greens and leatherbacks began laying eggs in May, and the hatchlings will emerge from early August through fall. [August 1, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Leatherback turtles may face extinction within a decade unless commercial fishing practices which are killing the reproductive adults are changed, according to an analysis of their recent nesting trends published in the journal Nature. At least 1,500 females a year have been caught in long lines and nets used by commercial fishermen. From a 1988 high of 1,367 females nesting at a major site in Costa Rica, researchers expect less than 50 nesting females at the same beach in 2004. [New Orleans, Louisiana, Times-Picayune, June 1, 2000 from Ernie Liner]

Call the Hatchling Hotline for the latest updates on sea turtle hatchling releases at the Padre Island National Seashore. The number is 361-949-7163. [From Fred Egloff and Ray Boldt]

First chytrid fungus in Europe

Mass mortalities of the Common Midwife Toad, Alytes obstetricans, in an alpine area above 5,000 feet in a Spanish national park which has been protected for the past 70 years worry biologists who discovered that many died from Europe's first report of amphibian mortalities due to chytrid fungus. [FrogLog, August 2000]

Raiders of the Lost Island Ark

Meanwhile, in Madagascar, a forest with "an incredibly high number of species... [of] frogs... probably the highest frog species diversity world wide has been cut down." It used to be that 50 anuran species could be identified in less than three hectares; these represented more than half of Madagascar's amphibian species. Several species were only known from this forest from which all the mature hard woods have been removed. The remaining bushes, vines, broken trees and detritus will be cleared, according to the inhabitants, to grow rice to feed Madagascar's ever-growing human population. [FrogLog, August 2000]

Was it gold plated?

"Investigators have no suspects in last week's theft of a 4-foot Burmese python... valued at more than $200, and its aquarium were taken... no forced entry into the home" was observed. [Northern Virginia Daily, August 22, 2000 from Bryan McCarty]

The kindest cut

Illinois Governor George Ryan signed a bill in June which states that Illinois schools must "provide dissection substitutes for students who request them," according to the Chicago Tribune. Viable (pardon my pun) alternatives include the computer program "Virtual Frog," and various websites which provide three-dimensional dissection information for everything from single-celled organisms to the human brain. Illinois is the fifth state to enact such a law; it follows California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. [August 22, 2000 from Claus Sutor]

Studying rattlers before they're all gone

Several stories this month show that researchers are trying to understand rattlesnake ecology; perhaps better understanding may help these snakes persist. First comes a tale of radio tracking of timber rattlers in Brown County. Workers were seeking "Jake" the snake, who'd had a radio transmitter installed in an effort to study its secretive habits. [South Bend Tribune, August 24, 2000 from Garrett Kazmierski]

The second story shows a picture of a researcher implanting a transmitter into a sedated canebrake rattlesnake in Virginia. This team has been studying canebrakes, a state endangered species. More than 6,000 data points have been collected. [Northern Virginia Daily, August 7, 2000 from Bryan McCarty]

Massasaugas have been found in new places in Ontario, Canada this year, not much of a range extension, but still significant in light of their decline in other parts of their range. Snake crossing signs have been installed and sighting reports updated as Bruce Peninsula residents participate in the species' recovery efforts. [Rattlesnake Tales, Summer 2000 from Bob Johnson]

"Few other groups are as persecuted as rattlesnakes," wrote Illinois state herpetologist, Chris Phillips. He added "There are accounts of early travelers and farmers encountering 20 or more massasaugas in a single spring day. Within a very few years, however, habitat destruction and outright persecution reduced... [them] to a few, widely scattered populations." [The Chicago Reader, September 1, 2000

Meanwhile at Eldon Hazlett State Park in Carlyle, Illinois, eastern massasaugas are being tracked in an effort to find out the potential impact of building more cabins at this popular tourist resort. Developers continue to work to build a large resort along the shores of man-made Lake Carlyle. [The Chicago Tribune, July 9, 2000 from Ray Boldt]

Finally, the Wildlife Society Bulletin, Spring 2000, printed an article by Lee Fitzgerald and Charles Painter which stated that "Rattlesnakes are commercial exploited to supply an international trade... five species are used... the trade is linked to rattlesnake roundups, which are economically important to local communities. We estimated that 15 percent of the ... diamondback rattlesnakes entering the trade originate from roundups. In the 1990s, probably less than 125,000 rattlesnakes of all species entered the trade yearly... Analysis of the take... from 1959 to 1997 at the roundup at Sweetwater, Texas, showed no long-term trends, but was characterized by extreme variability [in] body size... and sex through time...Rattlesnake species differ in susceptibility to overexploitation, and research on life-history variation of rattlesnakes should be an important management priority... monitoring information is needed for the entire trade."

Let's do human skin next year

The big "boom" in python skin sales this year was due to all the tres trendy designers being so innovative and all showing python as the "in skin" for 2000. And all the fashionistas went along; buying everything from python purses to jackets, to little chic dresses to be worn just once and thrown away. Python hunting is still legal, but experts are concerned that hunting them to clothe the so called "intelligentsia" will result in large rodent population expansions which may threaten human grain supplies. In India, one quarter of the grain grown feeds the rats and mice. Less snakes means more rodents and less food for ever growing human societies. The Indonesian Reptile and Amphibian Trade Association represents licensed reptile product tanners and exports. They estimate there are 150,000 snake catchers in Indonesia and that 24,200 other people are engaged in the trade from there to when the skins are shipped over seas. And it's not just U.S. consumers; people in Europe and Asia wear snakeskin, too. [The Chicago Tribune, July 13, 2000 from Ray Boldt]

Sounds like people

"The enduring [Florida] drought, coupled with the annual mating season, has alligators braving busy streets, eating dogs and even resorting to cannibalism," reports the Leesburg Daily Commercial. [June 20, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Gator aid rejected

Various plans to help beleaguered Lake Griffin alligators have been turned down by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. One proposal would have lowered the lake by up to seven feet to dry it out a bit and perhaps kill some of the algae which has been implicated in the mysterious deaths of hundreds of gators. Other plans proposed using alum to neutralize some of the phosphorus dumped into the lake to test the phosphorus removing properties of a man-made wetland. Phosphorus is a nutrient which may be helping the algae take over. Right now, more than 90 percent of Lake Griffin biomass is the toxic algae. [Orlando Sentinel, June 22, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

By the way, we should all be glad which Florida University invented the popular electrolyte-replacing orange, yellow, blue or white drink now known (after their team) as "Gator-Aid." Had this same drink been invented by their arch rivals, we'd all be drinking Seminole fluid instead.

Not a love bite

"An angry alligator took a bite out of a state trooper's car when the officer responded to a report that the reptile was blocking traffic on Interstate 49 [in Ajax, Louisiana]... When [the] trooper ... arrived at the scene... he found a truck driver holding the alligator by the tail and a group of people watching the commotion... [he] ordered the man to release the animal... the alligator turned sharply and attacked... the police car... The alligator reportedly left the scene after consuming a softball-sized chunk out of the car's bumper. [Houma, Louisiana Courier, July 14, 2000 from Ernie Liner]

Snakes rescued in India

"Hundreds of snakes, their mouths sewn shut and venom glands punctured, were confiscated by wildlife officials... on the eve of a Hindu festival in which starving cobras and rock pythons are forced to drink milk. Some 50,000 snakes die every year during the Nagpanchami festival, when people offer milk, butter, and sweetened rice to starving snakes... Over the past couple of years, teams of wildlife officials... have been swooping down on snake charmers who display snakes outside railway stations and temples... Snakes never drink milk, but they are force-fed [at the festival]. They then either have diarrhea or the milk goes into the lungs and they choke to death... The snakes usually die within a few days after the festival and the snake handlers sell their skins on the black market." [August 4, 2000: The Frederick, Maryland Post from Mrs. Linda Hauser and The News-Star from George M. Patton and Martha Ann Messinger]

But animals die at the zoo

Several animals, including a crocodile and thirteen rare tigers died in the Orissa, India zoo. Various authorities blamed various causes. But an autopsy report mysteriously leaked to the press stated that the tigers died of eating "decomposed and contaminated cow meat." The zoo has 43 more tigers, but these deaths highlight problems of maintaining animals in such an impoverished and densely populated area. The crocodile was tortured to death by his keeper as some form of revenge on the zoo. [Little Rock Democrat-Gazette, August 2, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Picture of the Month

I wish we could reproduce this photo! The picture is of a 250 pound man in a sleeveless tee and shorts, crouched knees wide open to the camera. In each hand he has the tail of a snapping turtle. The caption reads "... displays a 40-pound snapping turtle, along with a 12-pounder he recently trapped with his cousin... in a pond north of Niles [Michigan. The man] said the larger turtle is at least 60 years old. He said he offered it to [a zoo]... and if it doesn't accept it, he intends to release it. [South Bend Tribune, August 6, 200 from Garrett Kazmierski]

Speaking of sticky

Marty Marcus writes from Washington State: "There's been so much stuff in print recently about how geckos hold on to vertical surfaces, but I'm left with a question... When the scanning electron microscope was invented some years back, we started seeing pictures of Tokay gecko feet, and the accompanying theory then became that it wasn't suction or `glue' that enabled them to adhere to vertical surfaces but the microscopic setae projecting form the lamellae would hook into microscopic pits in the surfaces. Even ordinary glass has these pits... If the new theory of intermolecular forces is the answer, then whether the surface pits exit or not (like on a telescope mirror) shouldn't affect the gecko's ability to adhere. Nothing I've seen in print so far mentions [this]... If you or anyone can shed some light on this, I'd be much appreciative." Marty is also picking up the mail for the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society these days in addition to putting out a newsletter and having been president of the Key Peninsula Civic Center last year.

"Bare Necessities" meets "Jake the Snake"

"The Arkansas House of Reptiles has received a temporary reprieve from having to move after several of its snakes recently escaped," reports the Little Rock Democrat-Gazette. Three snakes slipped loose and were found in the "Bare Necessities" boutique next door. The snakes were found slithering through the lingerie and sliding around the employee's feet. And while python is "in" this year, it is most definitely "out" for this shop owner. The complaints didn't begin until Bare Necessities moved in; House of Reptiles has been a Hot Springs attraction for many years. How the snakes even got into the lingerie store is questioned by some who note that one snake, very rare, was usually kept in a securely locked container. Food animals, including crickets and frogs have also been found in the boutique. The City had ruled against House of Reptiles, but a Judge issued a stay order, pending a hearing. [July 12, 2000 from Bill Burnett and The Chicago Tribune, July 30, 2000 from Lori King-Nava]

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this month's column

and to Bill Burnett, Alan Rigerman, Bob Johnson, G.E. Chow, George M. Patton, Martha Ann Messinger, Wes von Papinešu, MOKO, Harry Andrews, Ray Boldt, Claus Sutor and Desiree Crawford. You can contribute, too! Send whole pages of news or magazines with your name on each piece to me. Letters and text only (no graphics, bugs or viruses!) to my email. And drop by my website and follow the link to the Chicago Wilderness Amphibian Monitoring volunteer news. Consider joining a frog survey next year! And send all amphibian sightings to me by mail or email. Thanks!

October 2000

Columnist nearly goes extinct

"Last week the City of Chicago issued a permit to a movie company which nearly cost the Chicago Herpetological Society its only regular columnist, Ellin Beltz, a visiting lecturer in Earth Science at Northeastern Illinois University. On Monday, September 25, more than a dozen diesel trucks belched fumes for 17 hours along Clybourn Avenue during filming for a black-exploitation movie currently being filmed in Chicago. Ms. Beltz was overcome by fumes and was treated and released for carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide [CO] is an odorless, colorless gas which is heavier than air, but can be detected by inexpensive monitors available at all Chicago hardware stores, Target, KMart and other retailers. More than 65,000 people a year die of carbon monoxide poisoning, making it the leading cause of poisoning death in the U.S. according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Victims of mild carbon monoxide poisoning often feel that they have the 'flu' and do not report their exposures because they do not realize that they have been poisoned. Even if reported, unless physicians test for dissolved carbon monoxide in the blood, the exposure will not be discovered. The test is simple - a clamp is placed on a finger or toe and the reading appears on a digital display. Testing gear is on all City of Chicago ambulances and in hospital emergency rooms. Carbon monoxide detectors are required in all Chicago homes and apartments. Beltz' monoxide detector recorded a high reading over fatal limits after she evacuated her apartment. She had previously been exposed to carbon monoxide and was aware of the subtle symptoms of this life threatening gas. Neither the movie office, nor the alderman's office had any comment on why a 17-hour permit was issued for trucks to park and run in an area of homes and small commercial businesses even though this violates City ordinances about diesel emissions. Other areas of illegally high CO emissions legally permitted in Chicago include McPier properties, Navy Pier and McCormick Place, where diesel and gasoline engines are routinely run inside of sealed buildings as well as CTA bus barns and repair facilities. Meanwhile, five Chicago fire fighters continue their effort to have the City study their 'cluster cancer' which they feel was due to diesel fumes emitted by fire trucks within their fire house on Chicago's near north side. Beltz said, `If you don't have a carbon monoxide monitor, please go get one. It may save your life, too.'" [September 30, 2000 press release from the Carbon Monoxide Awareness Working Group]

Websites to visit

The new website for Rainforest Conservation Fund [RCF] "features up-to-date information, field reports and Species Data Sheets, as well as a bulletin board where users can ask questions and leave opinions. The Species Data Sheets include scientific and anecdotal information about animal and plant species found at the Tamshiyacu- Tahuayo Community Reserve in northeastern Peru..." - - [from Greg Neise]

"It's not often one sees a web site dedicated to a single species especially Geochelone platynota, the Burmese Star Tortoise. The address is: -" James Harding writes: "This is an interesting site, with worthwhile information. Veterinary information on antibiotics, etc., could be useful to practitioners. Some of the nutritional information, especially analysis of food values for certain foods, differs from other tortoise care sites on the web; it's hard to know which is correct!"

Jim Rowan, the photographer who exhibits every year at ReptileFest, has a new website. Check out - - for cool graphics of our favorite critters.

Chicago Wilderness frog monitoring volunteer newsletter. Check out the "what we know now" about Chicago area amphibians and reptiles and the links to frog sites and frog surveys.

Frequently asked questions about turtle conservation are available from the U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center. - - [from James Harding]

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation - - "PARC is habitat focused and includes state agencies, the private sector and specialists with an interest in herpetology. They work towards `keeping common native species common.'" [FrogLog, February 2000 and James Harding]

For New Mexico wildlife information visit Biota Information System of New Mexico (BISON-M) Species Accounts: - - Searches: - - . [From J.N. Stuart]

"Have you checked out Daily Grist? It's a free email summary of the top environmental news from around the globe, served up with a touch of humor. Try it for a few days and see what you think. A recent edition follows. - -. To subscribe, send a blank email message to - daily-grist- - [It] is a project of Earth Day Network, - -. Karen Furnweger"

Amphibian Book Published

"Investigating Amphibian Declines: Proceedings of the 1998 Midwest Declining Amphibians Conference" edited by Hinrich Kaiser, Gary S. Casper and Neil Bernstein brings together 27 papers from the March 21, 1998, Midwest Declining Amphibians Conference at the Milwaukee Public Museum covers: amphibian malformations, amphibian declines and amphibian natural history. Copies can be ordered from: Jane Vanderlinden, Iowa Academy of Science, 175 Baker Hall, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA 50614. Credit card or phone orders: 319-273-2021. Checks should be made to 'The Iowa Academy of Science.' The price is $29.95, plus $1.50 shipping. [From Gary Casper]

Keep driving

"An oil slick that has fouled Florida's Atlantic beaches has threatened 25 sea turtle nests that 'were expected to hatch Tuesday night' says the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel August 8. Volunteers patrolled the beach all night to rescue the new hatchlings and move them to beaches that are not contaminated. The Coast Guard reports that the slick is probably from a ship dumping oil illegally and comes 'at the peak of hatching season for sea turtles.' Oil in the water can suffocate the young turtles or 'ruin their digestive systems.'" [GreenLines, August 10, 2000, #1191 and original papers from Alan Rigerman]

Virus killing North Dakota salamanders

"Scientists have identified 'a strain of iridovirus' as the proximate cause of a North Dakota salamander die-off which is 'the latest in a series of mass amphibian deaths' says the Milwaukee Journal August 9. 'A whole generation' of gray western tiger salamanders 'was wiped out' by the virus, which also was linked to tiger salamander die-offs in Idaho in 1999 and Utah in 1998 and is 'implicated in die-offs of spring peepers in Maine; mink frogs in Minnesota; wood frogs and bull frogs, and spotted salamanders in North Carolina; and wood frog tadpoles and spotted salamanders in Massachusetts. [GreenLines, August 14, 2000, #1193]

Rattlesnake agreement reached

"The New Jersey Pinelands Commission has reached a 'partial settlement' over an earlier agreement that allowed a developer to build 100 homes in vital habitat for an endangered species of rattlesnake says the Philadelphia Inquirer, August 12. The commission stopped construction on an additional 200 homes in 1998 after a major rattlesnake den was discovered on the Pine Barrens land. The Commission wants a final settlement by October that balances the developer's 'rights as a landowner against the rights of the endangered timber rattlesnake' but environmentalists say that the commission's ' job is to protect. You either save the rattlesnakes or you don't.'" [GreenLines, August 18, 2000, #1197]

Texas and the environment

"With the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department [TPWD] scheduled to vote on a proposal to create a 'no- shrimping zone extending five nautical miles off the state's southern coast' on August 31, the Sea Turtle Restoration Project has been mobilizing public pressure on the TPWD and TX Governor George Bush to take action says Grist Magazine August 25. The campaign was prompted by last year's 'near-record 450 turtles washed up dead or dying on Texas beaches,' nearly 100 of which were endangered Kemp's ridley turtles..." [GreenLines, August 28, 2000, #1203]

"Days before a final hearing and vote on a proposal to protect endangered sea turtles along the South Texas coast, green sources report August 29 that the state of Texas with the support of Governor George W. Bush has 'drastically compromised' new shrimping rules and 'gutted a proposed shrimp closure.' The revived rules will 'do little to protect sea turtles or shrimp' and according to the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, indicate that Governor Bush has 'once again put short-term profits before the environment.' The original no shrimping rules were essential elements of a preserve too protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity and had received 'unprecedented' support from the public, media, environmental and scientific communities." [GreenLines, September 1, 2000, #1207]

No babies, no future

"Scientists contend that many turtle populations alive today are literally 'The Living Dead.' Demographic samples of existing populations indicate a severe decline in the number of juvenile turtles. Without a new crop of young turtles available to replace their elderly counterparts, experts believe that these ancient reptiles will slowly and quietly inch toward extinction. About half of the world's 270 turtle species are threatened, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The endangered list includes about 25 species residing in the United States." [by Katherine Canada, Science Briefs, August 2000 from James Harding]

The million frog marsh and other hoppy tales

"If finalized, a proposal to designate 5.4 million acres as critical habitat for the California red-legged frog would be the largest in the state and 'among the nation's biggest for a threatened species' says the Los Angeles Times September 9. Environmentalists are calling the proposed critical habitat ' a very significant and important step' in the species' recovery and for 'turning around the decline' of CA wetlands, 70 percent of which have already been destroyed. Although the building industry was strongly opposed to the protection of wetlands in so large an area, the USFWS was unable to continue to 'dodge' the 'awfully hot political potato' because of a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund and other environmental groups." [GreenLines, September 12, 2000, #1213]

A story you read here years ago is now receiving world press. "Australian officials relocated the Olympic tennis facility to protect an 'unused quarry basin' that was home to the endangered green and golden bell frog says Reuters August 29. In keeping with the 'Green Games theme' organizers chose to protect habitat adjacent to the Olympic Park which is home to one of the 'largest-known remaining bell frog populations' whose numbers are dropping 'dramatically' in many other areas across Australia." [GreenLines, September 15, 2000, #1216] "Prompted by a series of court orders and settlements in response to environmentalists' lawsuits, the USFWS has quickly moved forward with designating huge swaths of California as critical habitat for endangered species such as the red-legged frog (5.4 million acres) and gnatcatcher (800,000 acres) says the Los Angeles Times September 18. Because of chronic under funding by Congress and a rapidly 'growing caseload,' however, the understaffed USFWS has resorted to 'simply drawing humongous circles on the map that satisfy no one' while hoping to work out the details on permitting specific developments later. Now, one coalition of major developers and utility companies is predicting 'they're going to get sued over it probably 100 times in 20 different states.'" [GreenLines, September 19, 2000, #1218]

Invading species

"Exotic wildlife smuggled into Australia is a serious threat to native flora and fauna and to public health and safety through the spread of disease. The [Australian] Department of Natural Resources and Environment warns of dire consequences as animals such as snakes and turtles are increasingly taken home as trendy pets. 'One of our greatest concerns is that should an owner of an illegal species of snake be bitten, there is simply no anti-venom available to them in Australia,' says ... the department's project leader of pest animals. 'Even worse, there is the possibility of the animals escaping into the environment.' The warning follows a court case last week in which a man obsessed with exotic animals was fined $4000 after Victorian wildlife officers found numerous reptiles in a converted bedroom at his ... home. [by Simone Fenech and Steve Butcher, September 17, 2000 from Raymond Hoser]

"Scientists have found that 'invading' European earthworms are 'causing widespread loss of native forest plants and affecting the stability of hardwood forest ecosystems' ... Minnesota's hardwood forests evolved without earthworms which are now moving into forests 'in the northern tier of the U.S.' and have already done 'significant damage in the Chippewa National Forest and other preserves in the state." [GreenLines, September 28, 2000, #1225]

Salamander listed as endangered

"The USFWS has moved September 15 to immediately list the Santa Barbara County population of the California tiger salamander as endangered. This population of salamander could be extinct 'within one year' due to habitat loss and fragmentation from agricultural and urban development. USFWS conservation efforts are focusing on developing habitat conservation plans with private landowners and local agencies." [GreenLines, September 20, 2000, #1219]

Below viability now

"The number of endangered green turtles nesting on Israeli beaches has dropped to around 10 with biologists now saying the population 'maybe under the red line of possibility' for recovery says Reuters September 11. Only 1,000 female green turtles, which 'nest almost exclusively in Israel, Cyprus and Turkey' are thought to remain. Loss of coastal habitat, 'plastic trash, fishing nets and speedboat propeller blades' are the primary threats to their survival." [GreenLines, Thursday, September 21, 2000, #1220]

Contributor paid for land

"House and Senate committees have now approved a '$15 million down payment on 1,500 acres of desert tortoise habitat' currently owned by 'developer James Doyle' says Associated Press September 21. In 1996 and 1998, Mr. Doyle made '$8,000 in campaign contributions' to the bill's sponsor Rep Jim Hansen (UT) and stands to get 'millions more' under the bill which gives him 'full market value' plus 'damages and interest dating back to 1990.' After leasing the land in the 1980s, Doyle 'bought about 2,400 acres from the state in 1990 for about $800,000.'" [GreenLines, Friday, September 22, 2000, #1221]

NMFS rules break laws

"A federal court has ruled that National Marine Fisheries Service management plans for the Gulf of Mexico, New England, Caribbean, Pacific and North Pacific fisheries do not 'do not comply with federal environmental law' says ENS September 20. The ruling, in response to a lawsuit by the American Oceans Campaign and eight other conservation groups, confirms charges that NMFS failure to adequately regulate 'non-selective fishing methods like trawling' are seriously harming fish habitat and 'survival rates.'" [GreenLines, September 25, 2000, #1222]

Shellular communications

"A tele-communications company that lays fiber-optic cables for the internet, voice and data transmissions has agreed to 'donate $1.2 million to the Nature Conservancy' to 'avoid prosecutions and fines' over damage done to '40 wetlands that are potential habitats' for endangered bog turtles says the Philadelphia Inquirer September 21. The violations are among the 'most serious' ever in southeastern PA where loss of habitat is the 'critical threat to bog turtles.'" [GreenLines, Tuesday, September 26, 2000, #1223]

IUCN Red List released

"I am forwarding this note on the newly released IUCN 'Red List' as a point of interest, since we are all involved in wildlife education or management in some way. There seems to be considerable justification for the belief that we are seeing the early beginnings of a mass extinction of life on this planet that could eventually rival any previous extinction over geological time. We must at least stay aware of what is going on beyond our own area of interest and expertise if we are to have any chance of slowing this process. Visit - for the full text. James Harding" Quoting from the report for species of interest to CHS members: "The increase in the number of listed reptiles, from 253 threatened in 1996 to 291 in 2000, is mostly due to a focused analysis of the status of freshwater turtles and tortoises, especially freshwater turtles in Southeast Asia. The number of Critically Endangered species has increased from 10 to 24 and Endangered from 28 to 47 species. The rapidly deteriorating status of tortoises and freshwater turtles in Southeast Asia is due to heavy exploitation for food and medicinal use. Hunting of these species is unregulated and unmanaged, and the harvest levels are far too high for the species to sustain. As populations disappear in Southeast Asia, there are disturbing signs that this trade is increasingly shifting to the Indian Subcontinent, and further afield to the Americas and Africa. Other Asian species, such as snakes and salamanders, are also heavily exploited for use in traditional Chinese medicine, but the effects of this and other pressures on most of these species have not yet been assessed.

The future of NICOR contaminated Illinois?

"The first comprehensive study of mercury distribution in the Sierra Nevada region has found that significant quantities 'left over from California's Gold Rush days' are still accumulating in fish, frogs and invertebrates says the San Francisco Examiner September 26." [GreenLines, September 28, 2000, #1225]

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this month's column

and to everyone who sent clippings which I will use next month and beyond. You can contribute, too! Send whole pages of news or magazines with your name on each piece to me. Letters and text only to my email.

November 2000

SSSSssssshhhhh, I'm ssssleeping.

Dropping water levels in Lake Michigan proved a bonanza for some Beaver Island, Michigan plumbers who kept lowering residents well depths as the ground water retreated apace with the lake. However one house proved a difficult case. The lady insisted she hadn't turned off the pump switch; she couldn't even lift the well cover. Then as "the plumber continued to move the flashlight beam around... [he] found the culprit

a big fat snake was coiled inside the well, enjoying the tranquillity of a cool haven

where the water was still and the pump blessedly silent." The snake had flipped the switch on the pump, hence no water. [The Washington Post, September 6, 2000 from Andy Via]

Lead time

By the time you read this, you'll know who will be President of the U.S. for the next four years. When this column was put to bed was before the election. Please don't hesitate to send stuff, even if it sometimes takes time to appear.

One man's meat is another one's poison

Marty Marcus sent a photo from the Tacoma News Tribune [October 11, 2000]. Someone was digging around in the Tacoma Public Library collection and found a photo of a "frog farmer... hold[ing] 2 large bullfrogs ... July 30, 1937... the former taxi driver left his cab behind a year earlier to raise frogs, and at the time of the photo had 50,000 of them. His plan was to start selling the frogs in 1939 for those who appreciated the delicacy of fried frog legs." Marty writes: "I wonder how many of these escape to become the problem they now present to much of the other wildlife here in Washington?"

Mus illegalis?

Alan Rigerman writes: "I can't believe this issue is not being discussed in all Herp Publications. Within 2 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] will extend its authority over rodents. I don't think people realize that they will decide size of container, number in container, virtually everything. I believe prices will sky rocket and many breeders, especially hobby breeders that sell their surplus will have to do so in a clandestine manner." The article is from The Baltimore Sun: "The Agriculture Department has agreed to begin drafting new regulations that would place laboratory mice, rats and birds under the protection of the federal Animal Welfare Act for the first time. Animal-rights groups immediately declared victory in their efforts to win tighter regulation of experiments on millions of the lab animals... several... research organizations [oppose] new regulations that they fear would make some biomedical research prohibitively costly... Congress, meanwhile, is moving separately to block spending this year for any effort by USDA to draft new federal regulations of lab animals... [a suit was recently] dismissed... that sought to force USDA to end the current exemption of lab rats, mice and birds from USDA regulation. The court's action came after [USDA] reached an out-of-court settlement, agreeing to begin rule-make procedures to end the exemption."

Dinosaurs galore!

Log onto - - to read the latest about the dinosaur expedition to Niger which will end in early December 2000.

Are the 90's over yet?

According to the Indian "Coalition for Inclusion of Reptilian Gymnastics in Olympic Competition," snake-charming should be an event at the 2004 Olympics. [Chicago Sun-Times, October 2, 2000 from Lori King-Nava]

Salmonellosis, again

"A 27-day-old baby boy was seen with an 8-hour history of irritability and poor feeding," reports the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine [2000:93:318-319 sent by Frederic L. Frye]. He had a very poor condition by the time he saw the doctor and the next day the culture of his cerebrospinal fluid grew a Salmonella species. The family owned a green iguana, healthy, but found the be excreting Salmonella poona, the same type as the culture. The baby recovered, but the doctors wrote up this rare case of bacterial meningitis caused by salmonella. However, 71 percent of the patients have permanent neurological damage even after being treated for at least three weeks with intravenous cephalosporin.

Go on line to read the latest salmonella facts from the Virginia Department of Health - - or the Center for Disease Control's report on reptile-related salmonellosis - -. Your tax dollars at work in that alphabet soup. As with any pet, wash your hands after dealing with reptiles, amphibians, feeder mice and so forth. Thanks to Andy Via for the websites and an article from The Richmond Times Dispatch, March 23, 2000.

A whole new meaning for "toad in the hole"

"Stunned [an English mum-of-one] was left hopping mad - after finding a live toad in a tin of dog food. It flopped out as she spooned the Winalot chunks into her three dogs' bowls. The two-inch beast should have croaked after spending three months vacuum-packed in a tin which was shipped in from France and is supposed to have been heated to 110 degrees C. Incredibly the amphibian survived... [The woman] said, `When I opened the can I just screamed

I couldn't believe it.' ... Now the [family is] keeping it as a pet in its own vivarium

after naming it Buddy after the telly toads in the Budweiser advert. A Winalot spokesman said, `We were amazed and are now investigating this unique complaint. [The Sun, London, U.K. September 16, 2000 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Ruffles have what?

Meanwhile in Tokyo, Calbee Foods Company started work again after a shutdown for possible plant contamination. A woman in Chofu, Japan had discovered at 15-centimeter lizard when she opened the bag of potato chips. The company has recalled 62,000 bags of the same type of product even though it says it cannot understand how the lizard entered the factory and then got into a chip bag before it was sealed. [Kyodo News Service, August 16, 2000 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Y2K was the warmup

The Asian long-horned beetle was found again this year in Chicago. In New York, two residents of Staten Island were diagnosed with West Nile virus. Last year, aerial spraying to prevent West Nile by the authorities was blamed for the decline of lobsters in Long Island Sound. Viruses, bacteria and small creatures move nearly at will by ocean going freighters. Cruise ships dump their bilges and their passengers' parasites and diseases in areas formerly pristine. There's a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic is melting. Drought in Kenya, summer avalanches on Mont Blanc, floods in Ethiopia and volcanos in Japan. Is it really more catastrophe in the news or more news in the world? [Tacoma News Tribune, August 21, 2000 from Marty Marcus

it wasn't a "slow news day"]

"A species of freshwater crab never before found naturally in the U.S. has turned up in Lake Las Vegas. The Japanese male crab was identified... by [a] biology professor... Scientists suspect the crabs were dumped into the lake from an aquarium [because] `there is no natural way for them to get there,'" according to one researcher. [Eureka, California Times-Standard, August 27, 2000 from Bradford Norman] Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that 11,046 species (perhaps more) are at risk of immediate extinction. They include one in every four species of mammals and one in every eight birds. The U.S. fell out of the top 20 list, replaced by Cameroon and Russia. The top nations are Indonesia, India, Brazil and China. [Chicago Tribune, September 29, 2000 from Ray Boldt]

Just to keep it in perspective

"The death toll last year from infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria is 160 times greater than the number of people killed in last year's earthquakes in Turkey, cyclones in India and floods in Venezuela, said the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which assists countries suffering natural disasters." [The New York Times, June 29, 2000 from P.L. Beltz]

Vision testing not required in Arkansas?

"Two motorists were injured when their vehicles hit an eleven-foot, five-inch alligator on Arkansas 27." An Arkansas State Trooper said, "It was really that big. I measured it." The first driver to hit the reptile did so in a pickup truck which "became airborne and then rolled down an embankment before landing upside down in the woods." The driver escaped with minor injuries. The second motorist to hit the self same alligator which later died of injuries from the two accidents. [The Little Rock Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 9, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Ready, set, switch!

For some unknown reason, green turtles prefer to nest in even years. Researchers have collected data on the number of nests and hatchlings for more than a decade, and others around the world report the same thing. Why the turtles prefer to lay in even years has been ascribed to El Nino (what hasn't?), or a response to food supplies. A researcher slyly suggested that "the turtles will get together in a meeting and decide to switch the year so the reporters will ask a scientist why." [The Orlando Sentinel, August 19, 2000 from Alan Rigerman and Bill Burnett's mom]

The actual data
YearNumber of nests
1992 553
1993 154
1994 936
1995 184
1996 864
1997 227
1998 1278
1999 194
Source: The Daily Commercial, Leesburg, Florida, August 19, 2000 from Bill Burnett

Rationing antivenin

The only pharmaceutical plant in the U.S. which produces rattlesnake antivenin had to ration its inventory this summer. This left hospitals in snake-prone areas wondering how they were going to handle their next bite. Officials in Arizona urged people going outside to avoid snakes and be very careful where they step. Arizona hospitals treat hundreds of rattlesnake bites a year; a figure which is mind boggling to those of us who may only have seen these marvelous creatures in a zoo or a book. Wyeth-Ayerst halted antivenin production until early in 2001 for no announced reason, but the Food and Drug Administration said that the plant was closed for renovations after "quality control" problems. [Albuquerque Journal, August 31, 2000 from J.N. Stuart]

Busting turtlenappers

Michigan Out-of-Doors Magazine, conservation section reports "After several... complaints of subjects selling live turtles in Berrian County, [officers] found seven huge alligator snapping turtles (from Louisiana), 60 common snapping turtles, 28 painted turtles, seven musk turtles, three map turtles, one spotted turtle, one turtle from Australia, six bags of turtle livers, 26 two-pound bags of turtle meat, and 21 three-pound bags of turtle meat. The commercial trappers turtlefest included 50 Michigan snapping turtles. The subject possessed 24 undersized snappers and a protected spotted turtle and was over the limit for personal take of turtles other than snappers. In addition, the trapper sold non-commercial species." Unfortunately, the suspect or suspects names were not given. [October 2000, no name on clipping] Hoping to hear the rest of this story. Don't forget to send it if you find it!

So much for the "pure mountain spring water"

A spill of beer caused when "an employee of Coors Brewing Company [Golden, Colorado] flipped the wrong switch and sent 77,500 gallons of beer into a creek, killing thousands of fish and prompting health warnings... the beer... washed through a wastewater treatment plant... the fish likely suffocated from the alcohol - among other things - produced in the [fermentation] tanks. [Eureka, California Times-Standard, August 27, 2000 from Bradford Norman]

Holy hot sauce, turtle man!

Sea turtle nest volunteers in Florida are carefully applying "Da'Bomb Ground Zero" habenero pepper hot sauce to fake sea turtle nests. They're trying to teach raccoons and foxes to stay away from real sea turtle nests. And it seems to be working. Another tactic is building "egg bombs," chicken eggs filled with hot sauce and planted on the beach for turtle predators. "The number of predators has dropped significantly after they have been sauced," said the coordinator of the staff at the appropriately named "Gumbo Limbo Nature Center." [Sun-Sentinel, August 18, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

Well, it wasn't a gun

A 14-year-old Florida schoolboy took a coral snake to school in a book. He fell asleep on the schoolbus and was bitten by the snake while it escaped. He didn't say a thing until his hand and arm started swelling up several hours later. Students had reported a snake on the bus which the driver found. She ordered the students to keep their feet up and made an unexpected stop into a middle school parking lot where the students exited across the seats. A custodian killed the snake. Workers were getting ready to take the bus apart when the boy finally admitted he had brought it on board. The boy was treated with nine vials of antivenin and released. [Florida News, September 2, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

Bite news from Florida

While receiving several stories about the man bitten by an Asian cobra who was treated with 50 vials of antivenin and finally recovered [thanks Alan and Bill!], three other people were venomed by venomous snakes in Florida in August. One was spit in the eye by a spitting cobra; he was transported immediately, treated and released. Another was bitten by a western diamond back rattlesnake while placing it back in its cage in a pet shop, and a 47-year-old man was found dead apparently killed by a canebrake rattlesnake. [Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, August 4, 2000 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Range extensions foiled

The fourth live snake to be discovered in New Zealand this year was captures in a container of used batteries which had been shipped from Australia. The venomous snake was dispatched. Other live snakes have been discovered in port areas, and a dead snake was found in a garden center. The director of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand said, "Containers are a biosecurity nightmare. They provide a safe, secure environment for the distribution of alien species around the planet." They are extremely concerned lest snakes get loose on snake free New Zealand islands and threaten native wildlife, like the flightless kiwi bird. [The Evening Post, Wellington, New Zealand, September 6, 2000 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Welcome Vivarium contributors!

Catherine Johnson writes: "We were saddened by "Vivarium Magazine's" closing. I just wonder if this is an indication of what is happening within the hobby and if there will be a place for scientific study by the home hobbyist. Enclosed are some articles... we will also be joining CHS." Thanks for contributing to your "new home" and thanks also to Bradford Norman, Andy Via, Sean McKeown, Alan Rigerman and Kim and Wes von Papinešu for hopping, slithering, crawling or swimming on board, too!

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to: Carl Gans, Frederick L. Frye, George M. Patton and Martha Ann Messinger, Ray Boldt. Bradford Norman, Lori King-Nava, J.N. Stuart, Ernie Liner, Carla and Miguel Ochoa, Bill Burnett, You can contribute, too! Send whole pages of news or magazines with your name on each piece to me. Letters and text only (no graphics, bugs or viruses!) to my email.

December 2000

Your quarterly dose of GreenLines

All the following have been quoted directly, unless otherwise indicated. Thanks to GreenLines and Karen Furnweger and James Harding and others for sending me these articles.

The number of endangered green turtles nesting on Israeli beaches has dropped to around 10 with biologists now saying the population "maybe under the red line of possibility" for recovery says Reuters 9/11. Only 1,000 female green turtles, which "nest almost exclusively in Israel, Cyprus and Turkey" are thought to remain. Loss of coastal habitat, "plastic trash, fishing nets and speedboat propeller blades" are the primary threats to their survival. [GreenLines, September 21, 2000 / ]

BP's controversial Northstar project, "the first U.S. offshore Arctic" oil production facility is ready to begin drilling "as early as November"... Environmentalists are highly critical of plans to run a "vulnerable" six mile pipeline under the Beaufort Sea pack ice. Full production of 65,000 barrels per day is expected by late 2001 and "another similar project could soon follow." Clean-up of an oil spill on pack ice would be highly problematic and "would be harmful to an environment rich in wildlife. [GreenLines, September 22, 2000]

House and Senate committees have now approved a "$15 million down payment on 1,500 acres of desert tortoise habitat" currently owned by "developer James Doyle" ... In 1996 and 1998, Mr. Doyle made "$8,000 in campaign contributions" to the bill's sponsor Rep Jim Hansen (UT) and stands to get "millions more" under the bill which gives him "full market value" plus "damages and interest dating back to 1990." After leasing the land in the 1980s, Doyle "bought about 2,400 acres from the state in 1990 for about $800,000." [GreenLines, September 22, 2000]

A federal court has ruled that National Marine Fisheries Service management plans for the Gulf of Mexico, New England, Caribbean, Pacific and North Pacific fisheries do not "do not comply with federal environmental law" [and] confirms charges that NMFS failure to adequately regulate "non-selective fishing methods like trawling" are seriously harming fish habitat and "survival rates." [GreenLines, September 25, 2000]

A telecommunications company that lays fiber-optic cables for the Internet, voice and data transmissions has agreed to "donate $1.2 million to the Nature Conservancy" to "avoid prosecutions and fines" over damage done to "40 wetlands that are potential habitats" for endangered bog turtles... the violations are among the "most serious" ever in southeastern PA where loss of habitat is the "critical threat to bog turtles." [GreenLines, September 26, 2000]

The Hawaiian Islands, long renowned as the nation's "leader in biological diversity" are on the verge of becoming "the nation's capital of species extinction and endangerment" ... Invasive alien species, sprawl, development and "environmental destruction by hooved animals" are turning the islands into "the biggest ecological catastrophe in the U.S." Although conservationists valiantly fight to preserve and restore small biodiversity hot spots, "some now speak of 'hospice ecology' taking care of species while they inevitably slip into extinction." Wary of public pessimism, many scientists now say that Hawaii's problems are a "harbinger of things to come on the mainland" in states like California, Florida and Texas. [GreenLines, September 26, 2000]

In the last decade, 30,000 gopher tortoises, a species "older than the dinosaurs" and listed by Florida as a "species of special concern," have been "sealed up in their underground burrows and killed" to accommodate the state's "booming growth" says the St. Petersburg Times, 10/1. In cases where the state hasn't given the go ahead to bury them alive it has allowed the relocation of thousands more, a "feel good measure" that has spread respiratory infections to healthy populations. Biologists say the species is being pushed toward extinction and "now belongs on the federal endangered species list." [GreenLines, October 3, 2000]

After more than two years of delays and a "marathon legal battle" the "fastest snake in the West," is finally getting 406,598 acres of it habitat protected says the ... Listed in 1997, the critical habitat designation is the first to be implemented following 6 legal victories in similar cases that are part of the Center for Biological Diversity's "continuing lawsuit campaign." According to the CBD and the courts "it's not enough to protect an endangered species without also protecting its habitat." [GreenLines, October 10, 2000]

Researchers have found that wheat near the Chernobyl nuclear accident has mutated "much faster than expected" ... Scientists say it is a "warning signal" about "genetic stability as the world continues to be filled with things that aren't good for DNA," such as ultraviolet radiation from the "Earth's depleted ozone layer." [GreenLines, October 10, 2000]

The Senate ratified and President has signed The Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles ... The Convention requires the U.S. and 22 Latin American signatories to protect and conserve six endangered and threatened species of sea turtles and their habitat, fosters international cooperate in research and management and reduce the incidental capture, injury and mortality by requiring the use of turtle excluding devices, TEDs. Many Western Hemisphere nations have already followed the U.S. lead and require the use of TEDs and the treaty would level the playing field for all other Latin American and Caribbean nation's shrimp fisheries. [GreenLines, October 16, 2000]

In an important takings case, the New York Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling which ordered Sour Mountain Realty to remove a fence it had constructed to keep endangered timber rattlesnakes off its property ... The high court rejected the developer's taking challenge and affirmed the "venerable principle" of the state's authority to protect wildlife. For more information on the case and takings law see - -. [GreenLines, October 16, 2000]

A report released in August on the evolution and ecology of the West Indian iguanas is drawing renewed attention to the "threats to their survival and programs to preserve them" ... Caribbean iguanas are described by the World Conservation Union as "the most endangered lizards in the world" and the two most imperiled are the Jamaican iguana with only about 100 left in the wild and the Anegada iguana is now found only on one island of the same name. Once abundant and the "largest terrestrial herbivores" on the islands, loss of habitat and non-native animals have reduced all remaining iguana populations to perilously low levels. [GreenLines, October 16, 2000]

Scientists have found a new freshwater animal that "does not fit into any one of the previously known animal families" ... The tiny creature, about 0.1 mm long, and makes its living by scraping "bacteria and algae from underwater moss" growing in the frozen wells. [GreenLines, October 16, 2000]

According to environmentalists, an illegal off road vehicle "mudfest" near Nederland, Colorado "destroyed one of the few habitats left for a toad headed for worldwide extinction"... The rally was broken up by county sheriffs after the ORVs had obliterated 25 acres of wetlands at Caribou Flats, habitat for the boreal toad which is on the state endangered species list and is a candidate for federal listing. There are reports that the rally was promoted by a local radio station and that Humvees from the CO National Guard participated. [GreenLines, October 17, 2000]

BP Amoco's Northstar offshore oil facility failed its third cleanup trial in the last year ... Although "BP readily concedes its equipment does not work," the controversial Arctic offshore drilling operation, is still scheduled to be fully functioning by "late 2001." For now, like the four other offshore fields, Northstar will be "restricted to winter operation" until it "finds a way to clean up an oil spill in the broken ice of spring and fall. [GreenLines, October 19, 2000]

Malaysia is asking the World Trade Organization to force the U.S. to repeal a law "that bans imports of shrimp from countries which use trawling nets that trap the turtles" ... Experts say nets without turtle-excluder devices "are killing up to 150,000 turtles a year." In response to a WTO ruling declaring the U.S. law "illegal," the U.S. has modified its regulations and provided "assistance to countries to help them equip their fishing fleets with turtle excluders" but Malaysia is still pushing the WTO to pressure the U.S. into repealing the law all together. [GreenLines, October 18, 2000]

A flock of sandhill cranes led by ultralight aircraft are at midpoint in their migration from Necedah NWR in Wisconsin to their winter home at Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida ... To follow the migration and learn more about the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and their work to reintroduce a migratory flock of whooping cranes east of the Mississippi River go to - -. [GreenLines, November 3, 2000]

The Army and the U.S. Department of Interior have reached an agreement to expand Southern California's Ft. Irwin National Training Center into 131,000 acres of prime desert tortoise habitat ... Although the deal protects 2,500 acres of other habitat, environmentalists say the expansion "is a death sentence for the reptile's west Mojave population." [GreenLines, October 30, 2000]

A University of Wyoming professor has found that the endangered Wyoming toad is dependent on artificial wetlands created by "leaky irrigation systems" ... According to a study, 68% of the Laramie Basin's wetlands "depend on leaking ditches or irrigation water that has seeped into the ground and reappears in ponds and wetlands" while only 10% of the wetlands depend on "natural rivers and streams." [GreenLines, November 27, 2000]

... [An] annual "frog census" along Arizona's Aravaipa Canyon has seen a precipitous decline of all 7 native frog species ... In 1978 the census numbered 2,385 frogs, by the next year it dropped to 1,040 and now the count found only 3 frogs. Scientists at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center say the frog's disappearance is a "harbinger of doom" brought on by pollution, non-native predators and disease. [GreenLines, November 9, 2000]

A new University of New Hampshire study "demonstrates that environmental contaminants could be the leading cause of frog deformities and declining amphibian populations." The new research shows that the deformities are tied to "irregular levels of hormones" that regulate growth and development. Amphibians are "particularly susceptible" to chemical contaminants from sewage, pulp mill effluents, agricultural runoff, and petroleum from bilge water and boat engines. [GreenLines, November 9, 2000]

Galapagos Nature Under Siege

Readers, this disturbing report comes from two New Zealand wildlife photographers with friends caught up in the lawlessness which is now Galapagos. My dive friends have a trip down there over the holidays. I've asked them to see how this all impacts tourism while they are down there. This report quotes directly from their letter: In the last three days, lawless bands of fishermen in Galapagos - an island province of Ecuador long hailed as an international flagship of conservation - have attacked conservation installations, ransacked municipal offices, torched a National Park vehicle, harassed tourist groups, taken rare captive-bred giant tortoises hostage, and threatened the lives of conservation personnel. Complete news coverage is hard to get, because communications out of the various islands is shaky to non-existent, but this info has been pieced together from emails received from alarmed residents and by making direct phone calls to Santa Cruz Island.

The situation reached crisis proportions around 0630 a.m. on Wednesday 15 November, when the fishermen seized island ports and posted their fast boats at many strategic locations to harass tourists trying to visit wildlife sites. Boat chases and other aggressions were reported against tourist operators who attempted to proceed with their activities. The Galapagos National Park personnel barricaded themselves in their headquarters and the small police contingent (35 men) helped keep the throngs of fishermen at bay, who repeatedly tried to storm the premises on Santa Cruz, as they had already done on Isabela and San Cristobal Islands. Police and navy protection have also been granted to Charles Darwin Foundation offices on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands, who report that all their personnel are safe. On the Island of Isabela, the third major fishing port, the situation is reported as totally out of control, with the town mayor said to have fled for his life, though no details have been confirmed.

The fishermen have three main demands: a complete abandonment of the lobster fishing quota of 54 tons, which they filled in the first two months of the four months season; dropping all charges leveled at some of their members for previous violence against government property and personnel; and an active expansion of the Galapagos fisheries management to develop a completely new long-lining industry for currently protected shark within the Galapagos Marine Reserve. This demand comes in complete disregard of scientific advice or the fact that such fishing practices are widely known to pose serious risks to many rare and unique species, such as albatross, sea lions, sea turtles, sharks and many others.

As threats and events escalated on Wednesday, desperate messages were received from within Galapagos calling for armed reinforcement from the Ecuadorian military, with the pleading words "We can't hold out much longer!" However, according to the local radio station on Santa Cruz Island, by the end of the day the crisis had eased as the fishermen were granted a lobster quota extension of 30 additional tons to take them to the 31st of December, corresponding to a 60% hike over and above the original quota. It is not clear at this moment how the decision was reached to grant the fishermen this extension. In a broadcasted speech, the head of one of the fishing cooperatives declared the solution only temporary as the fishermen, emboldened by the success of their tactics, demand substantial expansion of the fishing activities inside the Marine Reserve, in defiance of existing quotas and measures.

... for several years already, the fishermen have been given a decisive voice in the Interinstitutional Management Authority in charge of the Reserve, under which spirit of cooperation they were to control the number of genuine local fishermen allowed to join the cooperatives. In a spectacular failure of this mechanism, the number of registered fishermen participating in the activity has jumped from around 500 last year to 939 at present, nearly a twofold increase, many of whom are recent arrivals to Galapagos. It is apparently this mushrooming of their numbers, who share the agreed quotas between them, which has turned the fishermen against the management scheme they helped create. The dramatic implications of this latest in a series of conflagrations is that the fishermen have, not for the first time, seen their violent tactics rewarded with immediate gratification. The clear message for the future is that whenever they are unhappy with the management strategies in defense of sustainable use of the marine environment, violent action and threats of bodily harm is all it takes to obtain expedient results.

At this writing (1900 hours, 16 November, Galapagos local time) renewed violence is already taking shape, with more attacks on conservation institutions and tourism anticipated for the early morning hours as the fishermen upscale their actions in a free-for-all of sweeping demands... A show of force and commitment by all levels of government in defense of law and order and carefully crafted management strategies, is desperately needed if the integrity of Galapagos is not to be lost forever. [from Tui De Roy and Mark Jones, The Roving Tortoise Worldwide Nature Photography, - -]

You can go to - - to send a free message to the president of Ecuador urging him to take steps to uphold the fisheries management provisions of the Galapagos Marine Management Plan and protect the marine resources of the Galapagos for future generations. [Thanks Karen!]

Rattlesnakes win one in New Jersey

"... after a vote of 8 to 7, New Jersey's Pinelands Commission approved a settlement of the dispute over the Sanctuary subdivision. The area is home to one of nine known populations of the timber rattlesnake in the Pinelands. The timber rattlesnake is listed in the state as endangered. As part of the settlement, the developer must sell the state more than 1,100 acres in the Pinelands for between $3.7 and $5.55 million, to be preserved as open space... the agreement provides for a narrow, fenced-off corridor of open space from their denning grounds in the heart of the development to protected land beyond. A main road crossing the snakes' path also will be fenced off, with culverts underneath through which the reptiles are expected to pass... the agreement allows the developer to build 250 of the 300 homes originally proposed." [November 2, 2000, Defenders of Wildlife]

Always get your permits

"An Emeryville environmental consultant has been charged in federal court with illegally relocating 64 endangered California red-legged frogs and 500 tadpoles from a Concord construction site... [The man] is accused of four counts of violating the federal Endangered Species Act for moving the frogs in May and July 1999 at the Holly Creek Estates construction site in Concord, according to court documents filed ... in U.S. District Court in Oakland. ... [The man] intends to plead guilty to two counts tomorrow. [His] firm will enter guilty pleas on the two other counts, [according to the man's lawyer who added] `We regret that it occurred. This was as much for the benefit of the frogs as much as anything else. It wasn't done to intentionally harm the frogs.' On May 25, [the man] and two employees allegedly moved six to eight frogs from a watercourse that was to be filled in and diverted for construction at the site... [then] on July 28, [he] led two employees in collecting about 56 frogs and 500 tadpoles and ``relocating them from the portion of the pond that was to be filled in, to the portion of the pond that was to be preserved,'' documents said. The next day, the section of the pond where the frogs had lived was filled in by the developer. [He] moved the frogs without notifying or getting permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the state Department of Fish and Game, federal prosecutors said. [His lawyer] said the frogs were moved to the preserved part of the pond are `still alive and well, as far as we know.'" [November 8, 2000, San Francisco Chronicle from Christine Ross]

Turtle sites on the web

Tortoise Trust Home Page - -

Hatchling Haven web site - -

Turtle and Tortoise FAQ - - [from James Harding]

"Asian Turtle Trade: Proceedings of a Workshop on Conservation and Trade of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises in Asia" (Chelonian Research Monographs, Number 2, 2000) is published by the Chelonian Research Foundation, in association with WCS, TRAFFIC, WWF, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Copies are available from the Chelonian Research Foundation - - . [From James Harding and Karen Furnweger]

ReptileFest is coming

If you're interested in helping out, I would ask that you: (1) ... send me any feedback you think would be helpful. ... (2) Consider volunteering for one of the committee roles... and many of the roles could use "helpers" (3) Think about the various display ideas ... One thing I think might be fun to do is have some people pick a "theme" ... think about the Iguana Squad's set-up - it's a great combination of cool herps and a very educational message. [from New ReptileFest Boss: Darryl Croft]

Scientific Names Translations on the Web

After 14 years of research and typing, my "Translations of the Scientific Names of Reptiles and Amphibians of North America" is finally published

on the web. It's gotten hits from around the world, you can visit, too. Drop by - -. There's also about 180 biographies of people honored in the herp nomenclature.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

Next month we return to clippings from newspapers and magazines. You can contribute too! Send clippings to me. Make sure your name is on each piece (those little holiday freebie labels are great for this task) and that the date/publication slug is attached, visible or in some way around so I can give the proper journal credit. Please fold a minimum number of times. Some of my contributors use those big 9x11 inch envelopes which makes it really easy to do my monthly anti-origami. Email letters and comments. I hope Iguana-Claws brings you everything you ever wanted this holiday season and good health and great happiness to everyone in the new year.

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