Greetings from Australia!
We left Ferndale, California on the 14th, a day earlier than planned because the Eel River was rising so fast from the first winter rains that the main road into town was flooding. Ken drove our rental car through about 15 inches of water, slowly so the battery didn't get wet and our trip stopped before it began. Driving south on 101, the rain was falling so fast that we saw salamanders swimming across the road and I was waiting for the salmon to leap up on their way to spawn! Finally we arrived in a town north of Marin and decided to spend the night. The next day, in glorious sunlight, we got to San Francisco, turned in the rental car and got on a plane to Los Angeles. From LAX, we flew eleven hours to Sydney, Australia - arriving on December 17. Remember you lose a day crossing the international date line and get it back when you return. Everybody clears customs at this point; a jumbo jet of smelly, tired people arrived at the customs stations at local 6:00 a.m. to be met by very friendly Australians. I was surprised by their good nature having cleared U.S. customs and dealt with the high falutin' attitude of our uncivil servants on more than one occasion. From Sydney we flew to Perth and were met at the airport by Geoff Russell Kinetic Coordinator for the Mt. Lawley Rotary Club, and a wonderful friend of our friend.
We got our rental car, but were extremely grateful to Geoff for riding in front of us to the local photography store so we could buy film unfogged by international x-rays. We then had a coffee with Geoff and he put us on the road south from Perth, waived goodbye and went back to work. It's very strange to drive on the left side of the road, especially after umpteen hours in midair, practically no sleep and the sun to the north. Fortunately for us, once you get out of Perth itself, the traffic thins to practically nothing and so he could learn how to shift a five speed with his left hand, push the turn signals with his right hand and try not to flip the windshield wipers every time he signaled for a turn. When I first started driving (later in the trip), I flipped on the wipers instead of the blinkers several times. Ken very seriously told me, "By the time today is over, you're going to want to rip the wiper lever right off the column!" And he was right.
Four hours later, we arrived at Wrong Road on the Leeuwin Estates. At the very end of the road is a tiny caravan (trailer to us Yanks) occupied by our friend and California neighbor, Hobart Brown. He was very glad to see us and we were very glad to see him, but mostly what we wanted to see was any flat surface on which we could go to sleep after three body days of traveling.
Since it is summer in Australia, the sun woke us up very early, so all three of us went into Margaret River for breakfast and a trip to the tourism bureau to pick up maps and brochures about stuff to do in the far south-west corner of Western Australia. You know you're not in the U.S. when you see kangaroos hopping along in the fields along with the cows and sheep. We found we could check our email for 20 Australian cents per minute ($0.125 US) on a superfast line and so discovered that Ferndale had been totally isolated from the outside world when the Eel River flooded. Fortunately, the town is high enough that few houses would have been affected, but folks in the river bottoms were probably hanging their furniture off hooks in the ceilings (permanently installed) and taking their cattle to higher ground.
We weren't accustomed to the heat and it was Hobart's day off, so we sat around in his caravan watching DVD movies in the outback. It was odd watching 007 oozing and shmoozing in Baku on the Caspian Sea and looking past the "telly" to see roos and joeys hopping along. We took a short walk later when it was cooler. We saw more kangaroos, a heron, green ringneck parrots, some magpies and fascinating fences full of spiders. We didn't see any kookaburra, an odd relative of the kingfisher that had woken us up from our jet lag with its hyena-like laughter in the middle of the first night. The sunset was beautiful reds and pinks, with clouds overhead that scudded in from the Southern Ocean between Australia and Antarctica. Hobart went to bed early and since our bodies thought it was the middle of the afternoon, we stayed up a little longer, listening to the frogs calling from the cows' tank and watching the unfamiliar southern stars.
Curiously here, both the moon and the sun are to the north of the observer, rather than to the south as they are north of the equator. The moon's "face" also is standing on its head and you can't see the milky way except far to the north where it looks like light interference from a small town with blue street lights. The southern cross is beautiful and quite recognizable as it is on the Australian flag and many logos that we've seen before. It is a strange feeling to see the zodiacal constellations upside down. Here my dyslexia is an advantage, since it doesn't matter to me which direction anything is facing anyway.
The next day, we went with Hobart to Leeuwin Estates Winery where he is artist in residence. The winery is one of Australia's most prominent and well known vinters. In addition to the art of wine, Leeuwin buys paintings that they then use for their labels, provides Hobart with a workspace on their veranda and sponsors concerts with big-name musical artists like Julio Iglesias and k.d. lang. Hobart pointed out a large black skink sunning himself on the brick pavement. We tried to sneak up on it to take a photo, but lizards down here are on something's menu and they are all as fast as racerunners. Later that day we saw a squished gecko in the car park. It was the same color as the black bitumen of the paving, but we didn't take a picture because it was rather gross.
Ken's photographic mission down here (besides landforms and critters) is to attempt to document Hobart's southern sculptures. Hobart welds steel, brass and bronze. His northern work tends to be either abstracts or recognizable things like planes, trains and whimsey. However, his southern work is mostly people - stealing chickens, hanging chandeliers, gazing through windows and piloting improbable transportation devices like hot air balloons and unicycles with wings.
Hobart is also the Glorious Founder of the Kinetic Sculpture Race [KSR], an event which has been running every year since 1969 in Ferndale and around the nation and the world ever since. The Mt. Lawley Rotary Club sponsors the Australian KSR in Perth every year. Their proceeds financially benefit the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and gives participants and spectators a wonderful experience. As they say, "It's all for the glory."
Ken photographed the pieces in Leeuwin's gallery that first day. Fortunately he finished all of them because the next day was really hot and he was overcome by the heat and fainted on the veranda. He hit his head on the way down and was totally knocked out, but came to in less than a minute, but was bleeding profusely and was dizzy and said he felt sick. So Leeuwin called an ambulance and we began our adventure with the Australian socialized medical system. First of all the ambulance arrived just about as soon as it was called and there were two EMT's, a driver and a trainee. They fitted Ken with a neck collar and put him on the trolley and loaded him into the van. One of the groundskeepers at Leeuwin had kindly brought our rental car around. I learned how to drive Ozzie by following the big green and white box with flashing lights.
The next big surprise was the hospital. No one asked our name or anything other than medical questions for at least the first hour. The ambulance service is all volunteer and since we aren't citizens here, apologized for having to present us with a bill for their services. The bill was about equal to a four person ride to O'Hare in rush hour. The doctor was a slender young woman in trendy bell bottoms and clunky heels who checked Ken all over while also pulling some kind of spines out of a bloke who'd wiped out surfing at Redgate Beach. No attitude and no worries, mate - but they didn't have a computerized tomography machine and they wanted to be sure that he didn't have any lasting damage from the bump on his head, so they stitched him up, called the ambulance and shipped him 90 kilometers (55.8 miles) to Bunbury. We drove right back up the road we had just come down two days before, but now I was following someone who knew the road, so I didn't worry about the street signs, just about Ken with his bloody bandage and uneven pupils. One CD later, we were there. They rolled Ken into the hospital and took him straight into emergency. No paperwork, no waiting, no nonsense. After another lovely young female doctor had examined him, they apologized for the inconvenience and asked me to step into an office to fill out the paperwork for the billing. No one there had seen our kind of insurance card, but no worries, they called the U.S. insurance company (it was 8:00 a.m. in Connecticut) and cleared all the charges with the nurse/operator. They did x-rays and electrocardiograms and a CT of his head. The doctor, a local reporter (we are, after all quite exotic in Western Australia) and the CT operator and I sung a chorus of "I'm Looking Through You" while we watched the computer slice and dice Ken's brain.
They finally let him go at ten p.m. after tea and sandwiches a full 12 hours after he fell and we had the late night joy of phoning every hotel in Bunbury. Only one answered the phone and offered us a room with a single bed and breakfast for $88.00. I accepted and asked if it would be possible to get a pillow and a sheet so I could sleep on the floor. By the time we got lost and then found the hotel, they had chased someone else out of a room with a double bed and put us in it for the same price as the single. This was our first introduction to true Ozzie hospitality. They cooked us a full breakfast the next morning and wished us well. Then we drove back. But as I was driving we took the scenic, through the last remaining Tuart Forest, stopped at the Point Naturaliste lighthouse and Yallingup Beach which has fantastic granite boulders both at the shore and out in the surf. At Sugarloaf Rock, we saw a very large and very flat blue-tongued skink on the road. It was also too gross to photograph.
We drove down Caves Road to Leeuwin instead of taking the Bussell Highway where they drive 110 kilometers per hour (68 mph). Some Australians have a real problem with road rage, tailgating and flashing hand signals more appropriate to the inner city than to one of the most beautiful and unstressful places on Earth.
We went to Redgate Beach the next day. Ken took photos of the rocks in the surf, I built a sand castle and played with the sand crabs. We stopped for a sign that said "Raptor Rehabilitation" and saw fourteen species of Australian birds including eagles, kites, owls, cockatoos and galahs. My personal favorite was the Tawney Frogmouth. We saw a wild peregrine falcon hanging around the cage with the injured peregrines, I wondered if it was a mate, a child or just a friend visiting. We've seen most of these birds loose since then and I was really glad to have learned what they were from the injured captives. That night we fell asleep listening to at least two kinds of frogs calling from the cattle tank. I would really like to see some frogs here, but water is rare in the outback in the dry season and so they only call from the midst of fields defended by large bovine bulls or possessive sheep. It's certainly not a good idea to go bushwhacking in the dark with bulls.
Christmas Eve we drove back to Perth to spend the next few days with Hobart's Kinetic Sculpture Race cohorts. On the way, I pulled through an alley to turn around and came face to face with a huge, three foot long racehorse goanna. I stopped on a dime and shouted "lizard!" Ken was out of the car in a flash, but the racehorse deserves his name and had disappeared. So we didn't get a photograph of him, either.
As everything closes down for the 25th and 26th, everybody said we would be much better off in Perth than in the middle of nowhere for the holidays. Unfortunately, Perth was over 100 degrees F the whole time we were there, so our experience of it was the inside of a shopping mall (gloriously cooled), and people's houses. Surprisingly, only one of the four houses we visited had air conditioning. Ken kept busy sweating over his camera taking pictures of Hobart's sculptures and I helped our hostess wrap presents for her family and tried not to drip on the ribbons. It just didn't seem like Christmas at 100 degrees!
They took us to see Romeo and Juliette in King's Park Botanical Garden. Shakespeare in Australian accents was interesting. The swordplay was stupendous and the actors superbly cast for their roles. The kookaburras sang from the trees and ducks dabbed about on the grass cadging handouts from the audience which dined alfresco and watched 2:40 hours of play with nary a trip to the bathroom, cell phone call or baby crying. This would be a good place to point out that Australian children are astonishingly well behaved. They do not pester for constant attention and I've yet to hear one whine or say "I'm bored," even if they are in a totally adult situation like the play. I'm not sure what is different about the parenting, but the results are superb and Americans could learn a lot about peace and quiet by learning Ozzie parenting skills.
Boxing Day was another party and then a trip to a subdivision south of Perth to meet Geoff and Maureen's daughter and son-in-law on their 10-acre starter home. Their neighbor has a WWI Tiger Moth biplane and he did loop-the-loops and stall loops and hammer loops over head while we watched. It was like a private airshow when one of his friends showed up in a more modern small plane and did rolls and spins, finally buzzed the airstrip and flew off towards Perth. The horses, dogs and puppies were unimpressed and the bright pink galah parrots happily ate seeds from the feeders while we sat on their veranda and talked.
We left Geoff and Maureen's the next morning stuffed with food and good times. We drove through Rockingham (sort of a newer Gary, Indiana) and to the lovely town of Madurah on the Indian Ocean. Don't miss Madurah if you ever get out to Western Australia [WA]. It seems a typical tourist town, until you realize that the boats are going out to watch whales and that the shoreline is bordered by a sculpture garden of works by local artists. We have met no other foreign tourists anywhere in WA, so tourism is geared to locals, mostly people from Perth down for a weekend.
The next day we went to the studio of a one-armed glassblower. He not only manages to make beautiful glassware but creates passionate works of art in a medium so fragile and light that you are almost afraid to touch it. I lined up the pieces I wanted to get and Ken said, "They'll never survive the shipping" at which point the woman who worked there tossed one down on the tile floor. It bounced several times and came to rest against the door brick. She said, "These will not break before you get home because they are cured for days from fire hot to room temperature." And she was right, there wasn't even a chip in it! When the glassblower found out that I am Hobart's welding apprentice, he invited me back to his studio to work on some hot glass and also sent some lovely things to Hobart. We found one of Hobart's pieces he'd completely forgotten about at the glassblowers and photographed it.
Then we went to Calgardup Cave, a solution cavity in the local limestone. Unlike the U.S., the national parks rented us helmets and torches (flashlights) and sent us down into a cave on a set of steps that would make OSHA blanche with horror and personal injury lawyers rub their hands with glee. In places, the ceiling is so low that you bend over double and scrape under the stalactites to get to the end of the cavern where we found a ring of benches and we sat down in the glorious coolness (about 50 degrees F) and turned out the torches and talked. I think we scared the bejezums out of the next group of tourists who didn't see us or hear us until they were about 10 feet away. They wanted to know if our torches had burned out; apparently sitting around in the utter blackness was not to their taste, although they tried it for about 30 seconds. We learned a lot about local natural history from the wonderful park workers when we checked in our helmets and lights and even found (for the first time) some books on local natural history. All this at a place that doesn't even show on the tourist maps because it is not a for profit entity.
Driving back to the caravan, Ken spotted a snake on the road. Although it was a very flat and fly infested four foot long tiger snake, we stopped and took pictures. Finally an Australian herp that would sit still for pictures! I turned to get back into the car and saw a skull in the roadside brush. I picked up the skull, three jawbones and some vertebrae of a small kangaroo! At that point, I realized I wasn't in California anymore.
Today we stood in both the Indian and Southern Oceans when we went to the Cape Leeuwin point at the very southwesternmost point of this glorious continent. We were hunting for stromatolites when I came across a lizard convention. There were about a dozen lizards all sunning themselves on rocks. They looked like "cnemies" from our southern deserts. Of course, all of them disappeared before I could get my camera out or call Ken back to see them. I hope to see more herps both here and when we fly over to Brisbane for 10 days in about 10 days. I'll tell you all about it in February.
Please do not stop sending clippings! I'm going to need them when I get home and have to kick out a column in full jetlag! Send whole pages of newspaper with your name and publication/date firmly attached to each piece to me.
Where we left off last month, Ken and I had seen no live herps in Western Australia. When I typed my column in Hobart's caravan I wished I had a better species list to share. "Be careful what you ask - for you might just get it," my grandmother used to say and the rest of the trip sure was like that.
The very day I sent my column electronically to Chicago, we saw a Carpet Python slithering rapidly across a blacktop trail in a dune shrub habitat restoration area. Everybody usually drives around it and parks at either end. There were lots of small lizards at this and every other beach in Western Australia. Probably to eat the millions of flies and small bugs at the beaches.
Even on this day of cloudy skies, high winds and waves with dozens of surfers in wet suits waiting at the Margaret River Mouth for that perfect curl, snakes and lizards were about. The sheer heat of the land keeps them active and they don't seem to need as much sun heat as they do up north. Perhaps higher temperatures in dinosaur times would have permitted this type of activity in cold-blooded creatures, too. Every animal we saw on the rest of the trip moved faster than the animals we are accustomed to in the U.S. I wondered if it was being on the menu for 40,000 years making all the critters speedy or just the heat.
The next morning after we saw a small Dugite snake sunning itself on some builders blocks and then we headed away from Margaret River towards the town of Nannup, photographing another flat snake. We were pleasantly surprised to find this CALM office (Land Management Agency of Western Australia) open and full of information and an outgoing and knowledgeable officer. We checked into a motel later in Pemberton and watched New Years fireworks both on the television from Sydney and out the door over the town.
Then we drove through the Karri forest. Karris are giant eucalyptus trees with different color bark in strips (sometimes spirals) that are said to be the third tallest species of tree on earth. As there are specimens of both of the taller ones in our neighbor's yard here in Ferndale, we found the Karris big, but not amazingly tall. What I found fascinating was in the recently burned areas, the Karris dropped their stringy bark and leaf ash in little cones around their bases. You could just imagine the fire running up the tree and the ash falling directly down.
The center of Australia's giant trees area is the town of Walpole. I liked Walpole. The people there were really trying to be helpful and outgoing. They also had great cottage industries and good food. We bought our tickets to the Tree-Top Walk and drove there still not really knowing what to expect.
The Tree Top Walk was amazing. It deserves its press in that they have very carefully built a boardwalk through some very ancient trees and a hanging walkway through another grove of the very tallest. The walkway is suspended from pillars, so the footprint on the forest is very small. The suspended walkway goes about 20 stories up in the air and swings a little. The tread of the walkway is welded metal screen so you can see down as well as over the top and out both sides. We saw more tourists from other places at the TTW than we ever did again in Australia. And more minicams, digicams, flashicams and posi-please-picture in various languages than I have seen in a long time.
For most people I think the walk was more an endurance thing, especially for those afraid of heights. They even had "I survived the TTW" tee shirts and certificates in the gift shop. But for the more eco-inclined, and willing to stand aside and let the tourists fly past, it was a view into the tops of the trees in a fascinating grove on the edge of a giant valley.
We then drove through the town of Denmark and to the seaside town of Albany. We found a darling Best Western motel which had the standard Australian room furniture of one or two beds, several small tables, a dresser, an iron and ironing board, a hot-water kettle, a mini refrigerator (stocked with milk for your tea of course) and a passthrough door for breakfast. We never used the last, but you could see other people having their breakfast plates delivered at precisely the time they were ordered. Some parts of Australia are so British and other parts are so not. Albany is almost trying to be part of the US. They have a Kmart and a Target and several one-hour photos. But get me out of town, always into the bush! We drove too two rock features nearby.
This coast of Australia is where the split occurred between this continent and Antarctica. What got left on the Australian side are high rock walls. In these huge walls of granite, gneiss and quartz veining. Being granitic, it breaks in large blocks which then weather down with rounded edges. So we had seen lots of "elephant rocks" and one cliff at Point Leeuwin which almost looked like columnar granite, but wasn't quite so regular.
What we saw now was truly amazing. The Gap is a natural joint in the rock that is about 30 stories high. You walk across bare rock to get to a concrete platform with a waist-high railing. Each wave, 30 stories down crashes into the rock wall and a fine plume of water and spray gets sent high up the crack, straight towards the viewing platform and the approach walkway. There is the usual understated sign about your survival being up to you after a long list of ways you could hurt yourself here. Of course we saw people trying all the things on the list.
After the Gap, we went to the Natural Bridge which is just enormous. You could park four or five 18-wheel trucks end to end on the unsupported span of fractured gneiss which overhangs an airspace in which you could put one or two of those same trucks standing on end. Under the Bridge is a washed rock platform. We were there at low tide, so we could see the rocks, if we'd been later, all that would have been below it would have been crashing surf. A little further along are some blowholes. This is really reassuring for a geologist. You are standing on some sort of a formation which has a direct connection to the sea. Every once in a while, a big wave will send spray up 20 or 30 stories. Sometimes rocks pop out, but they mostly looked like fractured pieces of the formation, so I suspect they are little bits which have fallen off the walls of the blowholes and are not being sent up from the ocean below. It was cold and windy, but the surf wasn't cooperating. We heard some noises and rumblings and went back toward town.
On the road we found an amazing walkthrough bird aviary. For a minimal entry fee, they gave us flowers of one of the local plants and sent us through double screened doors to commingle with cockatoos, parrots, galahs, cockatiels, budgies, zebra finches, and a bunch of other birds I hesitate to even guess what they were. Colors included the whole spectrum from delicate blues through vibrant reds on the King Parrot.
The next day we left Albany by way of the back roads. I drove some single track and some gravel and we hit some towns that were far off the beaten track and not even in the Lonely Planet guide we'd hauled all the way from home. We saw some "truck trains" and ranches and some more granitic mountains in the distance. We stopped at a salt lake - perhaps one of those we'd seen on the airplane coming in. Due to cutting down the forest, the landscape lost a large amount of evapotranspiration. The result has been the raising of the water table and the freeing of salt ions held for eons in the soils. Where all this salty water runs off, these huge salt lakes form. Now they're planting huge forests on the lakes in an effort to reverse this trend.
Just like in the U.S., the huge forests were all cut down in the early days of Euro-cultural habitation, which in this part of Earth is only about 1805 and onward. All the wood was shipped back to Europe in ships that brought people (mostly English "convicts") on the other leg. The wood was used to make wooden paving, curbing and sidewalks. The Australian who told me this was convinced that their wood was still in place. After two world wars, I'd be surprised if any wooden blocking survives, but I hadn't the heart to tell her.
Driving along for hours in this fascinating landscape, listening to Midnight Oil, we noticed we hadn't seen anything of the Aboriginal people but one monument to an aboriginal who helped the white people settle Albany. There were no Aboriginal parks or villages of even the most touristy type. None of their fabulous art was in the stores except the occasional "authentic" boomerang (made in China). The landscape needs burning to stay in good shape and it was fully habitated when the whites arrived. So where were the original people? We hadn't seen any slums, but we hadn't seen any but one family group in Perth either.
Our rental car just rolled along amidst endless fields and vineyards. Houses, barns, windmills, fences flashed by with hedgerows of grass tree, bright yellow Christmas tree wattle and gray eucalypts with those Glossopteris-like leaves waving as we flew by. We got back to Margaret River got some great fish and chips, headed back to Hobart's caravan and got ready to go back to Perth the next morning.
We stopped near the town of Mandurah to see some of the oldest life forms on Earth: thrombolites. Created by a similar process to stromatolites, these pillows of colonial bacteria live from the high tide zone all the way to the offshore zone in Lake Clifton which is a long narrow lake bounded by sand dunes and having a calcareous input from water percolating through the shell-rich sands. The water was lapping back and forth over these ancient things, known only from the Bahamas and this one strip of Australia's western coast. Their ancestors made our air and only these few were able to survive in it. Our friend Hobart said they even made him feel young and we went off to town.
We got Hobart too the airport the next morning, then drove with Geoff and Maureen to the Pinaroo Cemetery to photograph kangaroos which just sort of hang around like Canadian geese at the tollway pond. Then we went to Freemantle where I met an Aboriginal man in full feathers and string (and not much else). He said he was playing the Joker and when I joked him back, he enjoyed it very much. He asked what I do and I told him about teaching Environmental Ethics last year. Our book had a chapter for each continent's ethics. This elderly man in a a tassel and feathers screwed up his eyes and said, "I betcha the European chapter was the shortest!" And when I stopped laughing, I realized - he was right. But he had vanished into the crowd to joke with someone else in this essentially whites only shopping/dining hotspot with the young bucks cruising by in gleaming muscle cars.
The next day we went to the Armadale Reptile Park where we saw heaps of reptiles, a croc, some turtles, frogs and huge 12-inch long bats. They also had walk through aviaries with smaller kingfishers, but no kookaburras yet - we'd only heard them. We heard several great reptile-rescue stories from the staff. Many were familiar, but one new one was a side splitter.
Nature Center Lady (NCL): Madam, please describe this snake.
Hysterical Woman (HW): It's huge and it's got four legs...
NCL: Ma'am, snakes don't have legs.
HW: Yes they do, they just fall off when they get older.
The next day we went to the AQWA Aquarium where there is an underwater tunnel and a moving walkway so you just stand still and the sea life swims over your head. We saw sharks, rays, a sea turtle and innumerable fish. They also had sea dragons both the plain ones and the leafy variety. If you've never seen a leafy sea dragon, log on and search out a picture. These things are poetry in slow motion. Absolutely fascinating, and the AQWA worker pointed out that they wash up along the beach all along this part of the Perth coast. AQWA also had a petting pool where we touched a soft velvety ray.
The day after that we went to the Western Australia Museum where we were bored in the rocks and fossils (very generic and nothing really of local material) and then fascinated by the "Stolen Generations" cultural exhibit. If you get the opportunity to see an Australian movie called "Rabbit Proof Fence," do see it - its all true.
Our next whole day was spent flying from Perth to Brisbane where we were met by our friend Andrea. That was particularly good as the rental agency we'd booked our car from was not at the airport, a fact they'd neglected to mention to our travel agent. She drove and we talked for the next 45 minutes and ended up at her fairy tale beautiful seaside palace south of Brisbane along the coast dotted with offshore sand islands.
The next few days are full of expeditions. Andrea has been around the world a couple of times and wants to see everything everywhere on tours, so the first few days were a whirl. First we went to the offshore islands on a wonderful ferry that reminded me of a W.W.II landing craft complete with drop down front gate. On the island we saw flattened cane toads and sulfur crested cockatoos. After that we went to a nature preserve and saw a wild koala sacked out in a paper bark eucalyptus tree.
This is the place to point out that in flying across Australia, we covered as much landscape as flying from San Francisco to New York. Where the west side was arid and hot, the eastern side is a tropical rain forest edged by blinding white beaches, fringed in glittering high-rises catering to a global holiday crowd. One town reminded me a lot of Miami Beach plus Las Vegas, lots of sand and flashing lights. But the back theme is Asian, many of the shops have signs in Japanese and Korean and the shopping seems oriented (pardon the pun) to this market.
Unlike the west, where everybody ignored the wildlife, here a natural area had wallabies just hanging around the parking lots where children stopped to feed them highly nutritious wallaby chow like Vitamin 12 Bread. We also saw a Lace Monitor flashing around in the trees and went looking for platypus, but the pools which would have supported them were dry. All of Australia is having a terrible drought and even this wet eastern shore is no exception.
The town and place known as Mount Tambourine is worth a visit if you are ever near Brisbane. It is a charming mountaintop town full of art studios and galleries. The view from the top is worth the drive alone, but it is substantially cooler on top of the hill and we got a light dusting of rain, too.
Along with all the day travel, we were renting videos made in Australia and watching them at night. Highly recommended are: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Babe; The Dish; The Castle; Rabbit-Proof Fence; Muriel's Wedding and all three Mad Max movies. Obviously, we did not even try to watch all of these on one night!
The next day we went to downtown Brisbane for the Sunday market on the Riverwalk. We also saw the dinosaurs at the Queensland Museum. There were water dragons basking on the rain forest boardwalk and humans basking along a manmade beach perched high on the shoreline above the river. All this backed up by tall high-rises of this eastern commercial center. Otherwise, this too was rather like the US. Lots of three or four lane highways, public transport up one side, multiple person commuting lanes and so on. But they also have speedy water taxis and ferries to connect up with all the shore line housing and islands.
The next day Andrea drove us two hours north to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo in Beerwah. Everyone will tell you how Steve and Teri live very simply and the whole thing is run for the purposes of conservation. They buy habitat. I enjoyed the whole thing very much but wonder how it is that the map that would show you how to get there is the only chunk missing in the "About Brisbane" handout that is everywhere in the region. It mentions the Zoo, but one map stops short and the other one picks up after it. So even with a relatively native Queenslander driving, we got lost.
When we did get there, we parked somewhere in the next county and walked in feeling a bit like we'd arrived at 6-Flags, but all the staff was wearing Steve: khaki top and shorts, elastic sided or work boots and cap or visor. What an outfit! It felt like Jurassic Park for reptiles and other Australian animals. When we first got there the crowds were at the photo with a giant snake. Then they arrived around the croc pit for the feeding show which was led by Teri Irwin. Then everyone headed off to the Feeding Frenzy food court for lunch. Then to the other croc pit for some singing and another croc feeding. Then to the reptiles for the feeding. Then the American Alligators. Those are really near the exit at the gift shop. So most of the crowd left.
We saw a couple of the shows, but went the other way from the crowds, walking through the open kangaroo habitats where you can walk right up and feed them special kangaroo chow or just take lots of pictures. We walked through the wetland bird habitat and the netted bird enclosure. Got to the raptors in time to hear the usual raptor rehab stories, just with alien species and arrived at snakes in time for venomous snake feedings.
The snakes included the king brown snake, black tiger snake, eastern tiger snake, taipan, green python, carpet python, red-bellied black snake and more. Every enclosure was clean, the snake backgrounds were habitat paintings and the foregrounds included things very similar to those we had just seen when we were photographing this stuff squished and alive in Western Australia.
We also saw wombats, Tasmanian devils, dingos, koalas, a pond full of turtles that just looked for all the world like small snappers, but were side necks, and more lizards, monitors and otters. We were some of the last people out, through the gift shop and into the land beyond Steve. Of the whole experience, I was surprised only by the gift shop. With all the emphasis on conservation, there was very little factual information in the shop. It was mostly souvenirs and cult-of-Steve stuff. I almost expected to see a box that said, "Now! Dress your ankle biter as mini-Steve! Everything you need to feed Junior to a croc!"
Actually and rather surprisingly, there were more adults that children at the Zoo and it was school holidays. The other place where that ratio was surprising was at the "Hyperdome," the local supermall. It was almost all teens and up. They had the ubiquitous Kmart and Woolworths (here a grocery store) and a bunch of smaller stores. The whole feel was so very mall. There was nothing of Australia except the ubiquitous "Made in Australia" tags on the usual household stuff, just like what we get at home in the US, except all the screws are metric.
We went back to Andrea's to make dinner. Her daughter went outside to feed the fish and discovered a cane toad in the ornamental pond next to the swimming pool. Ken immediately went out and caught it and because it was nearly dark we put it in a bucket over night so we could take photos of it in the morning. When we got a good look at it in the morning, we noticed it was deformed, one arm stuck out at an odd angle and it was missing a toe and a half.
So photos and then a humane death for this other convict, carried here against its will and only doing its toad thing of spread and conquer. Unfortunately, the Australian wildlife can't handle Bufo's toxins and so are diminishing or vanishing as the toad spreads. We were rather surprised that there were no organized efforts afoot to catch them or try to stop their spread across the continent. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The only placental mammal 40,000 years ago may have been the bats, then humans and early dogs (dingos). Since then a whole host of plants and animals and several more human cultural waves have followed. Each wins a few, loses a few. Some, like humans and toads, spread everywhere. Others, like the platypus which we saw at Brisbane Forest the last day we were in Australia, are pushed so far into extinction that you have to call a nature center to find out when and where you can go platypus watching.
The other animal we finally got a great look at in our last days in Australia was the kookaburra. As soon as they were sure we were leaving, they showed up and sang. Also that last night, by the light of the full moon, the black and shiny 12-inch bats went swooping by the hundreds then the thousands, across the cliff that separated Andrea's patio from the bay and the smoke and glow of a bush fire burning its way across a natural area on one of the offshore islands. These are fruit bats, they were coming for the Macquirie Island figs from the neighbors' giant tree.
Frogs croaked and the winds from Cyclone Zoe had finally calmed down enough to sit outside without a sandblasting. The next day (days?) we spent on airplanes eating tiny meals at inconvenient intervals and trying to stay patient while sharing a metal tube with 365 other people none of whom will talk to you except the help, maybe.
We arrived in Los Angeles and marveled at the instant diversity. The happy Hispanic fellow driving the link bus around from terminal to terminal. The melting pot of security screeners, flight crews, shop help. We hadn't realized just how white Australia was until we arrived in LA. San Francisco was fun too, although here the rainbow nation was an antiwar protest that the papers reported was 65,000 strong. All I can tell you is it took 2 hours to do 15 minutes of driving and by the time we got home it was nearly dark and we were exhausted after 23 body hours of travel.
And then the next day we got our mail! A whole month, including Christmas and clippings for my March column from wonderful contributors. As always, if you see a great herp article (or conservation in general), please send it to me. Photos for the Australia trip are available on Ken's website http://kmier.net (click on Australia). Read me next month when we return to our usual format!
Next time, use a neon sign
"A California woman was sentenced to 6 months in prison for smuggling nearly 2,900 sea-turtle eggs into the United States... purchased... in her native El Salvador," according to the Chicago Tribune. She had wrapped each egg, carefully in aluminum foil. [November 22, 2002 from Claus R. Sutor and Ray Boldt]
Hissing in action
"Giant snakes, likely abandoned pets, have a new hangout .... [it's the] invasion of the Everglades.... Burmese python... commonly reaches 20 feet and nearly 200 pounds, topping out around 26 feet. It has been known to kill full-grown adults and even consume smallish people and children in their native Asia, according to ... a Homestead biologist and reptile expert. For now, the pythons found in Everglades National Park are being taken to a wildlife rehab center in Homestead... [Where the center] director... has several he's fattening up to serve his king cobras... Imported snakes such as boa constrictors and pythons... have been found in the park since at least the 1980s... [And] some 1,000-plus captive snakes probably escaped into the wild after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. [The Miami Herald, December 22, 2002 from Alan W. Rigerman]
Creative use of a Barbie skateboard
A three-legged turtle in England gets around fine now that the local vet and toy shop owner collaborated and glued a toy skateboard to the turtle's shell under where his fourth leg used to be. The animal was imported to England, missing the leg, more than 25 years ago. [Daily Mail, U.K. August 10, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
Once warned, once busted
A 50-pound alligator, 10 pit bulls, two pythons and a tortoise were confiscated from a Mishawaka, Indiana home. The alligator had a 4-foot by 12-foot pond in a bedroom separated from the dogs by a 4-foot high wire fence. This was the second time an alligator has been removed from this home. [South Bend Tribune, February 15, 2003 from Garrett Kazmierski]
Two snakes, two outcomes
A 67-year-old in Mountain Home, Arkansas found a 7-foot-long python in his driveway. He forced the snake into a box by spraying it with his garden hose and put a piece of plywood on top. Then he called the sheriff. [August, 1, 2002] Just a few days earlier, a reticulated python escaped from its terrarium. It's frantic owner tried to find him, but a neighbor (150 yards away) found it and killed it with a shovel. "The mistake that snake made was coming into my yard." The snake's owner is disconsolate, but wants another serpent. [Both from Arkansas Democrat Gazette, sent by Bill Burnett]
Fourth IN Froggies
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is seeking frog counters for the fourth Indiana survey under standards established with the North America Amphibian Monitoring Program [NAAMP] run by the U.S. Geological Survey. Participants will be asked to choose a route to monitor from spring through summer - to cover amphibian breeding seasons. There are stationary sites and routes that require 15 mile drives with 10 designated stops to record data. [South Bend Tribune, January 31, 2003 from Garrett Kazmierski]
Getting a head in business
A business in Oxford, Florida is the source of about 95 percent of the tackiest southern souvenirs, stuff, posed, dried and beheaded. A spokesman for the company says they produce 800 to 1,000 gator heads per day. He gets his heads and small gators from farms, the larger animals and heads from nuisance trappers. He says he sells between 4,000 and 5,000 large heads per year. [Sumter, FL Sun, July 20, 2002 from Bill Burnett's mom]
"Fishing, boating halted [at Lemon Lake] after countless tadpoles die... until [park officials] can determine what's killed... tadpoles no bigger than one's thumb... While more mature tadpoles also have been found dead, they have been those at the shore line where there are more weeds and grass to restrict... oxygen... [a park spokeswoman] said she believed the dead tadpoles have caused a stir because of the spraying for the West Nile virus [now in its second year in the Chicago area]... An emergency coordinator for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management did not discount the probability of natural causes claiming the tadpoles... alkaline levels tested within normal ranges... ammonia nitrate... indicates the presence of fertilizer... low... no spills into the lake." Test results should have been back within a week. Other speculations included low oxygen due to heat followed by an influx of rain water. [Port Local Times, August 27, 2002 from J.N. Schoenfelder]
In addition to effects of West Nile virus on more than 200 species of birds, reptiles and mammals which became ill this year, 200 individual alligators died from the virus on Florida alligator farms in 2002. In other zoos, other exotic animals killed included cockatiels, emus, seals, flamingos and penguins. Over time, species will adapt, but the speed at which the virus spread across the U.S. has shown weaknesses in American defense to biological agents. It is expected that the virus will reach the U.S. west coast in spring of 2003, home to giant poultry farms of chicken and geese as well as endangered whooping cranes and condors. It may also leap to the American tropics this year, putting already stressed populations of parrots and hummingbirds at risk. West Nile originally appeared in the fall of 1999 when it was found in a dead crow in New York. Some scientists suspect it arrived in an infected bird brought in from the Middle East, but there is - of course - no way to know. [The Chicago Tribune, December 31, 2002 from Ray Boldt]
Something I would have never thought of, is that West Nile Virus is in the same family as St. Louis Encephalitis and is heat sensitive. So you can cook and eat something that died from either without apparent risk of getting the diseases. [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, November 14, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
A total of 3,587 human cases and 211 deaths from West Nile were officially accepted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Perhaps as many as 200,000 Americans have been exposed, and 38 states and Washington, D.C. had cases in 2002. Researchers studying the affected alligators noticed the classic symptoms of West Nile: walking in circles, tilting their heads and appearing off-balance. How the mosquito manages to infect the tough-hided alligator has not yet been observed. [Orlando Sentinel, November 14, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
Meanwhile Avian Newcastle disease has been getting around near Los Angeles, CA. First discovered in backyard flocks, it was soon documented in the giant chicken farms, some caged and some uncaged which abound in that area. All bird imports and exports from the area were halted. [Eureka Times-Standard from AP, February 2003]
Mahalo for finding them
Wildlife officials on Maui are asking residents to watch for veiled chameleons. They're illegal and the finding of six, including a "very pregnant female," mature male and juveniles show that they have established a breeding population on the island. The manager of the state Department of Agriculture Plant Quarantine Branch said it seems they are loose because of "intentional releases of illegal animals into the wild with the purpose of establishing a population." The veiled chameleon is larger than the Jackson's chameleon, native to only one mountain in Kenya, which has also established itself on Maui. Veileds also can eat small birds and bird eggs, making them a concern for an island with no native animal in that niche. Workers putting in a fence in the affected area also found a mature ornate box turtle which is also illegal in Hawai'i. Possession of an illegal animal in Hawai'i can result in three years in jail and a fine of up to $200,000. [The Maui News, December 7, 2002 from Alan W. Rigerman]
A 1.5-foot long rosy boa (Lichanura trivirgata), native to the desert southwestern U.S. was turned in to authorities on Kaua'i. Under the state's amnesty program, anyone voluntarily surrendering an illegal animal is immune from prosecution. [Honolulu Advertiser, January 8, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Two snakes were turned in on O'ahu, a 4-foot ball python and a 2-foot California King snake. [Honolulu Advertiser, August 20, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Sea turtles are in trouble, but turtle tourism is growing fast and raising awareness. Watch hatchlings make their way to the sea at these spots: Florida Coast... Sebastian Inlet State Park... Padre Island, Texas Hatchling Hotline 361-949-7163... Tortuguero, Costa Rica... La Flor, Nicaragua... Zululand, South Africa... October... February - http://zululand.kzn.org.za - ." [Newsweek, February 10, 2003 from J.N. Schoenfelder]
About 20 Kemp's ridley turtles were flown from Cape Cod to Orlando, Florida after they were found stranded along the cold northern shores. All told in 2002, about 101 sea turtles have been flown back to warmer waters. The juveniles are often afflicted with pneumonia and other fungal and bacterial infections. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, December 20, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
Loved in PR / Hated in HI
The coqui frog (Eleutherodactylus coqui) apparently moved itself from the Caribbean to Honolulu during the mid-1980s in potted plants. Back then, I recall the debate on whether or not a particularly sharp eared herpetologist was hearing coqui during a vacation way back when. "Everyone" told him he was nuts, that there "were no coqui in Hawai'i." Well, we've learned differently and the Hawaiians hate the noise and the thought of their entire bug system being eaten up from the inside out. So they've started frog eradication efforts. This is a first. Everywhere else (except in Australia with the cane toad), we are concerned about keeping all our amphibian species. Here's one which has translocated itself literally half way around the world and now we want to wipe it out. So we're studying all phases of its lifecycle to see where it's vulnerable. Proposed so far are lime sprays, caffeine sprays and acetaminophen spray as has been used in an attempt to control brown tree snakes on Guam last year. In addition, they've learned that Hawai'i is already fully invaded by a quieter Carribeano, the greenhouse frog. Coquis are also established in Florida, but haven't spread on the mainland, probably due to competition from native North American frogs. [Science News, January 4, 2003 from J.N. Schoenfelder] Let's hope they apply all this technology to saving some frog species somewhere else. I found particularly scary the statement that they found caffeine spray is an "effective frogicide... very few impacts on other non-target organisms." Insect populations dipped but rebounded. Now probably faster and resistant. Oh well. That's ecology.
A man who heads the Coqui Hawaiian Integration and Reeducation Project [CHIRP] criticized the way that state park workers were removing non-native vegetation and spraying citric acid in an effort to control non-native frogs on the Big Island. The work includes plans to replant with natives which may be less beneficial to the alien amphibians. CHIRP's website is - http://www.hawaiiancoqui.org/ and a more official perspective may be heard at - http://hear.org/AlienSpeciesInHawaii/species/frogs/ -. [The Honolulu Advertiser, December 16, 2002] In another article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Mr. CHIRP suggests capturing coqui by hand and shipping them back to Puerto Rico. Authorities pointed out that there are major legal hurdles to pass to do what the frogs managed to do by themselves. [January 4, 2003 both from Ms. G.E. Chow]
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture approved the use of 16 percent citric acid in water (double lime juice) for homeowners and nurseries to attempt to eradicate non-native amphibians. The solution is made with food-grade citric acid usually used to make juice or soda so it is not regulated by the EPA. Nurseries are buying citric acid in 50 pound bags and repacking it for use by homeowners. Even so officials concede wiping the frogs off the Big Island and Maui could be impossible. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December, 13, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Chinese researchers have described a new species of tiny feathered dinosaur, Microraptor gui, in 124 to 145 million year old sediments in Liaoning Province in northeastern China. It had feathers on all four limbs and probably glided from tree to tree. The full account was published in Nature as the cover story. [China Daily, January 24, 2003 from Mrs. P.L. Beltz]
Still deadly after all these years?
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife inspection officer said that they confiscated a stuffed cobra, poised in a striking pose from a tourist coming back from Thailand. "When the animal is killed," he said, "The venom becomes solidified. But if you punctured yourself, it could be lethal." Other yuck they've stopped includes pickled cobras and decomposing iguanas in bottles labeled "wine," and all other sorts of live and dead contraband. [Arkansas Democrat Gazette, December 4, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
Revenge of the turtles
A 110-pound turtle netted by fishermen in the Gulf of Thailand and taken home to a Cambodian village was butchered and cooked. Between 90 and 100 people fell ill with vomiting and diarrhea, several were in hospital for a while and three died. There was no speculation as to the cause. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 8, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Nice to know they're there
Massasaugas were found in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore last year in a funnel trap and released back into the park. The last confirmed sighting in the park was in 1999 when one was found that had been killed by a car. [Chesterton/Valparaiso, IN Post-Tribune, December 23, 2002 from Jack Schoenfelder; South Bend Tribune, December 24, 2002 from Garrett Kazmierski] The Chicago Tribune added that massasaugas are not particularly dangerous, but are an important part of the ecosystem. [December 31, 2002 from Ray Boldt]
The hiss of life
"Several snakes, including a 10-foot male albino Burmese python, two frogs and 12 chameleons, died of burns or smoke inhalation," in a North Miami warehouse fire. Firefighters put two female Burmese on oxygen by using infant oxygen masks. The photo was adorable. Miami-Dade's Venom One rolled out because their workers are "experienced at dealing with animals," and there were about caged 300 animals to be removed. The 21-year-old owner of the animals lamented the loss of the male python, it was her only male. A female was found later, hiding in a couch. [Miami Herald, January 18, 2003 from Alan W. Rigerman]
Death and lawyers
An environmental lawyer was on a Charlotte County, Florida beach when he saw sea birds eating newly hatched loggerhead sea turtles. He saw a nest about to hatch, dug out the turtles and moved them to the sea. A Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman said, "Here's an educated man who probably believed he was doing right. But the laws are there to keep people from doing just what he did." And so the man was charged with one count of killing or wounding a threatened species which carries a maximum fine of $5,000. The man's lawyer (not himself, for he is no fool) has promised a "vigorous" attack on the charge. [Miami Herald, January 18, 2003 from Alan W. Rigerman]
"The killing zone starts right down there, by that lawyer's office..." said a Florida herpetologist. He has found that a seven mile stretch of road north of Tallahassee is huge. About three years ago, he walked and picked up 90 dead turtles in just one third of a mile. He also found that ninety-eight percent of the turtles that try to cross the road don't make it across. There's only one culvert from the dry uplands to the wetlands on the other side of this old road which is now carrying much more traffic than it was originally built too take. Matt Aresco has started a website and posted pictures of the carnage - http://www.lakejacksonturtles.org - and tried to get authorities to do something to stop the carnage. He has personally drift fenced and saved 8,016 turtles in the past 33 months. He marks and measures them, then carries them over the road. Even so, in 2000, he counted almost 200 turtles killed by raccoons. Now DOT is funding a $50,000 study to see what can be done. [Orlando, FL Sentinel, October 23, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
Supertyphoon aids supertramp
Supertyphoon Pongsona hit Guam December 8, 2002. About one third of the traps laid out to capture the brown tree snake near the airport are gone and "they can't put them back up since there is nothing to hang them on. There also is no gas for the workers to get around to do the monitoring," according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Even before the typhoon, five inspection jobs were vacant. Others are manned by a person and beagle, sniffing their way along pallets of cargo brought in and out of the airport. "The last brown tree snake found in Hawaii was discovered in August 1998 by a Continental Airlines mechanic. The dead 28-inch reptile was found in the wheel of a plane during routine maintenance. Since 1981 eight others, four alive and four dead, have made it to Hawaii. Last year 18,000 brown tree snakes were captured on Guam by inspectors during airport checks." They estimate that even so, they may still miss inspecting three or four outgoing flights per month. [December 18, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"The greatest risk [from the situation caused by the supertyphoon] will be when emergency equipment shipped from Hawai'i to Guam, such as telephone repair equipment, power generators, etc., begins to return to the state. Everything used there has to be checked." Hawai'i has no native snakes and hopes to keep it that way. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 11, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow] The brown tree snake is reported to be native to Indonesia.
September 10, 2002: "I just have the August issue... I see the note in your column on page 145 about Turtle Independence Day. As often happens, it's garbled. The facts which are accurate in this enclosed clip from the North Hawaii News tell of a great success story. These released young honu (green sea turtles), many of them, are easily visible in shallow water all up and down our Kona Coast. Best, Aloha, Paul Breese, Director Emeritus, Honolulu Zoo. "
January 18, 2003 "[Ferndale] is lucky to have the rain. Winter here in Chicago has been gray, cold and dry... Ray Boldt." Thanks, Ray. Our Pacific treefrogs think so, too. They've been calling morning, evening and night for the past couple of weeks.
February 3, 2003 "In October, 2003, the Post Office will issue a block of stamps featuring the scarlet king snake, blue spotted salamander, reticulate collared lizard, ornate chorus frog and ornate box turtle... Not much more to report. Hope you have recovered from your trip down under. Regards. Ray Boldt."
Thanks to everyone who contributed for this month's column. You can contribute, too. If you see a herp-related article, please send the whole page (not very heavy) with your name on each piece to me.
This month I deviated from my usual most recent news format to bring my readers a "greatest hits of the past" column. One of the reasons I could do this was that I had just finished coding all these columns and posting them on my website. Having no time left to really write a column, I used "cut and paste" to great advantage and still made my deadline.
"Thank God I only have amphibians!" exclaimed a CHS member upon reading the weekly grocery list of the Lincoln Park Zoo. In an average week, the Reptile House uses 50 lbs of fresh water smelt for its alligator, 50 lbs of salt-water herring, 9 anoles, 8 lbs of bananas, 18 lbs of apples/oranges/sweet potatoes, 6 bunches of celery, 28 lbs of carrots, 10 heads of lettuce, 8 bunches of spinach, numerous other fruits and vegetables, 400 lbs of rat chow, 1100 small rodents, 48 chickens, 1500-2000 crickets, 3.5 dozen raw/hard cooked eggs and 3 lbs of Reptile Fare. (courtesy of the Lincoln Park Zoo Review)
Through the determined efforts of hundreds of local volunteers and world wide conservation groups, Britain has opened its first tunnel under a motorway for the protection of toads migrating to their breeding ponds. The road has been edged with a barrier which will divert the creatures into the tunnel and thence, safely to their pond. Lord Skelmerdale dedicated the project in the name of Queen and amphibian and snipped an appropriately small ribbon. This tunnel is the first of a series planned to prevent the yearly slaughter of some 20 tons of toads by British drivers. Until now the toads were carried across the road in buckets by volunteers. One said, "Our evenings won't be the same without a bucket of toads to carry."
Two protesters from Earth First chained themselves to a fence at a city park in Taylor, TX during the local rattlesnake roundup. Another 10 people picketed stating that the roundup disturbs the central Texas environment and harms wildlife. My personal thanks to those committed individuals.
The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission will permit hunters to legally "harvest" alligators next September for the first time in 26 years. Environmentalists pointed out that hunting may have endangered the animal in the first place and that people are likely to get hurt since the law prohibits the use of firearms to hunt gators. Officials expect the hunt to net about 1,500 animals. Currently about 1,000 are killed each year for research and 3,000 are killed after they become a "nuisance." Well, at least they're not following the famous cartoon's advice about what to do when you're up to your ears in alligators, they have few enough swamps left as it is!
The next time a person says that snakes are bad because of the serpent in the Bible, calmly ask, "Which one?" A religious member of my family recently pointed out two quotations which make it appear as though God really doesn't have snakes on His hate list after all. Numbers 21: 8 and 9 says, "And the Lord said to Moses: Make a brazen serpent and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck shall look at it, shall live..." John 3: 13-15 refers to the brazen serpent and uses it as a metaphor for the Son of Man.
China has issued a stamp to commemorate the Year of the Snake. Designed by Lu Shengzhong, a teacher at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, the stamp portrays the reptile in a positive light. He said, "Snake designs on pottery and bricks dating from the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AC) show that originally the snake was a symbol of safety. In folk stories, it is often related to love and kindness. The stamp is spare and shows a flowered and decorated snake coiled on a white background. The overall design represents traditional Chinese beliefs that the earth is square and the sky round. ical. The forked tongue of the snake which is usually a symbol of evil, was replaced with a sprig of the Chinese herb used to symbolize the power to restore life. In much of Chinese tradition folklore, the snake is one of the "five evil things," along with scorpions, toads, geckos and centipedes. In modern China, the snake is being put to "practical" use. Venom is an ingredient in a variety of medicines, snake's gallbladder and medicinal herbs are combined to make effective cough medicine, snakeskin is used to produce handbags and shoes for the export trade, and in southern China, snakes are considered a delicacy - a custom considered strange in the north. Chinese astrology says that people born in the year of the snake are intelligent, mysterious, tender, and kind!
April 1990 (No Column)
With great big thanks to -- everybody who volunteered for the 25th-Anniversary Party of the CHS including: John Christianson, John Levell, Brian Jones, Meg Shepstone, Ilene Sievert, Todd and Amy Hixon, Eloise Beltz-Decker, Howard Weiner, Joel Weiner (with family and friend), John Raymond, Holly Collins, Stacy Miller, Ron Humbert, Don Wheeler, Mike Dloogatch, Ralph Shepstone, Ken Mierzwa, Paul Sievert, Matt Morris and Daelyn Erickson. Our guests included founding members Yolanda and Kris Erickson - and Ellis Jones, the only current CHS member who was also a members of the Chicago Herpetologists' Club. Entertainment included exceptional geckos by Jim Zaworski and marvelous gecko slides by Mike Miller. Several people suggested making a party a regular part of our year. [The first Gulf War started the same night as the party.]
Quote of the Month -- "As human activities increase, native species are lost. When we lose keystone species, we can expect fairly rapid and unexpected changes. This shows we need to more about what kinds of species have disproportionately large effects when present or removed, something surprisingly little research has been done on." Dr. James H. Brown, Professor of Biology, University of New Mexico. (New York Times, December 25, 1990)
Venomous mystery uncoils -- A pastor of the Church of Jesus With Signs Following and his wife are facing each other in an Alabama courtroom trying to solve the puzzle of "did she get bitten by a rattlesnake attempting to pick one up to kill him - or did he force her hand into the cage in an attempt to kill her?" [Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal, February 13, 1992, contributed by Steven L. Frantz]
Beam me up, spotty -- A few Japanese red-bellied newts will blast off in the NASA Space Shuttle's Microgravity Lab II. Female newts will be hormonally stimulated to drop their eggs, which a male astro-newt will then fertilize. Development of their offspring will take place in a gravity-free environment and the offspring will be studied to see if they have difficulty adjusting to earth's gravitational pull. [Technology Review, February/March, 1992, contributed by Mike Dloogatch]
Sea turtle in Kansas? -- Researchers who use satellites to track ocean going sea turtles were confused when their signals definitely pinpointed one of the giant reptiles in Salina, Kansas! An on-the-ground search for the turtle turned up just the transmitter in a farmer's back yard. He had found the device while on vacation in Texas and taken it home. [Destination Discovery, February 1993, contributed by P.L. Beltz]
Animals rights activists protested at Epcot Center -- Known for cute rodents, Walt Disney World recently penned up dozens of gopher tortoises and bulldozed their dens for development. Some tortoises may be resettled elsewhere on Disney's 30,000 acres, some may be given to the University of Florida, and some may be euthanized. The trade off of all this is that Disney is giving $20 million to buy and protect the 8,500-acre Walker Ranch, 17 miles to the south in Osceola County. In exchange, wildlife officials gave Disney the right to wipe out up to 2,300 tortoises during the next 20 years. Disney executives say they will donate the tortoises to the University of Florida along with $700,000 to study upper respiratory disease. Central Florida's largest environmental groups gave the deal support in a new approach to making amends for ecological damage by protecting large areas of land instead of setting aside small parcels that can't sustain a species. Holly Jensen, a Gainesville environmentalist and animal-rights activist said, "Disney has made billions off the commercialization of wildlife and nature. They have a moral obligation to go beyond the letter of the law." [Orlando, FL Sentinel, February 1, 1993, contributed by Bill Burnett]
An opinion piece in the Phoenix, AZ Gazette from Tom Taylor of Tempe suggests that the drive for legalization of toad venom may be lead by CROAK (Committee Reacting to Our Amphibian Kinships), GROSS (Group Recommending Organized Slime Sucking) and BARF (Biting Amphibians is Really Fun).
After several years of reporting amphibian decline, the press really went overboard on the recent announcement that one study had linked disappearing frogs and an increase in ultraviolet- B rays striking the Earth's surface due to a thinning ozone layer. Andrew Blaustein and John Hays of Oregon State University, in an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (March 1, 1994) report that ultraviolet radiation is killing the eggs of frogs in the Cascade mountains of the Pacific Northwest. In addition, they found that species in decline have a limited ability to repair damage from the ultraviolet radiation which causes change in their DNA or genetic coding molecule due to the absence of a protective enzyme. Blaustein was quoted, "Showing damage to an animal means there probably will be an effect on humans. So I think that it's very important that people listen to this warning signal." One frog species studied, Pseudacris regilla, the Pacific Chorus Frog was found to have six times as much of the enzyme as the other two species. The Western toad (Bufo boreas) and the Cascades frog (Rana cascadae) had far less of the enzyme and are both in decline. [March 1, 1994 South Bend, IN Tribune from Garrett Kazmierski, Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal from Bill Burnett, Chicago Tribune from Claus Sutor, Phoenix, AZ Gazette from Tom Taylor, and March 2 Orlando, FL Sentinel from Bill Burnett, March 6 Editorial Chicago Tribune from P.L. Beltz]
Nature Conservancy Magazine [March/April 1995 from J.N. Stuart] reports that ranchers in southeastern Arizona have been hauling water to frog ponds by truck in an effort to help the Chiricahua leopard frog. The ponds are actually isolated stock ponds and constitute a "bull-frog free zone" where the smaller species has a hope of survival.
From the Chicago Reader "The City File," February 17, 1995 by Harold Henderson [clipping from Steve Ragsdale] "Come here often? I SAID, COME HERE OFTEN? ` In other experiments, anurans living near highway noise could not determine the direction of sound sources as well as those living in quieter places,' reports Ronald Larkin in Illinois Natural History Survey Reports (January/February). `The males near highways altered their calling and spaced themselves differently when attempting to attract females. We obtained similar results by playing recorded highway noise from loudspeakers,' thus verifying `that it was the noise generated by the highway traffic and not other kinds of pollution or indirect causes that affected the anurans.'"
"Hello my honey, hello my baby" hello my new t.v. network? Michigan J. Frog, a "song-and- dance amphibian" who starred in a 1956 Chuck Jones cartoon called "One Froggy Evening" is the spokes-frog for the new Warner Brothers television network. His creator said, "I only made the one cartoon with him, and it was probably the best-known single cartoon that I ever made. I've ended up spending the last 30 or 40 years trying to figure out how to make another one. But we are making it, calling it `Another Froggy Evening.' It will be Michigan J. Frog through history, his effect on history. Eventually it will go on television, but it's not designed for that purpose. All of our cartoons, from the time I started as a director in 1937 until the present were made for theaters." [Chicago Tribune, January 19, 1995 from Steven Ragsdale]
Recent flooding in California has washed up all kinds of odd debris including snakes on California beaches. Twenty-six snakes, mostly venomous, were removed from Del Mar Beach and four others from Solana Beach. Both are near San Diego. Snakes are not rare sunbathers in southern California, but they are usually relocated by "lifeguards" more accustomed to hauling other types of vertebrates. [The Las Vegas Review-Journal and Las Vegas Sun, March 11, 1995 from Bob Pierson and Houston Chronicle, March 12, 1995 from Gary Durkovitz]
"The breeding habitat of the golden toad has been monitored by either experienced volunteers or paid staff every year since their disappearance in 1989. There have been a couple of false alarms (e.g. Eleutheradactylus that are very orange) but no confirmed sightings since the single male I caught in 1989. The hypothesis we presented was not simply that rainfall was inadequate, but that the transition from dry season to wet was too abrupt and this disrupted the toads' natural breeding pattern. Alan Pounds subsequently presented an analysis of the El Nino events of the early 1980s and their possible effects on the hydrology of the site. Alan hypothesizes that the toads were extirpated by an underground drought. His paper was published in Conservation Biology in about 1992 or 1993. One attempt was made to age golden toads thru skeletochronology on toe tips that were removed as part of a mark-recapture protocol. No rings were apparent in the bone. Thus we really have no idea of how long the toads live. The golden toad may represent one of the few (only?) vertebrate extinctions that has been observed and recorded by humans, but not caused by humans. On the other hand, we're keeping our fingers crossed that they will reappear, and keeping in touch with the people who monitor the habitat. Frank Hensley, Elon College & Duke University" [via Internet]
Remember dime-store sliders? -- Louisiana turtle breeders hope to bring back the ubiquitous pet of yesteryear after trying for years to overturn the Federal Food and Drug regulation which prevents domestic sale of turtles with a carapace length of less than four inches. The breeders have been busy building up an overseas market. Last year 6.5 million baby turtles were shipped out of the country. The breeders claim the babies have been cured of Salmonella bacteria by means of a method developed by a Louisiana State University microbiologist Ronald Siebeling. Only 2 percent of baby turtles hatched at the farms have been found to carry the bacteria. Turtle farming is regulated by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, but has recently come under fire for alleged price fixing by the U.S. Department of Justice. Farmers deny price fixing; one said, "What we've got here is the cleanest, most documented pet in the world." [The Baton Rouge, LA Sunday Advocate, February 5, 1995] In Mississippi, turtle farmers are not as common as catfish farming, cotton, soybeans or rice farming. Even so, one farm sold 350,000 babies in one year, the offspring of 50,000 to 60,000 wild-caught breeder turtles. Two-thirds went to Southeast Asia, the rest to Canada, Europe and the People's Republic of China. Some of the offspring are retain for future breeding purposes and a very few are released in the wild. The Salmonella cleansing process is done to the Mississippi eggs, too, mostly by school kids earning summer money. [Houma, LA Courier, August 13, 1995. Both articles from super-clipper Ernie Liner]
Smoking can be hazardous -- A Dutch tourist returning from a Caribbean vacation was shocked when authorities found a drugged iguana in his suitcase at customs control in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Authorities believe that the iguana as planted in his luggage for confederates to retrieve later. The man had gone through the "anything to declare" lane at Customs because he had too many cigarettes. [Reuters newswire, February 22, 1997 from Allen Salzberg]
Bud-wiser! Bud-wiser! -- In a February 10, 1997 reply to a letter by Steve Grenard, a Budweiser spokesman wrote: "Anheuser-Busch. will not sponsor any rattlesnake sacking competitions [at rattlesnake roundups] this year. We were a participating sponsor in previous years, but have decided to place our sponsorship funds with other events. Anheuser-Busch has a longtime commitment to protection of wildlife and to preserving the environment. We do not knowingly participate in any events that are contrary to this corporate philosophy." http://www.xmission.com/~gastown/herpmed/med.htm
Spring, glorious spring -- "But on this night a slight rain fell, and the temperature hovered in the low 50s... The hikers smelled the swampy, earthy aroma of decaying vegetation. They saw their breath hang like smoke in their flashlight beams. They heard the calling of frogs, spring peepers peeping and chorus frogs trilling, like a thumb running down a comb." [Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 6, 1997 from Mr. Laverne A. Copeland]
An unidentified resident of South Dade, Florida was bitten by a black mamba and taken to the emergency room by ambulance. Bill and Nancy Haast were contacted by the poison control center, but had no black mamba antivenin. They called a private collector who quickly sent nine
vials of antivenin. Haast said, "I heard that the man did not receive a very serious bite, that perhaps it was only one fang." [The Miami Herald, March 14, 1998 from Alan Rigerman] The average cost of medical treatment for a venomous snake bite is $11,000.
Do unto shippers?-- The Caymanian Compass reports "Willemstad, Curacao - Hundreds of tropical lizards suffocated in cardboard boxes without ventilation on a flight from the Caribbean Dutch island of Bonaire to
Amsterdam, KLM Dutch airlines said... the airline... halted shipments of unaccompanied animals from Bonaire while it investigates... Eight hundred lizards arrived dead at Amsterdam's Schipol Airport ... after a nine-hour flight... It was not the first time the lizards... had been exported ... to Amsterdam, but it was the largest shipment yet... [A] local government official...
said the reptiles were not protected and no export license was required." [February 13, 1998
from L.W. Reed]
Don't drink the water -- "A new study suggests that atrazine - the nation's most popular weed killer - may be partly responsible for the abnormal hormone levels and undersized male genitals found in some Florida alligators... computerized wind models show that large amounts of atrazine are wafting from sugar fields and falling or raining into four lakes north of Orlando. Those are the same four lakes where [researchers]... have found sexually altered alligators... [A vice president for one sugar company said,] "He's jumping to conclusions..." Atrazine's Switzerland based manufacturer, Novartis Crop Protection, has shown that any amount of the chemical falling with rain would be far to diluted to harm wildlife, said ... the company's environmental products manager." [Leesburg, FL Daily Commercial, January 3, 1999 from Bill Burnett]
Ravens following development in the Southwest are eating desert tortoise babies. One researcher said that until their shells harden around seven years of age, baby tortoises are "like walking raviolis," to the ravens. Other threats include loss of habitat, road kills and an upper respiratory disease. [National Wildlife, April/May 1999 from Mark Witwer]
Keep washing your boots anyway -- While a recent report in Science News suggests that frog killing chytrid organisms are implicated in declining amphibians, they also report that chytrids have been found in museum specimens from the 1970s from widely spread areas of the world. The earliest Australian specimen is from a dainty tree frog which was pickled in 1978. Closer to home, U.S. researchers have found that 2 of 12 preserved leopard frogs from various collections, and some Bufo canoris from the Sierra Nevada, California were also infected. The "wandering herpetologist" theory of the chytrid spread has also been discounted; one researcher pointed out that "you'd have to have a really active person who had nothing else to do," because the dieoffs are so widespread in place and time. She also pointed out that the "major cause of amphibian declines is habitat loss." [Volume 157, February 26, 2000 from Marty Marcus]
Life imitates art -- Another writer was annoyed by that "we were surrounded by snakes" automobile advertisement which seems to have disappeared utterly and unlamentably from the airwaves. Writing in the Albuquerque Journal, Jim Belshaw (a westerner through and through) describes the commercial for a luxury sedan automobile with a built in help button. The couple claimed they had a flat tire and were surrounded by snakes and scared and that the nice people at "On Star" helped them get out of their distress. Belshaw interviewed a herpetologist who pointed out that snakes would have just left the scene of the blowout since most snakes would rather slither away than stay anywhere near a person with a tire iron. But it was what his nonherpetologist Western friend said that stuck with me even more than the reasonable argument. The man pointed out that the snakes were an allegory. "For `desert' substitute `Mission District.' For `snakes' substitute `people who look funny.'...the true subtext... If you break down in a weird neighborhood, all you have to do is lock the door ... and push that button and wit for the brawny guys from the towing service to come do whatever they do." Belshaw gives a third reason, "Plus it irritates herpetologists in the desert, and you never know when you might need one if your magic button breaks down about the same time your tire goes flat." [January 21, 2000 from J.N. Stuart] I finally realized that the luxury car maker is marketing a car to people too dumb to know how to get or use a cell phone. I haven't driven near one since.
Happy Year of the Snake -- Chinese folklore reports that at the dawn of civilization, the Emperor of Heaven let all animals compete for the 12 spots on the zodiac. The snake made it. The creator of the universe in Chinese mythology, Pan Gu has the body of a snake and the head of a dragon. [China Daily, February 1, 2001 from P.L. Beltz]
Is this news? -- "International drug syndicates are smuggling rare Australian reptiles out of the country for private overseas dealers, according to Environment Australia. [A] Federal Government intelligence reports suggest smugglers bring in drugs and take out reptiles. In the past decade, the world trade in reptiles has increased to the level where about $14 million worth of reptiles are imported legally into the United States. The US black market is believed to deal with more than $1 billion worth of reptiles every year. Reptiles native only to Australia can be bought on the Internet from specialist shops throughout Europe and the US. [Environment Australia, March 2, 2001 from Raymond Hoser]
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]
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]
Greetings from the foggy North Coast! Due to the lead time for publication, to me the war is still immediately in mind; in a month when you read it, our minds will be in different places. Here, in Ferndale, about a dozen of our 3,000 people are in Bagdad and other exotic places. Their parents, siblings and friends wait. Even through the pundits have declared it "over," it won't be done for them until Joni comes marching home. I found that I couldn't concentrate on details in print when I sat down to write. Instead my mind went hopping from headline to headline.
"Day of the Lizards: Museum of Science stages its own creature feature." [Miami Herald, July 15, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"Party animal comes out of his shell." [Chicago Tribune, July 17, 2002 from Ray Boldt]
"Gator-busters find plenty to do as reptiles flourish." [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 30, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
"Fishing, boating halted after countless tadpoles die." [South Bend, Indiana Times, August 27, 2002 from Jack Schoenfelder]
"Homeowner rescues stray sickly python." [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 1, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
"Three Texans nabbed with slain gator, 7 eggs in Miller County, Arkansas" [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 30, 2002 from Bill Burnett] Guess what, guys? Arkansas requires a permit before you go a'killin' things.
"Hissing in action: Snakes elude hunt." and "Cops arrest man wearing bone: He brought in this other bone and it was just upsetting to the customers." [Chicago Tribune, August 14, 2002 from Ray Boldt]
"West Nile Found in Alligators: Experts seek virus link in recent Florida death spurts." [Orlando Sentinel, November 14, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
"Hunters of rare turtle find big mess: Volunteers snag some creatures from black lagoon." [Chicago Tribune, October 8, 2002 from Claus Sutor] `Twas some folks muckin' about in Jackson Park, but what a great headline.
"Herbicide could be behind frog decline." [USA Today, October 31, 2002 from Alan Rigerman] Ya think?
"How Herbicide May Alter Sex of Frogs in Wild" [The Wall Street Journal, October 31, 2002 from Mrs. P.L. Beltz] Why is it not enough to know it does and quit making it?
State to take a look at alligator trappers: Complaints are rising while the number of trappers and their income are falling."
[Orlando Sentinel, November 17, 2002]
"Involuntary sex changes in Midwest." [Chicago Tribune, November 24, 2002 from Claus Sutor and Ray Boldt] Don't worry guys, it's about the frogs.
"Turtles face killing zone on US 27. Activist sticks neck out for turtles: found the most deadly crossing on the continent for 10 species of the reptile." [Orlando Sentinel, October 23, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
"Fruity solution overcomes coqui frogs: State workers employ citric acid on Oahu and the Big island." [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, December 15, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow] We know about acid rain and declining frogs, here we learn that acid kills frogs. Could there be a link?
"Still no relief for gator trappers." [Orlando Sentinel, December 3, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
"Wetlands making their way back: Native species return on Downstate land that once was farmed" [Chicago Tribune, no date, obviously from my mother. Yea! September 10, 2002 from Ray Boldt]
"Illegal shipments of wildlife cargo prey on airport in Alaska." [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 4, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
"Meat from turtle kills 3 people, poisons 91." [Chicago Tribune, December 8, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Discovery of rare poisonous [sic] snake stirs hope at dunes." [South Bend Tribune, December 24, 2002 from Garrett Kazmierski]
"Invasion of the Everglades: Watch where you put your feet. Giant snakes, likely abandoned pets, have a new hangout." [Miami Herald, December 22, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"Activists stewing over threat to species: Conservationists are battling culinary tradition to save Mexico's dwindling sea turtle population." [Chicago Tribune, December 29, 2002 from Ray Boldt]
"Turtle doctors learn on job." [Orlando Sentinel, December 28, 2002 from Bill Burnett] This one's not as dismal as it sounds, the sub-lead reads, " Volusia County's Marine Science Center is writing the book on the new field of turtle rehabilitation and improving treatment methods."
"Venomous and Sublime: The Viper Tells Its Tale." [The New York Times, Science Times, December 10, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Can turtles live forever? A quite backwoods study opens a huge window on Aging." [Discover, June 2002 from Eloise Mason]
"Would-be turtle rescuer charged: Lawyer broke law, state says." [Miami Herald, January 19, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
"Amphibian monitoring program hops to action." [South Bend Tribune, January 31, 2003 from Garrett Kazmierski]
"Frogs hop through Calaveras County loophole." [The Honolulu Advertiser, February 7, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Calaveras frog fest gains new leap on life." [Chicago Tribune, February 7, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
"Endangered olive ridley turtle lays eggs at Hilo Bay: Officials are asking the public to not disturb the rare nest, which has 124 eggs." [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, October 12 , 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Humane Society raids home: Alligator, pythons, pit bulls removed." [South Bend Tribune, February 15, 2003 from Garrett Kazmierski]
"Frog invasion resembles film: Thousands of young amphibians invaded an animal control agency in the Panhandle, where the eco-horror movie `Frogs' was filmed 30 years ago." [Orlando Sentinel, October 17, 2002 from Bill Burnett]
"Crock around the clock: Joe Wasilewski's undying fascination." [Miami Herald, July 17, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"Snake confiscated after flight in pocket." [Honolulu Advertiser, February 6, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"The beastly behavior of us humans." [Gainesville Sun, June 9, 2002 from Ken Dodd]
"Experts hatch plan for threatened turtles [in McHenry County, IL]." [Chicago Tribune, January 30, 2003 from Mrs. P.L. Beltz and Ray Boldt]
"Sharing a pen, Monroe County, Florida, Jailbirds tend to the animals at adjacent petting zoo for kids." [MetroMiami, August 4, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"Officials on Maui discover more banned chameleons." [Honolulu Advertiser, January 31, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"St. Croix man charged with swiping turtle eggs from west end beach. [The Avis, September 25, 2002 from Ken Dodd]
"Elderly woman loses forearm in alligator attack near condo."
"Iraq crisis reaches the verge of war." [Miami Herald, February 25, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
"Arm retrieved after gator attacks woman." [Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
"In Bahamas, some indulge taste for dwindling iguana." [Miami Herald, July 7, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"Military targets environmental law." [Chicago Tribune, March 13, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
"Bad driver has best intentions, but alligator still ends up dead." [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 26, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Search continues for Maui snake." [Honolulu Advertiser, February 21, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"It's pond sweet pond for endangered turtles." [MetroDade News Tribune, July 19, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"Snake Day draws faithful - and fearful: Museum event dispels myths." [Miami Herald, August 5, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"No charges after live pups fed to snake: Animal control worker fired." [Honolulu Advertiser, November 25, 2002 from Ms. G.E. Chow.]
"Gator trappers are enduring tough times." [Orlando Sentinel, December 2, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"Seal from milk jug made sea turtle ill: People should be more careful with their trash." [Orlando Sentinel, July 24, 2002 from Alan Rigerman]
"Fertile turtle astounds local researchers: Laid three, maybe four times this year on Maui." [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 2002 undated, from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Thumb missing, circus dream intact: He works with `T-rex' the same alligator that bit him in February." [Chicago Tribune, Backstage, November 8, 2002 from Ray Boldt]
"Lovelorn crocodile returns to sea." [Miami Herald, March 1, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
"Eradicators concede Big Island to frogs." [Honolulu Advertiser, February 28, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow] Can you imagine, frog shopping centers, frogs in cars, frogs in restaurants and humans in decline?
"Tracked turtle tells tale." [Honolulu Advertiser, February 21, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow] All of a sudden, there was a vehicle, and a bright light. And strange creatures emerged from the vehicle and a bright light shone all around. Then they picked me up and I went to sleep and when I woke up, I found they had put a box on my shell and a wire down my tail and put me back where I was. If it wasn't for the box and the wire, wouldn't no turtle down here in Wet Pond believe a word of it.
"State confiscates snake, lizard." [Honolulu Advertiser, March 28, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Long lines of fishing boats add to leatherback turtles' woes." [The San Francisco Chronicle, April 29, 2003]
"Mortal Coils: Pythons thrice the size of the largest indigenous snakes are making room for themselves in the Everglades." [Street: Miami, March 21-27, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
"Gator-toting driver panics over 'felony in the back seat.'" [Orlando Sentinel, February 25, 2003 from Bill Burnett] Ran it over, left the scene, went back, got the gator into the back seat, ran into a mailbox because the gator was thrashing around, left car, walked home. Person picked up immediately. Gator put down.
"Officials baffled by alligator sprawl [in Arkansas park]." [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 7, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
"Turtles may move slowly, but sulcatas grow up fast." [Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
"Virginia turtles return to sea in Keys." [Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, January 6, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
"Turtle trends cause worries." [Orlando Sentinel, January 7, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
"Pretty in Green: Homeless iguana captures the heart of a Sherwood Animal Shelter worker." [The Times, North Little Rock, Arkansas, January 23, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
L.A. man receives [sic] deadly cobra in mail." [Times-Standard, Eureka, California, February 26, 2003 from Bradford Norman]
"Frantic uncle rescues boy from gator's death grip." [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, March 11, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Thanks to everyone who contributed these past two months, but count `em, folks, there's not that many headlines from March, April and May. Please do send all your reptile and amphibian story clippings, cute postcards, ardent opinions and anything else you think would make good column fodder to me.
Don't Mess With Texas Toads
GreenLines reports: The Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis) has found an unlikely friend in a gun-toting, redneck, Texas Republican preacher, and local GOP chairman who has volunteered to make his 550-acre ranch a `safe harbor' for the palm-sized amphibian in exchange for more control over his property in the future - provided that the toad population there doesn't decline from current levels says the Houston Chronicle May 31, 2003. The preacher will plant native grasses, reduce the size of his cattle herd and fence off ponds where the endangered toad breeds. With 94 percent of the state in private ownership, safe harbor agreements and other voluntary conservation programs are crucial to the survival of imperiled species such as the Houston toad. Before the preacher met the toad he [said he] "couldn't spell 'environmentalist.' Now I am one," he said. [June 4, 2003, Issue 1878]
Adhesive Design Based On Gecko's Toes
"Inspired by geckos' toes, a new super-sticky tape is so strong that it can stick a person to the ceiling by just one hand. With a few tweaks, the prototype adhesive could have limitless applications - tires with more grip, surgical tape and sticky gloves for rock climbers. Geckos are famed for their wall-climbing antics and their ability to hang from the ceiling by a single toe. They can do this because their digits are covered in millions of tiny hairs that bond with any surface... The tape is covered in millions of protruding plastic polymer hairs. Each one is just two thousandths of a millimeter high, allowing them to get extremely close to the molecules that make up a surface. On dry surfaces the hairs are subject to weak attractions called van der Waal's forces that occur between molecules. On wet ones, suction-like capillary action grips the hairs... Because there's no glue, the surface is left clean when the tape is removed. Like its inspiration, the new tape is waterproof and re-useable... A one-meter-squared piece of gecko tape would cost tens of thousands of pounds to produce, so the team needs to find methods for cost-effective mass production. The prototype tape only stayed sticky for seven or eight attachments. Geckos, on the other hand, re-use their gummy feet throughout life... Gecko hairs have split ends, or `hairs on hairs,` he explains. The challenge is to manufacture theses delicate structures synthetically. Different materials could also be used to improve hair strength. Kevlar, the material used to make bulletproof vests, might provide an alternative..." [HerpDigest, based on Nature Magazine, June 2, 2003)
"The global SARS virus may yet be good news for the world's endangered animals, victims of an illegal Chinese habit of eating rare species, but also prime suspects as incubators of deadly, new human pandemics. China is regularly criticized by world animal protection groups, which they say turn a blind eye to trade in endangered species, because it is a lucrative business. But now, faced with a SARS epidemic at home that has dented its global image, created panic in its capital, and threatened its economy and security, China has been pushed into action.
A Chinese public security official in Shenzhen, in the southern province of Guangdong, said on Wednesday China had raided tens of thousands of markets, restaurants and kitchens to crack down on the trade and consumption of protected animal species. `In Guangdong, we have a law which says consumers must also be punished,' said the official, who declined to be named. `This law has been around for a while, although we have never punished anyone for consuming. But we will punish them from now on, if we find them guilty.' The operation, code named `Spring Thunder,' is part of China's belated battle to stop the spread of the global SARS virus, which some medical experts believe may have originated from the wild game that Chinese are so fond of consuming. China's official Xinhua news agency reported that 170,000 forestry police took part, raiding 14,900 animal fairs and 67,800 hotels and restaurants across the country. Officials confiscated 838,500 endangered animals and arrested 1,428 suspects. Neighboring Hong Kong is also criticized as a conduit for the trade in endangered animals into China.
China's failure to adequately inform the World Health Organization when SARS broke out in Guangdong in November last year has made mainland China and Hong Kong global epicenters of the deadly and infectious new disease, with almost five thousand cases, and nearly 300 dead.
"Several Chinese doctors have blamed the appearance of SARS on the [wild game] business. They say some of the first SARS cases were in people who slaughtered and cooked game birds for restaurants. This link is not proven, but southern China's towns and farms, where humans live cheek by jowl with their own stock, and pack markets with endangered species in cruel and unhygienic conditions, have historically been the place where some of the world's most deadly plagues have begun. When a virus manages to leap the barrier between species, chances are it will be virulent and have no known cure.
The public security official said hundreds of markets, kitchens and restaurants were raided between April 10 and 20 in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong. Protected snakes, pangolins, anteaters, cranes and turtles were confiscated. `The operation is aimed at stopping the trade and consumption of protected species. In Shenzhen, we raided at least a few hundred restaurants, kitchens and markets and arrested traders there,' he said. Traders of protected species face jail terms of up to 15 years in China. Those found smuggling China's top protected species, the panda, face death, the Shenzhen official said.
Scientists in Hong Kong have identified the SARS virus, which is from the same family of viruses that causes the common cold, as an animal strain that is new, or which they have never seen before. Scientist Dennis Lo, who was among a group of experts at the Chinese University that cracked the genomic sequence of the SARS virus, said it may have come from wild animals. `The virus is close to viruses found in rats and bovines. It's likely that the virus may have come from an animal that's not been studied before, such as wild game,' Lo said. The consumption of wild game is not as rampant in Hong Kong as it is in Guangdong, although residents here consume reptiles such as snakes and lizards during the winter months. Smugglers often use this former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, as a transit point to spirit exotic and protected species such as monitor lizards, pangolins, rare snakes and turtles into the mainland, where they end up on dinner tables." [Reuters, Science April 30, 2003 from James Harding]
Chinese Province bans Wild Game
"Southern China is well known for eating delicacies like monkey, snakes, bats and exotic cats but authorities now have put an end to this. As a reaction to the discovery of the deadly SARS virus in civet cats, a cat like mammal, the southern Guangdong Province has banned the trading and eating of wild animals. The Government hopes the change will help restrain the spread of SARS since the findings seem to confirm suspicions that the virus jumped from animals to humans. However, it is unknown whether the crackdown will change Guangdong's tradition of eating wild animals, which many believe benefits the human body." [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, HerpDigest, extra-
Turtles dying in record numbers
"Sea Turtle Deaths More Than Double: Sea turtle deaths along much of the southeast Florida coast are showing a significant rise this year, with the number of strandings along the coast from Broward to St. John's counties two-and-a-half times the number of casualties for the same time frame in 2002 says the Palm Beach Sun Sentinel May 16. The increase has researchers scrambling and has filled turtle-rehabilitation centers and may only be the tip of the iceberg, scientists believe only 10 percent of dead or sick turtles are discovered. According to the Florida Marine Research Institute, 2001 was the worst on record, with 1,338 around Florida and last year came close to that mark." [GreenLines, May 19, 2003, Issue 1867]
More viruses to be released in wild
"Scientists are ready to wage germ warfare on cane toads. The CSIRO [Australian Agency] is developing a virus that would stop tadpoles maturing. The Territory's Daly River region is a key research base for the project. CSIRO senior scientist Tony Robinson said two years of preliminary research had shown the virus could be developed. He said a key part of the research, carried out in conjunction with the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Victoria, was to ensure the virus would not affect native frogs. The Federal Government agency Environment Australia has funded the initial two-year research phase to the tune of about $1 million. `What we've proposed to Environment Australia is we would look at a means of preventing the metamorphosis in cane toads,' Dr. Robinson said. `We would do that by using a virus which affects only cane toads that would introduce a gene into the toad that would prevent the tadpole developing. We would use a virus as a taxi to deliver the gene that would interfere with the (maturity). It's an ambitious project. There is still a lot of work to be done.' Dr. Robinson said the Federal Government had just renewed funding to the project, meaning researchers had convinced Treasury bean counters the plan could work. In 1996, the Federal Government slashed CSIRO research funding into a Venezuelan cane toad virus they hoped could be used to reduce numbers in Australia. Dr. Robinson said it could be 10 years before the virus was spread throughout cane toad populations. The toads arrived in the New Territory's east about four years ago and could arrive in Darwin in the next two years. They have reached Pine Creek, about 220 kilometers south of Darwin. Dr. Robinson said a team of researchers from the University of Canberra was examining the Daly River's ecology. `What we're looking at is the impact on species like crocodiles and goannas on rivers where there are now no toads,' Dr. Robinson said. [Northern Territory News. Darwin, Australia, May 1, 2003 from HerpDigest 3:35 May 4, 2003]
New germs causing problems worldwide
"Recent studies indicate that wildlife, birds, fish, coral and plants are all being hit hard by new germs, sometimes driven to the verge of extinction,' affected by the same environmental degradation that is causing a sharp increase in infectious diseases among humans says the Duluth News Tribune, Knight Ridder May 4, 2003. According to a 2000 report in the journal Science by University of Georgia ecologist Peter Dezak, new infectious diseases constitute a substantial threat to the conservation of global biodiversity.' Recent wildlife epidemics include a [chytrid] fungal disease that has decimated amphibians, the Ebola virus and African primates, an unknown infection that has killed up to 95 percent of vultures in India, the West Nile virus in the Midwest and new diseases that have shoved' the endangered Florida scrub jaycloser to extinction.' [GreenLines, Thursday May 8, 2003, Issue 1860] Not to mention SARS and the new and unnamed Venezuelan cane toad virus which Australia plans to release in the wild as it did quite unsuccessfully with rabbit virus before.
The concrete rolls on
"A state court has given a notorious Southern California developer, Newhall Land & Farming Co., the go ahead to expand the Santa Clarita auto mall, ruling against a legal challenge by the Center for Biological Diversity that four more car dealerships would harm remaining habitat for the endangered arroyo toad says the L.A. Times May 6, 2003. According to the Center the developer linked the car-lot expansion to improvements of nearby ball fields in an attempt to manipulate public opinion."'[GreenLines, Friday May 16, 2003, Issue 1866]
A tale of two species
(1) "Ruling in favor of developers, a federal judge has thrown out a 400,000 acre critical habitat designation for the Alameda whipsnake on grounds that the USFWS "did not adequately perform an economic analysis of the area or provide enough evidence to support the designation for species survival" says the Whittier Daily News, Associated Press May 15, 2003... the ruling [is] `a terrible setback' for the whipsnake, which has already lost much of its prime habitat to urban sprawl, `The court's decision is really a victory for luxury homes and country club golf courses.' The whipsnake will still be listed as a threatened species and ESA protections against taking, including taking of habitat, will remain in place while the USFWS prepares a new critical habitat designation." [GreenLines, May 19, 2003, Issue 1867]
(2) "The USFWS has proposed a threatened listing for the central California population of the tiger salamander, along with designating 1.1 million acres as critical habitat says the San Francisco Chronicle May 17. 2003. With most of the proposed critical habitat on private lands, and about half of that used for ranching, the service contends that the California tiger salamander `coexists so well with cattle that ranchers should be exempted' from ESA prohibitions against `moving or accidentally killing the salamanders during routine ranching activities such as cattle grazing and maintenance of stock ponds.' The salamanders breed in stock ponds and use squirrel and gopher holes for shelter. [GreenLines, May 22, 2003, Issue 1870]
Hopping not to kill native frogs
"Wildlife officials are visiting the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee this weekend to make sure that the celebrated leapers do not spread disease and are not released into ponds where they can push out native frogs. `I bet you Mark Twain is laughing his tail off,' said [the]... manager of the fair, which ends on Sunday. `He created all this just from a little short story, his first published work. Now look at all this controversy and environmental concerns. I hope he's proud of the way we're handling this.' The inspections at the contest are meant to protect amphibians in the Sierra Nevada, which have lost habitat and been harmed by pesticides. `Bringing a whole group of diverse populations together and then spreading them out again is a perfect model for spreading disease, as it is in humans, said ... [the] chief of the fisheries programs of the California Department of Fish and Game. The department wants to make sure that the competitors, aggressive nonnative bullfrogs, are not released into the few remaining places where native red-legged and yellow-legged frogs survive. Returning frogs to nature violates California law, but an obscure provision in the Fish and Game Code exempts frog-jumping contests. At the Calaveras County event, now in its 75th year, wildlife officers simply ask operators and contestants to cooperate. Green fliers urge people to be `frog-friendly' and give their frogs to fair organizers after the contest. The wildlife officials were generally reassured after inspecting the `frog condo' where about 300 frogs collected by organizers can be rented by small-time participants, and an operation by a major competitor,... [from] Oregon. [His] 300 frogs were captured in the nights before the contest and are housed in plastic boxes in an insulated trailer. About 150 of the most energetic compete, then all of the frogs are returned to the ponds and sloughs where they were found. The jumping contest draws about 2,000 bullfrogs and more than 40,000 visitors to Angels Camp, an old Sierra gold-mining town in Calaveras County, 90 miles east of San Francisco. It started in 1928, when town boosters organized the first jump to celebrate the paving of Main Street. It harkens to the tall tale that Twain heard in the Angels Hotel and published in 1865 as `The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.'" [Associated Press, May 18, 2003 from HerpDigest]
The concrete rolls on II
Allen Salzberg writes: "Though The Paper Does Not Specifically Cover Herps, It Addresses The Whole Problem Of Road And Wildlife And So Worth Attention -- Defenders Of Wildlife And Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) Are Pleased To Announce The Release Of Our New Report, Second Nature: Improving Transportation Without Putting Nature Second. The full report is available online at http://www.defenders.org/habitat/highways and http://www.transact.org. The report outlines the impacts of surface transportation infrastructure on America's wildlife and provides win-win solutions that retain and respect both our mobility and conservation objectives." [May 25, 2003]
News About Herp News
As you know, I don't usually quote so directly from prime sources. But in this case, I wanted you to see the tremendous impact of a couple of on line services, namely HerpDigest and GreenLines. You've seen before how much material is collated by Wes von Papinešu, and you can read his online feed at http://www.kingsnake.com. Wes's hobby (perhaps I should say "obsession") is fully supported by his full-time real world job. GreenLines is part of Defenders of Wildlife, but HerpDigest is created on a home computer by Allan Salzberg (and supported by his wife Anita). They have also authored two books (1)
"Turtles" described by Herpetological Review as the first book about turtles for children written by people who love turtles." and Anita's "Confessions of a Turtle Wife, the story of a man, a woman and the turtles that threaten to come between them." To read sample chapters or acquire these books and help support HerpDigest, visit http://www.turtlewife.org..."
"Pretty Darn Fine" Bibliography
For those interested in the herpetofauna of New Mexico, or the Southwestern U.S. in general, the following revised document is available on the Web, courtesy of the University of New Mexico's Museum of Southwestern Biology (MSB), Division of Amphibians and Reptiles: "A Supplemental Bibliography of Herpetology in New Mexico." (Version: 12 May 2003). Go to: http://www.unm.edu/~msbherp/ and click on "Publications." The document is in PDF format, readable and printable with Adobe Acrobat Reader. An earlier version of the bibliography was posted on the MSB website last December. The latest version has about 100 additional references and has been extensively edited to make it more useful. The bibliography is intended to provide a list of references not found in the comprehensive book "Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico" by W.G. Degenhardt, C.W. Painter, and A.H. Price (1996, Univ. New Mexico Press, Albuquerque). Annotations for most references and a taxonomic index are also included. To those who work or have worked on herps in the American Southwest, I am continuously looking for new citations pertaining to NM or adjacent areas to add to the bibliography. Please send any references not cited in the bibliography or in Degenhardt et al. (1996) to my email address. Alternatively, you may send reprints of articles to my regular mail address (below). I'm interested in complete citations for journal and magazine articles, books and book chapters, contract reports, theses, dissertations, symposium proceedings, etc. All contributors will be acknowledged in future revisions. Feel free to forward this message to others who may be interested. Thank you. James N. Stuart Endangered Species Recovery Plan Biologist Conservation Services Division, New Mexico Dept. of Game & Fish, PO Box 25112, Santa Fe, NM 87504-5112 email: JStuart@gmfsh.state.nm.us
Thanks to all the online contributors, Wes von Papinešu, Allen Salzberg, Jim Stuart, Desiree Wong, Raymond Hoser, Karen Furnweger and others. And thanks to everyone who mails clippings about herps and oddball tidbits of life to me.
Hot breaking taxonomy news
Taxonomy is usually about as exciting as watching people argue about watching paint dry, but every once in a while, there's a great story from the dusty halls of academe. Realize that there's huge academic brownie points for naming new species and even greater species envy for those who have new critters named for them. And, of course, you can't really name a species for yourself, can you?
In this case, first it was one, then two, then nearly a dozen new species of freshwater turtles and land tortoises from Southeast Asia and China. Unlike most new species, these weren't caught in some pristine natural habitat heretofore untrammeled by western academics; rather 10 of these were bought from two reptile dealers who claimed to have acquired them in remote villages. The species were published from 1987 to 1997; their describers include a who's who in the turtle world and always as co-author William McCord, a New York veterinarian, who actually bought the turtles from the dealers. The apparent rarity of most of the species resulted in four being included in the China Red Data Book of Endangered Animals. Turtles are in big trouble in Asia where zooming human populations with a taste for "bush meat" results in harvest pressures on the 90 or so species of native turtles. About 70 species are endangered.
The dealers who supplied the exciting new turtles were Anson Wong from Penang, Malaysia and Oscar Shiu from Hong Kong. If these names sound familiar, the former is now in US prison for six years on a smuggling conviction. Federal agents are now attempting to extradite Mr. Shiu from Hong Kong because of his animal shipments into the US. Dr. McCord has continued to publish on specimens provided by the two men even as charges were filed and convictions obtained.
The plot thickens as James Parnum, a graduate student who describes himself as "just a guy working on fossils" began to have suspicions as to the identity of the new Asian turtles. The graduate student made repeated trips to China and teamed up with a local researcher. They visited turtle farms and discovered that some of the turtles described as "new species" were really hybrids bred for sale as medicine, food and for collectors. Turtle farmers freely admitted selling hybrid turtles to the dealers.
Two papers were published in 2001 suggesting that two of the "new species" were hybrids. An independent German group did genetic analysis and added a third to hybrid status. In the final shake out, it appears that six "new species" are probably hybrids from captivity:
- Mauremys iversoni
- Mauremys pritchardi
- Cuora serrata
- Sacalia pseudocellata
- Ocadia glyphistoma and
- Ocadia phillippeni.
Three are species previously named
- Cuora chriskarannarum (sunk) = Cuora pani
- Cuora pallidicephala (sunk) = Cuora zhoui and
- Cyclemys atripons (sunk) = Cyclemys pulchristriata
Which leaves only one which is actually a new species. Curiously it is named Cuora mccordi (Ernst, 1988) for the veterinarian with the big turtle collection. Embarrassed coauthors and other researchers point out all this effort and money could have better been spent conserving real species from Asia - 75 percent of whom could really use the help. [Nature, Volume 423, May 15, 2003 from Mike Dloogatch]
Several years ago, a CHS member who shall remain nameless, spent a fortune on two "new species of turtle from Korea." When the box arrived, it was opened with great ceremony and the two "new species of turtle from Korea" were found to be Red-eared Sliders. Yes they were new to Korea in that their parents had only lived there a few years. No they weren't "new species," nor were they worth what was paid for them except as a reminder that things which seem too good to be true usually are.
Wait til he grows up
A ten-year-old Crystal Lake boy has been named Youth conservationist of the Year by the Illinois Audubon Society. Henry Cilley "and classmates at Glacier Ridge elementary School wrote letters and collected hundreds of petition signatures against the development [which would have damaged] a colony of about 70 turtles." Blanding's turtles are listed on the Illinois endangered species list. The developer brought in sand for new nests around the marsh, installed retaining walls and lighting for the turtles after the protest. [Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2003]
You are what you eat
Hong Kong researchers discovered the SARS virus in three species of small mammals including civet cats which are eaten in China as a delicacy. A caveat was also noted that this discovery does not prove that this is how SARS entered the human population. [Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2003 from Ray Boldt] Meanwhile huge floods swept through the part of China where SARS seems to have originated, fortunately none seems to have been swept downstream by the floodwaters as feared at the time. [Honolulu Advertiser, May 17, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Or perhaps what eats you
West Nile Virus is proving to be a potent pathogen, affecting not only birds and wild animals, but transferring to humans with occasionally fatal results. The alligators that died last year were described as sinking "into neurological meltdown" before death. Some had crawled in circles and others were wobbly. By March of 2003, the disease had reached the Caribbean as well as southern California. The mortality rates among animals are described as similar to those in humans when diseases were suddenly transported across the Atlantic from 1492 to about 1650. The first US outbreak was in 1999 when there were 62 severe cases and 2 deaths in New York. In 2000, 66 severe cases and 9 deaths, but spread all over the eastern US. In 2003 in the US, 2,350 cases were reported. Of those, 125 or 4 percent died. Wildlife mortality, however runs 30, 50, 70 and even an incredible 100 percent in crows. The virus was first recognized in 1937 in the West Nile region in Uganda. It is part of the disease family that includes Japanese and St. Louis forms of encephalitis. The infecting agent is the obvious mosquito, but also 3 cases began with blood transfusions and one baby got it in breast milk. A different baby may have been infected in utero. By October 2003, West Nile had been documented in 32 states and the capital in people and in 186 different species of birds and 17 other vertebrates. So far, no reports of amphibian or reptile infection. Unlike SARS which doesn't seem to transmit to animals, West Nile is probably in North America to stay because common birds like house sparrows, blue jays and crows can get the disease by eating something tainted or by being bitten by a mosquito. So far, no West Nile has been found in migrating birds, but researchers do not know why not. And, fortunately the disease hasn't hit Hawai'i. Only 39 endangered Hawaiian crows face "grim prospects if the disease hits." The US Post office has stopped shipping live poultry and other live birds to the islands in an effort to slow the arrival of the virus. [Science News, March 29, 2003 from Marty Marcus]
"The toll on leatherback turtles from fishing is reflected on the protected beach here, where tourists and researchers -- not to mention poachers -- used to have a hard time navigating the beach at night without stumbling over one of the table sized beasts digging holes. Now leatherbacks are an unusual sight." By tracking turtles with satellite tags, researchers found that Mexican and Costa Rican leatherbacks swam around the Galapagos Islands right into drift nets off the coasts of Peru and Chile. Estimates of the kill are from two to three thousand every year from 1982 to the mid-1990s. Gill nets more than one mile long were banned by the United Nations, but smaller ones can and do kill sea turtles. And the big nets were just replaced with long lines with their concurrent kill of all species of sea turtles. [The Honolulu Advertiser, from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Ova and ova now over?
A Palm Beach County, Florida man who was caught with a stash of 324 eggs sea-turtle eggs in his truck was sentenced to 43 months in a federal prison. He had prior convictions, but is the first sea turtle egg poacher convicted in 20 years in Florida according to their Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. [Sentinel, Orlando Florida, March 9, 2003] In response to so much smuggling of sea turtle eggs, a Florida legislator introduced a bill to toughen up penalties which already include up to five years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines. The new bill proposed making it a felony to have 12 or more eggs which rather begs the question of why number one through eleven don't matter. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 5, 2003 both from Bill Burnett]
Indestructible Worms and Giant Squid
- Searchers found a canister from the Columbia space shuttle on the ground three months after the crash. When opened it was found to contain live "C. elegans" described as a "tiny soil worm" which had been used in experiments on board the ill-fated spaceship. The New York Times speculates, "Whether this was mostly luck... or because of the worm's hardiness, is not clear. Their survival lends plausibility to the notion that life might have descended on Earth from other worlds in ancient times." [May 7, 2003 from Isadora Jarr]
- Antarctic fishermen have caught a "colossal squid with eyes as big as dinner plates and razor-sharp hook on its tentacles," according to The Chicago Tribune. The "young female" squid weighed 330-pounds and was 16 feet long. Researchers point out that the "adults are much bigger." [April 4, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
Deja vu all over again
From the February 15, 2003 South Bend Tribune: "Humane Society raids home Alligator,  pythons,  pit bulls [and a tortoise] removed." The gator weighed about 50 pounds and is between 4 and 5 feet with a temperament best described as "mean" by an Humane Officer. Last year a one foot long alligator was confiscated from the same home; at that time, its owner claimed not to know that keeping gators as pets is illegal in St. Joseph County, Indiana. [from Garrett Kazmierski]
Seven pounds for five dollars
Formerly quite safe in high waterfalls deep in the trackless jungles of West Africa, the goliath frog, Conraua goliath, is now being caught and sold for about $5 per frog as food. Around half of their original habitat is lost, destroyed, changed, modified or poisoned. The other half is only lightly affected so far, but logging gives access to areas once pristine. Captive breeding in the U.S. and Europe never quite got off the ground and the animals are rarely seen in the pet trade. [National Geographic, June 2003 from Ray Boldt]
In Afghanistan it was sand vipers or some such, now The Tacoma News Tribune reports that large black snakes are being found in the 62nd Medical Brigade headquarters camp in Baghdad. Researchers speculate they are Walterinnesia aegyptica, described as "big, black, slithery and neurotoxic." [May 12, 2003 from Marty Marcus]
Researchers inserted genes from Xenopus laevis, the African clawed frog, into rhododendron plants to provide the plants additional resistance to root-rot fungus. The U.S. government has yet to approve any commercial process which inserts animal DNA into plants. [EcoNews, May 2003, from Brad Norman]
If it bleeds, it leads
A reporter from the South Bend Tribune interviewed a Michigan couple about their snake-killing dog named after the late Gracie Allen for her frantic antics. According the the article the owner would prefer that Gracie not kill or eat the snakes, but her excitement apparently takes her and her hapless victims to the point where any more information would just be thank you for sharing that. But they do. And if you have to read it just dig up the back issue from March 21, 2003. [from Garrett Kazmierski]
Keys release me, let me go!
Residents of the Florida Keys are upset about a new invasive species, "dining on flower and vegetable gardens and freaking out the house pets... Hundreds of iguanas are turning up all over the Keys." Residents are asking the Florida Game and Fish Commission to asses the impact of the hundreds or thousands of iguanas which are now apparently free reproducing in the wild. Locals speculate they are breeding from parentals which were released by their owners after they stopped being cute little baby lizards and turned into, well, iguanas. [The Miami Herald, March 9, 2003 from Carla and Miguel Ochoa and Marty Marcus] Don't forget that abandoned giant snakes have taken up residence in the Everglades and geckos live in Ohio and Puerto Rican coqui frogs have invaded the Big Island of Hawai'i and... and... and...
"Gila Monster Drool Cuts Appetite," reports the usually quite reliable Wall Street Journal. Apparently, its a hormone found in the Gila Monsters' saliva that can be used to make a drug that curbs diabetes and overeating. The article also calls Gilas "poisonous," when they really mean "venomous," but what can you expect from a press release that says since the drug would be made entirely in the company's labs that production of it "would have no environmental impact." Don't get all excited about drinking drool, the treatment requires multiple daily injections. And many of the volunteers reported upset stomachs and some even dropped out because of them. Or maybe someone just told them what it was made from. [June 17, 2003 from Mike Dloogatch]
The Chicago Tribune asks, "Why, in a nation blessed with an abundance of dogs and cats, goldfish and hamsters, would anyone choose tho share their personal space with a ..." As herp owners, I know you're expecting me to say some kind of reptile but the article is about people owning tigers, leopards, jaguars and cougars. Right now there are believed to be between five and ten thousand privately held big cats. For the next person who tells you keeping an amphibian or reptile is nuts, these tiger people are managing "to provide 10 pounds or so of meat a day, clean their cages and comply with the licensing requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. All this, without getting mauled to death." [May 28, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
"Revenge of the snake on me"
A woman in Thailand was listed in critical after being bitten by a king cobra she believes was revenging the death of another cobra which she had taken for the stew pot the month before. The revenge idea was reinforced by the tale that the fangs would not come out of the victim until the head was cut off by other workers at the plantation. [Honolulu Advertiser, May 17, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
"Do you miss Chicago, much?"
According to a story attached to what Ray Boldt really wanted to me read that really rather answers the question posed above. "A test of surveillance cameras at at two busy [Chicago] intersections documented more than 2,000 violations [running red lights] in three weeks. [Chicago Tribune, May 16, 2003]
Great career move
Seven years ago a young urban professional tried to smuggle 37 Madagascaran tree boas into the U.S. at O'Hare International Airport. His case was finally brought forward and the U.S. attorney's office "could not say why it took seven years to file the charges, which it did in federal court in Chicago." The snakes were discovered in a suitcase and were estimated to be worth $80,000 because they are endangered. [Chicago Tribune, June 1, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
Islands in Lake Erie used to be the happy homes of the now Ohio endangered and federally threatened Lake Erie Water snake, however during the 19th century "the islands were swarming with snakes, so hogs were brought in to eat them" and "over the years, developers, islanders, boaters and tourists have added to the decimation" according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer [June 1, 2003]. [from GreenLines #1885, June 13, 2003] Curiously, hogs in western Illinois may have led to the decline and fall of massasauga populations according to local residents.
The Curator of Reptiles at the Artis Zoo in Amsterdam has announced finding that nearly 40 percent of his Burmese python's unhatched and unfertilized eggs "harbor tiny embryonic replicas. Several snake species are known to reproduce without sperm, a process known as parthenogenesis, though the phenomenon has never been documented in pythons. Stranger still, the embryos are all female, a first for parthenogenic snakes, whose chromosome setup typically produces males only. The Artis Zoo plans to hatch the eggs to see if they inherited [their mother's] cloning powers. Meanwhile, [she] is being kept far from any male: A single conjugal visit and `the whole special thing would stop at once,'" the curator warned. [HerpDigest 3:41, from Allen Salzberg]
Even though his friends screamed at him to get out, a 12-year-old boy continued to swim in the Dead River near Tavares, Florida until an alligator grabbed him in his jaws and disappeared beneath the surface. Deputies and trappers rounded up all the gators over eight feet they could find to be sure they had captured the man eater. His companions said they had been seeing gators all day, but would just get out of the water when one was spotted. Florida has had only one dozen fatal gator attacks since records of such things began in 1948. The last one was in September, 2001. [Chicago Tribune, June 20, 2003 from Mike Dloogatch]
UK law grows teeth
On of the primary hubs in the global illegal trade in wildlife has increased its criminal penalties for the trading in endangered species. Jail terms in England now can be from two to five years. Illicit trading is now an automatic arrest and includes trade in materials made from endangered animals including Shadoosh shawls and various Oriental medicinals. The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that "hundreds of millions of plants and animals, worth billions of pounds were traded illegally each year, threatening the survival of many species such as tigers, snow leopards, bears and some plants, and the changes will have a lasting impact for endangered species all over the world," GreenLines #1886, June 14, 2003.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to you, because you're about to send me a great clipping about reptiles, amphibians, animals or conservation issues. Aren't you? Mail whole pages of newspapers or magazines with your name on all the pieces in nice big envelopes (save on that origami) to me.
More new species!
"A team of student researchers from Bolivia and Britain announced they discovered seven previously unknown species of animals in the rainforests of Bolivia... a joint Oxford and Glasgow University expedition to the Yungas forests of Bolivia's Mosetenes mountain range... found two new species of frog, with two new species of snakes and toads, and one new species of lizard." [Honolulu Advertiser, June 29, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
In a massive change of scenery, two Asian men are no longer living the luxurious high-flying life of the international jet set. Rather they're in Seminole County Jail after being busted at Orlando International Airport on charges of smuggling endangered wildlife to individuals in the United States. Officials became aware of the situation when a student at University of Central Florida received two boxes that said "books," but contained 200 animals including rare turtles, tortoises and lizards. The box was sent by a man whom he had met at the Daytona Beach International Reptile Breeders Exposition and whom he knew only by a false name. In exchange, the student shipped Florida king snakes, corn snakes, milk snakes, fat-tail geckos and leopard geckos to the dealer in Singapore. The student sold the turtles over the Internet for up to $400 apiece but hasn't so far been charged in the scheme or expelled. When authorities realized who the falsely named recipient of this herpetological bounty really was, the investigation ramped up. The man has been connected to importation of protected Indian Star tortoises and lizards sent to people in other states, some of whom have come forward with information for the feds. The two men who are both in their 30s, were held without bail on charges ranging from shipping pancake tortoises from East Africa, Hermann's tortoises from the Mediterranean and Borneo black leaf turtles in boxes labeled "native crafts" as well as money laundering and illegally importing endangered animals into Wisconsin. [Orlando Sentinel, July 1, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Last year a man in Pocahontas, Arkansas opened up a parcel he received in the mail and found a 2-foot-long copperhead which the federal government in its wisdom classifies as "nonmailable matter." A federal jury in Little Rock has now indicted "a Pocahontas lawyer and his son for mailing the snake `with the intent to kill or injure' the man who received it," according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 4, 2003. In addition, they are charged with "mailing nonmailable matter with the intent to injure or kill, an offense punishable by up to 20 years in prison... [and] witness tampering..." The snake, as is usual in these cases, was shot by a deputy, it did not harm anyone and was retained for evidence in the trial of the two alleged nonmailable material mailers.
Another slow news day in South Bend!
Front page news, June 27, 2003 South Bend Tribune is a story about a 45-year-old formerly dime-store turtle who has lived through 10 U.S. presidencies and outlived the store at which he was purchased "F.W. Woolworth's." Turns out "Mr. T" is actually "Ms. T," an eastern painted turtle that spends sunny days in a play pool in the yard and nights in a baby washtub in the garage. After her whole lifetime, the turtle's companion says that everyone likes to talk about her turtle, not the least bit being how long it has managed to live in Niles, Indiana. [from Garrett Kazmierski]
Snake his day
Check out Dave Barry's close encounter with Florida wildlife while he was trying to write a column on his computer. It's hysterical and unquotable, but published in full on the website:
http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/living/columnists/dave_barry/6238197.htm [Eureka Times-Standard, July 6, 2003 from Bradford Norman] One wonders what address they'd have filed this story under if he hadn't survived the experience.
Kittens of the turtle world?
Geochelone sulcata, the African spurred tortoise, are beginning to be a bit of a pet rehabilitation problem. People have been buying them when they're cute for as little as $25, but they grow to 30 inches and 100 pounds when mature, rather like "an elephant in a shell," according to the director of a non-profit turtle rescue and conservation program on Long Island, New York. At a mere 20 pounds, she added that the tortoises can move large furniture. They also burrow, ripping up flooring and back yards. In one extreme case, a couple spent $25,000 repairing a foundation wall after their sulcata burrowed under it and wouldn't come back out. Allen Salzberg said, "No one tells you how big they get - that eventually it's like having a 19-inch television walking around your house. I've seen one go eyeball to eyeball with a German shepherd and the German shepherd blinked first." They also live 150 years. [Chicago Tribune, March 11, 2003 from Rob Streit]
Oh, say can you see?
By the dawn's early light around the 4th of July holiday, volunteers looked in vain for sea turtle nests. Seem the turtles didn't like all the "whee!" and "pop!" and "fizz!" and "Bang!" of all the fireworks sold in beachfront shacks. Every morning all they'd find were "false crawls," tracks up the beach, and then back out again. No eggs. In previous years early July has been the peak of the nesting season. Holiday celebrants also littered the beach with the plastic and cardboard explosive debris, cigarettes, bottles, cans and feces. Oh, by the way; fireworks larger than sparklers are illegal in Florida if you're not farming or mining. "I've got 10 to 15 groups of people shooting off fireworks every night, seven nights a week," said the local mayor. People can't sleep and turtles can't lay because some people are out of control. [Orlando Sentinel, July 2, 2003 from Bill Burnett's mom]
In an annual event since 1990, the Mauna Lani Bay hotel on the Big Island of Hawai'i has released 3-year-old green sea turtles on July 4. Around 1,500 people show up, about half local to watch. A traditional hula was performed portraying huge supernatural turtles that looked like islands when they surfaced, traditionally to save people in rough seas. The turtles are raised in the hotel's ponds, then released. One swam around the Hawai'ian islands with a transmitter on his back. His time? Nine months, 3000 miles which was judged not bad for a turtle that spent his first three years in a pond. The educational fair and carnival atmosphere create a memorable event and one which benefits turtles in many ways. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 2, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow] Last year I got a letter from a Hawai'ian resident who felt that the article I was working from was less than respectful about this annual event. All I can say is that I get and summarize so many articles in a year that I can't even remember if I wrote about this before; but if I upset anyone - I certainly didn't intend to be upsetting. I like turtles and enjoyed immensely swimming with the turtles when I was last on the Big Island. You can read all about that on my website [http://ebeltz.net/hawaii1.html].
Scientists are absolutely not sure what the 40-foot-long pile of slimy flesh is that washed up on a beach 750 miles south of Santiago, Chili. Some suspect the gelatinous blobby mess might be what is left of the mortal coils of a giant octopus. Others proposed it might be just a pile of decayed blubber from a dead whale. In either case not a herp, but apparently so disgusting that Ray Boldt just couldn't restrain himself from sending it. [Chicago Tribune, July 3, 2003]
DAPTF finds a sponsor
Apparel manufacturer "Peace Frogs began in 1985 in a dorm room... [and] is now a supporter of the Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force and a contributor to the FROGLOG newsletter. A percentage of all our proceeds go to groups researching the decline of amphibian populations. The frog is a sensitive little guy. When he starts to go, are we far behind?" Their website is now "http://www.peacefrogs.com" and has information on their contributions as well as photos of their products. [Summer 2003 catalog from Ken Sumer]
Coqui Monsters & Other Invaders
Super clipper Ms. G.E. Chow sent in all these clippings over the past few months:
Hawai'ian State officials are looking for new ways to stop the arrival of any more invasive species. "The catchwords these days are `early detection' and `rapid response,'" said a zoologist from the Bishop Museum. Another pointed out that once a new species becomes established, it is even more expensive to get rid of it. Private property rights enter into the equation, as well. For example, without a private land owner's permission or a court order, wildlife officials could not chase a brown tree snake across private property. [Honolulu Advertiser, March 13, 2003]
A golf course worker discovered part of what appeared to be a freshly shed snake skin and wildlife officials spent the next few days searching for something three inches in diameter and three to six feet long. A special snake-finding dog may have caught the scent, but the snake was no longer in the garage where the skin was found. [Honolulu Advertiser, February 21, 2003]
A spray of citric acid is believed to have killed all the coqui frogs on Kauai Island. Officials hope that small populations on other islands can be wiped out as well. One nursery owner suggested that trying to control coqui frogs on nursery plants shipped off the Big Island is "throwing money down a rat hole." On the other hand, researchers feel they can stop or slow the spread of the species, warning that if the do not, a huge frog population could provide food for the next invasive alien species. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, June 24, 2003]
"A team of invasive species scientists and administrators traveled from Hawai'i to Guam... to practice trekking through wooded areas at night, spotting snakes hanging from trees and capturing them," according to the Honolulu Advertiser, June 13, 2003. One of the participants said, "it's not as drama-filled as... `Crocodile Hunter.'" They learned that "before [Guam's] bird population was almost completely killed off by the snakes, the reptiles also caused a number of electrical blackouts on the island. They would climb transformers to get closer to their prey, and arc their bodies between power lines. Once the birds were nearly eradicated, the snakes switched to lizards and skinks... Population densities are estimated in some areas at up to 13,000 snakes per square mile." While there are no snakes on Hawai'i, yet, there were 236 snake sightings over the past 10 years. Of that number, 63 snakes were found dead or wandering around; 74 were pets and 99 were never found at all.
A search of an area where six veiled chameleons were found in December 2002, found 21 more. The multi-agency team suspects they may have become naturalized in the residential area. Also captured were 102 Jackson's chameleons which are also not native to Hawai'i but which have become established in many areas of the island. [Honolulu Advertiser, January 31, 2003]
Plant shipments spread coqui frogs (Eleutherodactylus coqui) from infested nurseries on the Big Island to most of the other parts of the archipelago before officials really realized what was happening. Now, they're working with private landowners to use citric acid spray which kills frogs but which also can burn vegetation. Some parks are treating tropical plants, then ripping them out and replacing them with native Hawai'ian plants which are less hospitable to coquis. [Honolulu Advertiser, December 30, 2002]
Coquis are native to Puerto Rico and for a long time were thought to only be able to live there as previous translocation efforts failed. Whether they arrived under their own power, in an imported plant or in some Puerto Rican tourists' luggage it would seem they are now in Hawai'i to stay. On February 28, 2003 the "eradicators concede Big Island to frogs." The US Department of Agriculture realized that their $10.7 million plan to rid the state of coquis would have to be "updated to acknowledge that eradication is no longer possible on the Big Island... the coqui ... and the greenhouse frog (E. planirostris), have tripled their range statewide in the past year... have found habitats in 2,000 acres across the state." [Honolulu Advertiser, February 28, 2003; all articles from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Coquis in Puerto Rico are just as explosive breeders as they are when they get to Hawai'i. One of the controls on their survival is the whip scorpion. Another weird island endemic, it has no tail and its body is only the size of a quarter, but its arm span is the size of a salad plate. [Science News, January 4, 2003 from Jack Schoenfelder]
Recently I received an email which asked if the coqui frogs which have invaded Hawai'i are live-bearers or egg-bearers. I did a little research and found that "With the exception of only one species, eleutherodactylid frogs lay eggs that undergo direct development in terrestrial situations, rather than in water like most frogs. The "tadpole" stage occurs entirely within a terrestrial egg, rather than as a free-living larval stage, and adult features form directly..." [http://invasions.bio.utk.edu/invaders/coqui.html] Also, "eleutherodactylid" means "free-fingers" and refers to the lack of membranes between the fingers which other types of tropical frogs use for aquatic movements and/or gliding surfaces when they hop, fall or jump out of trees. [http://www.cnnet.clu.edu/procoqui/eng/ekarlschmidti.html] There apparently was one form of live-bearing coqui, but it had a very restricted distribution and none have been seen since the early 1980s. [http://endangered.fws.gov/i/d/sad0e.html]
#1 Killer of Wildlife strikes Again
A Miami-area woman opened her door one morning expecting to find nothing more exciting than her newspaper; instead she started screaming. When her boyfriend came running, she calmed down enough to point to a dead four-foot alligator neatly arrayed on the front stoop. Was it a new version of the horse head in The Godfather? Or perhaps some form of obscure Santeria ritual? Officers on the scene turned the gator over and discovered a clear tire mark. Case closed, gator removed. Just another day in metro Miami. [Miami Herald, June 14, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Besieged by an invasion of toads
"Authorities in ... [a] Bulgarian village... battled an invasion of toads that besieged the community after being driven out of their former habitat by land filling. Thousands of the amphibians congregated around the villages... following their food supply of insects that used to live in the rubbish dump that was recently filled in. The Bulgarian environment ministry told angry residents that the toads are harmless, and the landfill had created a fresh ecosystem and food chain for wildlife. [Honolulu Advertiser, June 15, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
So what happened?
On January 30, 2003, the Chicago Tribune described an experiment at a new strip mall at Lakewood and Algonquin Roads in McHenry County where artificial nests and turtle fencing was to have been installed for Blanding's turtles. The artificial nests were to be the first of their kind in Illinois. About 75 Blanding's turtles were described as still asleep in "the muck of the marsh" while "biologists trudged through snow to map the best locations for the nests." Anybody know if this project actually happened? [from Ray Boldt]
"A restocking program by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission saw the relocation of more than 2,800 Louisiana alligators in south Arkansas [after the reptiles were put on the Endangered Species List in 1973]. Thanks to the commission's gator aid, alligators are thriving and have been seen in 45 Arkansas counties. A recent study showed an average of 1.2 gators per square mile in south Arkansas." The state herpetologist quoted in the article is the same Kelly Irwin with whom we shared a memorable lunch many years ago. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 7, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
A photographer in Alabama caught a by now almost cliche photograph of an alligator in the road, surrounded by conservation agents with poles and ropes, and an official pickup truck. One wonders if they waited for the photographer to get going. The gator looked lethargic, but as we all know, that can change quickly. Of course, if there had been any Steve Irwin-ism, the photographer would have caught it and the editor would have used it, so the gator probably was cooperative. [Chicago Tribune, June 4, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
A Lake County, Florida man received a $180 citation for lassoing a 5-foot-long alligator he said was threatening a woman and four children near the local elementary school. The man was unapologetic; this occurred in the same town as the fatal attack on a 12-year-old boy who was swimming at dusk in the Dead River. He had the animal under control when police arrived. They ordered him to cut the rope and let the gator go. When the game officer arrived, he issued a ticket and called for a gator trapper to go get the gator which had just been set free minutes before. [Orlando Sentinel, June 22, 2003]
After a weekend of public outcry, the $180 ticket was rescinded and replaced with a warning. The man sought legal advice and has decided not to appeal the warning. Wildlife officials still insist people need to call 911, not take matters into their own hands. [Orlando Sentinel, June 24, 2003]
Officials estimate there is now one alligator for every 17 people in Florida. About 17 million Floridians live in gator habitat. You do the math. [Orlando Sentinel, June 20, 2003]
Commentator Mike Thomas wrote about the death of the boy and the response: "The deputies have pretty much cleared the Dead River of gators. They killed 11 big ones. That may soothe some people, but it's only a gesture. When you kill 11 big gators, all you do is make room for 11 more. As one cop said, they're like crack dealers. This tragedy may bring on a demand to slaughter more gators. If that's the case, we might as well kill all the rattlesnakes and moccasins, too, then put concrete bottoms on all the lakes and chlorinate them. Alligators are not vicious killers. They are mindless, amoral predators. What we had at the Dead River was the tragic convergence of an alligator acting like an alligator and a 12-year-old boy acting like a 12-year-old boy." [Orlando Sentinel, June 22, 2003 all from Bill Burnett]
Voice of the people
Selections from the letters to the editor Orlando Sentinel, July 4, 2003.
- "I'm just glad the gators don't run a[n article] ... that asks, `Too many people?'"
- "Get rid of the alligators... the `endangered species' has now taken over... crawling into our swimming pools, carports and retention ponds... eating our pets, and they are trying to eat us. They are everywhere. I think we can easily spare a few of them."
- "I don't hear people saying that we should get rid of cars when a child gets hit by one or ban swimming pools when someone drowns. When do we stop destroying God's creatures to satisfy human control?"
- "People come to Florida to see its natural beauty, including alligators... by getting rid of all nuisance animals... our state will no longer be Florida and will turn into another urban environment without natural beauty."
- "What good are they, anyway?... great shows of water-birds nest over masses of swimming gators, who unknowingly act as guardians of the nests, which are out of reach to them. The birds have this figured out and flock there. In case any raccoon, opossum or rat snake gets the wild idea it would be fun to swim to a nest bush for a snack, it's in for an unforgettably exciting experience... baby gators are commonly eaten by herons and large egrets, especially by black-crowned night herons... Large fish, big gators and all sorts of mammals eat them, too... As long as we have wetlands, we will have hazards and deaths from drowning, boat and auto accidents, waterborne diseases and even entrapment in water-weeds, and wildlife."
SARS, monkeypox and us
Lee Watson's Reptile Swap continues twice a month in Streamwood despite "the bust" and without any prairie dogs or Gambian rats after they were vectors of the recent monkeypox outbreak in the Midwest. One long term breeder of pygmy African hedgehogs said, "Everyone is concerned that they're going to take a simple problem and lump a lot of things into it." [Chicago Tribune, June 16, 2003 from Ray Boldt] Meanwhile, Hong Kong based researchers are awaiting publication of their paper by Science Magazine. It is believed their paper will show that antibodies to SARS were found in the blood of human workers in the food market in southern China where the outbreak seems to have begun. The civet cats in which the SARS virus was allegedly found are captive bred in both China and Taiwan for food. The civet cat farmers are just about out of business since their animals have been banned from the markets. [Science, July 18, 2003 from Aiken Reed, II]
Envelope of the month
Thanks to Ray Boldt who rose to last month's Challenge to Eliminate Origami. He sent a "Snapple" bottle cap! It is part of their real fact series and reads: "The only continent without native reptiles or snakes is Antarctica." It was carefully wrapped in clippings and encased in a bubble envelope. Due to the tiny size mailbox we received when we arrived in Ferndale, all large envelopes are hand-delivered to us at the window and therefore arrive not squished. Our postmistress said, "If we knew how much mail you got, we'd have given you a larger post office box!" And they still might, but that would mean changing the address. In the meantime,
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Bradford Norman, Jack Schoenfelder, Eloise Mason, Bill Burnett's Mom in Florida, Wes von Papinešu, and everybody else who even considered sending material for this column. Mail whole pages of newspapers or magazines with your name on all the pieces in nice big envelopes to me.
Thanks to everyone who contributes to my column, both by mail and email. As long-term readers know, one of my most prolific contributors is Wes von Papinešu. I've often teased him that he should be newted for his efforts, but he modestly points out that he is already a member of the garter snake order of the salamander commandos and needs no further honors. Be that as it may, he has a knack for finding the most obscure herpetological cannon fodder from journals around the world. Here this month is an "all Wes - all 2003" sampler. Enjoy!
Great use of a shovel
"If you spend your backyard hours these days swatting mosquitoes and sweating West Nile, you might want to expand the range of your concern. Start by looking down, preferably before you take that next step. Snakes are sliding into some unsettling spots around Rapid City, as drought turns well-watered backyards and lush flowerbeds into serpent motels ... When it gets hot and dry, they're more likely to try a hunting trip into new turf — which could be your bluegrass. It could also be your garage, [as a local woman discovered, then she] used a shovel to carry the two young rattlers from her garage to a nearby open area, where she let them go. 1I guess you're not supposed to do that,' she said... the Humane Society of the Black Hills recommends that you leave rattlers alone, call the Humane Society and keep track of the serpents until an animal-control officer arrives." [Rapid City, South Dakota, Journal, August 25]
Familiar tales - unfamiliar places
- "A snake that eats frogs and rats as an infant and works its way up to chickens, rabbits and even wild pigs, is believed to be responsible for this summer's gradual disappearance of the familiar chickens in front of the Metro Police West Patrol sector [in Nashville, Tennessee]. A boa constrictor is believed to be living somewhere in the precinct... after two intact snake skins were found recently that indicate the predator is roughly 8 feet long and `pretty big' in the center. `The chicks disappeared and then the chickens disappeared and then we had, finally, one rooster left and then he disappeared,' [said the police official who also] speculated that somebody had the snake as a pet and took it to the woods when it got too big." [Nashville City Paper, August 25 to Wes from Desiree Wong]
- "A heat lamp in a snake cage is believed to have caused an apartment fire Friday morning in Beloit. When Beloit Fire Department personnel arrived at the apartment complex... they found heavy smoke in a first-floor apartment and hallway... The fire started in the apartment's bedroom, where officials believe a heat lamp in a snake cage overheated. The snake survived the blaze and was picked up by the Rock County Humane Society. The fire was contained to the bedroom and caused an estimated $6,000 structure and content damage." [Beloit, Wisconsin Daily News August 23]
- "Animal Rescue League of Boston officers, responding to what they thought was a bogus report of an alligator in Jamaica Pond, could hardly believe their eyes yesterday afternoon when they spied a roughly 2-foot-long reptile swimming in the water. `He kept popping up,' said an amazed [Lieutenant], who along with [a] native Louisiana [woman] netted the pint-sized gator after about two hours of trying. `Someone obviously dumped it here.' It's not exactly a man-eater, but the pond's resident ducks should sleep easier tonight... it's illegal to keep alligators as pets in Massachusetts without a state license. [Boston Herald, August 22]
Another way to fossilize
"Crocodiles are being cooked alive in Kakadu National Park because of unusual weather patterns, it has been revealed. Rangers have uncovered a mass grave of 30 crocodiles killed by heat. `They literally cooked to death,' [a] park crocodile management officer ... said
`They would have tried to crawl into the mud, but it wasn't damp enough. It would have been a bloody horrible way to die - just absolutely shocking. We got to the site about a week after they died, but it was clear what had happened - the floodplains had dried out. There were carcasses all over the place and the smell was unbelievable... Kakadu National Park covers 19,000 square kilometers and is 257 km from Darwin... the park's crocodile population to be about 6,000." [Northern Territory, Australia, News, August 25]
Seychelles giants breeding
"Biggie the tortoise has been reunited with his old girlfriend at Bristol Zoo Gardens. The two were originally paired together in the 1970s but Mrs. Biggie, as she is known to staff, was sent to a private collection because Biggie found another mate. But now Mrs. Biggie is ready to become a mum - at the age of 50 - and has returned to Bristol Zoo Gardens to be reunited with her lost love. The giant tortoise enclosure has been expanded and Biggie's keepers are hoping to breed more giant tortoises, even though Biggie will be an old man to have children - his age is estimated at between 80 and 100. Recent research has found that Biggie and his new partner are possibly some of the last remaining Seychelles giant tortoises, an almost extinct species. But DNA tests have so far proved inconclusive so a mystery still surrounds Biggie and any future offspring. He was bought by Bristol University in the 1960s and was donated to the zoo in 1975. Mrs. Biggie was at the zoo for a year before she was sent away." [Bristol, U.K. Evening Post, August 23]
Does the house always win?
"An endangered salamander that lives in the heart of Sonoma County will likely snarl a North Bay Indian tribe's plans to build a casino near Rohnert Park, but the project still appears to be feasible, county and city officials say. The proposed 360-acre casino site used mostly for hay fields and cattle grazing is within the potential range of the California tiger salamander, which federal officials in March said is on the verge of extinction and worthy of protection under environmental laws... If tiger salamanders are detected or the land is considered to be salamander habitat, the tribe might be able to configure the project to avoid jeopardizing the animal, local officials said. But if federal officials determine that building the casino and hotel would kill salamanders or destroy its habitat, the tribe could be required to buy land elsewhere for tiger salamander habitat preservation. That could entail lengthy negotiations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and there are no clear guidelines because the tiger salamander is new to the endangered species list." [Santa Rosa, California, Press Democrat, August 23]
Remember "-icide" means to kill, part 227
"Rumor has it that Phrynosoma cornutum, horned lizards - yes, we're talking horny toads here - have virtually vanished from Texas soil, victims of unscrupulous exotic pet dealers who've shipped them off to foreign lands like New York City. Not true, said [the] educational director of the Sibley Learning Center in Midland. `You may not see many in town anymore except in vacant lots... but I think it's because people have poisoned the harvester ant nests around their homes, and that's the horned lizard's food source.' Still, the little lizards are on the endangered species list in Texas and Oklahoma... where aggressive swarms of fire ants are displacing harvester ants and other insects. Stories of fire ants moving in for the kill on unsuspecting horned lizards may be true... but a lizard would have to lap up 2,000 fire ants to satisfy its minimum daily requirement of 200 harvester ants... Driven by tales of fire ant ferocity, West Texans may be mistakenly poisoning harvester ants..." Ninety percent of people quizzed on the ants misidentified the harmless harvester as a fire ant." [Houston Chronicle, August 22]
All venomous, some deliver
"Venom is much more common among snakes than previously thought, and its origins predate the evolution of snakes, according to surprising new Australian research. By personally catching and milking thousands of snakes around the world, a researcher from the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne has shown that even snakes that we think of as non-poisonous [sic, they mean non-venomous] have a venomous bite... Perhaps even more surprising... [he] found that venoms have been evolving a lot longer that the snakes themselves. `Snake venom developed only one time in evolution, a few hundred million years ago,' he said. To test this theory, he analyzed the 'saliva' of an archetypal 'non-venomous' snake, the ratsnake, to see how far back venom components started in the evolution of snakes. The ratsnake, which is commonly sold in pet stores around the world, contained the same toxins as a cobra or death adder, and the toxins were just as potent... One industry that will be affected by this finding is the pet snake trade, an industry that is highly regulated in Australia at least. In other, less regulated countries, there have been cases of people being bitten by pet snakes and falling ill." [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, August 22, also electronic thanks to Raymond Hoser]
We move in all directions when we can
"An attempt to pretty up the office brought an usual surprise for Saint John, [British West Indies] worker. A potted plant... had an unexpected hitchhiker, but this isn't the first time such a thing has occurred in the Port City. "I'm sitting at my office," [the man] says, "working at my computer and I just caught something out of the corner of my eye, crawling up the wall. And at first I thought it was a spider, but it moved really fast and then it stopped and it stayed in one location for some time." The creature turned out to be a small lizard that normally lives in Florida. Alan DeGrass, the Reptile Man, was called in to wrangle the tiny common brown anole... [he] says the creatures turn up in the Maritimes quite often. One recent shipment of house plants from Florida, for example, brought in 20 lizards..." [CBC 22 August]
Rabbit-proof fence, dingo-proof fence, toad what?
"A wildlife expert involved with the Frogwatch program says a cane toad fence on the Cobourg Peninsula, north-east of Darwin, will not stop the spread of the pests. Cane toads are expected to reach the peninsula, Darwin and Palmerston by this wet season. The fence is one of the suggestions being considered by the Territory Government in an effort to protect native species from the toads. [He] says the toads are likely to use the sea to swim around the fence and the money may be better used elsewhere." [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, August 22]
Are they worried about salmonella?
"More than 100 personnel from the Civil Defense and the Internal Security Forces have unsuccessfully been stationed in Mtayleband the surrounding area [near Beirut, Lebanon] to catch a giant, carnivorous lizard. The issue is considered to have become potentially dangerous as the reptile, believed to be a Komodo Dragon, supposedly ate a horse five days ago, according to locals... The Komodo Dragon, not native to Lebanon, is usually found on the islands of Indonesia, and it is believed that the reptile was brought to Lebanon four years ago by a German who lived in the area. As a water lover, the reptile on Tuesday supposedly went to a residential villa and swam in the pool... The Civil Defense department is using all means at its disposal to catch the reptile, which was first noticed by residents two weeks ago, but is finding it difficult to locate the beast... The lizard, believed by the Civil Defense to be a Komodo Dragon, is causing panic in the area, particularly once it was learned that the reptile is the world's largest land-based lizard and a meat-eating monster. The reptile will also devour any animal it can dismember... [A local official] will contact embassies here to ask for help in handling the issue. `We also contacted the Discovery Channel... If we are able to send a photo of the animal to prove it is a Komodo Dragon, the Discovery Channel confirmed it will send a team to resolve the issue...' While some are scared of the Komodo Dragon, others assert that no such animal could be found here. On Wednesday, Al-Mustaqbal newspaper quoted experts denying the possible existence of such a reptile here.
But... three residents have so far confirmed that they had seen the lizard and later identified it as being a Komodo Dragon... [The official] hoped that the reptile would be caught before heading to areas such as Nahr al-Kalb [forest], where it can easily hide." [Beirut, Lebanon Terranet August 22]
Sixty years in the desert
"A real live crocodile is the unlikely outsized good-luck charm of [Kidal, a town in north-eastern Mali, Africa], where it has been a celebrated citizen since 1945. A million and one legends surround this venerated creature who is believed to ward off the evil eye and protect the inhabitants of Kidal. Kidal has attracted world attention recently, bad publicity that its inhabitants say they would have rather avoided. It was widely believed that the 14 European tourists taken hostage by an Algerian Islamic group were held in northern Mali. The town's mostly nomadic population of 77,000 subsist on very little in the vast barren desert. Their lives are so hard, they need a mascot. Hence the crocodile. Brought to the area from Mali's interior by Jean Clauzel, a French colonial administrator, the crocodile has fascinated generations of visitors for nearly 60 years. So small was the creature when it first arrived, that his tail resembled a grey lizard's, and he was given only a few weeks to live. But he survived, and was housed in the colonial fort that still crowns the town, before being moved next to the old prison, no longer in use. The grand old citizen is preparing to move residence for the third time. He will be lodged in a basin between two date palms in the town's administrative offices. There is no official budget to feed the creature... But... successive administrators have continued to look after the reptile, believing that their professional future depended on the mascot's longevity. The local officials will have to turn a blind eye to townspeople smuggling themselves onto the premises at night to continue their tradition of leaving offerings of large chunks of meat for the crocodile. `There are people who come here to feed the crocodile, hoping that it will protect them from bad luck,' says a guard. The hardy creature now three meters (10 feet) long, with half-closed eyes, swishes his tail as he lolls in the tank's warm greenish water. He has survived the extreme desert temperatures and tough winters of Mali for more than half a century. But fatigue and old age are beginning to take their toll. The crocodile has also survived the Tuareg uprising in the 1990s, when even the rebels did not dare to touch it. `Everybody avoided shooting in the direction of the animal,' an ex-rebel affirmed." [Johannesburg, South Africa, The Independent, August 21 from Desiree Wong to Wes]
How many snakes in Blackpool?
"A poster campaign is being launched in Blackpool to dissuade people from having their pictures taken with snakes. It is part of a crackdown by the town's trading standards department on illegal street traders. Photographers, who operate on the promenade without licenses, drape a large python around the shoulders of customers and charge them to take a picture. But following an increase in the number of complaints from visitors, council officers are distributing the posters in the hope of stopping people paying the traders. The notices are written like a hostage note from a Burmese python with the snake pleading against being held captive, being handled roughly and photographed.... 'The poster campaign, which has the full support of the RSPCA, is one of a raft of measures currently under way to put an end to the exploitation of snakes as photographers' aids on the promenade,' [said a local official who added] 'We are receiving more and more complaints from the general public concerning the welfare of the snakes used in this trade... The council says enforcement staff are now out seven days a week tackling the problem." [London, U.K., British Broadcasting Company, August 21]
1,205 Stars fall back to earth
"Another consignment of 305 star tortoises meant to be smuggled to Kuala Lumpur was seized by the Forest department officials from a passenger at the international airport here late on Monday. One person was arrested. The Chennai Wildlife Warden... said during a baggage check, the airport authorities found the tortoises packed in a carton. Even before the baggage reached the customs checkpoint it was seized and the information was passed on to them. Following the information, a team of wildlife officials... seized the consignment and secured the passenger. He was identified ... [as a 35-year-old from] Netaji Nagar, Tondiarpet. Preliminary investigation with the arrested person revealed that he got the star tortoises from Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. Cases have been filed under various sections of the Wildlife Protection Act and the person was produced in Alandur Municipal Court, which remanded him to 15 days judicial custody... The seized specimen was said to be not more than two years old, said the wildlife authorities. On August 8, the officials of the Deputy Directorate of Wildlife Southern Region seized 900 star tortoises meant to be smuggled to Singapore. Following the escape of the smuggler, the officials after obtaining permission from the Alandur court released the tortoises at the Guindy National Park. But, this time as they were able to arrest and remand the smuggler, the authorities were planning to obtain permission to release the seized specimen at Arignar Anna Zoological Park, Vandalur, as the GNP had a huge population of star tortoises." [Chennai, India, The Hindu, August 20]
Frog and Turtle Tunnels
"Décidément, on ne fait pas les choses à moitié pour sauver la vie des animaux sauvages. Après les célèbres tunnels aménagés pour protéger les grenouilles du marais du lac Brompton, voici que les tortues du marais du lac Magog ont droit à leur clðture pour leur sécurité. Il s'agit d'un projet unique au Québec." A protected road crossing for turtles will be built near Lake Magog. It will be similar to those that have been built to protect frogs near Lake Brompton. This is the first project of its kind for Quebec. [La Tribune, Sherbrooke, Quebec, August 18]
"The Colorado Division of Wildlife is asking for the public's help in monitoring fragile boreal toad populations, along with stopping the spread of the fungus believed to be responsible for putting the toad at risk of extinction. Boreal toads have been an endangered species in Colorado for the past decade and still are declining. While biologists aren't exactly sure what caused the toads' demise, they believe it is because of a fungus called Batrachochytrium dentrobatitis, or frog chytrid... Boreal toads were known to exist at one time in the Weminuche Wilderness and along the Pine River. `We haven't seen any in the last 10 years,' said ... a wildlife biologist with the Division of Wildlife in Durango. `Several people have looked, including trained herpetologists. That's not to say they don't exist. We're just not locating them.' [He added] that that biologists have found at least three new boreal toad breeding sites. `But every time they end up being chytrid positive. We're seeing the fungus have a significant impact on these sites.' ... Hikers, campers and anglers can help by disinfecting their shoes and any equipment... with a 10 percent bleach solution, and any mud that collects on surfaces or wheels of vehicles should be removed. Boots and waders should be soaked briefly in a bleach solution and allowed to dry thoroughly... Boreal toads (Bufo boreas boreas) began declining about 20 years ago and are federally listed as `warranted but precluded' under the Endangered Species Act. Surveys indicate as much as 85 percent of Colorado's population has disappeared. The Division of Wildlife has been taking steps to ensure the toads' survival and has been rearing them in captivity since 2000. A breeding population of more than 1,000 toads was established at the division's John W. Mumma Native Aquatic Species Restoration Facility in Alamosa in the San Luis Valley. The boreal toad, which grows to a maximum length of 4 inches, is one of 17 amphibian species native to Colorado. They live almost exclusively above 8,000 feet and can be found up to 12,000 feet. They live in forested areas and need shallow standing water for breeding. There are about 68 known breeding populations of boreal toads in the southern Rocky Mountains, and most of those are in Colorado. Most of the breeding populations are very small, and their ability to sustain themselves is uncertain. In the southern Rockies, the boreal toad has dark, brown-black bumpy skin and usually a white or cream-colored stripe down its back. The division asks that if you see a boreal toad, don't touch it or take tadpoles from the water, and contact the division." [Durango, Colorado, Herald, July 24]
Also thanks to the folks who sent clippings which I will use next month and to those of you who are about to send some clippings. This column runs on the material sent by its regular readers. Send whole pages of newspaper or magazines with date/publication slug and your name on each page to me.
Things don't go better for coqui
Nine hundred gallons of citric acid and a team of state and federal workers with 100-gallon motorized sprayers will head to the Hawai'ian hills in an effort to eradicate the only wild colony of coqui frogs on O'ahu. Officials hope to avoid the situation which has developed on the Big Island. In 1999, the first coqui were reported from five locations. Now, more than 200 localities are known; and the frog has 40 localities on Maui and one on Kaua'i. Workers on O'ahu handpicked hundreds of frogs in February. But not all were caught, and eggs hatched, raising the total in the population to more than a hundred. [The Honolulu Advertiser, September 7, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Fangs for the memories?
"President Bush came face to face with a rattlesnake Friday [in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area] but that encounter was friendly compared to the biting criticism from environmentalists upset with his stewardship of the national park system... Bush and Interior Secretary Gale Norton encountered the snake as they walked down a dirt trail on the way out... Bush, accustomed to rattlesnakes at his Texas ranch leaned over to get a better look at the reptile." Environmentalists are upset that money for maintenance is being diverted from the Parks system. [Miami Herald, August 16, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Or just par for the course?
Copperheads, while venomous, are not very aggressive according to a graduate student's studies. In the most recent study, "most of the snakes even when poked on the head 3 times, did little to respond. Out of 620 snakes studied, only about 50 struck," according to the Miami Herald. The researcher said, "One conclusion I can make from my studies is you would be amazed at how hard it is to get a snake to strike you. If a snake gets you, there's a large probability you are doing everything for that to happen." [July 6, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Amphibians continue decline on all continents
New Zealand's native frog populations are so low, that researchers can't be sure if that's a natural condition or one caused by recent die offs. The chytrid fungus has been identified in New Zealand, but perhaps a greater danger comes from common mosquito fish, Gambusia sp. Mosquito fish eat frog eggs, small tadpoles and even tadpoles their own size by nibbling at the tadpoles' tails. Mosquito fish have been widely introduced around the world. Meanwhile 15 species of frogs have disappeared entirely from Australia. [MOKO, newsletter of the New Zealand Herpetological Society, June 2003]
Ranavirus has been implicated in unexpected and catastrophic die offs of tadpoles and young frogs. The first reports of the virus from Ontario have sparked a request for information about any dead tadpole or juvenile frogs found in Ontario. You can visit http://www.trentu.ca/biology/tadpoles/welcome.htm for more information or to make a report online. [Amphibian Voice, 13:1 Spring 2003 from Bob Johnson]
Australian researchers have developed a mix of water and salts in which they wash frogs for 15 minutes after which the solution can be tested to reveal the presence or absence of chytrid fungus. "The chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) may have already contributed to the extinction of six frog species in Australia. It first appeared there in 1993; now more than 30 species carry the disease, including seven under threat. The fungus also infects toads and salamanders in New Zealand, the United States, South America and Europe. [Nature News Service, MOKO, February 2003]
Tortoise T and H
Under a broiling sun west of Las Vegas, two miles of chain-link plus barbed wire fencing encloses 222-acres for desert tortoise refugees of Nevada's relentless growth. Up to 1,500 desert tortoises can be studied, tagged and maintained while awaiting release into areas not yet developed, churned or paved. Since 1997, the Desert Tortoise Transfer and Holding Facility has released more than 4,500 back into the wild and has been so successful that new areas for release are being studied. The facility is funded by a builders' fee; $500 for every acre developed. [Honolulu Star Bulletin, June 29, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Had to happen someday
Ever since Dave Barry, the syndicated columnist, moved to Florida I have been waiting for the following story to occur to him. He was busy working at his computer screen when he grabbed a live snake instead of the drink can he had been trying to pick up. He ran into the kitchen, grabbed his barbecue tongs, grabbed the snake, ran outside, dropped the tongs and the snake. The confused reptile slithered into Barry's swimming pool. Barry chased it around the pool, trying to grab it with the tongs. Finally the snake was cornered in the filter basket, removed from the pool and dumped in the shrubbery. Where it probably still lives, "lurking, and now [he's] a nervous wreck, wondering how it got into the house and where it will show up next. I'm also exhausted. You try sleeping with barbecue tongs. Dave Barry" [Eureka Times-Standard, July 6, 2003 from Bradford Norman]
Deja vu for the umpteenth time
A woman with her two grandchildren found two tiny turtles while walking along a beach next to the sea in Florida. Even with all those clues, it never occurred to the grandmother that these tiny turtles might be sea turtles, let alone potentially 400 pound loggerhead sea turtles. So she permitted the children to take the turtles with them in a plastic bag all the way from Florida to the upper Midwest. She kept one, but when the grandchildren brought their turtle home to Indianapolis, their mother called officials for help. She did the right thing. The turtles are being cared for by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and the Indianapolis Zoo. They will be encouraged to grow a little and eventually released. [The Chicago Tribune, August 3, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
A 38-year-old man faces 15 years in prison and a $750,000 fine if convicted of smuggling dozens of protected animals into the United States. In January, 198 fly river turtles, 25 Indian star tortoises and three monitor lizards were shipped into the U.S. in a box labeled books. The man, a native of Singapore, was arrested in June when he came into the U.S. [Miami Herald, July 31, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Key Biscayne gardeners are upset because a tribe of iguanas has taken to chomping the local flower beds and lawns. The animals are probably released pets, the Miami Herald now calls them a "Godzilla-sized problem." One park manager suspects that his local flock of spiny-tailed iguanas is eating peacock hatchlings as well as his prettiest exotic plants. "South Florida has had a small population of wild iguanas for many years, but it's only in recent years that their numbers have grown out of control and their diet has expanded. So far, plant lovers have not found an effective way to stop them," reports the Herald. [August 1, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Some odds: 1/1000 or .001
"Biologists estimate that just one of every 1,000 eggs laid survives to become an adult [sea] turtle," according to the Orlando Sentinel, which adds "About 90 percent of the nesting in the United States takes place on the east coast of Florida... Last year, 62,905 loggerhead turtles nested in 27 coastal counties in Florida." The primary consumers of sea turtle eggs are natural predators, natural causes and egg poachers. "Active black markets for the eggs - one in Riviera Beach and another... in West Palm Beach" have sprung up. A state law that took effect on July 1 stipulates that egg poachers who have 12 or more eggs will be charged with a felony with penalties up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Catching the poachers, however, is rare, even though officers have night vision goggles and other high tech goodies. [July 27, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
A $1,000 bounty has been offered for information relating to the theft of loggerhead sea turtles from nests on the Marquesas, a remote chain of islands off Key West. The recent egg snatching was discovered by a US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist during routine turtle nesting surveys who said, "I have walked these beaches for 18 years. It was like a guy doing brain surgery with a hatchet." [The Miami Herald, July 13, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Since the egg market is based on a mistaken belief that the eggs have aphrodisiac powers, and after watching the bush-aphrodisiac market in China dry up as Viagra became widely available, perhaps herpetologists should sponsor Viagra billboards. The slogan perhaps, "Don't be a yolk-el, take the blue!"
A-69-year-old man on St. Croix, Virgin Islands has been sentenced to one year of probation for taking 13 hawksbill sea turtle eggs. The Virgin Islands Daily News reports "Sea turtles once were so common in the Caribbean that Christopher Columbus recorded in his journal that he thought his ship had run aground on shoals when, in fact, sea turtles were bouncing off the hulls." [July 22, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
More than 10,000 endangered turtles and tortoises from Malaysia were destined for Chinese dining tables until they were seized by customs agents in Hong Kong. They were packed in a container labeled watermelons. Only four were alive when discovered. Officials estimate the turtles were worth about $17 US apiece. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 11, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
"A colony of 6-foot-long Nile monitor lizards discovered breeding in Cape Coral [Florida] canals is already spreading north and state wildlife experts say that there's nothing to stop them from eventually living all over the state." Florida's wildlife laws do not cover exotic species, so anyone in the state can engage in "snaring or spearing one or a dozen," according to the Orlando Sentinel. The first one was reported in 1990, there have been 200 reports since then. Experts estimate the total population may number in the thousands. Monitors can eat mammals, insects and mollusks as well as native species' eggs. The city biologist of Cape Coral said that "the number of stray cats has dropped off in certain areas." [July 24, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Give `em some Gator-aid
How do you tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator? (1) Gators have wide snouts, (2) their top teeth overlap their lower teeth, (3) you can't see their teeth when their mouths are closed, (4) they have webbing on all four feet and (5) they are the mascot of the University of Florida football team. Unfortunately for that school, 19,200 copies of its 348-page media guide for the football team were printed with a crocodile on the cover instead of an alligator. To add insult to injury, the University of Florida has one of the best crocodilian lineups in their biology department; any one of whom would have instantly noticed the mistake if sports and media had bothered to check. The mistake was noticed quickly. There are more than 1.5 million real alligators in the state, after all. [July 31, 2003; USA Today and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from Bill Burnett]
At 100 pounds per foot, a 20-foot, 2-ton saltwater crocodile that was shipped to Florida's Parrot Jungle Island from Thailand is reported to be the largest one in captivity in the U.S. [The Miami Herald, September 3, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Deliberate fire gets out of hand
Rat hunters in Mozambique routinely set fires to drive rats into trap. However, a rat fire has blackened half of the 1,456-square-mile Gorongosa National Park. Large mammals including elephants, lions, leopards, and zebras were forced to flee into more populated areas. The park was founded in 1921, became a battlefield during a 16 year civil war which ended in 1992, provided a haven for poachers and only lately has been restored with help from the international banking community. [Chicago Tribune, September 10, 2003 from Ray Boldt] The effects on reptiles and amphibians are unmentioned, but probably considerable.
Chillin' in Florida
Strong onshore winds caused an upwelling of cold ocean waters along Florida's Atlantic coast and also was tough on newly hatched sea turtles. More than 1,000 babies were treated for hypothermia and released in warmer waters of the Gulf Stream. The temperature has been about 20 degrees Fahrenheit lower than usual. [The Honolulu Advertiser, August 17, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
Gator hunting, 2003
A class in Tampa on how to hunt an alligator was protested by about 20 animal rights activists. The annual gator season runs from September 1 to October 8. Hunters have to apply for a $270 permit which are issued by lottery. [Miami Herald, August 4, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Gator hunters in Florida are actually going out at night to hunt alligators without guns. Hunters can only use hand-held harpoons, snatch hooks and manually operated spears, spearguns, crossbows and the old standby, bows and arrows. The state plans to issue permits to about 2,300 people to take no more than two alligators each. The hunts are not a population control program but a way to for the public to make use of this renewable resource, according to an alligator management biologist. Animal rights activists oppose the hunt because of the "barbaric methods," according to one activist. [Miami Herald, September 1, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
Dinosaurs and Expeditions, continued
CHS members, Paul Sereno and Gabe Lyon left for Niger, Africa in early September with plans to explore "Africa's last surviving dinosaurs," according to the Project Exploration newsletter. This summer, the Junior Paleontologists explored an egg-site and later this year a new dinosaur exhibit will open at Garfield Park Conservatory. [Project Exploration newsletter, Fall 2003 from Marco Mendez]
CHS members may lose pets
Regular readers of the Bulletin are aware that a proposal to ban exotic pets in Chicago is not particularly popular with folks who own iguanas, ball pythons, boa constrictors, monitor lizards and snakes with Duvernoy glands, including the common garter snake. The ordinance was put forward in response to recent monkey-pox fears. However, none of the herpetological animals listed are carriers of monkey pox and it is to be presumed they were included on the list for fear of salmonella or merely from reptile phobia. Illinois already has some of the toughest laws about herps in the U.S. If the ordinance passes, the Chicago Herp Society will no longer be able to do reptile education programs at schools, museums and Reptile Fest. If you live in Chicago, now would be a great time to write your alderman a good-old fashioned paper variety letter expressing your opinion. Emails seem to vanish in City Hall and just dropping in their office is not enough to influence opinion. [Chicago Sun-Times, August 9, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
Thanks to everyone who contributed recently and to
Ray Boldt, Ms. G.E. Chow, Jim Buskirk, Alan Rigerman, Mrs. P.L. Beltz, Eloise Mason, K.S. Mierzwa, and Wes von Papinešu for stuff they sent which I enjoyed reading but couldn't summarize for this column. You can (and really could) contribute, too. Take whole pages of newspapers or magazines, leave the publication slugs up there in the corners and put your name on each piece. Those little labels they keep sending us in junk mail are great for this task. Fold a minimum of times and mail to me.
New Salamander Described
Researchers have separated what was formerly considered one population of dusky salamanders into two, naming the new species, Desmognathus abditus. The new specific name, abditus is said to mean "hidden, concealed or secret" according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, November 10, 2003. Steve Tilley, one of the describers said "it wouldn't surprise him if future research doesn't reveal more species of salamanders new to science on the Cumberland Plateau. `The Cumberland Plateau has not been studied as intensively as the Appalachians. In terms of salamanders, the plateau is turning out to be richer than we thought.'" The article adds that the Cumberland Plateau is a hotspot of biodiversity in the state of Tennessee which is also known for having great biological richness. An authority with the Nature Conservancy said, "Tennessee has more recorded caves than any state in the country, and the Cumberland Plateau is ground zero for caves. We've not scratched the surface as far as cave biodiversity."
Two new contributors in one month!
Marybeth Trilling, new contributor and self-described Frog-Lover, wrote on the outside of her latest contribution, "What do you call a frog who loves Christmas?" The answer (on the other side, of course) "A Mistle-toad." Inside were a whole bunch of articles from Chicago Parent, October 2003 about he North American Reptile Breeders Conference & Trade Show in Chicago during October. You know you're really way out of the herp-loop when you've never heard of the group, the conference or the magazine!
My other new contributor, Donna Moe sent a piece from the Kankakee Daily Journal, (October 23, 2003) which tells how a 10-year-old Kentucky boy found a two headed black king snake. The 8.5-inch snake hadn't eaten since it was found, so they turned it over to a herp enthusiast for care.
Not gone yet
A lizard which had not been seen in the wild since it was discovered in 1971 has been found again in the eastern Indian state of Orissa. The Barkudia skink (Barkudia insularis was found on Badakuda Island in a brackish lagoon. The four lizards seen appear to be healthy, the full size of the population is unknown. [October 6, 2003: The News Tribune, Tacoma Washington from Marty Marcus and The Honolulu Advertiser from Ms. G.E. Chow]
In June, scientists in the Queensland National Park announced they had found a male Lavarack's turtle which had been presumed to be extinct because the only previously found members of this species were all fossils! What happened to the turtle? It was flown, without a mate to Park headquarters in Brisbane and put on display. [Chuck Shepherd, News of the Weird, The News Tribune, October 1, 2003 from Marty Marcus]
Not quite so recent, but still in the lost-and-found department, are the Mississippi gopher frogs (Rana capito) which researchers at the Memphis Zoo are trying to spawn in captivity. The frog used to be fairly common all over the southern coastal plain in the U.S., but died out and were presumed extinct. In 1987, they were found at one pond from which 75 tadpoles were taken for the breeding program. The species received endangered species status in 2001. Less than 50 frogs are believed to persist in the wild. [Memphis, Tennessee Commercial Appeal, September 26, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Back in the Shallows again!
Reuters news agency reported that nearly 100,000 tadpoles of the Puerto Rican crested toad which were raised in zoos around the world have been repatriated to the Caribbean island in the past decade. Unfortunately, as with most small vertebrates, less than one percent grow to adulthood in the wild. [October 24, 2003]
China's Xinhua news agency reported that 250 captive bred giant salamanders were released into the largest reservoir in Guandong Province. [October 6, 2003 from Mrs. P.L. Beltz]
Cricket frogs still missing
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that "80 percent of the wetlands in the Great Lakes states dried up over the last two centuries, causing a dramatic decline in the number of frogs." Even so, the utter disappearance of the Blanchard's cricket frogs is still a big mystery. Some possible culprits include drought, disease, habitat loss, landscape fragmentation and increased or changed predation. [September 25, 2003 from Mary Beth Trilling "I love Frogs!"]
It's Halloween, not April Fool's
In the interest of getting this story straight, the following is a direct quote from the Associated Press release. Only the names have been removed, you can find yourself online.
"PERTH, Australia -- An award-winning British film producer and conservationist pleaded guilty Thursday to 33 charges of trying to smuggle 187 frogs and reptiles out of the country but said he would fight a charge of subjecting them to cruelty. .. [the man] was arrested at Perth International Airport on October 20, after customs officials found 187 frogs, lizards, snakes, 26 reptile eggs and some insects in his suitcases... [The man is the] producer of the British wildlife program, Survival, pleaded guilty to 31 state offenses for which he could be fined up to $87,000. He also pleaded guilty to a federal charge of removing animals from Australia, but he entered an innocent plea to a second federal charge of cruelty to animals. Both charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail. Prosecutors allege [his] suitcases had held 27 different species of Western Australian wildlife, including three cockroaches. The reptiles included types of geckos, skinks and snakes. Frogs included clicking froglets, squelching froglets and desert tree frogs. The court was told that [the man], who has worked for National Geographic and written several books on amphibians, acknowledged to customs officers he knew his actions were illegal. He also allegedly admitted to police that in January, he had smuggled two spiny-tailed geckos out of the country. That admission led to one of the federal charges. [He] was released on bail, to reappear in court on December 12. Western Australia's Department of Conservation and Land Management said the animals were discovered by X-ray at the airport, following a tip-off from a member of the public. Officers have since released the animals back into the wild." [October 31, 2003]
The Wisdom of Old Age
A 75-year-old alligator trapper has decided to retire this October on his 76th birthday. He says, "My reflexes are slowing down and I'm stumbling more than I used to. I wouldn't want to stumble in one's mouth." [Leesburg Daily Commercial, September 17, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Exceptional Lake Griffin
"Fewer dead alligators are turning up in Lake Griffin [Florida], but what killed them remains a puzzle... [researchers] have not discovered any similar gator die-offs elsewhere in Florida." [Orlando Sentinel, September 1, 2003 from Bill Burnett] As you can see from so many other news stories, in most other Florida lakes, too many big healthy robust and hungry gators are the problem.
Culling improves the breed?
More than 2,000 applied, but only 180 gator hunters were chosen in Georgia's first official alligator hunt since gators were placed on the Endangered Species List in 1987. "state officials hope the hunt will curb the problem of gators getting into carports and swimming pools," according to USA Today. Only the hunters paid for the $50 license which lets them take one four-foot or longer alligator. [September 16, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Gator are now being hunted in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana. Florida officials estimate their state has more than a million alligators while Louisiana's may number more than 1.5 million. As Newsweek reported, these high numbers "would be fine if [alligators] weren't such a pain." All states require catching the alligator before killing it, pointing out "you don't want zinging bullets around [because] they tend to skip [over water]." The hunt brings in a lot more to local economies than just the price of meat and skins. Louisiana estimates that combined impact on their economy from alligators totals $54 million a year including tourism, hides, meat and other processing. [September 15, 2003 from Bill Burnett] The $54 million annual economy boost in Louisiana seems like a lot, but works out to $36 per living gator.
"Family seeks new dog after gator killed pet" Only the day before, the family's pet sheepdog escaped from the 9-year-old child set to mind her, ran through a hole in a fence towards a Florida canal and was seized and killed by an 8-foot long alligator that was later killed by trappers. [The Daytona Beach News-Journal, September 15, 2003 from Bill Burnett] The story probably should have been subtitled, "Why you should have and use a well-fitting leash on your pet at all times."
"A 5-year-old Lake County [Florida] boy was in the hospital... recovering from an alligator bite he got while swimming in a Sumter County lake..." with his dog splashing around in the late afternoon. This almost recipe for disaster ended well because the child was wearing a life jacket and popped back up to the surface when the alligator let go. Trappers suggest the gator realized it wasn't the dog he had caught and opened his mouth. The gator was later trapped and killed. [Orlando Sentinel, August 19, 2003]
"Since 1948, there have been 200 unprovoked alligator attacks in Florida on humans. Twelve people have died. The latest death occurred in June when a 12-year-old boy was attacked while swimming with friends," according to the Orlando Sentinel, August 17, 2003] As all herpetologists are aware: (1) The standard times of day for alligator activity are early morning and late afternoon, when most other wildlife is equally active. (2) Do not feed any gators as that will make them unafraid of people and more likely to attack. (3) Swimming in Florida lakes is strongly discouraged due to the high concentration of alligators in the lakes. (4) Don't let your dog splash around in the surface waters of the states of Florida or Louisiana if you still want to have a dog.
Encouraged to do what?
A restaurant in Destin, Florida has an unusual new attraction, a bright yellow alligator, named "Mellow Yellow" in its tank of usual colored alligators. The restaurant sells balanced alligator chow to its patrons to feed its pet gators, none of which are long enough to really cause a problem. When they get too big the restaurant returns them to the gator farm from whence they came. Mellow Yellow gets a lot of attention because of his unusual coloring. Many visitors want to know "Is he real?" [Orlando Sentinel, September 27, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Vliet's new "Crunch Bar"
"The maximum bite force from a human... is a nasty 170 pounds... a Labrador retriever bites with 125 pounds... good-sized dusky shark puts 300 pounds... a lion has a bite force of 940 pounds... a hungry hyena... bites with 1,000 pounds... but the alligator is the most fearsome cookie in that box of animal crackers... the bite bar was lucky to survive... [it measured] 2,125 pounds of jaw pressure." This last lovely factoid comes from the work of alligator researcher Ken Vliet who invented the bite bar needed to record the measurement and put it into and removed it out of the jaws in which they recorded the two ton crunch. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 9, 2003, from Alan Rigerman; Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 22, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Actions speak louder than words
Lake County was once a lovely rural part of Florida. Since the Florida housing and population booms of the early 1980s to the present, more and more habitat is being lost every year. Even though laws have been in place for years attempting to stem the loss of gopher tortoises, the huge amounts of money at stake from developers and individuals results in a human-tortoise collision. This chart was a sidebar in an article about educational meetings for developers held by the state.
"Lake County Gopher-Tortoise Permits [GTP]
There are 2 major types of GTP: incidental take and standard/relocation. In incidental take permits (ITP), the developer does not have to relocate the tortoises - which often means the animals die in exchange for the developer giving money to a find that buys land for tortoise habitat in other areas. Standard/relocation permits (SRP) give the developer permission to relocate tortoises to a safe spot on the site or off the property.
|Lake County, Florida Gopher Tortoise Permits|
||Incidental Take Permits
||Standard Relocation Permits
|2003||15 to date||5 to date|
|Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Orlando Sentinel, September 15, 2003 from Bill Burnett|
A previous article in the Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial pointed out that ""Gopher tortoises were listed as threatened in 1975 but as their numbers grew, the designation changed in 1978 to a species of special concern. Since 1988 it has been illegal to kill them" without an incidental take permit. One small town mayor pointed out that part of the problem is the system was designed for the one or two homes a year that used to be built to the five or 10 per month that are going up now. Next up for his town is an 800 home development on about 380 acres; the mayor promised that tortoises would be looked for and considered on that project. [August 16, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
Researchers in England and Russia announced that they have made a tape that is based on the structure of gecko-feet. The tape is covered with thousands of tiny hair like structures. It is good for about five uses so far. The geckos get lifelong use from their feet because they are made from water repelling keratin. So far researchers can only make gecko tape from water attracting materials. But the race to make gecko gloves and shoes is off and sticking. [Science News, June 7, 2003 from Marty Marcus]
Expensive Fish Food
A man who is really into Big Bass fishing noticed that a very large Big Bass struck at and devoured a very small water snake which had been innocently swimming across the surface of the water. Since no one had ever managed to make a snake-shaped fishing lure that floated, he decided to make this his goal. He found a material which would float perfectly and sculpted his snake lures which with a little dynamic testing and fine tuning it. It is, of course, available for sale on the Internet, complete with nine snakes in four colors and so on. [Orlando Sentinel, September 14, 2003 from Bill Burnett] Hopefully all those really into Big Bass fishing will now spend money on plastic snakes and leave the local snake populations alone.
Next month... turtles, turtles, turtles and whatever you send. Join my wonderful contributors (and two new contributors in one month) and send whole pages of newspapers and magazines with herpetological articles and the date/publication slug firmly attached to me.
Hoppy New Year!
So begins another year of writing columns for the CHS Bulletin, a task undertaken first in 1987 when my daughter was eleven years old. She is now married and buying a house. Time flies and things change. I probably wouldn't know half the people at CHS meetings anymore; since we moved to California two and a half years ago, I haven't been to a single CHS meeting. Quite a change from before we left to when I didn't miss a single one for more than a dozen years! Please do send clippings, notes, letters and cards. This column depends on reader input and recognizes everyone who contributes. Send your contributions with the date/publication slug firmly attached to each piece to me. This month, I've done a search of interesting amphibian and reptile stories reported in the past couple of weeks on the World Wide Web. [This is not the header that actually appeared in print. Somehow, I confused writing December with writing January. My ever alert editor, Michael Dloogatch, caught it and fixed it before it ever saw print, creating another one of those "ghost edition features" here.]
Quote of the month
"The Sun is like a snake that sheds its skin," says the author of the report in the Astrophysical Journal which describes how the Sun changes its magnetic field from positive to negative. He added, "In this case, it's a magnetic skin. The process is long, drawn-out and it's pretty violent. More than a thousand coronal mass ejections, each carrying billions of tons of gas from the polar regions, are needed to clear the old magnetism away. But when it's all over the Sun's magnetic stripes are running in the opposite direction." [British Broadcasting Service, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3226844.stm]
A year without snake soup...
"Hong Kong's snake industry is suffering a severe shortage after mainland authorities banned exports during the SARS outbreak when it was thought the respiratory illness was spread by wildlife in southern China. The global epidemic was declared under control in July, and snakes have a clean bill of health, but the ban still stands. Chinese officials have told Hong Kong snake dealers it's a conservation measure but the merchants are not so sure... China is Hong Kong's top source of snakes, shipping about 67,000 every year, and traders are having to defrost last year's leftovers and import snakes from Southeast Asia at prices up to 20 percent higher... Some restaurants keep snakes coiled up in cages, ready to be killed and cooked on demand. But this season many are dropping snake from their menus... Serpents apparently had nothing to do with SARS, which claimed 299 lives in Hong Kong, but some are avoiding snake anyway." [Ireland On-Line, December 5, 2003]
Fangs for the profits
"Biotech firm Protherics has narrowed its losses after sales of its rattlesnake bite antidote [CroFab] almost doubled during the first half of the year... Protherics won market share with the first new antidote for rattlesnake bites in about fifty years. [Their] Chief executive ... said Protherics hoped to treat around one half of all rattlesnake bite victims in the current financial year, compared with around a third last year, and said profit margins on the £5800 treatment course had climbed to about 40 per cent from 30 per cent last year. 'We see continued top and bottom line growth from CroFab for the next one to two years at least,' [he] said. Protherics has also reached an agreement with United States regulators that would reduce the size, time, and cost of final phase III clinical trials for CytoFab, its experimental treatment for severe infections." [Business Scotsman, December 5, 2003, http://www.business.scotsman.com/technology.cfm?id=1329172003]
Smiley's frogs found
Children playing on a cattle ranch have found the first California red-legged frogs seen in Calaveras County, California for the past 34 years. Researchers are checking other ranches in the area to see if more frogs live there as well. The frogs were made famous by Mark Twain's short story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." Associated Press reports: "The unofficial Frogtown mayor who managed the Calaveras County Fair and Frog Jumping Jubilee until he retired this year, led local opposition to [red-legged frog] reintroduction plans. He feared it would force landowners to kill off the bullfrog, brought in from east of the Rockies more than a century ago after San Franciscans devoured much of the state's red-legged frog population. The bullfrogs since have taken over much of the red-legged frog's habitat, and are the preferred frog used at the annual jumping contest named after Twain's fictional 1865 challenge in the Angels Camp Hotel bar. Twain frequented the bar while he lived in nearby Jackass Hill. Habitat loss, climate change, ultraviolet radiation and windblown pesticides, along with competition, are blamed for shrinking the historic range of the largest native Western frog species by about 70 percent. Most of the remaining red-legged frogs are along California's north-central coast." [December 2, 2003]
I want to hold your toepad?
File this under something I didn't know before, but ex-Beatle, Sir Paul McCartney besides being a world famous musician and composer is also an animator. Miramax has purchased the rights to a film McCartney made titled "Rupert and the Frog King" and will also release two other pieces, on of which is called "The Frog Chorus" on the DVD. [Anova, December 3, 2003. http://www.ananova.com/entertainment/story/sm_843938.html]
"Toad tossing blacks out town"
It was one of those headlines a dyslexic shouldn't try to read. What they meant was "Pranksters hurling cane toads into powerlines have been blamed for two [electrical] blackouts... [in] two separate incidents in which cane toads connected by copper wire appeared to have been thrown into high and low voltage powerlines affecting power... [to] about 850 customers. [Townsville, Australia, Bulletin, December 3, 2003, http://www.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,4057,8051867%255E26462,00.html]
Free pets, or pests?
Three Canadians reported finding black-widow spiders in their groceries. In the past year, a woman in Ottawa found a green tree frog and a young man in Hamilton found a "tiny speckled lizard clinging too a bunch of bananas." The London Ontario Free Press, reports that "People who want pesticide-free fruit should be prepared to battle the bugs. The black widow spiders in grapes are likely the result of tough anti-pesticide rules in California... black widows can't be eliminated without killing other spiders that are the natural predators of harmful insects that destroy fruit. [December 6, 2003]
Real or just a slow news day?
On November 21, 2003, Reuters reported that at Rangamati, 135 miles south of the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka: " A python killed and half-swallowed a woman in southeastern Bangladesh, police said... [The 38-year-old woman] was collecting fruit with a friend in a forest when she was attacked. A police official said she was swallowed up to her waist. The python, believed to have been more than 10-feet-long, was killed and the body retrieved, the official said." Another report added "The snake was killed so her body could be recovered, said police in Rangamati, South Eastern Bangladesh. She is not the first victim of a python, which crushes victims around the chest before swallowing them slowly."
Finally two salamander stories
Of the groups that make up "herpeto-fauna," salamanders probably outweigh all the others in terms of biomass, but in terms of newspaper clippings, 18 years fill less than a half inch. The few there are, however, tend to be top quality, fresh perspective stories, like these.
"Amphibian Casanovas beware: the ladies aren't likely to take infidelity lying down. Male salamanders returning home after a night of disloyalty can expect a beating... [The study] surprised behavioral researchers: most instances of infidelity punishment place females on the receiving end of the abuse. Female red-backed salamanders... don't just take it - they dish it out too... 'This is the only species I know of where the male is intimidating the female and the female returns the favor,' says [the researcher]. No one is sure how common infidelity is among salamanders. But male red-backed salamanders are known to be aggressive toward female partners that have visited other males. But as males and females of this species are evenly matched in size... 'It almost looks like the females are waiting at home with rolling pins when these poor unfaithful males come back,' [he added]... The tactic is intended to coerce males into being monogamous, he suspects... Until now, nobody has looked into how the monogamy [in these salamanders] is enforced... Pheromones from a male's mistress stick to his skin... The game is up when his partner spots this amphibian equivalent of lipstick on his collar... Because the male salamanders do not help to care for their young, it isn't clear why the females want them to stick around. The most likely explanation is that the females are trying to keep their partners from bringing other females back to their territory, where they could compete for resources such as food and shelter." [Nature Magazine, November 21, 2003]
For those of you old enough to remember the 80s, you may recall wonderful puzzles sold at the toy store across the street from Treasure Island Foods in Old Town. They were called "Shmuzzles" and each piece was shaped like an Escherian salamander. Each piece interlocked with every other piece in three different ways. This led to huge connectivity, but a low probability of success of the thing ever getting assembled in any configuration even close to the cover design. They were also fabulously expensive, which led to us just staring at them a lot and never actually getting one. Modern manufacturing technology has brought salamander shmuzzles down to the affordable. You can see how cool they are at http://shmuzzles.com/ and watch animations of how they assemble. Reminds me of springtime at Ryerson in the pond.
New Frog Scare
Officials on Guam are warning people to be on the look out for tiny greenhouse frogs which have lately been heard on that island. They are concerned that burgeoning populations of tiny food items may provide food for the brown tree snake which has already eaten most of the small comestibles on Guam in and around biting babies and causing power outages by basking on wires. Guam had no native frogs. The cane toad was introduced in 1937 in the hopes it would eat a black garden slug. Unfortunately no, but it is now considered Guam's "most populous frog," Even brown tree snakes don't eat cane toads which have been known to sicken small animals that try to eat them. The dwarf tree frog arrived in the 1960s and the black-spotted pond frog seems to have been introduced during the 1990s. A Malaysian narrow-mouthed toad was discovered on a cargo plane at the Air Force Base, but none have been found in the wild. There have been some reports of Coqui frog calls, but no specimens have been collected. What the frogs eat also concerns officials. On Hawai'i, the two Eleutherodactylids are eating native insects including some that are needed for specialized pollinating tasks. Guam is also a major transportation hub in the Pacific - shippers may avoid the island if it becomes contaminated with greenhouse frogs and coquis, worry officials. "'The (greenhouse frog invasion) should be an early warning for us that we need to do something to prevent the coqui from getting to Guam, [an official said]... We need to pressure Hawaii to be sending frog-free shipments because the place to stop the frogs is in Hawaii. Once the frog has left Hawaii, you've already lost that first battle.'" [Guam Pacific Daily News, November 24, 2003, http://www.guampdn.com/news/stories/20031124/localnews/698311.html]
Tourism just wasn't an argument
A report on Voice of America stated: "For centuries, snake charmers were enduring symbols of India. But the community has been virtually forgotten in a modernizing country now known more for its computer engineers and software industry... Snake charming was banned three decades ago as part of efforts to protect India's steadily depleting wildlife. Despite the laws, the nomadic community continued its trade for many years, but stricter implementation of the ban has now forced them to abandon their occupation. That has left tens of thousands of snake charmers struggling for existence and a culture at risk of extinction... the Wildlife Trust of India began to explore livelihood options for the community... the snake charmers' music is the most vibrant part of the community's culture and many of them have formed small musical groups.
... [A] former snake charmer living on the outskirts of Delhi in what was once a snake charmers' village... [described how] At one time, tourist buses stopped here frequently to watch cobras swaying to music. But with the ban, the tourists and incomes are gone and the town is now a squalid settlement... the community has extensive knowledge about medicinal herbs and plants, gathered over generations during their trips to the forest to trap snakes... the community basically used the snake as an object to gain people's attention, then sold their medicines to them... they are also exploring the possibility of starting a snake-rescue service, especially in towns and farms where snakes frequently enter houses. [Voice of America News, December 5, 2003, http://www.voanews.com/article.cfm?objectID=3345B065-CFD6-46B1-B51D3FEB06CCE424]
Northerly Sea Turtles
More than 400 endangered leatherback sea turtles were reported off Canada's East Coast near Halifax, Nova Scotia. This tops the previous record of 200 in 1998. Scientists do not know if there are (a) more turtles off Nova Scotia than before or (b) if the fisherman's reporting network is just seeing more turtles. Fishermen have been telling tales of turtles there for years, but even people with turtle-talking fisher-folk in their families say there is an increase, particularly in 2003. Flipper tags installed off Cape Breton have been reported by researchers from Trinidad, Costa Rica and Panama. Since they eat jellyfish, and the area offshore Canada has zillions of jellies, researchers suggest they feed there from May to October and turtles seen after that are just late. Of course, disrupted ecosystems produce more jellyfish, so the increase in turtles may be related to an increase in jellyfish. Even the researchers admit they're confused. One said, "It's a year I don't expect to see anything like again. It was remarkable." [Nova Scotia Leatherback Turtle Working Group, http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2003/11/30/273221-cp.html]
Researchers further south along Cape Cod are reporting that the sea turtles they've found stranded this fall have been in better shape than in years past. The survival rate during transport to care facilities has been higher than in the past. Curiously of the 29 living turtles, 27 are Kemp's ridley turtles which are the most endangered of all the sea turtles. One of the other two is a green turtle, the last one is described as a possible hybrid between a ridley and a green. [Cape Cod On-Line, November 28, 2003,
Thanks to my contributors, you know who they are. And you know how much you'd like to see your name here next month. So clip and send! Hope to hear from you soon.