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

2001 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 15th year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society

January 2001

Fifteen years and still writing

January 2001. Who would have believed it in January 1986 when the old Chicago Herpetological Society Newsletter converted into the Bulletin and there was no home for all the cute clipping copies that had formerly graced our Newsletter. Little did I know what I was getting myself in for those cold days in 1986 when I tried to master
  1. writing English
  2. writing English well enough to suit Mike Dloogatch
  3. typing on an IBM-XT computer with a Hercules yellow monitor.

Well my first efforts were more like a flaw in amber than high prose, a situation I hope I have not yet remedied in a decade and a half of practice although improvements in monitors now permit me to make mistakes in 256 colors. What else has changed? We still live in the same house which you may remember from old board meetings was in the middle of nowhere by Goose Island and is now surrounded by Container Store and other big-box retailers. My small child Eloise, known to many of you in pig tails and glasses hopping off into the swamp chasing frogs? She's 25, a computer techie and contemplating children of her own. How time flies! Where is Frog City, Ilene Sievert's wonderful series of "strange things that happened to us because we own amphibians" stories? Where is Newt Line, Debi Hatchett and Rob Sliwinski's twisted columns about what we did at our last general meeting? Where are those who will write the new columns for this new century? Get digital. Start typing. Who knows what you'll start in 2001.

Turtle recall

"A green sea turtle that was tagged and set free in the ocean off the Big Island [of Hawai'i] nearly 20 years ago has produced a crop of baby turtles on Maui... [The female turtle] had not been seen [since its release] until it came ashore near a large hotel in July. In August, it was seen digging a nest... volunteers kept watch until the baby turtles hatched and made their way to the ocean... Neighbors cooperated by turning down their lights... It was the first recorded nesting on Maui by an endangered green sea turtle... about 60 percent hatched." [The Honolulu Advertiser, November 13, 2000 from Ms. G.E. Chow] Would someone check the style book and see if we are required to call a female sea turtle an "it"?

Nesting leatherback sea turtles flocked to Trinidad beaches by the hundreds this year. A forest ranger said, "It's the most unusual even in the history of this beach. Turtles have always nested here, but never more than four or five a season. This year, we've already had anywhere from 250 to 300." The executive director of a 30-nation Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network pointed out that conservation means that nesting females are not slaughtered for food anymore in Trinidad and that many of the hatchlings survive to adulthood due to local conservation efforts. As many as 15 people per night watched as the ponderous reptiles came ashore and laid their eggs. [The Houma, Louisiana Courier, July 6, 2000 from Ernie Liner]

New discoveries

"When the trout arrive, the amphibian exodus begins" states The New York Times, Science Section [November 28, 2000]. A study compared 2,000 high Sierra lakes in California. Those stocked with trout were "the main cause of the frog's disappearance because the stocking of fish was the only significant difference between the two pristine preserves... Trout are voracious predators of [mostly aquatic] mountain yellow-legged frogs, devouring tadpoles as well as adults." Other studies of the long-toed salamander correlated these results. Since the frogs and salamander larvae are at the bottom of a fragile, high-alpine food chain, declines in these species have led to declines in others, including garter snakes. About 8,000 lakes have been artificially stocked; some local communities make their livelihoods on fishing and aquatic recreation. Actually, the headline is not quite correct, "Exodus" makes it sound as if the amphibians somehow survive this experience.

An Air Force grant permits researchers to find out how snakes see infrared images. As reported in the Orlando Sentinel, "Blindfolding a snake is actually easier than it sounds." The researcher said, "It's the pit vipers that you have to be very, very careful with." Both boids and vipers have members that can sense in the infrared portion of the spectrum of light. They can actually image objects by heat much as certain kinds of photographic film leave ghostly "auras" around warm objects. Researchers think the snakes' level of resolution is about 10 times better than anything currently available - classified or not. [July 23, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

Radiotrackers studying indigo snakes have found that the greatest threats to the species are people and cars; only one animal in their study was taken by a hawk. One was dead and buried in a back yard, while another was found hacked to pieces in a communal dumpster. The are also at risk from collectors who apparently prize their purple-black skin and were listed in 1978. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, October 13, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

"Exotic animals are becoming the new family pet. Move over cats and dogs... Iguanas and pythons are the best-selling reptiles sold to families." [The Houma Courier, August 1, 2000 from Ernie Liner]

Glimpses of the past

"John Quincy Adams kept a pet alligator in the East Room of the White House." And the article said he went skinnydipping in the Potomac, but didn't specify if "he" was the President or the Alligator! [Daily Herald, November 8, 2000 from Claus Sutor]

Excavations in a German limestone dated to 290 million years ago have found what appears to be a bipedal lizard. This would make it the first known bipedal creature; it predates the dinosaurs by 80 million years. Researchers suggest it used its posture and speed to outrun predators. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, November 3, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Dinofest at Navy Pier was a blast. Those of you who didn't attend (and were dino-nuts as kids) really, truly missed out on a fantastic event. There were animatronic dinosaurs, skeletal pieces, reproductions, casts, artistic impressions, posters, videos and just about every other kind of fossil display you could imagine. Put it on your list when it shows up again next year!

Don't tread on Me!

Pinelands, New Jersey created a rattlesnake refuge, paying developers up to $5 million for 1,100 acres of property. About one-half of a highly upscale residential development had been finished when the rattlesnake habitat was found. An area of the property will be fenced, snake passageways will be put under the road and a protection and management program will be established. At least one environmental group is opposed to the proposal. [The Allentown, Pennsylvania Morning Call, November 6, 2000 from Ribello M. Bertoni]

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is concerned that development in rapidly growing parts of their state threatens the future of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake there. While the state believes it has the largest populations of this species in the U.S., it is still concerned by the declining numbers of individuals of the species. The major decline of the species (as so many others) appears to stem from the early 20th century when habitat was ruined and swamps drained without any attempt to preserve original landscapes. [South Bend Tribune, August 30, 2000 from Garrett Kazmierski]

Gator Gulp

"An 8-foot alligator crawled out of a lake [near Bossier City, Louisiana] ... and ate a 65-pound Labrador retriever... [the dog's owner tried to] grab the dog but was knocked down by the alligator's tail. Such an attack is not uncommon in Louisiana, where alligators frequent every major lake, river system, bayou, creek and farm pond, said ... a wildlife division supervisor... [A] City Council member... said ... `We don't live in Kansas. Just as people in Alaska have problems with moose, we have problems with gators. It's one of those things where man butts up to a natural habitat." [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 28, 2000 from Bill Burnett] While on July 14, 2000 a "Florida teen survives bite from a 9-foot alligator" in Punta Gorda, Florida, according to The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, Louisiana [from Ernie Liner]. Several boys had been splashing around in their favorite swimming hole, which was apparently also occupied by an alligator. The boy's father said he had told the boy not to swim in the lake, but added "short of chaining him to the fence, I can't watch him every minute of the day." The boy promised to listen to his father from now on.

Speaking of butting up to wildlife

One writer to The Washington Post "Dr. Gridlock" column wrote, "Unfortunately the driver of the car I was in did not have appropriate stopping distance to avoid hitting the `turtle rescuer's car.' I am appalled that anyone would decide to stop suddenly in a flow of fast-moving traffic, rather than pull off the road. I am confused as to the `turtle rescuer's' value system, since she placed the life of the turtle over that of herself and other drivers. This accident occurred in an area with no signs to encourage sudden stopping for turtles..." [August 21, 2000 from Andy Via] I stared at this clipping for months trying to figure out what was pulling at the corner of my brain and suddenly realized that the passenger is blaming the other driver for her driver essentially following too close to stop. Change the word "turtle" into "small child" and see if this letter could ever have been written. Then drive more politely, leave room for turtles and other "small" things.

They'll all punch the glass and scream

Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park in Florida is building a 1,500 square foot facility for a native herpetological display. They plan to have hatchling alligators and crocodiles, coral snakes, copperheads, pygmy rattlesnakes, diamond back rattlesnakes and cane break rattlesnakes as well as hognose snakes, yellow rat snakes, red rat snakes and indigo snakes. On the amphibian side will be leopard and pig frogs and amphiumas (which most people never see because they live deep within the springs). The park receives about a quarter of a million visitors a year and is building new manatee facilities and improving its tram system as well. [Citrus County Chronicle, October 27, 2000 from Alan W. Rigerman]

The Sludge of Death

"Black goo continues to spread along Appalachian streams... a mixture of coal particles and water with the consistency of wet cement has swallowed driveways and bridges and claimed the lawns of some residents [around Inez, Kentucky]... Three days' effort have produced no measurable impact as the sludge oozes like black lava along two mountain streams toward the Big Sandy River which traces the state border north of Inez... The state issued four citations to the coal company... [the experts] don't know how long it will take or how much it will cost to remove the massive glob of coal sediment - several miles long and up to 70 yards wide that's slowly moving [down gradient]... Fish and other wildlife have been killed... Some towns downstream have had to shut down their water intakes until the material passes. The leak was caused by the collapse of an .. underground coal mine [adjacent to the retaining pond where the sludge was stored. The goo]... gushed into the underground mine, along its shafts and into the streams... the contaminated water is moving forward about 10 miles per day. [The Tuscaloosa, Alabama News, October 14, 2000 from Ernie Liner]

So where is it now?

"House OKs $1.4 billion to reclaim Florida's Everglades..." A legislator called it "the largest, most comprehensive environmental restoration ever attempted." The project seeks to rebuild what was there before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ditched, drained and channelized the whole state beginning in 1949. Half of the Everglades are dried out; all this potential drinking water goes out to sea. Overdevelopment and pollution from sugar processing industries is reported to contribute to the continuing decline of wildlife in the area. Tacked onto the bill were several other water control and cleaning projects, including one in California! [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 20, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Tight job market, but

No experience is necessary for a trainee alligator wrestler being sought by the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida. But they note that any potential wrestler "must be brave and a risk taker." The pay is $12 per hour plus medical and life insurance. So far, no women have applied for the job, but men who have are described as having watched too much of this summer's hit TV series "Survivor." [Albuquerque Journal - Career Marketplace, September 17, 2000 from J.N. Stuart]

Yet another loose python

"A [Silver Springs, Florida] man who doesn't like snakes wrestled an 11-foot Burmese python along a busy state highway then carted it around in a box until he found someone to take it from him," reports the Miami Herald. The story began when he was flagged down by a woman on the side of the road at night. The woman said she had the biggest rattlesnake she'd ever seen pinned under her car. She moved the car, the snake slithered off, the man caught it. Animal control was closed, the sheriff's office refused to deal with it, so he took it to the firehouse. The next day it was examined by a vet and found to have an infection and possibly some broken ribs. The vet said there would be people to take the snake if it's original owner did not come forth. [November 8, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

In the Land of the Mouse

From Chicago Cows to Orlando Lizards, the rage for public fiberglass street art continues. Forty nine strange, lizard or gecko-like sculptures will be installed in Orlando, Florida and will be auctioned off next October. They are cute, expect to see a lot of press and relatives snap shots of these things! [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, October 16, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Keep these under lock and key, too

Three baby Komodo dragons hatched at the Honolulu Zoo. They are offspring of two 8-year-old parent Komodos on loan from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. since 1993. [The Honolulu Advertiser, September 28, 2000 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Hop into Peyton Place

The Malapai Borderlands Group of Douglas, Arizona reports great progress with its frog monitoring project. Students at the Douglas High School, directed by the late Carol Hopkins, raised about 1,200 tadpoles of Chiricahua leopard frogs for release. Unfortunately, vandals broke into the school during the project and killed many of the tadpoles, so only about 700 were actually released. The MBG, the high school and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working on a negotiated deal to ensure survival of the frogs and continuing ranching activities in the area. [MBG Newsletter, August 2000, number 7 from J.N. Stuart]

One froggie, two froggie

For years I've been writing little herp "filks," paragraphs to other people's songs. They usually air only on scraps of paper in my file cabinet, but being so involved with frog monitoring now, I tried to pull one out and polish it up. So, to the tune of "How to handle a woman" from Camelot:

How to count an amphibian?

Wait, I will tell you how.
The way to count an amphibian
Is to listen, merely listen.
Then you'll know.

Then, Sean Mc Keown sent a page from the October 8, 2000 Luis Obispo County, California Tribune, which tells of a new method for counting frogs, so we'll have to add a verse

How to count an amphibian?
Norman Scott has a new way now.
The way to count an amphibian
Is the eyeshine, pinkish eyeshine.
From your light.

Dr. Scott points out that the closer the light is to your eyes the easier it is to see frog eyeshine and says that spider eyes flash very bright bluish-green and sparkle. As this research was done in California, please adjust for your own viewing conditions. We don't want to add a verse for you that starts, "How to count up the gators? Wait, I will tell you how..."

See, we returned to clippings from newspapers and magazines!

Thanks to Marty Marcus, Ms. G.E. Chow, Andy Via, Claus Sutor, Steve Barten, B.R. Norman, D.L. Dodd, Bryan McCarty, James N. Stuart, Oliver J. Sieckmann and P.L. Beltz for interesting articles that I haven't used yet and other stuff. You can contribute too! Send clippings to: Ellin Beltz, 1647 N. Clybourn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614-5507. Make sure your name is on each piece (those little xmas 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. And check out my translations of the reptiles and amphibians scientific names (the url is a link at the bottom of this page).

February 2001

D-Day in the Pacific

Hawaii officials are anxiously seeking what appears to be a 5-foot long black rat snake, known to be on the island because pieces of its shed was found by hotel employees on Kauai. Wildlife officials point out that while the snake is harmless to humans, it could be fatal for some of Kauai's endemic species. In the state of Hawaii, keeping any kind of snake may result in up to three years in jail and up to $200,000 fine. State officials point out what has happened on Guam, where brown tree snakes have caused ecological havoc and financial losses for the inhabitants - both native and human. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 20, 2000 from Ms. G.E. Chow] The banner on the same paper, December 30, points out that it was an Hawaii artist who designed the 2001 "Year of the Snake" 33-cent stamp - now rendered effectively extinct by the postal rate increase.

A small, venomous snake - native to Australia's east coast - was found in a shipping container of used car batteries near Wellington, New Zealand. It was killed. Three other snakes were found on snake-free New Zealand in 2000. A spokesman for the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand said that shipping "containers are a biosecurity nightmare. They provide a safe, secure environment for the distribution of alien species around the planet." Most of the pest species on New Zealand have been introduced. The worst is reportedly our opossum which "destroy vast tracts of native forest every year," according to Reuters [September 7, 2000 from Catherine Johnson].

Residents of Hawaii's Big Island aren't sleeping very well any more since their area has been invaded by noisy Caribbean frogs which arrived in shipments of agricultural goods or potted plants. Their call is a 90 to 100 decibel chirp which rivals a table saw, lawn mower or helicopter for "noisiness," according to researchers at the University of Hawaii. At home in the Caribbean, predators keep them from getting over populated, but in Hawaii - in some places - the eleuthrodactylids reach over 8,000 frogs per acre. They compete with native birds and wildlife for food, consuming up to 46,000 insects per acre per night. The frogs have lowered property values, caused people's health to decline from not sleeping and may be nearly impossible to eradicate. [Miami Herald, December 29, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

Turtle tales

Cold weather in Florida cooled sea water and sent more than 200 turtles ashore on Florida's Gulf coast beaches. Many were juveniles overcome by the cold while feeding off shore. Greens, hawksbills and loggerheads were stranded by "cold stun." One green sea turtle died from exposure; many more were hydrated, warmed and dosed with antibiotics. A spokesman for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium said, "if they get cold stun, they don't eat. They basically look deceased and don't move very much." Meanwhile, tourists from Chicago found cold stunned hatchling turtles on the Boca Raton beach and stranding center workers found a few more tangled up in tree roots while trying to get out of the nest. Curiously, these have upper shells that look like hawksbills, but the bottoms look more like loggerhead sea turtles, suggesting these may be intergrades. It is also unusual to find baby sea turtles on the beach in December. [Miami Herald and Sun-Sentinel, January 5, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

The number of green sea turtle nests in Brevard County, Florida broke all previous records. In 2000, a very exact 2,396 nest were counted; a 45 percent increase over 1999. Worldwide, the green sea turtle has not been doing so well, declines have been reported in Australia, Indonesia, Africa and the Mediterranean. And in the Caribbean - green sea turtles only number 5 percent of what they did in 1492 when Columbus arrived, according to Karen Bjorndal at the University of Florida's Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research. [Miami Herald, December 4, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

Meanwhile, the Turtle Hospital in Marathon reports that 11 loggerheads have been brought in the past six weeks with a mysterious virus which leaves them unable to eat or blink. More turtles with similar symptoms have been found around the Florida Keys, while others have been seen in the ocean but not taken by passing boaters. Rescuers are feeding the turtles "squid milk shake" and providing heat. The turtles lie gasping noises and looking pitiful. Workers say they've never seen anything like it - but that it may be a strain of the herpes virus. [San Francisco Chronicle, December 25, 2000 from Bradford Norman]

More electricity, more growth, more development

"Muffled by the roar of falling water and bathed in a steady mist, the rare Kihansi spray toad thrived high in a blissfully isolated gorge. But its discovery has brought turmoil for environmentalists, World Bank officials and electricity-starved Tanzanians. Nearby villagers believe that the unique, thumbnail-size toad has magic powers and that their future is directly tied to the toad, whose scientific name is Asperginus nectophrynoides," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch [January 15, 2001]. The problem is an internationally funded hydroelectric dam which may wipe out the remaining 11,500 toads of this species. However zoos have bred them in captivity and this may help save the species. Before the dam, the Kihansi River crashed over an escarpment, sending up huge plumes of mist which provided the moisture for the lime- colored toads to flourish, unknown and un-planned-for by the great outside world. The species gives live birth and was discovered during an environmental assessment for the dam in 1996. A local man said that the toads are "most likely the spirits of the river, and some disaster may befall this area and the river itself if they are somehow wiped out!" Contributor Vicky Elwood wrote "It's not the same without the Vivarium... I joined CHS to keep up on the oddball things going on. Keep up the good job!"

Gators, gators everywhere

One lane of the highway in Fort Lauderdale was shut when a trailer carrying 10,000 pounds of alligator carcasses to a processing plant overturned. [Daily Commercial, Leesburg, Florida, October 5, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

"A 10-foot alligator stuck in a concrete drainage pipe for weeks and nicknamed "Drano" by people who fed it was rescued... by a trapper... [it will] get a new life at an Everglades wildlife park in western Broward County [Florida]." This arrangement was due to the intervention of an animal rights group because usually gators over four feet long are not relocated. [Ocala Star- Banner, December 30, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

An 8-foot alligator stopped traffic for a couple of hours before Pulaski County, Arkansas sheriff's deputies could move it to the side of the road. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 29, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

The first Arkansas status and distribution work on alligators has begun. The state stocked the southern half of the state with about 2,800 small gators from 1972 to 1984 in an effort to protect an endangered species. And while large ones have been blocking traffic and causing accidents in the state, no one really knows how many are out there. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 1, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

Soft `n' Scaly?

What appears to be a garter snake was found sealed up inside a four pack of Soft `n' Gentle toilet paper shipped to a Thornville, Ohio store and bought by a woman who was less than amused when she saw its lidless gaze looking back at her in her bathroom. The manufacturer contacted a pest control agency which picked up the package and was preparing it to send back for inspection. Company officials said that their processes are very automated and very fast and they have no idea how a snake could have been sealed in their package. The store owner in Ohio said the material was never left outside even for an instant and so he has no idea how the snake could have gotten in there and the lady who found it said that since she has four cats there is no way that the snake could have gotten in there. So, the snake either couldn't have gotten in there in which case there was no snake in the four pack - or there was a snake in the four pack, but there was no way it could have gotten in there. [Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum, September 20, 2000 from Bill Burnett] This is what they call the Heisenberg Uncertain Snake Principle. You can also tell that the toilet paper company is not run by herpetologists. They'd have just gone out and slapped "free in certain packages - one garter snake" stickers on all the remaining stock!

Amphibia, amphibiae

"Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. We can all help by choosing non-chemical weed controls whenever possible, minimizing our use of fertilizer and reducing our dependence on pesticides. If we all take these actions, we will not only be helping amphibians, but we will be taking care of our watersheds and other species like birds and fish as well." Jamie Rappaport Clark, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said while kicking off a study of 43 refuges in 31 states which will focus on the impact of pollutants on amphibians. [Fish and Wildlife News, July/Aug, 2000 from J.N. Stuart]

"Agricultural pesticides are disrupting the nervous system of frogs in Yosemite National Park and elsewhere in the Sierra Nevada... commonly used pesticides suppress and enzyme in frogs that controls the nerve system... because of California's prevailing winds, farm chemicals sprayed in the San Joaquin Valley blow... directly toward the mountains." [The Honolulu Advertiser, December 10, 2000 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

However, other researchers point out that all amphibian declines are unlikely to all have the exact same cause. Declines and deformities have been linked to nematodes, diseases, ultraviolet radiation and global warming. [Tacoma News Tribune, December 8, 2000 from Marty Marcus]

Dublin, California "City officials are upset with a federal agency's proposal to designate the entire city as part of critical habitat for the California red-legged frog... Such a habitat designation would mean that if government funds are involved in a development project, those agencies would have to consult with federal wildlife officials before ground could be broken... Private property owners deemed to have ownership of critical habitat land would not have to relinquish control of the space, but would be prohibited from engaging in unauthorized activities that would harm the red-legged frog. [San Luis Obispo, Tribune, October 9, 2000 from Sean McKeown.

Hot stuff

Researchers studying snake imaging with their infrared pits routinely "blindfold" their subjects by covering their eye scales with little pieces of tape. The research is intended to help the Air Force develop smaller and more efficient infrared vision. The best sensors right now see hot large objects, like tanks. Snakes usually image small stuff, like rats and mice. So researchers think that the snakes' imaging is about 10 times better than anything we use so far. Another thing they have learned is that snakes switch seamlessly back and forth. If their eyes are covered, the pits turn on and vice versa. When neither is covered, both are used. Another possible application of this work is imaging cancers and tumors in people by being able to see minute temperature differences due to the greater blood flow to the tumors. [Orlando Sentinel, July 23, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

It's not easy being green

"Lacking the soulful eyes of a golden retriever or the fuzzy warmth of a kitten is no reason an iguana should go homeless," in the opinion of a Wauconda, Illinois man who hopes to turn his Reptile Rescuers group into a not-for-profit. He says that the new low prices on baby iguanas are turning them into disposable pets. Few buyers of the cute little green things realize that they have taken on a 15-year, 6-foot-long commitment which may or may not have an attitude. Visit their no-kill shelter online at [Chicago Tribune, January 11, 2001 from Lori King-Nava]

People who type a lot

The Field Museum Herpetology Collection is now online. Visit - to read about any of the approximately 265,000 specimens in the collection. [Froglog, December 2000]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Marty Marcus, Esther Sabin, Joanna, Alan Rigerman, B.R. Norman and D.L. Dodd for articles and stuff I haven't written about yet - or couldn't figure out how to write about yet! But the clipping file is thin right now, so don't delay send clippings to me. Make sure your name is on each piece (those little 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 origami. And check out my translations of the reptiles and amphibians scientific names at

March, 2001

Get your calculator

Illinois has acquired 16 acres as buffer land for Wolf Road Prairie in suburban Westchester to help keep intact one of the best examples of original prairie in the Midwest... The state paid $4.5 million for the property using dollars set aside to preserve open space. [Chicago Tribune, November 9, 2000 from Teri Radke]

Coffee-holics, take note!

"Hawaii has been overrun with tree frogs that chirp as loud as lawn mowers, and the situation has become so dire that experts warn it could have serious effects on the state economy... the frogs arrived in shipments of agricultural goods... first noticed in the mid-1980s in rural Kurtistown on the Big Island, but have since spread to parts of Oahu, Maui and Kauai. In some areas, there are now more than 8,000 frogs an acre... The state is currently experimenting with a pure caffeine spray that should send the frogs into cardiac arrest. It is not believed to be harmful to humans, native plants and wildlife, but the effects are still being studied. [Toronto Ontario National Post, December 30, 2000, from Wes von Papinešu]

Post Turtles

While suturing a laceration on the hand of a 90 year old man (he got his hand caught in a gate while working his cattle) a doctor and the old man were discussing Bush's health care reform ideas. The old man said "Well, ya know, old Bush is a post turtle". So, not knowing what he meant the doctor asked him what a "post turtle" was. And he said, "When your driving down a country road, and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle. You know he didn't get there by himself, he doesn't belong there, he can't get anything done while he's up there, and you just want to help the poor thing down." [Internet - from J.N. Stuart]

How many will be left?

Ghana's earnings from exporting pythons slid more than 40 percent in 2000 as rising exports from neighboring states flooded the world market, forestry officials said... `Due to exports in larger quantities by Togo and Benin, causing price fluctuation from five to between two and three dollars per python, trading did not favor Ghanaian wildlife exporters,' [said the] ... senior wildlife protection officer at Ghana's Forestry Commission... Around 30,000 pythons, both farmed and caught in the wild, were exported, mainly to the United States and Europe, for a total of $91,000 - down from over $160,000 taken the previous year from the sale of 33,000 of the reptiles. `They are mostly used as pets and in some instances for scientific purposes. However, the larger ones are sometimes used as delicacies in restaurants,' [he] said. Python skins are also used for highly priced shoes, bags and belts. Ghana's python export earnings plummet due to glut.[Reuters, January 17, 2001 from Wes von Papinešu]


Visit the "largest herpetological directory in the world" at courtesy of the Center for North American Herpetology and Travis Taggert (webist extraordinare). [February 22, 2001 from Joe Collins] -Visit to subscribe to HerpDigest, the free weekly electronic newsletter on reptile and amphibian conservation and science. Moderated by Allen Salzberg it often has job listings and other up-to-the-minute tidbits about herps in daily life.

Maplethorpe at 10?

This is supposed to be a true story. "A kindergarten teacher had a pupil tell her he had found a frog. She inquired as to whether it was alive or dead. `Dead,' she was informed. `How do you know?' she asked. `Because I pissed in his ear,' said the child innocently. `You did WHAT?' squealed the teacher in surprise. `You know,' explained the boy, `I leaned over and went "Pssst." He didn't move.' [Internet - from J.N. Stuart]

Define "Fish"

"According to a proposed federal policy that defines when federal natural resource agencies may mandate fish passage measures at hydropower projects, a fishway includes passage of all forms of freshwater, estuarine, and marine animal life other than mammals and birds. The policy was published in the Federal Register at the close of the Clinton Administration, and is of concern to the National Hydropower Association which says that policy could potentially include frogs, snails, snakes, sponges, aquatic insects and anything else that lives in the water. The association is worried that "the proposal would give government agents broad new latitude in determining the operations, future plans, and ultimately the economic viability of hydroelectric projects, not only by expanding the definition of a fish, but also the definition of a 'fishway' beyond the legal meaning established in the Energy Policy Act of 1992." A press release by the association (02/20/01) says that the trade group will seek the immediate rescission of the policy, claiming that the potential impact on generation capacity and the cost of electricity could be staggering." [River News, February 23, 2001 from J.N. Stuart and Karen Furnweger]

Define "Turtle"

"What is meant by a `land turtle?' Or more specifically, what would have been the original intent of saying `land turtles and tortoises' in the original [NY] law? Babcock (1905) referred to box, wood and Blanding's as tortoises. DeKay (1842) referred to mud, musk, spotted, painted, muhlenberg's and geographic as tortoises. Could it have been that in the early 1900s all turtles and tortoises, except the sea turtles and diamondback terrapin, were considered land turtles? ... If you know of any references that would support a particular definition of "land turtle" please let me know. Thanks. Alvin R. Breisch, Amphibian and Reptile Specialist, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Wildlife Resources Center, Endangered Species Unit, 108 Game farm Road, Delmar, NY12054.Fax: 518-478-3045.

Frog Relocation Costs Consultant

"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 46-year-old man] is accused of four counts of violating the federal Endangered Species Act [ESA] for moving the frogs in May and July 1999 at the ... construction site in Concord... [His attorney] said his client intends to plead guilty to two counts ... [while his firm] will enter guilty pleas on the two other counts. [The attorney 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 .'"To put this in context, the man and employees moved some frogs from a waterway and a pond that was to be filled in and placed them in other parts of the same site which would not be harmed. However, they didn't file the proper paperwork with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS] or the California Department of Fish and Game. Red-legged frogs were once common throughout the state, but were reduced by draining, agriculture, chemicals, active frog hunting and other causes and are now listed as a threatened species in 1996. [San Francisco Chronicle, November 8, 2000] The consultant was sentenced to pay a $10,000 fine, three years probation and serve 200 hours for the relocation of about 60 frogs on his project. His business will pay a $65,000 fine. [Contra Costa Times, February 23, 2001] Some local writers had a field day with this topic including Debra J. Saunders who wrote: "If the feds had their way, [the] environmental consultant ... would be in jail right now. One of his cell brethren eventually would ask, `What are you in for?' `Moving frogs,' he could say... Yes, the Ribbit Police wanted [him] to pay a stiffer punishment than what is meted to most first-time drunken drivers, who endanger human lives... Of course, the feds have to enforce even dumb laws - but they don't need to over-enforce laws. [The man's] legal fees, fines and community service are punishment aplenty. Especially when court documents indicate that Kermit and his buddies are living large in the pond. After all, if frogs croak free, why should [the man] sit in stir? Is this what Mark Twain would have wanted?" [San Francisco Chronicle, February 25, 2001, all from Christine Ross and K.S. Mierzwa] Meanwhile "A new government report finds that `designating more than 5 million acres in California as federal habitat for the red-legged frog' will have a `slight' economic impact and won't significantly change development projects outside of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties... Most of the added costs of the critical habitat designation, which stretches `across 31 California counties,' would be for `extra consulting costs borne by developers.' Environmentalists, however, say that the study `underestimates the benefits' of habitat protection such as improved ecosystem health, flood control and increased real estate values." [GreenLines #1288, January 2, 2001]

Science, oh science!

"Seeking roadkilled or frozen preserved massasauga samples from known localities contact: Andrew T. Holycross, Department of Biology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1501."

Surprise! Ag Chemicals Kill Frogs

Widely quoted (and misquoted) in the popular press, here is the whole text of a landmark announcement: "USGS Research Finds that Contaminants May Play an Important Role in California Amphibian Declines. Scientists have confirmed that agricultural contaminants may be an important factor in amphibian declines in California. According to an article recently accepted by the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, a study by scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that organophosphorus pesticides from agricultural areas, which are transported to the Sierra Nevada on prevailing summer winds, may be affecting populations of amphibians that breed in mountain ponds and streams.

Dramatic population declines in red-legged frogs, foothills yellow-legged frogs, mountain yellow-legged frogs and Yosemite toads have occurred in California over the last 10-15 years, but no single cause for these declines has been positively identified. Scientists and managers have been especially concerned because many of these declines occurred in some of the state's most seemingly pristine areas. Declines have been particularly drastic in the Sierra Nevada, which lie east of the intensely agricultural San Joaquin Valley. The red-legged frog is listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the mountain yellow-legged frog and Yosemite toad have been proposed for listing.

`While crucial to the agriculture industry, pesticides by their very nature can result in serious harm to wildlife both by directly killing animals and through more subtle effects on reproduction, development and behavior,' said Dr. Donald Sparling, a research biologist and contaminants specialist at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. `Unfortunately, now there appears to be a close correlation between declining populations of amphibians in the Sierra Nevada and exposure to agricultural pesticides.'

The scientists found proof that pesticides are being absorbed by frogs in both aquatic and terrestrial systems and are suppressing an enzyme called cholinesterase, which is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Modern-day pesticides function by binding with this enzyme in animals and disrupting nervous system activity, usually causing death by respiratory failure. Decreased cholinesterase activity can indicate exposure to certain commonly used pesticides and can be harmful to animals.

The scientists collected 170 tadpole and 117 adult Pacific treefrogs, a species that still is fairly abundant in the Sierra Nevada, from a total of 23 sites in six locations including coastal, foothill, Lake Tahoe Basin, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks; adult frogs were also collected from Lassen National Park. They found that cholinesterase activity levels in tadpoles were significantly lower in the mountains east of the San Joaquin Valley compared with similar sites farther north and east of the Sacramento Valley where agricultural activity is less intense. Moreover, cholinesterase activity became decreasingly lower in tadpoles from both northern and southern sample sites as the sites moved in a gradient from the coast to the higher elevations. Thus, tadpole populations in the mountains had lower cholinesterase values than those along the coast. Similar but less significant trends were seen in adult frogs.

The researchers also measured concentrations of particular pesticides in the bodies of tadpoles and adults. More than 50 percent of the adult frogs and tadpoles at Yosemite National Park had measurable levels of chlorpyrifos or diazinon, compared to only 9 percent at the coastal reference sites. Frogs at Yosemite National Park also had a higher frequency of detection for chlorpyrifos than those on the coast. Both diazinon and chlorpyrifos degrade very rapidly in organisms, and the detection of either compound indicates recent exposure to the chemicals. Of the pesticides tested in related lab studies, chlorpyrifos and diazinon, commonly used organophosphates, suppressed nervous system activity and, along with endosulfan, a frequently used organochlorine pesticide, proved the most highly toxic to frogs. Diazinon has recently been targeted for a three-year phaseout by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The presence of pesticides and the decrease in cholinesterase activity in Pacific treefrogs suggest that other species, which are more closely associated with water, could be even more affected, said Dr. Gary Fellers, a research biologist and amphibian specialist at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center in California. "Mountain yellow-legged frogs, for example, spend two or three years as tadpoles before they metamorphose and then spend considerable time in the water as adults. Melting of pesticide-contaminated snow could provide a pulse of toxic chemicals at a critical time in the life history of these frogs." [ U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey press release, December 12, 2000 from Karen Furnweger and Bradford Norman]

Meanwhile from USDA

"Just a reminder as we gear up for post-fire projects, including those projects associated with aerial application of herbicides to control noxious weeds: Management of weeds and insect pests with chemical herbicides and pesticides can have major impacts on amphibian communities. In particular, several features of amphibian biology may enhance their susceptibility to chemical contamination ... allowing exposure to toxicants in both habitats. Many amphibians have skin with vascularization in the epidermis and little keritinization, allowing easy absorption of many toxicants. In fact, many studies have demonstrated the effects of chemical contamination on amphibians... The effects range from direct mortality to sublethal effects such as depressed disease resistance, inhibition of growth and development, decreased reproductive ability, inhibition of predator avoidance behaviors, and morphological abnormalities.

Currently, there is no requirement for testing the toxicity of herbicides and pesticides on amphibians... Furthermore, there are no water quality criteria established for amphibians... It is often assumed that criteria for mammals, birds, and fish will incorporate the protection needed for amphibians. The few chemicals that have been tested with fish and larval amphibians suggest that tadpoles may be more vulnerable to some toxicants than fish.

The sublethal effects are also important... organophosphates affect the thermal tolerance of western toad tadpoles. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and organochlorines can disrupt corticosterone production and inhibit glucogenesis... May pesticides result in decreased growth rate and inhibition of a predator response in amphibians...

Many of the newer pesticides and herbicides are designed to decompose soon after application. Although still toxic, presumably this reduces the impact area and thus, the number of exposed individuals...

Citations are available in recent contract report "Management of Montana's Amphibians - A Review of Risk Factors to Population Viability" (available by request)... Linda Ulmer, Regional Aquatic Ecologist, USDA, Forest Service Northern Rockies, PO Box 7669, Missoula MT 59807. [From Bradford Norman]

Run, Lola, Run I

Melbourne: A snake catcher was called to protect emergency service workers after a man covered in bites was pulled from a car wreck after a head-on collision on Monday night. The man, in his 50s, remained in a critical condition... after bites were found over his neck, stomach and groin... Ambulance paramedics had not noticed the bites when removing the man from the wreckage and transferring him... Witnesses reported seeing the man's car swerving ... [and] driving on the wrong side of the road before side-swiping one car and colliding head-on with an oncoming vehicle. A 20-year-old woman driving the second car was taken to hospital in a critical condition. Police and State Emergency Service officers were at the site clearing the wreckage when the hospital called. [A} Snake handler... was contacted by police... to go through the wreckage, [but he didn't find anything]. A snake expert from Melbourne Zoo... said it was more likely the man had been bitten before getting into the car. `Tiger snakes are territorial. It would be very, very rare for them to climb into a car. If he's been hit a number of times in the neck, groin and stomach it sounds as if he was handling the snake. Those injuries are consistent with him holding it by the tail.' [Canberra Times, Australia, February 7, 2001 from Wes von Papinešu]

Run, Lola, Run II

"What would you do if a Cape cobra suddenly slithered between your legs while you were driving at 80km/h?... The vehicle, with all its doors locked and windows rolled up, was parked in the shade. An hour later, [the security guard] drove off: `I looked down and saw something moving on the floor.' A yellowish cobra, with its head and about 10cm of its body protruding from under his seat, was hissing at him. `At first, I wanted to jump. Then I thought of how I would have to explain to my boss why I had thrown myself out of a moving vehicle. I thought of shooting the snake, but the chances of shooting myself were high.' [He] eased his foot off the accelerator, careful not to scare the snake. The car slowly rolled to a halt.'When you are trapped inside a car with a Cape cobra, it's no joke. I opened the door and rolled out.'The snake, which was probably as frightened as Bredenkamp, quickly escaped. `I saw something yellow crossing over my legs and slithering into the grass nearby.' [Cape Times, South Africa, February 8, 2001 from Wes von Papinešu]

Pleads guilty to 40 felony charges

"Keng Liang Anson Wong, a well-known international wildlife dealer who spent nearly two years in a Mexican prison fighting extradition to the United States, pleaded guilty today in federal court in San Francisco to 40 felony charges stemming from 1992 and 1998 federal indictments for trafficking in some of the most rare and endangered reptile species on Earth.

The charges include money laundering, conspiracy, smuggling, and violations of the Lacey Act, a U.S. wildlife protection law that prohibits trade in animals protected under federal, state, or international law and the making of false statements concerning wildlife shipments... Wong is scheduled to be sentenced in March, 2001... A number of the species involved, such as Komodo dragons and plowshare tortoises, already on the brink of extinction, occur only in very limited, geographically isolated habitats... At the time of these transactions, Wong was wanted in the United States under a 1992 indictment charging him with conspiring to smuggle endangered Fiji banded iguanas, Bengal monitor lizards, and Indian soft-shelled turtles into this country for sale to a reptile dealer in Florida. ...Other species smuggled by Wong included Grey's monitor lizards, spider tortoises, Burmese star tortoises, Indian star tortoises, Boelens pythons, Timor pythons, green tree pythons, and Fly River turtles... The undercover federal probe of Wong and his business associates was conducted by special agents from the Services Branch of Special Operations, an enforcement unit specializing in covert investigations of illegal wildlife trade, with assistance from the U.S. Customs Service, the Mexican Attorney Generals Office, Interpol, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada. The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California and the Wildlife and Marine Resources Section of the Justice Departments Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The California-based Wong case was one of several completed as part of Operation Chameleon, a comprehensive multi-year Service investigation of the illegal reptile trade conducted in partnership with the Justice Departments Wildlife and Marine Resources Section and U.S. Attorney's offices in several states. This long-term, concentrated effort to combat reptile trafficking also broke up a major smuggling ring that was funneling Madagascan snakes and tortoises to Germany and then on to markets in the United States and Canada; secured a guilty plea to charges of fraud and theft from the reptile curator of a well-known California zoo; and produced charges against more than 40 people in the United States, Canada, and Germany. [ Fish and Wildlife Service Press Release from Bradford Norman]

Small bits of good news

-"The Nature Conservancy has purchased the 525-acre Parker Ranch in Nevada's Oasis Valley to preserve habitat vital to the Amargosa toad, a minnow and snail." [GreenLines #1282, December 21, 2000] -"`One of the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in the world' was donated to Archie Carr NWR in Florida by the Richard King Mellon Foundation... Last summer, the half-mile of ocean front saw 19,000 threatened loggerhead, 2,800 endangered green, and 13 endangered leatherback sea turtles nest there. The donation also includes some 35 acres of scrub habitat vital to the threatened Florida scrub jay and eastern indigo snake." [GreenLines #1284, December 26, 2000] -"Despite a court settlement which gives the EPA authority over development permits in Texas' Barton Springs watershed, developers and environmentalists both warn that `more lawsuits loom on the horizon' if things don't go their way ... Environmentalists are now closely watching the USFWS, which wanted more stringent regulations to protect the endangered salamander's habitat, to see how negotiations with the EPA on the final permit rules will turn out..." [GreenLines #1288, January 2, 2001]

Looking forward to more clippings from the usual suspects and from you!

Fold minimally, stuff whole pages from newspapers into large envelopes (be sure the publication, date and your name are on their somewhere) and send to me.

April 2001

Happy Year of the Snake

Chinese folklore reports that at the dawn of civilization, the Emperor of Heaven let all animals compete for the 12 spots on the zodiac. The snake made it. The creator of the universe in Chinese mythology, Pan Gu has the body of a snake and the head of a dragon. [China Daily, February 1, 2001 from P.L. Beltz]

It's a nice style and we'll keep it

"A 150 million-year-old Chinese fossil site provides an extraordinary new window on the origin of one of the major groups of living amphibians. More than 500 fossils, many of which preserve the entire skeleton and impressions of soft tissues provide compelling evidence that the salamander originated in Asia according to a report in the March 29, 2001 issue of Nature. `All the major primitive salamander families are now known to be present in Asia,' said Neil Shubin, professor and chairman of organismal biology and anatomy of the University of Chicago. `The simple, take-home, message is that there is an Asian origin for all salamanders... The diversity of species in this find, combined with molecular data and study of characteristics from living salamanders, leads to the inescapable conclusion that almost all the major groups of salamanders evolved very early, and not much has been happening since.'" This discovery pushes back salamander origins 85 million years to the late Jurassic, about 150 million years ago. All life phases were found as were some soft tissue impressions and hundreds of other beautifully preserved fossils. One of the most interesting things they found was that neoteny was already a salamander life style. [From Allen Salzberg]

Is this news?

"International drug syndicates are smuggling rare Australian reptiles out of the country for private overseas dealers, according to Environment Australia. [A] Federal Government intelligence reports suggest smugglers bring in drugs and take out reptiles. In the past decade, the world trade in reptiles has increased to the level where about $14 million worth of reptiles are imported legally into the United States. The US black market is believed to deal with more than $1 billion worth of reptiles every year. Reptiles native only to Australia can be bought on the Internet from specialist shops throughout Europe and the US. [Environment Australia, March 2, 2001 from Raymond Hoser]

Wayward croc known to Rom

After many years at the Madras Crocodile Bank, Rom Whittaker has taken a well-earned retirement to more private life. As the following shows, however, he and his family are certainly not out of the wildlife loop. "Thanks for your email. ... the croc [in the story] has attacked two women fatally besides 24 incidents of minor attacks. Nik went over a week ago to see if the culprit croc could be caught. The lake has a 14 km periphery and it's a huge operation to conduct. So he'll probably go over to do this in a short while after the State Government makes all the arrangements."

Does no one love the frogs?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated 4.1 million acres as "critical habitat for the California red-legged frog," according to the Los Angeles Times [March 7, 2001 from Nicky Nolan]. Another 1.3 million acres originally to have been included were removed after protest from developers, agriculture, building industries, recreational users and private landowners. The red-legged frog is the inspiration for the "celebrated Calaveras County jumping frog" of the story of the same name by Mark Twain.

It's a toxic world we live in

The writer was interviewed at Sweetwater, TX. Before that he wrote, "... among the relevant issues I would like to bring up is the use of gasoline sprayed into crevices and den sites.We have all talked about it being `illegal' but I want to get the right information. I hope someone can help. Here in Texas I've gotten some information from the TX Natural Resources Conservation Commission, and one of the things they faxed to me was a reporting standard whereby gasoline discharged onto land is reportable when it is 210 gallons or more. I'm trying to check into whether this means it's OK to spray smaller quantities onto the land. Can anyone direct me to regulations or statutes, either in Texas or federally, that would govern (or presumably, prohibit) the practice of spraying gasoline to collect rattlesnakes? Much has been written about the damage to various wildlife and the spoiling of habitat that results from gasoline. I would have hoped some regulatory entity would determine that it poses a threat to such animals as the Texas indigo snake (when collectors are operating in south Texas) and other threatened and protected species. In my experience Texas Parks and Wildlife expresses concern but I'm not aware of any action being taken. Thanks in advance for any help that can be provided. Michael Smith, Editor / Secretary, Dallas-Ft. Worth Herpetological Society - March 7, 2001"

Desert tortoise HCP on web

Rep James Hansen (R-UT) introduced H.R.880 a bill to provide for the acquisition of property in Washington County, Utah, for implementation of a desert tortoise habitat conservation plan. Learn more about the bill at\. [From James N. Stuart, Mining Habitat Specialist] For NM wildlife info, visit Biota Information System of New Mexico (BISON-M):Species Accounts: - Searches:

Builders hope not to find bog turtles

Builders of a corporate campus in Pennsylvania are searching for bog turtles on their site, prior to starting construction. No one knows if the turtle is still there, the last sighting was more than 30 years ago. Since the area was within possible range limits, the developer will have to hire a herpetologist to see if bog turtles are present on the site. Last year, a fiber optic cable company had to pay $1.2 million for damages they caused related to 40 violations - all destruction of bog turtle habitat. [The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 7, 2001 from new contributor Ned Gilmore]

Herpes may be responsible

Sick and dead turtles in Florida have been found which cannot blink their eyes or eat. All are adult females, but now are too weak to eat. They are being fed squid-shakes at the Turtle Hospital in the Keys. Blood work reveals that some turtles are infected with a strain of herpes virus. It's a nasty bug; it attacks the respiratory tract, the lungs and the trachea. One worker said, "Some of the ones coming in were reported dead. They looked so lethargic, [but] the only think keeping them alive is pneumonia... causing foaming inside the lungs and that keeps the turtles buoyant. They are so weak they could never swim to the surface. They are actually just floating like they're dead. Every now and then they lift their heads slightly to breathe." [Orlando Sentinel, December 23, 2000 from Bill Burnett]

An unenviable record

North Carolina shattered a state record last year: 838 sea turtles washed ashore dead or dying, eclipsing the previous high, set in 1999, of 605 strandings. In Virginia, 213 of these large, graceful reptiles became beached, an average number compared to reports in recent years. But like its neighbor, Virginia saw a rash of strandings in early spring, with 70 turtles in May alone floating helplessly to shore. Government experts attributed the phenomenon in part to a small group of commercial fishermen, most from Northeast states, who inadvertently trapped turtles in large-mesh nets aimed at monkfish, a popular, high-dollar ocean species. The National Marine Fisheries Service responded last May by imposing a 30-day ban on all gill netting from Cape Hatteras to the Virginia-Maryland border. Fishermen protested. But strandings subsided. Now, with the spring coastal fishing season about to begin, Virginia is proposing new regulations to curb turtle deaths. [The Virginian-Pilot, March 15, 2001 from Karen Furnweger]

Check your vacation route

"The town council of Virgin, Utah has passed an `ordinance outlawing the designation of endangered species within its borders' says the Christian Science Monitor. The desert town has also banned most environmentalists and prohibits the `recognition of any wetlands locally' as well as making it a `crime not to own a gun.'" [GreenLines, March 16, 2001]

You win some

"Ensatina eschscholtzi, ... have settled around a geographic ring of varied habitats. UC Berkeley researcher David Wake found that these salamanders have adapted their forms and colors to different mountain habitats... Seven different subspecies ... range from San Diego and Los Angeles northward to the Monterey Bay region; then throughout the Bay Area and north from Santa Rosa into Oregon, east to Lassen Peak, then down along the Sierra Nevada to the Greenhorn Mountains east of Bakersfield. In the San Diego area, the original species, with shiny black body and mottled red legs, belly and tail, meets an even more vividly colored subspecies called E. klauberi, whose brilliant lemon-yellow body is striped in black from head to tail. Wake says that these changes are a clear example of `incipient species formation.' " [San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 2001 from Allen Salzberg]

You lose some

The University of New Orleans is maintaining a frozen zoo in hopes of maintaining breeding stock of fast vanishing species of plants and animals. Some estimates suggest that one animal species disappears each hour. [GreenLines, March 30, 2001]

350 dead gators in Lake Griffith, so far

The ongoing saga of dead and dying alligators in Florida's Lake Griffith continues. While researchers have found no direct link between Cylindrospermopsis, an exotic algae, and the die- offs, other workers have found odd lesions in dead alligators' brains, leading them to a horrid description for how the critters went. "The alligators can see and perhaps realize what is going on but can't make their muscles respond because the lesions are slowing the signals from the brain to the limbs," according to the Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial [December 26, 2000]. Other species affected include soft shelled turtles and long-nose gar. A newspaper columnist in The Orlando Sentinel [January 7, 2001] wrote that the algae "first showed up in Lake Griffin, but now it's everywhere, even the Winter Park chain of lakes. It's as deadly as heroin. A mouse died after being injected with water from Lake Maitland... it may be responsible for giving waterfront residents diarrhea, rashes and ulcers... it has always been here, living in harmless numbers... what we did was feed and nurture it. We turned lake water into liquid fertilizer with sewage and dirty runoff. We built dams to keep lakes filled... turning them into warm, stagnant pools... Scientists in Australia have found that it spreads rapidly during droughts because this causes more water stagnation... The future is not good... This state is not known for getting the jump on problems. I don't see any of these things happening until lake front residents are gagging on algae fumes. By then, it may be too late to stop Cylindrosperopsis." [both from Bill Burnett]

Galapagos News on the web

You may not be aware that there is some dramatic new action going on in Galapagos on the illegal fishing front right now. The time of reckoning for the future of Galapagos may be close now. Information is posted at and click on "Galapagos News." I'm leaving for Peru so unfortunately will not be able to follow what happens next. Thanks, as always, for your continued help and support, Tui De Roy (wildlife photographer). March 19, 2001." [From Karen Furnweger]

Need amphibian tapes?

Visit for a detailed table of recording contents and ordering information when available. [From Allen Salzberg]

Plastic gecko grabbed

A drunken patron stumbling out of a bar in downtown Orlando grabbed one of that city's decorated fiberglass lizard sculptures, fell and ripped it right off its base. Police suggested the man might have been looking for a "little lizard love," according to the Orlando Sentinel. Unfortunately, his bear-hug will cost the lizard lover about $3,800 to repair or restitute for the sculpture. Another lizard was swiped by lizard-nappers and a third is on display at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. [January 22, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Bradford Norman, Raymond Hoser, Johnathon Maynard and others who sent things that I truly enjoyed reading, but couldn't figure out how to summarize for this column. Please contribute. The file folder has gotten very skinny and it's hard to write columns with no contributions. Send whole sheets of newspaper (it's very light) to me. Thanks!

May 2001

About this month

Dear Readers: After nearly two decades in the same place and town, I am moving. And as I sit with my life all unarranged around me (even though I can find the latest mail and clippings), I find I cannot write. So for your amusement this month, I offer an electronic pot-pourri. I wish to thank my long-time contributors and my regular mailing friends for everything they've sent (and which I'll use right away to write my June!). Don't stop now. But do change your address books. For those of you with a 1000 questions about who, what and where - wait. I will tell all - in a future column!

From: Ken Mierzwa

"Dear Ken: ... something funny happened to me yesterday when I went frogging. As [my helper] and I were walking back towards my car at [our study site] we saw another car pulling up next to mine and then a bright light was pointed out at [us]. We had to walk back in that bright light and there was a cop next to my car when we got there. this was our exchange (PO: cop):
Me: Hi we're doing a calling survey...
PO: Hi, a what?
Me: a calling survey.
PO: .....????'re culling?
Me: No. No we are listening to frogs calling.
PO: ?????
Me: You know the frogs are making sound and we listen to that.
PO:...???...Is that some environmental thing?
Me: Yes, yes it is some environmental thing.
PO: Oh, ok. And then he left. I thought it was funny that an "environmental thing" should get us off the hook. Thought that those things usually get you into trouble with the officials. But now I learned my lesson and next time I'll inform the[ir office] that I'll be out there... PS We heard peepers, chorus and leopard frogs (not all at the same site)."

From: George M. Patton and Martha Ann Messinger

The account of the Reuters news story of Monday, April 9, 2001 goes like this: "A Vietnamese truck driver veered into a motorbike and a bicycle killing three people after spotting a snake slithering about his cab... [the driver told police he] panicked when he noticed the snake and lost control of his vehicle. The paper said one other person was injured in the accident on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City Sunday. It said police were investigating."

From: Wes von Papinešu

"Dear (very-patient) Herp Friends: While doing an archive search for a friend's query; I tripped over a rather startling fact: Since 1997 when I began to keep computer records of this sort of thing ... I've e-mailed out the equivalent of 4,444 (the number of the beast?) pages of single-sided, 11-point Times Roman font, herp-oriented press information... to each individual that's been with me since 1997! What's more ... the pace is accelerating! In 1997 I e-mailed about 592 pages; and given the routine established so far to date this year ... we might make 1,900 pages in 2001! This translates into (very roughly) - to 'about' 7,150 individual press items! OK ... what this tells me is that: 1. I really should get a life and perhaps introduce myself to the nice lady that lives in my home; 2. That I want to thank/curse (choose one depending on what else is going on that day) Ellin Beltz; late of the departed and lamented Vivarium Magazine's 'Herps in the News' column; for getting me into this news-clipping stuff back in 1994!! Thank you Ellin for the kind words and support over the past seven years and three keyboards! [Hey, Wes, watch those split-inifinitives! I'm moving - not dead!] 3. I hope that you people are not trying to print all this stuff out once you get it ... it would take two men and a small boy to carry it all! And; 4. Last, thank you all very much for allowing me the privilege of 'bombing' your e-mail box with this massive on-going electronic 'brick'! Your kind interest, recommendations and notes make it all worth while when I bring my head up off the keyboard and discover that I've missed dinner ... again! Cheers, Wes von Papinešu" So In Honor of Wes' Never-ending Contributions (subtitled "How Wes saved me again") the rest of this column will be from his postings! All material is quoted directly from source. [Additions or clarifications in brackets are mine. eb]

THE STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER (Springfield, Illinois) 16 April 01 River dredging plan threatens frog species - Beardstown: A noisy little frog that already is on Illinois' threatened species list may be facing a new peril from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps intends to dump material dredged from the Illinois River on two sites near Beardstown, an action the Corps acknowledges could kill an undetermined number of the threatened frogs. Amphibian expert John K. Tucker said the frog is found on one of those sites and may be living on the other. Tucker, a research scientist with the Illinois Natural History Survey, and Patrick Owen, a doctoral candidate from the University of Connecticut, are conducting research at the sites for the Corps of Engineers. What has brought the Corps of Engineers and the Illinois chorus frog into possible conflict is the very nature of the amphibian's life cycle and limited habitat. The Illinois chorus frog is the only burrowing frog in America. "They are the mole of the frog world," Tucker said. Furthermore, in Illinois the frog lives only in sandy soils on the eastern side of the Illinois River, primarily in Cass, Morgan, Mason and Scott Counties. The frog also is found in a small area of Missouri and Arkansas. The adult frogs, which are about 1.5 inches long, emerge from the ground as early as February. They breed in shallow pools that hold water into June, returning then to their subterranean life. Unlike other frogs, freezing temperatures kill the Illinois chorus frogs. The male frogs are especially loud, producing a call of 90 decibels, which Tucker described as a high-pitched single note... The impact of the Corps project may be intensified because Illinois chorus frogs occur only in small numbers in any given area. Tucker said a typical community may number 100 to 150 frogs. Some conservationists fear the entire population of chorus frogs in the sites will be destroyed. "They shouldn't do it," Illinois State University professor Lauren Brown said of the Corps of Engineers' plans. "They should put it (dredged material) on the west side of the river. This should go on a wasteland site." Lonn McGuire, a project manager with the Corps of Engineers, said his agency is seeking an "incidental take authorization" from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. This would allow it to proceed with its plans to dump dredged materials on the two sites on the river's east side. A "take" means animals will be killed or injured, according to Glen Kruse of the Illinois DNR. He said this is the first time the department has been asked to grant an incidental take authorization. Placing dredged material on the west side of the river is impractical because of cost and the need to cross York Lake and the Coal Creek Levee, McGuire said. In its public notice, the Corps contends "the placement of dredged material consisting of clean medium to fine sand constitutes more suitable non-breeding habitat than currently exists (on the sites)." However, Brown said, material taken from the river probably will contain chemicals and other pollutants that may be harmful to the frogs and other life. Tucker said it is not yet known whether Illinois chorus frogs are living in dredged material that was previously dumped by the Corps on one of the two sites. He said his research will help determine whether the new sand will support the frogs. Furthermore, Tucker said the frogs need a "fluffy, sandy soil" in which they can readily burrow down to a depth of about a foot. The dredged material tends to be more compact than existing habitat, but he does not yet know whether frogs are living in this material. McGuire said the Corps is confident its plans will assure the Illinois chorus frog population is brought back to its current level at the two sites - although he acknowledged that no one knows how many Illinois chorus frogs populate the sites. Not only does the Corps believe the dredged material will attract the Illinois chorus frog, but McGuire said plans call for construction of three suitable breeding pools near the sites. Owen Dratler, a Cass County Sierra Club leader, said his organization is reviewing the Corps' plans. Kruse said the DNR is accepting public comments on the Corps' proposal through May 7. Comments should be sent to the Illinois DNR at the Division of Natural Heritage, 524 S. Second Street, Springfield IL 62701-1787. The Corps' conservation plan can be obtained by calling the DNR offices at (217) 785-8774. It also is available at the Beardstown Public Library and at the Illinois DNR office in Alton. primarily in Cass, Morgan, Mason and Scott Counties.

LAS VEGAS SUN (Nevada) 23 February 01 - A tip from employees at McCarran International Airport resulted in the seizure of five venomous snakes, including two from Asia, by game wardens... [one of whom said] that there is no antivenin available in the state for exotic species that have been unlawfully imported. Therefore a bite could pose a serious health risk.

HERALD-TRIBUNE (Sarasota, Florida) 23 February 01 Officer puts stop to slithery surprise - When a snake's head popped out of a toilet in a Venice home Thursday morning, then stuck its tongue out at police Patrolman Bob Dodd, the officer figured he could help the family get rid of it. [And he did. And they reported every detail. You can imagine.]

ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE 16 March 01 Australia Declares Biological War on The Cane Toad - This week they spread to [the Kakadu] world heritage site and moved politicians to act. After colonizing most of Queensland, large parts of the Northern Territory and New South Wales, cane toads (Bufo marinus) are heading south and west at the rate of about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) a year... scientists have already ruled out the use of viruses from Venezuela to control Australian cane toads. Laboratory tests showed that the viruses killed Australian frogs as well as the toads. Scientists also believe that some native animals are learning to avoid eating them. Other animals have shown they can eat the toad. The keelback snake can detoxify the venom and water rats, ibis, crows and some other birds turn the toads over and eat only the non-poisonous internal organs.

INDEPENDENT SWINDON TOWN ONLINE (Swindon, UK) 21 March 01 It's looking more and more likely that the front garden area is a no-no for a new stadium. Latest reports on the area are now saying that a colony of rare [great crested] newts have been found there. If this is true then it's going to be almost impossible to put anything on that stretch of land. [Then in 15 more paragraphs and 2 more articles the humans complain that the newts will stop the people from making money. Forget it, folks. The Thatcherian days of "Swine and Porsches" are gone; newts rule.]

NORTH DEVON JOURNAL (Barnstaple, UK) 29 March 01 Mystery sign says 'Mind our toads!' The mysterious appearance of strange signs in a small village warning motorists to watch their speed, is baffling residents. For the signs, which suddenly appeared in the middle of the night, have been erected to warn about toads crossing the road. The "Careful - Toads Crossing" signs are on view in the village of Cobbaton, near Chittlehampton, and the hunt is on to find the person or persons responsible. [A couple] owns a pond in the village where toads are often head to spawn. But the hopping creatures have to negotiate a road to get to their destination - and sometimes they meet a sticky end. [The husband] said: "We have not got a clue who put the signs up and it really is a mystery. One day we just noticed the sign and must have been put up in hours of darkness or very early in the morning." Cobbaton has been graced with two signs which warn drivers travelling both ways to brake slowly and avoid any stray toads that may be crossing the road. [And it's working. According to a later story, signs actually make drivers slow down.]

AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION 29 March 01 - Wildlife rangers fear a practical joker has dumped a metre-long saltwater crocodile in a swimming lagoon at a north Queensland golfing resort. [Perhaps they were "inspired" by the Internet legend.]

FYI ETYMOLOGY - There are, however, worse things to be than a flunkey. And a "toady" is one of them. Back in the 17th century, certain charlatans and patent-medicine quacks claimed to be able to cure poisoning with their potions. Since toads were considered poisonous, a quack's sales pitch often involved having his assistant eat a toad in front of the gullible crowd, whereupon the miracle elixir would be administered and the assistant cured of possible poisoning. The assistant was naturally known as "the toadeater" or "toady," and the term eventually came to mean anyone who will do absolutely anything to curry favor with a boss or superior. [FYI, my last trip west I actually met some folks who'll probably be writing me now asking how to curry toads and if that would get them high.]

THE NEW VISION (Kampala, Uganda) 10 March 01 - An Ebola survivor was on Wednesday bitten by a snake and she died. [A] 58 [year old], resident of Obia west, was bitten as she was fishing at Paliga swamp. The snake attacked her at around 11:00 a.m. but she died later in the evening.

EDMONTON JOURNAL (Alberta) 03 April 01 - Stolen van may be final curtain for Safari Jeff and reptile show - Animals' owners stuck in hotel room with their 12 reptiles - Edmonton: Father Time, Spirit, Phantom and nine other reptiles are holed up in a Fort Road Hotel until Safari Jeff and his partner get their stolen van and trailer back... Without the van and trailer, the reptile road show can't go on... Police are searching for a dark blue 1992 Chevrolet Astro van with Alberta license TDT 403 and a 12-foot white Truline trailer with Alberta license N24 517.

DAILY UNIVERSITY SCIENCE NEWS (USA) 05 April 01 For the first time, researchers have identified a direct link between global climate change and local factors that cause the death of amphibian eggs in the wild, according to a paper in today's issue of Nature.

P.M. NEWS 20 April 01 "Lagos, Nigeria: Two titled chiefs from Igbogbo community... and three others were yesterday at a... Magistrate Court docked on a two-count charge of conspiracy and stealing of a snake belonging to a farmer at Ikorodu. The suit, which has been in court for the past five years..." is about who or what stole a snake from a snake trap that was set by the farmer.

MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL (Wisconsin) 22 April 01 Huge dead snake found in wreck - Rescuers who helped free a motorist trapped all night in his overturned pickup truck made an unusual discovery Sunday morning - a dead 15-foot-long boa constrictor in the back of the vehicle. The snake, as thick as a human thigh, did not have a head. The truck owner said he planned to have it made into snakeskin boots."

THE HINDU (Chennai, India) 23 April 01 - It was a different experience for Mr. Romulus Whitaker, Chennai's herpetologist, the other day. Instead of his routine reptile- handling work, he had to field a volley of questions from children and their parents. The occasion was the release of `Croc Talk: your Madras Crocodile Bank companion' at Goodbooks, Book Store and Resource Centre..."

WPLG CHANNEL 10 (Miami, Florida) 18 April 01 Pot Bust Uncovers Guard Gator, Police Say - Gator Well Fed According To Wildlife Manager. Miami: You've heard of guard dogs, but what about a guard gator? That's what police say they found when they made a huge pot bust Tuesday night. Officers say that they entered a Miami house, found 25 pot plants, an additional 10 pounds of marijuana in the refrigerator, and keeping an eye on the stash was a 5-foot long alligator... Investigators believe that the stash the gator was guarding is worth about $125,000. No arrests have been made yet. Police are trying to find the homeowner. [Honestly, I DON'T make this stuff up. It's all real.]

INDIA EXPRESS 18 April 01 Satellite telemetry to track sea turtle migration... special tracking devices were fitted to four female Olive Ridleys near the Devi river mouth, emerging as another nesting ground for the marine turtles, on Tuesday under a Government of India-United Nation Development Programme sea turtle project with the active collaboration of wildlife wing of the Orissa Government and the Wildlife Institute Of India.

GRIST MAGAZINE (USA) 24 April 01 Big Danger for a Small Species - Austin: At first blush, it hardly seems fair to compare the plight of the Barton Springs salamander to that of endangered species such as the fierce grizzly of the Northern Rockies or the no-longer-so-resilient salmon of the Pacific Northwest, totemic animals that characterize whole regions and spark national debate. After all, the Barton Springs salamander is a tiny creature, with full-grown adults measuring just a little over two inches, and the salamander's range is only a few miles of stream running through the Texas capital of Austin. But given the real and symbolic importance of the springs frequented by the salamander, the deep-in-the-heart-of-Texas struggle to save the salamander has corollaries with the battle on behalf of the nation's charismatic megafauna. A pair of pending lawsuits filed by Austin environmentalists on behalf of the Barton Springs salamander belie the notion that bigger creatures inspire - or deserve - bigger support. One of the suits targets the U.S. EPA for failing to protect water quality along the creek; a legal agreement reached last December continues to languish without an authorizing signature from the Bush administration. The other suit alleges that a new regional water-supply system planned by the semi-private Lower Colorado River Authority fails to adequately address environmental concerns while encouraging unwanted development... Local environmentalists have not always been so aggressive in their litigation. Nearly a decade ago, well ahead of lawsuits that led former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to list the salamander under the Endangered Species Act in 1997, environmentalists brokered a deal intended to prevent developers from impinging on the land around Barton Springs. That deal, spearheaded by the Save Our Springs Alliance (SOS) and known officially as the SOS Ordinance, still stands as a watershed event in Austin politics. The hope was that the ordinance would preserve Barton Springs as a source of drinking water in this notoriously water-deprived state, as (in part) a swimming hole where thousands congregate during the summer to take a break from the hot Texas sun, and - not incidentally - as the home of the Barton Springs salamander. The SOS Ordinance limited building along the Barton Creek section of the Edwards Aquifer "recharge zone," which feeds Barton Springs and supplies most of Austin's drinking water. Viewed by some radical voices as a compromise measure, the ordinance nonetheless mitigated the impact of development in a community largely at the mercy of developers and private-property rights advocates. In turn, zoning rules limited the amount of pollution from runoff and created a boundary of 200 feet around the creek within which development could not take place. Unfortunately for wildlife and swimmers alike, recent tests have shown a variety of pollutants continue to find their way into the spring-fed pools. The listing of the salamander as a federally protected endangered species in turn gave environmentalists another set of tools to preserve the springs. In fact, the two pending lawsuits filed by SOS advance the cause of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists entrusted with ensuring the salamanders' survival. At the heart of both lawsuits is the question of just how development affects the salamander.

KITV-4 (Honolulu, Hawaii) 25 April 01 Cobra Found On Hawaii-Bound Flight - State agriculture officials discovered a live cobra over the weekend on a Philippine Airlines flight to Honolulu. It is the first live cobra ever captured in the islands, where all snakes are outlawed. The poisonous two-and-a-half foot cobra was found Saturday in the cargo hold of a Philippine Airlines Boeing 747 from Manila. Authorities said that they do not know how it got aboard the jet. Experts believe that the venomous snake is a monocle cobra, but said that they are conducting further research to positively identify it. Officials said that since the cobra has a visible wound, it is not a good exhibit specimen and will probably be destroyed.

PRESS PLUS (Atlantic City, New Jersey) 26 April 01 Lawrence Township: [A 10-year-old boy] didn't panic when his brother's pet - a 10 and 1/2-foot African rock python - latched on to his eyelid Tuesday at his home. "I knew if I wasn't calm the snake would put its jaw down really hard and I would be blind," [he] explained Wednesday. "I really was thinking I might go blind." But thanks to the quick thinking of three N.J. State Police troopers and other rescuers, [the child] emerged from the bizarre, 1 a.m. incident with some cuts and bruises and required only minor plastic surgery... [The snake got loose, the whole family chases the snake, the snake bites boy, rescuers save boy, doctors treat boy, insurance company bills family... but that's next month.]

SUN-NEWS (Las Cruces, New Mexico) 23 April 01 Snake roundup lives on despite protest - Only a thin layer of plexiglass separated the throngs of young children from more than 100 poisonous [sic - they're only venomous] Western Diamondback rattlesnakes, as more than 300 people packed the snake exhibition room at the 15th Annual Rattlesnake Roundup in Alamogordo on Saturday. The children watched in rapt fascination at the snakes - most of them bundled on the cool cement floor in piles - as the room filled with the hollow, wispy chorus of rattles. The snakes were just some of the more than 1,000 Western Diamondback rattlesnakes that organizers say will be gathered this weekend, eventually to be sold for meat and their skins... But just minutes earlier, veteran snake handler... was rushed to the hospital after being bitten in the hand while performing one of the tricks he has entertained audiences with for more than a decade at snake roundups across the country...[Protestors] echoed similar arguments made by New Mexico Land Commissioner Ray Powell who has criticized the rattlesnake roundup as "inappropriate exploitation" of wildlife. "This is an unregulated exploitation of wildlife, which could disrupt the delicate balance of this desert ecosystem" he said. In a statement released earlier this month, Powell, who is also a veterinarian, warned hunters found trapping or killing snakes on state trust land will be prosecuted for trespassing. Powell said rattlesnakes help keep the rodent population down, as well as the threat of Hantavirus and plague, which can be carried by rodents. [An] Organizer... said, contrary to popular misconception, the rattlesnake roundup does not involve people roaming mesquite bushes bashing snakes with clubs. Rather, the snakes are collected from their dens in the early morning springtime hours as the snakes, hungry and cold, venture into the light of day to hunt... The snakes are then sold to a wholesaler who sells the snakes to two different processors. One of the processors has the snakes butchered. A percentage of the snake meat is cooked at the roundup while the rest is sold to overseas markets... The remaining body parts, from skulls and teeth to skins and tails, are processed and made into wallets, belts and other products... [He added] the hunts occur only on private lands, often at the landowners request, though he said the snake hunters do not disclose the location of the dens they return to every year to gather snakes. About 1,000 to 1,500 rattlesnakes are gathered every year... helping to reduce the rodent population as well as keep the danger of poisonous [sic] snakes down. "What would those bunny-huggers have us do? If they had snakes in their backyard, I guarantee you they'd kill them," [he asked] "But I love (that the protesters are here). It's good advertisement." "The biggest rodent here is that (Ray) Powell guy," [the organizer added]. New Mexico Game and Fish Herpetologist Charlie Painter said, as a reptile lover he opposes the roundups on philosophical grounds, but he recognizes the other voices in the community that want the roundups to continue. As part of his extensive research of rattlesnake and other reptiles and amphibian populations, Painter has been at every rattlesnake roundup in Alamogordo since it began 15 years ago. Among other measurements, Painter monitors the average size and weight of rattlesnakes brought in to gain insight about population levels and the general health of the local rattlesnake population. He said the controversy surrounding snake roundups is often driven by philosophical - and often emotionally charged - differences rather than science and definitive evidence. Painter said there is no reliable scientific evidence that snakes - which compared to other predators like birds and coyotes kill far fewer snakes - significantly reduce rodent populations. Conversely, though roundup organizers claim the roundup addresses the threat of dangerous snakes crawling into homes around Alamogordo, Painter said there is also no indication that rattlesnake roundups are needed. Painter said the supposed threat that the snakes would swarm Alamogordo "is not going to happen." Other areas in southern New Mexico where the concentrations of rattlesnakes are likely higher do not have roundups and do not have a significant problem with snake bites, Painter said.

And the last huzzah!

Websites and addresses of various nonprofits concerned with endangered species.
THE AUDUBON SOCIETY - 700 Broadway, New York, NY 212/979-3000
THE CHESAPEAKE BAY FOUNDATION - 6 Herndon Ave., Annapolis, MD. 301/261-2350 or 888/728-3229 -
DEFENDERS OF WILDLIFE - 1101 14th St. NW, Suite 1400. Washington, DC 202/682-9400 -
FRIENDS OF THE NATIONAL ZOO - 3001 Connecticut Ave NW. Washington, DC 202/673-4950 -
THE NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION - 11100 Wildlife Center Dr., Reston, VA. 703/438-6000 or 800/822-9919.
THE NATURE CONSERVANCY - 4245 North Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 800/628-6860.
THE SIERRA CLUB - 85 Second St., Second Floor, San Francisco, CA 415/977-5500
THE WORLD WILDLIFE FUND - 1250 24th St. NW. 202/293-4800

June and July 2001

My columns for these two months are about Dinosaur Hunting in Wyoming with Paul Sereno, University of Chicago, and Gabe Lyon with Project Exploration.

Click here to read about the Wyoming 2001 Expedition

August 2001

Monocle in manacles

A two-and-a-half foot long monocle cobra was captured by a state Department of Agriculture supervisor at Honolulu Airport. Cargo handlers from Philipine Airlines discovered the snake in the corner of a cargo hold of an Airbus A340 which had flown direct from Manila. The entire plane was searched, but no other snakes were found. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 26, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Big eyes, wrong # of digits - aliens in Hawaii, 2001

Bright green with orange spots, Madagascar giant day geckos can grow to about a foot long. And now they may be doing it on O'ahu. "A crew from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources caught one inn Manoa Valley, near where another was caught in 1996... Phelsuma madagascariensis are believed to have escaped from captivity... Alien species are arriving in Hawai'i on a regular basis, threatening native species and agriculture. A multi-agency group has been formed to address the issue... the Madagascar giant day gecko is the 30th species of reptile or amphibian to become established in the islands. [The Honolulu Advertiser, February 11, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

A 3-foot boa constrictor was turned in by an unidentified woman under the state's alien species amnesty program. [The Honolulu Advertiser, March 28, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

The Honolulu Advertiser reports that a man was "barely awake when he lumbered into his second-floor bathroom (in Pacific Palisades) and found a live snake on his toilet." They called 911 and inspectors from Hawaii's State Department of Agriculture found a 2-foot-long ball python. [June 15, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Eighteen Argentine horned froglets were turned into Honolulu Zoo by an unidentified man who claimed they belonged to a friend. Under the state's amnesty policy, no charges were filed. However officials are concerned because all the frogs are very young and there may be up to 900 more of their siblings hopping around somewhere. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin May 31, 2001 from Ms. G.E.Chow]

"A population of Caribbean frogs that biologists say has the potential to harm Hawai'i's fragile environment were found... on Maui for the first time. The tiny Eleutherodactylus planirostris, or greenhouse frog, was identified by state wildlife biologist... after he received a call from a landscape gardener... hwe saw hundreds of the fleet-footed frogs in the ocean front landscaping and believes they are spread across the resort area... At least three populations of the greenhouse frog have been identified on the Big Island and two are known on O'ahu... They likely are being spread as hitchhikers in nursuer materials. In their native Caribbean islands, the frogs live in populations of up to 8,000 an acre. Females can produce more than 200 eggs a year, with each frog reaching sexual maturity in just eight months. [The Honolulu Advertiser, May 18, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Meanwhile, biologists have been collecting both greenhouse frogs and the much louder coqui frogs which live in plants and are active only at night. Biologists "fear that in addition to the noise, the animals may preey on native insects and spiters, spread plant diseases and increase the population of rats and mongooses by serving as a food source. Fore more information, visit the Hawaiian Ecosystems at the Risk Project web site [The Honolulu Advertiser, March 24, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow] And I remember when one amateur herpetologist reporting hearing a coqui frog on vacation in Hawai'i and all the "real" herpetologists didn't believe him. Just think. Catching those first few then would save whatever it is going to cost the ecosystem to clean it all up.

Ray, Marty - Marty, Ray :)

"On the scale of things, snakes are relatively easy to maintain, says Marty Marcus, an educator who has been working with reptiles in classrooms for 40 years. Creating the proper enclosure and finding a reliable source of food for these carnivores are the two biggest challenges. [Little Rock Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 14, 2001 from Bill Burnett] Life meets art, folks, here's two of my biggest contributors in one paragraph.

Bullfrog competition

Organizers of the "Mayor's Frog Jump" in Rock Hill, South Carolina "normally buy their amphibians from one of two suppliers, but officials at the Carolina Biological Supply Co. and Ward's Natural Science Co. say demand from restaurants and science classes has left them battling for bullfrogs... the man in charge of coralling the mayor's croakers, has resorted to desperate action [hiring a frog-catcher] because, as he points out, `you can't have a frog-jumping contest without jumping frogs.'" [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 1, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

Florida beat

"One of the largest alligator-poaching arrests in southwest Florida nabbed two men with 114 alligators... near a boat ramp... and the Kissimmee River." [Orlando Sentinel, April 11, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

"Volusia County has been ordered to pay more than $286,000 in legal fees to the New Smyrna Beach women who filed the suit... because their lawsuit had prompted the county to improve conditions for the endangered sea turtles... [The judge said] "The county could have done the right thing from the beginning" by banning cars and lights from nesting beaches "and this suit could have been precluded." [Orlando Sentinel, March 27, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

"Fifteen years ago, a local resident discovered a female American crocodile living on a lush, sparsely populated barrier island ... southwest Florida... researchers relocated the croc to a state park about 50 miles south. Six month later, however, the persisten creature found her way back ... and eventually settled in the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanible Island, where she has lived ever since." About 800,000 people also flock to this refuge to see more than 230 species of animals. [National Wildlife, April-May, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

If you keep them, they will bite you

"The former director of the Little Rock Zoo was in good condition... in a... hospital after he was bitten by a rattlesnake at his home [the night before.] `I got nipped by a young Western diamondback,' [he] said from his hospital bed... `I'm fine.'" He still keeps about a half dozen venomous reptiles for use in his lectures. Later in the article the "founder and president of Central Arkansas Herpetological Society" is quoted as saying that "last year about 60 people died from Western rattlesnake bites nationwide - mainly from larger snakes." Contributor Bill Burnett points out that this number is about 59 or 60 too high. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 23, 2001]

"The [21-year-old] man who was flown to Miami for a lifesaving antivenin treatment July 4, wants to donate his Asiatic spitting cobra ... to a zoo... [the man] nearly died after his pet bit him on the thumb while he was trying to take its picture... returned home... just in time for the birth of his daughter... [The man said] one day helll probably buy another poisonous [sic] snake and hopes to avoid tighter regulations. `When I get back into it in a couple years, I want to be able to get my pet without all this hassle and going through all these lawyers. [July 10, 2001] Curiously, the man was flown from South Carolina to Miami because the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue there has an antivenin unit with antivenoms for about 90 percent of the world's venomous snakes. [July 6, 2001 - both The Miami Herald, from Alan Rigerman]

An "experienced reptile handler" was bitten on the hand by a Jameson's mamba. The reporter for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, couldn't miss pointing out that mean the man went "mano a mamba - and the mamba won." He was in fair condition and declined an interview, but his boss at Strictly Reptiles said he was doing well. The man had been handling the mamba alone; even though he was supposed to have help bagging it, he made the decision to put it away himself. [May 24, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

"A Sarasota Jungle Gardens employee was bitten by a 4-foot diamondback rattlensnake... just two months after he was bitten by another venomous snake... The snake, which is used in the monthly Venomous Snakes of Florida show, had recently been milked of its venom." [Orlando Sentinel, March 13, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

"When [a] Scottish police officer ... arrested ... [a] 21 [year-old] for indecent expore, he was bitten by a boa constrictor hidden in ... [the 21-year-old's] pants. [He] still had the snake with him a month later when it bit someone else while he attempted a break-in. Among the charges he pleaded guilty to was `recklessly concealing a reptile.'" [Street Miami, February 2-8, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

What's the odds of this?

"A harness maker at Pompano Park Race Track got the surprise of his life... when he came upon a six-foot alligator in a bathroom stall. The gator was wrapped around the bottom of the toile possibly lookcing for a cool place to hide out..." when the man found it. "Damn right it was exciting," said the man. "I hadn't had my coffee yet." [The Miami Herald, June 3, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]


"Eleven tourist couples marry in the nude. Peace talks resume after daring summit." [Sun- Sentinel, South Florida, February 15, 2001 from Alan Rigerman] What Alan reallys sent it for was the adjacent article about the last known member of the sub-species Geochelone elephatophus abingdoni. "Lonesome George" as he's more popularly known, has not mated with any female tortoises of other subspecies presented to him by staff at the Charles Darwin Scientific Research Station on Santa Cruz island. Darwin Station has harvested tortoise egss and released more than 2,500 tortoises since the program began in the mid-1960s. Local legend states that "anyone who comes to the Galapagos hoping to turn a profit at the expense of the islands' unique ecosystem and other rare species... marine iguanas, faces `the Curse of the Tortoise.' Islanders point to a long string of disasters... the near-disastrous oil spill... was just one more example." A clipping from The Times Picayune (New Orleans) from Ernie Liner develops the tanker story: "Wind and ocean currents have partially dissipated the 160,000 gallon spill from a disabled tanker and pushed it out into the Pacific Ocean, away from the islands that are home to giant tortoises, sea lions, rare birds and hundreds of other protected species, the Ecuadorian president's office said... response to the accident was slowed by the limited resources of an impoverished national of 12 million people whose political and economic crises make the exotic archipelago seem a world away. Ecuador has experienced debilitating economic chaos and changed presidents five times in the past five years." [January 24, 2001]

I have seen that stare

"Stolen iguanas Ziggy and Cleopatra are safely back at the Audubon Zoo. The lizards, who were stolen from their separate exhibits May 3, enjoyed their homecoming... by staring motionless, at their fruit and vegetable trays. [The Houma, Louisiana Courier, June 9, 2001 from Ernie Liner]

Letter of the month

Written to The Miami Herald: "I had the same problemw ith frogs in my pool. I was told to buy floating alligator heads. I couldn't find them anywhere, so I went to Toys R Us and bough five rubber snakes at $1 each and laid them around the pool patio - mostly on the sides facing the yard. I have not had a frog since! I don't know how smart frogs are, so I move the snakes around every now and then, just to fool the little amphibians. It's a cheap fix, and it works. [signed from] Coconut Grove"

If they follow me home, can I keep them?

"A Kaua'i man who admitted capturing two green sea turtles last November was sentenced yesterday by federal Magistrate... to six months in prison... [the] fisherman said he was catching black crab when he came across the turtles and took them home." But the prosecutor pointed out that as the turtles weighed 200 to 250 pounds a piece, and since they were found in the bed of the man's pickup truck when the man was pulled over for speeding that the whole affair was not as innocent as it seemed. [The Honolulu Advertiser, May 1, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Guess he doesn't like Steve Irwin

"Honk if you've had it up to here with ... the self-billed `crocodile hunter' who has somehow migrated from Australia to our shores... pranching around animal cages in his little zookeeper shorts, taunting the critters into telegenically violent behavior... thoroughly asking for a violent outcome... the NBC news release describes this process as `rescuing animals from the wilds' in the apparent belief that there's nothing sadder than an animal having to endure its natural habitat. Most vexing is the attempt to pass this off as proper zookeeper behavior, rather than the down- under kin to a hundred Florida roadside alligator hovels. Steve Johnson Tribune media critic" [The Chicago Tribune, May 21, 2001 from Ray Boldt]

Thanks to everyone who contributed clippings, photos and other fun stuff for this column.

Without you, there wouldn't be a column. And thanks to Ray Boldt, Ms. G.E. Chow, Alan Rigerman, Tom Huda, Jack Schoenfelder, Bradford Norman, and Marty Marcus for cool things I've put aside to read later or their other contributions to this column. You can contribute, too. Send whole pages of newspapers and magazines. Make sure the date/publication slug appears on the pages (or write it on). Put your name on each piece. Mail to me.

September, 2001

Not range extensions

The alligator discovered in the sprinkler at a Sedalia, Missouri restaurant parking lot escaped a deadly encounter with a local deputy and a shotgun when his owner appeared and begged for his pet's life. Seems the gator is one of three in a travelling gator show. Because it was 108 degrees on July 30, the attraction's human decided to leave the gator's traveling box open just a little bit so that it could cool off. Usually, the gator's mouth and eye restraint would have been enough to keep him immobile, but the sprinklers proved too tempting and the gator escaped. [Jefferson City Post-Tribune, July 31, 2001.] Contributor Vicky Elwood wrote, "I found a cool spot [that 108-degree day] too!"

New York City animal control seized a five-foot-long, 40-pound, live alligator shipped overnight by United Parcel Service from a location in Georgia. Shipping live animals is prohibited by the company and the alligator was described as "not very happy" either. [Wisconsin State Journal, August 4, 2001 from Dreux Watermolen]

"South Florida alligator wrestler Mike Bailey collared the 2-foot alligator living in a Central Park lake in a matter of minutes... hopped into a canoe with an assistant and flashlight, and paddled out into the Harlem Meer, a picturesque lake in the northeast corner of the Manhattan park.. lunged into the reeds and emerged with the reptile in one hand. There was no struggle. He held the alligator overhead like a trophy and made a victory lap of the lake while people took pictures," according to the Sun-Sentinel [June 22, 2001] He said, "Back home this is an everyday thing, but I can understand why you're all excited." The gator was taken by New York parks and sent to the Bronx Zoo even though the wrestler wanted to take it home. [June 23, 2001, both from Alan Rigerman]

A continuing inspiration

The government of Ecuador arrested the captain and 13 crew members from Jessica, the tanker which leaked at least 185,000 gallons of diesel fuel offshore of the Galapagos Islands. The tanker was not insured for environmental damage as it ferried fuel to the islands to support fishing boats and the tourist industry which has grown up around the wildlife which is so often described as having inspired Darwin. [ January 25, 2001: New Orleans, LA Times-Picayune, from Ernie Liner and Sun-Sentinel from Alan Rigerman] Moving and packing brought my copy of Darwin's diaries from the Beagle trip back to the top of the bookshelf and I reread the part about Galapagos. Darwin clearly states he was notified of the differences between the tortoises and finches on the islands by local residents. Therefore, not only did he come one scintilla to missing the whole thing, but there were already people living alongside this wildlife in the 1850s and it was mostly all still there. Tortoises on the small islands were already reduced by introduced animals; but most of the islands were so unproductive and so hard to land a hand/wind powered boat on or near that he saw these islands at a very unique time.

Maybe it's the algae

See if you can tease out the meaning in this quote lifted from an article about Lake Griffin, Florida mysterious gator deaths. "Meanwhile... it's time to have area decision-makers take the lead in finding water supply solutions. She said the area could experience a 30-million-gallons- a-day shortfall by 2020 if steps are taken now to prevent that from happening." [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial writer Jason Dehart, March 1, 2001 from Bill Burnett and Tom Huda]

Caiman raising

The Environmental department of Venezuela encouraged local crocodile hunters to become reptile ranchers to bring back the caiman and the Orinoco crocodile, but numbers are soaring and harvest is described as a "tricky business." One of the ranchers pointed out that if one is concerned about mad cow beef, caiman is a disease free alternate. Local people are aware of the dangers of living by ever growing numbers of crocs, but as one said, "I would hate to see the crocodiles disappear. I want my grandchildren and their children to be able to see them." [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 1, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

You wanted a "gatored" community, right?

An alligator in Weston, Florida is busier than he's ever been now that developers have carved out a network of canals and lakes in the local limestone to raise the price of "water front" lots in that community. New residents with small children and small pets in this gated and regulated community are amazed to see alligators cruising the lakes and hanging out in the canals. I guess they thought that while it might be "cool" to see deer on the lawns, the other animals would all just stop at the guarded gates for a pass. But no, and especially no, in a drought year like 2000- 2001 when wildfires raged through dry grass rivers and water levels dropped. Gators migrate to stay alive and this year, 2,702 nuisance alligators were caught and killed. More than 130 have been taken out of Weston alone. One resident said, "In a way, we moved them [the gators] out to move in, but at the same time my family comes first." [USA Today, July 24, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

Tunnels of love

Salamanders near Palo Alto's Stanford University are getting specially installed amphibian crossings. Other salamanders in the Bay Area have roads shut down for them in migration season. [San Francisco Chronicle, August 30, 2001]

The Federal Highway Administration website on critter crossings - - highlights more salamander tunnels as well as bear bridges and underpasses. The Humane Society of the United States estimated that 1 million animals of all kinds are killed every day on U.S. roads as sprawl pushes people ever further out into formerly animal only habitat. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, March 28, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

FrogLog reports that the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force website - - is being updated and asks folks to check in and see what data they or their amphibian monitoring groups can provide.

Dangerous white shoes

Phil Bronstein, executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle was visiting the Los Angeles Zoo with his wife Sharon Stone when a Komodo dragon apparently mistook his white sneaker shoes for white rats and bit Mr. Bronstein on the toe. The encounter, expectedly, generated much press. Zoo officials agonized whether it was better to risk big money donors and celebrities in cages or ban outright all behind-the-scenes tours. In the end, the zoo decided on liability waivers and a critical habitat examination to provide more protection for visitors. [The Miami Herald, June 13, 2001 from Alan Rigerman and Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2001 from Lori King-Nava]

Give him whatever he wants

A man "last saw his beloved pet desert tortoise nearly two months ago.. he posted at least 50 missing signs all over the area... [and] had his message flashed on a local cable TV channel. It hasn't come to milk cartons yet, but he's close... It's hard for [the man], who thrives on stress every day as an air-traffic controller, to explain his bond with one of the planet's most boring animals... [but] after a rough day keeping planes from colliding, that's enough." A nearby resident "offered encouraging words: `My three sons were so upset when they lost their turtle five years ago. It was only three inches across. They found him last month in the neighbor's garden and he was the size of my laptop.'" [Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2001 from Lori King- Nava]

Rural legends in Illinois

Really and truly there was a newspaper article in The Chicago Tribune [June 24, 2001 from Ray Boldt] that describes downstate Illinois rural legends about the state's little-loved Department of Natural Resources. DNR is actually a very ordinary bureaucracy - but rumors abound that it has tried to introduce various large predators in rural communities. Director Brent Manning once heard that his department was "dropping cottonmouth snakes from black helicopters to destroy [wild] turkey eggs as a method to control the birds' population."

Eddie still at Lincoln Park Zoo

The African dwarf crocodile at Lincoln Park Zoo is one of Chicago's oldest zoo residents. Acquired in 1940 when he was about one foot long, he's known only as "R-1" for "reptile number one" and is at least 61 years old. According to the Chicago Tribune, some people also call him "Eddie in honor of a previous handler." [April 25, 2001 from Ray Boldt] I suspect he was nicknamed after Eddie Almandarz who used to keep hot stuff by the dozens deep behind the scenes in the old reptile house (formerly an aquarium and now the zoo restaurant).

Beeping Blanding's turtles, Batman!

DuPage County headstarted Blanding's turtles have been fixed with transmitters and released in an effort to restore this lovely, long-lived beast back to Illinois' shallow waters. Most easily recognized by their yellow throats, this species declined during channelization and suburbanization of the Chicago region. [Chicago Tribune, July 6, 2001 from Ray Boldt and Claus Sutor]

The Honolulu Advertiser reports:

February 25, 2001: Researchers on the 212-square mile island of Guam report population estimates from of 1 to 3 million brown tree snakes although some local people have never seen one. My handy calculator yields a ratio of 4,718 snakes to the square mile; a number so boggling I can't imagine. Guam itself is only about 8.5 miles by 25 miles in area similar to the Chicago Metro Region.

March 18, 2001: About one in ten endangered Olive Ridley turtles to make landfall on India's eastern coast in Orissa state were killed by people from trawlers waiting around right offshore.

April 22, 2001: "Thousands of hatchling turtles have begun crawling from eggs on India's eastern coast of Orissa... estimated 200,000 newly hatched Olive Ridley turtles have given wildlife officials hope that the breed is pulling back from the brink of extinction."

May 11, 2001: "More sea turtles are killed on the island of Bali [Indonesia] than anywhere else in the world - as many as 20,000 a year," A man who owns 13 boats and employs dozens of fishermen was recently found guilty and sentenced to a year in prison. Indonesian law banned hunting sea turtles in January 1999 but didn't enforce the ban on Bali until tourists threatened a boycott. [all from Ms. G.E. Chow]

More sea turtle tales

"Will she or won't she?" is the question some Maui biologists must be asking themselves right about now. Last year a green sea turtle laid eggs which hatched. She had been released near Hilo on September 11, 1981 bearing tag number 5690. [The Honolulu Advertiser, November 2000 from Ms. G.E. Chow] Green sea turtles are notorious for only laying every other year, so she may not be back in 2001.

Greens are also the only sea turtles known to nest in Hong Kong where conservation officers have hatched and released some marked with electronic transmitters to trace their movements. [Albuquerque Journal, December 24, 2000 from J.N Stuart]

As wind and heavy rains lashed Florida, waves damaged sea turtle nests in Fort Lauderdale. Environmental workers scrambled to relocate the eggs to higher ground. Combinations of high tides and low pressure surges swamped nests with water and ripped out sand below the eggs as tides went out. One worker said, "Looking to the right and to the left on Fort Myers beach... you see no nests where there was a sea of yellow tape around protected zones. It's all water."

How to have more lawsuits - 101

Amphibians in the "Sierra Nevada are in danger of extinction and likely would be protected under the Endangered Species Act except for a federal moratorium on new listings... citing a backlog of lawsuits by environmentalists [The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] announced it would act only in response to court orders," according to The Berkeley Daily Planet [June 2-3, 2001 from Greg Brim]. So a lawsuit will be filed. What a surprise. The Agency claims it needs $120 million to "clear out a backlog of listings" and it only gets $2 million now, with a raise to $8.5 million under Bush's proposal for the next Federal fiscal year. So what is all this money going to anyway? Lawyers and slowly grinding suits, not land acquisition or even creative solutions to difficult questions. Development is not going away; frogs and toads are going away while we argue the fine points.

How to be a numb blonde

"A man was in the hospital late Sunday after a venomous snake bit him when he picked up the cottonmouth off a Miramar street. The snake sank its fangs into [the man's] left index finger, at which point [his] girlfriend attempted to suck out the venom. She was treated and released with a numb mouth. However, [the boyfriend] quickly developed an allergy to the antivenin because it had been administered to him two years ago with his last snake bite. `Once bitten twice shy? Forget it. This guy is twice bitten and none shy,' said [the paramedic from] the Miami-Dade Antivenin Unit, who treated him." [The Miami Herald, July 9, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

Wasn't Starbucks in the whale story, too?

The reports of Eleutherodactylus planirostris (greenhouse frog) continue to roll in. Extending their range to three known islands in the Hawai'ian archipelago, they are now found by the hundreds in ocean front landscaping at Wailea resort on Maui. Three populations are known on the Big Island and two have been heard calling previously on O'ahu. Hawai'i had no naturalized frogs before various Eleutherodactylids arrived on non-native plants and flowers. Insect populations are expected to change radically as fast breeding amphibians eat their way through fauna in much the same way the cane toad has eaten its way across Australia. While each individual frog is small, in their native Caribbean islands, the frogs may occur at densities of about 8,000 per acre. Eggs are laid by the hundreds and each frog matures at about eight months leading to rapid population growth. [May 18, 2001] The frogs are believed to have arrived in shipment of greenhouse material a form of controversial dispersal method called "vertebrate rafting" and recently documented in iguanas on storm debris. Previous arrivals by this method in Hawai'i include humans, dogs, cats, mongoose, rats, mice, horses and others. On the Big Island, officials tried spraying a concentrated form of caffeine to kill frogs, claiming "close to 100 percent knock-down success with one application." [February 17, 2001] Meanwhile "state researchers have developed a process that uses hot water... [to] drench plants and their pots in 113-degree water for three minutes. The plant is then cooled with water at a lower temperature... the heat treatment will help insure the tree frogs aren't being spread from state nurseries to remote areas where reforestation efforts are underway." [July 18, 2001, all from The Honolulu Advertiser, from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month.

And thanks to Ray Boldt, Carla and Miguel Ochoa, Ernie Liner, Marty Marcus, and Jack Schoenfelder for parts and pieces saved for next month or read and enjoyed but impossible to summarize. I really like cartoons and they find a magnetic home here, but syndication rights make them impossible to duplicate here. Also, keep those herpetological cards coming! I think I have one each of just about every herp post card out there. When we moved, Marco Mendez put them in a photo archive box and enjoyed reading about herps from Amsterdam to Zimbabwe. You can contribute, too. Send whole pages of newspapers and magazines. Make sure the date/publication slug appears on the pages (or write it on). Put your name on each piece. Mail to me. Read all about the Wyoming dinosaur adventures at - - and watch my website - - for news from Ferndale.

October 2001

Day by Day Herpetology

September 14, 2001 More than 3,000 villagers in Langkawi are living in fear as scores of crocodiles have made their way into the river flowing through the village. The reptiles had escaped into the river from a nearby crocodile farm. Singapore Straits Times

The green turtle protection zone along the eastern part of Guangdong is being expanded. The state will also build a turtle hatchery, rescue rooms for turtles and an exhibition hall for green turtles and other oceanic animals. The facility will cost about a million U.S. dollars and is expected to open to the public in May of 2002. China Daily (also from P. L. Beltz)

The Federal Aviation Administration permitted an air ambulance to deliver antivenin from San Diego Zoo to a Miami hospital even though no other civilian flights were allowed in the air that day. A 62-year-old man had been bitten by what the Naples, Florida, Daily News described as a rare and deadly Taipan snake. Paramedics with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department's Venom 1 rescue squad said, Of 455 medically significant snakes in the world, this one is at the top of the list. We're talking complete organ and system failure. He was bleeding from his eyes, his mouth, the whites of his eyes were red. The man had only been bitten once before in his 40 years of handling venomous snakes at his business south of Miami. According to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Journal Sentinel, a 33-year-old man was admitted to intensive care at a Milwaukee area hospital. The man has a history of extracting venom from snakes and injecting it in himself to provide himself immunity from snake bite. In this incident, the man and a friend drank some beer and went to clean out the snake cages. First he was bitten on the right forearm by an Indian cobra, then on the left index finger by an Egyptian cobra. His friend said he didn't think the man was handling the snakes properly and called for help. The man and some antivenom he had in the house were rushed to a hospital where he was initially listed in serious condition in the hospital's intensive care unit. A follow-up article in the same publication on September 19 said that he had set up a video camera and recorded the bites when they happened. He subsequently spent several hours paralyzed and unable to speak. While it took less vials of antivenom than usual to counteract the bites, the man's theory that self-injection of venom is not proven by this action regardless of his quotes in the daily paper. The man has no college degree but is described as a really bright guy, by his doctor who also urges no one else to try this unproven technique. He claims not to have a death wish, but to be self- experimenting as a way to provide protection against snakebite in developing countries.

September 15, 2001 Puerto Rican people have protested the state of Hawaii's plan to eradicate coqui frogs accidentally introduced onto the big island in plants. A herpetologist at Hawaii's Bishop Museum pointed out that while he understands how sentimental the coquis are in Puerto Rico, saying that they should not be eradicated in Hawaii is like saying that the bear is the national symbol of Russia, so why not take bears to Puerto Rico? It is feared that the coquis will harm the island ecosystem by eating too many native bugs, and harm the economy by keeping tourists away. Florida Sun-Sentinel (also from Alan Rigerman)

September 17, 2001 One of two remaining companies manufacturing antivenom has gone out of business and the other one says it is not prepared to supply the entire market. Protherics PLC is producing CroFab antivenom from a flock of sheep in Australia. However, it takes about nine months for each sheep to produce the antibodies needed for antivenom production, so ramping up production to meet the increased demand will take some time, according to company officials. Corpus-Christi TX Caller-Times.

Somewhere near Scottsdale, Arizona, is a place called Lizard Acres, which is decorated with nearly 40 giant sculptures of lizards, tortoises and rattlesnakes. The artist said he was trying to use motifs which would bring to mind the native landscape. The sculptures are arrayed along a half-mile pedestrian pathway. Phoenix AZ Business Journal

A 1-year-old Kemp's ridley turtle which washed up on Hilton Head Island beach is being treated for dehydration and anemia at the Charleston Aquarium. People touring the north end of the island found the 9-pound turtle and called officials. Augusta GA Chronicle

September 18, 2001 The National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it will close almost all of Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, to large-mesh gill nets in an effort to save endangered sea turtles. These nets are used by the state's multi-million dollar fall flounder industry. While fishermen are not pleased with the rules, they say that the federal agency's decision could have covered more area or more time, which would have been even worse for them. Sea turtles, as usual, declined comment. Morehead City NC News-Times

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports finding only 196 Wyoming toads just about 90 days after releasing 8,000 toadlets. Chytrid fungus may be a contributing factor to the decline of the toad, described as the most endangered species in North America by the federal agency's amphibian coordinator. Wyoming toads are only found at one lake near Laramie. Sixty-two toads were found a year ago; 492 toads were counted in the fall of 1999. No egg masses have been found in the lake for the past two years, but the toadlets which were released were raised at the Saratoga hatchery from captive adults. Casper WY Tribune

Associate curator of herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences, Joseph Slowinski, died from the bite of a krait while on expedition to Myanmar (Burma) on September 12, 2001. He had been trying to identify the snake after it attacked a field team member, according to the Kansas City Star. The expedition was camped at a remote location in mountainous jungle and a raging monsoon kept rescuers from reaching the camp in time to save his life. It was Dr. Slowinski's eleventh trip to an area where he previously discovered 18 new species of reptiles and amphibians. He was featured twice by National Geographic for his contributions to the herpetology of Myanmar.

September 19, 2001 Officials in Irwin, Pennsylvania, continue their investigation into the death of an 8-year-old girl who was found with the family's 10-foot Burmese python wrapped around her neck. The district attorneys are interviewing hospital staff and family members to find out if criminal negligence may have led to the girl's death. No new legislation banning exotic pets is being considered by the municipality although they are reviewing state and federal law to see if any are applicable under the circumstances. Pittsburg PA Post Gazette

A 9-year-old Victorville, California, girl almost died after being bitten by a Mojave green rattlesnake but has made a complete recovery with proper treatment. She was bitten on her grandmother's property because the snake blended in with the background in the shade of a tree. The child began vomiting, had chest pains and went into shock. Rescuers got their truck stuck on the way to help out, so a rescue helicopter was called in to save her life. Victorville Daily Press

September 20, 2001 A woman in Niitgata Prefecture, Japan purchased ready-made custard pudding in small cups. When a member of her family opened one later in the day, a four-centimeter frog was found. The company does not plan a recall stating that it was an isolated case. Yomiuri Shimbun

Super high tides resulting from an almost new moon and Tropical Storm Gabrielle washed out some turtle nests near Port Royal Plantation, South Carolina, and deposited some live sharks in tide pools. Volunteers are allowed to move nests laid below the spring tide line. Even though some of these nests had once been rescued, they were lost in the extra high tides. Beaufort Gazette

The Press Association of London reports that a pet snake which escaped five weeks ago apparently followed its owner to her workplace, about a mile away from home. The five-foot- long yellow and black Russian rat snake is described as a slippery character at the best of times, by the owner's 15-year-old son.

Special thanks this month to Wes von Papinešu, for sending me a big pile of clippings to my mother's house so that I could write my column 2,000 miles away from home. Next month we will return to our regular multi-contributor style, so please send whole pages with reptile and amphibian stories to me. I'd be very glad to hear from you.

November 2001

Spin the `sauga

Cincinnati's WCPO-9 television station reported: "The Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, a rare, poisonous [sic] species with an affinity for the banks of Southern Illinois' Carlyle Lake, could use a good public relations agent and some protection, state and federal environmental officials say. The snake's bad image bears some of the blame for resistance to a $129,000 management plan for the massasauga, said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps has proposed spending part of that sum on a public relations makeover for the endangered species... to protect the snake, which is listed among Illinois' endangered species and is a candidate for the federal endangered species list. Concern for the snakes has been blamed for holding up construction of the Kaskaskia Lodge, a $10 million resort planned for the lake's south shore... Road signs urging motorists to `please brake for snakes' have sprouted in the area... The snakes, though poisonous [sic], are seldom encountered, said ... a natural resource specialist. `They're very hard to see,' he said. `They're very reclusive. They're very docile. Normally, unless you were really trying to kill or attempting to pick it up with your bare hands, these little guys will not bite.' The corps' plan would require studies before new construction can begin in undeveloped areas at the lake. Areas targeted for development will be surveyed over several days in April when the snakes emerge from hibernation. If snakes are found, the plan says, `alternate construction/development sites will be evaluated or appropriate conservation measures will be taken.'" [August 16, 2001 from the wire service] Wish I could convince the style book writers to add one memory sentence, "Its poisonous if you're trying to eat it, and venomous if it's trying to eat you."

Count `em while they're still there

The National Park Service and Wildlife Conservation Society have a cooperative agreement to inventory amphibians and reptiles at ten national park sites in the Northeastern U.S. from Y2000 - Y2002. The broad goals are to inventory and record 90% of the herpetofauna currently estimated to occur at each site, determine the status of species of management concern (endangered, threatened, special concern & other declining species) and identify critical habitat, and provide a basis for development of a long-term monitoring program. Degreed individuals interested in participating in the project for 2002 should contact either John L. Behler, Department of Herpetology, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, New York 10460-1099.

What about Haast?

The Alamogordo Daily News recently printed this story about the community's annual rattlesnake roundup [in Otero County, N.M.]. In an ironic twist, the event's organizer... was bitten during this year's roundup and required medical attention. Protestors from Animal Protection of New Mexico attended and provided information about rattlesnakes' role in their desert environment. One of the satiric public postings in response to the news article read "And hey, where else can you see the five-time Guiness World Record holder for snake handler get bitten?" [April 26, 2001 from Jim Stuart]

Was the supercroc caiman to gator?

Interesting web article on cooperative feeding in crocodilians: - - [from James N. Stuart]

"Thousands of South American crocodiles are `starving to death or being entombed in mud' as the lakes and marshes where they live are drying up due to irrigation diversions from the Pilcomayo River... Some 10,000 of the remaining endangered Yacares are now critically imperiled with 40 to 50 dying each day. Rather than stopping the water diversions, the Paraguayan government says a `massive cull' of the larger reptiles, whose hides are used for leather, is needed to `save the rest.'" [GreenLines, Friday, August 17, 2001, Issue #1447]

The New York Times reports: "In China... while ... imaginary dragons thrive in art and folklore, what could be called the country's only living dragon appears to be in serious trouble. According to a new study, the Chinese alligator - the animal that may have inspired the mythical creatures and is known as tu long, or earth dragon - is barely hanging on in nature. Researchers say fewer than 130 of these animals are left in the wild, though their current habitat in southeastern China can hardly be called wilderness. Once widespread in the lakes and wetlands of the lower Yangtze River Valley, the Chinese alligator, which can reach six feet in length, is now restricted to ponds surrounded by rice paddies and villages. One of the largest and most promising populations consists of 11 stragglers who live in a pond near a video rental shop, farmhouses and a vast expanse of rice paddies." This may be the first crocodilian to go extinct in recorded history. [August 18, 2001, from J.N. Stuart and P.L. Beltz]

Washington, D.C., "Police called animal control after they stopped a reportedly drunk man on the street who was walking his pet caiman, which was wearing a homemade halter and muzzle. An animal control officer impounded the caiman. It is illegal to own a caiman in Washington." [Washington Post, August 16, 2001 from P.L. Beltz]

"Far from their native swamps in the South, roaming alligators are the target of a crackdown in central Wisconsin's Waushara County. Incidents of pet gators wandering away from home prompted the calls for tighter controls in ... a rural community of just more than 1,000 people... [The] Sheriff ... said deputies responded to at least three reports since September of runaway alligators from [a single residence.]" County health officials issued an order to the homeowners "to build a stronger, locked pen, extending two feet below ground to six feet above ground, within 30 days for their four gators. Then the County Board, responding to residents' complaints and a petition signed by 73 people, adopted an amendment Tuesday night adding coldblooded creatures, such as alligators, to the county's animal control laws. Under the old law, the alligators, when caught, were merely returned to the owners who were not held accountable." In line with the existing dog laws, "Under the amended law, people who allow alligators to roam at large could be subject to a fine of $150.50 for a first offense and escalating amounts after that." [The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 17, 2001 from Dreux Watermoelen]

"Check out - - the new site for Dr. Sereno's latest described species." Marco Mendez, November 4, 2001

Turtles win on Grand Banks

"The swordfishing industry has lost its bid to reopen the Atlantic's Grand Banks during the `prime fishing season' pending the outcome of a lawsuit it brought to overturn the closure says Yahoo, AP 8/21. The area, off the southeastern coast of Newfoundland was closed "to protect endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles from fishing lines and hooks." [GreenLines, August 23, 2001]

I guess I do prefer to only think of frogs

The Monitor, of Kampala, Uganda reported on August 16, 2001: The success of the AES Nile Power will depend on whether World Bank, which is bankrolling the project, will reject environmental pressure from Western conservationists... [who] are mounting pressure on the World Bank not to back AES project for a [$500 million/200 MW] dam at Bujagali falls in Jinja... environmentalists have been increasingly questioning the wisdom of major dam project in recent years, saying they are of little benefit to the poor and can cause considerable environmental destruction locally. [However] ...the director of Uganda's Investment Authority told the Guardian Newspaper I recently that the environmentalists are "just crazy". "They think that because the West has spoiled its environment, we shouldn't have power." Ugandans are prepared to sacrifice the beauty spot, which is also a haven for white water rafter's paradise because of the country's chronic need for electricity, she says. "These Americans don't understand this, they just think, 'Oh the frogs, the fish'." [From Wes von Papinešu]

Meanwhile in London, The Guardian reports: Frogs were declared a hindrance to the economic development of east Germany yesterday: [The German] Chancellor blamed them for the soaring cost of a motorway. Because of pressure from ecologists, a significant slice of the cost of the A20 is going on features to protect the amphibians' environment in the Baltic coastal wetlands. "Nowadays building roads is far more than just concreting over a landscape," The Chancellor said during an 11-day tour of east Germany. "I have nothing against frogs, but sometimes the big fuss they cause is quite incredible." [August 16, 2001 from Wes von Papinešu] Is it the frogs or the environmentalists clamoring, Mr. Chancellor?

Giant bullfrogs are on the loose attacking local pets in Langley, British Columbia, according to the Vancouver Sun [August 15, 2001]. "Specifically ... giant American bullfrogs that can weigh up to three kilograms and routinely eat native frog species and young waterfowl. ... one cat was fishing in a pond on the family's half-hectare farm in June when she found out the hard way that bullfrogs are tough customers... The problem is that the American bullfrog is not native to B.C. Numbers of them were brought here from the Eastern United States and Canada in the early 1930s and '40s by a misguided entrepreneur who wanted to serve their legs in restaurants. But Vancouverites' appetites didn't run to cuisses de grenouilles in those days, so the frogs were abandoned to local ponds, where they have been spreading ever since - first throughout the Lower Mainland and now into southern Vancouver Island." The bullfrogs are devastating local wildlife including: "tree frogs, red-legged frogs, northwestern salamanders, endangered Oregon spotted frogs and Pacific water shrews, as well as assorted waterfowl, including ducklings and goslings. In the East, the bullfrog population is kept in check by birds of prey. But here, where herons and hawks weren't accustomed to having them for dinner, they have been allowed to proliferate out of control. It's only recently, she says, that B.C. herons and hawks are starting to realize what a substantial meal they can make... [local residents lose] sleep because of the sound of the frogs croaking. `It sounds like a foghorn.'"

"A large group of scientists now believe that the new chytrid fungus is responsible for the death and decline of amphibians in Africa, South, Central and North America, Europe, Australia and Oceania... According to the University of Georgia's Institute of Ecology, `This is the first wildlife disease to emerge on a global scale that affects an entire class of vertebrates and is associated with mass mortalities, population declines and species extinctions.'" [GreenLines, August 27, 2001]

"In spite of release of 8,000 captive-bred Wyoming toads, surveys indicate that the population of what may be the most endangered species in North America has dropped from 492 in 1999 to 196 says ENS 9/14. The effort to restore the Wyoming toad to the wild may be in trouble as "few of the animals counted were adults" and scientists confirmed that the chytrid fungus, a `disease which has been implicated in amphibian die offs worldwide' was found among the population." [GreenLines, September 26, 2001]

The Xinhua News Agency reports [September 17] that: Farmers in western China have appealed for 5,000 snakes, 20,000 sparrows and 200,000 frogs to fight a swarm of locusts. [The person who calculated the number of] ... locust eaters for farmers in Gulao, near Chongqing, [said] the numbers were calculated carefully to solve the problem without resorting to environmentally unfriendly pesticides. It might sound like a lot of frogs, but they could easily be supplied "if each restaurant in China kills one less frog every day," he said. [Eloise Beltz-Decker who added that " is worth clicking on. I love Snopes."]

Buy `em from Hong Kong

Imail reported on August 15, 2001 that Hong Kong "pet lovers have been bitten by snake craze. Youngsters have fallen in love with the idea of having reptiles as pets and are buying them in surprisingly large numbers. But an expert warned yesterday that reptiles could carry diseases, just like cats and dogs, and urged the government to step up supervision of the importation of these animals. The number of reptiles imported into the SAR in the first seven months of the year totalled 304,571, a huge increase on last year's total of 216,888 and 1999's 177,036, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. The reptiles were mainly lizards, snakes and tortoises, a department spokeswoman said... [The] chief editor of My Pet Magazine, said young people were turning to reptiles because they were easier to keep and did not live as long as dogs and cats. `They also think it's more interesting and trendy to have reptiles as pets, if these pets die or run away, they are easily replaced.' However, some owners let the reptiles go when the novelty wore off, which could be a problem for police and the public, she said."

A "World's Greatest" I could live without

"Ecologist David Suzuki comments on a recent analysis in the journal Science by concluding that in addition to altering the environment by consuming resources at a phenomenal rate, humans have also become the world's greatest evolutionary force... [he] argues that humans now drive evolutionary change - and it's costing us immensely in a number of ways such as agricultural chemicals that result in insects and plants that often develop resistance to a pesticide or herbicide within 10 years of its deployment or antibiotics that create drug resistant super bacteria and viruses." [September 28, 2001, reported by GreenLines]

Everyone needs to know this

An 11-year-old boy became the [Australian] state's first snake bite victim of the season when he was bitten in Melbourne'... The boy had been playing in a pond... when he noticed two fang marks on his calf. He and a friend flagged down a driver, who took the child to a shopping centre where he telephoned his father. The boy was then taken to a medical clinic before being transported to hospital by ambulance. Metropolitan Ambulance Service spokesman ... urged people who tended snake bite victims to contact 000 rather than move someone. "The best thing to do is make sure people remain calm. If possible, we'd urge people to stay where they are and get the ambulance to come to their location," ... The boy was ... in a stable condition at the Hospital. [The Australian Herald-Sun, October 2nd, 2001 from Raymond Hoserr]

In the days since the universe changed

"Volume #2 Issue # 4 (Sunday, September 16, 2001) of HerpDigest has been canceled. This is because most of the week of September 9 was also canceled. We will be back with Volume # 2 Issue # 5 on September 27, 2001. Allan Salzberg, via email" I congratulate Allen for getting back on track, though because his latest tome "Confessions of a TurtleWife," has finally made it to print. It is the "true story of a man a woman and the turtles that threaten to come between them." You can download the first chapter for free at - Paper versions can be ordered through - - for somewhere around $15-20 with shipping.

A sad tale from Pittsburg ends badly for all

An eight-year-old Pittsburgh. PA girl has been critically injured by her family's 10-foot-long Burmese python which twisted itself around her neck. [The mother] found her daughter, on the kitchen floor and pulled the snake off the girl. The mother had been out running an errand. [The child] was not breathing and had no pulse when paramedics arrived, said ... [the] captain of the ambulance service. She is in critical condition at a hospital in Pittsburgh. The family owned five snakes - four pythons and a boa constrictor. [The captain] said the snake had escaped from its pen. "The little girl came across it, began to play with it and the snake restricted around her," he said. Police say it is not illegal to own snakes like the python and no charges have been filed against the girl's parents. [London, U.K. Press Association, August 23, 2001] Two days later, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported: "The parents of an Irwin girl who was strangled by the family's pet Burmese python were arrested yesterday on charges that their recklessness and negligence led to the girl's death." Both the father and his estranged wife were charged. "An autopsy showed the cause of death was compression of her neck and chest. The python, which is called Moe, weighs about 70 pounds and is roughly 6 inches in diameter. It is one of five large and dangerous snakes [in the house.] Somehow, it had opened the lid on its cage during the night." In 1996, the couple lost a 3-month-old daughter. The father "told investigators that she had been sleeping with him when he rolled onto her. It was ruled an accident." Both children are dead. The mother moved to a different town before she was arrested. The father was arrested and in jail on another charge. The snakes are in an undisclosed location. Neither parent was able to make bail and so both are in the county lockup. [Both from Wes von Papinešu]

Thanks to everyone who has contributed

and you'll see more of your contributions in December! Send whole pages of newspaper with reptile and amphibian stories, photos, cartoons and so on to me.

December 2001

A true friend, indeed

"A teen-age girl pulled her best friend to safety after an alligator attack that left the friend with a damaged arm... she is recovering from surgery... [and said she] doesn't think she would have been able to make it to shore without her friend's help." The girl added that her friend "saw his tail whipping around in the water and she told me she thought to herself she couldn't let me die." Her friend was right next to her during the attack and both heard the girl's arm bones snap while the alligator was spinning her around in the water. Both girls are 14-years old and were with some other children floating on boogie boards in Florida's alligator infested Little Lake Conway. The other children fled for safety on the shore, leaving the two girls to come to shore on one boogie board - followed by the alligator. Two alligators were killed by the game commission after the attack. [August 20, 2001: Jefferson City, Missouri Star Tribune from Vicky Elwood; Daytona Beach News-Journal from Bill Burnett and the Miami Herald from Alan Rigerman; August 21, Chicago Tribune from Ray Boldt]

It was destined to happen someday

Agents from the Hawai'ian Attorney General's Office and Honolulu police officers recovered a 7-foot-long boa constrictor and illegal sea creatures at a home in Wahiawa, Central Oahu. Captured were exotic coral, sea anemones, clams and other gastropods not native to Hawai'i. All the illegal animals were turned over to the state Department of Agriculture. The 29-year-old man who lived there was arrested on suspicion of committing two misdemeanor counts of possessing the snake and the illegal invertebrates. He was released pending investigation. The invertebrates will end up in the Aquarium and the snake will be shipped to the mainland. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 30, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

It's raining cans and frogs!

Meteorologist Tom Skilling answered an "Ask Tom Why" about proverbial rains of frogs: "While sounding almost biblical in nature, the `raining' of objects such as frogs and fish is well- documented. A 1930 issue of Nature magazine even reported that an ice-encrusted turtle fell out of a severe hailstorm near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Rains of fish and frogs are the result of tornados or waterspouts passing over shallow ponds or creeks, sucking up the creatures and carrying them aloft into the thunderstorm before returning them to Earth when the funnel or thunderstorm updrafts weaken." Inanimately, cans of soda were flipped nearly 100 miles after being ripped from their bottling plant by a tornado in 1995. [Chicago Tribune, August 20, 2001 from Ray Boldt]

Solar powered lizards

This is one of those stories that makes you wonder about biology graduate advisors. It has been known for years that many reptiles have temperature-dependent sex ratio changes. Some snakes and crocodiles build nests which regulate temperature; turtles pick their spot based on sun angle and duration of insolation. Now (wow): "Lizards might be able to control the sex of their offspring by getting more or less sun and regulating the temperature during gestation, says an Australian study." [USA Today, August 16, 2001 from Ms. Vicky Elwood]

Disoriented turtles

Baby turtles along Volusia County beaches are still getting disoriented by glow from house and car lights even after years of effort by residents and businesses. In 2000, 18 nests of the 245 total nests found were disoriented by lights compared with 20 nests of only 145 nests found in 2001. Officials speculate that "urban glow" a net-effect sky light is now more responsible for disorientation than individual lights from separate houses. [Daytona Beach, Florida News- Journal, August 18, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

Most widely distributed?

An article from the "Visitor's Guide to the National Parks and Preserves of South Florida," Volume 12, Number 2, 2001 published by the U.S. Department of the Interior claims that the southeast Asian Brahminy blind snake (R. braminus) "has the greatest range of any other snake on earth" because it has been shipped worldwide in potted plants. Since they eat the eggs of ants and termites they can find food just about anywhere. They are also parthenogenetic and do not need males to reproduce - all their offspring are genetic copies of the parent. Most amazing of all, they can either lay eggs or bear live young. The article also says that Burmese pythons of various sizes have been collected in the National Parks in South Florida leading researchers to state that there is an established population down there somewhere. [from new contributor William A. Black]

Sounds like ReptileFest

A great time was had by all New Zealand Herp Society Members at the Annual Taranaki Rhododendron Festival. While some form of the mother tongue is still spoken out there down under, seems as though spelling has come from the Elizabethan linguistic tradition. Comments in the visitor book included: "Loved the Geckoes." "Great work with Lizzards." "Thoroughly enjoyed the garden Ghekos." "Lovely Lizads." And my favorite: "I loved the Gekcos." [MOKO, Summer 2000]


Forty-nine pythons and monitor lizards were discovered in an American tourist's suitcase while he was traveling on a French train headed for Germany. All the animals were protected and came from Indonesia prior to being confiscated by authorities. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, July 21, 2001 from Bill Burnett] More than 6,500 endangered sea turtle eggs and hundreds of turtle shells were found on a bus near Acapulco, Mexico by inspectors for the federal environmental prosecutor's office said the contraband was found during a search and three men were arrested. [Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, July 29, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

Venom and antivenin

A 17-year-old Floridian was taken to hospital after he picked up a one-foot-long Eastern pygmy rattlesnake which he saw on the ground near his Jacuzzi. After he cut off the snake's head, a neighbor called help and Venom One responded. [The Miami Herald, September 7, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

In Quincy, Illinois, a man was airlifted to the hospital after "impaling himself on the venom- filled fangs of a dead timber rattlesnake while mounting it on a display board. [Chicago Reader, August 24, 2001 from Ray Boldt]

Snake antivenin was in short supply in prime rattlesnake states in the summer of 2001. Nevada, Utah and Arizona hospitals and poison control centers reported they were nearly out of the lifesaving fluids. The old antivenin was made by Wyeth Ayerst Laboratories in Pennsylvania; newer antivenin "CroFab" is being made by Protherics PLC which can't keep up with demand. They claim they never expected to have the entire market share so soon after beginning production. [Albuquerque Journal, August 25, 2001 from Jim Stuart]

A 43-year old man was trying to push an Eastern diamondback snake away from his car by hitting it with a stick when the snake bit him on his left hand. He killed the snake, wrapped up his finger and drove to his mother's house. His sister (a retired nurse) went after the bite with a sewing needle and he dropped to the floor when she wasn't looking. He was incoherent and so they put him in the car and took him to the hospital where he was treated and listed in stable condition. [Marion Star-Banner, September 2, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

Don't hold back, Cap'n!

Several news stories have come in about "Venom One," a unit of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department. Since it was founded in 1998, more than 300 calls for help have come in from much of the northern hemisphere including the Caribbean and Canada. Captain Al Cruz heads the unit which is funded by grants for which Captain Cruz applied. He says he gets so many calls because "there are some people [out there] who are flat-out idiots." A leading toxicologist at Miami's poison control center translates "about two-thirds of our patients are drunk males; we have a saying around here: `Snake bites are often the reaction of ethanol and testosterone.'" Many victims try do-it-yourself treatment first; a big mistake. Don't suck out the venom or you may land in the hospital yourself. No tourniquets, no cutting and no electric current, added the toxicologist who says he's seen "dozens of patients... with third-degree burns on top of a snake bite. Many had hooked themselves up to car batteries." [The Miami Herald, July 18, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

Komo-phobia is a good thing

Formerly only concerned by the fangs of gossip columnists, several Hollywood personalities have been bitten, attacked or frightened (poor things!) by animals in the past year. In addition to the Komodo munch-on-Sharon-Stone's-husband much reported in the news, celebrities have been attacked by polar bears, parrots and capuchin monkeys. [Talk Magazine, September 2001 from Alan Rigerman] It was a slow news world back then.

Smart frogs?

A reader's letter to The Miami Herald: "... I had the same problem with frogs in my pool. I was told to buy floating alligator heads. I couldn't find them anywhere, so I ... bought five rubber snakes... and laid them around the pool patio - mostly on the sides facing the yard. I have not had a frog since! I don't know how smart frogs are, so I move the snakes around every now and then just to fool the little amphibians. It's a cheap fix, and it works." [October 17, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

Asp not what wildlife can do for you

Contortrostatin, a protein found in the venom of copperheads, has been found to limit the division of malignant human breast cancer cells. [AARP Bulletin, February 2001 from Jack Schoenfelder]

A Spanish translator was required when Chicago Police responded to a report of a vicious animal and found a 6-foot-long albino python slithering down a hallway in Albany Park. The police had expected a Rottweiler or pit bull. They corralled the python with a box, a broom, tape and the translator. One officer said, "They don't teach you stuff like this in the police academy," according to the Chicago Tribune [August 28, 2001 from Ray Boldt].

Thinking of snakes, Cleopatra and such, Ms. Britney Spears performed with a large albino snake even though PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) had pleaded with her not to take the snake on stage. [The Miami Herald, September 8, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

This reminds me of the famous pregnant Natasha Kinsky photo with the large snake which was on the cover of Photo Magazine so long ago. A print of the photo was on display in a Canterbury frame shop with the notice: "This photo was taken without cruelty to animals; Natasha is stuffed."

But what we can do for wildlife

Ten thousand leopard frogs a year used to die on US 441 near Gainesville, Florida; this year not a single one died. Biologists say it's the success story of their Paynes Prairie Wildlife Barrier Project. Four new passages were built under the highway and three-foot high concrete walls were placed on either side of the road. Treefrogs, however, can still climb the overhanging vegetation, plop over the barrier and get flattened. Tree trimming is planned to put a stop to that. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 4, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

Kemp's Ridley turtles are snacking from a "salad bar" of snagged vegetation on water intakes at the Florida Power's Crystal River nuclear power plant. Sick or injured turtles can get stuck against the rack and killed, so the power plant has stationed monitors to watch for turtles in the intakes. [The Miami Herald, June 18, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

Environmental Defense reports that Alabama has opened a mitigation bank for gopher tortoises. The Mobile Water Commissioners set aside 220 acres, developers are contributing money and tortoises and help is underway for low income landowners to participate in the open space initiative. [undated, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

A Hawai'ian couple last in the news for self-published research linking cancer to wearing bras has established "CHIRP," the Coqui Hawaiian Integration and Re-education Project." They hope to persuade local people that coqui frogs are musical, not noisy. [Honolulu Advertiser, September 10, 2001 from Ms. G.E. Chow] You can hear the coqui on -

Clutch Cargo?

"The plight of 20 cold-blooded sea turtles stirred the warm hearts of dozens of people over the weekend, ensuring that the little loggerheads will soon be back in the ocean off South Florida where they belong. Stumped by commercial airline policies that ban reptiles from the passenger areas... dozens of plane owners [hearing of their plight] offered to fly the animals home..." The story started when a former science teacher scooped up the storm-tossed eggs and took 27 home to Columbus, Ohio. Twenty-four of the 27 hatched. She turned them over to the Zoo and 20 survived for the flight home and release. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 28, 2001 from Alan Rigerman] "None of the 2.5-inch flapping reptiles exploded in mid-air, as one major airline representative had feared when denying the turtles access to a coach seat," reported The Miami Herald and The Chicago Tribune [August 29, 2001 from Alan Rigerman and Ray Boldt] The turtles were not permitted to travel in cargo because they are evidence in a federal case and must remain in official custody, according to the Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial [August 25, 2001 from Bill Burnett] which added that the animals also need to be released in South Florida waters to survive. How they will remain in custody once they were released into the wild was not explained. And there's no word yet on the federal charges including Lacey Act violations which may or may not be filed against the former teacher.

ESA-entially useless?

The Pentagon is attempting to influence Congress to rewrite the Endangered Species Act [ESA] to exempt the military from restrictions protecting sea turtles, desert tortoises and other rare and endangered animals at military reservations around the U.S. [Chicago Tribune, August 23, 2001 from Ray Boldt]

On August, 29, the Interior Department agreed to list 29 plants and animals under the ESA including the Mississippi gopher frog, Southern California mountain yellow-legged frog and the Chiricahua leopard frog. Congress, however, still controls the agency's purse-strings and may reduce the budget for ESA protection and study even further. [MSNBC, August 29, 2001 from Jim Stuart and Chicago Tribune, August 30, 2001 from Ray Boldt]

Shocking, just shocking!

"A hawk dropped a snake onto a power line, sparking a small brush fire that briefly threatened expensive homes northwest of Los Angeles. The 3-foot gopher snake was found headless and coiled around the top of a power pole." [Leesburg Daily-Commercial, June 28, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

"The Naples Daily News told its readers... that the newspaper was late because of a frog. A wayward frog shorted-circuited switching equipment inside a transformer at the paper. It shut down electricity to the computers and caused a two-hour delay in the press run" according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. [July 17, 2001 from Alan Rigerman and Bill Burnett]

Too much Gator-Aide?

A two-headed crocodile was born in Thailand. It has four forelimbs and two torsos are joined just above the vent and tail. [Time Magazine, July 9, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

A four-foot long, 80 pound American alligator was captured in Buffalo, New York by animal control officers. Its well fed condition and location leads authorities to believe that it was a captured animal set free or lost by its owner. The week before, a 2-foot-long spectacled caiman was captured in Harlem Meer in Central Park, New York City. [Bucyrus, Ohio Telegraph- Forum, June 28, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

A 9-month-old dog was killed by an alligator near West Palm Beach while it was walking along the water's edge. A 10-foot gator was being sought by authorities. [Big Lake Sunday News, July 8, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

The United Parcel Service is upset that someone lied about the contents of a box which was shipped overnight to New York City. It contained an unhappy 5-foot long alligator bound up in duct tape. UPS prohibits the shipment of live animals. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 5, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

An Australian blue heeler dog defended its 85-year-old owner from an alligator attack, receiving numerous puncture wounds until help arrived a hour later. The lady had fallen in her yard and was unable to rise, due to her injuries. [The Miami Herald, July 27, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

"A 2-year-old girl was found dead... police believe she may have been killed by an alligator [in Winter Haven, Florida]." The mystery is whether the girl, who had wandered away from her back yard, drowned and then was eaten or the other way around. A 6.5-foot long alligator was trapped and killed anyway. [The Miami Herald, June 25, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

Three men were arrested for killing an 11-foot 3-inch alligator in El Dorado, Arkansas. The size of the animal suggests it either walked up from Louisiana or was in the state before the Arkansas state started a gator stocking program, because it was "a pretty big alligator for Arkansas. As a matter of fact, I think folks in Louisiana would tell you that's a big alligator," according to a spokesman for the state Game and Fish Commission. [Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, June 22, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

A family in Winter Haven, Florida awoke to find a 3-foot alligator in their house one morning. State officials captured the gator which was released. The family suspects the gator got in by slipping through a pet door. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 4, 2001 from Bill Burnett and Alan Rigerman]

Too close for objectivity?

When the former director of the Little Rock Zoo was bitten by a Western diamondback rattlesnake, the city of Little Rock realized it had a big hole in its wild animal laws and dozens of people suggested changes. Prior to Mr. Westbrook's envenomation, the only thing required to keep venomous animals was a letter from the Little Rock Zoo. Mr. Westbrook's letter was signed by... "Mr. Westbrook, Director," according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette [June 27, 2001] September 5th, the same paper reported on a public meeting on "the slippery topic of venomous snakes." As far as I can tell, nothing was resolved or passed at that meeting although the city attorney warned city government to be very specific and make only enforceable ordinances and snake keepers pleaded to keep their pets. [both from Bill Burnett] Meanwhile, in Missouri, a man who "was bitten during a snake-handling ceremony at a local church was in critical condition in ... hospital," according to the Charleston Gazette. He was bitten by a large timber rattlesnake and was taken by ambulance, was unconscious and under heavy medication. The man had a history of strokes and heart attacks. [August 16, 2001 from Vicky Elwood]

Thanks to everyone whose contribution is acknowledged above

and also to: Mrs. P.L. Beltz, Alan Rigerman, Ms. G.E. Chow, Ray Boldt, Bill Burnett, Vicky Elwood, J.N. Stuart & Jennifer Miyashiro, Marty Marcus, Bradford Norman for things I used from other clippings without also seeing that they sent the same story. And the envelope is just about empty now. Seems as though there have been very few reptile stories this fall after a spring and a summer filled with interesting tales. If you see any critter tales, please send them along - California does still get U.S. mail - albeit slowly. Send clippings with date/publication slug still attached and your name on each piece (those pesky little address labels free from all causes are good for this) to me. And, if you needed further incentive, next month you'll be reading "contributed by Wes von Papinešu" after every paragraph if you don't send anything!

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