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

2002 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 16th year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society

January 2002

Two herpetologists views of life at Christmas

I asked some friends for their thoughts on the holiday season. Here are two replies.
"It's great here, peak amphibian season now that the winter rains have arrived. We have Batrachoseps attenuatus and Pseudacris regilla in the back yard and a deafening chorus of the latter in the nearby pasture most recent nights. We also got a Thamnophis sirtalis in the yard on Christmas day. The city park half a mile away (mature Sitka spruce and grand fir) has Ambystoma gracile, Aneides vagrans, Ensatina eschscholtzii, Elgaria coeluria, and Thamnophis elegans. The newts should be out in force now but I haven't been to any ponds this week to look. Apparently it's not hot enough for fence lizards here, but they abound a few miles inland. The locals say Crotalus turns up sometimes in the hills, but I've never seen one yet despite a lot of field time not far from here over the years. Ken Mierzwa"
"Let's see now: Christmas Eve at the Banja Luka Metal Factory compound, downtown Republik of Serbska, Bosnia. It's 24 December 5.30 p.m., so lets dress for the festive occasion shall we? Underwear, long and short; two pairs of socks; combat pants; wind pants; winter Gortex boots; combat shirt; Gortex Jacket; body armour; combat vest; beret and toque; gloves; pistol and extra ammo; radio, bayonet; two pressure bandages; flashlight; lightstick, two parachute flares, two knives (that explains the 'two' bandages mentioned previously); grenade (Nope, don't need that. I'm too bundled up to throw anything) and a big stick to ward off the dog packs.

If Santa wants into the camp tonight, he'd better have his pass and papers in order! The staff officers, mainly Canadian but with a volunteer group of Brits, Dutch, American and New Zealanders, replaced the Canadian troops on sentry duty last night from 5.30 p.m. to 0600 this a.m. to allow them to have a good Xmas evening and a late lie-in (at the time we thought that this was a very good idea), and just in time for it to reach -17C degrees (2 F) last night! In Bavaria to our North, it was the coldest night recorded on Christmas Eve since 1870!

My position, along with a New Zealander and a Brit was guarding the VIP approach on the main road. Basically, the 'road sentry' (also known as 'the lamb') stands for half an hour in the middle of the road under a huge searchlight to ensure that approaching motorists know that there is a checkpoint camouflaged somewhere about. The other two, shivering in a sandbagged snow castle nearby, try to pretend that they're giving you protective cover! After two hours, somebody replaces you for a half hour rest in the warm with tea. And then, back to work, continue as needed.

Xmas Eve dinner is the traditional UK Army bag lunch out here, mystery meat sandwich, soft drink, a by-now frozen orange, Mars Bar, cookies, and look, a piece of frozen fruit cake! But, the 12 hours or so passed without significant incident and we watched the sun come up on a crystal clear sky, and then, just in time for breakfast - big, fat snowflakes! The cooks had a hot breakfast on for us and then we participated in the British Army tradition of 'Gunfire,' walking around the soldier's billets waking them with a cheery 'Merry Christmas' and a mug with tea/coffee spiced with rum/whiskey or whatever it is that is the preference of the morning. (It comes from the tradition of serving the troops rum before a battle - and during the Crimean war, they ran out of rum and the officer's used their own stocks of other spirits to fortify the troops for a Christmas Day attack . so much for 'Peace on Earth' eh?)

After being up for 28 hours, this could make for a very long Christmas day! Still, since it was 4C degrees (39 F) in my trailer at 8 AM, I feel no rush to go to bed right now. The night, though cold (very -so) passed quietly, and since most of us spent significant time quiet in individual guard positions, it left us a lot of time for thinking about those of you at home and those of you that I have never met except by e-mail and telephone; and made us appreciate two things all the more. The blessing that we have living in modern societies with all the benefits of peace, prosperity and the love of family; and; The efforts of our young troopers that come over here, from a multitude of places in Canada and elsewhere, far from their own families to do this job day-in, day-out for six months. I just wanted to take an opportunity from the land of Bos to wish everybody a happy festive season and my very best wishes for the New Year! Cheers all, and hugs and kisses for all (as appropriate to gender and taste). Wes"
For those new to this column, Wes von Papinešu is a major contributor to my efforts and is serving as a member of Canadian peace keeping forces in Bosnia.

Mitey bad day there

Associated Press reports: "West Haven, Connecticut - A man was bitten by his pet cobra while picking mites off the poisonous [sic] snake. The 25-year-old man drove himself to a nearby hospital after being bitten on the thumb Monday. He was later transported to Jacobi Medical Center in New York, a regional center for the treatment of snake bites. The hospital works with the Bronx Zoo, which stocks a variety of snake antivenoms. The man's vital signs were beginning to slide when he reached New York and he could have died had he not received antivenom. Connecticut law forbids individuals from owning venomous snakes. The Asian cobra was confiscated and the man could face state and federal charges." [Albuquerque Journal, December 19, 2001 from Jim Stuart]

10,000 turtles found in largest Hong Kong seizure

About 10,000 live turtles kept in four 20-foot containers on board an incoming river trade vessel from Macau were seized at a cargo working area in Hong Kong. It is estimated that the seizure is worth over $3.2 million and it is the largest seizure of live turtles in Hong Kong. On the same day, the confiscated turtles were transferred to Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden for identification and temporary holding. ["From the Asian Turtle Crisis list December 13, 2001. It's sobering to think how many of these shipments must go through without being discovered or stopped... these turtles were probably bound for food markets, or possibly traditional pharmacies. James Harding"]

Gopher broke?

"The last known population of some 100 Mississippi gopher frogs has been given Endangered Species Act protection in a last ditch effort to save the species from extinction says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on December 4. Once found in lower coastal plain longleaf pine forests from Louisiana to Alabama, the only breeding pond in Mississippi's DeSoto National Forest is in `close proximity to a proposed 4,600 acre residential development.' Because of its very small numbers the "species is extremely vulnerable to natural processes such as droughts and floods and to the loss, damage and fragmentation of its habitat." [GreenLines #1520, December 5, 2001 from Karen Furnweger]

A dog day afternoon

An 18-foot, 200-pound Burmese python ate his owner's "other pet, a 30-pound pit bull" in Merced, California. The owner has summoned authorities because he feared the pit bull was dognapped, but the bulge in the snake's midsection and its new 230-pound weight showed otherwise. The snake is usually confined to "a backyard pen... animal control officers are investigating whether owning the gian python violates city codes." [ABC News online, October 19, 2001 from new contributor Donna Moe]

Community fair spawns urban legend

A giant snake is supposed to have escaped from a car with Iowa plates in a Washington State park. The car belonged to a carnival employee working at the community fair. The man "walked over to the Herpetological Society's booth, and told us he had brought a nine-foot boa constrictor with him, that it had been asleep in the car, but was not in any type of a container... left a car window partly open and when he returned to the car, the snake was gone." Marty Marcus and the man looked for days. It was never found. Now the story is spreading; the snake is reported to be a 19-foot python. If the animal ever existed and escaped at the park, local herpetologists point out that it would get too cold to overwinter if it wasn't taken by a bear, cougar or stray dog as it got sluggish. The story, however, will probably live forever. [Key Peninsula News, October 2001]

Cool website

Check out Jim Harding asks for appreciate feedback on the site, which is still in development.

Caution - Very unpleasant reading follows

Associated Press reports: "Albany, N.Y.police are questioning an eight-year-old boy in the beating death of a pet turtle. Lisa Johnson had the pet turtle -- Myrtle -- for 32 years. She said someone took the turtle out of the swimming pool in her back yard on Sunday and beat it to death with a brick. Johnson said she received the turtle when she was seven. ''Myrtle was my first pet, I got her when I was in the second grade, she has always been there. She's a member of my family,'' Johnson said. Albany police are investigating and said the eight-year-old could be charged with a felony if he was responsible. The law to toughen penalties for animal cruelty was passed last year, making it a felony to kill someone's animal. [Athens Banner Herald, December 23, 2001 from Wes von Papinešu]

Save my snake!

"A snake owner refused to abandon his blazing home - because he didn't want to leave his pet python! [The 42-year-old man] told fire crews he couldn't leave the 9-foot-long Burmese python as she had just eaten a chicken and was in a bad mood. [The man] was treated for smoke inhalation after the blaze was put out." [Sunday People, London, UK, December 22, 2001 from Desiree Wong]

Honey, I found another shrunken herp!

In a case of science imitating science, the same researcher who found the world's tiniest frog has now announced finding the world's tiniest lizard on a remote Caribbean Island. The biologists found the small, brown lizard on the first day of a trip to the remote island to look for new species. S. Blair Hedges of Pennsylvania State University said that after finding both these tiny island herps, "People probably think I have a little box in the lab that shrinks animals." [2001: December 3, USA Today, from Alan Rigerman and Bill Burnett; December 3, Science News from J.N. Stuart]


"He roamed the Earth 110 million years ago, grew to the length of a city bus and ate dinosaurs for breakfast," reports the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County advertising the only west coast show of "Super Croc," really named Sarchosuchus imperator by Paul Sereno. Found in Niger, Africa, when alive Sarchosuchus weighed in at 17,500 pounds and ate 20 to 30 foot long food items with impunity. Modern crocodiles are said to be able to eat up to 20 percent of their body weight at one time. This permits them to not eat anything for a long time. We saw the scale model at the sculptor's studio in Colorado this summer. Imagine a yellow school bus laying on its side and you would have the box to contain supercroc. [2001: October 25 The Houma, Louisiana Courier from Ernie Liner; October 26 USA Today and Arkansas Democrat- Gazette from Bill Burnett and The Chicago Tribune from Mrs. P.L. Beltz; October 28 Albuquerque Journal from J.N. Stuart] The Tribune suggested that "It's lucky for Steve Irwin, television's intrepid crocodile hunter; that the `Super Croc' fossil... has been extinct for millions of years."

Bad year for strandings

The Boston Herald reports: "Another four rare turtles washed up on Cape Cod beaches yesterday, raising this year's strandings of Kemp's ridley turtles to 86... New England Aquarium spokeswoman... said that of 39 rescued ridley turtles being treated there, 16 were boxed up yesterday and sent by Delta Airlines priority parcel service to Florida's Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, the Clearwater Aquarium, and Tampa's Florida Aquarium. Experts will then release them into their normal winter range in the Gulf of Mexico." [December 21, 2001 from Wes von Papinešu]

Where the baby turtles go

In numbers that totally blow my mind, from 1986 to 2000, the U.S. baby turtle industry which takes eggs from the wild, hatches them and sells them overseas for pets has never exported less than 3.7 million turtles. The source is the Houma, Louisiana Courier, October 21, 2001 from Ernie Liner
Number of FarmersYearRound Number in Millions Exported
251986 3.7
241987 4.7
281988 4.1
281989 4.4
301990 4.8
341991 3.6
371992 5.0
401993 5.2
421994 6.9
451995 5.8
481996 8.4
541997 7.5
571998 8.6

Realize, of course, that if these turtles had been placed back in the wild from which their eggs came, that many more American children could see turtles as wild animals in the wild. Also recall that American red-eared sliders which constitute most if not all of these eggs are becoming a world-wide menace to the habitat of other places as they dine and slime their way into European and Asian rivers and ponds.

Thanks to every contributor this month

and to Ms. G.E. Chow, Alan Rigerman, Bill Burnett, Ernie Liner and others who've sent things I'm going to use next month. You can contribute too! Send whole pages of newspaper (saves all that cutting and taping of the name/date slug back on) and put your name on each piece (either by scrawling or use those give-away address labels every charity showers us with at holiday time) and mail to me.

February 2002

Burmese kills Colorado man

A Colorado man died of asphyxiation caused by his 11-foot long, 43-pound female Burmese python, according to the Arapahoe County Coroner's autopsy report. The man had been warned by authorities to get rid of a snake which was "too large" in 1998. His girlfriend and her cousin were in the home when the man was strangled. The cousin saw the man with the snake around his shoulders, then it tightened its grip around the man's neck. The women tried to pull the snake off, and followed all instructions given by 911 but they were unable to stop the snake from constricting the man to death. "He was bleeding from his nose and mouth... We thought it was our fault at first," said the girlfriend, and added "Everybody was blaming us, saying we didn't do more. We did everything we could." Keeping a snake that size is illegal in the state of Colorado - except at the zoo. [Denver Post, February 12 and 13, 2002 from S.L. Barten and Wes von Papinešu]

Not her usual squeeze?

A woman in Norfolk, England offered to feed her boyfriend's python (which he had named for her), but the 15-foot snake grabbed her and began to constrict her leg. She dragged herself to the door where someone saw her and called for rescue. "[The snake] dropped the bird I was feeding her with so I went to pick it up for her, but I think she got hold of my leg by mistake. I was shocked at how quickly it happened and I could see the blood dripping down my leg," the woman said. The incident has led to a review of the effectiveness of laws governing exotic pets and authorities have found that only 39 people in the region had bothered to get the permits. The snake was being kept in a 6x3 foot enclosure, heated and lit, but a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals inspector called the circumstances "less than ideal." The man went out and bought another 10-foot python after the 15-footer was taken to an animal shelter by authorities. His girlfriend said they're going to buy a bigger cage for the new snake. [Eastern Daily Press, Norfolk United Kingdom, January 29, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Hot tip?

A 5-foot iguana bit off the tip of a 14-year-old boy's finger as he was playing with his new pet in the family backyard. He had purchased the reptile the day before. Believing that the iguana may have swallowed the digit tip, police shot and killed it and the firefighters gutted it, but no finger was found. The rescuers then put on thermal imaging gear and found the finger tip lying in the dirt and sent it to the hospital where surgeons waited to sew it back on. [2002: The Miami Herald, January 16 and the Fort Lauderdale, Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 15 - Wes von Papinešu, Alan Rigerman and Bill Burnett's mom]

Scavengers or killers?

"On January 16, police officers entered the apartment of ... [a 42-year-old man], of Newark, Delaware, and found seven Nile monitor lizards feeding on his corpse. An autopsy proved inconclusive as to whether the monitors, ranging up to six feet long, had killed their owner." [The New York Times, February 12, 2002 from J.N. Stuart and Wes von Papinešu] The debate immediately started online and in the press among lizard keepers, some saying the animals must have just found the owner deceased and being hungry began eating. Which all just begs the question of why the monitors were loose in the first place.

Iguana on vacation?

"A 3-foot iguana was captured... by a maintenance employee at the Turtle Bay Hilton Golf and Tennis Resort in Kahuku, Hawai'i... Officials could not say whether the lizard was wild or had been a pet... [while] iguanas may have established a presence in and around Waimanalo, it is [still] rare to find one in the wild... It is illegal to possess or transport an iguana in Hawai'i." [The Honolulu Advertiser, January 3, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Breeding reptiles and amphibians

A Georgia frog farmer who has studied frog farms in 31 other countries has developed a system which he says will grow a bullfrog to an edible half pound, or so, in just 180 days. In the wild it can take two or three years for a frog to reach this size. The farmer separates all the frogs, so they don't each other, and feeds them frog pellets using techniques he learned overseas as well as methods he developed himself. Usually frogs only eat live food. You can see his operation and read more about it at [Bucyrus, Ohio Telegraph-Forum, June 19, 2001 from Bill Burnett] A company based in Montevallo Alabama breeds lizards in a hot, humid nursery surrounded by hundreds of open-air pens. The owner is a 57-year-old former physics teacher, travels and collects breeding stocks which his wife (a nurse) helps take care of in their facility. [Houma, Louisiana Courier, June 26, 2001 from Ernie Liner]

Texas-style Turkey

"The self-styled `Texas Snakeman,' crawled into a sleeping bag containing 109 rattlesnakes to set a new record. `I would have gone higher, but we ran out of snakes,' [he said]... he's been receiving calls from Europe and Japan to put on snake-handling demonstrations and stunts. `I'm ready to do what I do almost any time,' he claims, `I'm like lunchmeat - I'm always ready." [Parade Magazine, December 30, 2001 from Ray Boldt]

Like, I'm so scared...

"No one is safe! Leaping turtles invade US. Snapping reptiles chomp you where it hurts!" The accompanying photo shows two sea turtles (amateurishly clipped by some computer program from a picture where they were swimming) apparently biting a person (possibly female) in a couple of painful places. Inside the text reads, "In a nightmare scenario long dismissed by experts as unlikely, hordes of leaping, snapping turtles with powerful jaws have scuttled north out of the jungles of Panama and Mexico into Souther California and Texas, endangering anyone and everyone in their path as they follow their instinct to attack their prey in the most tender and vulnerable of places..." Another photo shows people "run for their lives" followed by more cut- and-paste sea turtles. [Weekly World News (who else?), December 18, 2001 from Ray Boldt]


"A Chongwe man who picked eggs from a bush thinking they were a guinea fowl's and put them under a brooding chicken, was shocked when they hatched six tortoises." [The Times of Zambia, February 1, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu] The tortoises will be released in appropriate habitat.

Turtle update

For an update on the thousands of turtles confiscated in Hong Kong and being cared for in Florida, click on [Allen Salzberg,]

Best Herp Websites Wanted

"Tim Halliday and I are issuing a new edition of our Encyclopedia first published in the UK in 1986. I am now completing an expanded bibliography and wish to include the addresses of the best herp web sites. I am not in tune with most of these and certainly cannot judge which are best. I would very much appreciate your opinions (and the relevant addresses). Thanks very much for your help. Kraig Adler, Professor of Biology and Vice Provost for Life Sciences, Cornell University, W339 Seeley G. Mudd Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853-2702.

Any ideas?

"I am writing you regarding the World Congress of Herpetology [WCH]. As you know the Fourth World Congress of Herpetology [4WCH] was held Last December in Sri Lanka. During the business meeting several people voiced an interest in having the Fifth World Congress [5WCH] in the New World. To date, the previous four congresses have been held in Europe (twice), Australia, and Asia. The main problem with having the 5WCH in the New World is that no local committee has been formed or submitted a formal bid to host the meeting. Since returning from the 4WCH I have contacted several people regarding the possibility of holding the 5WCH in North America. These people include all four of the WCH General Secretaries (past and present) as well as other interested parties. So far the reception of this idea has been mixed, and not entirely encouraging... In order to speed up my pursuit of a local committee to submit a formal bid to host the 5WCH, I have created a web site and a discussion forum. The web site: simply contains the WCH Constitution as well as a link to the discussion forum:" Breck Bartholomew

Thanks for the coffee, mon!

After much debate about how to kill the introduced Puerto Rican coqui frog on various Hawaiian islands, it has been determined that the frogs are probably breeding too fast for any form of eradication program to work, according tot he state Department of Agriculture. The frogs can occur in densities up to 10,000 per acre and have been found on 226 Big Island sites (11 in 1998), 41 sites on Maui, 21 on Kaua'i and 20 on O'ahu. [The Honolulu Advertiser, September 28, 2001 from G.E. Chow] The Agriculture Department still plans to try the caffeine sprays previously reported, but local people are forbidden from spraying caffeine - even on their own property. A few years back, we reported that caffeine has amazing powers to linger on in the environment - apparently it's a powerful toxin for small invertebrates, frogs and some fish.

One expensive garter snake

"A transit agency will have to pay $1 million to a contractor for stopping a construction project for 18 days so wildlife officials could investigate the death of a rare snake... work on the Bay Area Rapid Transit extension project near San Francisco International Airport was halted after the dead San Francisco garter snake was found... BART has already spent close to $6 million to comply with environmental laws and has relocated more than 75 snakes." [Albuquerque Journal, October 27, 2001 from J.N. Stuart]

Thanks to everyone listed above

and to Alan Rigerman, Ernie Liner, Ray Boldt, Ms. G.E. Chow, J.N. Stuart, Bill Burnett, Marty Marcus, K.S. Mierzwa, Mrs. P.L. Beltz and everyone else who ever has or ever will send in a clipping for this column. Send whole pages with the name/date and your name on each piece to me.

March, 2002

Could they or couldn't they?

English researchers have found a dinosaur trackway in an Oxfordshire Quarry which shows therapod impressions slowly rambling along, then beginning to run. Their analysis suggests an 18- m.p.h. dash. "Our evidence shows unambiguous evidence of running in this... [1 to 2 metric ton, big meat-eating] animal," according to a Cambridge University paleontologist. The trackway is about 110 feet long and shows the three-toed, two-legged tracks known to be made by relatives of velociraptors and tyrannosaurs. Think "huge chickens" or great legs for a real life hut of Baba Yar. The usual consensus has been that only therapods less than one ton could run. [The Chicago Tribune, January 31, 2002 from Ray Boldt] In contrast, sauropods produced the round track, four-footed, leg and each corner group. The speed for both groups is calculated by considering leg height to hip and track distance. There are some caveats in this technique. The Wyoming trackway photo on my website shows both kinds of tracks.

March, the month of the Croc

CHS member, Paul Sereno, recently emailed me a reminder, "on March 15, we open up the big exhibit "The Science of SuperCroc" at the Museum of Science and Industry until May 30". You can also see Sarcosuchus imperator on the Project Exploration Website and in the January 2002 National Geographic Magazine. The Sun Times described Supercroc, "It was perhaps the largest crocodile to ever roam the earth, as long as a school bus and tough enough to take down a dinosaur." It was about "twice as long and 10 times as heavy as the biggest modern crocodile." Paul told the reporter, "A small sauropod, 20 or 30 feet in length, would have been no problem." The animal was originally discovered and named from small fragments by a French paleontologist in the 1960s. Paul's 2000 Africa expedition unearthed and transported specimens containing about 50 percent of the skeleton -including a complete skull. The next largest crocodile fossil is only 75-million years old, and was found in West Texas. [October 26, 2001 from Marco Mendez] Also, check out the cute little lagertos on the cover of National Wildlife Magazine. [February/March 2002 from Ray Boldt]

Ancient trees at risk?

"The very thought of the North Coast's grand redwood cathedrals winding up like the plagued and dying oak groves of Central California is enough to send shivers up your spine," reports the Eureka Times-Standard. Research that shows that "DNA taken from redwood sprouts growing in Big Sur and at the University of California - Berkeley... proved positive for Phytophtora ramorum spores which cause sudden oak death. Other members of the genus, which is like a brown algae, caused the Irish potato famine... and... [infections in the] Port Orford cedar, a valuable lumber tree." No one knows if the redwoods, ancient trees whose ancestors provided habitat for dinosaurs will succumb to the algae. [January 10, 2002 from K.S. Mierzwa]

New way to steal gators

Sometimes writing this column gets hard because there's nothing "new." Snakes bite, squeeze, slither and escape. Turtles are found, released and relocated. Other than the occasional residential fire, lizards seem to bask harmlessly unless operated on or lost into trees. Frogs are either deformed, disappearing or translocated and too loud. Least newsworthy of all, my "Salamander" file is still only 1/2 inch thick after 15 years. But this one, folks is a new one on me. "State officials charged a Boca Grande [FL] man with forging documents to illegally hunt dozens of alligators... [the] 57 [year-old-man] was charged with 67 felony counts that include trafficking in stolen property, uttering a forged instrument, identity theft and unlawful harvest of alligators." Basically he pretended to be a bunch of people to get gator tags. [Citrus County, Florida Chronicle December 29, 2001 from Alan Rigerman]

Very karmic collapse

A building used as a research center on sea turtles had to be torn down late last year because it was falling into the ocean after years of erosion. But the lead researcher pointed out that taking out the sea wall and the building would permit a dune to rebuild which would probably be used someday by sea turtles to nest. According to the researcher, twenty-five percent of all loggerheads and 35 percent of all green sea turtles on U.S. shores nest along a 20 mile stretch of Florida coastline. [Orlando Sentinel, December 4, 2001, from Alan Rigerman]

Turtle net finds

  • -- and -- Louisiana turtle farms
  • --Salmonella information from the World Health Organization
  • -- Humane Society of the United States
  • -- The Ocean Conservancy

You have to read this

"Econews," journal of the Northcoast Environmental Center [NEC] is back and as good as ever it was before their headquarters in Arcata burned down last summer. If you enjoy humorous writing, original cartoons and environmental issues, subscribe for $20/year. Contact NEC at 575 H Street, Arcata, California 95521. They also publish the bird counts and mention unusual birds sighted on the North Coast.

Be afraid, you're out-of-doors

A writer for The Miami Herald seems to have had a typical snake hunters experience. She wrote, "For about three hours, we slogged... slip[ed]... and clawed our way through dense... looking all around us and slapping mosquitoes. We turned over logs, rocks... and ... debris." They didn't find a snake all day, but that didn't stop the writer's imagination, "It's very unsettling to step off a boat onto a deserted island and realize each time you put your foot down, you might be treading on a deadly rattlesnake." [February 7, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

Do they teach the Lazlo Protocols anywhere?

Firefighters responding to the Aurora, Colorado home where a man was strangled by his pet python tried to put the snake away. One said "The rest of the crew took the patient up the stairs to begin resuscitation. I planned on letting go of the snake, but it got two coils around my arm... It was one of the most powerful things I have ever encountered, like being squeezed by a hydraulic arm. At one point I was laying on top of it, and it was carrying me across the basement floor with no problem. During the struggle, I kept talking to it, saying things like `Stay calm,' but that was more for me than for the snake." The sad part of this story is that the firefighter was alone during this struggle and only got the upper hand when a police officer came down into the basement and discovered the struggle in progress. The firefighter reported only numbness and tingling in his arm and said, "They don't teach you how to deal with this in the Fire Academy. The next time, I think I'll let somebody else have the experience." [The News Star, February 13, 2002 George Patton and Martha Messinger] The Lazlo Protocol for snakes says: (1) never handle a potentially dangerous animal alone. All the other rules and correlaries follow from rule one. Make your 2002 resolution to always follow and teach the Lazlo Protocol for animal handling. Think of how many stories here start out with "A ____ was found after being _____ by a pet _____." Please don't fill in those blanks yourself.

I thought dogs were immune

"A Mexican gray wolf found dead in July apparently died from a rattlesnake bite, according to a necropsy report... The alpha male of the Lupine Pack was found near where the pack was released... there was a large rattlesnake where the wolf was found... the snakebite caused the wolf to suffocate after its throat became blocked." [Albuquerque Journal, September 15, 2001 from J.N. Stuart]

When the world changed before

Right after Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiian "zoo made contingency plans to kills its poisonous [sic] snakes." One wonders why they were keeping venomous animals non-native to their islands in the first place, but the rest of the newspaper story is really about WWII and not about snakes on Hawai'i. [Albuquerque Journal, December 2, 2001 from J.N. Stuart] The only other WWII reptile story I can think of is the accidental moving of the brown tree snake from its original home to Guam. Can anyone think of any others?

A number to remember

Ann Landers [Eureka Times-Standard March 2, 2002] reports on new standardized poison control number 1-800-222-1222. It is supposed to connect you to poison control in all 50 states and be able to access your local assistance from the national center. Write this one down next to your phone if you keep anything venomous, poisonous or dangerous - including plants like Poinsettia and other traditional florals. I haven't yet tried it - but I certainly would if I needed it - and it reminded me to write down the hospital numbers somewhere prominent, too. Take a minute and consider your protocols. Remember the Ides of March.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Ernie Liner and Wes for big, plump envelopes I haven't opened yet. Also thanks to Ms. G.E. Chow, Rob Streit, Ray Boldt, Marty Marcus (cutest envelope of the month), Wes von Papinešu and everyone who helps bring you this column month after month. You can contribute, too. Send whole pages of newspapers and magazines to me. I love decoratedenvelopes - really makes the postal workers notice the new kids in town. Also you can email me and visit my website for scientific name information fornorth American reptiles and amphibians.

April 2002

Loose lizards found in Hawai'i

You knew it would happen one day, but the future is now. The fourth iguana found since New Years 2002 on Oahu was discovered by the owner of two pit bulls. The dogs went crazy night after night and finally their owner saw a 4.5 foot-long iguana in the yard. After what is described as a wild chase, the iguana was locked in a dog kennel and " everyone took turns looking at the largest reptile they'd ever seen, next to Godzilla." [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, March 7, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow] Not even two weeks later, a dead 16.5 inch-long veiled chameleon was found in a Maui field and turned into wild life officials. Speculation abounds. Was the animal a solo release, or was it part of a breeding population? Other animals have been released to breed here so that their descendants could be utilized. Veiled chameleons are even more of a threat to the environment than Jackson's chameleons because the veiled eat insects, plants, small mammals and birds. [The Honolulu Advertiser, March 19, 2002 both from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Iguana live in a subdivision

"Thousands of scaly, spiky, orange-legged reptiles are on the loose and on the lam, breeding and eating their way through the thickets and the gardens of our little paradise. They're destroying plants, eating endangered plant species and some, the spiny tail iguanas, are devouring the eggs and hatchlings of water fowl.." It is speculated the iguanas are former pets, or the offspring of pet trade iguanas. "'They're on the golf course, at the marina, in the median strip, certainly in the botanical garden and even in the preserve,'" said a spokesman for Miami-Dade Parks. More than 100 iguanas are believed to be in residence in the Fairchild Gardens alone. Joe Wasilewski, a Miami herpetologist was quoted "The non-native fauna now outnumber the native fauna. We've been doing fieldwork on it since 1995. It's overwhelming the number of introduced species we come across." [The Miami Herald, February 26, 2002]

Lake Griffiths mystery continues

After four years, researchers are no closer to explaining why more than 400 gators became lethargic, acted strangely and died in Lake Griffiths since 1997. Some biologists feel that toxic algae (Cylindrospermopsis and Microcystis) found in the water are the key. It has been suggested that fish eat the algae, gators eat the fish and so the toxin - or its metabolic effect - is concentrated up the food chain. Autopsies of dead gators have revealed vitamin B ("thiamine") deficiencies and brain lesions. The biggest mystery is why Lake Griffiths, when many lakes around it are subject to similar runoff and impacts. Bass, other sport fish and birds are affected, too, but only at Lake Griffiths. The state legislature has refused to fund more studies. [Orlando Sentinel, December 26, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

Australian Import - Export Business

"A parcel of deadly vipers and rattlesnakes was found in a random mail check at Melbourne's Airmail Transit Centre. The eleven young snakes, each about 45cm long, had been wrapped in socks. The customs declaration on the package claimed it contained a ceramic vase, but a note inside warned: `Danger -- venomous snakes.' The parcel had been sent from Sweden and was addressed to a person care of a bed and breakfast ... When the package was opened ... two of the snakes were dead. The remaining snakes have since been destroyed because of the threat they posed to the environment. At least five of the snakes were rattlesnakes and three were vipers. After the snakes were found on March 8, Customs officers from Sydney and NSW [New South Wales] police undertook a controlled delivery of the parcel, arresting a 26-year-old ... man who allegedly attempted to flee when taking delivery of it... He has been charged with importing without authority under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years' jail and $110,000 fine." [Herald-Sun, NSW, Australia, March 18, 2002 from Raymond Hoser] "... an innocent looking 68-year-old woman ... tried to board a plane at Sydney airport on Sunday ... she immediately raised alarm bells. Each [of seven tubes in her luggage] had a series of holes punched through them. On high alert for terrorism, such devices register to security police like red rags to a bull. But fears turned to curiosity when it was realized they were not bombs. Inside the tubes were four deadly tiger snakes, 91 lizards and three pythons... The native Australian reptiles were suspected of being bound for the black market abroad and valued up to $100,000. Into one cylinder some 44 geckos had been stuffed, as well as a rare rock knobbed-tail gecko, sandstone leaf-tail gecko and a thick-tailed gecko. The other six cylinders contained four tiger snakes, three diamond pythons and another had a further 44 geckos in it...The animals were taken to Taronga Zoo where they were examined and identified. She ... faces fines of $100,000 or ten years in jail... A Taronga Zoo spokesman said the reptiles were being held at the zoo's quarantine centre. It is believed that some of the animals did not survive the ordeal. [Herald-Sun, NSW, Australia, March 12, 2002 from Raymond Hoser]

A tale of two toads

It was the best of times: "Cane toads may be only a year away from Darwin with confirmation that the toxic invader has reached the Top End's Mary River. The discovery at the weekend of a mature toad at the Mary River ranger station upstream from Darwin in Kakadu National Park confirmed they had become established in the river catchment, [a] Frogwatch spokesman ... said. `The toads will come down that river very quickly... They may breed up there this year and then next year there'll be a lot washed down the river by the floods.' A report last year listed 157 Kakadu species that may be threatened by the toad." [Herald-Sun, NSW, Australia, March 20, 2002 from Raymond Hoser]

It was the worst of times: After 7 years as a candidate for ESA [U.S. Endangered Species Act] listing a coalition of conservation groups is worried that the "boreal toad could become extinct long before the Fish and Wildlife Service gets around to protecting it..." As a result the ... [groups] have given notice that they will seek a legal remedy if the agency does not follow through on its finding that the boreal toad is "imperiled enough to warrant an ESA listing." [GreenLines #1587 - March 21, 2002]

How many?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added Mississippi Gopher Frogs to the Endangered Species List in early December, 2001 based on Biologists' estimates that only about 100 frogs are left. The frogs used to extend across the lower coastal plain from Mobile, Alabama to the Mississippi River, but hasn't been seen outside Mississippi since 1967. The only known pond is adjacent to planned development, and the article didn't say if anyone is breeding them. [Houma, Louisiana Courier, December 5, 2001 from Ernie Liner]

East eats West?

"During the recent... season for family dinners and banquets in China, many rare animals had the good fortune to escape being served up for dinner... Dedicated environmentalists and officials are now committed to spreading the news that no quarantine measures are ever taken before wild animals arrive at the dinner table. Many Chinese believe that wild animals have medicinal or pep-up properties, but experts say they are far more likely to be carriers of germs and parasites. Experts with help from the media have been organizing public dissections of wild snakes confiscated from animal smugglers by police. In this way the onlookers can see for themselves how many living parasites there are under the microscope. Quarantine officials say that wild animals are usually served up without any clear idea of where they were caught. Many of the animals are even infected with unknown diseases, which is very dangerous for diners." [Xinhua News Service, Beijing, China, February 22, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Now that Hong Kong residents are starting to keep dogs as pets, their use of dog meat as cuisine is declining. The rise in pet keeping in the former crown colony has resulting in a pet crematorium to take care of the beloved pet's remains after it passes this plane. In Hong Kong, the pet crematorium has handled dogs and cats as well as chickens, tortoises and lizards. Additionally the number of veterinarians has gone up from 10 to 100 in the past twenty years. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 23, 2001 from Bill Burnett]

Lizzy does not like them

Argentine ants were accidentally introduced into California more than 100 years ago thrive in coastal regions, getting into homes and wiping out many larger, native, ant species. Researchers studying coastal horned lizards noticed that they prefer to eat larger, native ants rather than smaller, harder-to-catch, Argentine ants. When fed only Argentine ants in the lab, the lizards did not gain weight. [The New York Times, March 5, 2002]

Turtle recall?

National Public Radio broadcast a story about a conservation organization which is appealing to the Pope in an effort to stop Lenten consumption of sea turtles (as they were infallibly ruled "not meat" quite some while ago by one of his predecessors). "All Things Considered" March 27, 2002 reported that demand for sea turtle meat rises in Mexico and in areas settled by Mexican people in the United States before Easter. You can read all about it on their archives [From C. Kenneth Dodd] The Chicago Tribune pointed out that "Penalties for turtle poaching in Mexico... were raised last month to 12 years from a 3-year maximum prison term." [March 15, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

Meanwhile someone at the Wall Street Journal must have been listening because practically the same piece appeared in the March 29, 2002 edition. Unfortunately for the WSJ, it was headlined "...Turtles Considered a Lenten Delicacy, Endangered Amphibian are Lucrative Prize for Poachers." Contributor Rob Streit suggested "... the WSJ editorial staff are still at loggerheads over whether sea turtles are reptiles or amphibians... Any suggestions out there for getting poached turtle off the menu of Lenten delicacies?" Yes, Rob. Public dissections for parasites or perhaps just tasteful TV-news segments about all the horrible diseases you can get from "bush meat."

The Plight of the Iguana

On February 26, 2002, at least two newspapers had a field day with this story. First the Toronto Globe and Mail reports: "A [47-year-old] woman who threw her pet iguana at a policeman was convicted yesterday of inflicting unnecessary suffering on the lizard but was permitted to keep him." She did admit damaging a window in the dispute at a Pub on the Isle of Wight. "The meter-long iguana spent yesterday at the Isle of Wight Magistrates' Court in Newport, reclining in a tank as testimony unfolded. `She was extremely drunk,' the policeman testified." Next from The Times of London: "It was a busy day in court for a 2-foot pet iguana. Somehow he managed to be a witness, an exhibit, a crime victim and a weapon of attack... The Crown Prosecution Service had requested that Igwig the iguana should appear before magistrates on the Isle of Wight so they would have a better appreciation of the case in which his owner was accused of hurling him at a pub doorman and a policeman. So he sat peering from his glass vivarium next to the bench yesterday, munching lettuce and occasionally firing his tongue at a bowl of water, as his owner... was convicted..." [Toronto and London from Wes von Papinešu: Chicago Tribune from Claus Sutor and Ray Boldt]

They're still extinct

I got an email with a website url which allegedly had a picture of a plesiosaur washed up on a beach As I couldn't make heads or tails of the image, but we all know plesios are extinct, I wrote Barry Kazmer ("The Plesiosaur Page") and he replied: "February 26, 2002: It is amazing the way a basking shark decomposes and they all seem to do it this way. The one and only one I saw was rotting in exactly this same way. It had washed up on a beach down by Ensenada in BC, Mexico... The one is question was DNA tested and it is a basking shark, but the Creationists still list this on all their web sites as proof plesiosaurs are still here! Sigh!"

But their fossils live on

"In London, a professor at the University of Greenwich announced the discovery of the oldest fossilized vomit on record, barfed up by a four-flippered reptile some 160 million years ago." [News of the Weird, The Chicago Reader, March 16, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

New species described

"Watch out for `sand snakes' on Miami Beach. That's what ... police call nocturnal thieves who stake out their prey on the beach at night, then slither along the sand to snatch valuables. They creep and crawl on their bellies like a reptiles says [a] Detective..." [The Miami Herald, October 22, 2001 from Alan Rigerman] The bottom line is don't leave your purse on the sand when you go wade in the water or Robbery boa might get it.

Caiman gain' nowhere

New York Authorities wouldn't let a Florida alligator wrestler and his wife take the young caiman they pulled out of an 11-acre Central Park, New York City pond last June. And while a lot has happened in New York since then, she's on display at the Central Park Zoo until a more permanent home can be found for her. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, October 24, 2001]

Critter-traficante sentenced

"A federal court in San Francisco has sentenced Ken Liang `Anson' Wong, a notorious dealer of threatened and endangered wildlife to nearly six years in prison... also ordered to pay a $60,000 fine... Endangered species traded by Wong included two particularly rare reptiles... The Komodo dragon, the world's largest lizard... [and] the plowshare or Madagascan spurred tortoise, believed by many to be the world's rarest tortoise species... [His] operation was based in Malaysia; [he] pleased guilty to 40 federal felony charges and violations of the Lacey Act." He is believed to have earned about $500,000, less than $100,000 for each year he will now spend in prison. [Focus, World Wildlife Fund, September/October 2001 from Ray Boldt]

Depends if he's white or not

In an interesting question, the Internal Revenue Service must decide the value of white alligators before Louisiana Land and Exploration Company [LLEC] can donate their surviving white gators to New Orleans' Audubon Zoo. Several years ago, their worth was estimated around $500,000 to $700,000 each. Curiously, zoo promotion and loans of the white gators may have raised their value and the IRS is trying to determine their actual worth. They are 14 years old, weigh in the hundreds of pounds and measure around 9 to 10.5 feet long [Sunday Advocate, Baton Rouge, LA September 23, 2001] Last year the price paid for wild caught (dead) gator was $27.00 per foot [Houma, Louisiana Courier, August 29, 2001]. On January 8, 2001 The Times-Picayune and the Houma Courier reported that LLEC donated twelve blue-eyed, white scaled alligators to the Audubon Zoo. The value was placed at $4 million dollars. [all the preceding from Ernie Liner and the same story in the Albuquerque Journal, January 9, 2002 from J.N. Stuart]

Letter of the month

Bill Burnett writes: "Here's the latest [large decorated envelope full of clippings] from Tennessee, Ohio, Florida and Arkansas. We had four to six inches of snow this week. Don't you miss the white stuff? Bill" No, and thanks for the clippings! :) Ellin

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to everyone who contributed to previous columns. Send more stuff! Send whole pages of newspapers or magazines (they don't weigh much and its easier than cutting them out or sticking them back together). Make sure your name is on each story and mail to me.

May 2002

The His-sss Italy Contest

"The hottest beauty parade in Italy this weekend won't feature long-legged Mediterranean beauties but more exotic creatures, with Grisu the green iguana high in the running. Three years old and half a meter of scaly skin, Grisu and his short, squat legs will face off against horny frogs and poisonous (sic) snakes in Italy's first reptilian beauty contest, part of a huge exhibit that began Friday. For three days, a Rome hotel will be overrun by lizards, snakes, giant turtles and tropical frogs as organizers put on Europe's biggest reptile show, not only to promote the quirky beasts, but to show off their beauty... will be judged by a team of biologists and veterinarians. ... The exhibit, called `Reptilia,' includes a trade and reptile exchange corner for some of the estimated one million reptile enthusiasts in Italy and a show of 40 dangerous snakes including green mambas, cobras and rattle snakes." [Reuters, April 27, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu who writes that he's "Gone to Buff his Newt for the next show!"]

Tight squeeze

Workers from Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium have constructed a device they call the "Constrict-o-meter" to measure the force of a snake's squeeze. The head of the mechanical engineering department at the former said, "Personally, what I learned was a lot more about snakes than I ever wanted to know. One is that, as opposed to the common belief that a boa constrictor squeezes its prey and crushes it... it really suffocates it." The Constrictometer is a load sensor attached to a probe placed (here comes the hard part) between the snake and whatever it is squeezing. The sensor generates signals which are sent to a laptop computer. They found that an 18-foot-long snake applies about 12 pounds per square inch (psi) while a 5-footer generates about 6 psi. [Jefferson City, Missouri Post-Tribune, March 6, 2002 from Vicky Elwood]

Not what the neighbors expected

Indiana police arrested two Granger residents and confiscated two venomous and two non-venomous snakes as part of a drug raid that also netted 12 weapons, cocaine valued at about $50,000 and about $3,000 in cash. Neighbors were surprised but recalled hearing late night traffic around the home. Previously, the big excitement was an alligator turned in Mishawaka. [South Bend Tribune, April 2, 2002 from Garrett Kazmierski]

Train bites croc

The Sunday Times of Sydney, Australia reports that a 3.4-meter-long adult male crocodile weighing around 200 kilos (2.24 pounds per kilo), was struck and killed by a Cairns-bound freight train as the croc lay on rail tracks. A conservation officer retrieved the croc with a truck and hydraulic hoist and speculated the animal was moving from wetland to wetland across the tracks when it was struck. [April 28, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Gator bites car

After a woman stopped to see what she had hit on a Florida road, she saw a long, greenish tail sticking out from under her car. She said, "The car started shaking and it was lifting the front end up. I just thought I was dead. I was screaming. I thought it was going to come up through the floor." People on the sidewalks were shouting and waving at her as the 7-foot-long gator rocked her 3,000 pound car. She managed to drive off it backwards and call police on her cell phone. The gator continued to snap at passing cars until it was caught and killed by a trapper. Workers at the auto repair said the alligator tore through the front bumper of her 2002 Mitsubishi Eclipse at a cost of about $1,000. [The Palm Beach Post, April 6, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

A dog-gone close one

A man who stopped to let his dogs take a dip in the pond at the entrance to an upscale Tampa mall ended up rescuing his dog from the jaws of an alligator. The man assumed the pond was safe and let his dogs romp in it until he heard yelping and saw one dog fighting for its life. State wildlife officials called in a trapper who removed the animal as a hazard. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 31, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

Some "Holy Week" events

In Nicaragua, iguanas were being sold in the open markets for Holy Week dinner, even though the species is considered threatened and sale of the animal during the reproductive season is banned. [The Orlando Sentinel, March 28, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

If you know the "right people" you can still buy sea turtle meat in Mexico for Holy Week supper. It is believed that up to 35,000 sea turtles are poached every year along the Baja California coast and several thousand are caught deliberately for Catholics to eat during Lent when "meat" is prohibited. Prices are anywhere from $10 to $20 per pound and some people believe turtle flesh is an aphrodisiac. Conservationists have asked the Pope to address the issue when he visits Mexico later this year. So far the Vatican has not responded to requests to declare turtle flesh "meat." [The Honolulu Advertiser, March 30, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow; The Miami Herald, March 31, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

Three turtles were speared and left wounded in their enclosures and two were stolen from Coral World in St. Croix (Virgin Islands). Sea turtles are a popular Lenten food item, and the turtles are totally protected by local laws. One of the turtles that was stolen, "Corky," an endangered hawksbill turtle was practically a mascot of the facility. The condition of the wounded turtles leads park authorities to believe the two stolen turtles were probably killed. One pointed out that if you were going to release a turtle, you wouldn't spear it first. Park personnel are evaluating security and said that cameras in the area of the turtle exhibit didn't pick up anything - probably because it was too dark to show up on video. [St. Croix Avis, March 27, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow; The Caymanian Compass, March 28, 2002 from Larry Reed]

Forget turtle penis, try Viagra

Chinese traditional medicines for impotence and lack of male sexual performance may be on the decline now that Viagra and illegal copies of the drug are on the market everywhere in China. Male potency has long been a major issue in China and animals everywhere are slaughtered to feed the vast market for male potency enhancers in the world's most populous country. [The New York Times, April 23, 2002 from Jim Stuart]

Decline evident to all

Even though thousands of leatherback sea turtles nested on certain Pacific beaches two decades ago, only a few nests were laid last year. Researchers believe that fewer and fewer females remain to reproduce and suggest that commercial fishing as well as development along nesting beaches has contributed to the decline. [Reuters, April 23, 2002 from GreenLines #1613]

Less Olive Ridley turtles arrived on the Orissa State of India's beaches this year. No large-scale nesting has occurred at all this year leading to speculation that the turtles have been killed by fishermen or scared off by human activities. [The Honolulu Advertiser, April 14, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow; Tacoma, Washington News-Tribune, April 15, 2002 from Marty Marcus]

Are we reading the same story?

Dozens of newspapers reported the story that atrazine, the top-selling weed killer in the U.S., disrupts frog sex organ development at concentrations 30 times lower than EPA limits. The work was done originally in the lab; researchers also report finding sexually deformed leopard frogs in atrazine-contaminated ponds in the Midwest. "The use of atrazine in the environment is basically an uncontrolled experiment - there seems to be no atrazine-free environment," the lead researcher said. "Because it is so widespread, aquatic environments are at risk." [Press Release University of California, April 16, 2002 from Allan Salzberg's HerpDigest April 21, 2002; journal article April 16 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; The New York Times, April 17, 2002 from Ken Mierzwa]

Then there was this piece from Fox News Network [April 19, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]. To tell you the truth, I don't understand the author's perspective on the issue at all and so will quote directly from the story rather than misquote his position. Don't blame me, folks, check out the quotation marks. "Frog Study Leaps to Conclusions. This week's eco-horror claim is that the most commonly used herbicide in North America supposedly deforms the sex organs of frogs... A University of California team led by Dr. Tyrone Hayes reported in the April 16 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that concentrations of the herbicide atrazine as small as 0.1 part per billion caused the deformed sex organs. But let's hold off on worrying about kissing a frog and getting a hermaphrodite instead of a prince, and focus for a minute on the scientific procedures and standards that determine whether research has led to valid scientific discovery or has simply produced more junk science. The hallmark of the time-honored scientific method is the independent replication of experimental results. Hayes' study is the first to report such findings and has yet to be replicated. Moreover, the write-up of his study is woefully inadequate in terms of providing useful information, such as statistical analysis and data... As the researchers increased frog larvae's exposure to atrazine, supposedly up to 20 percent of the frogs had either multiple sex organs or had both male and female organs. The why-should-anyone-care component of this claim is that atrazine is often a detected contaminant in water supplies... supposedly reaching levels as high as 21 ppb in groundwater and 42 ppb in surface water.... used in U.S. agricultural production for over 40 years. Annual use reaches 60 million pounds. Despite this substantial use, there has been no prior report of a corresponding increase in hermaphroditic frogs due to levels of atrazine typically found in the environment. And it's not like no one is looking for frog problems. Scattered reports of frog deformities - usually involving hind leg problems - have focused a great deal of attention on frogs since the mid-1990s. Further, in a 1998 study, University of Illinois researchers collected frogs from several different sites in Illinois to assess the effects of environmental contamination on the prevalence of frog hermaphroditism. Of 341 frogs collected in 1993, 1994, and 1995, 2.7 percent were hermaphroditic. But there was no statistically significant relationship between the chemical compounds detected - including atrazine - and frog hermaphroditism. So there's no strong basis for assuming that whatever happened in Hayes' laboratory is happening to any significant extent, if at all, in the real world. I have a feeling that the grim report is more akin to a Brothers Grimm fairy tale than science. In August, 1997, the manufacturer of atrazine, Syngenta Crop Protection, convened a multi-disciplinary panel of scientists to study the potential effects of atrazine on fish, reptiles and amphibians. Hayes was asked to join the panel. Hayes contributed a laboratory study reporting a possible association between low levels of atrazine exposure and frog development problems. But the panel of scientists could not validate Hayes' data and recommended additional studies. Hayes subsequently left the panel. A follow-up study could not replicate Hayes' results. At this point, we don't know whether Hayes' results can be replicated or not. Hayes claims to have conducted a sophisticated statistical analysis of his data, but neither his analysis nor his data are presented in his study. Certainly, his prior conduct casts suspicion over his claims. We are simply to take his word for it. No thanks. I'd rather kiss a frog. Steven Milloy"

Ewww, yuck!

A graduate student at the University of South Florida in Tampa has created a flashy website where visitors can dissect a frog without killing a real animal. It's gross, so it should appeal to the average high school biology teacher. Log on and wield your own virtual scalpel at

While we're grossing you out, a professor of aerodynamics at the University of Braunschweig, Germany has found that amphibians can be killed by the rolling wave of high pressure which precedes the arrival of the actual automobile. He suggests this as the cause of dead amphibians found along roads with their internal guts blown out through their mouths but which were not struck by cars. Low-riders and other low sport cars are the worst offenders, their shock waves can cause an amphibian to burst. [Science Magazine, April 5, 2002]

Continuing amphibian deformity studies published in the May Ecological Monographs reports that the parasitic worm called Ribeiroia ondatrae is deforming 11 species of amphibians in the western U.S. Amphibians were sampled in California, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Parasite samples were collected in natural waters and manmade features. Malformations were six times more common in parasite infested waters than clean water. Some places had 90 percent amphibian deformities. The affected animals include Bullfrogs, Pacific Treefrogs, Red-legged Frogs and Cascades Frogs. The parasite's life cycle comes from infected birds defecating parasites in pond water. The trematode then inhabits snails and finally moves over to amphibian larva where it causes deformities. It has been speculated that deforming the larvae provides more food for the birds which promotes the trematode's success and getting out of its natal pond. [The San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

BYO what?

"Snake handlers may be wise to use a bit more caution when they perform their stunts at this weekend's annual Alamogordo Rattlesnake Roundup. The reason: The only hospital in town is out of antivenin, the only known antidote for snakebites. `I don't know what they'll do if someone gets bit,' [the] roundup organizer... said... 'Maybe one of the handlers will bring some with him.'" [El Paso Times (New Mexico), April 20, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Just leave them alone

A 42-year-old man was bitten by a pygmy rattlesnake in Florida and was bitten a second time when he decided to catch the animal so that doctors could find out if it was venomous or not. He received eight vials of antivenin and is recuperating. It was the first dusky pygmy rattlesnake bite in Florida this year. Officials remind Floridians to always wear leather gloves while gardening or cleaning up debris and to call 911 rather than take fate into their own hands - so to speak. [The Miami Herald, April 5, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

One for the Hiss-tory Books

Officials at Dubai airport seized 118 snakes including five deadly cobras from other countries in the Gulf. This was the largest illegal consignment of snakes ever found in Dubai. The animals were turned over the Dubai Zoo until other arrangements can be made for them. [Gulf News, Dubai, April 18, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Sorry St. Patrick

The snakes are a-slitherin' back to Ireland. A spokesman for the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said, "We're finding them in attics, in people's cupboards, under the sink in the bathroom. One family was watching TV when a snake crawled out from underneath. TVs are such warm places," but added that sometimes people's imaginations get the better of them and they've gone out for serpents which were really garden hoses. A snake breeder and seller in Dublin says that keeping snakes is growing in popularity because snakes are easy to care for and people are too busy for dogs. Many abandoned pets just die of the cold. [Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, March 17, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

Hawai'ian Invaders

Several articles received from Ms. G.E. Chow reveal the ongoing struggle between Hawai'ian wildlife authorities and those who have imported and are keeping non-native animals as pets on the island archipelago. The Honolulu Advertiser [HA] reported on April 17 that the State Department of Agriculture took possession of the sixth green iguana on O'ahu in the past four months. Also an illegal knight anole was separately handed over to authorities. The Honolulu Star Bulletin (April 17) reported that the iguana was spotted in a cage under a tree near a clinic. The fifth iguana was reported by HA on April 9 when residents reported "a large lizard" basking in a papaya tree. Number five was rather small, leading officials to speculate he may be part of a recently hatched clutch with up to 36 brothers and sisters scampering around somewhere. Fertilized eggs have been found in Waimanalo and a female iguana was caught which later produced fertilized eggs, so authorities consider there to be no doubt that iguanas have become established on the island. On April 2, HA reported that two adult veiled chameleons were turned in by a Makawao, Maui resident and another resident turned in a poison dart frog. This is the first of the latter to be found on Maui; but they have been established on O'ahu since 1932 when they were released to control mosquitoes.


After trying for more than a year, a wildlife trapper finally noosed an 18-foot Burmese python near a service plaza on the Florida turnpike. A grass mowing crew originally called in the snake last year, but it was gone when the trapper arrived. This happened four more times, but the last time he nabbed it. The trapper said, "The girth is the size of a truck tire. If it isn't the largest snake ever caught in Florida, it's up there near the top." [Orlando Sentinel, April 20, 2002 from Alan Rigerman and Wes von Papinešu]

Sharp kids

"A big metropolitan-area DJ heard from a colleague that a snapping turtle had attacked a Canada goose at Dunderhook Park in Glen Rock. The DJ announced on air that he was going to go fishing for `the monster' in order to protect other critters in the pond. Alert fourth-graders at the Willard School heard the scheme, and blew the whistle. Thus, when the DJ put his hook in the water on Tuesday, he received a summons for fishing without a license, and the turtle-loving grade-schoolers were heroes. [Bergen Record (Hackensack, New Jersey), April 19, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Check your tanks today

A heat lamp placed too close to a lizard's tank burned up a whole garage and the room over the garage, causing damages of $60,000 in South Lake Tahoe, California. The fire spokesman said they get several cases a year where appliances were placed too close to combustibles. [Tahoe Daily Tribune, April 19, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Tegu or not tegu, that is the question

"A metre-long carnivorous monitor lizard has escaped and is on the loose in Morecambe (UK). Experts have warned that the lizard could be aggressive and give small children a nasty bite. Posters have been displayed in a pub in Bare advising the public not to approach the lizard which escaped more than a week ago. As the weather begins to get warmer the lizard's chances of long-term survival in the outdoors are good. `They can be aggressive...our advice to people is don't touch it," said a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. [Lancaster Guardian, April 19, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Just how many species are there?

A recent email question arrived in my mailbox as to "exactly how many species of amphibians and reptiles there are in the U.S.?" I suppose they sent me the question because of my site on the names of the amphibians and reptiles of North America but as I never counted the taxa and I don't maintain just the most recent list of genera and species I turned to Joe Collin's Center for North American Herpetology website for an answer. There are (drumroll, please) 1 Amphisbaenians, 2 Crocodiles, 56 Turtles, 95 Frogs, 107 lizards, 137 Snakes and 176 Salamander species, according to CNAH. Considering that after 16 years of columnating, I only have a quarter of an inch of salamander clippings, so their newsworthyness is in no way proportional to their dominance.

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Ernie Liner, Dez Crawford, Marty Marcus, Alan Rigerman, Wes von Papinešu, Bill Burnett, Vicky Elwood and Ken Mierzwa for other articles, cartoons and postcards. You can contribute too, and I hope you do because it's a lot easier to write this column with material than without material. Send whole pages of newspaper or magazine with your name on each piece (those cute little address labels are wonderful for this) to me.

June 2002

Quote of the Month

"We also need a `nuisance people' program. And when somebody moves to a lake and tosses marshmallows to a gator, we tranquilize him, bind him with duct tape and relocate him to New Jersey." [Orlando Sentinel, May 16, 2002, by Mike Thomas, a Florida columnist]

Deja vu?

This month's column is brought to you from the wonderful web resources of Wes von Papinešu and my email files. Due to a near collapse of my computer, I lost several days when I could have been writing and now - down to the deadline - I'm using what is easiest and fastest to be sure you have a column to read this month. Do not, please, let this stop you from sending actual articles to me.

Nuisance humans

Florida "state biologists report that `up to a third of the dead baby sea turtles collected off Brevard County in the past decade had tar, plastic or both in their mouths or stomachs' says the Miami Herald, May 14, 2002. Once ingested, they eventually starve to death and ships that "spill fuel and garbage into the sea" are the likely culprits. Scientist say the "problem could be catastrophic for the endangered animals." [GreenLines, May 17, 2002 #1628]

Silent spring, 2002

"Frogs given trace amounts of DDT and other pesticides experience a near-total collapse in their immune systems... The scientists said the work could shed light on the global decline in amphibians, since compromised immune systems would not leave them strong enough to "survive exposures to viruses and parasites." Among the pesticides tested in the peer-reviewed study was Malathion, a pesticide widely used for mosquito control in the U.S. and Canada. [Toronto Globe and Mail, April 24, 2002]

Web resources for frog/pesticide information

  • - U.S. EPA atrazine page
  • - Pesticide Information Organization Atrazine Page
  • - Frog Declines
  • - Science News report
  • - Online summary and discussion of "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. 99 (April 16):5476-5480"
  • - UC Berkeley press release, April 15, 2002.

What are they waiting for?

"The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity have formally asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [USFWS] to extend Endangered Species Act protection to [Rana onca] a `rare southwestern frog' found only at Lake Mead National Recreation Area. says San Francisco Gate, May 8, 2002. The relict leopard frog was believed to be extinct, until the early 1990s when it was "rediscovered in eight locations." The frog has already been extirpated at two of the locations and the species is threatened primarily by water projects for development and agriculture that harm the desert springs on which it is dependent and from invasive species and recreation visitors to Lake Mead. [GreenLines, May 10, 2002 #1623]

Value is relative

The May 9, 2002 Natal Witness of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa reports: Rare snakes from the snake park at the St Lucia Crocodile Centre are still missing after being stolen on Friday night. And when the thieves came back on Saturday night they attacked an employee who tried to intercept them. According to [the] centre manager... thieves stole a baby Burmese python, an albino python, two rock pythons and a brown house snake... "This is the second time that the Burmese python has been stolen. The first time we got her back, now she has gone again. These are very valuable snakes, but they are also our precious exhibits." On Saturday night, the manager of the restaurant at the Croc Centre... was walking through the grounds at about 8 p.m. when he saw torchlight in the snake park enclosure. He and a security guard went to investigate. "When we got to the snake park, we saw someone running away. The security guard, who had a torch, went after him. I followed, but because it was dark I did not see someone standing in the bushes next to the path. As I passed this person, he hit me on the head with something made of metal. It knocked me down. Then, as I got up, the first person came running past me and slashed at me with a knife or something."... [The center and police] appeal to anyone with information about the stolen snakes to come forward.

Salamanders Unsaved

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service backtracked on Tuesday, deciding that federal rules governing construction in the Barton Springs watershed are sufficient to protect endangered salamanders from pollution. The biological opinion, signed by the service's acting regional director, concludes that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's stormwater construction permits don't jeopardize the survival of the Barton Springs salamander. That contradicts the draft report issued in July by the supervisor of the service's Austin office. The reversal means the environmental agency will not have to impose stricter conditions, such as requiring treatment of stormwater runoff, for construction projects involving more than five acres... The potential for development to damage the watershed and Austin's beloved swimming hole has long been a contentious issue. The 369-square mile watershed channels rainwater into the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which is tapped by 50,000 people south of Austin for drinking water. For several months, Austin city biologists have been investigating why some salamanders have died and why others have been sickened by gas-bubble disease. One of several possibilities being examined is that some contaminant may be weakening certain salamanders, making them more susceptible to the disease." [Austin, Texas - American Statesman, May 8, 2002]

How big?

The New Vision newspaper of Kampala, Uganda reported on May 8, 2002: A Kampala-based hawker was yesterday arrested with 100 tortoises that he was transporting from Sironko district to Kajansi, Wakiso district. Nathan Etengu reports that [a man]... was found with the tortoises aboard a Gateway Bus travelling from Moroto to Kampala through Namalu. A game ranger attached to the Mt. Elgon National Park arrested [the man] as he loaded the tortoises in the boot of the bus. The tortoises, some of them as small as snooker balls had been concealed in three bags. One of the tortoises had sustained injuries on its legs and mouth. [from Desiree Wong of]


"Mombasa: Two British tourists cut short their holiday to Kenya yesterday after the death of an injured lizard they had rescued at an exclusive beach resort... [the two] gave $230 so the animal could be treated by a veterinarian, a gesture that astounded staff and locals. The average monthly wage in Kenya is less than half that amount. [Toronto, Ontario Canada National Post, May 7, 2002]

Calm mom

A five-year-old boy on a northwest Queensland [Australia] awoke to a real-life nightmare when he found a 2.7m python cosying up to him in bed... [he said] he watched the snake glittering in the light from a bathroom... His mum... said she rushed to her sons' bedroom at 3 a.m... [after he] screamed and ran out. She saw the snake at the end of the room and her other son [two years old] still in his bed. [She said] "I was just so glad it wasn't a venomous snake." [The boy's] neck was punctured several times by the olive python. [His mum] said she had heard stories of pythons swallowing wallabies but did not fear her boys would be swallowed. She said [the boy] had been keen to tell the story to his friends at ... preschool." [Australia Sunday Mail, May 5, 2002]

It still Sucks in Arkansas

"They say it never rains for Toad Suck Daze, and this year's festival was in full ... with plenty of rides, music, crafts and, of course, food on a stick. Saturday's events were dominated by the bulk of the ever-popular toad races, including several high-profile races featuring various candidates for office in the upcoming elections. Participating in the Very Important Toad races were local dignitaries like [the] Mayor ... Attorney General ... and U.S. Senator. [Later, the mayor] stuck around the Toad Dome to volunteer for toad duty, manning the toad stables between races and helping the toad jockeys keep their hands clean. `This is probably the best part of my job. This festival is just a spectacular thing. People drop all their pretensions and play with toads and dance the Toady Woady and it's just a great event. People come out and just enjoy it. It's just a wonderful community event for that reason." [Arkansas Log Cabin Democrat, May 5, 2002]

Iguana be in pictures!

On April 29, 2002, London's The Independent reported: There could be some controversy about the winner of a beauty contest in Rome at the weekend. No doubt the champion is dazzling, but from among several thousand exotic contestants, the winner has a mohican, a double chin, and, it has to be said, a slight pot belly. Nevertheless Grisu seemed to be taking the glory and attention serenely, rolling his eyes in their sockets and winding his foot-long stripy tail round his owner's waist. The scaly orange iguana is the supreme champion of "Reptilia" - a three-day show of creatures whose usual forays into the limelight are confined to supporting roles in horror films. The show, judged by vets and biologists, was held in a Rome hotel, and drew about 15,000 visitors, according to the organiser."

World traveled turtles

An animal welfare group has collected hundreds of red-eared sliders from the wild after they were dumped. A decade ago thousands of these turtles were imported during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze. Britain's cold killed many, but others survived, ravaging flora and fauna, like toads, newts and fish. "Members of the British Chelonia Group began collecting them a few years ago. Now they have arranged for them to go to Carapax, a wildlife charity in Tuscany, where the warm climate and habitat more closely resembles their homeland." [London Press Association, April 28, 2002]

Watch your step

The Escondido, California North County Times of April 28, 2002 reports: With a nationwide shortage of antivenom shrinking hospitals' stock of the serum, experts are advising people to be extra cautious this summer, which may be the worst year in the past half-century to be bitten by a rattlesnake. "People need to be extra careful this season," said... an emergency physician at Loma Linda University Center who leads the hospital's snakebite team... Until recently, it was well-stocked in most hospitals, but a production problem has sparked a major shortage... For the past 50 years, doctors depended on one type of antivenom, a horse-derived serum produced by Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories called Antivenin. But then in 2001, Protherics Inc. devised a new antivenom that medical professionals say has revolutionized snakebite treatment. The new antivenom, called Cro Fab, was made from sheep and quickly became the favored of the two available antivenoms by physicians. "Because (Antivenin) was derived from a horse serum, patients who received it commonly developed an allergic reaction," he said. "The Cro Fab has very minimal side effects." In May 2001, Wyeth-Ayerst announced it was bowing out of the antivenom market. But last month, officials with Protherics announced that a problem with the filling and freeze-drying mechanism at their lab would result in no antivenom being produced for at least two months. [Even when it was in production] "One vial costs approximately several thousand dollars. You have a patient that comes in and requires 10 vials and it could easily cost the hospital $20,000 just to get the vials from the manufacturer."

We may be needing him this year

An Associated Press photo from Italy, May 2, 2002 was captioned: The statue of San Domenico covered with snakes is carried for the traditional procession through the streets of downtown Cocullo, Italy, a small town 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Rome... Tens of thousands of people take part ever year in the procession celebrating San Domenico, the patron saint of the town, who is believed to protect from snake bites and tooth-aches. This Catholic ritual dates back to the 17th century and is linked to local ancient pagan traditions.

July 2002

Accuracy in journalism

The Vanity Fair April 2002 monthly calendar reads: "April 26: Mangum, Oklahoma: the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby. This event is perhaps best captured by the phrase `utterly repulsive.'"

The headline of a story about alligator mating season quotes a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission alligator specialist, "When they eat you're dog, they're not so cute." USA Today also reports some interesting statistics In 1981, five people were killed by gators, in 1991, 17 and in 2001, only 11. There were 4,931 complaints in 1981, 11,965 in 1991 and 16,749 in 2001. Resulting from these complaints, in 1981, 1,871 alligators were killed; 4,228 died in 1991 and in 2001 an astonishing 7,279 gators were trapped and killed as "nuisance gators."

Crunching these numbers results in some interesting perspective. In 1981 there were 2.6 complaints for each dead gator, in 1991, the number had increased to 2.8. By 2001, it was easier to get a gator killed, there were only 2.3 calls for each gator. From the creature's perspective however, consider this. In 1981, 374 gators died for each human killed by a gator; in 1991 249 to one and in 2001 a whopping 662 animals were killed for every human death.

Honey, I shrunk more species!

"The thousands of minute scales [on Typhlops caymenensis] give this little snake a velvety, almost liquid appearance - when it moves it looks like a self-propelled trickle of oil. The blind snake can achieve [maximum] lengths of up to 10 inches," said the Manager of Environmental Programs for the Cayman National Trust. Grand Cayman Island is the only place on earth where the tiny blindsnakes are found. The Caribbean has other miniature species including the world's smallest bird and the tiny lizard just recently discovered. [The Caymanian Compass, June 10, 2002 from Larry Reed]

Unwanted range extensions

An 18-inch Savannah monitor was turned in to the Honolulu, Hawai'i Zoo by five people under that state's amnesty program for alien species. Monitors are reported to be native to Africa and can grow to more than a yard long and weigh up to 12 pounds. For those wishing to report alien species or turn in alien pets, a special hot line has been established by the Hawai'i Department of Agriculture 586-PEST (7378). [Honolulu Advertiser, May 18, 2002 from G.E. Chow]

For the first time in the decade since the "amnesty bins for illegal items" were placed at Honolulu airport, someone has discarded a live snake. The one-foot-long ball python was discovered coiled around metal tongs used to sift through the contraband. Usually the bins contain plant material and trash. An airsickness bag with holes in it was also found. This was the second ball python found in Hawai'i in the past year. Last June, one was confiscated from a home. [The Honolulu Advertiser, June 4, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

A retired Hawai'i state forester "out for a walk" picked up the first documented green-and-black poison dart frog in downtown Wailuku, Maui. The forester reports his daughter saw the tiny frog, but thought it was a charm - until it hopped. He caught the frog in a container and took it to the state wildlife biologist where it was identified as a Dendrobates auratus. Persons with information about other invasive species on Maui can contact the Invasive Species Committee at 579-2116. It has been known for years that these frogs were introduced to upper Manoa Valley on Oahu Island in 1932 for mosquito control.

An 18-foot-long, 200-pound Burmese python that had been living near a service plaza on the Florida Turnpike for the past year is headed for a new life at a wildlife sanctuary. Several people were required to make the capture. The snake probably ate possum, raccoon, birds and maybe a few cats and dogs. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, April 20, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

Lake Griffin update

A University of Florida researcher has discovered that the blue-green algae Cylindrospermopsis produces not only a liver toxin but Anatoxin-A. This powerful toxin affects nerve impulse transmission to muscles and causes paralysis. The alligators in Lake Griffin have had this toxin in their bodies, but do not show complete paralysis, rather they are uncoordinated and slow. So there is still no direct link between the toxic algal byproducts and alligator deaths in the lake. More work including a study of vitamin interactions and deficiencies is in progress. Last year 75 dead alligators were found at Lake Griffin, bringing the total known mortality to 380 adult alligators. [Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, March 21, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

Shake out your shoes

The deadliest critter at the Kandahar, Afghanistan U.S. air base (other than a U.S. Marine) is the sand-colored carpet viper. This 2-foot-long snake's venom causes bleeding and blood clots which can kill people if antivenom is not promptly administered. A health and safety officer reported finding about a dozen in 30 minutes spent looking for dangerous animals on the base. The Asiatic cobra (Naja naja) is also found in the area, but none has been found on the base, so far. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 9, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

Exercise due caution

Don't mess with venomous snakes this summer in particular. American supplies of antivenom are at an all time low; some areas have none and others have just a few vials. The problem is two- fold. First the long-time maker of old antivenin decided to stop production because of lingering allergy problems for a very few users. The new manufacturer uses a new process and geared right up into production. However, the whole nation's supply, about 10,000 vials, were recalled by the government because of contamination in January. Doctors are now forced evaluate every bite case to decide if the remaining few vials of antivenin can or should be used for the patient. [Miami Herald, April 28, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

Don't forget the Lazlo protocol for venomous or dangerous animals: 1.) Never handle the animal alone. 2.) See rule 1.

Just for reference, in the U.S. every year, about 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes. Of these, 15 or so are fatal according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. [Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, May 23, 2002 from Bill Burnett] How not to treat a snake bite: Do not use ice. Do not use tourniquets. Do not use electric shock. Particularly do not kiss a car battery to get a shock after a snake bite. Do not cut into the bite. Do not try to catch the snake that bit you. Do not run around in circles screaming and getting all agitated. What you should do is call 911 for transport to the nearest medical facility. [Post- Tribune, Jefferson City, Missouri, March 27, 2002 from Vicky Elwood]

Leave wildlife wild

"Animals are called `wild' for a reason... Florida records reveal 287 serious alligator attacks since 1948, with almost two-thirds occurring between 1990 and 2001... Wildlife experts say the predators aren't getting more vicious. The rise in attacks can be blamed on the fact people are more likely than ever to come across one of the animals... `People who think they love wildlife have somehow got it in their heads that wild creatures reciprocate the emotion.' said... a warden and naturalist... [and added] `Griz don't care how much you gave to Greenpeace.' [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 2, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

Gotta have more golf courses

The last known population of Mississippi gopher frogs lives in a quarter-acre pond overlooking the site of another golf course, planned as part of a 10,000 unit housing development. Under construction now is the new highway that will like the 10,000 houses to the nearest town, 15 miles away. The developer of the 4,600 acre complex has graciously donated 80 acres to the Nature Conservancy attempting to head off criticism and down time for his project. The frogs once roamed from Mississippi to the Florida panhandle; their numbers were severely reduced when their long-leaf pine habitat was logged off and replaced with faster growing loblolly pines. The frogs were considered extinct in the 1970s, but were rediscovered on federal land in the 1980s. Even so, two of the ponds which up until recently held frogs now have highways running through them. [Times- Picayune, November 5, 2001 from Ernie Liner] If you're having trouble visualizing the arcane unit of area measure known as an "acre," imagine a box about 205 feet on each side. The area enclosed is approximately one acre. So the pond in question covers about 100 by 100 feet or 10,000 square feet. The developer's gift is less than 1.75% of his project area.

Science Light

A conference at the University of California - Los Angeles brought together researchers who study the effects of artificial light on plants and animals. Work presented included a paper from researchers along the Atlantic seaboard who have found that newly hatched loggerhead turtles die when lured inland by artificial lights. In a natural environment, the light of the moon would guide them to the safety of the ocean. Other creatures, from salmon to fireflies, have been found to be influenced by artificial light. [Albuquerque Journal, February 4, 2002] As a personal observation in the Chicago area, we watched lichens on trees die as the old blue-white street lights were replaced with yellow sodium-vapor lights. So perhaps it is not just light itself which has an impact, but even certain wavelengths of light!

Meanwhile Fort Lauderdale, Hillsboro Beach and Hollywood, Florida have failed to comply with Broward County's beach lighting turtle-protection mandate by the beginning of mating season. The Mayor of Hollywood claimed it "would put a burden on our apartments and condos and small businesses... most people want the Boardwalk well-lighted. These... onerous burdens... don't make sense for the community." The towns have had two years to comply with the law. Conservationists point out that all it takes to turtle-shield most lights are aluminum reflectors (foil or sheet metal), replacing up lights with down lights (maybe just twist the fixture) and putting lights which are on all the time on motion sensors to reduce electric use and turtle disorientation. One condo in Pompano Beach proved how easy it was. They put blinds in the recreation room and lowered lights so they couldn't be seen from the beach. Stair lights were replaced with red neon which doesn't disorient turtles and costs less to run in the long term. Architects point out that human safety has not been compromised by their changes. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 12, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

Fashionable Balls

Two advertisements this month featured ball pythons. The first (on the back cover of Discover, June 2002) shows a snake wrapped around an expensive bottle of whisky with the caption, "Tempted?" The other from Tiffany and Company (Vanity Fair, June 2002) has a snake wrapped up in a gold necklace. Other fashionista statements in the mailbag include Brittany Spears singing with an albino python at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards [Tacoma, Washington News Tribune, May 24, 2002]. Contributor Marty Marcus wrote "I bet you don't have snakes like this in Ferndale!"

Shrews to us

A joint Chinese and American scientific team announced their find of an ancient mammal, which lived about 126 million years ago in northeastern China. The nearly complete 3-inch long find is the oldest placental mammal fossil ever found and clearly shows fur. It is not believed to be the ancestor of all placental mammals. In an interesting method of preservation, the animal seems to have been overcome during a volcanic eruption and was preserved virtually intact in a blanket of volcanic ash mixed with lake water. [The Herald, April 28, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

Ooze at fault when they vanish?

In the hills of central France frog poachers are still at work, even though France outlawed frog fishing in 1977. Their wild frogs, Rana temporaria, don't do well in captivity, making wild-catching the only option for French gourmands who won't eat frozen frogs' legs imported from Indonesia. The poachers are shipping crate-loads of frog legs to Paris and the Riviera, inspiring the frog police to work even harder to catch illegal frog fishers. Poachers receive about $6 for one dozen legs (50 cents per leg). One poacher said she can earn $300 per night, so she's catching about 600 frogs nightly. [Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

Reptile business evicted

In an ongoing tale, an existing business in Sanford, Florida was denied an operating permit when neighbors started complaining about reptiles on the loose. The business stores and maintains about 10,000 snakes, lizards, chameleons, frogs and spiders. One loose iguana which may or may not have belonged to the business reportedly attacked at cat. The cat owner complained and testified that it was scary and that she didn't think the business belonged in the town. The owner's lawyer pointed out that iguanas eat plants, not cats. [Orlando, Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 27, 2002]

Hello, hello?

Researchers in Valencia, Spain are watching every move a 2-headed snake makes - by video. The 9-month old, 10-inch long ladder snake is a nonvenomous native colubrid. Mature ladder snakes can grow up to 5-feet long. Researchers want to know if one head is dominant, whether the digestion is separate, and if the animal could be mated with a normal member of the species. [April 4, 2002: South Bend Tribune, from Garrett Kazmierski and Bucyrus, Ohio Telegraph-Forum from Bill Burnett]

Goodbye, goodbye?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services agency plans an all-out assault on Puerto Rican frogs (Eleutherodactylus coqui and Eleutherodactylus planirostris) which have invaded all four major Hawaiian islands. The four-year plan will cost taxpayers about $10.7 million over four years. Only $200,000 has actually been funded for the program which will start on October 1. The plan calls for their agents to work with other state and federal agencies to spray caffeine to give the frogs heart attacks. Some people feel the frog is too well established to eliminate. Others are worried the plan might require an environmental impact statement which would just give the frogs more time to make more frogs. Meanwhile, three tons of caffeine is sitting in a Big Island warehouse because there are environmental restrictions on the release of that chemical into the environment. Another possibility is coating the frogs in hydrated lime which essentially "dries" the frogs to death. [The Honolulu Advertiser, June 7, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Mrs. P.L. Beltz, Eloise Beltz-Decker, Claus R. Sutor, Toronto Zoo, Garrett Kazmierski, Ms. G.E. Chow, Alan W. Rigerman, Ray Boldt, William L. Burnett, Marty Marcus, Larry Reed and Wes von Papinešu for their continuing contributions to this column. You can contribute too. Send whole pages from newspapers and magazines with your name on each piece to me.

August 2000

Death of an editor

Sean McKeown, my editor at the now defunct Vivarium magazine, passed away at Stanford Medical Center after a long battle with heart disease. Sean was involved with the Honolulu Zoo for many years before retiring and moving to California. Regular readers may recall that he was placed on an external artificial heart for months a few years ago, while waiting his heart transplant at Stanford. I hadn't heard much from him since then; I assumed all was well, but it was not.

Don't swim, feed or tease the gators

Even though Florida officials warn and warn again about swimming in alligator infested water and most especially during alligator mating season, a father took his two children swimming in the Withlacoochee River. The 10-year-old girl was grabbed by an alligator and her father came to her rescue. The alligator was killed and measured at 10-foot, 11-inches. Since 1948, there have been 12 fatal alligator attacks out of the 300 known attacks. [Orlando Sentinel, June 16, 2002 and the Leesburg Daily Commercial, June 18, 2002 both from Bill Burnett]

Dead snakes

Nine rattlesnakes seized in a drug bust were euthanized by Florida Fish and Wildlife order because they were crossbred timber and diamondback rattlesnakes. Their owner also faces charges of illegally possessing the snakes and growing marijuana. Officers stated that "This guy just like snakes. He wasn't using them as a booby trap." [June 22, 2002: Leesburg Daily Commercial and Orlando Sentinel]

Dead iguanas

Traces of oil leaking from a tanker a year ago, may have killed more than 15,000 Galapagos iguanas, according to a study published in Nature. In one colony on San Cristobal Island, 62 percent of the animals previously marked, died. Researchers found a large number of skeletons on the coast. Other areas unaffected by the spill still have flourishing iguana populations. [Miami Herald, June 6, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]

More dead turtles

The remains of four dead and butchered green sea turtles were found on Moloa'a Beach, Kauai'i, Hawai'i. Killing a sea turtle is a federal offense with fines up to $25,000 and a year in prison. It appeared as though they were killed for their meat or eggs, but their state of decomposition made it hard to tell much of anything from the remains. [The Honolulu Advertiser, June 20, 200 2 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

More deformed frogs

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that both pesticides and parasites are causing frog deformities. Researchers found that while trematode worm infections were widely found, deformity rates in wood frogs are higher in areas where the infected frogs are exposed to pesticide runoff which may boost the population of snails which transmit the trematodes to frogs. [The Chicago Tribune, July 9, 2002 from Claus Sutor and Ray Boldt]

More condos, less turtles

After five years of struggle between real estate developers and people concerned about animals and their environment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a development of high-rise condominiums along a half-mile of beachfront sand dunes on Alabama's Fort Morgan Peninsula. The action gives the developers permission to "take" (meaning "kill") endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles, endangered mice and threatened green and loggerhead sea turtles. Environmentalists note that this stretch of beach is some of the last remaining undisturbed sand dune habitat along the Alabama Gulf Coast. The agency, on the other hand, concluded there would be "no significant impact." [The Chicago Tribune, April 28, 2002 from Claus Sutor] One wonders would be needed to make a "significant impact" recognizable by any bureaucrat.

More nets, less turtles

Louisiana shrimpers are hopping mad again, claiming that new turtle protection regulations changing the size of turtle excluder devices from 32 inches to 71 inches will be too expensive and that TEDs are a "hindrance, especially when underwater trash common to Louisiana's inshore water props them open, allowing shrimp to pass through their nets uncaught." They also claim there are no turtles in the inside waters they fish anyway. Researchers point to the high numbers of dead turtles showing up on the beaches as proof that the TEDs aren't big enough. Officials expressed surprise at the hostility aimed at them by the shrimp fishermen and apologized for not providing written materials about the proposed rules changes. [Houma, Louisiana The Courier, November 6, 2001 from Ernie Liner]

More people, less turtles

"Commercial fishing and development of coastal property where [sea] turtles lay eggs are the largest threats to their population," said a marine researcher. Counting turtles can also be difficult as they spend most of their time at sea. however, counts at turtle nesting beaches in Mexico, Costa Rica and Malaysia, show fewer returning turtles. Commercial swordfish fishing is blamed for much of the decline. Their lines are put out in international waters where regulations and restrictions cannot, apparently, be enforced. [The Honolulu Advertiser, April 24, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

More turtles, less people

Every year people call from around the world, trying to get a turtle ticket to watch giant sea turtles lay eggs at the Canaveral National Seashore. Only 30 people per night are allowed on the ranger-guided walks. Last year all the tickets were given away in four hours, this year, hundreds of callers had to be turned away. Mark your calendar for next May 1, and then call 386-428-3384, extension 18. [Orlando Sentinel, May 13, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

More turtles might mean more turtles?

While some turtles are being saved in "head start" programs, many more are never being born because adult turtles are continually harvested for the pet trade, supposed medicinal value and for food. Resource managers are just beginning to see that if you take away long-lived adults, you won't get any babies - even though turtle people have been pointing this out for years. [Discover Magazine, June 2002 from Eloise Beltz-Decker]

One turtle released

After 2 and a half years of rehab, workers from the New England Aquarium released a green sea turtle in Florida. The turtle was hit by a boat and severely injured. More than 100 turtles were released last year by Florida rehabilitation centers. The turtle was outfitted with a transmitter which may send information about where it goes and what it does now. [Orlando Sentinel, May 15, 2002 from Bill Burnett's mom]

Quote of the month

"The truth is that snakes really are more scared of humans than us of them and nearly all that live around here [northern Indiana/Illinois] are harmless. There is only one venomous snake in Michiana - the eastern massasauga rattlesnake - regardless of what your buddy may tell you." Louie Stout, South Bend Tribune, July 7, 2002. CHS member and Michigan State Herpetologist, Jim Harding is also quoted in the article. If you have any Michigan massasauga sightings, you can report them at the Michigan DNR web site under "wildlife observations." You can submit photos but are asked not to bother, pick up or kill the snake. [South Bend Tribune, May 26, 2002 from Garrett Kazmierski]

News of the Weird

Chuck Shepherd continues to mine the daily news for items of oddity for his column. Recently several arrived in my mailbox. From his July 5, column "Two years ago... [a] New York doctoral student... was having himself medically altered to resemble a lizard with sharpened teeth and a forked tongue. Last month, after [a] tattoo artist... began publicly seeking a surgeon to separate his tongue into two halves, the Michigan House of Representative defeated a measure that would have banned tongue-forking surgery." On June 21, Shepherd reported that "A man settled down to sleep in his apartment and between the sheets found a three-foot-long snakes left behind by a previous tenant." [Both from the Chicago Reader from Ray Boldt]

Smell the coffee and die

After five years of complaint, federal and state officials in Hawai'i plan to attack noisy coqui frogs, native to the Caribbean which have taken up residence on the Big Island and Kauai. The initial attack will be funded by a $200,000 federal grant and $87,500 from Haleakala National Park. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials hope to have $10.8 million dedicated to the eradication effort in the next few years. Officials estimate that the coquis can reach populations of 8,000 frogs per acre and eat 46,000 other living things every night. Stories of local people's efforts to kill them off one by one include a man who climbed a ladder in the middle of the night and shot the frog with a BB gun and another man who paid local kids $5 per frog captured. All the residents want is peace of mind, they claim the coqui destroys concentration and makes it impossible to sleep. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 7, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Best tombstone of the month

Headline: "Asteroid almost collides with Earth." Adjacent headline "Snake charmers wanted," not to move the asteroid, but to remove snakes from the infested campus of Vidyasagar University in the Indian state of West Bengal. [The Caymanian Compass, June 24, 2002 from Larry Reed]

Claw-dius wrecked

An African clawed frog (Xenopus sp.) was turned in to Hawai'i state agriculture officials after it was found in a jar on the steps of a high school accompanied by a note that said they did not want to release the frog. People possessing illegal animals in Hawai'i face fines up to $200,000 and three years in jail. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 3, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Bubba, gator or chameleon?

Anyone who has gone to a CHS show, knows Bubba the alligator. Lo and behold, then reading the Chicago Tribune, I find that Bubba came out for a media event at the Rain Forest Cafe in downtown Chicago. The intent was to make Steve Irwin (of Crocodile Hunter infamy) feel at home or to scare the writers enough to make them write good feature. However, the author of the Trib's piece wrote: "Steve Irwin, a.k.a. the Crocodile Hunter, is belly down on the ground and nose to nose with Bubba, a crocodile." [July 9, 2002 from Ray Boldt]] Steve was also quoted as saying to Bubba, "You're gorgeous." I guess I could get to like this guy, especially if I never had to see another one of his shows!

A true gator aid

Researchers have found that the honeycomb of bumps covering an alligators jaw are full of nerve sensors so sensitive that they can detect ripples caused by a single drop of water. Half-submerged gators use these sensors to pinpoint splashes, which may be from a food item or a kid just swimming around. The nerves all connect to a large nerve in the alligator's skull. [May 16, 2002: USA Today and Orlando Sentinel, both from Bill Burnett]

Turtles all the way down

  • Turtle Independence Day Celebrations are held each July 4th on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i as the baby turtles hatch and head for the sea. [The Chicago Tribune, June 23, 2002 from Ray Boldt]
  • A caption under a picture of people watching the annual turtle race in Huron Indiana reads: "These spectators are watching turtles crawl because: A. The nation's couch potatoes are finally turning off the TV; B. The humidity in Huron, Indiana, interferes with watching paint dry; C. It's a taping for the upcoming series `Survivor: Indiana'; D. What else would you do before a Memorial Day parade?" [Chicago Tribune, June 2, 2002 from Ray Boldt] The same picture in the South Bend Tribune, May 29, 2002 is captioned more sedately [from Garrett Kazmierski].
  • June 12 to 15 were "turtle days" in Churubusco, Indiana. No one knows who started the story, but legend says that "in 1948, a farmer spotted a snapping turtle with a shell as big as a dining room table, a head the size of a ten-year-old child, and a neck as wide as a stovepipe," according to the Chicago Reader [May 31, 2002 from Ray Boldt]. No monster reptile has ever been found even though the lake has been searched repeatedly over the years. In any case, the town started its Turtle Days festival in 1950. On June 26, 2002, The Tribune sent a writer to Churubusco to investigate "the ongoing mystery of Indiana's Sasquatch in a Shell." The lake where the turtle lurks covers about 7 acres and reaches a depth of nearly 60 feet, plenty of space to hide a dinner-table sized object which does not wish to be found. One person claims to have been told by the original discoverer that he made the whole thing up, but local people don't want to even think that the turtle is merely a legend. Churubusco is such a turtle town, that there are turtles on their signs and in their school teams, but maybe not in the lake. The note from Ray Boldt read "Ellin, don't move, it's right behind you... I hope I'm not too late!" Maybe I would have worried in Chicago, but Ferndale's too far for even a dinner-table sized turtle to crawl!

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Marty Marcus, Paul Sereno, Gabe Lyon, Wes von Papinešu, Allan Salzberg and Marco Mendez for what they sent by mail and email. Computer contributions will again be used next month and only computer contributions unless some more material shows up in the mailbox as I used everything I had to write this column. You can contribute, too. Send whole pages of newspapers or magazines with your name on each piece to me. Send anything you want to my email. Please, however, realize that we are on the end of the westernmost phone wire in the conterminous U.S. and that if you send me the full text of this week's Congressional Record, I will send you back something equally huge and impenetrable.

September 2002

7,000 Dead Lizards in Luggage

"Customs officials seized 7,000 mummified lizards from a man boarding a plane in Egypt. Airport staff said Syrian Ahmed Mahmoud Salem, was about to fly to the Jordanian capital Amman. They said he was trying to smuggle the lizards to mix them with honey to make an aphrodisiac potion. He was allowed to travel, but the lizards were confiscated as Salem had violated export procedures." [HerpDigest #3:1from Allen Salzberg]

It's creepy and it's ooky

Usually, I reprint letters other people send me. The letter which prompted this reply was from Down Under and ask how too get rid of certain invasive pests. "Dear Maurice: We tried to collect keeper info on this when Chicago Herp Society wrote the "Care in Captivity" pages about 10 years ago. We were mostly in Chicago inner city apartments or suburban homes. Pests include silverfish, earwigs, roaches, flies, etc. I just switched computers when the old one failed and I'm still working on getting out my old files. But here's from memory...
  • Flies - fly traps, feed to your herps. NZ Herp Society is the best source of fly trap drawings. They keep tons of geckos.
  • Fruit flies - take salt shaker bottle with holes on top and put in wine vinegar plus one drop dish washing detergent. Leave on counter. Flies kill selves by asphyxiation with soap on the spiracles.
  • Earwigs - make lovely earwig habitat from books from the junk (used trash) store. Empty earwig traps into killing bottle as most herps find them inedible.
  • Silverfish - live under things and like to live in cat litter or bird litter (commercial products), also dust/dirt. Keep place clean, clean, clean and make little silverfish habitats in known locations and empty during daylight when they are less active.
  • Roaches - baby powder (powdered mineral talc) or boric acid powder, sink scouring powder, washing soda, etc. (commercial products which are surfactants when moistened.) Grind the powder as fine as you can and lay in fine lines where roaches like to travel. Even put out watering stations so the roaches will have to walk in your powder. It is transferred to the spiracles during roach grooming and will then moisten from the insect's own moisture and clog the spiracle with a soap bubble (see fruit flies). We had both black and brown roaches. Brown ones breed everywhere and powder is the only way. Black ones breed with queen chambers. Find that and kill that by dropping into a fire pit or can fire (even a barbecue in a pinch!) and they will be gone.

Realize I only know "US" pests, but as many of our horrors have been introduced to your islands, I hope this is of some help."

That's a lot of candles!

"Cairo Zoo is celebrating the 260th birthday of what could be the world's oldest tortoise, by putting a birthday cake on its back. Officials say they know the Galapagos Giant tortoise was born in 1742, but have had to estimate the month. A Guinness Book of Records spokeswoman told Ananova the oldest tortoise they know of is a Madagascan Radiated. It was presented to the Tongan Royal Family in 1777 and died in 1965 aged 188. The spokeswoman says Cairo Zoo hasn't yet contacted them. "We recommend they get in touch if they have the evidence. It certainly sounds as if it's older than what we list. We're interested in that," she added. [Reuters, August 4, 2002 from Allen Salzberg]

Knee High by When?

"Iowa Farmers Consider Raising Gators - Carnivores Could Solve Pork Problem. A couple of alligators have left the swamps and have made their home in western Iowa as part of new farming research project. Researchers from Iowa State University are checking the gators to see how they adapt to living in the heartland. "They have quadrupled in weight and are growing fairly well," researcher Kris Kohl said. The university wants to know if a gator farm could solve a major problem caused by hog farms. The reality is that many hogs die before they can be taken to market. Farmers are then left trying to figure out what to do with the carcasses. It may sound disgusting, but researchers think hog carcasses could be used to feed the animals at a gator farm. The alligators can then be harvested for their meat and their hides... About 500,000 gators are reportedly harvested for their meat or leather every year. Most of those animals come from Florida, Texas, and Louisiana. The ISU farm in Castana is open to the public. Castana is about 60 miles north of Council Bluffs, Iowa. [Channel 4000 (Mendota Heights, Minnesota) 28 August 02 from Wes von Papinešu]

Just keep looking

"A new species of `carnivorous predator armed with venomous fangs' has been discovered in Central Park, the heart of the nation's largest city says Reuters July 26, 2002. The poisonous predator is a tiny centipede that may well be the world's smallest, about half the usual length of centipedes and so unusual that scientists have classified it as the only species in a completely new genus. Said one scientist, `It tells us something shocking about what we don't know, rather than what we know. There are 1.5 million species named, but there could be as many as 10-50 million species living on this planet.'" [GREENlines #1674 August 1, 2002]

Dasvidanya baby

"... Staff of the tropical zoo in Tula (south of Moscow) discovered a runaway anaconda after 24 days' absence. The three-meter snake lived out of its cage since August 2, Yelena Krasnova, leading serpentologist at the zoo told RIA Novosti. Where the serpent lodged all this time remains a mystery even now. There was a constant vigorous search for the fugitive reptile, but the old building's cellars have quite a few distant corners to hide in. After feeling the misery of stray life, the snake ended up returning home because time came for it to molt its skin, Krasnova explained. Seeking water, the beast headed for the abandoned cage. The process of tracking the anaconda down had something of a detective story in it. To begin with, scraps of old snake-skin were found in the zoo's biggest aquarium, leading the staff to restrained exultation. Next, light broke off suddenly at one of the terrariums. Trying to find out what the matter was, the amazed personnel discovered torn wirework, a whole snake-skin and the wretched creature huddled between the terrarium walls. The anaconda lost much of its weight, so a special diet and microclimate had to be provided for it. Now the vagabond snake is adapting back for cage life and regaining its size. [Pravda (Russia) 27 August 02 from Wes von Papinešu]

Losing more eggs to idiots

Sea turtles face many threats in this world. And every year there's a new story about someone stealing their eggs which are considered a delicacy or an aphrodisiac. A member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation said that several black markets for the eggs exist and claims "They're sold just like drugs." But sea turtle eggs are a lot cheaper than other illegal substances. A dozen costs $36 in certain parts of southeast Florida including Little Havana in Miami. While certain conservationists claim to be unaware of poaching over the past ten years, now they are paying attention; more than ten poached nests were found in one small area in Florida where 90 percent of all continental U.S. sea turtle nesting occurs. Officials now estimate poaching consumes tens of thousands of eggs per year. A recent undercover buy of six eggs led to the arrest of ... [a 43-year-old man], of Riviera Beach, who, the authorities said, had 341 eggs in his home," according to The New York Times, which added that "If convicted of a misdemeanor federal charge of possessing and selling an endangered species, a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and up to $50,000 in fines... Even drug addicts are getting into the business. Because selling turtle eggs is a misdemeanor punishable by only a fine and little jail time, while stealing the eggs from a beach is a felony punishable by a stiff prison sentence, poachers are using middlemen to dig up the nests. Addicts looking for cash retrieve the eggs for a fee and turn them over to the dealers, who resell them for as much as $3 a piece on the black market. " [August 2, 2002 from Jim Stuart]

Dubious distinction

The Dead Zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River Delta is bigger than in any previous year according to the Baton Rouge Advocate, July 29, 2002. This year more than 8,500 square miles off shore is unable to support any marine life because algae blooms lead to low oxygen levels. The algae bloom in response to excess nitrogen runoff from sewage, industry and farms. [GREENlines #1676, August 5, 2002]

Slow, turtles at play

Work on a bridge [in Montgomery County, NJ] will be delayed because it is not allowed during turtle mating season. County officials planned to replace the Cherry Hill Bridge in the fall, but state law prevents them from disturbing the area during mating season. They have not decided when the work will begin at the Montgomery Township site. While it was not immediately known what species was found in the area, environmentalists say they likely are wood turtles, which are protected by the state. They say the work could stir up silt, which could kill the turtles. [Associated Press, August 5, 2002 from Karen Furnweger] This reminds me, do children who grow up by "Slow Children at Play" signs become "Slow Men at Work"?

Not native species

A 37-year-old Roseville, Michigan man was in fair condition at.. Hospital... after being bitten by a tropical snake. The man, whose name was not released, was being treated for a viper bite... a hospital spokesperson said. It was not clear where the man came into contact with the green mamba viper, a venomous snake native to tropical west Africa and not found in Michigan's wilds. [Detroit Free Press, August 3, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

A two-foot-long American alligator was found in South Bend, Indiana by neighbors who saw a small alligator sitting by their side door. They caught it and duct taped it's mouth shut and dropped it in a bucket before calling animal control to pick it up. A local veterinarian estimated the critter's age at about a year and suggested it might have been an abandoned or escaped pet. He said, "Setting [non-native animals] free is letting them die a slow death. Animals that are native to warmer climates would not survive a South Bend winter." [South Bend Tribune, July 30, 2002 from Garrett Kazmierski]

Shedd your matchmaker

"Three blue iguanas at the Shedd Aquarium have emerged as crucial players in a breeding program too save their species - newly designated the most endangered lizard in the world - from extinction. Only 10 to 25 of the lizards, native... to Grand Cayman are a live in the wild occupying a habitat of about 1.5 square miles. About 90 live in captivity... after centuries of falling prey to feral cats and dogs... further decimated when Grand Cayman became a tourist destination and the iguanas' habitat gave way to land development..," according to The Chicago Tribune. Only about 10 to 25 individuals are left in the wild. Shedd is hoping for donors for its program which seeks to breed a population of 225 or more. These iguanas can live to about 80 years and grow to five feet in length. [August 9, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

Steve bashed again

By crikey, there's sure a lot of reviewers who don't like Steve Irwin. The latest salvo is from Steve Johnson, Chicago Tribune media critic: "Marlon Perkins, spare us. Steve Irwin... is back... with another of his so-called `specials'... the Down Under zookeeper who makes a handsome side income taunting big reptiles for the amusement of TV viewers messes around with a croc [whom he claims is out for revenge]... we should be so lucky. Anyone actually nibbling on this fellows flesh would be likely to come away with a taste comprised of equal parts ham and cheese... If... you consider Irwin's serial crock mockery a spectacle worthy of a Florida roadside attraction at best, you'll probably want to watch [something else from the media wasteland]. [August 9, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

Front page news

A 10-year-old North Side Chicago boy has been charged with stealing two snakes from Lincoln Park Zoo. The child who lives in Cabrini-Green was charged with burglary after taking Sally and Teddy a boa and a bull snake that were taken from the zoo. Police heard that a group of boys were carrying the snakes around in a sack on the grounds of the housing project and rounded up the whole bunch of them. Finally one boy confessed that he and two others had been on zoo grounds after hours and taken the snakes. Sally, the boa, turned up in a West Side beauty parlor where it was being shown off by a 17-year-old girl. Patrons realized it was one of the two missing snakes and called police. The girl's boyfriend said he bought it from a couple of boys at an L stop on the South Side. [Chicago Tribune, August 10, 13, 14 16, 17 from Ray Boldt] Worst pun of the series "Hissing in Action: Snakes Elude Hunt."

Hey United!

Here's a new way to fly... "The paradise tree snake of South East Asia, whose habit of gliding from tree too tree has been the subject of recent research by... [a graduate student at] the University of Chicago. In flight, the snake's body flattens and its belly forms a slightly concave channel. This creates an airfoil which produces lift, and that lift is enhanced by a sidewinding motion perpendicular to the direction of travel... just published in Nature, reveals a remarkable aeronautical capability for a wingless creature. The shallow angle of descent and the scope of the snake's steering surpass that set by other gliding animals such as flying frogs." [The Economist, August 10, 2002 from Eloise Beltz-Decker]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

and to Alan Rigerman, Bill Burnett, G.E. Chow, Claus R. Sutor and the New Zealand Herpetological Society for sending things which I hope to use next month. You can contribute, too. Send whole pages from newspapers or magazines with your name on each piece (use the little address labels laying around for this task) to me. Letters can be sent to my email address. Wow, this column is approaching it's 17th year anniversary! Become a contributor and get your name up here with all my great contributors!

October 2002

No column file.

November 2002

Were they lightheaded?

"Austrian police ordered to check some faulty traffic lights discovered it was being occupied by a family of snakes. Officers went to see if they could repair the lights at a busy junction in Graz. But instead of a broken bulb they discovered the fault was a nest of four Aesculapian snakes The non-venomous reptiles were removed and released at the nearby Mur river." [London, UK Press Association, September 29, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]


"An animal control worker was fired for allegedly feeding a litter of live, weeks-old puppies to a large snake... [which was] confiscated during a police raid [and]... placed in a sanctuary. The female animal control worker... was fired." [The Grand Rapids Press, Michigan, September 24, 2002 from new contributor Ron Winfrey]

Oldest salamander

A fossil previously mislabeled as a fish and stored in a museum drawer has been found to be the earliest known animal to walk on land. It is described as "a salamanderlike creature that marked a previously unknown stage in the evolution of fish into the ancestors of all vertebrates alive today... between 348 million and 344 million years ago in what is now Scotland... a yard long (its tail accounting for about a third of its length), a probably split its time between water and land where it walked on four feet," according to one of the researchers. [Eureka, California Times-Standard, October 14, 2002 from K.S. Mierzwa]

Think twice about your next headache

Brown tree snakes on Guam have reached a density as high as 26,000 per square mile and have been trapped, studied and written about for years. Now wildlife officials have obtained federal permission to kill brown tree snakes by baiting mice with acetaminophen and stuffing them in snake-sized tubes so only the snakes can eat them. The snakes probably stowed away on military transport at the end of W.W.II; they later ate their way through Guam's fauna including one dozen endemic species of birds. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 30, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Mucking about in Jackson Park

The Chicago Tribune reports that several of my old friends in Chicago spent a considerable period of time crawling around in Chicago Park District lagoons in Jackson Park. They did not, however, find any of the Blanding's Turtles reported by a bird watcher recently. They did find about a half-dozen painted turtles, several species of rare native shellfish and native fish that were hunkered down in the mud which was to be dredged out to make way for a better lagoon. [October 8, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

The beginning of the end

"Silent Invasion" by the National Wildlife Refuge Association calls for a three part strategy to combat the invasive species - educating and mobilizing volunteers, deploying rapid response strike teams and implementing the strategic management plan of the National Invasive Species Council after finding that non-natives have "invaded more than 100 million acres of land nationwide, and almost eight million of those acres are in wildlife refuges, areas created to protect the most important examples of biological diversity." [GreenLines, October 31, 2002, #1737]

Suicide by snake

Animals taken from the home of an El Paso, Texas man who officials believe used the bite of a venomous snake to commit suicide include an American alligator (endangered), two albino cobras, a boa constrictor, two rattlesnakes, some lizards, turtles, tarantulas, rabbits, goldfish and dogs. The cobras were euthanized, the endangered and native animals in proper care and the rest of the animals were taken by friends of the man who died. [KVIA-7, El Paso, September 25, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Suburban rumors laid to rest

Forget what you may have read or heard, no rattlesnake or rattlesnakes were released near Wausau, Wisconsin. "'There are no rattlesnakes this far north. Never has been, never will be,' said [a] DNR wildlife biologist who works out of the agency's Rib Mountain office. [He] surmised that the genesis of the timber rattler rumor was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife project that introduced 15 massasauga rattlesnakes to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in fall 1999. The project was designed to research the snakes' habits and study the possibility of introducing them to the wilds there. Each was fitted with a radio transmitter, and ... the surviving snakes were removed from the area after the study concluded. [Marshfield, Wisconsin News Herald, August 27, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

The Chicago Tribune reports that "A South Elgin man was heartbroken... after police carted off his beloved 5-foot caiman... and [a] desert lynx... and charged him with possessing dangerous animals." The cat was reportedly seen loose in the neighborhood, which prompted police to seek its home. Both animals have been relocated to approved sites within the state. [August 31, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

Still no comet, just toads

Part of a letter received from Raymond Hoser of Melbourne, Australia, read: "Been speaking to a bloke in Barcaldine in Queensland tonight and he told me that last year Cane Toads made their Debut in that town. The result has been an apparent mass-extinction of Monitor lizards and a sharp drop in most other things herpetological. The man (not a herpetologist) reckons that places to the north of there such as Mt. Isa will also eventually go under in terms of Toads due to their greater size river systems and higher rainfall. It seems that the damage caused by Toads in Queensland is far from over and that these stinking things may end up going via the channel country to South Australia which is worse than I predicted in the 1980's." September 24, 2002

Boggling numbers

In 2001-2002 "18,449 deer [were] killed on the road in West Virginia, alone, Anyone would like to estimate the number of turtles, snakes, frogs, in their state, in this country? Editor" [Dominion Post Newspaper, West Virginia, September 29, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Amphibians standardized

Herp Digest reports: C.I.T.E.S. Nomenclature Committee To Use "Amphibian Species of the World," by Darryl R. Frost Notifications to the Parties, Standard reference for amphibians... At its meeting of 8 April 2002 (San Jose, Costa Rica), the Nomenclature Committee accepted the printout of Amphibian Species of the World by D.R. Frost as the standard reference for amphibians, valid as from the date of distribution of this Notification to the Parties. The pertinent pages regarding CITES-listed species of amphibians, the Amphibian Species Checklist, are provided in annex. It should be noted that the layout of the website where the on-line version of Amphibian Species of the World can be found looks different from the printed version adopted by the Nomenclature Committee. The content is however identical. [October 4, 2002, from Allen Salzberg]

More amphibian news

Researchers discovered 120 new frog species in a 750-square-kilometer segment of remaining Sri Lankan rain forest. Most of the new species survive by laying eggs which develop directly on land. Frogs hatch as miniature adults and have no tadpole phase. This may have helped them survive the loss of 95 percent of Sri Lanka's original rain forest cover. The authors suggest that other wonderful finds of small and slimy await future researchers in tropical Asia. [Science, October 11, 2002 from Eloise Beltz-Decker]

"A popular childhood past-time could be putting New Zealand's native wild frogs at risk. Scientists say catching frogs and tadpoles then letting them go somewhere else means diseases spread, killing off rare populations. Chytrid fungus was found in New Zealand in 1999 and since then has killed thousands of native and introduced amphibians. The Department of Conservation has launched frog week to help promote their conservation and reverse declining numbers. The department says the key is to return tadpoles or frogs to the place where they were caught. And DOC wants the public to report any sightings of sick or dead frogs. Native frogs do not croak, have very big eyes and do not produce swimming tadpoles - instead the babies develop inside eggs before hatching as small frogs with tails. The experts say that makes them some of the most fascinating amphibians in the world. [Nzoom, New Zealand, September 30, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Hundreds of Welsh newts will be moved into new ponds because a hi-tech business park had to be developed on the land where their old ponds used to be. "Twelve new ponds have been created for the newts and four miles of newt fencing has been erected. The reptiles are now being carefully moved in a series of operations in the early hours of the day, when they tend to surface. So far, the WDA has relocated nearly 300 newts. The site will feature green corridors and wedges for all sorts of wildlife, and eight hectares of land will be left undeveloped. The site will also include newt-friendly drainage systems. [Cardiff, UK Western Mail, September 30, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Sponsored by Speedo?

Baby loggerhead sea turtles navigate by detecting slight differences in Earth's magnetic field. They use this information to stay in the Atlantic gyre, a clockwise rotating current of warm water called "the Gulf Stream" along the U.S. east coast. The study used hatchlings in a tank surrounded by coils capable of creating precisely controlled magnetic fields. Tiny bathing suits attached to harnesses were placed on 70 turtle hatchlings. Where and how they swam was recorded while the fields were changing. As researchers mimicked the magnetic field of different places on earth, the hatchlings kept pointing in a direction which would have kept them squarely in the Atlantic gyre at that point. [The Washington Times, October 12, 2001 from Ray Boldt]

A growing trend (do pardon the pun)

The first alligator ever found in Delaware County, Pennsylvania was apparently an illegal captive. Found wandering a suburban neighborhood, "Wally" was taken into custody by the Pennsylvania Fish and Wildlife Agency which refused to say what they would do with it. [WPVI, October 6 and Herp Digest, October 20, 2002 from Allen Salzberg]

A 15-foot-long Burmese python described as as "wide as a soccer ball" was spotted in Nottinhamshire England woods near the Lincolnshire border. A RSPCA inspector said they continue to look for the nonvenomous constrictor which they suspect is living on small rodents or other mammals in the woods. They speculate the snake's owner abandoned it as "too big." [British Broadcasting Corporation, October 2, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

More snakes, lizards and frogs are being kept as pets than ever before according to the Associated Press which added that many people see them as a once a week feed and clean. The North American Reptile Breeders Conference and Show had displays by 150 dealers and drew 6,000 people to the two day event in Tinley Park. [South Bend Tribune, September 9, 2002 from Garrett Kazmierski and Chicago Tribune, October 1 and 13, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

I can't wait for the shoes

Gecko setae (hair like structures on the bottoms of their feet) have yielded yet another secret of how a gecko stays stuck, yet can release at will. Each seta ends in bacteria sized cells. The attraction between these tiny cells and solids is by means of van der Waals' forces - the weakest known form of atomic bonding. A single gecko seta can lift an ant, if all the setae on a single gecko were fully engaged, they could lift 280 pounds. Researchers are working on commercial applications like adhesives and mountaineering shoes. [Chicago Tribune, September 2, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

Creative writing

The Florida News Journal (October 6, 2002) issued a plea to visitors: Please don't take our carnivorous reptiles. Writer Mark Lane continued: "Only last year, two tourists were arrested after alligator napping one of the resident reptiles and letting it loose in a motel pool. Folks, this is a bad idea. Bad for the alligator. Bad for the people involved in the transportation. Bad for the pool-boy. Next time someone says to you: `Hey, let's go get a 'gator and set it loose in the pool!' just say `no.' Consider this a public service announcement. Friends don't let friends bring alligators back their motel. The persistence of senseless 'gator-related tourist crime illustrates something most observers have long suspected about Florida tourism. People don't come here despite the weird stories they've heard about dangerous wildlife and Nature Run Amok. People come here because of the weird stories they've heard about dangerous wildlife and Nature Run Amok. Those shark stories everyone worries about? Don't worry. They sell T-shirts. They sell the area. Alligator-eats-poodle stories? Too bad for Fluffy, but in the aggregate, good for the local economy."

More silly tourism tales

Creative smuggling seems to be one of the latest worldwide stories. In July, a 17-year-old girl off the plain from Dubai UAR was questioned when officials saw that what at first glance was a lizard patterned headscarf was really an endangered chameleon. [News of the Weird, September 27, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

In February, Glasgow, Scotland airport customs officials confiscated a woman's snakeskin belt when they realized it was an exotic and endangered harmless snake the lass had wrapped around her waist. [News of the Weird, July 12, 2002 from Ray Boldt]

"A tourist who captured a live alligator at a miniature gold course has been charged with animal poaching and petty theft." [Orlando Sentinel, October 3, 2002 from Bill Burnett]

"I-DO" "I-DO"

Farmers in "Karumbapalayam near Thondamuthur here solemnized marriage between two frogs... The bridegroom sitting in a toy car and the bride in a decorated toy cart, were brought in a procession to the marriage hall, accompanied by usual percussions... The couple's 'honeymoon' was ... in a nearby well," reports Outlook India (New Delhi, October 4, 2002). Rains have failed the past two seasons and like they did nearly 20 years ago, villagers are trying anything to get the monsoon to come. [from Wes von Papinešu]

An interesting request

"I am from the Pueblo of Laguna, which is one of the 19 Pueblo tribes in New Mexico. Along with the Pueblos of Acoma, Santa Ana, Zia, Cochiti, Santo Domingo and San Felipe we speak the Keres dialect. Our ceremonies involve ceremonial dances and prayer that are focused on the land, people, and all life. As an agrarian society, rain and the prayer for rain and moisture is a big part of our ceremonial cycle. Because the turtle is often found near or in water, they represent a connection to the moisture and rain spirits. The turtle is looked to for its power to communicate with the rain spirits and is respected for this reason. This is why the turtle is used in our religious ceremonies. We are in need of intact box turtle shells with both plastron and scutes still attached to the carapace. From Richard Luarkie " [from Allen Salzberg]

Have you been tested?

Blood given by an apparently asymptomatic boa owner caused salmonella infections when it was given as transfusions to sick patients. The whole article is in the September 3, 2002 New England Journal of Medicine and suggests that the U.S. blood supply system is still transmitting disease despite the assurances of blood providers that the system is "safe." 1.4 million cases of salmonella infections occur annually in the United States. The blood donor passed all the standard questions and was considered "healthy" by the blood collecting agency. [Toronto, Ontario Globe and Mail, September 3, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Homing snakes

An attempt to move the sea kraits living on one island in Fiji to another failed because the relocated sea snakes kept returning to their original home [Conservation Biology, October, 2002 from K.S. Mierzwa] "The Laticaudidae family of sea snakes can be found around islands and reefs in the Pacific Ocean and are not endangered. However, in some areas, snakes such as the yellow-lipped sea krait, Laticauda colubrina, have been heavily exploited by the international leather industry. Over-harvesting has caused local extinctions on some Japanese and Filipino islands... Laticaudid sea snakes are not true sea snakes. Though they forage in the ocean for moray and conger eels, they return to shore to digest prey, shed skins, mate, and lay eggs. True sea snakes, species in the family Hydrophiidae, never go ashore, and give birth to live young out at sea. Both groups of amphibious reptiles must return to the ocean's surface to breathe air. Scientists believe that historically the groups invaded the ocean separately, evolving adaptations to marine life independently," reports National Geographic [October 1, 2002 from Wes von Papinešu]

Lost and found in the desert

A Nile Crocodile intended for the Windhoek Show Snake Park which escaped while being trucked to Windhoek was spotted by a retired conservationist... who "thought he had seen it all, but when he came across a crocodile on the side of the national road near Grunau on Saturday, he was certain he'd lost his marbles," according to The Namibian (October 1, 2002). He and his wife "drove past what looked like a torn tire at the roadside. 'I told her it looked like a crocodile and turned around to go back. She told me I was crazy. And sure enough there it was,' For his trouble [he] received the N$1,000 reward that was offered when the reptile went missing... The two and a half meter Nile croc is still recovering from the ordeal and can be seen resting under a thorn bush in the Snake Park." [from Wes von Papinešu]

Another snake in paradise

A resident of Hauula prised a 2-foot California kingsnake out of a hole in a stone wall of Masa's Market. Officials picked it up and took it to a detention area. They showed off their latest capture with a ball python which was willingly turned in under the state's amnesty program. Call the pest hot line at 586-7378 if you see snakes on the islands. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, August 20, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Swap meet busted

The northwest suburban Chicago Daily Herald reported that: "A yearlong investigation into illegal reptile trading ended in Streamwood this weekend, when 20 state and federal law enforcement agents descended upon a `reptile swap' Sunday morning at... [a] farm on Schaumburg Road. Fourteen of the reptile vendors at the show were arrested, said [an] Illinois Conservation Police Investigator..., and at least three more arrests are pending. In addition, a total of 37 misdemeanor citations were issued. Charges ranged from the possession of venomous snakes to the sale of baby turtles, banned by the Food and Drug Administration because they are known carriers of the salmonella bacteria." The show has been running for 12 years and is an institution of sorts for some reptile collectors. There were nearly 50 vendors the day of the raid. The Herald continues: "A December 2001 arrest in Will County in which 11 venomous snakes were seized - including the rare and highly poisonous monocled albino cobra - were traced back to the Streamwood swap... Despite the raid Sunday, [the] shows have not been shut down." The owner of the swap and farm "expressed shock and dismay at what he felt was the confrontational way in which the raid was handled. `They all had guns and flak jackets, like they were ready for a shoot-out... They came in and made an announcement on our speaker system. They said, "We have armed officers at every entrance of this exhibit." Basically, people started wondering if it was a joke. But a lot of kids were frightened.' ... [Authorities] said that the number of agents was partially a reflection of the number of agencies involved in the raid - which included not just the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, but also the Food and Drug Administration, the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service." Bags and boxes were searched as people were asked to leave the swap and cars in the parking area outside were also examined. An illegal timber rattlesnake was found under the table of a 21-year-old Illinois resident. [September 17, 2002 from Jim Hoffman]

Glad to be alive

The director of Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville, Florida lost his right forearm to an 11-foot, 400-pound alligator while he was scooping thin mats of algae from one of the water gardens with a metal net. Don Goodman, 58 even has a sense of humor, suggesting that perhaps he should get a prosthetic arm with a "weed-eater at the end." The gator was known to live in the pond and had been given the name of "MoJo" by the staff. His severed arm was recovered from the gator's stomach, but was too badly damaged to reattach. Mr. Goodman said, "I was just happy to be alive." [September 25, 2002: Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial from Bill Burnett and Chicago Tribune from Ray Boldt -- October 10, 2002: The Orlando Sentinel, from Bill Burnett; The Miami Herald, from Alan Rigerman] Those wishing to send cards and letters offering encouragement can be sent to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, 4700 SW 58th Drive, Gainesville, Florida 32608. [Address courtesy of C. Kenneth Dodd, Jr. and Raymond Novotny]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month

but now, both the electronic and real file folders are just about empty except for my copies of MOKO (the journal of the New Zealand Herp Society) which will be extensively quoted next month in the absence of any new material from CHS members! Send whole pages of papers and magazines with the date/publication slug and your name on each page to me. Letters and electronic text can be sent to my email.

December 2002

Email, we get email.

"I know it's not a herp, but it's just too cute. Check out the photos of the Trilobite cookies and the recipe." [from Eloise Beltz-Decker]

"The footage shows how (almost) ALL species of snakes mate, but, it is a huge file (29 mb) and can only therefore be downloaded and viewed by those with high-speed cable or broadband internet access... and real player or ... similar... Raymond Hoser" [November 27, 2002]

"We've relaunched our website - and ... the PE Store! [We] reorganized to put more emphasis on kids' work, materials for teachers, and to allow us to bring new projects to light more quickly....[or] send an online postcard of your favorite expedition photo, use the PE Image Gallery... We are reaching more than 50,000 people a month in more than 14 countries around the world. If you have suggestions about the site send them to us! Gabrielle Lyon. Project Exploration. Using the wonders of science to inspire city kids and girls. [November 25, 2002]

I assume because of my website, translations of the names of reptiles and amphibians, someone emailed me to ask what ad for Harry Potter II, that reads "Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus" means in Latin. As close as I can tell means "Never tickle a sleeping dragon." I'd add an addendum "Draco Komodoensis nunquam titillandus" since those guys are just about as hungry asleep or awake.

Large Tetrapods

Beaverton, Oregon recently passed an exotic animal law and alligators were included. So a 4.5 foot long alligator was removed from a home in the suburb of Portland. He had first caught the city's attention after complaints from the neighbors who had seen it walking around outside of the owner's backyard last August. The `gator was purchased four years ago when it was six inches long. The woman who owns him said, "said she will fight the city's code to keep Al swimming in his black plastic tub in her kitchen." [The Oregonian, November 27, 2002]

Ashtabula Police incarcerated six adults charged with various narcotics violations and seized the alligator that lived in the basement. "[One of the officers] made like a lasso and got it around her snout, then tightened it up," [the other officer] said. "Then, he picked up the alligator and we put her into one of those big plastic containers like you can buy at Big Lots. We put the lid on really quick. She was not happy. She was thrashing around pretty good. They say an alligator's tail is very strong. She was whipping hers around quite a bit." The town has an exotic animal law prohibiting possession within town limits. The department has contacted zoos and a wildlife showman trying to give away the alligator. [Ashtabula Star-Beacon, November 26, 2002]

"Northern Territory police will issue a summons to a tour guide over a fatal crocodile attack of a German tourist at Kakadu National Park last month. [The 25-year-old] was taken by the reptile while swimming with members of the tour group at the Sandy Billabong. Police commander... says he received formal advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions to charge the guide. A police spokeswoman says the man will be summonsed to appear in the Darwin Magistrates Court at the earliest opportunity. [ABC (Australia) November 27, 2002]

"The Sultanate has joined other Asian countries to fight the alarming depletion of turtle population in the region. They include three giant species found on the Brunei shores. At least 17 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises are at risk.

Many Asian nations expressed concerned over the population depletion at an alarming rate. Among them are the Malaysian giant turtle (Orlitic borneesis), Giant Asian pond turtle (Heosemys grandis) and Spiny turtle (Heosemys spinosa). If not immediately controlled, these species could face eminent extinction." [Brunei Darussalam Bulletin, November 19, 2002]

New urban legends

The Johannesburg, South Africa Sunday Times reports that a "tale of killer snake is hard to swallow." The news made the world wire when a 12-year-old boy claimed to have watched a large python crush and swallow another boy. A snake expert believed the story and found trails and tracks in the area which seemed further collaboration, but the police say no one has come forward to report a missing child. As the police pointed out, no body or no report means no case. [September 24, 2002]

"A bandit wielded a rather unusual weapon to rob a man, a snake. The snake, a macajuel, scared the wits out of the victim who was forced to hand over to the bandit his watch valued $450." [Newsday, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, November 18, 2002]

I love the smell of herpetology in the morning!

The Johannesburg, South Africa News reports that an animal once believed to be only a legend, "The Giant Swimming Turtle of Vietnam" has actually been discovered swimming around in Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the capital, Hanoi. "Professor Duc has named the turtle in the lake Rafetus leloii after King Le Loi, the founder of Thanh Long, the 1 000-year-old city that became Hanoi. The legend of the Hoan Kiem turtle has been around for nearly as long. As the story goes, after Le Loi defeated Chinese invaders using a magical sword sent by the gods, he enjoyed a leisurely jaunt on the lake. A giant golden turtle appeared from the depths and surfaced near the king's boat. The regal sword began to vibrate, and the turtle spoke instructing the king to return the weapon to its heavenly owners. The sword flew out of the king's belt and into the turtle's mouth, and the golden tortoise submerged. For centuries, the lake has been known as Hoan Kiem, `The Lake of the Restored Sword.' Fast forward 1 000 years and it is still possible to see what may be the largest and rarest freshwater turtle in the world. It is seen only once or twice a month. How long the turtle will remain there is uncertain, though. Professor Duc first spotted the giant reptile - which is notoriously shy and can stay underwater for days at a time - a decade ago and has been studying it ever since." There seems to be only one left. [November 26, 2002]

In addition to the giant swimming turtle, Vietnam is now home to five species of sea turtle with the sightings of Chelonia mydas nesting in the middle of the country. The other four are Chelonia mydas, Eretmochelys imbricata, Lepidochelys olivacea, Caretta and Dermochelys coriacea. They hang out here because, as the article points out in its original French, "Outre ces especes animales rares, comme les tortues de mer et les dugongs, l'ecosysteme de la zone maritime de la province de Kiin Giang s'avere tres riche, avec ses coraux, ses algues et ses fruits de mer." [Le Courrier du Vietnam, Hanoi, October 10, 2002]

The invasion will be telecast

"It's almost high noon at Fogg Dam. Some time this summer, the first wave of invading cane toads is expected to descend upon the unsuspecting snakes that have long inhabited the former rice fields dotting the Adelaide River, 50 kilometres east of Darwin. But this time many of the opposing combatants - toads on one side and native snakes on the other - will be wearing tiny radio transmitters that will allow scientists to monitor the front line of the battle. Yesterday the Australian Research Council awarded a five-year $925,000 grant to ... evolutionary biologists at the University of Sydney, to study the ecological and evolutionary impact of a cane toad invasion." The local snakes eat the toxic toads and die. The cane toads have been implicated in local extinctions of native fauna wherever they occur in Australia. [Sydney Morning Herald, October 3, 2002]

So where's the comet?

"A new study finds that human's have modified or influenced 83% of the Earth's land surface leaving just a few areas pristine for wildlife... [and] 98% of areas suitable for growing crops ... with the primary remaining wild areas composed of the northern forests of Alaska, Canada and Russia; the high plateaus of Tibet and Mongolia; and much of the Amazon River Basin. The map of human influences is at [Reuters, October 23, 2001, via GreenLines, November 1, 2002]

"A new study in Science... finds that the number of plants worldwide that are threatened with extinction is much larger than commonly believed, and could be as high as 47% if tropical species are included ... "[GreenLines, November 4, 2002]

California Amphibians

"California's Sonoma County has decided to require an environmental impact study before any development or digging within a mile and a half of known breeding sites of the endangered tiger salamander..." [GreenLines, November 4, 2002]

"...Research published in the journal Conservation Biology has implicated wind-blown farm chemicals in the decline of three more species of imperiled California frogs, the mountain and foothill yellow legged frogs and the Cascades frog... Previous research had found the pesticides linked to the decline of the endangered red-legged frog and the new study bolsters a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit that charges the EPA with ignoring the Endangered Species Act by allowing certain pesticides to remain on the market even though they are known to kill or deform the red-legged frog. The windborne pesticides were linked to population drops for all for frogs and found that habitat where the frogs had been extirpated had up to four times more agricultural use than areas where the four species are still found." [GreenLines, November 27, 2002]

New American Vertebrate

"A new species of snake, Slowinski's Corn Snake, has been discovered in north-central Louisiana and eastern Texas by Dr. Frank T. Burbrink, a professor at the College of Staten Island-CUNY... named Elaphe slowinskii, in memory of the late Dr. Joseph B. Slowinski, who was curator of herpetology at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and a close friend and colleague of Dr. Burbrink's. Dr. Slowinski was bitten by a venomous Krait in Burma on September 11, 2001, and died the next day. Published in a print version (Volume 25, Number 3) of the forthcoming December 1, 2002, issue of "Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution," the new species is most closely related to the Eastern Corn Snake (Elaphe guttata), found east of the Mississippi River in the southeastern U.S., and to the Great Plains Rat Snake (Elaphe emoryi), found on the Great Plains from Texas north to Utah and Nebraska. An electronic color image by noted wildlife photographer Suzanne L. Collins of an adult Slowinski's Corn Snake from Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, can be viewed at" [The Center for North American Herpetology, November 23, 2002]

As below, so above

A 26-year-old Australian has been charged because he did not have a Reptile Keepers License but was keeping a large number of protected and exotic reptiles in his home including a Boa constrictor (exotic to Australia = *), three Diamond pythons, two albino Corn snakes (*), 16 Eastern water dragons (native lizards), one deceased Eastern water dragon, three Cunningham skinks, four Eastern long neck turtles, one Milk snake (*), and one deceased freshwater crocodile. The two dead animals were in the man's freezer. He could be fined $11,000 Australian, or kept six months in prison if convicted. [News release October 30, 2002 from]

In Fruithurst, Alabama, officials seized a pair of illegal venomous snakes: an African puff adder viper and a rattlesnake from the home of a man who reportedly sold his snakes at shows and over the Internet. [Birmingham News, Alabama, November 20, 2002]

Snakes are likely to be seen in residential areas as a result of the dry conditions... Rather than kill a snake that's coming too close to home for comfort, people should consider calling a snake catcher who will catch and remove it to a place that's safe for everyone....The most common snakes in the Eurobodalla are red-bellied blacks, tiger snakes and brown snakes and they've been seen and caught in many residential areas over the years." [Batesmans Bay, Australia Bay Post-Star, September 19, 2002]

"Hot, dry weather has brought some very unwelcome visitors to area homes - creatures usually avoided in the wild and not at all welcome under one's refrigerator or sink - snakes. Corn, black rat, hognose, copperhead and other varieties of snakes inhabit the Central North Carolina area... The first impulse of many finding a snake in their home is to call for help from some local government agency... Unfortunately, it is not the responsibility of any of these agencies to remove snakes, poisonous or otherwise, from people's homes... So, residents are basically on their own when it comes to dealing with the slithering, silent invaders. The good news is, of the various varieties of snakes likely to wander into homes, only one is poisonous [sic]: The copperhead. "[Sanford, North Carolina Herald, September 18, 2002]

"An Australian man has escaped with his life after being bitten by the world's third most venomous snake - known as the 'Taipan.' He was fortunate as the incident took place at a farm where Australia's snakes are kept to produce anti-venom." [Channel News Asia (Singapore), September 19, 2002 from Desiree Wong]

A [38-year-old] Pascagoula, Mississippi man's love for his pet rattlesnake has landed him in critical condition after being bitten... is on life support... given 27 vials of anti-venom while in a stationary, paralytic state and had only 15 percent of his respiratory system functioning according to his mother... [He was] bitten three or four times on his wrist and arm by his 3-year-old, five and a half-foot long Eastern Diamondback rattler ... when he was removing the snake to clean its ... cage. [Mississippi Press, September 11, 2002]

Swiss Snake

"A snake-lover has been reunited with his boa constrictor two days after he left it on a bus in the Swiss capital, police said Wednesday. The... owner... said he was carrying several bags and failed to notice the snake's escape from one of them. Surprised passengers discovered the 3-foot snake curled up behind a bus seat Monday night, police said. Veterinary authorities called in to capture the boa said it was not dangerous. Police said that after media reports about the capture, three other people also came forward claiming to have lost the boa. [Associated Press, September 18, 2002]

He needed killin'?

"An American alligator that was living in a farm pond in McClain County, Oklahoma was shot and killed Thursday night by federal wildlife authorities. ... [The] state director of wildlife services for the United States Department of Agriculture, said the alligator was killed after attempts to trap it for two months failed. It was obvious that others have tried to trap the alligator before, he said. Baited traps were unsuccessful and officials then tried to catch the alligator by spotlighting with a snare pole, Steuber said. `It had seen that before as well...It was impossible to catch.' The alligator measured 7 feet, 4 inches and weighed more than 100 pounds. [The Oklahoman, September 21, 2002]

Hemisphere extension

"A Mt Maunganui florist got the fright of his life when he saw a live 25-centimetre snake on the floor of his shop on Friday. He attacked the snake with a broom, smashing its head and cutting it into three pieces before calling Agriculture and Forestry Ministry staff." It turned out to be an American ringneck snake and probably arrived on "imported foliage." [New Zealand Stuff, November 20, 2002]

Got to rescue him, here

"...Steve Irwin's latest target is much smaller and potentially more dangerous. The crocodile hunter with the cult following has been signed by the Federal Government to promote Australia's tough quarantine laws. Irwin will star in a $3.5 million advertising campaign to highlight the huge dangers posed to Australian wildlife and agriculture by apparently harmless illegal imports. His message will be that working with crocodiles is a lot less risky than bringing banned foodstuffs and other products into Australia." [Australia Sunday Mail, November 24, 2002]

But what about reptile dysfunction?

"London (Reuters): Viagra, the anti-impotence drug that has pepped up the sex lives of humans, may also help to save endangered animal species, but not in the way most people would imagine. Conservationists say the popularity of Pfizer's blockbuster drug could reduce demand for animal parts used in traditional Chinese medicines to treat impotence... Viagra is cheaper than some Chinese sex potions and its effectiveness has been demonstrated... the drug could also have an impact on green turtles, geckos and sea horses which are used in Chinese remedies for erectile dysfunction. [The Times of India (New Delhi), November 18, 2002.]

Thanks to Wes von Papinešu for his electronic world roundup.

Next month, if I can get a computer and a phone line to send it, I will send you my column from Australia where Ken and I will be visiting friends on both the western and eastern sides. Please keep sending clippings! I will have to do a column immediately when I return, too. Send whole pages of newspaper with your name on each piece to me. Besides, we have to keep creeping out the local post office. One of the Bulletins I received was considered such fine art at some point of its journey that it was placed in a ziplock bag and delivered like that. I can only assume the postal workers did not even want to touch the snake illustrated on the envelope. Marty Marcus' envelopes showing him helping kids pet giant reptiles have also excited comment. Remember, they're holding my mail for a month while I'm gone... Let's send them an eyeful!

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