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

2004 HerPET-POURRI Columns by Ellin Beltz

1987 . 1988 . 1989 . 1990 . 1991 . 1992 .

1993 . 1994 . 1995 . 1996 . 1997 . 1998 .

1999 . 2000 . 2001 . 2002 . 2003 . 2004 .

2005 . 2006

This was my 18th year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society

January 2004

Quote of the month

CHS Member Steve Barten was quoted in the November 7, 2003 Chicago Tribune because he testified against a proposed Lake County, Illinois ordinance that would have banned a specific list of reptiles. Steve said, "[Reptiles] are wonderful pets for a busy lifestyle. Plus, they don't bark and wake up the neighbors." [from Ray Boldt]

Illinois list updates

"State wildlife officials... introduced a list of animals... propose[d for changes to] ... the endangered and threatened species list." Final decisions are expected in late February, 2004. The Great Plains ratsnake is proposed for upgrade from threatened to endangered while the Eastern ribbonsnake was downgraded to threatened from endangered. The eastern narrow-mouthed toad was proposed for addition to the threatened species list. [Chicago Tribune, November 22, 2003 from Ray Boldt]

How to kill and maim frogs

  • Two populations described as the most significant groups of coqui frogs on O'ahu and Kaua'i may have been nearly wiped out by citric acid applied in an effort to eradicate them, according to the Honolulu Advertiser. The frogs continue to spread however in landscaping materials, mulch and by hitching rides on vehicles and construction equipment. [October 27, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • USA Today reports that "the growing number of deformities in frogs, toads and salamanders nationwide may be caused by an outbreak of parasitic worms tied to fertilizer use... [as shown by] surveys [of] five decades of malformation data from wetlands in California, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio and Texas. 'In some areas, more than 50 percent of the amphibians are deformed' [the researcher]... says... incidents... go back at least 40 years but have steadily increased over time..." [December 11, 2003 from Bill Burnett]

Persistence pays off

USA Today reports: "A [new family of] burrowing frog found in India represents a missing link to the subcontinent's geologic past... the rotund, 2.75-inch long purple frog [Nasikabatrachus sahyadri] is closely related to a frog family... in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean... [which] split from India about 65 million years ago. The discovery of a new frog family has been described as a "once in a century experience." [October 21, 2003 from Bill Burnett]

Man bites snakes

Absolutely do not ever do anything as stupid as the setting of the record of putting nine live rattlesnakes, tail first into your mouth. This dubious honor has just been bagged by a man who admits to six rattlesnake bites in his past 34 years of tempting fate. The Guinness Book of World Records sent a photographer. The photo is about as disgusting as you can imagine. [The Miami Herald, November 19, 2003 from Alan Rigerman and The Chicago Tribune, November 23, 2003 from Ray Boldt] One wonders where was PETA for this and where have they been since?

Why ship alligators at all?

  • In two separate incidents, alligators being shipped were found outside their containers. One was found in the baggage hold of an airliner in Newark New Jersey and was recaptured by officers in the hold of the Boeing 767. It was shipped from Miami with three other alligators. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, October 28, 2003]
  • About two weeks later, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, another gator chewed its way out of an express mail box in a mail sorting facility. The alligator kept trying to bite its way out of the box, even as postal workers tried to tape it shut again. [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 16, 2003 both from Bill Burnett] Can you imagine the emergency response call? "Hello we have an alligator terrorizing the post office?" "Al-Queda terrorizing the post office" "No, not Al-Queda, an Al-Ligator!"

Dangerous wildlife

  • "Officers rappelled down the side of the [New York City] apartment building [where a 425-pound tiger and a 5-foot alligator were seized], and a sharpshooter fired a tranquilizer dart through a window to subdue the 20-month-old-tiger." Meanwhile the owner of these animals was in the hospital in Philadelphia being treated for lacerations and tiger bites. The animals were sent to wildlife preserves. [USA Today, October 6, 2003 from Bill Burnett]
  • Probably less fanfare accompanied the arrival of conservation officers at the Avon, Indiana home of a couple who were keeping a dead African puff adder and a live timber rattlesnake. Conservation officers said both were illegal, live or dead, and confiscated both animals. [South Bend Tribune, December 10, 2003 from Garrett Kazmierski]

Slow news day

The 73rd running of the terrapins was held in Lepanto, Missouri. The race began when firemen used to put turtles in the street and race them to the other end. Early races took hours, this year's was over in 15 minutes. A spectator speculated, "Maybe it's because it was warm. When it's cooler, it [the race] takes forever." [Arkansas Democrat Gazette, October 5, 2003 from Bill Burnett]

Invasion of the Giant Hungry Treefrogs!

"Four times larger than native species, the Cuban treefrog is the large chain bookstore of amphibians," said Walter Meshaka, Jr., who wrote a book on the invasion of the frog in Florida. He added "It comes to town and devours the local, smaller competition. Soon, there's no one else left but the invader." It was introduced in Florida from its native Cuba in the 1940s and moved north. It is believed to have migrated north in trucks and other vehicles, clinging to Winnebagos and hiding in shrubbery and ornamental plants. Even Hurricane Andrew helped the invader and not the native treefrogs decimated by the arrival of the Cuban treefrog. Cuban tree frogs breed in puddles, not pristine habitats, so the destruction left by the hurricane was an advantage to them. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, October 19, 2003 from Bill Burnett]

Invasion of the Giant Hungry Lizards!

  • A resident of Kendall, Florida wrote the Miami Herald, asking for help. "I moved into my house in July 2002. About four months ago, a four-foot iguana began using my swimming pool as a toilet... Can Action Line tell me what to do?" Basically they told the lady that the loose iguanas are loose because people who don't understand the life-long commitment to a cute little 6-inch long green iguana have let them go in the mistaken belief that it is better for the animal to be free. And they pointed out, for the umpteenth time, that "releasing pets to the wild helps no one." [Miami Herald, November 23, 2003 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Condominium owners in Key Biscayne are also complaining about loose iguanas. One said, "You try to chase them, but they live in the tops of palm trees, or in holes in the ground." They are blamed for using swimming pools as toilets, eating expensive landscaping and scaring residents. Colonies of iguanas are reported from a Fort Lauderdale park, upper crust communities in Palm Beach County and islands on the Florida Keys. Iguanas are trashing the plants at the largest botanical garden in the lower 48 states, the Fairchild Tropical Gardens. Iguanas are only one of 40 or so non-native species of reptiles and amphibians which can be found in the Miami area, many at the expense of local amphibians and reptiles. Female iguanas can lay up to 50 eggs in a clutch and sometimes breed twice a year. They have, of course, no natural predators in Florida, a bad attitude and an unlimited supply of food. [The Chicago Tribune, August 30, 2003 from Ray Boldt] Unfortunately, so far, no one has convinced them to eat kudzu.

Lost/stolen and found

  • Three juvenile star tortoises worth between $300 to $600 each were stolen from the Honolulu Zoo in early December. Adult star tortoises only grow to 10 inches and the babies were very small and could have been taken away in a pocket, according to authorities. [Honolulu Advertiser, December 2, 2003] Police later offered amnesty to anyone who returned the stolen tortoises. The head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hawai'i pointed out that the tortoises could have been taken to any country in the world by plane almost immediately after the theft. [Honolulu Advertiser, December 5, 2003] On December 16, the same paper reported that the three star tortoises were found in a happy-meal box inside two brown paper bags outside the Central Union Church in Honolulu. [Honolulu Advertiser, December 5, 2003 all from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • Two alligators were stolen from a Texarkana, Arkansas school biology lab. Thieves also killed several fish and hurt a snake so badly that it may have to be put down. The two largest snakes, a Burmese python and an anaconda were left undisturbed. One alligator measured about 2-feet long, the other was about 3-feet long. Suspects include previous students and neighborhood residents. A reward has been offered. [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 3, 2003 from Bill Burnett]

As the polar ice melts...

"Canadian marine biologists report that a surprising large number of endangered leatherback sea turtles were spotted off Canada's East Coast during the past few months, baffling scientists who didn't think many of the creatures ever ventured that far north." [Honolulu Advertiser, December 7, 2003 from Ms. G.E. Chow] While increased numbers of jellyfish have been suggested as a cause, no one so far has suggested that this may be a natural response to slowly warming global temperatures.

Expensive Obsession

More than 1000 rescued turtles have passed through the Manhattan loft of an inheritance funded man who cares for about 80 species of turtle at any given time. Many of his animals came from illegal animal shipments, others from food markets and even zoos. His operation includes more than 100 tanks, kept at about 80 degrees, plus filters, lights, food and flies. The monthly cost is about $20,000 not counting the $300,000 Richard Ogust paid to install all the equipment. His latest effort includes presenting plans for a 50-acre "hydroponic paradise" on a farm in Tewksbury, New Jersey to the township planning board. [Bourbonnaise, Illinois The Daily Journal, December 11, 2003 from Donna Moe]

Two tiny loggerheads going back to sea

The two tiny sea turtles taken by a Peoria grandmother last year from a Florida beach were flown back to their home state to be released into the Atlantic Ocean. The turtles were a week old and two inches long when taken; they are now about five months old and weigh 10 ounces each. [Chicago Tribune, December 4, 2003 from Ray Boldt]

Habanero a great day

In an effort to fight against especially smart raccoons on the Boca Raton, Florida beaches, the naturalist at the local nature center experimented with different hot sauce and hot powder mixes. He found that plain old habanero powder was the most cost effective method of habituating the raccoons to avoid sea turtle nests. In 2003, they lost only 20 of 647 nests, the previous years averaged 50 to 60 nests lost each season. Previous efforts included screens and nest covers which the raccoons quickly subverted. Statistical findings will be presented at the International Sea Turtle Symposium in Costa Rica, February 2004. [Orlando Sentinel, November 28, 2003]

On the flip side

"A record number of sea turtles have stranded in Florida this year. More than 1,800 stranded turtles mostly loggerheads and green sea turtles, are expected by year's end. That would nearly double the state's 10 year average and exceed the previous high by roughly 500..." Officials point out that the number of recorded strandings can only represent some fraction of the total loss to the population. [Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, December 9, 2003 from Bill Burnett]

Holiday cards

A big "thank you" for cards to Ms. G.E. Chow ("Mele Kalikimaka"), Marybeth Trilling, and my oldest and most steadfast contributor (and Christmas card sender) of the past 18 years, Bill Burnett wearing a great Gecko Hawaii shirt.

And lest we "frog-et"

It makes me really hoppy to once again thank my contributors, in approximate order of appearance in 2003: Bill Burnett, Bill Burnett's mom, Alan Rigerman, Claus Sutor, Ray Boldt, Eloise Beltz-Decker (becomes Mason midyear), Mrs. P.L. Beltz, Ken Mierzwa, Mike Dloogatch, Garrett Kazmierski, J.N. Schoenfelder, Ms. G.E. Chow, Paul Breese, J.N. Stuart, Allen Salzberg, James Harding, Wes von Papinešu, Desiree Wong, Raymond Hoser, Karen Furnweger, Marty Marcus, Brad Norman, Rob Streit, Ken Sumer, Aiken Reed II, Marco Mendez, Marybeth Trilling and Donna Moe. Without them, there just wouldn't be a column here. So if you're looking for a New Years Resolution to which you can really stick, plan to send me all the cute articles about herps that show up in the papers and magazines you read. Just clip the whole page - there's no need to trim, newspaper is incredibly cheap to mail.

February 2004

Bad news, good news

Some of this month's stories are the sort that always makes me want to quit writing about reptiles and amphibians. But then I think about the lovely wall plaque I just received last month from the CHS. It is a Board Merit Award, 2003, "For outstanding achievements and contributions to the advancement of The Chicago Herpetological Society." With thanks to the Board for letting me know that someone, somewhere really does read this column - and has for the past 18 years! I also got a lovely present from Marty Marcus. It is a pristine envelope with every single one of the reptiles and amphibians stamps four times! He wrote, "I think it is pretty neat that the Post Office not only put out these stamps, but promoted them as part of their annual `stamp collecting month' program." Thanks to the Board, the Members and Marty for making me feel really good about writing this month, even if some of the stories below are real bummers.

Noah only needed two of each

A German man was arrested at Lima airport by Peruvian customs officers with 450 tropical frogs and an assortment of bugs and beetles in his luggage. He claimed he wanted to start a zoo at home in Frankfurt. [BBC News, January 29, 2004 --]

A dubious honor

The Australian Broadcasting Company reports that the single largest illegal collection of non-native reptiles ever found in Australia has led to its owner being fined $5,000 (Australian) for keeping about 90 different snakes at his home in Churchill. His snakes included red-tailed boas, rainbow boas, carpet pythons and kingsnakes. [January 20, 2004 --]

Loss of life or livelihood?

  • According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, too many turtles are dying on hooks set for swordfish by commercial long-lining boats in the Pacific. The mostly Vietnamese-American fishermen involved claim that any regulation would cost them their ability to make a living. The proposed regulations ban fishing in the top 100 feet of the water where most of the turtles hang out. Of course, that's where the commercially appealing fish hang out, too. If all goes well, the regulations go into effect in mid-March, 2004. [Times-Standard, Eureka, California December 19, 2003 from K.S. Mierzwa and Chicago Tribune, December 26, 2003 from Ray Boldt]
  • "I would like to compliment [recent U.S. government agency actions] ... as a move in the right direction to solve the problem of sea turtle by-catch... despite the development of a [differently angled] circle hook... a change in bait from squid to mackerel and the development of a `leatherback lift,' the new plan will have little impact on leatherback sea turtles. The female nesting population of the leatherback has been estimated to have declined by 95 percent in the past two decades..." The writer works for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. [The Honolulu Advertiser, January 13, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Coqui Monsters

  • Responding to studies that show populations of non-native coqui frogs, Eleutherodactylus coqui and their slightly quieter relatives Eleutherodactylus planirostris, in Hawai'i can reach densities up to ten times greater than at their native source in Puerto Rico. Coqui frogs probably arrived in Hawai'i on non-native tropical plants. A survey about five years ago discovered about 80,000 coqui in the study area which was only one of many on that island. Coqui are "well established in Hilo, Puna and Kailua-Kona, and have been reported... in Hawi, the South Kohala resort area, Waipio Valley, Honokaa, Volcan, Naalehu and Honaunau. Each coqui consumes almost six insects per night... severely impact food sources for native birds... [they] are also loud... registering about 70 decibels." Efforts continue to remove or eliminate the frogs, especially in the East Hawaii community of tropical plant growers where populations are, not surprisingly, the highest. One of the state reps has posted information about the coqui and what the state is doing to get rid of them on her website -- [West Hawaii Today, January 16. 2004 from Paul Breese]
  • "Ontario has more species of amphibians than any other [Canadian] province or territory... due to the presence of diverse types of habitats containing wetlands at least part of the year... Canada is home to 45 species... 24 frogs and toads and 21 salamanders. Sadly 10 anuran species... have been designated Species at Risk... Blanchard's Cricket frog has been extirpated in Canada since 1989... last known habitat on Pelee Island in Southeastern Ontario, not a single spring call has been heard since [1989]... designated as threatened, the Fowler's toad, along with five other Canadian anurans listed as species of special concern... For more information or to participate in the program, please log on to: -- Adopt-A-Pond produces... the Amphibians of Ontario Identifier Guide, Poster and the Frog Calls of Ontario Tape... [or visit] -- to learn their calls." [Amphibian Voice, Volume 13, Number 4, Winter 2003 from Tom Johnson]

Just peachy for the local tourism industry

  • "Leaving only the shells and a few other body parts to float onto the beach... poachers killed 111 protected sea turtles off the ... coast resort city of Acapulco during early January." [The Honolulu Advertiser, January 18, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • As if cutting them up and letting them wash ashore was not gross and evil enough, now reports come from the beaches 130 miles north of Acapulco that turtle poachers have slaughtered hundreds of endangered sea turtles and just taken some meat and eggs from them; leaving them to die in agony. More than 100 skulls and shells have been recovered by heartbroken volunteers. [Reuters News Service, February 3, 2004]

Frog mural saved

Many years ago, an artist painted an odd frog and the words "Hi, How Are You" on the wall near the University of Texas at Austin. When the building changed hands, the new owners didn't know the historic significance of the Jeremiah mural and was planning on painting over the 10 foot frog until the local outcry made him realize that it was an important piece of art. You can see pictures of the mural on the artist's website or read the story on the Associated Press, January 9, 2004.

What a job!

The U.S. Department of Commerce granted the Palau Bureau of Marine Resources $86,000 to begin a [sea] turtle monitoring project [in February 2004]... Palau [is] a chain of more than 200 islands about 4,000 miles southwest of Hawai'i. In addition to tagging and releasing about 50 young turtles, the project also plans to catch adult turtles and attach satellite transmitters on them to monitor their movements." [The Honolulu Advertiser, January 14, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Mothra Stewart?

Heidi Fleiss who was convicted at a trial after her lawyers advised her not to take the stand in her own defense suggested perhaps home products diva Martha Stewart should also remain silent. "Toads come out of her mouth -- the jury won't like her," she predicted. [Ananova, January 30, 2004 -- Thanks to Jack Fertig for the headline.]

Yes, but do they swallow?

Syndicated columnist and motivational speaker Jim Davidson wrote: Many people over the past several years have asked me how "Toad Suck" [Days in Arkansas] got its name. Now there are a lot of local people who have been around a lot longer and know a lot more about this than I do, but if you have never heard this story it might be of interest to you. One thing for sure, the "Toad Suck" name makes our festival unique. Here's the story. Back in the days before the 21 locks and dams were built, the water level of the Arkansas River would fluctuate dramatically, depending on how much rain we had and especially how much it had rained upstream. When a tugboat pushing barges would head up the river, they were literally at the mercy of the elements. During the summer months when the water was low, quite often a tugboat would make it as far as Conway, but could go no further until the rains came. Of course, when the tugboat was tied up at the bank, the captain and crew had to do something to pass the time away. Well, some enterprising fellow built a tavern on a high hill overlooking the river and these riverboat sailors would make their way to the tavern and partake of the local hospitality. The report came that over a period of several days these men would sit on a stool and "suck" on corn mesh whiskey or rum until they literally swelled up like "toads." Thus the name "Toad Suck." This is not a name that I would want to give one of my kids, but as Paul Harvey would say, "Now you know, the rest of the story." [The Southern Illinoisian, January 17, 2004]

Voting green

They have a thing about colors in Georgia. Their state symbols are grits, peanuts, peaches and now, green tree frogs. Georgia also has a state bird, fossil, reptile, possum and cook off. [Associated Press, February 3, 2004]

Better than Goliath?

The Midrand Journal reported on January 22, 2004: "Consider the giant bullfrog, but better from a distance. Vile tempered, toothy, carnivorous and the size of a medium pizza at adulthood, it bites hard enough to dent a broomstick. It has been known to lunch on rinkhals, a cousin of the cobra. It has attacked lions and even elephants when provoked. Kermit would disown it." Tiny transmitters were installed in the frogs which usually live from one to three feet underground. "`Among people who follow frogs, it is a very interesting species,' said ... a zoologist who has studied the bullfrog for 13 years. `The goliath's only claim to fame is that it is a large frog. It doesn't have any of the character or behavior of the giant bullfrog.' ... Only now that it is listed here as a "near threatened" species is the bullfrog gaining more attention. A tiny band of enthusiasts is trying to save it from the onslaught of houses and highways that have wiped out much of its habitat in prime breeding areas around Johannesburg and Pretoria [South Africa]... It can weigh up to four and a half pounds. It spends most of its life span of 35 to 40 years underground. In the dry season, it burrows under the mud, secreting mucous and shedding layers of skin until it has formed a hard cocoon, leaving an opening only for its nostrils. It can survive up to seven years like that... When enough rain falls to moisten and split the cocoon, the bullfrog surfaces, usually once a year around November, to eat and mate. ... The biggest males stake out their mating territory and issue a low-pitched whooping sound to attract the females. The smaller males hang around the periphery, hoping to get lucky... Contested, a big male can turn lethal, tossing its competitor into the air and tearing out huge chunks of skin with his sharp teeth. Once the eggs are fertilized, the biggest males transform again from fierce studs to devoted dads. The females vanish and the males stand guard for several weeks as the eggs hatch and the tadpoles develop. That sets them apart from most frogs... If the water in the shallow pond becomes too warm, or a tadpole gets stranded, [he] said, the father frog will dig a channel to cooler or deeper water." These bullfrogs have reportedly stood up to lions and eaten venomous snakes. []

Sometimes you don't get what you expect

I thought for sure I would get dozens of copies of an article about a reported "49-foot, 938-pound snake" being kept in Curugsewu, Indonesia. The photo, of course, shows no such thing. Probably a math error, suggested more than one reader, others pointed out that this is just another case of "stretching the truth" on snake lengths and that it looks like a particularly well fed python, it is certainly not the length of two longbed pickup trucks or two city lots. Incidentally the only paper copy I got was from the Orlando Sentinel, December 31, 2003 from Bill Burnett.

BrekkakCoax or BrekkakLegLeg?

Chris Kattan, a seven-year veteran of NBC's "Saturday Night Live" show is leaving to perform in a new Stephen Sondheim musical loosely based on Aristophanes' comedy The Frogs. He will play the slave Xanthias who accompanies his master Dionysus on a journey to the underworld where they try to get a famous writer to help them save the world. Previews of The Frogs will begin on June 7. [February 2, 2004 --]

Mousicles and Ratbars?

An article in the Chicago Tribune bemoans the lack of funding of the historic Trailside Museum and wildlife rehabilitation center. It reminds me of a time quite a while ago now, that my husband and his coworkers spend much of a year snap-trapping and live trapping small mammals as part of a large federal contract. All those little furry things ended up in my freezer until one night when I reached up and into the door box to take out a bunch of corn dogs and instead encountered a plastic-wrapped shrew. (Blarina brevicauda for those of you who want specifics.) To this day, I do not think my husband fully understands how close he came to being served said shrew, impaled on a corndog stick. A few days later, I told this story at a company picnic and the very next day my husband was told to go buy a chest freezer at company expense. So we went to an appliance store and bought a lovely freezer, including a little basket for the little shrews and small mice. The salesmen were sure they were dealing with Morticia and Gomez Addams. Time passed. The mice stayed frozen in case anyone wanted to check their work. Finally, I got an agreement to dispose of the mice and I called Trailside and offered them about 25 pounds of various small mammals as food items for their rehab animals. After assuring the nice lady that all the permits were totally in order and providing copies of same, she told me to bring out my collection of cervically dislocated data points. I don't know how it is now, but then we had a long walk lugging black plastic bags along a sidewalk lined with old wire silos full of owls, raptors and foxes. Every eye was on us; even the owls popped an eyelid. We left the bags where we were told and left. Surprisingly, the animals were not fooled. They kept staring toward the building and ignored us on our way out. Since the freezer was now empty, I persuaded another CHS member with a pickup truck to help me take it to their downtown office tower and put it in their workroom where it presumably filled up again, but was no longer my problem. [The article appeared November 28, 2003 and was sent by Ray Boldt]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Louis Somma, Joe Collins, and Ray Boldt. You can contribute too. Send stuff about reptiles and amphibians with your name and the publication slug on each page to: me. Check out all the updates on my website, too. Please do send something. I only have five pages and one letter left from this month!

March 2004

Voice of experience

"There's no such thing as a soulful connection to an alligator. They aren't like bears or panthers. Gators don't bond with you, they don't care about you." Michael Bailey a 26-year-old alligator wrestler. [The Miami Herald, February 16, 2004, from Alan Rigerman]

Make and sell reproductions

A local council in Wales only had enough money for one kind of animal crossing signs, so they put up "frog crossing" yellow diamonds. The cows will have to wait until more money becomes available. Then in a cruel twist of fate, the frog crossing signs were stolen. One councilor said, "But on a very non-politically-correct theme, however, I think I would rather hit a frog with my car than a cow." [The Western Mail, Wales, UK, March 5, 2004] This issue has come up before, just about every municipality which orders special signs loses some until they make reproductions available for purchase. Some of the more enlightened redirect this money to additional signage; others let independent contractors scoop up the money instead.

Anacondas are not native in Florida

A 44-year-old woman "was arrested in Clearwater, Florida, on an animal-cruelty charge after onlookers said the homeless woman kicked, stomped and choked an approximately 7-foot anaconda before running away, dragging the snake that she was hers behind her," according to the Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette January 22, 2004. [from Bill Burnett]

New mystery disease strikes turtles

Loggerhead sea turtles face other diseases as well as the danger of boat strikes, sonar and human hunting. Now a newly discovered disease has attacked at least 60 loggerheads on the South Florida coastline in the past 4 years. "Researchers have found unidentified toxins in the turtles that cripple their nervous systems and eventually lead to paralysis. But they don't know where the toxins are coming from. Researchers are studying whether the poisons originate in a new species of jellyfish which the turtles eat, or are from parasites." While most of the earliest turtles which were treated for this disease died, now about half get better. Full recovery takes up to six months and follows intensive IV feeding, antibiotics and hand feeding. [The Miami Herald, January 16, 2004 from Alan W. Rigerman]

Intended to benefit sea life

  • "It is a vacuum cleaner with teeth that eats turtles," said the head of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida of the hopper dredges approved for use in Key West harbor by the Army Corps of Engineers. All the agencies involved in the dredging say that their studies show that trawling for turtles before dredging would not save any. The operators will reassess the situation if even one turtle is caught, promised an agency head. [Miami Herald, February 24, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A bill in the Hawai'i state legislature would ban lights shining on the ocean. Outdoor lights have been shown to disorient turtles and may influence other wildlife as well, according to state officials. Fishermen point out that "floodlights scare off all sea life, including nocturnal fish, turtles, sea birds and monk seals." [The Honolulu Advertiser, January 30, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Do not mail snakes - version 6.12

Herpetologists know better than to even ever think about mailing snakes,. However that message sometimes seems to miss the general populace. Here from Arkansas, rarely a hotbed of critical thinking, comes a chilling little tale. Two men, father and son are being tried by the federal government because one or both of them may or may not have had anything to do with a copperhead snake that was mailed to a person who may or may not have taken a few 9-mm shots at the son and his girlfriend while they rode in an SUV a couple of years ago. You with me so far? This trial had gone on a week, a whole week of federal witnesses and courtroom and judge time, by the time the article was written. All this for a snake in a box of styrofoam peanuts which was opened by the girlfriend of the addressee while she sat between him and another man while they all rode in a pickup truck together. This is Arkansas, o.k.? So the snake slithers up out of the peanuts. The guy on the passenger side tosses box, snake, peanuts and all out the truck window and into the grass. Sheriff's deputies arrived later. They found the snake still in the grass and shot the snake up so good that it ended up in two pieces and was preserved in a jar as the government's main piece of evidence. The son claimed he found the nearly dead snake in a cooler on his dad's porch where it had been put by the person who had actually caught it. Why, you might ask? Well, the father had proposed this brilliant act as payback for those 9-mm shots that apparently started this whole chapter of an ongoing saga more suited for Jerry Springer than a federal court of law. In any case, these drama queens missed out on material-mailing charges, which carry statutory penalties of 20 years and witness tampering charges which can add up to 10 years. Perhaps even these prosecutors decided there's more dastardly doers out there more deserving of a free life in the federal slammer than these two. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 27 and 29, 2004 both from Bill Burnett]

Imagine five years for 25 snakes

Please do not write me letters about the following quote and article. In fact, play find the mistakes. I typed as it was printed in The Miami Herald, January 23, 2004. Police in La Ceiba, Honduras "detained two men for allegedly trying to smuggle out of the country 25 boa constrictors that are unique to Honduras and threatened with extinction." Detangle that sentence and follow it with the following interesting statements. "The snakes sell for at least $1,000 each in the United States. 'The reptiles are about to disappear from the country because of illegal trafficking.' [the] police spokesman... said. The snakes, covered with spots of various colors, measure up to 16 feet long, and live in the Caribbean Cochinos Keys off the northern coast of Honduras. They are not poisonous." Of course, not. No snake is poisonous; although some are venomous. The story may have gotten mangled due to the fact that the men were busted about 220 miles north of the capital, Tegucigalpa. The man face sentences up to five years apiece if convicted on animal trafficking charges. [from Alan Rigerman]

Not a federal case, but equally scary

"A snake slithered out of a sack of potatoes [purchased at a Wal-Mart] in a Semmes, Alabama home... but it didn't make it far. An 11-month-old boy caught it and took a bite out of it... [the mother] got the snake out of her baby's fist, and someone else cut off the snake's head." The child was uninjured. The Wal-Mart manager "said the store pulled the remaining bags of potatoes that came from the same place... packaged in Houston." [Little Rock, Arkansas, Democrat-Gazette, January 24, 2004 from Bill Burnett]

This story has legs, slow legs, but legs

I think I wrote this story every year for the first four or five and then gave up, but once a year someone at the Gopher Tortoise Council (now at gets ahold of a local reporter who diligently reports it. And then all the other writers, myself included, either copy it or ignore it as do many people who could really do something to benefit the species. So once again, here goes. Gopher tortoises, Gopherus polyphemus, used to one of the top end critters in the Florida landscape before drainage, mechanized agriculture and development delivered the triple whammy to its habitat, high, dry land with a wide diversity of plant and animal species. The burrows they dig are home to a wide variety of other animals which use them to escape the relentless midday heat. Gopher tortoises mature in about 15 years, but only a very few of their offspring will survive the gauntlet of conditions, predators and random chance to reach adulthood. This means that every one taken is a direct loss to the species as a whole. Even in areas considered protected, and those few under restoration, the tortoises still face threats including cars, dogs, coyotes, humans and respiratory diseases. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel January 26, 2004 from Bill Burnett]

97 percent fat free

Once a 60s roadside attraction, Gatorama reinvented itself in the late 80s to legally raise alligators when that became legally possible. Now they raise and sell gator meat, both locally and as frozen food, worldwide. Comparing 4 ounce servings, beef has about 200 calories and 23 percent fat, skinless chicken breast is 170 calories, 21 percent from fat, while the alligator has 145 calories and only 3 percent fat. [The Miami Herald, February 19, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Depends on your perspective

Some may find the following article utterly tasteless. With that as a disclaimer, here is the text of an article on tanned cane toad purses from FHM Magazine, December 2003. "... Peter Houston does his best work in leather... uses unconventional skins... takes hideous cane toads and turns them into attractive carryalls. And killing cane toads isn't just good for business, it's good for the planet. 'Cane toads are a huge pest in the northern parts of Australia... They were introduced to control a crop-threatening beetle, but they have no natural predators. Anything that eats them dies.' [He] turns the creatures into everything from golf-ball holders to cell-phone cases. All of his products feature protruding toad skulls. 'To make the pieces, we put the toads in a refrigerator until they become torpid... Then we put them in a freezer, which kills them. It's quite humane, really.'" [from Alan Rigerman with the note, "Can you believe?"]

Toad-al victory

"The Supreme Court refused this week to hear a San Diego developer's challenge to the Endangered Species Act, letting stand lower court rulings that protected the 3-inch Southwestern arroyo toad, also at the root of battles over growth in Santa Clarita. The endangered toad lives in creeks and streams throughout Southern California, including the Santa Clara River and in northern San Diego County, where Rancho Viejo LLC planned to build a 280-home development in 2000. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the company's plans to use dirt from a nearby streambed would disturb the toad's habitat, and suggested bringing in dirt from elsewhere." [Santa Clarita, California Daily News, March 2, 2004 and the same article from the Times-Standard, Eureka, California from Bradford Norman]

Western Wild Life

Last week at the annual meeting of the Western Section of The Wildlife Society (Rohnert Park, CA, February 26 to 28, 2004), an entire afternoon was devoted to amphibian and reptile talks. There were two papers on California Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma californiense), one about a cluster of hybrid populations in the Salinas Valley derived from larvae raised for bait decades ago, and another about excavation and relocation of individuals during a pipeline project in Alameda County. We also heard about arroyo toads (Bufo californicus) inhabiting ephemeral braided stream channels in southern California, as well as more depressing news about chytrid die-offs. Laura Burkholder, an acquaintance from Humboldt County, presented results from a demographic study of tailed frogs (Ascaphus truei). It's always fun to hear the results of a study after having been out there in the streams at night, helping to collect frogs. There was also a fascinating session titled "The Grinnell Legacy" which included a couple of amphibian papers. Joseph Grinnell, of course, kept detailed notes during an early 20th Century survey along a transect across the Sierra Nevada. One presenter showed us a passage from Grinnell's notes which predicted that the full value of his data might not be fully achieved for perhaps a hundred years. There we sat, exactly 96 years after he wrote that passage, using his information to assess changes in animal abundance. Perhaps most striking, for me, were Carlos Davidson's maps showing wind patterns and pesticide drift from the central valley into the surrounding mountains. At longer distances from the pesticide source, historical populations documented by Grinnell and others persist today. Upwind, closer to the source, those same species have disappeared. Ongoing work by Gary Fellers and others is in the process of producing additional documentation. [Ken Mierzwa, March 4, 2004 by email]

Happy Salamanders live in Cowlifornia

"Rare critters that live in seasonal rainwater pools in California's grasslands, may actually benefit from having large, heavy-footed cattle grazing around their habitat... [researchers] say the diversity of the ephemeral fauna and flora in the water increases when cows keep weedy non-native grasses under control... the rare creatures found in the short-lived ponds are adapted to a unique regimen. The area floods completely in the winter, sprouting seeds, hatching salamander eggs and opening the cysts that hold the shrimp's eggs." [Eureka Times-Standard, February 4, 2004 from Brad Norman]

Depends on if its hungry or not

A 200-pound, 14-foot-long python escaped from its juvenile owner and was on the loose in Fruitland Park, Florida. Officers asked local residents to please call the police if they saw the snake and not to attempt to catch it themselves even though its owner claimed it "wasn't aggressive." [February 18, 2004: Leesburg, FL The Daily Commercial and The Orlando Sentinel both from Bill Burnett]

Amphibian Believe-it-or-Not

The Sun reports that a three-headed frog has been found alive in England. "Wildlife experts have been stunned by the apparent discovery of a three-headed frog hopping around the garden of a children's nursery. Kids were left goggle-eyed by the sight of the strange, multi-faced creature, which also has six legs." The kids caught the frog in a bucket. "Staff at the ... nursery in Weston-Super-Mare believed the mutant amphibian was three frogs huddled together at first. But they soon realized it was just one animal with three croaking heads." And let it escape. "Animal experts were today trying to capture the frog to carry out further tests to investigate its biological make-up. Mike Dilger, a wildlife biologist from the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol, said: "I have never seen anything like this before and as far as I am aware it is unprecedented. "Frogs have a very primitive embryology - so the occasional extra toe is not that unusual. But this is something different." He added that the reason for the three-headed frog's development could have been damage to the embryo, a spontaneous mutation such as that of conjoined human twins or factors in the environment, including pollution and changing climate." A later story quoted "John Wilkinson, a frog ecologist at the Open University, said it appeared, from pictures taken before the escape, to be an extremely unusual find. 'I have certainly never seen anything like it before. It seems to be an example of Siamese birth whereby three individual animals all have arisen from the same fertilized embryo but they haven't divided properly. We know this can happen because it happens in other animals," he said. "I do retain some skepticism, however. If you look at the pictures, the lower frog does appear to have different characteristics to the two other frogs. It is not unusual to find more than one male frog clinging very tightly to a female. They get very randy, as we all do, and will not let go. We are in the breeding season.'" [March 5, 2004 - London, UK: The Sun, online,,2-2004103085,00.html and ITV online -- both from Wes von Papinešu by email] This story came out the day I was writing this column, so I have no further information. Perhaps, like the excessively long snake of a while back, it will prove to be a retouched photo and a slow news day, but for today - at least - it is news.

He said "prince" not "principal"!

The principal of a local elementary school "kissed an Argentine horned frog on loan from the Frazer Zoo ... during a school-wide assembly. He promised to kiss a frog if students reached their goal of collecting 416 books to send to a school in Namibia, Africa. The students exceeded that goal as they collected 722 books to send to the Onangulo Combined School, a rural school in northern Namibia on the West Coast of southern Africa." [Coatsville, Pennsylvania Ledger, March 4, 2004

Note of the Month

"Thanks for the Number One Ranking in the last CHS Bulletin. Actually, my Mom, in Florida is probably Number One. Just the advantage of alligators in the state, and her subscribing to two newspapers helps. Hope all is well. Bill Burnett"

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month!

But now you really have to contribute too as there is not one single thing left in the file folder. Please send whole pages of newspaper, they're light and you don't have to cut them into cute little snowflakes or strips, first. But do please be sure your name and the publication slug are on each page. Then mail them to me.

April 2004

Winner of the Speedy Clipper of the Year

A big thank you to Nick Gould of International Zoo News who sent me an original March 6, 2004 London Times clipping of the three-headed frog discovered in England by children at play. Even with the photo online and this in the paper, I'm still undecided on whether these are real or Rana photoshoppi. The story says the beast was looked at by "Marie Orchard, a frog expert at Bristol, the city's wildlife attraction, said that it was very unusual and from its size, probably at least two years old." Hopefully such an unusual animal will be photographed again!

Congratulations to Melissa Kaplan!

Her web page on collective nouns for types of animals was featured in the "NetWatch" column in Science Magazine, Volume 303, March 26, 2004. Herpers also know her site as a great place for captivity information. [from Eloise Mason] Visit it yourself at --

Thump, thump-thump, thump

Spanish researchers announce the discovery of what may be the largest plant eating dinosaur ever found in Europe and equal in size to the Argentinean specimen which currently holds the title. They are scaling up from the 1.78-meter upper arm bone and a 30-cm claw. The so far unnamed animal may have reached 35-meters in length and weighed up to 50 tons. [Science, March 26, 2004 from Eloise Mason]

What was she thinking?

A 4-foot gator crossing the road in Lacoochee, Florida was captured by middle and high school students who persuaded their school bus driver not only to stop, but to let them take it home on the bus! No one, including the alligator, was hurt, but school officials were astonished that any of this happened at all. [Orlando Sentinel, March 1, 2004 from Bill Burnett]

One too many, once too many times

"Boonreung Buachan, who held the Guinness World Records title for spending the most time penned up with snakes, was killed by a cobra bite in Thailand... [age] 34, he was showing villagers a new cobra when he was bitten. He took herbal medicine and a shot of whiskey and continued with the show until he collapsed... [won his GWR title] after spending seven days in an enclosure with snakes in 1998." [USA Today, March 23, 2004]

Wish I could fit in his luggage, don't you?

I don't know if newspaper "vu" has ever struck you, like a lovely story about Peter Pritchard did me. I met Peter a long time ago when we were both young. I was fascinated by his work with turtles, and grateful for his escort to Canterbury Cathedral during the First World Congress of Herpetology. Now comes an article from the Orlando Sentinel, outlining Peter's many accomplishments during his life of research into turtles and tortoises worldwide. The article particularly mentioned his book The Encyclopedia of Turtles and being named a "hero of the planet" by Time Magazine in 2000. The latter factoid was missed by my worldwide clippers and, of course, Peter's innate modesty probably prevented him sending me a copy. This fall he's going to the Galapagos Islands again, searching for the Pinta Giant tortoise. [March 19, 2004 from Bill Burnett] On my first quick read, I realized "Wow, I've known Peter since he was my age!" Time flies for us as well as for all species.

Almost too much information

Toad Suck Daze was listed in the Runner's World calendar of runs around the U.S. The festival includes a 5K and 10K run and a Tadpole Trot for the larval set. Registering for the race gets you a T-shirt. But then, you have to get there and run! Details are on their a website this year "". [Little Rock Democrat-Gazette, April 5, 2004 from Bill Burnett] The name comes from local legend about boatmen tying up while navigating locks on the Arkansas River apparently getting so drunk in local taverns they'd puff up like toads. There is even a Toad Suck Lock and Dam where all this allegedly occurred.

Coqui-Lime Pie anyone?

Hydrated lime, the latest idea in the battle against self-introduced coqui frogs, Eleutherodactylus coqui, in Hawai'i still needs EPA approval. The currently approved treatment, a citric acid spray, is expensive and harder to apply than slaked lime. Citric acid also burns plants which reduces its desirability to plant growers. It is currently used as a soil amendment. [The Honolulu Advertiser, March 29, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]


"Police charged a 20-year-old man with shoplifting two tiger pythons from... a pet shop. His bad judgment wasn't the immediate reason he was caught, but after officers found the stolen snakes in his house, he admitted that his getaway had been poorly planned: as he drove home, one of the snakes wriggled out of the canvas bag he'd sewn into his pants pocket, wrapped itself around his leg and bit him on the scrotum." [News of the Weird, by Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, February 6, 2004 from MaryBeth Trilling]

Alive but blind

A green sea turtle blinded after a dog attack September 9, 2003 in St. Croix, Virgin Islands is doing very well at Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, Florida. She was attacked while trying to lay eggs. By the time she was flown to Marathon Turtle Hospital in Florida, she had resorbed the eggs. She will have to spend the rest of her life in captivity as she is unable to fend for herself in the wild. [Virgin Islands Daily News, February 25, 2004 from J. Christianson]

Welcome to my larder...

A receptionist in Bloemfontein, South Africa was shocked when she found a 14-centimeter-long non-venomous Aurora house snake entangled in the web of a huge deadly female brown button spider. An expert said it was only the second time he'd heard of a spider ensnaring a snake. They watched the spider roll it up and spin a web around it while snacking on it and pulling it higher up to the ceiling. [South Africa News, February 11, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]


Venezuela released tens of thousands of protected Arrau turtles into the wild in early April. This batch was released as part of a ten-year program which has already released more than 166,000 turtles. [GreenLines 2083, April 8, 2004]

Timmy the tortoise dies aged 160

"A tortoise who was a ship's mascot in the Crimean War has died at his Devon castle home at the age of 160. Timothy, who was first discovered on board a Portuguese vessel in 1854, was thought to be the country's oldest resident. He lived at Powderham Castle near Exeter and was owned by Lady Gabrielle Courtenay, 91. He arrived there fully-grown in the late 19th century. The castle's rose garden had been his home since 1935. He was also believed to be the oldest Mediterranean spur thighed tortoise in existence. Timothy was believed to be able to recognize people's voices." He was 26 when the first postcard was sent, 60 when Peter Pan premiered and 157 when the new century started. "Timothy, who weighed 11 pounds (5-kilos), was found 160 years ago on board a Portuguese privateer by Captain John Courtenay Everard of the Royal Navy, a relative of the 10th Earl of Devon. He then stayed aboard a succession of naval vessels until given a life ashore in 1892 and was looked after by the members of the Courtenay family ever since. In recent years, he wore a tag reading: `My name is Timothy. I am very old - please do not pick me up.' ... Timothy showed a keen instinct for survival, even digging his own air raid shelter under a set of terrace steps during World War II after feeling the vibrations of bombs in Exeter... Lady Devon said he would be very much missed. 'You could call him, and he would come and say hello and have a strawberry.' He is to be buried at a family funeral in the grounds of the [600-year-old Powderham] castle." [BBC News, April 7, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Indiana Biologists Find Mole Salamanders

A breeding colony of 23 mole salamanders were found among huge bald cypresses in a swamp in Posey County after a few were caught in a live trap intended for another species of salamanders. How they arrived in Indiana is a mystery. They could have gotten there by themselves, or in a flood. The nearest populations are in Illinois, western Kentucky and Missouri. [Herp Digest, April 4, 2004 from Allen Salzberg]

Road must go through

"The March 30 Evansville Courier-Press reported that federal highway officials [approved the construction of proposed Interstate 69] through 142 miles of central and southwest Indiana. This road, also known as the NAFTA Highway, will destroy wetlands, forests, watersheds, and disturb underground caves. These natural features are known habitat for endangered gray and Indiana bats as well many endangered mussel species." [GreenLines 2077, March 31, 2004]

Fangs a lot guys

  • Chemists have stumbled on a bizarre source for a useful detergent: poisonous snake venom. Enzymes in the Florida cottonmouth's spit dislodge blood-stains from clothes, researchers this week told a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California...

    [The researcher] says his venomous enzyme works by cleaving the mass of fibrin molecules that form a scab over a wound. The snake product, if mixed with other enzymes, might be able to remove blood-stains completely." [Nature News Service, March 30 2004]
  • "A natural compound in some snake venom could help prevent the growth of cancerous tumors, researchers said today. The compound helps destroy cells which make up blood vessels that supply nutrients to tumors, University of South Australia researchers said... malignant tumors were abnormal living tissues with rapidly dividing cells that grow and feed off nutrients and oxygen via the normal blood supply surrounding the tumors... the researcher said `Research into the use of snake venom for treating tumors is not new and continues on a global scale. (But) the major difference is that [we] have identified in some venoms a compound that can be used in very low concentrations. This means that the toxicity is much lower and it only affects the cells that we are interested in' ... Researchers have been separating the snake venoms into components and determining their effect on the cells... [they] expect significant results within two years from the ongoing research." [The Sydney Australian, March 30, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Draco-nian penalties await illegals

"Owners of exotic reptiles face up to five years in jail if caught in possession of imported animals. Illegal owners and traders are the target in a tough national crackdown on the ownership of the reptiles that are smuggled into Australia. Yesterday, [the] federal Environment and Heritage Minister... launched the eight-week amnesty that starts today. Pet owners have until May 24 to surrender their reptiles or face jail and fines up to $110,000. [about $50,000 US] ... the Herald Sun believes several thousand people could benefit in the amnesty. Most of the reptiles are smuggled into the country by traders who go to great lengths to get them through Customs. Reptiles in demand include snakes, crocodiles, lizards, alligators and turtles... Melbourne University's Australian Venom Research Unit, said keeping exotic animals can have fatal consequences... most medical clinics don't have anti-venom for exotic reptiles making bites untreatable. [Melbourne, Australia Herald Sun, March 29, 2004]

6 billion and continuing to grow

  • "BBC Online, March 29 reported that the United Nations Environment Program... [said] that dead zones on all continents (except Antarctica) are threatening the world's fisheries due to excessive nitrogen released in waterways by humans and deposited in oceans. Coupled with exploitive fishing techniques, many fisheries are threatened with extinction. [GreenLines 2076, March 30, 2004.]
  • Melting of the Greenland Ice Cap continues, sea level may go up 7 meters in 50 to 100 years when it all melts. [Nature online, March 29, 2004]
  • "Research on a number of invasive plants revealed harmful effects on not only American toads but spotted salamanders, red-backed salamanders and gray tree toads... Loosestrife, native to Europe, is probably the most familiar of these invading plants across much of North America. It is high in tannin, a chemical that affects toads by interrupting digestion. Phragmites, another invasive water plant common along the Lake Erie shoreline, is poison to some salamander species. And gray tree frogs are hurt by an invader known as Japanese knotweed." [Pittsburgh Post Gazette, March 15, 2004 from Allen Salzberg in HerpDigest, March 25, 2004]

Stakeholders help snake

Eight state and federal agencies signed a conservation agreement "to define future actions to help protect" the Louisiana pine snake, according to the Leesville Daily Leader, March 5, 2004. The ESA candidate species "historically ranged throughout the longleaf pine ecosystem of western Louisiana and east-central Texas but now survive "in only a few locations in each state and may well be one of the rarest snakes in the U.S." The voluntary agreement provides a framework for the agencies to work together to minimize impacts on the snake, "exchange information on successful management practices and coordinate research efforts. "It is an ideal example of dealing with a complex issue by developing a partnership of forward looking people to find the right tools to help conserve a rare species," said the USFWS. [GreenLines 2067, March 17, 2004]

Just to film car commercials?

"The considerable ambitions of [Califonia City a] dusty speck in the western Mojave Desert may have been thwarted by a ground squirrel, a tortoise and six angry landowners. The state's third-largest city in land area, with a population of about 10,000, California City has been annexing its way across the high desert and now covers more than 200 square miles. Few noticed until the city annexed, then condemned, 4,500 acres of Kern County desert to make way for a Hyundai auto proving grounds that would add $500,000 to the town's small tax base... But the more significant roadblock to the $50-million project could be two homely, rare animal species that live in this part of the high desert. Hyundai intends to bulldoze the ground for its 6.4-mile oval track on top of burrows for the protected California desert tortoise and the Mojave ground squirrel. The state and federal governments have approved the project, but conservation groups have challenged it in court. That litigation, too, is pending." [Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2004 from Michael J. Connor]

Profile of extinction

One third of the global total, 24 Kihansi spray toads at Toledo Zoo may help keep their species from oblivion. First discovered in 1996 by the tens of thousands, a January 2004 trip scared the researchers. One said, "We saw one very skinny male, two females, and I heard two other males calling." The other toads are at the former Bronx Zoo, now the Wildlife Conservation Society. The program began with the 2000 importation of 538 spray toads from Tanzania. Their habitat was a fast flowing river, with 250-foot high waterfalls spraying cool mist into a unique ecosystem. Also in 2000, the World Bank loaned Tanzania money to dam the river to provide hydroelectric power. Now only a drip falls over the lip of the waterfall "into the gorge that was home to thousands of spray toads. The animals had lived in a tiny paradise, their entire equatorial existence a gift of the mist rising from the cataract. Perfectly adapted for this small niche, the toads were devastated when it was cut off. They crowded along the edge of the river, surviving on the thinnest slice of their territory. To save this remnant, narrow pipes sprayed the toad habitat with water. It worked for awhile. Toad numbers rose from a low of 2,000 to as many as 17,000 in 2003. Then disaster struck. A fungus that has slaughtered frogs around the globe invaded the Kihansi. Meanwhile, the captive toads were dying too. They came from the wild with lungworms. Half the founding population died before veterinarians gained control. Despite this, the animals bred vigorously. Nearly 700 were born at the Bronx Zoo." The zoo started distributing them to other zoos, but disaster after disaster struck. Toledo had luck and so the remaining toads went to Toledo. They blame their success on luck and skill. "First, there was dumb luck... In looking for plants to carpet toad homes, [the curator] stumbled on the exact species of club moss the animals live with in Africa.... [then] determination... Looking at the skinny, fragile toads... surmised the animals weren't getting the right light. Without proper ultraviolet light, the animals cannot metabolize calcium. In an extensive search, [the curator] sussed out the right bulb. A World Bank representative said the institution plans to cover captive breeding costs at the zoos for at least six months, and possibly longer. But even if money is forthcoming, success is far from assured... `This is our last-ditch effort. This is our Alamo. It's a little too late, basically, or maybe a lot too late.'" [HerpDigest, March, 10, 2004, by Allen Salzberg]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to MaryBeth Trilling who always decorates her envelopes with cute frog jokes. You can contribute, too. Send articles about herps that show up in the papers and magazines you read. Just clip the whole page - there's no need to trim, newspaper is incredibly cheap to mail. Fold and put in the biggest envelopes you feel comfortable using (less folding/unfolding) and mail to me. Letters only to my email, please put something obvious in the header like "CHS Column - adoration of columnist" so you get through my virus checker and my sometimes-too-fast delete finger.

May 2004

Thank heavens he's all right!

"A veterinarian barely survived a venomous snakebite after health officials found an antidote just in time to save him. The snake bit Dr. Laurence Reed, a veterinarian with 35 years experience... while he was changing the water dish in the western diamondback's cage... Reed first drove himself to a nearby clinic and from there a friend took him to a Valparaiso hospital. Doctors wanted to airlift him to Indianapolis, but high winds prevented the medevac. "Meanwhile, Reed said his thumb was swelling and painful and it was becoming difficult to breathe. Finally doctors located the antivenin in Indianapolis. They rushed Reed by ambulance south... while state police had a doctor with the antivenin drive north... they met in Lafayette... [Reed] will recuperate by spending two weeks in the Caribbean for a trip that was already planned." [South Bend Tribune, March 10, 2004 from Garrett Kazmierski]

Massasauga bite kills 85-pound dog "

An 85-pound dog was fatally bitten in its back yard by a venomous snake protected by the state, which will neither try to remove the snake nor allow the pet's owner to kill it. The reptile that killed ... [a] 5-year-old black Labrador retriever, `Libby,' last week was identified as an eastern massasauga rattlesnake... It is the state's only native, poisonous [sic] snake. [Detroit Free Press, May 6, 2004]

Otter not panic

"When more than 100 frogs and toads were discovered with their hind legs ripped off on a Scottish estate it seemed a clear case of animal cruelty, prompting fears of a black market in the French delicacy. A police investigation was launched and the public warned that eating the legs could make them sick. The mass mutilation was found at a pond on the Monymusk estate in Aberdeenshire. But detective work by the local wildlife crime officer has found that the most likely culprit does have a taste for frogs' legs but cannot be prosecuted because it is an otter... reports came in of other similar incidents at other ponds in the area which are known otter habitats... `Apparently it is not uncommon for otters to remove the back legs of toads,'" the police constable said, and added "It is a natural thing. The otter is just going about its business." [U.K. Guardian, April 14, 2004]

I'm 1, RU?

You Know You are a Herper - When You Dream In Green a 136-page paperback is described as a "hilarious look on herping by herpers." Examples include (a) you use to hate cockroaches, now you raise them (b) you send out birth announcements for a hatchling turtle (c) you know how to say Uromastyx (d) you think it's perfectly normal to buy your snake/turtle/frog/lizard a holiday gift and more. Ready for immediate shipment, $11.95 a copy plus $4.00 for priority mail, two day delivery. Contact Allen Salzberg at 718-275-2190 for more information and how to order.

What were they thinking?

"Would you upset an alligator named Mr. Cranky Pants? Some [Sydney, Australia] thieves who chanced it soon changed their minds," reports The Chicago Sun-Times. Thieves took a 4-year-old gator after scaling two barbed wire fences and taking the animal out the same way. After all that, they dumped the gator in a nearby creek. Keepers say the animal seems to be glad to be home again. [April 13, 2004 from Marybeth Trilling]

Exotic Florida

It should surprise no reader of this column to be told that exotic species are taking hold in various areas around the world. What is now astonishing is the mainstream press they receive. The latest offering, from The New York Times, solemnly announces that boa constrictors, Cuban tree frogs, Nile monitors, Burmese pythons and green iguanas are now firmly established in our most tropical mainland state. A nuisance trapper said, "Miami-Dade County is probably ground zero for exotic animals that are on the loose and doing very well... Miami is a fast, disposable society, which means whatever is the hot pet today will be my catch of the day next week." Everglades National Park now has a python hot line. "A recent tip led to the capture of six pythons sunning themselves along a levee," reports a wildlife biologist, who also mentioned that an alligator was reported to have eaten a python in the park. This last report is good because it may mean that gators will keep pythons in control. [February 29, 2004 from Mrs. P.L. Beltz and Alan Rigerman]

Scottish whine

"A Scottish postman got quite a shock when he opened a mailbox to pick up the mail - and found 16 frogs inside. `I just opened the box and 32 pairs of eyes were staring back at me,' he said... 'I got the fright of my life, and just slammed the door back shut so they couldn't escape.'" He discovered the frogs when "he opened one of the red pillar-style British mailboxes... `The frogs had just been dropped in through the slot, and were sitting at the bottom of the basket on top of all the letters,' he explained. `The letters are a bit damp, but thankfully the frogs were okay.'" The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals relocated them to a nearby pond. [Fox News, April 9, 2004]

Tales of three species

  • "A [45-year-old Virginia] preacher who refused medical treatment after a rattlesnake bit him during the serpent-handling part of an Easter service has died... the congregation prayed for [him] but no one sought medical treatment. [He] died Monday at his home... Snake-handlers believe that when people die of a snakebite they receive during a church service, it is simply their time to go." [Miami Herald, April 15, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]
  • "A two-year-old Dalmatian bitten on the nose by an Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake, was resting... at the Animal Medical Center at Cooper City after having received an antivenin that saved her life." [Miami Herald, April 19, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]


Two separate incidents observed by Snake Busters in Gainesville occurred in north central Florida during September 2000 and both featured Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, Crotalus adamanteus, that had eaten domestic house cats, Felis catus. The first rattler was "captured in a homeowner's front yard... and had ingested a meal so large as to become effectively immobile... [later regurgitating] a partially digested, large black house cat." The second snake was also "grossly engorged... ten days later, the snake defecated... [feces] containing black fur, teeth and claws identified as belonging to F. catus. On a side note, the burrow where we captured the snake had, radiating away from its entrance, the first-shed skins of nine newborn C. adamenteus [sic]." [Herpetological Review 34(4), 2003, from new contributor William A. Black]

Addered thinking

"In January in Johannesburg, South Africa, an Absa Bank customer upset that loan officers had repossessed his car was charged with attempted murder after he allegedly released five puff adders in the bank's head office (one worker was bitten but survived)." [News of the Weird, Chicago Reader, April 16, 2004 from Marybeth Trilling]

Predictable environmental disaster

"There is huge market in China for frogs and fish products Uganda's envoy to China... said 'Frogs, fish, medicinal drugs and minerals are urgently needed to run the Chinese industries and these raw materials are abundant in Uganda,' ... [and added] `Frogs are very expensive, its even more expensive to afford frog legs in a Chinese restaurants, yet in Uganda frogs are plenty.' [Kampala, Uganda Monitor, April 6, 2004 from]

Yes, we have never found froggies

A one and a half inch long Caribbean frog (genus Osteopilus) was discovered in Portsmouth, U.K. after a 4,000-mile journey in a refrigerated banana boat. "[The] Portsmouth port health officer... said it was the first time a frog had been discovered at the port. `We handle about 470,000 tons of bananas each year and this is the first time anything like this has been found,' he said. `Apparently a random pallet was chosen to check the quality of the consignment and, during the checking process, someone found the little frog clinging to a hand of bananas.'" [BBC News Online, April 22, 2004]

Frequent flyer frogs

Qantas airlines announced that a passenger did really find a frog in her salad, perched atop a cucumber under the plastic lid on a flight from Melbourne to Wellington, New Zealand. The frog was frozen to death in New Zealand and Qantas has increased random food inspections and changed salad supply procedures. [Asia Pacific News, May 5, 2004]

Making a recovery

The 700-pound Galapagos tortoise attacked by dogs in his Homestead, Florida home is doing well after receiving veterinary care. The tortoise was born in 1841, where he's been from then until now, where he lives in a pen at a fruit stand was not mentioned in the article. [Miami New Times, April 15-21, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Hiss-toric discovery

Reuters reports that the discovery of huge snake-fanged masks and other cultural objects in Cival, Guatemala has pushed back the age of classical Mayan culture to around 500 B.C., according to archaeologists. The New York Times noted that the area had previously been surveyed by Harvard archeologists, who passed on excavations, leaving the site untouched for the current researcher and more modern methods. [both May 5, 2004]

Which came first?

Snakes are invading towns in eastern Croatia after heavy rainfall from recent Mediterranean storms. "Panicked citizens killed more than 200... Orsini vipers, a normally elusive snake that has been driven into populated areas by rising water levels." [The Honolulu Advertiser, May 2, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Life's a niche

The discovery of more than 100 veiled chameleons on Maui in the past two years confirms the presence of a breeding population, officials say. The first veiled chameleon was discovered dead in March 2002. The population is limited so far to only about an acre, but officials are worried someone might move some elsewhere. The chameleons are native to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and have no natural predators on the Hawaiian islands. They grow up to 2 feet long and can survive a wide range of temperatures. Searches take place at night when the lizards sleep on lower branches and are lighter in color than the plants. [The Honolulu Advertiser, April 26, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Win by losing

Four of the nearly 100 turtles stranded in Cape Cod, Massachusetts last year were recently released off Volusia, Florida by workers from the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. After releasing the turtles in the ocean, their veterinarian said, "It is the best feeling you can imagine. This is what we work for, to send them back out into the wild." [Orlando Sentinel, April 21, 2004 from "Hilda" via Bill Burnett]

Frog jokes

Self-professed Frog-Lover Marybeth Trilling sent several new frog jokes on the envelopes of this month's clippings:

Q: What's a frog's favorite breakfast?
A: Hoptarts!

Q: How deep do frogs like to wade?
A: Knee-deep!

Q: Why did the frogs go to the mall?
A: They wanted to go "hopping."

Q: What did they eat at the food court?
A: French flies and a diet croak!

Turtles survive dredge

Contrary to protests prior to the project, a 33-day hopper operation in Key West Harbor did not harm any turtles although it did rough up some coral. The $36 million project was administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make the harbor deep enough for large ships and remove sediment which harms coral reefs. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, April 18, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

And may survive fishing

Turtles may benefit from a new-style hook on long-lines. It is called a "circle hook" and is designed to catch sword-fish but repel turtles. Pacific islanders made them from shell a long time ago, new ones will be made of metal and baits will be a mackerel-type fish bait instead of squid. Biologists discovered that turtles try to swallow squid whole, which permits the hook to set and harm the turtle. In contrast, turtles nibble at mackerel-type baits, revealing the hook and avoiding it. The two new rules will be monitored to assure turtle safety. [The Honolulu Advertiser, March 31, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Wish they were all so tame

In an odd tombstoning, the front page of The Chicago Sun-Times, April 16, 2004, juxtaposed "Europe Scoffs at Bin Laden's Truce" with "She's OK - he's already had lunch," a caption on a photo of Bubba, Jim Nesci's tame alligator in front of a cute child. Jim said that he's "not afraid to have the 226-pound gator around kids," and added "more dogs bite people in Cook County than alligators." A children's book is in the works about Bubba. [from Marybeth Trilling]

Letter of the month

Thanks to Paul Breese, Director Emeritus of the Honolulu Zoo for this interesting and gracious letter: "Dear Ellin, Our late friend Sean McKeown spoke highly of you. We miss him dearly. The purpose of this letter is to tell you how much I appreciate your efforts... to keep us amused and informed. Your part is the first thing I read in the Bulletin. I admire your efforts and want to be another reader that tells you `thank you.' I know Ms. Chow keeps you informed on Honolulu... but here's one from our Kona paper, way too long for you, I suspect. A while back you ran a reference to snakes at the Honolulu Zoo in WWII. Here's the facts: In about late 1920s, the Hawaii Legislature passed a law, 'No snakes of any kind plus Gila's could be kept in Hawaii.' My successor at the zoo, Director Jack Throp in the late 1960s pushed for an amendment to that law to make it possible for the Honolulu Zoo to keep (1) two snakes that had to be (a) non-venomous (b) male and (c) kept at the Honolulu Zoo only. Since then, the Zoo has kept a big Indian python and another snake, usually a handable one, small ball python or corn snake. Again, Ellin, many thanks for your efforts. Aloha, Paul"

Coqui monsters

The Mayor of Hilo, Hawaii announced a state of emergency based on the level of coqui frog infestation. He stated that the coqui was not only a danger to the island's environment, but also to its primary industries: tourism and floral exports. The proclamation may help county officials approach state and federal agencies for monetary assistance in removing coqui frogs from Hilo. The frogs have multiplied quickly from sporadic sightings in 1992, to eight occurrences in 1998, 85 in 2001 and about 150 "firmly established specific sites" of coqui frog populations. [West Hawaii Today, April 16, 2004 from Paul Breese]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Bill Burnett's Aunt Peggy who so kindly sent a copy of the obituary of Timothy the 160-year-old tortoise who died at his home in Exeter, England and to Ray Boldt, Alan Rigerman and Marybeth Trilling who sent things I enjoyed reading, but couldn't figure out how to summarize. You can contribute, too. Send articles about herps that show up in the papers and magazines you read. Just clip the whole page - there's no need to trim, newspaper is incredibly cheap to mail. Fold and put in the biggest envelopes you feel comfortable using (less folding/unfolding) and mail to me.

June 2004

Now I have read everything

It's hard to find a "new herp story" but here's one: "[A motorist] was shell-shocked when a flying turtle crashed through his windshield on Interstate 95. `When I looked up, there was glass all over me and a turtle was sitting beside me in my van. It seemed like it happened in slow motion.'" Neither he nor the animal described as a one foot long "cooter box turtle" were seriously hurt. The turtle was clipped by a truck tire and flipped up into the air and through the motorist's windshield at a speed reported to be about seventy miles per hour. [Chicago Sun-Times, May 17, 2004 from MaryBeth Trilling]

And they've seen everything

Police officers in Philadelphia are pretty unshockable but they got a surprise when they saw a 3-foot long alligator riding in a black BMW, with its head hanging out the window like a dog. The owner was tearful when the animal was taken. Philadelphia law prevents private people from owning alligators. [WPVI Action News, Philadelphia June 8, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

But we've heard this before

  • Officials confiscated "stacks of glass and wire cages filled with rattlesnakes, vipers and one 15-foot Burmese python estimated to weigh between 140 and 160 pounds... [The whole list included] other snakes removed Thursday included three Gaboon vipers, a rhino viper, a bush viper, a timber rattlesnake, a Western diamondback rattlesnake, an Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, one South American rattlesnake, a spitting cobra and a South American pit viper, said... a reptile curator for the Dallas Zoo, where the venomous reptiles were taken," according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The snake's owner was a tenant in the condominium where people had reported two loose cobras in March. One cobra was captured right away, the other one escaped all attempts at capture. A snake catcher said that some of the things that had been set out to catch the snake had been tampered with, which may have led authorities to search the condominium where the tenants were reported moving tanks in and out at night and keeping caged rabbits on the porch. [June 10, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • Melbourne, Australia police seized "thousands of dollars worth of exotic reptiles during a raid in Melbourne's south. Detectives swooped on a Dandenong factory and found several rare snakes, including boa constrictors and a python. They also found several water dragons and about 80 Japanese newts... [A spokesman said] police recovered more illegal reptiles than they anticipated. [June 2, 2004: Australian Broadcasting Corporation, May 31, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu and Raymond Hoser Sydney Herald-Sun News]
  • Red-eared sliders were the most common species of reptile turned in during a recent amnesty in Australia's Northern Territory. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, May 31, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Hopping to go home soon

Veterinarians at the Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo inserted a tiny pin in the hind leg of a tree frog in a delicate two hour operation. The frog was injured in a screen door; the woman who brought it in was so distraught that zoo vets decided to try to save its life. "The frog... took to his hospital food of "pinkie mice" with such gusto he had gained an extra 9 grams over his admission weight of 50 grams. He even managed a premature escape attempt... discovered clinging to a branch in a pile of koala leaf litter, 20 meters from his cage... [the frog was certainly the hospital's] most unusual patient... he would be released back into the wild when he was fully recovered and the surgical pin would probably be left in place. `He's hopping everywhere now,'" the vet said. [The Australian Courier-Mail, June 11, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Too much nutrient

According to researchers who have studied frog deformity issues in North America, increases in the numbers of rams-horn snails may be the culprit. They suggest that the numbers of deformities may be in on the increase because the snail is the host for a flatworm parasite Ribeiroia ondatrae which causes deformities in frogs including excess and misshapen limbs and the snail is undergoing an unprecedented population explosion due to "excess nutrient inputs into the ponds where [the snails live and] tadpoles develop," according to the July, 2004 issue of Ecology Letters. [Blackwell Publishing Ltd. press release, June 10, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Gucci-gucci gone

A saltwater crocodile nicknamed "Gucci" by people in Hong Kong has become something of a celebrity for eluding several attempts at capture. It was first spotted last fall, went dormant over the winter and is now active again in a polluted creek where it was first seen. The croc has even been seen sunbathing on top of traps set to catch it. The only ones to actually catch it so far are news photographers and media film crews. [May 1, 2004: Miami Herald from Alan Rigerman and the Wisconsin State Journal from J. Battaglia] One assumes the beast is called "Gucci" because up to now that's the only kind of croc regularly seen in fashionable Hong Kong!

Life in the food chain

  • Burmese pythons are frequently seen at Everglades National Park. Naturalists suspect people are letting their pets loose when they get too big to handle and also that they are breeding in the wild. "Twice in the past two years, visitors at popular boardwalks have watched as pythons battled alligators. Each time the alligator won and carried off the python in its mouth" reported the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Rangers have shot a few pythons, too, but more continue to turn up. Since 1999, the U.S. has imported more than 144,000 Burmese pythons from Vietnam and other parts of SouthEast Asia. Only two known U.S. deaths are blamed on large constrictors: an 8-year-old girl in Pittsburgh and a Colorado man. Both deaths occurred in 2002. [May 13, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A naturalist at a Hialeah, Florida park said that crocodiles are coming ashore in the park to eat ducks, "Unlike... claims regarding frightened families, I have seen them gathered around the lake in awe of this amazing creature. If having exotic waterfowl in our park creates a food source for these animals, and they are coming ashore on their own, then let it be... the gardens are clearly marked as a crocodile area... unfortunately we have altered their habitat and their food source." [Miami NewTimes, May 5, 2004 from Alan Rigerman] Among the waterfowl consumed has been a pair of black-necked swans, a mute swan and two European shelducks. Several people, including Alan pointed out that releasing exotics, in this case waterfowl, is now not considered an environmentally friendly act and that the crocs may just be doing Florida Nature a great service. [Miami NewTimes, April 28, 2004 ]

Excitement in Iowa

"Albino alligators turn pink with excitement as they adjust to their new environment," said the director of the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines which was making a big deal about having a pink alligator. While most of the gator had faded to white after the first week, his face was still pinkish. The animal was acquired for an exhibit on albinism. [, June 1, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Good news for sea turtles

Regular readers of this column will recall reports from around the world of sea turtles infected with fibropapilloma virus which attacked their eyes, blinding them and preventing them from eating. While searching for a cure, many scientists have expressed concern that nothing could be done and that the turtles would all become infected. Several hundred of the worst infected are being maintained in captivity which of course takes them from being agents of new infection in the wild. Researchers writing in the Journal of Virology suggest that ozobranchus leeches common in and around turtles harbors the virus. Infected turtles do not spread the disease; only the infected leeches. Recently several infected turtles have gone into remission and the spread of the disease seems to have slowed. [The Honolulu Advertiser, June 1, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow and Paul Breese]

Frog Joke of the Month

Q-Why do frogs love baseball? A-They're great at catching flies. [from MaryBeth Trilling]

15 minutes of stupidity

  • A Florida preteen fought off an alligator attack after he decided to take a dip in gator-infested waters in Deltona. He got a couple of scratches on his head and one ear was nearly severed. Hearing of his "brush with death" and "miraculous survival" the news media went into a frenzy. He was on several morning shows, interviewed for major newspapers and a long interview for some gossip show was in the works. He said, "It's like I'm famous now, like a movie star. It's pretty cool." Back at home, life goes on. A neighbor boy said, "Once they catch that gator, I'm going swimming again." His mother said, "It's Florida, you can't keep your kids out of the water." Two gators were later trapped and killed in Lake Diana. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, May 20 and 21, 2004 from Bill Burnett] I liked Bill's note. He wrote: Anyone swimming in unsupervised lakes in Florida should expect and know there are gators. Want to swim? Get a pool! Best wishes! Bill"
  • "Two boys reportedly killed a snake in a Melrose [Oregon] barn... and then decided to light it on fire with gasoline, catching some pallets and weeds outside the barn on fire. A mother of one of the boys, who were 14 and 11 years old, called 911 ... after she saw the fire in the barn... firefighters responded to the incident, the boys managed to put out the fire with a couple of buckets of water before they arrived. No citations or other official action was taken because this is the first such incident for either of the boys..." [Douglas County, Oregon News Review, June 10, 2004]

Two years for copperhead

This story seems to have dragged on for a while, but the man and his son who mailed a live venomous snake to an enemy have been sentenced. The father lost his law license, his law firm and will spend two years in jail. The son is about to turn 21 and earned 60 months in jail due to prior convictions and two arrests since when he was arrested for mailing the snake. Their trial had gone on for a week when the two changed their minds and pled guilty. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 24, 2004 from Bill Burnett]


I didn't know this, but Paul Breese pointed out that it was the late Sean McKeown who suggested using citric acid spray to reduce unwanted frogs, like coquis, in Hawai'i. He sent a clipping of a company that does coqui frog spraying; one of those people who will make lemonade from citric acid, I suppose. Paul wrote a lovely letter where he pointed out that this season was "snake weather" in San Diego where he grew up. Well it's snake weather here in Ferndale, too where happy and quite pregnant garter snakes cavort in our overlong grass and heat themselves up under a rubbish can lid we've hidden under a thin veneer of compost. The neighbors have told me they "hate snakes" and that they wouldn't even think about buying our house because the porch and front walk are just "infested" with garter snakes. And to answer your question, Paul, no I don't have a copy of that book.

Total ecosystem cost

  • A U.S. Congressman from Hawai'i has asked for $7 million to fight invasive species including Caribbean tree frogs. The bulk of the money would be used to fund U.S. Fish and Wildlife initiatives, some would go to state and county agencies. [Kona Today, April 26, 2004 from Paul Breese]
  • Brown anoles, Anolis sagrei, are now being found on the Hawai'ian island of O'ahu, reportedly supplanting common green anoles, Anolis carolinensis, which were formerly widespread. Both lizards are introduced in Hawai'i. The brown anole is considered more aggressive than the green anoles which it is outcompeting and displacing on the windward side of O'ahu. The knight anole, Anolis equestris, has also become naturalized and is a serious concern to native fauna as it can grow to two feet long. Keeping any anole is illegal in Hawai'i. [The Honolulu Advertiser, May 30, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • Four Madagascar giant day geckos were caught in Manoa, O'ahu and officials worried that another non-native and hungry species may become established in the "wild." The latest find follows a string of reptile problems. "On May 21, Department of Agriculture inspectors confiscated a 4-foot albino king snake and a foot-long collared lizard at a Hawai'i Kai home. On May 28, a Honolulu Zoo employee found a cardboard box containing two snakes on his doorstep, presumably left by a pet owner trying to surrender them to authorities," according to the Honolulu Advertiser, June 3, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow.

Venomous snakebite info online

For more information on snakebites and their treatment, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website:

Thank heavens it wasn't pregnant

A 10-year-old African bullfrog escaped from its Daytona Beach, Florida home in November. It wasn't in its cage, it was having a "fresh air break" and hopped away. Its owner found her on the street near her home in June coming back from the supermarket. Her owner said, "It's just kind of neat that she came back to me. It's just amazing, unbelievable." [Daytona Beach, Florida News-Journal, June 4, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Two salamander tales from the Newt

  • "Striking a deer on a rural road is always a concern for area drivers, but those who use Beekman Road have something else to worry about: squashing a salamander on its way to breed. In response to the unique situation, the township has placed signs on Beekman Road warning motorists to watch out for the creatures, which are about 6 inches long and blend in with the road because of their black color. In fact, the township closed the road to all but local traffic for two days in early March in order to allow salamanders and other amphibians to cross the road and reach vernal pools in the woods. [East Brunswick, New Jersey Sentinel, June 3, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • "`They say that under every 40 rocks in New England there is a red-backed salamander,`" said [the leader of]... a nature walk in the woods in Chester... [she] found the first one after lifting up about 15 rocks in the forest. [A] six-year-old [participant]... found two red-backed salamanders under one rock about a minute later." [Rutland, Vermont Herald, June 7, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu] Looks more like a 3/16 ratio than a 1/40 to me.

Planting rattlesnakes?

Visitors to Kanopolis State Park have been seeing Western diamondback rattlesnakes, which are not native to that part of Kansas. `This is not herd migration stuff,' said herpetologist Joseph Collins, who works with the Kansas Biological Survey at the University of Kansas. `It's possible someone is systematically turning them loose year after year.' No visitors have yet been bitten by the western diamondbacks at the park, which is located about 30 miles southwest of Salina in central Kansas and draws about 280,000 people each year. But a worker at the University of Kansas lost a finger to one about five years ago... Since a dead diamondback was found at the park in 1993, the first recorded sighting there, four live snakes have been captured there. There have been another 10 sightings of live snakes. State law prohibits the release of any exotic animal into the wild, and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks is considering a ban on bringing western diamondbacks into the state. [KMBC 5, Kansas City, Missouri, June 2, from Wes von Papinešu]

Just eat cow

French police have smashed another frog poaching ring in France where local "gourmands" claim they can tell local frogs from legally imported frog legs. Restauranteurs contract with frog poachers to provide the now regulated French frog leg. [Independent, London U.K. May 30, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Count quickly!

"The first time John Lynch was kidnapped by leftist rebels, he was held in a wooden cage and threatened with execution. The second time he was forced to march five hours through bone-chilling rain before eventually being released. Lynch, who grew up in Illinois, is not one of the hundreds of U.S. military trainers and contractors helping the Colombian government battle powerful insurgencies and drug lords. He is a frog expert... Lynch, a University of Illinois graduate who teaches at the Institute of Natural Sciences in Bogota, Colombia's capital... [All over the world] Lynch and other scientists are braving grave dangers to carry out important research and conservation in one of the most hazardous yet ecologically diverse places on Earth... a specialist in spiders, scorpions and insects at the Institute of Natural Sciences, said he avoids more than half the country... a bat and mammal specialist at the same institute, also said his research is hampered by the war... [To try to reduce the danger] Lynch hires local residents to cook and do other jobs on research projects. He said the residents often are linked to the armed groups and can see for themselves that the researchers are not military spies. But because of a mix-up, Lynch said the rebels had not been informed of his presence before his two kidnappings, the first in 1999 and the second a year later. In each case, Lynch was released after several days once the guerrillas verified that he and his colleagues were scientists. In the first instance, Lynch said, the FARC guerrillas told him to keep the kidnapping a secret for a month or they would hunt him down and kill him... `Colombia is the richest country in the world for frogs,' said Lynch, who is credited with discovering several hundred new frog species in Colombia... He has no intention of giving up his work. `I'm just much more careful,' he said." [Chicago Tribune, May 24, 2004 front page, from Mike Dloogatch]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Bradford Norman and Mrs. P.L. Beltz who sent stories I'd already used! You can contribute too, whether I use your story or not, your name will show up here. Take whole pages of newspapers and magazines with herp stories and fold a minimum number of times. Make sure your name is on each piece; those little address labels are great for this. And please be sure the name of the publication and the date of publication is on each piece. This month was bad for that; the Internet helps me find the citations, but I did have to put one article aside because I can't find its source.

July 2004

Silly Season in Arkansas

"Airlines have strict guidelines on shipping snakes... Knowing that deadly reptiles may be slithering in boxes below airplane passenger compartments made some skin crawl... [they] must be packed..." in special ways and there are tons of other requirements all of which you need to know and I'm not going to go into. What brought this topic to the fore in the May 30, 2004 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was the death of a Scotsman, apparently by deadly snake bite. He seems to have picked up a wooden crate of deadly snakes at the airport, driven along some ways in a rented SUV, been possibly bitten, may have tossed out the crate, driven along a ways and died. The snakes were found and taken to the zoo before anyone connected the visitor's death with them. And his body was shipped back to the U.K. and so was not autopsied. In any case, the dailies are giving this one the full fifteen minute treatment with background stories into all sorts of silly-season tie ins including the astonishing fact that not every single hospital in the U.S. stocks antivenin and so can't be counted on to save your life in a New York minute should your captive venomous snake put a fang in you. This was apparently news. Contributor Bill Burnett wrote: "I was out of town working and missed info on the fellow getting bit by the snakes he has ordered. Of course, that started all the panic. Typical!"

Contributor news

Ray Boldt, faithful clipper of the Chicago Tribune and photographer has moved from the inner city to Barrington and celebrated his 75th Birthday on June 12th. He does so this year missing a cancerous kidney which was removed but from which the cancer had not spread. He wrote "Boy am I lucky?" Yes, Ray you are. And we're lucky to have you too!

News of the Me

This has got to be the weirdest article I've had to summarize for you yet. The May 20, 2004 Los Angeles Times Gardening Section had an article about L.A. basin lizards. And in a sidebar about the three kinds of lizards to be found there, were three columns of text, one for each lizard. Each one had it's scientific name translated, and my page was cited. I'm absolutely honored and rather flattered, the other books and research they cited is all top notch. Thanks to Lori King-Nava of Chicago of Chicago who found this all the way from the west coast.

One of those days on the job

"Fire crews and vets managed to save a snake that had got stuck in its owner's wedding ring after he wriggled into it and got wedged. Tango's owners tried to free him by rubbing oil on his body but contacted the fire brigade when that didn't work. They rushed the corn snake to the vets who gave him an injection to knock him out so firefighters could chop the ring off without hurting him. The reptile slipped free in 30 seconds, then given oxygen to help wake up. [BBC News, June 4, 2004]

Remove one data point

I noticed that someone sent you the AP newspaper article from Michigan about the massasauga "killing" an 85 lb. black lab. I recently found out the "rest of the story", although it never hit the papers. It seems that the dog did not die of the snake bite. The owners refused treatment and had the vet euthanize the dog, apparently (they said) because they didn't want a potentially compromised dog (it was an "outside" dog, they said.) The dog did take a severe bite in the shoulder area, but it very likely would have survived with treatment. The circumstances of the bite were unclear. The original implication was that the bite occurred in the owner's yard, but this was not confirmed in the article, and it is possible that the dog was "in the field" when bitten. I fault the newspapers for not checking the details, and for clearly suggesting that the MI DNR was being negligent in not helping people control these "poisonous" snakes. [Name withheld by request, June 4, 2004]

Ribbeting Reading

The Cape Argus of Cape Town, South Africa reports on the publication of "The Atlas and Red Data Book of the Frogs of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, by a team coordinated from the copublished by University of Cape Town's (UCT) Avian Demography Unit (ADU)... and America's famous Smithsonian Institution" Marius Burger, one of the Frog Atlas project's coordinators, was at the first World Congress of Herpetology - at the famous "disappearing frogs" meeting. He and the nearly 400 other people who worked on the atlas had the usual tales to tell about trying to count frogs. One said, "One of the problems of frog atlasing is that you've got to do it at night and so you automatically look suspicious." Herpetologists and volunteers collected 42,500 distribution records for all 114 recorded species. [June 15, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Hiss of Death

Conservation laws have chased India's once famed snake charmers into a subeconomic life of drug and alcohol abuse, their influence and respect in the community lost because they can no longer legally hunt snakes. Even so, the few remaining in the profession do collect animals. Now conservationists are proposing enlisting the snake charmers to both educate people and function as animal control officers for snakes. "I have planned something like a dial-a-snakecharmer-service. People are constantly calling Saperas to remove snakes from their homes, gardens and fields. They can be paid a small fee for this," said one while CHS member and herpetologist Romulus Whitaker said: "Statistics indicate that you are twice as likely to die of rabies in India than by snakebite. To me that's very scary." [South Africa Daily News, June 17, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

And we wonder how things get introduced...

  • A man in Lorain, Ohio grows and ships albino bullfrogs around the world, especially in Japan, where albinism is considered a sign of purity and highly coveted... Retail prices for albino bullfrogs range from $20 to $200. Frogs are sold in lots of 100 to wholesale distributors." [Morning Journal, June 17, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • As many as 200 tortoises kept in seven bags and 14 kilograms of 'ganja' (hemp) were recovered from seven inter-state smugglers at a railway station in [Jaunpur, India]... a police team conducted a raid at the ... railway station from where the smugglers... were arrested with the tortoises and the contraband... they were taking... to West Bengal for selling [sic]... the tortoise were released in Gomti river. [New Delhi, India The Hindu, June 14, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

And lament what happens when they do

  • "Cane toads are continuing their march across Australia, with native animals unable to come to terms with the poisonous invader... Cane toad tadpoles were also wiping out native frog populations, as their tadpoles ate the native frog tadpoles... foxes were the number one pest, causing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of economic and environmental damage. Mouse plagues caused untold social turmoil. `If you've got to shake mice out of your children's beds at night, it's just another thing to make farming unattractive,' [a CSIRO spokesman said]... some insect pests operate as one huge organism, causing widespread damage. Crazy ants, which have threatened Christmas Island's famous red crabs, have now established themselves in the Northern Territory's Arnhem Land over an area of 350 hectares." [Melbourn, Australia Courier Mail, June 19, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • A University of Tampa assistant professor of ecology wants to get Nile Monitor Lizards out of Cape Coral which is "overrun with the nasty, tail-whipping creatures from sub-Saharan Africa. [The professor] has $50,000 in grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program to capture, study and destroy the lizards." Nile monitors can grow to seven feet long. They were first seen in Cape Coral in 1990 and current estimates run as high as 1,000 animals, making the trap fees about $50 per goanna. So far he's gotten 60 monitors, the biggest was about 26 pounds. The researcher pointed out that "Introducing species like the Nile monitor lizard - which is not indigenous to Florida - into the state's ecosystem is a huge problem. Left unchecked, [he said] Nile monitors could threaten native species, including other lizards and birds such as burrowing owls." He said "They're a disaster waiting to happen.'' [Tampa, Florida Tribune June 28, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

101 Uses for a Captured Crocodile

"Gucci" the crocodile who swam free in Hong Kong was finally captured. A local media outlet ran a "What should happen to the crocodile?" Here are some of the responses with the names removed:
  • He should be kept in a safe enclosed area, with other crocodiles like him. Tokyo, Japan
  • A huge crocodile sandwich and make it snappy! Phuket, Thailand
  • Set it free again, it was good for tourism! Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Handbags at dawn. Hong Kong
  • Let it retire in the swimming pool in Government House. London, UK
  • I think the croc should be set free in the Big Brother house and the housemates given the task of capturing the animal. Would make interesting viewing. Cardiff, Wales
  • Nothing. Until it has cast its postal vote. Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
  • Such an intelligent croc shouldn't be killed. The authorities should send it to an Australian croc farm. Edinburgh, Scotland
  • It will probably end up being used for Chinese herbal remedies!!! Wales
  • Keep and culture it. Find a mate for it so that they multiply. Kitwe, Zambia
  • Make a nice handbag and matching shoes - perfect for materialistic Hong Kong socialites. Hong Kong
  • The crocodile should be released in its natural habitat. Lahore, Pakistan
  • I believe the usual procedure in Hong Kong is to award it a passport and amnesty, and then revoke them 3 weeks from now, once the deportation papers are ready. Auckland, New Zealand [BBC World Service, June 10, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Ban guns, feed crocs

"Man-eating crocodiles are benefiting from the clampdown on guns in the Solomon Islands. According to police officers serving in the troubled archipelago, at least four people have been killed by the marauding reptiles on the Guadalcanal coastline near their base in the past six months.... One villager said it was hard to get rid of the crocodiles without guns. `They are also getting cunning, coming up close to villages and barking to attract dogs down to eat them up.' [Auckland, New Zealand Herald June 9, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

The saga continues

Lonesome George is probably the last giant tortoise of his type. But are scientists doing all they can to find him a partner, boost his sex drive and save his subspecies? ... Poor Lonesome George. He may be famous, but he hasn't got a mate. All alone in the world and, sadly, singularly uninterested in sex, George the Galapagos giant tortoise looks set to be the last in his line (Geochelone nigra abingdoni). Ever since George was discovered in 1971, there have been many attempts to get him to reproduce" but up until now he has been paired with the wrong females. "The first examination of genetic similarities between the different tortoise populations in the Galapagos, done in the late 1990s, threw up something of a surprise... [because they] showed that Lonesome George is more closely related to the subspecies on the island of Española (Geochelone nigra hoodensis). This indicated that giant tortoises, which are ill-suited to life at sea, somehow survived an incredible 300-kilometer journey from Española in the south to Pinta in the north, probably by hitching a ride on strong currents." People continue to search Pinta in hopes of finding a real mate for George. "Late last year, Peter Pritchard, founder of a privately funded conservation group in Florida called the Chelonian Research Institute, gathered together more than 20 park staff and conducted the most thorough search of the island to date. They had mixed success - they found a total of 15 Pinta tortoises, although all of them were dead and only one of them was female." Lately thoughts have turned to sperm collection or perhaps even cloning. But time is on George's side. There are still hundreds of tortoises in private collections and zoos in South America. One or more of them may still be found to be Pinta tortoises. And George is still a youngster, after all he's less than 100 and might live another 100 years. [Nature 429, 498 - 500, June 3, 2004 and on from Wes von Papinešu]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month especially since most of it sits waiting to be typed in for next month! I had really bad carpal tunnel from working as a writer now and it has been a rough month in general so your patience is greatly appreciated. Please don't stop sending whole pages of newspapers and magazines with herp stories. Please be sure the publication name and date and your name is on each piece. Mail to me, please note we have a "new PO number" because we got "too much mail."

August 2004

Thanks for your patience. Wrist surgery last month really set me back for typing! I've spellchecked and proofread until I can't see it anymore. Hope all is well. :) eb

Quote of the Month

Reporting on a story where a man attacked his girlfriend with an alligator: "Sober people just don't go after their special someones with a reptile, not even in trailer parks." [Jackson, Mississippi Clarion-Ledger August 1, 2004]

Salad toad-go

A 34-year-old woman found a two-inch long toad in a take-out salad purchased at a Massachusetts McDonald's restaurant on June 16. The town health agent said the toad was shipped to a California-based company which processes McDonald's lettuce. [Eureka Times-Standard, July 2, 2004 from Ken Mierzwa]

Dr. Mike's Obit

"Vet followed lifelong love of animals. Dr. Michael J. Miller acquired his first pet when he was about 5-years-old. It was a turtle named Pete with a damaged vocal cord that, according to family lore, allowed the animal to talk... a long list of pets followed. Dr. Miller, 54, a veterinarian in the south suburbs for more than three decades and a former breeder of gecko lizards, died of a heart attack Monday, June 21, in his Palos Hills home." As reported last month in the Bulletin, Dr. Miller was a past president of CHS, a recognized gecko expert and a pioneer at breeding them in captivity. [Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2004 from Ray Boldt]

Don't lick your kitten

"The Central District Health Department in Idaho reported that six cases of salmonellosis were reported and confirmed in January. Five of the six cases were linked to kittens that came from the Idaho Humane Society in December. The kittens have since been cleaned, and the cat holding area at the shelter has been disinfected." [Veterinary Practice News, 16:4, April 2004 from S.L. Barten who wrote, "I bet we won't see any proposed legislation to ban the sale of kittens based on this!"]

Wish the pond was as clawed-less

African clawed frogs have taken up residence in a pond in San Francisco. "They are a threat," said David Wake, emeritus professor at UC Berkeley. Originally native to Kenya, clawed frogs can survive just about anything, freezing cold to nearly beachfront brackish water. They also eat just about anything, slurping insects, fish, lizards, frogs and sometimes even birds. Clawed frogs were outlawed as pets in California, but continue to be used in laboratories. The infestation in Golden Gate Park and further south may be due to researchers releasing animals. In a case of bureaucracy in action, workers were within hours of laying pipe to drain the pond to the sewers when they were stopped by budget issues in the California Department of Fish and Game. The department's invasive species coordinator said, "Some of the rehabilitation of the ponds has been slowed and this pond is not on the list." [Eureka Times-Standard, May 10, 2004 from Ken Mierzwa]

Not easy being gold-colored either

A distinctive large gold colored giant frog, Cardiglossa aureolia, that hasn't been seen alive in the wild in 40 years was rediscovered in Sierra Leone. It is reported to live mostly in dry areas in rock cavities. Sierra Leone has suffered civil war and a series of military governments, although it was "considered a tourist paradise in the 1970s, according to Africa Free Press, July 20, 2004.

Hiss is a real problem

A washer repair man discovered his customer's problem was a dead snake in the machine. He found the pet, missing from a nearby house in Sheffield, when he pulled what looked like a wire. [Daily Record, Glasgow UK July 19, 2004]

Lord Shiva Unpleased

"As a child, rituals can be very exciting. Nag Panchami, for example, was day of huge excitement. As an eight year old, there were two things I knew for sure -- this was the day we made it a point to pray to Lord Shiva and this was the day we fed milk to the snakes. And that's how you knew how brave you were. The snakes would turn up everywhere -- at traffic signals, street corners, bus stops, railway stations, in the market and even at your door. They would coil in round wicker baskets, slung around their owner's greasy necks or slither around on dirty pieces of colored cloths that doubled as temporary display grounds. The scariest part was when the snake -- mostly a cobra -- would suddenly, without warning, be thrust under my nose and I would run and hide behind Mummy while she gave the snake man a coin to go away. You also gave the snake owner money to ensure the snake drank some milk. If it did, it was supposed to mean that both the snake, and Lord Shiva, whose matted hair it adorned, was pleased. It was only many years later that I realized the poor snake was much more frightened of me that I was of it. That snakes are not, according to their natural diet, supposed to drink milk -- that, in fact, they had probably been starved for days to make sure they did so. That cobras were prodded and hurt so that they would raise their hood. And that, in many terrible cases, their mouths had been sewn up so they wouldn't hurt or scare anyone. I don't think Lord Shiva will be pleased. Gayatri S, Mumbai" [Mumbai, India ReDiff, July 19, 2004]

Tortoise Heaven

"Giant Tortoises Bonnie and Clyde live in a 5,000 [UK pound] tortoise-house with underfloor heating and air-conditioning. Their proud mum is garden nursery owner ... who lives... in surrey... [she] imported the tortoises from Mauritius 14 years ago at a cost of 2,500 [UK pounds]..." The owner said they are quite costly to keep. In addition to the indoor enclosure, they have an outdoor run and a 52 x 10 foot greenhouse. The woman added, "When we first brought them into the country I was so scared of somebody stealing them, that I kept them in the dining room. I remember sitting down for Christmas lunch with turkey, trimmings, crackers and two giant tortoises walking around. I'll never forget the look on my mother-in-law's face." [London Daily Mail, June 15, 2004 from Bill Burnett's Aunt Peggy]

Not a single herp escaped

A 4.1 Richter earthquake woke many CHS members the night of June 28, 2004. "In Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, hundreds contacted the United States Geological Survey to say they had felt the quake, some reporting rumbling that lasted 15 seconds... the quake resulted in little damage... The last significant earthquake in the region was September 7, 1999 when a 3.5 magnitude temblor struck about 31 miles northwest of [this one]" A 4.6 struck LaSalle on June 27, 1881, almost exactly 123 years ago. In 1909 a 5.1 struck Aurora and in 1968 the largest recorded was a 5.2 which was felt in 22 other states besides Illinois. A 3.0 in 1985 and two 4.5 shocks in 1972 and 1912 round out the local earthquake history along the Sandwich Fault and LaSalle Anticline Zone. The Chicago Tribune interviewed several people who were scared, frightened, amazed and so on at the earthquake waves. Meanwhile, out here, we've had three 3ish and a half dozen or so 2ish quakes in the past week. Click on for a neat map showing our area and follow the links backwards to where you live. [June 29, 2004 from Mrs. P.L. Beltz]

Kemp's Ridleys like Texas

"The world's most endangered sea turtle has returned to nest on Texas beaches in record numbers this year, a hopeful sign for biologists watching the species come back from the brink of extinction. A total of 41 Kemp's ridley nests have been reported in Texas this year, breaking past the previous Texas record of 38 nests in 2002... In 1985, there were fewer than 350 nesting females reported, and this year that number is approaching 3,000. Hitting the 10,000 mark could down-list the turtles from endangered to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act... Importantly, the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) by the commercial fleet is a major reason the Kemp's ridley and other sea turtle populations are rebounding since the device allows turtles to escape shrimp trawls." [North Texas E-News, July 20, 2004]

It was a slow news day for sure

Mishawaka actually has news, but on June 29, 2004, the South Bend Tribune devoted a quarter page of its edition to a photo of rush hour traffic at a standstill while an officer chased a 12-inch snapping turtle across Indiana 933. [from Garrett M. Kazmierski who writes "It's been slim pickings lately."] On July 3, the same paper reported that a 5-foot-long boa constrictor was discovered after a 911 call reporting that a snake had been hit by a motorcycle. The snake wrangling deputy showed up and said the snake was too badly hurt to save.

Home on my range, thank you

Rattlesnakes relocated by National Park Service workers and USGS wildlife biologists had a larger home range and higher mortality rates than stay at homes, but surprisingly about half of the relocatees returned to their original home ranges. Researchers also found that most rattlesnakes den near or under trails and many sakes have summer ranges near visitor centers and park housing. This is due to higher small mammal and bird abundance around human habitation, so just removing snakes only opens that habitat to a new snake. Curiously, most snakes hanging out near visitor centers or housing were not seen by park workers; only the radio transmitters revealed their location. [Oregon Herpetological Society Newsletter, February 4, 2004]

Frog Joke of the Month

Q. What do you call a frog with ice cream? A. A "Hop-sicle" MaryBeth Trilling

How low can you go?

"Four people have been arrested and charged in last weekend's theft of exotic snakes and turtles. [The four] were arrested ... and accused of stealing more than $21,000 worth of creatures and more than $3,000 in jewelry. The thieves stole hognose snakes, albino Burmese pythons, wood turtles and hatchling pancake turtles, authorities said. Authorities have recovered some exotic animals, but they are not sure if the creatures were the ones taken from the Lowcountry Reptile and Amphibian Expo in Ladson [South Carolina]... [Two of the alleged thieves] also face charges of unlawful possession of a spotted turtle and unlawful possession of an American alligator skull. [Beaufort Gazette, July 28, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Opportunistic feeding in pythons

This is a first. A motorist in upstate New York reported and police officers observed a loose 6-foot Burmese python in the middle of a road, chowing down on a dead woodchuck. WNBC which reported this story on July 28, 2004 dryly reported that Burmese pythons are native to Southeast Asia, not New York freeways!

Ancient turtle uncovered

An Archelon fossil is being uncovered near Cooperstown, North Dakota. The first bone of this ancient giant sea turtle was the jaw, parts of a flipper have been excavated and more bones are expected over the rest of the summer. [Grand Forks Herald, July 24, 2004 from Allen Salzberg]

Finally on the list

California Tiger Salamanders were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act on July 26, 2004. The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that nearly 400,000 acres in 20 counties will be designated critical habitat. However, cattle ranchers are exempt; their stock ponds are prime salamander breeding habitat. [GreenLines, July 28, 2004 and background information from Brad Norman]

Giant turtles off Cape Cod

"Boaters off the coast of Massachusetts have discovered three endangered giant sea turtles since [in the past week] entangled in buoy lines and struggling to survive," New England Aquarium officials said the three turtles were found entangled last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Two of the three animals were freed. Leatherback sea turtles, the largest living turtles, are listed as endangered. [GreenLines, August 3, 2004, Issue 2162] Details were provided by the Boston Herald [August 2, 2004]. Two of the tangled turtles were freed by boaters; the third one was left tangled when the sailboaters trying to help it had to leave due to rough water.

"Sex antics of UK tourists scare turtles to death"

Reports the London Observer [August 1, 2004] and continues "They have outlived dinosaurs, surviving 100 million years of climate change and catastrophic asteroid impacts. Yet Europe's largest refuge for the rare loggerhead turtle faces its gravest threat: the drunken British tourist. Record numbers of young UK holidaymakers are invading the nesting grounds of the endangered creatures on the Greek island of Zakynthos, where they are blamed for wreaking havoc among one of the turtle's last havens. Vast stretches of Laganas beach have already been abandoned by turtles this summer as a record 200,000 Britons head to the lively resort nearby... Each week thousands of Britons arrive on a flight path that sweeps directly above the loggerheads' nesting grounds, the airport being a 10-minute drive from where the turtles try to lay their eggs. However, protesters have forced the authorities to ban night flights throughout the nesting season from May to October. It is a rare concession, lament environmentalists, who point to a controversial decision by the Greek government to close a marine park that protected the nesting ground from intrusion. Laws safeguarding the species are being broken with impunity... Where 24-hour wardens once protected vital nesting grounds, holidaymakers are free to storm the loggerhead's habitat. Cars and motorbikes have been reported careering by moonlight on the nesting areas, smashing soft eggs buried beneath the sand. Pregnant turtles, too petrified by the commotion to wade ashore at night, are being forced to lay their eggs in the sea, where they cannot hatch. Eggs that are successfully laid face a fresh set of obstacles posed by mass tourism. Hatchlings expecting to be guided by moonlight to the sea are bewildered by the lights and neon-studded bars of the mile-long strip slicing through Laganas. Disorientated, the creatures crawl towards the lights and die in the sand. Volunteers, including several Britons, are attempting to patrol the nesting grounds but remain powerless to stop drunken tourists encroaching on eggs or diving into the sea, ensuring the notoriously nervous loggerheads are deterred from coming ashore. Last year more than 1,200 nests were recorded in Laganas Bay, around half what is thought to have been noted this year. Environmentalists now warn that the turtles could disappear from the area if tourism is not controlled. Underpinning the problem is the natural vulnerability of the species: as few as one in 1,000 hatchlings reaches maturity, while eggs may have to incubate on crowded beaches for up to 70 days."

Letter from India

"Dear Ellin, Our snake book is finally published and ready for sales. Do you think the Chicago Herpetological Society will do a small notice for us? Anything you can do to help will be much appreciated. Details below and in the website. Best, Janaki" The enclosure detailed the first comprehensive color guide to The Snakes of India by Romulus Whitaker and Ashok Captain. It has 262 color plates, 500 pages and a limited first edition. The books were printed in India and half the profits are targeted for local herpetological conservation. Order your copy at by clicking on the cute Indian bank paypal button. Or you can write Janaki Lenin/Rom Whitaker, Draco Films and Books, P.O. Box 21, Chengalpattu 603001 India.

Enter the Brain Zone

A golf resort in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia denied it was negligent when a suit was brought against the resort by a man who claimed it was the resort's fault that he was bitten by a crocodile while reclaiming his golf ball from the crocodile trap on Hole 7. The man said he did not see the "Beware of Crocodile" sign until after he was bitten and dragged. "The resort claimed that Hong had entered the `Drop Zone' area where the crocodiles were resting to pick his golf ball despite knowing the presence of the reptiles. It said the Drop Zone signboard had been put up to inform golfers to continue their game with a new ball if one enters or falls into the crocodiles' rest area," according to the July 23, 2004 Malaysia Star.

Only its length was amazing

"A 16-foot-long Burmese python was captured on a [Vero Beach, Florida] city street after a passing motorist spotted about three feet of it hanging over a curb and called police. The brown-and-yellow snake was wrestled into a body bag and taken to the home of Vero Beach Animal Control Officer... [who] said he has picked up dozens of loose Burmese pythons and boa constrictors over the years, but this was the biggest. The snake will likely be euthanized if its owner doesn't come forward, said... the Humane Society. "There is such overpopulation, no zoo wants them," she said. [Raleigh, North Carolina News Observer, July 23, 2004]

For sale by any other name

The Food and Drug Administration and Wisconsin Dells Police ordered five businesses owned by one company to stop giving away baby turtles which is a violation of Federal Law. Wisconsin Dells Events (August 2, 2004) reported that "A free baby turtle was being given away with the purchase of a turtle kit that included items like a tank, food and hand sanitizer, according to the police report... The FDA regulates the use of turtles to control communicable diseases. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 70,000 people in the United States get salmonella poisoning each year from contact with reptiles including turtles that carry the bacteria in its intestinal tract. [The local police chief] said that, while the turtles are being given away, the stores are also selling merchandise, and the turtles are being used to `lure people in. To us, that's a form of doing business,' he said."

Tiny little candles and hot tubs?

"A batch of Wyoming toad tadpoles released into Albany County ponds marked the first time artificial fertilization has been used to help an endangered amphibian, according to researchers," and the Billings, Wyoming Gazette. The article continues, "The Wyoming toad is the only toad that lives in the Laramie Basin, and the Laramie Basin is the only place that is home to the toad. The toad was listed as endangered in 1984 and was thought to have gone extinct in 1987. But more toads were found. By 2000, the total population of the toad was about 200 in a captive breeding program plus as few as 62 at reintroduction sites. More than 10,000 toads and tadpoles have been released in Albany County since 1995, but none had been born through artificial fertilization. In early July... received a shipment of 1,700 tadpoles from the Memphis Zoo. The tadpoles were shipped in water-filled plastic bags pumped with oxygen inside a cooler inside a cardboard box. The flight took about eight hours and the toads were released on a ranch within 12 hours... the fertilization technique helps maintain genetic diversity because eggs can be fertilized by up to seven different males. Why the toad is imperiled remains unclear. Many of the toads are infected with chytrid fungus, forming a layer on their skin that might prevent water from passing through. Some toads suffer from `short tongue syndrome,' making them unable to catch prey." The fertilization is done by injecting hormones into the parent frogs then catching the sperm and eggs for fertilization. [July 27, 2004]

Thanks to all my contributors this month and to Bradford Norman, Bill Burnett, Marty Marcus, Allen Rigerman, Garrett Kazmierski, Ray Boldt, Ms. G.E. Chow, and Lori King-Nava for all the stuff they've sent that I'm either saving for next month or just enjoyed reading. All the unsourced contributions above are from Wes von Papinešu. You can contribute too! Send me all the cute articles about herps that show up in the papers and magazines you read. Just clip the whole page - there's no need to trim, newspaper is incredibly cheap to mail. Fold and put in the biggest envelopes you feel comfortable using (less folding/unfolding) and mail to me.

September 2004

Didn't happen.

October 2004

Wow, take a month off and watch the stuff pile up!

My apologies for an unexpected off-month in September 2004. There were just a few too many things going on in the word factory and Mike very kindly offered to let me take a month away. Time flies, however, and here we are a month later with some older stories and some newer ones all intermingled.

Excitement for HerpDigest

Hurricane Charley heightened the excitement for reptile fans at the Daytona, Florida annual expo. Attendees included Allen and Anita Salzberg, signing copies of their latest book "When you Dream in Green," a series of humorous (or familiar) stories about herps and the people with whom they live. The hurricane just about wiped out business at the event; even so, the charity auction raised $12,000 for two crocodile conservation programs. [Daytona News-Herald, August 16, 2004 from Allen Salzberg]

Allen and Anita's book "You Know You're a Herper; When You Dream In Green," costs $11.95 each, plus $4.00 S and H. ISBN: 0-9753235-0-4, paperback, 136 pp. from and as Allen writes consider adding one or more of "the 2005 turtle, frog and lizard calendars... cards, herp art, jewelry, great gifts for birthdays and the upcoming holidays." HerpDigest is a weekly roundup of news for and about herpetologists that Allen has run for years and years from his New York apartment. But, unless they make their budget for the year from proceeds from books, products and donations, Allen and Anita are going to have to put it aside which would be a great loss to all of us. Please consider a quick vote with your holiday shopping list over at and let them know that our community really cares about what they do.

Wow... check it out!

  • Amphibian Species of the World: An Online Reference, Version 3 is now live: New features include Boolean searches, a new database structure, and updates to 22 August 2004. [from Darryl Frost]
  • An Ocala man was tired of getting treefrogs in his hoses and swimming pool so he invented a treefrog house which treefrogs prefer to his pool equipment. Swamped by friends and neighbors, he developed them commercially. So if you are plagued by treefrogs in your pool equipment, visit [HerpDigest, Volume 5, Issue 1, September 5, 2004 from Allen Salzberg]

End of one lawsuit

"A federal judge struck down permits issued by the Bush administration that allowed cattle grazing and off-road vehicles in a desert tortoise habitat in California, saying they violated the Endangered Species Act," according to the Associated Press, August 4. The federal judge, ruling that critical habitat is intended to promote the recovery of endangered and threatened species, said "the Department of Interior hadn't done enough to protect the tortoise on 4.1 million acres set aside for its recovery in the California desert." Conservation organizations said the ruling was "very important" and "upheld the intent of the Endangered Species Act." [GREENLines, August 5, 2004, Issue 2164]

But another waiting to happen

"The Bush administration is giving Central Valley ranchers freer rein as officials seek to protect the threatened California tiger salamander," said the Sacramento Bee, August 5. While listing the California tiger salamander as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service exempted ranching activities under a 4(d) rule. The ranching exemptions "go further than the Bush administration originally had proposed" and mean that ranchers "can fix fences, maintain stock ponds, build roads and corrals, spray for weeks and undertake other actions without worrying about whether they harm the tiger salamander." The service has characterized ranchers' stock ponds as "important alternative breeding sites" for the salamander. [GREENLines, August 5, 2004, Issue 2164] Development is really more the risk for these critters than stock.

Maybe send them back?

"Thousands of pet owners are sitting on a time-bomb after being sold giant tortoises by mistake. The animal lovers were told their pets were common Mediterranean tortoises which grow to a mere 9 inches. But they were actually flogged huge African varieties which grow to 3 feet long, 18 inches high, weigh 15 stone and live for 100 years. The monsters scoff so much they cost 7 pounds a day, or 2,555 pounds-a-year, to feed compared to just 20 pence a day for ordinary tortoises. Now animal campaigners fear many will be dumped in the wild when they reach full size in five or six years from now, causing massive devastation to plant life. [The] secretary of the International Tortoise Association, said, '... People who thought they were buying a small, cute tortoise inches long are left feeling their garden has been invaded.' The crisis began four years ago when importers brought in thousands of Africa Spur Tortoises because they did not need to be licensed. The creatures were mistakenly labeled as Mediterranean Spur Thigh Tortoises, the type most people keep. A normal animal will get by on a piece of cabbage, some lettuce and a tomato daily. But an African Spur munches three cabbages, six lettuces, five bananas and a mound of tomatoes and cucumber. Shops have stopped selling them but [the ITA] in South Wales has rehoused 20, warned: 'This will get worse until it reaches epidemic proportions.'" [London, U.K. The Sun, September 21, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Eye in the Sky

  • "Scientists leading an international effort to safeguard the future of endangered loggerhead turtles... watched the capture and demise of one of their turtles being tracked by satellite... [the] loggerhead sea turtle from the republic of Cabo Verde, an island archipelago off the coast of Western Africa, appears to have been captured by fishermen. She is one of 9 turtles being tracked by satellite from the recently discovered loggerhead nesting population in Cape Verde, which is second only to Florida in the Atlantic and is the most important site in West Africa. Each time the tracked turtles surface to breathe, their transmitting units connect with orbiting satellites and send radio transmissions that allow their position to be calculated. As discovered this week, this can also allow us to monitor their capture from space. `We started to receive an unusually large number of very high quality locations... suggesting she was likely on the deck of a boat and we became suspicious. Two days ago, transmissions ceased, suggesting that her transmitter has been removed and dumped. Given the large number of turtles captured for food in Cape Verde and the presence of fishing boats in the area at the time, we think we know her fate'" said a research fellow with the project. They post real-time public access to this project with live maps of the turtles' tracks provided online at <>. [ - August 27, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • A study of Queensland, Australia's saltwater crocodiles which tracked individuals by satellite has shattered some long-held beliefs about crocodile behavior. "Far from being solitary, sedentary animals with one dominant male defending a set territory, Queensland's estuarine crocodiles have been revealed as living sociable, energetic lives. They are also capable of walking up to 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) over land between water holes, and have a keen homing instinct... The findings were announced at Irwin's Australia Zoo at Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast this week, the project has been a partnership between the zoo, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and Queensland University. The project began last year when Dr. Read, Irwin and other zoo staff travelled to far north Queensland where they caught several large crocodiles, dubbed Banana-head, Nesbit, Big Bad Bob and Supercroc, on which they glued specially designed, fist-sized satellite transmitters." [HerpDigest - Volume 4 Issue 51. August 22, 2004 from Allen Salzberg]
  • "BBC Wildlife magazine reports a new study that suggests leatherbacks should be viewed as a UK/Irish species which simply visits the Caribbean to breed. Five of the world's seven turtle species, many of whose numbers are in decline, can be seen off the UK coast. [The dead animal which started the debate washed ashore last year and] weighed more than 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) and, at 100-years-old, it was the oldest recorded turtle as well as the largest. Sadly, it was found dead in 1988 after it drowned whilst trapped by fishing lines. More and more leatherbacks are being spotted around the coast of Britain and Ireland, suggesting the turtles are trawling our waters for their favorite food - jellyfish. Following the Welsh discovery, marine ecologists at Swansea University and University College Cork used satellite-tracking systems to follow 10 leatherbacks from their nesting sites in the tropics. Contrary to expectations, the tracking showed the turtles did not stay long in the Caribbean, but spent most of their time in food-rich northern waters, including those around the British Isles." [BBC News, August 23, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

A good time for rattlesnake tales

The keynote speaker of the Biology of the Rattlesnakes Symposium, January 15-18, 2005 at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California will be David Chiszar of the University of Colorado. The whole speakers list, program, schedule and details are at <>. Symposium organizers include representatives from Loma Linda University, Emergency Medicine Loma Linda University Medical Center and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, [by email]

This is a quote!

"Americans are weird. That's not new. What is new, is that their level of weirdness has reached new heights. The Australian inland bearded dragon is now the fastest growing pet in the land of the free - now numbering in the millions. After dogs and cats, lizards are the most popular domestic pet. And of these reptilian companions, the 60 centimeter Australian inland bearded dragon has now become the most popular lizard. A change in licensing laws has allowed for the export of the cold-blooded creatures and for them to be kept as pets not only by Australians, but by foreigners. Apparently the bearded dragon has a keen sense of humor, which may be why Americans like them, because they are often regarded as not having one. They also have very bright colors, so, unlike dogs and cats, they don't have to be dressed up in ridiculous clothing. They can also change colors for different occasions, such as all-black for dinner parties. They are also cold-blooded, which means they sleep a lot, and they are unlikely to get shot by a neighbor for incessant barking... a wildlife expert and organizer of The Wild Australia Expo at Darling Harbour next week, said the bearded dragon makes a great pet and has now become the third most popular pet in the U.S. [Brisbane, Queensland Courier-Mail, August 26, 2004 from Andrea Weymouth and Wes von Papinešu]

Dumb and dumber?

Thieves who stole a two-headed albino rat snake in St. Louis were quickly caught because as Chicago's CBS News-2 reported on August 24, 2004: "There's no good way to disguise the stolen goods. St. Louis police returned a rare reptile to its museum home... the same day it went missing, after a tipster called in a sighting. Employees of the City Museum realized the snake was gone from its World Aquarium exhibit in the morning, and it soon became clear someone had broken in. They called police, who were quickly on the case. `One of the detectives introduced himself as "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective," said ... the director of the City Museum. But shortly after St. Louis police went to the museum, a woman called the nearby Belleville, Illinois police, to say she'd seen some teens with a two-headed snake. Police arrested two suspects without incident. They said both worked at the City Museum for about a week, but were fired earlier this month... Museum officials said the snake will be displayed again, once they better secure its exhibit." [from Wes von Papinešu]

Marquis de RatSnake

A dispute in a New Jersey town "proved that just about anything can be used as a weapon," according to the Bridgeton News, August 24, 2004. A local man received "lacerations on his back as the result of being whipped with a dead, 6-foot-long black snake, state police said." The 26-year-old man "wasn't wearing a shirt when [his alleged assailant]... allegedly whipped him on the back with the snake in the yard of his ... home... State police said they learned that [the alleged assailant] had been attempting to let the snake, which was alive when the incident began, crawl into [the younger man's] residence. [But his] father... saw the snake approaching the front of the residence, stepped on it and beat it to death with a piece of wood." The alleged assailant then pushed the father, who quite rightly told him to leave the property, whereupon the police say, the alleged assailant picked up the deceased snake and "twirled it over his head and assaulted [the younger man] with it, police said." The family went into the house where a few minutes later the looney with the dead snake followed them in and tried to continue the assault but was stopped by the father with a baseball bat which police say "is not considered aggravated assault because he was coming to the defense of another." No one knows why the man brought the local wild animal to the house in the first place.

I didn't know they had trailer parks in Austria

"Police shot a man in the thigh after he wrapped himself with two deadly cobras and threatened to commit suicide, then swung the snakes at officers who had rushed to his home... One of the cobras bit the 40-year-old man in the hand during [a] Sunday afternoon standoff in Leoben, a town in the southern Austrian province of Styria... He underwent emergency surgery for the snake bite and the gunshot wound and remained hospitalized in critical condition [a day later]. Two officers arrived at the man's apartment after he sent a cell phone text message to his girlfriend saying he planned to kill himself... The officers unsuccessfully tried to overpower the man by using pepper spray, and one of the officers shot the man in the thigh after he began swinging the cobras at the patrolmen, authorities said. He was bitten while handling the snakes, they said. Police said the man, whose name was not released in line with Austrian privacy laws, was intoxicated at the time. A reptile expert called to the scene said the man, a snake dealer, had more than 60 poisonous snakes in his apartment. Officials removed the snakes, which were being cared for temporarily at a local zoo." [September 20, 2004 from the Johannesburg, South Africa Independent and the Keine Zeitung in Klagenfurt, Austria both from Wes von Papinešu]

Late and Later

"Feds Start Search For Elusive Rattlesnake: From Yahoo! News, August 23, 2004... The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service along with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and local forest preserve districts are planning a comprehensive search for the elusive Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake in suburban Chicago counties. The rattlesnake has been on the Endangered Species Act candidate list since 1998." [HerpDigest - Volume 4 Issue 52, August 29, 2004 from Allen Salzberg]

Karma is a wheel

The Wilmslow Express from Wilmslow, U.K. reported on September 2, 2004 that the discovery of newts on a property is about to send prison builders to jail. "No newts would have been good newts for bosses at Styal Prison when its multi million pound expansion project ground to a halt. Builders working on a project to turn it into the biggest female jail in the UK were forced to down tools when they discovered a hoard of great crested newts, an endangered species. The slimy black pond dwellers, which can grow up to 15 centimeters, are so rare British and European law makes it an offense to disturb either them or their habitat. So, at a cost believed to run into thousands of pounds, experts have been called in to transport the newts to an alternative home before work can restart. A spokesman for Styal Prison confirmed: `We currently have crested newts delaying construction at the building site. As they are an endangered and protected species a company of environmental consultants are in the process of removing them. Ecologists are rehousing them in another pond a short distance away. The newts are OK.' Numbers of great crested newts have fallen dramatically as more of their natural habitat is destroyed. Developments such as the one at Styal Prison mean large ponds - a perfect home for the amphibian - are vanishing. It is a particularly crucial time for the species as late summer sees the birth of its young. August and September see hatchlings develop from spawn into fully breathing baby newts. It is unclear how long work, at the former site of Bollin Cross School in the prison grounds, will be delayed. But [a spokesman for] the Cheshire Wildlife trust thinks it could be quite some time. He says the most likely way of catching the newts is to put a low net in the pond and simply wait for them to swim into it, [and] added: `This can be a long job, it is not easy. You have to be qualified to handle newts. A lot of ponds in the country have been lost but you are not going to stop the developers. They can mitigate the damage though and are doing the right thing. We'll have to see how successful it is, I hope the newts are all right, you can't just build over the top of them.'" [From Wes von Papinešu]

Millions happy after hurricanes

"Scientists say the heavy flooding left behind by three hurricanes could spawn a massive frog invasion in Florida. Low-lying areas filled with rain from Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan create an ideal, predator-free breeding ground for frogs to lay eggs, said... an associate professor in biology at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. `I have millions of tadpoles and I have about 15 types of tree frogs,' said... a volunteer for Frogwatch USA. `It's a blast to listen to them. It's a blast to watch them.' Tadpoles and frogs generally help the ecosystem, experts say. Tadpoles eat algae in water, frogs eat mosquitoes and other insects, and then frogs become food for raccoons, snakes and birds." [Tallahassee, Florida Democrat, September 19, 2004]

News from the other downunder

  • New Zealand authorities are looking for non-native turtles in the Waikato River because people who bought red-eared sliders at the height of the second Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtle craze have let some loose. The Department of Conservation is studying their potential effect on native flora and fauna. A letter sent round to staff asked for a particular lookout for common pet shop animals including red-eared slider turtles, axolotls, fire-bellied newts and rainbow skinks in New Zealand's wild places. A DoC manager said "he had seen turtles and axolotls living in the Waikato River and was aware of Rainbow skinks living on parts of the Coromandel Peninsula." and their "Biosecurity Unit spokeswoman... said concern was raised after DoC discovered blue-tongue skinks in the wild. She said many of the species had a wide-ranging diet and could have a negative biological impact on the environment." Unconfirmed, but on the watch list are Eastern water dragons, Reeves turtles and shingleback lizards. [Auckland, New Zealand Herald, August 28, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • The Otago Daily Times reported that a group of New Zealand agencies have gotten together looking into reports of a snake smuggling ring bringing breeding pairs into the country and selling them for up to $10,000 (NZ). "The ministry was interested in the arrest of a [47-year-old] man at Brisbane Airport last week, trying to smuggle 19 snakes from Singapore. [The man] a company director living in Indonesia, was charged with illegally importing rare pythons after he was arrested at Brisbane airport with reptiles hidden in cigarette packets in a custom-made vest strapped to his chest. Colored pythons, such as the green tree python, were the most common snakes kept as pets... although collectors could want any breed, including venomous snakes... Because all imports of snakes are illegal, specimens captured are often sent to be identified [by a] herpetologist. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry officials said any members of the public finding a snake should not approach it" but call their hot line and they'll take care of it. [September 18, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Thanks to everyone whose contributions laying in their envelopes will soon get typed in and form the core of my November column. Don't stop sending things! Take whole sheets of newspaper or magazines and mail them to me

November 2004

Wee beasties of Hawai'i

A particularly plump envelope turned out to be an amazing arrival. Attached to a copy of the late Sean McKeown's "A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians in the Hawaiian Islands" was a note from Paul Breese. He writes that the revised edition should be out by the time you read this and will be available from Wendy McKeown, POB 7006, Los Osos, CA 93402. The latest edition includes a newly widespread species, coqui frogs. Long-term readers may know that Sean was my editor at Vivarium Magazine which was purchased by Reptiles some time after Sean's continuing battle with heart disease required him to step down. Before that, though, I remember many a phone call from California; that familiar "Hmmmm" and a merciless word by word edit of a column the size of this every two months. Thanks, Sean, wherever you are for the writing lessons!

Punalu'u Dreaming

The other clipping in Paul's envelope is about a place I've been and wish I could go again, any day, live or in a day dream. Visit my website <> for a glimpse of a fortnight of romping, stomping geology - punctuated with exquisite natural history experiences - including an unforgettable swim with the sea turtles at Punalu'u Beach. Recently volunteers and workers from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park watched as tiny Hawksbill Turtle hatchlings made the long march on black sand out to that shallow lagoon opening onto the Pacific. The water in the lagoon is salt above and warmer fresh water below as there is a spring which feeds it and the older turtles float in the water like barrels, feeding off the rocks and resting on the shores when tired. We didn't see any babies; but this beach has released thousands over the years. [West Hawaii Today, October 21, 2004 from Paul Breese] Curiously, another clipping on the desk, from the Chicago Tribune, shows children looking at a Kemp's ridley sea turtle. It is one of three about to be released in Massachusetts! [August 26, 2004]

Range Extensions

  • A two-foot-long alligator was captured in Lake Michigan by homeowners in Long Beach, Indiana. The alligator clamped onto a stick it was offered; once on shore, it was dumped in a hamper and Department of Natural Resources was contacted. Named "Big Al," it was placed on display in a Michigan City pet shop. It's reportedly "very tame" but every effort to find an owner, translocator or other human responsible for its placement in the Lake has been unsuccessful. A conservation officer said, "I've been up here for 23 years and I've never seen an alligator in our inland lakes of Lake Michigan in this county but it does happen on occasion throughout the state." [The South Bend Tribune, October 27, 2004 from Garrett Kazmierski]
  • Wildlife biologists in Georgia and Florida are scrambling to find out if the Cuban tree frog found in a Savanna, Georgia backyard was a singleton - or if they should be on the lookout for a few individuals, a few dozen frogs or a full scale invasion. Eighty years or so ago, they invaded Florida and have been slowly moving northward, eating native bugs and frogs as they grow. [USA Today, October 26, 2004 from Bill Burnett]
  • A woman in Rockford, Illinois "found the first snake in her home in April, 1999... Little did she know that was just the beginning... This fall, as they mark six years in the well-kept, brick home, they estimate they've removed 100 snakes from inside their house. " They're garter snakes and nothing works. They plugged every gap with steel wool and caulk, only to find it dislodged. Now they use concrete patch. [The Daily Journal, Kankakee , Illinois, October 11, 2004 from Donna Moe]

Jake the Dead Snake

"American wrestling star Jake The Snake has been convicted of causing unnecessary suffering to a 12-foot python at his former home in London Colney. Jake, real name Aurelian Smith Junior, was tried in his absence at St Albans Magistrates' Court this week, along with his friend and business partner, London Colney grandmother Valerie Burnham, who was acquitted. The Burmese python, named Damian, was found coiled in a small Perspex cage by an RSPCA inspector in the garage of the house that Smith shared... It was severely underweight and had mites and a serious mouth infection, which led to its death from pneumonia three weeks later, after it had been taken in by a specialist vet. The cage was too cold for it and the court heard a snake that size should have had a whole room... Smith, who is known for his gimmick of throwing a snake on defeated opponents, has appeared with Damian on television with celebrities such as chat show host Graham Norton and rock star Alice Cooper. The 49-year-old, who moved to Guildford in Surrey six months ago, had earlier pleaded not guilty, but failed to appear on Monday, November 1. His solicitor ... said he would have changed his plea and did not attempt to defend him. During the trial it emerged that the giant wrestler actually had a phobia of snakes. [Hertfordshire Now, November 5, 2004 from]

Smart turtles?

In this heavy and unusual hurricane season, perhaps it should not be surprising that there were fewer than usual numbers of nesting turtles on beaches from Florida through North Carolina. A clipping dated August 8, 2004 from The South Bend Times says that this year, loggerheads laid about 300 nests in North Carolina; the average is 750. Do you think perhaps the turtles are keyed into weather patterns we puny humans are just learning and know better than to waste their eggs on storm-tossed beaches? Researchers have noted a biennial pattern before; more turtles nest every other year. [from Jack Schoenfelder]

All in a day's work

"30 ft up, Dino decides he does not want to be rescued... Dino the iguana [is] green, scaly and 5 ft long from nose to tail... escaped three weeks earlier from a neighboring house in... Liverpool and then decided to climb 30-feet up a leylandii to survey the neighborhood. Soon the fire brigade and RSPCA had been called into action... it wasn't going to be that easy... the tree was too bendy to put a ladder against..." and while they were figuring out how not to rescue the iguana, a local man climbed the tree and became part of the problem when the iguana clawed and bit him. Finally a RSPCA inspector climbed up, too and all returned to terra firma. "Dino, who is thought to have survived on eggs from birds' nests, in unlikely to be going on any more jaunts as he is being moved to a more secure tank," according to London's Daily Mail, September 1, 2004 from Bill Burnett's Mom, via Aunt Peggy.

A giant sucking sound

The Chicago Tribune reports that a new kind of reptile, discovered two years ago in China, has been studied by a couple of University of Chicago professors and found to be quite unusual. Named Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, the terrible headed lizard of the east, it lived during the Triassic. It had a long body and an even longer neck ending in a small head. They theorize it may have floated in murky waters and used the long neck to sneak up on food; suctioning in prey items without warning. [September 24, 2004 from Bill Burnett]

Lost and dumped

"A pregnant tortoise missing for about a week [from Kokomo, Indiana] was returned home unharmed in an Army duffel bag... discovered their 90-pound African Spur Thigh tortoise... on their front porch... missing since someone was seen about a week ago taking her from the couple's back yard... [she] was hungry but otherwise safe... after devouring a banana and an ear of corn, she was released into her backyard home, where she spent the night huddling with her mate... in a doghouse," according to The South Bend Tribune, August 18, 2004 from Jack Schoenfelder.

Caveat emptor

Chinese entrepreneurs imported tens of thousands of tropical Thai crocodiles in an effort to establish southeastern China as a major supplier of meat and leather. Unfortunately, in the cooler climes, males eat more and become uninterested in sex. One of the managers of a crocodile farm with 60,000 to 70,000 animals said, "They don't chase the females, they're just very fat guys, they just eat, eat, eat." The temperature situation also results in sick animals. It wasn't supposed to be that way. Panyu's Crocopark was planned as the world's largest crocodile breeding facility and "bought nearly 40,000 crocodiles from Thailand in 1997 and 1998, ranging in length from 30 inches to six feet and entirely filling the holds of five chartered Boeing 747 cargo jets. The Asian financial crisis had driven down prices for live crocodiles by as much as 75 percent, and the Thai farmers engaged in panic selling when their bankers called in loans," according to The New York Times [October 23, 2004 from Lori King]. The Thais sold the Chinese unsexed groups; so now the park has more males than it needs. Also many of the largest females are past their prime. Crocopark has killed so few animals that none of the local tanneries have converted to the processes needed to handle reptile skin. And, in a final blow to the area, last year's outbreak of SARS devastated tourism in Guangdong Province. Crocopark planted gardens and built tourist facilities as part of the provincial effort to attract tourists following worldwide bad publicity, but the area continues to lag and the huge facilities stand mostly empty.

Caveat diner

"The 54 kinds of wild animals now legally available at restaurants include spotted deer, foxes, roe deer, pheasants, and ostrich. Wild frogs and snakes are officially still illegal, although these two are very popular with Shanghai diners. Wild frogs and snakes have been banned from restaurants since the SARS epidemic last year, but recently they have begun to return to the table. They may not appear on official printed menus, but when diners request them many popular restaurants in town will provide them... Most of the snakes and frogs in the market are wild. `To raise domesticated snakes costs too much, as they grow too slowly... A snake has to grow a few years before it reaches a marketable weight.' Some wild animals which are protected in Shanghai are not in other parts of China, which means Shanghai restaurants can evade local bans by claiming the animals were imported from outside the city. `We can interfere if the frogs are from Shanghai's Nanhui or Fengxian, but once we caught a seller with frogs from East China's Qingdao,' the wildlife agent said. `He even had a license from the local forestry administration.' China's 10-year-old national Wild Animal Protection Law is currently in the process of being amended, which may help solve this kind of problem in the future." [Shanghai Star, November 4, 2004 from Yu Wang]

Survival of the fittest

  • "[The police sergeant] knew the streets would look like a green snowfall and that roofs would come off and trees would blow down. He was even prepared to find death on the morning after Hurricane Ivan hit his beachfront town... Then shots rang out to his left, beyond the flooded parking lot... Employees of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo were trying to find and kill their escaped alligators before any of them got too far away, especially Chuckie, the 12-footer... The zoo's front gate was under 4 feet of water." Most of the other animals were evacuated, but the gators were considered too cumbersome to move and not a problem until the storm brought huge floods. [Chicago Tribune, September 17, 2004]
  • "Chucky, the fugitive out of Gulf Shores, Alabama, proved... that you can go home again. At least you can when you're a 12-foot, 1,000-pound American alligator. After disappearing last week during Hurricane Ivan, the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo's star attraction was found... in a sludgy drainage ditch inside zoo grounds. Gator trackers captured him with a noose and heavy duct tape, and state troopers and local police officers returned him to the shallow pond where he has lived for 15 years. [Chicago Tribune, September 23, 2004 from Ray Boldt]

Go Tyrone!

National Geographic Mission Programs and Microsoft are sponsoring Tyrone Hayes, biologist and herpetologist as he studies the interactions between frogs, water and human health. Recently NG reported that "his findings revealed that some species [of African reed frogs] change color when exposed to polluted water." They can now be used "as an almost cost-free way to detect toxins in human water supply in developing countries." [National Geographic, probably September or October 2004 from Mrs. P.L. Beltz, now 82 and mostly forgetful of putting the date slug on what she sends.]

Do what? Where? When?

"A 20-year-old woman died after an alligator bit off her arm after she apparently went out for a predawn swim in a lake near her grandparents' house [near Fort Myers, Florida]." She and her father were in town for a visit. Lakes in Florida are known to have alligators, there was no explanation for her early morning swim. [Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee from Bill Burnett]

Myth-ing beasts

  • A Houston movie multiplex that was showing "Anaconda" among other titles was shut down so workers could search for a snake described to be at least 8 feet long. "A maintenance worker said he saw a snake about a week ago that was thick as a man's arm slithering along a wall... As soon as he saw it, he left... I think everyone who was working left," said a spokesman for the theater company. They called Critter Control, which was unable to find the beast. [The Kankakee Daily Journal, October 1/2, 2004 from Donna Moe]
  • "Churubusco, near Fort Wayne, holds an annual Turtle Festival to celebrate a legendary 5-foot, 500-pound turtle named Oscar. The "Beast of Busco" was spotted in a nearby lake in the 1940s. Snapping turtles are game animals... a hunting or fishing license is required to collect them. The first news reports of this beast were March 9, 1949 by the 14th of the month 3,000 people had tramped around the Harris farm looking for Oscar. The Hoosier Conservation newsletter [Fall 2004, from Garrett Kazmierski] neglects to give the dates of the annual festival.

People and their pets

  • Emmy nominee Will Ferrell has been a cast member of Saturday Night Live for seven seasons. He graduated high-school in Irvine, California where he was cofounder of the Reptile Club. [PEOPLE Magazine, October 11, 2004 from Bill Burnett]
  • "Bears defensive end Michael Haynes says he started collecting turtles several years ago while getting his degree in animal sciences... [now he keeps] more than a dozen at ... home outside Chicago... The turtles swim in a 75-gallon tank, stroll in the garden, and, to Haynes, are the perfect pets after a long day of taking a pounding on the field... he says, "You can just sit there and watch them." [Sports Illustrated, September 27, 2004 from Bill Burnett]
  • "Even then she was on top of this reptile thing..." See the photo that brought out this comment: Click on it for a view inside my head.

Boy, skip a month and watch your old friends come out of the woodwork!

Special thanks this month to Bill Burnett's Aunt Peggy and his Mom, as well as Bill Burnett, Allen Salzberg, Wes von Papinešu, Donna Moe, Lori King, Garrett Kazmierski and everyone else who even thought of sending stuff in. Take whole sheets of newspaper or magazines and mail them to me.

December 2004

Another year bites the dust

Thanks to everyone who contributed articles to this column in 2004 and thanks especially to people who are going to contribute articles in 2005 for there is the future of this column. My book on Frogs of the World (Firefly Books, Toronto) is headed to the press in February. Stay tuned, I'll keep you up to date with when it will actually come out.

Vote early, vote often

You probably have a day or two left to pack the ballot boxes and vote for your state reptile and/or amphibian. Access the online balloting at and follow the instructions. If you know anything about me you also know I was raised in Chicago politics. Consider this - I voted. This rather fun game was brought to your state by the Lt. Governor. I found a lovely article in the Southern Illinoisan, September 16, 2004: "There are six candidates vying for our approval in two separate races. Running on the amphibian slate are the... gray tree frog... the eastern tiger salamander... and the American toad, a toxic warty hopper with a face only a mother toad could love. Rounding out the reptile race is the eastern box turtle, noted for its bright yellow, orange and black shell patterns which are found splattered all over Southern Illinois highways in the spring and summer; the common garter snake, which has a penchant for spooking gardeners and landscapers; and the painted turtle, which floats in our strip pits and creeks. These six beat out formidable competition by the broad-headed skink, the worm snake and the river cooter in primary balloting. The idea for the election was spawned by the Chicago Herpetological Society which is not, as rumor has it, comprised of Windy City alderman." The writer adds that the the "Two lucky creatures will join other state symbols like the white oak, violet, cardinal, monarch butterfly, bluegill, white-tailed deer and the Tully monster (our official fossil) and forever celebrated by all Illinoisans... This election would be unnecessary if Blagojevich and Quinn would get together and discuss their pet projects. The governor is looking for an official beverage of Illinois and Quinn wants an official reptile. They should make a call to Anheuser-Busch. Maybe they can strike a deal and get Budweiser and Louie the Lizard in the same package." [ from Wes von Papinešu] Let's not forget those frogs, too!

Terror from the skies

For the last few months military planes have been landing in Hawai'i from Guam that haven't been inspected for brown tree snakes before takeoff, according to The Honolulu Advertiser, October 25, 2004. Researchers have determined that the island of Guam was infested with brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis) by U.S. cargo planes during the Second World War. As many as 10,000 snakes per acre have been counted on Guam today, and around 6,000 snakes have been confiscated at their ports. Before snake inspections on Guam were instituted, seven tree snakes were found in or near Hawaiian cargo. The current problem is due to layoffs, which have forced Guam workers to not be around when the military wants to leave. So they fly to Hawai'i inspection or no inspection. [from G.E. Chow] Never you mind that the U.S. caused the disaster in the first place by moving the snakes and now the taxpayer is paying more than $17 million dollars a year in snake charges and it will go way far higher if they ever get loose on Hawai'i; if the flyboys want to fly, boy they're going to fly. Hopefully someone's C.O. will read and weep and make these guys stay on the ground until the Guam snakefinders can have a go through the plane. Maybe the C.O. needs to point out that Boiga is venomous and a snake in your lap at 30,000 feet probably wouldn't be very funny. It might even look like an air hose on your helmet or your belt until it bit you. No, no, no just fly whenever you want to and don't forget your essentially useless snake-bite kit. You might need it.

There had to be a mobile home here somewhere

"Daytona Beach, FL -- A man who swung an alligator at his girlfriend during an argument was sentenced to six months in jail... officials said [he] was keeping the 3 foot gator in his bathtub and swung it at his girlfriend... then beat her with his fists, then grabbed the gator and swung it at her as she tried to escape. The gator struck [her] at least once, after which time [he] threw empty beer bottles at her and then kicked her out of their mobile home..." [The Miami Herald, September 10, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Sue grew fast

The Tyrannosaur known as Sue at the Field Museum of Natural History has been studied by researchers around the world. Lately it was found that she reached adult size at age 19 and lived to 28 years-old by counting growth rings in her bones. Sue grew incredibly fast during childhood and "teen years" then slowed in adulthood to just maintaining her skinsuit. From age 14 to 18, she may have added up to 4.6 pounds a day. [The Chicago Tribune, August 12, 2004

Helping hands

For some reason, a few hawksbill turtle nestlings failed to leave their nests on Punalu'u beach south of Hilo, Hawai'i. So the hatchlings "were dug up by national park staff..." They were escorted to the water by volunteers and children. No one knows where baby hawksbill turtles go after leaving the nest; it is estimated only one in 5,000 reaches maturity. [The Honolulu Advertiser, October 21, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow] With about 150 in a nest that means every single turtle in 33 nests has to live to bring one breeding adult back to the beach.

Thanks for the first 500 Giant Sea Turtles

"SeaWorld Orlando personnel stand by... after releasing the 500th sea turtle to be rehabilitated there. It waded safely into the Atlantic Ocean at Cocoa Beach, Florida. The 100-pound loggerhead received six months of specialized care. SeaWorld handles the majority of its sea turtle rescues during the summer months because of accidents involving increased boating and recreational activities in areas frequented by the turtles." [The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, September 1, 2004 from Bill Burnett] Thank you to Mary Ann Madden's wonderful New York Magazine competitions for the title of this paragraph and many wonderful reads.

Sorry Madam, that's an ex-planet

"What we're seeing here is completely unprecedented declines and extinctions," said Simon Stuart, of the World Conservation Union which led a recent study on amphibian declines worldwide. As published in Science Magazine [thank you Bradford Norman and Eloise Beltz-Decker] and reprinted in newspapers around the world the declines are incredible and frightening. "There are a variety of reasons for some losses, while others remain a mystery... their decline could be an indication that something sinister is underway in the environment... 1,856 species or 32.5 percent of all those known are `globally threatened' under the categories defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is whopping when compared with birds with 12 percent and mammals at 23 percent in the same category. It just gets worse and worse, the more you read the numbers. Nearly 500 species are declining rapidly, nine have gone extinct since 1980 and 113 are considered to be possibly extinct because they haven't been reported from the wild in years. Here's some raw numbers from the report

Amphibians in Decline Worldwide
PlaceNumber of threatened
amphibian species *
Total number
amphibian species**
Costa Rica6118433.1
Venezuela68287 29.4
*Science as reported in the Honolulu Star Bulletin, October 15, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow
**World Resources Institute -

Too dangerous for whom?

As we reported way back then, when Florida first began offering alligator hunting licenses back in 1988, gator hunters thought they'd get rich off the hides of the formerly protected species. In fact, for a few years, gator hide was bringing about $40 a foot. But it's dropped by half and most people who are hunting alligators in Florida - and paying the state a $250 premium to do it - are considered to be layman hunters. The head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's alligator management section said, "It's the joy of being part of the process of pursuing a large animal and a top predator and all the excitement that goes with that. People are participating now just to have a good time." Many are hiring guides. The one featured in this article thinks bang sticks are too dangerous. So for his clients, the good time includes the alligator's death by cutting "its spinal cord with a knife." The animal was subdued with a gaff and had it's jaws taped shut and was alive when this occurred. [The Miami Herald, October 14, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

What a way to go

A 44-year-old Cincinnati woman was bitten by a venomous snake in her home, drove herself to the hospital and died there later the same day. "Neighbors were unaware of her collection of at least nine poisonous [sic] snakes until police went to the suburban... house. Police believe an urutu pit viper bit the woman... Reptile specialists from Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens searched the house with an ambulance waiting outside. The venomous snakes were in secure plastic cases... non-venomous animals were found under boxes and piles of clothes. [The Chicago Tribune, September 13, 2004 from Ray Boldt]

It's a small gene pool in a small town

"Someone had stolen about 80 snakes from a heated storage shed and hid them in the woods [in Point, N.C.] apparently hoping to sell them. But two people shunned the solicitation and alerted the owner... a recreational reptile breeder working to grow the hobby into a business... [He recovered] ... 26 ball pythons, 10 red-tail boas and about 45 corn snakes... worth about $2,600." [The Daily Journal, Kankakee, Illinois November 4, 2004 from Donna Moe]

This is a weird one

"The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has charged an Orange County environmental consultant with sixty-nine criminal charges including destroying habitat, relocating sick tortoises and submitting false statements to the commission. The incidents in the charges occurred in three Florida counties. "The investigation began after a wildlife commission employee discovered a discrepancy between blood-test results [the man] provided with his application to relocate tortoises and results submitted directly to the commission by the testing laboratory... To relocate gopher tortoises... a developer must submit blood-test results showing the tortoises are free of upper respiratory disease... because the disease can be spread so easily," according to The Orlando Sentinel, August 18, 2004 from Bill Burnett.

Politicians unclear on the concept

"Sea turtle eggs aren't the only thing buried on the shores of Hillsboro Beach. The town's commissioners have buried their heads there too. While virtually every other coastline town in Florida has complied with federal regulations and approved ordinances restricting lights on beaches, which disorient the endangered [sea turtle] hatchlings as they make their way to the see, the leaders of this small, northern Broward burg won't budge... 'We love our turtles,' [the mayor] professed. 'We love our residents. But people pay taxes and own property, turtles don't. These are people who've paid a fortune to have beach access.' That includes the mayor himself. 'I have 100 feet of windows facing the beach,' he said. 'It would cost me $20,000 to cover them.' ... A sea turtle expert... suggested that sooner or later federal or county officials would enforce the rules if the town doesn't. 'Let the feds come and enforce them,' sneered [the] vice mayor," according to the New Times Broward - Palm Beach, Florida, September 30-October 6, 2004 from Alan Rigerman. One wonders if anyone paid the turtles the "fortune for beach access," but can only hope the juju of thousands of disoriented turtle babies and their disappointed parents drove recent hurricanes right for that 100 feet of glass on a barrier island at 26ºN 80ºW. If not, there's plenty of "feds" reading this column. Have at `em, boys.

Koopa my thoughts to myself

Named for the evil turtles in the Super Mario videogame, Koopa the famous eBay painting turtle was recently featured in an Associated Press article. Koopa's paintings are selling like hot cakes on eBay ever since an article in a London newspaper announced to the world how his owner, also a painter, squirts non-toxic paint on canvas and then lets the turtle smear it around. She photo documents everything so people know the turtle really did it. Finished paintings have sold at nearly $500 and some paintings have run up a bidding war. [The Miami Herald, September 21, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Ignorance is no excuse

The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association [November 15, 2004 from Steve Barten] reports "In the past year, several states have struggled with a resurgence in baby turtle sales, which are illegal. Health officials are concerned - the baby turtle craze in the 1970s was blamed for thousands of cases of salmonellosis, some of which were lethal... In 1970, the Food and Drug Administration prohibited the distribution and sale of baby turtles with shells four inches in length or less, after a quarter million infants and small children developed turtle-associated salmonellosis... [due to not] washing their hands after contact. Turtles with shells smaller than four inches are more dangerous because children can put them in their mouths." Various loopholes have been used but worse is the report at the end of the article. The researcher ordered a batch of "Salmonella-free" turtles from a southern producer. Taking the turtles to a different lab revealed "every single one tested had salmonella."

Tales of two species

  • A 54-year-old Fort Myers, Florida woman was mauled by a 12-foot, 457-pound alligator while she was landscaping a Sanibel Island home. She was the 14th known fatality of an alligator since Florida began keeping records. There are perhaps a million or so alligators in Florida - although they were once nearly hunted to extinction. [The Miami Herald, July 25, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Meanwhile a man pulling weeds along the shore of a lake outside Tavares, Florida was attacked by an alligator, but escaped by punching it in the nose. A trapper later caught and killed the beast which weighed in at 385-pounds. [The Chicago Tribune, July 29, 2004 from Ray Boldt and Orlando Sentinel from Bill Burnett]
  • "A man has been cited in the stabbing death of an alligator nicknamed 'Elvis' by the residents of the golf club community the reptile called home. The five-foot alligator was found dying in October with a hunting knife lodged in its head." A 49-year-old Sarasota resident has told The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission that he killed the gator in self-defense while fishing. He claimed it grabbed his bait and lunged at him when he went to cut the line. He faces up to 60 days in jail and $500 if convicted. [The Miami Herald, November 6, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Gentlemen, stop your engines

"The second war over beach driving has begun. Months after threatening a lawsuit, longtime turtle advocate... and seasonal Flagler County resident... have filed a lawsuit against Flagler County, claiming that beach driving is harming sea turtles and violates the Endangered Species Act... the same legal argument that drastically changed beach driving in Volusia County... where beach racing gave birth to NASCAR, official barred driving from nine miles of beach, ended nighttime driving and set up a $360,000 annual bureaucracy to help protect the turtles. [Orlando Sentinel, August 30, 2004 from Bill Burnett]

Food for Thought from Moko

"If baby cats are kittens, and baby dogs are puppies, baby hares leverets and baby swans cygnets, what on earth are baby geckos called?" [MOKO, Journal of the New Zealand Herpetological Society, June 2004]

Interesting observations

Ray Boldt wrote: Not much to report news-wise, I'm waiting for man bites alligator, now that will be news... I spend a lot of time at my daughter's horse farm... just west of downtown Barrington. In all the time I spend out there I have never seen any garter snakes. Deer, coyote, skunks and one large common snapper which we helped across the road, but no garter snakes. When I was a kid you couldn't walk across a field without seeing many garter snakes. They don't use chemicals [on the farm] because of the animals, So I am going to start looking for garter snakes. From time to time I will let you know how my study is going. Anyway, I'm feeling good and I can get around by myself and drive my new car. So things are going ok. Hope the same for you!"

Hurricanes impact turtles

Storm surges associated with the various hurricanes eroded beaches across the southern U.S. in 2004. Hard hit was Hutchinson Island in South Florida where more than 10 feet deep of beach was removed right down to the rocks. The loss of beach also resulted in the loss of sea turtle nests and potential nesting places. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 8, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

And contributors, too

Long time contributor Bill Burnett wrote and said that hurricane Charley forced him to take his mother from her home and to Daytona Beach where they were "followed" by the storm to the Breeder's Expo. Then his mom went to England, which is why there were no Florida clippings for a while. As she came back, Orlando Airport was closed because of yet another hurricane, Francis. What a Fall!

Sounds like a great book

A Sheltered Life: The Unexpected History of the Giant Tortoise by Paul Chambers (John Murray publishers) was reviewed in the London Daily Mail, July 5, 2004 and sent to contributor Bill Burnett by his Aunt Peggy who lives over there. I found the piece absolutely fascinating and full of things I didn't know. While I knew about Darwin and the giant tortoises, I didn't know that Albert Gunther at the British Museum convinced a millionaire, Lord Rothschild, to try to save giant tortoises. Rothschild leased the island of Aldabra in the Indian Ocean and helped relocate a few tortoises from the Galapagos to zoos around the world where a few Rothschild tortoises still are alive. There was so much in the newspaper article, that I'm going to keep my eyes out for the book itself! Check out the picture of me on my webpage That tortoise, said to be over 400 years old in the 1960s could easily have been a Rothschild relocated tortoise.

Volunteer worker?

A 53-year-old volunteer worker at an exotic animal business was bitten by an African green mamba while taking care of the snake. Venom 1 supplied antivenin and the man is expected to make a full recovery. [The Miami Herald, July 28, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Like coils and water

The second Burmese python removed from the Everglades Alligator Farm outside Florida City was 10-feet long. One of the curators said, "The last few years, we've been catching a lot of pythons in the area." The employee who actually grabbed it, said, "Fortunately it was a small snake. Anything over 10 feet is pretty dangerous." [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, July 30, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Iguana get a piece of the American Dream

"Just before Christmas last year, a park-goer discovered nine 5-foot iguanas in a bathroom at John Prince Park [Del Ray Beach, Florida]... [the] director of Palm Beach County Division of Animal Care and Control, suspected someone had abandoned the lizards because they had blankets with them. 'Usually iguanas don't carry around sleeping bags,'" she said. Meanwhile, one fellow has formed the Iguana Rescue and Compound and has become known as the Iguana Man of the Treasure Coast because of his education efforts on behalf of the common green iguana. Meanwhile residents all over southern Florida bemoan the naturalization of these voracious herbivores. The little tiny ones that first escaped are now wild and breeding. Reported to be the size of beagles, they use Florida's canal systems as getaway routes and munch down thousands of dollars in ornamental plantings and sentimental flowers daily. [The Miami Herald, August 9, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month. You can contribute, too. Merely take whole pages of newspapers (they don't weigh much), put your name on each piece, fold a minimum of times and send to me.

My new book!
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz
Read another column...

1987 . 1988 . 1989 . 1990 . 1991 . 1992 .

1993 . 1994 . 1995 . 1996 . 1997 . 1998 .

1999 . 2000 . 2001 . 2002 . 2003 . 2004 .

2005 . 2006

Or learn the Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America:
translations of the scientific names, list of common names, biographies of those honored, citations of original descriptions and other information.
Visit my Homepage
Ellin Beltz /
January 10, 2008

Valid HTML 4.01!