November 15, 2006 2005 CHS HerPET-POURRI columns by Ellin Beltz
My new book!
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz

2005 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 19th year of writing for the Chicago Herpetological Society Bulletin.

January 2005

Before and After

Being a geologist, I watched with interest as twin-tailed Comet Machholz came nearer and nearer. Both its green and ion tails were scheduled to cross Earth's plane December 26, 2004. I learned later during the passage the heavy particles flipped the tails. The one that pointed "up" now points "down" and the reverse [http://skyandtelescope.com/observing/objects/comets/article_1423_1.asp from Teri Radke]. Looking for any atmospheric effects, like the fireballs that were spotted in Indonesia in December, I was online within hours of when the magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Sumatra and its associated tsunami at about 8 a.m. local time on December 26, 2004 [http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqinthenews/2004/usslav/]. I thought about all the coastal areas, all the researchers, all the people in harms way and emailed everyone I could think of to see if they were all good. The first reply came back in barely eight hours later at 6:05 p.m. December 26 PST, I received a reply from Janaki Lenin and Romulus Whitaker, long associated with the Madras Crocodile Bank and Snake Farm: "We are well. The sea came into Croc Bank and there is some damage - no crocs escaped however. Today will probably be clean up day. The sea left a muddy slush on everything including plastic bottles, and other debris. Thanks for your concern. But thankfully the night didn't bring another one as we feared. Crazily we have a nuclear reactor close by which had to be shut down so we aren't sure how long the electricity will last. Best, J." The reactor they refer to in Kalpakkam, India's atomic town, is described as "a graveyard after tsunamis... The still soggy earth, showing the scars of the Sunday tsunami, is littered with smashed cars, glass and mortar from broken homes and strewn footwear. A smashed-to-pulp sea turtle is ignored by even the crows. All but a handful of its residents have fled." The plant itself was unaffected by the tsunami. [International News Alliance, December 29, 2004] We now know that multiple waves, some described as 30 feet or more high crashed into coastlines around the Indian Ocean unprotected by any form of tsunami warning system. In addition, the timing of the quake on two holidays, Christmas and Boxing Day, reduced the speed and efficiency of attempts by earthquake researchers to reach governmental agencies in Asia. [New York Times, December 31, 2004]

Traditions pay off for indigenous peoples

Several news reports indicated that Andaman and Nicobar indigenous island groups, feared completely wiped out as waves overtopped much of their shallow islands, in fact survived far better than expected. "On the island of Simeulue, reached by an aid flight late last week, they remember a tsunami of 1907 when the island, not far from the epicentre of last week's quake, suffered thousands of deaths. Locals never forgot the disaster and it helped them to survive when they felt the quake on Boxing Day. 'It became part of the folklore that as soon as we feel a quake we must run to high land,' said ... a district administrative leader. `It was clear that trouble was coming. The force of the quake was so strong we suspected a big tsunami would follow. Our local lore reminds us of the danger we live with every day.'" Listening to tradition saved the majority of the 70,000 people on the island. [London Times, January 2, 2005] Unfortunately for many others around the Indian Ocean, technology that detected the quakes in Vienna, Hawaii and many other places was unable to sound a warning to save nearly 100,000 people who were in lowland areas when the tsunami waves struck.

Wildlife as threat

  • The New Kerala reported that Tamil Nadu fishermen were now worried not only about the "wrath of the tsunami" in the form of more waves but of snakes and scorpions said to be floating on the surface of the sea. [December 27, 2004]
  • A survivor on an isolated southern Indian island described swimming from high ground where they were safe but had nothing to eat through crocodile "filled water to reach safety. The man describes the swim as `hide-and-seek' with crocs that were busy feasting on corpses of humans and animals." [WSTM Syracuse, New York from Associated Press Port Blair, India December 31, 2004]

Wildlife threatened

  • "Endangered sea turtles were also casualties of the tsunami, with the monster waves possibly hastening their extinction... At least 24 turtles swept up by the waves have been found on the shores of Phuket island [Thailand], some dead, others with cuts, scrapes and broken shells. But the titanic wave also swept away about two dozen endangered olive ridley turtles that were part of a breeding program which had been increasing their numbers... In the tsunami-affected region, the olive ridley breed only on the Andaman Sea coast and nearly became extinct in Thailand, because their eggs were smuggled for food. Their numbers fell from 5,000 nests 50 years ago to fewer than 200 today. The breeding program had allowed the olive ridley with its broad heart-shaped shell to start a comeback, but it has now been dealt a serious blow." The director said, "The environment has changed, with debris and garbage strewn on the seashore and sediment in the sea. These are not good conditions for turtles to lay eggs." [San Jose Mercury News, January 8, 2005]
  • "A Sri Lankan conservationist... wipes a tear as he stands over a patch of sand and broken wire mesh, the only surviving incubation pit of his hatchery for endangered sea turtles. Twelve days after giant tsunami waves destroyed the hatchery, washing away 20,000 eggs, seven rare green turtles and $500,000 worth of research equipment, [he] is still trying to come to terms with the loss." An estimated 30,000 people died in Sri Lanka the same day. "Elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, concern has mounted over the future of the great leatherback turtles who used to nest on the sandy beaches of the Great Nicobar island in the southern stretch of the Nicobar archipelago. `The beaches are all gone, they won't be able to nest here,' said Harry Andrews, director of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team." [Reuters, January 7, 2005]
  • Beaches around the Indian Ocean were just removed and as noted by the Sri Lankan conservationist many eggs were just ready to hatch. What effect the apparent loss of this cohort will have versus the loss of fishing boats and fishermen will have over the long term remains to be seen.
  • Even before the tsunami, turtle landings were down. The Malaysia New Straits Times, December 21, 2004 reports "Landings from the endangered leatherback turtles in the State fell by more than half this year, and the reptiles laid less than a quarter of the eggs compared with last year. According to the Turtle and Marine Ecosystem Center, the number of leatherbacks that came to nest dropped from 14 last year to six this year... Last year [2003], besides the 14 leatherbacks, 1,485 green turtles and six hawksbills were spotted... In 2002, there were three leatherback landings and none in 2001... Despite the drop in the leatherback turtle landings, the total number of turtle landings in Terengganu increased from 1,505 in 2003 to 3,096 this year, with most of them being green turtles... On turtle landings this year, besides the leatherbacks, 3,062 were green turtles, three Olive Ridley and one hawksbill... In 2002, the center recorded 2,885 green turtle landings, six hawksbill, three leatherbacks and two Olive Ridley... although this was an encouraging sign, the number of turtle landings was still below expectation. In the 1970s and 1980s, many turtles could be seen laying eggs, including the leatherbacks and hawskbills, but due to poaching, the number dwindled over the years."

Wildlife as savior

I have to just run this story the way the Jakarta Post (Indonesia) told it on December 30, 2004: A few survivors of Sunday's calamity have a snake to thank for being alive... A 26-year-old clothes vendor, said that at about 8 a.m. she was enjoying the holiday in bed when suddenly she saw walls of water, mud, rocks and branches rushing into the neighborhood. People were screaming and running... she was living in a rented house near the coast in Banda Aceh with three friends, [and] dashed up to the second floor of a neighbor's house and stood on top of a cupboard. But... the current swept her and her friends off their perch. As she was drifting, she saw her neighbors, two girls - twins - and their mother... She can swim, [and] managed to help the girls. She saw that their mother was badly injured. "The mother shouted, 'please help save my children. Let me be, but please save my children,'" the woman recounted, in tears. As she struggled for her own life and that of the twins, she said a large snake as long as a telephone pole approached her. She and the nine-year-olds rested on the reptile, which was drifting along with the current. "Thank God, we landed on higher ground where the water level was only about a meter deep. The twins, who were badly injured, were safe." [The woman said she] then slapped her face to make sure she wasn't dreaming. "God still loves me," she said, adding that she would never forget the tragedy.

The world still turns

And with us are the usual dumb, dumber and dumbest people, many of whom are just simply not happy unless they also put a reptile in their lifestyle. Here are a few of my favorites that I found while I was searching far more serious news in the past few days. I'd love to subtitle this section, "What part of dangerous don't you get?"
  • Arab News from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia reports that a man will enter an enclosure with twenty-five snakes and twenty-five scorpions. This stunt is a warm-up to an effort to get into the Guinness Book of World Records with a stunt using nearly four times that many "Saudi cobras, Egyptian cobras, desert snakes and vipers." No one seems to have told him that the previous holder of most snakes lived with for longest time or whatever they call it, died of a snake bite. [December 29, 2004] A few days earlier on December 20, the same paper reported, "People in Al-Namas area are talking about a snake that has achieved notoriety because it is addicted to sniffing paint... The snake crawls for 500 meters from his hiding place to the paint shop and stays there for 30 minutes before unsteadily slithering back again to his hiding place. The owner of the paint shop said that he does not mind the snake sniffing the fumes every day because its appearance is publicizing his business."
  • A Red River Parish, Louisiana man died after being bitten by one of his pet timber rattlesnakes in the back of his pawn shop while feeding it a rat by hand. He had trouble breathing, drove himself to a clinic, was transferred to a hospital, but died later in the evening. [KTBS3, Shreveport, Louisiana December 22, 2004]

Brilliant new acronym

Writer Kim Atienza in the Philippine Star, December 25, 2004 deserves great kudos for introducing a brilliant new acronym to the world of herpetology. She writes an animal answer column.
Q. "I saw a feature on [TV] many years back on a python that ate a man! My boy loves snakes. Is he in danger of being eaten? Snakebite"

A. "I saw that feature too and was amazed that the python was able to ingest a human being! Snakey [my pet snake] and I have always stressed the reality of SFE's or Stupid Feeding Errors when taking care of reptiles. Almost blind, snakes rely on their forked tongue to sniff potential prey; basically anything warm, that moves and smells like a food item - chicken or rodent. You smell like rat and handle Snakey, you will get bitten. Men getting eaten by snakes are a very, very, very rare occurrence because they are too big for most pythons. Although snakes are able to unhinge their jaws to swallow prey much bigger, humans are just too large! The unfortunate [man] was at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was out hunting and probably smelled like fowl or wild boar and was foolhardy enough to hunt a gigantic reticulated python. The snake thought he was prey and the poor man ended up Snakey's dinner!"

Alligator in boot brings book

A 34-year-old man pleaded guilty to trying to "sell a dangerous alligator from the boot of his car in an Edinburgh car park... [he] kept the animal in the bath of his flat on the 15th floor of a tower block in Leith, [and] was caught after trying to sell the creature to undercover police officers. They expected to find a foot-long alligator but, when the car boot was opened, found themselves face-to-face with a four-foot reptile. [The] Sheriff ... told [the man], who bought the animal over the Internet, that he was at a loss to impose a sentence to match the `stupidity and danger' of the offense." [Edinburgh Evening News, December 22, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow] A few days later, this letter to the defendant appeared in the London Sunday Times: "Take heart. You are not the first and won't be last to get pulled up by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals... when you were found guilty of animal cruelty at Edinburgh Sheriff Court... In some circumstances my sympathies reach out to poor unfortunates like yourself, who are the victims of this animal welfare crowd... In your case, though, I'm obliged to keep my kind feelings in check, simply for the fact that the beast in question was a 4-foot alligator, which was discovered in the boot of your car only when you attempted to sell it on. (I was relieved to see that these days you are driving a large family saloon, rather than one of those little Smart cars.) You had come by the beast, you explained, by way of a man you had met on the Internet, and then in person at [a] service station on the M8 where you completed your purchase for a hefty £250. Surprisingly, given the actual dimensions of the alligator, it was only when you returned to your flat on the 15th floor of a Leith tower block that you realized the size of the problem you had bought into and the threat it posed to your well-being. Apparently, you had been expecting a little nipper. What you had on your hands (and in your bath) was a stone or two of snap-happy spectacled cayman, the female of a breed which has been known to prey on piranha fish. Presumably you spent many a morning in June performing your ablutions alone and in your en-suite shower. Nevertheless, it is to your credit that you displayed an obvious desire to make the creature feel at home, bearing in mind that its natural habitat is the Amazon basin in tropical South America rather than the subarctic conditions which prevail on the banks of the Forth... I can offer only condolences for the loss of an animal that could have brought you so much joy. Rest assured, these are not crocodile tears. With feeling Mike" [December 26, 2004]

I've reported this story for too many years

Yet another sea turtle has been sucked into the intake at a power plant, this one at the Progress Energy power plat near St. Petersburg, Florida. Their Times reports, "By the time the juvenile turtle was seen by utility workers, its shell was chewed, battered and punctured and the animal was fighting for its life. But thanks to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which picked up the turtle after it was found, there is a good chance that, some day, it might be swimming in the wild again." The intakes have manatee-proof barriers, but smaller animals get sucked in all the time. The director of guest programs at the Aquarium said that once in the intake, turtles are rolled and tossed around "like a washing machine. They get beat up. It's not a pretty thing." He added, "We're working with them to find a solution." [December 20, 2004]

Busted but in a new way

A 28-year-old Brooklyn man was charged with allegedly trying to sell an endangered radiated tortoise from Madagascar to an undercover officer. What's new about this tale is that he posted the animal for sale on http://kingsnake.com where the ad was spotted by law enforcement. The tortoise now lives at the Bronx Zoo. [Newsday, December 23, 2004]

Believe it or not - it seems a bit big

On December 29, the London, UK Press Association reported: "A snake measuring more than 19 foot long and weighing almost 16 stone was found inside a factory in Brazil. Terrified employees fled the sugar and alcohol plant in Sertaozinho. Firemen were called and took the giant anaconda snake - measuring six meters and weighing 100 kilos - to a nature reserve." A firefighter said "It wasn't very hard to capture the snake because it was so fat it had difficulty moving."

The people have spoken

Some of them have spoken more than once, but never you mind voting irregularities, according to the Lt. Governor of the state of Illinois, the final results of public voting for the state's official Amphibian and Reptile are as follows:

AmphibianNumber of votesPercent ReptileNumber of votesPercent
Eastern Tiger Salamander19,21751 Painted Turtle16,74245
Gray Tree Frog10,59128 Garter Snake11,92532
American Toad 8,14021 Eastern Box Turtle8,58123
Table 1. Voting results for the Official State Amphibian and Reptile of Illinois
Source http://www.LtGovernor.il.gov

It was noted that very rarely does the legislature not approve this sort of thing, so we might assume that the Salamander and the Painted Turtle are now assured of the honor, joining 17 symbols including the Monarch Butterfly, White-tailed Deer, Blue Gill, Cardinal and Tully Monster.
Thanks to everyone who sent in clippings in the past 3 weeks. I promise you will see your contributions in an upcoming column! And thanks to Wes von Papinešu for many of the articles above. You can contribute, too. Send the actual page of newspaper or magazine (it doesn't weigh much) to me. Then allow for my lead time and read your Bulletin!

February 2005

Rana-mator

Scientists studying how wood frogs freeze and unfreeze describe their work as having great potential for human organ transplant transport and other applications, but not freezing people forever! As one of them pointed out, the frogs wake up in spring. The news reports online also include time lapse video of the frog unfreezing over several hours. They way this works is that frogs store starch in their livers which when the freeze begins, converts to glucose, making the frogs incredibly diabetic. Glucose makes water freeze at a lower temperature (remember ice cream in the freezer is slushy when ice cubes are solid) and so the frogs' cells stay liquid even as ice fills in the spaces around the cells. As it warms up, the ice crystals melt, the glucose is reconverted to starch and the frog hops away. [Miami Herald, December 14, 2004 from Alan Rigerman, Orlando Sentinel, December 26, 2004 from Bill Burnett, Online Washington Post story from Jim Harding]

Live snake found in Hawaiian store

Workers unpacking a shipment of Christmas trees from Oregon at an O'ahu store discovered a 13-inch garter snake curled up in the bottom of the shipping container. The local agriculture inspector said that the trees are shaken before shipment, but also rather blithely stated, "We've found garter snakes in containers before." The snake is now on display in the plant quarantine office. [The Honolulu Advertiser, December 7, 2004 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Boa are you far from home!

"A young couple swimming at a beach in southern Norway... got the fright of their lives when ... a large snake thought to be a boa constrictor ... slithered past... Police launched a hunt..." but it wasn't found. [Orlando, Florida Sentinel, August 14, 2004]

For a very good cause

A lovely color calendar of Canada's Endangered Reptiles landed in my mailbox right after last month's column, so let me tell you about it now, and suggest you email its creator to order a copy for yourself. First, there's lots of pictures, not just one big one on every page, but every empty day around the 30 or 31 days of the average month has a different picture in it. Also the calendar supports the Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre in Peterborough, Ontario which takes in injured native turtles particularly those injured on roadways, rehabilitates them for a year or more and releases them when possible. Visit http://www.kawarthaturtle.org for more information on the Centre, and email Dr. Ronald J. Brooks of the University of Guelph brookslab@hotmail.com to find out how to have one of these in your collection too. The back cover contains the rather amazing list of reptiles extirpated from Canada:
  • Timber Rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus
  • Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina
  • Pacific Gophersnake, Pituophis catenifer
  • Pigmy Short-horned Lizard, Phrynosopma douglasii
  • Pacific Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata.

A reason to go east

The Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta is opening a special exhibit of more than 100 live anurans called "Frogs: A Chorus of Colors." As might be expected, brightly colored frogs predominate. Call the Museum at 404-929-6398 for more information. [AAA Going Places, January/February 2005]

Chance or?

Going through my clipping files, holiday cards and piles of paper, I noticed that not one but two alligators were caught in northern Indiana on consecutive days, July 28 and 29, 2004. One was pulled from the waters of Salt Creek by some kids [Valparaiso Times, July 29, 2004 from Jack Schoenfelder] the day after the other was pulled from a West Lafayette retention pond. [South Bend Tribune, July 28, 2004 from Garrett Kazmierski]

Pinheads of evolution

Two species of Queensland, Australia snakes apparently incorporated Nicholas Chamfort's (1741-1794) dictum "Swallow a toad in the morning if you want to encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day" into their genetic code. The Australian Broadcasting Company reports: "Professor of evolutionary biology Richard Shine says studies on the black snake and the golden tree snake have found over the 70 years the toads have been in Queensland, the snake's heads have become smaller and their bodies larger... [which] means the snakes are eating smaller toads and are less likely to be killed by the toad's poison. `A big snake with a small head turns out to be the best possible size and shape if you want to survive eating a toad,' Professor Shine said. `It means that the biggest toad you can eat is actually quite small compared to your own body size so it's pretty unlikely that you can get enough poison in from the toad in to kill you.'" [December 23, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

Life imitates someone else's life

The Chicago Tribune reports that a Lake Zurich man was arrested in a sting operation when he tried to sell two copperheads and a puff adder in the parking lot of the Gurnee Mills Mall for $300. Unfortunately, and apparently a big surprise to the alleged perpetrator, the buyers were undercover agents. Nine more venomous snakes were found in the man's home, including two rhino vipers, two West African gaboon vipers, and five eyelash vipers. The 23-year-old man was promptly charged with possession of dangerous animals, and commercialization of state resources particularly the unauthorized sale of the copperheads. He faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine if convicted; although authorities described him as "very cooperative." The man's internet site clued in the authorities who set up the buy. [January 12, 2005 from Ray Boldt]

Frogs continue to vanish

The Australian Broadcasting Company reports: "Down in the cool alpine areas of Australia's snowy ranges, the bogs are silent. Yet only a few decades ago, they emitted a cacophony of strange sounds - a nasal grunting `Ah-rurkk ... urkk ...urkk,' or a short, harsh `squelch.' Old timers, who kept cattle in the boggy, treeless high plains of the Snowy Mountains tell stories of a strange little frog, black with vivid yellow stripes, which could be found in huge numbers. Peep under any clump of moss or grass and you'd find some of the little guys. Now it may be days or even weeks before David Hunter, an amphibian specialist at the University of Canberra, can locate a single Southern Corroboree frog, Pseudophryne corroboree in its natural habitat. Unlike many Australian species, the decline of the frog has not been a slow slide into oblivion. On the contrary, Southern Corroboree frogs were abundant within their tiny 400 square kilometer range until the late 1970s. Then, within a matter of five years, something happened that reduced them to just one tenth of their former population. Since then, the population has suffered a further catastrophic decline. In a 1999 survey, 218 frogs were counted across the range, but only 64 could be found this year. Hunter estimates the numbers remaining represent perhaps 0.001 per cent of the population of three decades ago... [In the late 1990s] chytrid fungus had been detected in Corroboree frog populations. Chytrid, as is now widely known, has been blamed for decimating a number of Australian frog species. Thought to have been accidentally introduced into Australia in the late 1970s, it is an insidious disease that is often fatal. The fungus literally eats keratin, the main protein in frog skin. And frogs need their skin - not just for protection, but to breathe and even to drink through. Infected frogs simply suffocate." [December 16, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu] Eggs and tadpoles have been dying in record numbers due to the high temperatures and drought conditions that have prevailed in Australia in the past few decades may also have an impact.

Toads immune to Chytrid

Four of twelve toads equipped with radio transmitters in a study in the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming tested positive for chytrid fungus in July. When they were re-examined again in September they no longer had the fungus. No one knows why or how they shed the killer. Meanwhile, no dead toads were found, but dead Columbia spotted frogs were recorded. [Casper, Wyoming Star-Tribune, January 2, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu] You can also read all about chytrid at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol10no12/03-0804.htm

Degrees no substitute for common sense

Coqui frogs, Eleutherodactylus coqui, are apparently not affected by chytrid fungus. According to the Hawaii Tribune Herald, "Researchers at the University of Colorado exposed coqui to the chytrid... fungus, but none of them died. The fungus killed all of the boreal toads in the same tests." Next the article describes a clueless entomologist in Hawaii who was hoping to release chytrid in the wilds of the Hawaiian Islands to take out the coqui frogs! Never you mind we have no clue what chytrid does to any other organism in the ecosystem, let's just get really short sighted and release another non-native, invasive - ineradicable fungus that kills nearly everything in its path. It just makes me wonder; did this highly educated entomologist ever hear the lecture about mice, rats, roaches, goats, sheep, cows, cats, dogs and marine toads? Meanwhile, in the coqui's home of Puerto Rico, three of 16 species have gone extinct and there is concern about why the frogs are disappearing on their home island. [December 21, 2004 from Paul Breese]

Creature Shock

Sometimes I wish I could run news photos. Instead, imagine a narrow, flat bridge on the University of Miami campus. Two undergraduates, in chopped off pants and red tinted hair walk away from the camera. Coming towards the camera are two guys who look like they escaped from Steve Irwin's zoo; they're even carrying a crocodile with its jaws tied shut with a bit of rope and duct tape. It's an endangered American croc that was living in a lake on campus. A cold snap forced it up to bask and it was captured for relocation. [December 13, 2004] No sooner had that crocodile been removed, but another, larger one floated up. School officials promise it will also be humanely removed, as soon as humanly possible. The first one only took 17 trips and record breaking cold to catch. [December 15, 2004] By December 31, the croc was still evading capture and the trapper was suggesting it was on winter break like everyone else! [all from The Miami Herald from Alan Rigerman]

Off to a better place

  • Three live alligators were found in a Missouri barn owned by a man shot to death by Des Moines, Iowa police at an apartment building he owned in town. The man was a suspect in the arson destruction of an 88-year-old church and several other structures in Missouri and Iowa. The alligators were shipped to Florida. [Des Moines Register, December 24, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • Police officers responding to a call found a resident dead of an overdose. Looking around, they found a 3-foot-long baby alligator in the bathtub. Officers were unable to find a shipper to take the gator south, so one of them decided to drive the critter to Florida. He said, "He'll be happy at Reptiland. The people there are just great... "I've been waiting for something like [this gator to] turn up in [town] for years. I'm glad I got to be the one to take care of it." [Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Intelligencer Journal January 5, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Stupid fashion accessories

  • An Irish comic with an albino python wrapped around his neck was featured in "Lemony Snicket," a recent movie. Billy Connolly said, "It would go into my hair and moan into my ear. I said it fancies me. He must have mistook me for a woman, with my hair and all. He thought I was a bearded lady." [ Irish Examiner, Cork, Ireland, January 3, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • A police officer got a huge surprise when he reached into a crashed car to check the driver's pulse and put his hand on a 3-foot long live boa constrictor that the deceased was wearing as a "fashion accessory." Officials later determined the snake played no part in the accident because the autopsy showed no signs of strangulation. [KPIX, San Francisco, California, January 3, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • A so-called "dramatic demonstration" of the need to carry cell phones in the wild happened "when a pair of girls on vacation climbed a hill in Livingston, Montana... a rattlesnake struck at one of their legs. Looking around, they realized they were surrounded by serpents. The hillside was covered in them... The two men who rescued them shot two snakes... later a rattlesnake trapper reported seeing 25 to 30 snakes in the area..." [Outdoor Life, October 2004 from Alan Rigerman] Reminds me of that On-Star commercial "We were surrounded by them!"
  • "After a long day in Jaipur, India," wrote a tourist to Fromme's Budget Travel Magazine, September 2004, "we returned to our hotel... hot and tired, my wife quickly donned her bikini and headed for the pool, where she prepared to nap. Almost immediately, a roving entertainer arrived carrying two burlap bags. He sat down cross-legged... removed his musical instrument [from one bag] and dumped out... six cobras [from the other]. My wife dashed through the garden, the adjacent boutique, and back to our room in record time. The snake charmer and I were the only ones amused." [from Alan Rigerman] Until now, dear writer, until now.

Fangs a lot, dad

Certain select young men in a small town in Italy collect snakes for an annual snake festival. Their position, called "serpari" is considered to be a great honor and is passed from father to son. [Life, October 8, 2004 from Alan Rigerman] The article doesn't say if this generation's recipients are happy about their hereditary task, but with the growing popularity of reptiles and amphibians as pets, it can't be too bad.

Waves generate attention

After September hurricanes in the American south released a 14-foot half-ton American alligator named "Chucky" from an Alabama zoo, others have looked at crocodile and alligator enclosures in a new light. "If they think Chucky looked bad," said an ecologist with the University of Florida, "wait, until they get a load of these man-eaters [Nile crocodiles housed in pits at] the Seaquarium. They've got a four-foot-tall retaining wall holding these babies in there, and during [Hurricane] Andrew a six-foot wave washed across Key Biscayne. What does that tell you?" Seaquarium officials said the enclosures were just fine. [Miami NewTimes, November 18 to 24, 2004 from Alan Rigerman]

Great advice

"When in the Komodo area, be careful what you wish for... Had I been informed earlier that an ora [local word for Komodo Dragon] can outrun any human and is, for a short distance, as fast as a cheetah, I would certainly have had second thoughts... I had merely asked the guide if we could see the dragon in action so we could take a few pictures. Big mistake... The sleepy dragon went through an instant metamorphosis into a lightning-fast monster from a science-fiction movie, its long clawed feet moving it across the ground at Olympic-record speed... I was running... so was my wife. And our guide wasn't far behind, all of us heading for the ladder to a rough-hewn timber platform a few yards high. Chasing us was a beast that time forgot to extinguish - a 9 foot long, hungry, carnivorous Komodo dragon that would have liked us to come over for dinner - his!" The writer said the dragon stayed on the ground below the platform for a half an hour "flicking its enormously long, forked tongue, glaring at us and occasionally hissing and exhaling clouds of breath that smelled foul enough to scour barnacles off a submarine..." None of the other dragons they saw on their walk chased them, but he finished with heart-felt "This had certainly been Adventure travel with a capital `A.'" [The Chicago Tribune, December 12, 2004 from Ray Boldt]

On the road again

Middle of February, Ken and I are headed down to San Diego to give a "herps I have known" talk to their herp society, visit the Zoo and drop in on Bob Applegate's emporium of herps. I expect over the next couple of years to visit much of the U.S., traveling with copies of my book "Frogs!" due out from Firefly Books in Toronto, Canada in October of this year. Do drop me an email if you'd like me to attend your meeting or visit a facility or store. My address is ebeltz@ebeltz.net. He must have been reading my mind, but Paul Breese practically sent me instructions on how to get to his house near the only American king's birthplace with a note that suggested I come back, see the honu again and drop in! I might just.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Jack Schoenfelder, Donna Moe and Ray Boldt for the State Amphibian and Reptile totals, Bill Burnett, Ray Boldt, and Paul Breese who sent me stuff which is still in my folder for next month. You can contribute too! Take whole sheets of newspapers and magazines, fold a minimum number of times, stuff in the biggest envelope you can recycle and mail to me. Wait 30 to 60 days lead time - and there you are!

March 2005

A visit to San Diego

Some of my readers have written me asking me to tell you more about what I do and where I go and as I have actually just gone somewhere and done something, this is a good time to write about myself.

Several years ago, my husband and I moved out of Chicago to far northern California - the part with the redwoods and beautiful coastlines which is five and a half hours from anywhere. This is usually a good thing, until you have to go somewhere like we did last week when we left the cool dry north coast for the damp, stormy and landsliding roads of southern California. In a marathon 14 hour drive, we arrived in Escondido after spending what seemed an eternity in California's over-irrigated and chemically saturated Napa region and Central Valley. The loss of water in the Aqueducts to evaporation is said to equal all the water used by the normally thirsty southern cities. I wouldn't know. It was raining so hard that I had to keep my eyes and brain on the road at all times while giant lightening flashes struck down on all sides. Southern California has received a year's worth of rainfall already in 2005, and it's only February.

We visited the San Diego Zoo where we were given an absolutely royal tour by Animal Care Manager John Kinkaid who showed us just about every individual animal in the collection. We started by threading in and out of wheeled cages each with its own Fiji banded iguana. Then into one corner of the building where we added highly endangered Panamanian golden frogs, Atelopus zeteki, to our life lists. We saw the algae-eating tadpoles and the newly metamorphosed hatchlings of which the zoo is so rightly proud. In its home range, seeing a golden frog is considered the greatest good fortune, so seeing these augured great things to come.

Entering a very cold room, we saw a first of order for Ken and a new species for me, the Brothers Island tuatara, Sphenodon guntheri. This tuatara has has an olive skin with yellow spots and feels soft, not at all lizard-like even though its spine is tipped with spiky looking protuberances.

Slightly warmer was the hibernation room for their helodermas, both the common Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, and the Mexican version, Heloderma charlesbogerti which is darker and has larger scales than the pink and black more northerly species. Years ago, when I was corresponding with Charles Bogert on his autobiography I asked him how it felt to have a heloderma named after him (the subtext of course being how does it feel to have such an ugly and foul-tempered animal named for you). He replied promptly that it was a great honor and added, "Primitive lizards for primitive people!"

Our zoo tour continued with several tanks of star and radiated tortoises, a flat-backed tortoise, Pyxis planicauda, and some parrot beaked tortoises, Homopus areolatus - all quite probably very rare and spectacular - but almost anticlimactic after the wonders we had already seen and were about to encounter.

We entered the hot run, where many venomous snakes are kept and were personally introduced to a Mang Mountain Viper, Ernia mangshensis, a venomous snake so calm that John described it as being "stapled to the bottom of its hidebox." Even so, it was one of those moments for which telephotos are so admirably suited. Aware of the need for the utmost caution with its venomous animals, the zoo has conspicuously posted the emergency protocol and phone numbers in every area with hot stuff as well as an alarm buzzer. The zoo stores a considerable amount of antivenin and each tank containing hot stuff is labeled with a red tag containing common and scientific name as well as the antivenin number (if any) and other pertinent information.

A large flat turtle in a big water trough sent me down memory lane, back to September 16, 1989 at the First World Congress of Herpetology where "We were treated to Peter Pritchard's presentation on `the last turtle.' No they haven't all gone extinct... the title refers to Peter's game of one - his desire to see, alive, every genus of turtle currently on the face of the earth. His last beastie was to be Chitra indica, an unusual Indian softshell turtle." [http://ebeltz.net/column/chs/1989colu.html] He chased reports of them through temples, to meat markets and finally saw one after incredible effort and fantastic tales of herping in the third world.

Here, a mere sixteen years later, in a wire-screened courtyard in downtown San Diego was a live Chitra indica! How time has changed everything I thought, and we moved on.

After a few more critters, we caught up with Don Boyer, the curator of herps and a group from PARC, Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation who were having a tour after their meeting. Rob Lovich is the PARC coordinator for California and he mentioned speaking to the CHS a few years ago with a big smile.

Following the enthusiastic curator around the critters again, it was interesting to get even more information about the nearly 1,500 animals in the collection, comparing the differences in emphasis between his perspective and John's. Finally he took the whole group to see the outdoor facilities known as "the Mesa" and the Klauber buildings, both on the planning board for updates, as well as the fantastic new herp quarantine facilities.

Wow. All that in about two hours. We barely had time to catch our breath before heading for the San Diego Herpetological Society meeting at the Botanical Gardens Casa del Prado, an outrageously ornate public building on Balboa Park's boulevard of Spanish-influenced museums and restaurants. It's a great resource to local nature organizations, many of which meet in the same room and can cross-pollinate by posting their newsletters and posters.

After checking in with their president, Israel Fierro, and chatting with some of their members including Bob Applegate, it was time to get started and show the 45 slides of central and eastern amphibians and reptiles as well as a few from our 2003-2004 Australian trip. We saw old pictures of CHS members as well as one of just about every species of herp found in northeastern Illinois and Indiana and a few more common to the east and the south. I did not show every salamander of the east even though we certainly have pictures of them all!

I talked a little about my upcoming book on frogs of the world, due out in October this year and how interesting it was to learn the similarities and differences between our North American species and those which occur on the other continents.

After some refreshments and some time to chat with newsletter editor Kyle Ward, and the other officers and regulars at the meeting, we headed out into the clear dry evening, graced with a full moon and back to Escondido. The next day, we tried to get a photo of Kermit the Frog's star on Hollywood Boulevard.

You know, it's not easy being green. And it's also not easy to be a big star's star on Academy Awards week when tons of metal scaffolding, tacky gold plastic statues and red banners are hung all down the boulevard - right on top of the names of all the "greatest stars of all time." Guess it just goes to show you how fleeting fame really is, even in the self-appointed fame capital of the world. Add in a couple of rude security guards, car fumes, the heat, the haze and the traffic and we were grateful to escape L.A. on the nearest exit which led us up the coast on 101, back to the bay area and the redwoods. When we arrived home at 2 a.m., I'm sure at least one neighbor thought we'd been bar-hopping, not driving half the length of the western U.S. coastline in one day!

No good explanation

Stanley Trauth, a zoology professor at Arkansas State University, presented his findings on Hellbenders at a working group meeting in St. Louis in November. Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus spp.) are not only disappearing, the few that are left have " gruesome open sores, tumors and missing limbs and eyes," according to Trauth who added, "I'm at a loss, folks," Trauth said. "We just don't have a good explanation for what's causing this." He pointed out that 90 percent of the animals in one stream had serious abnormalities. In contrast, early work by Max Nickerson, University of Florida, during the late 1960s showed only five animals with problems out of a series of 202 hellbenders. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 8, 2004 from Wes von Papinešu]

BC Leopard Frogs nearly gone

Chytrid fungus has nearly wiped out the northern leopard frog from the Canadian province of British Columbia, according to biologist Doug Adama. The frogs used to be one of the most common amphibians, but by 2000 they were found only in one marsh system and now the population may be down to only four breeding pairs. Chytrid fungus arrived on African clawed frogs brought to the new world for pregnancy testing. Either the clawed frogs or the fungus they carry escaped into the wild where it kills local frogs which have no immunity or resistance to it. [The Vancouver BC The Province, February 8, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Many forms of action

  • The Joongang Ilbo of Seoul, South Korea reported on February 2, 2005: "On the 99th day of a hunger strike to save salamanders from a railroad construction project, a Buddhist nun is gaining support from both governing and opposition lawmakers. Thirty-one lawmakers from the Uri and Grand National parties said yesterday they want Mount Cheonseong to undergo another examination to make sure that the construction of a tunnel through the mountain for Seoul-Busan express train service causes no environmental damage. "We urge another environmental check-up," said the lawmakers. "That is the only way to stop controversy, while stopping the Venerable Jiyul from continuing her protest." ... Other nuns at the society said she refuses to talk but sits up sometimes to fold salamanders out of colored paper." Her condition was reported as critical at last report.
  • "Bali, Indonesia: Religious leaders and conservationists have taken an unprecedented step by coming together to secure a more positive future for Bali's sea turtles. Although green turtles have long played a significant, symbolic role in traditional Indonesian Hindu rituals and ceremonies, religious leaders have asked Balinese Hindus to stop using turtle meat in religious ceremonies until such time as the turtle population was deemed stable by the government... With the realization of the scale of the crisis facing sea turtles, the high priests issued a seven-point recommendation. One high priest... suggested the use of turtle shaped rice cakes or pictures of turtles as a substitute for turtle meat. Alternatively, a live turtle could be used for the purposes of the ritual and then released back into the wild." The recommendations of this committee are headed upward, if the full convention of Hindu leaders adopts the proposal it will become Bhisama (religious decree) and have great effects across the subcontinent. [WWF Newsroom, February 25, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • The January 31, 2005 editorial from The Alabama Decatur Daily: Rattlesnake rodeos causing too much harm to continue. Whigham, Ga., a town of about 320 people near the Florida line, staged a rattlesnake rodeo Saturday for the 45th year, an event that attracts thousands and raises money for charity. Despite the amusement it provides those who attend and the money it raises, it should be stopped. The people of Whigham should find another way to raise money. It's not because rattlesnakes are high on most people's list of desirable creatures. For the majority, the only good rattlesnake is a dead one. With that said, it should be pointed out that rattlesnakes do a lot of good, killing rats and other pests that make our lives miserable. But during these rodeos, the snakes aren't out slithering about. And that's where the concern comes. Rattlesnakes tend to winter with gopher turtles in South Georgia and Florida, much of their habitat. A gopher turtle is usually in that same hole with the snake. The turtle is protected in Georgia and Florida, and is Georgia's state reptile. Snake hunters often use a long hose to dribble gasoline down the hole. The snake crawls out and the turtle dies. Although event sponsors discourage the gasoline method, they admit they have no control over the hunters. Last year, 350 rattlers were caught, so it's probably not far off to estimate that a large number of these protected turtles died. Most of the larger rattlesnake rodeos have been canceled to help protect this turtle, but a few remain. Georgia once had three rodeos, but only this one remains. Gopher turtles, known during the Great Depression as `Hoover chickens,' a reference to President Hoover and to the fact that they were hunted for food then, are seeing much of their habitat destroyed by the ever-expanding use of land. Because these rodeo events increase the threat to both the diamondback rattlesnake and the gopher turtle, they should cease."

Your tax dollars continue to work

  • "The former manager of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge said he did the right thing, even though he was fined and put on administrative leave for moving federally protected tadpoles without a permit. `To me, $3,500 was a small investment to save a species from extinction,' said Wayne Shifflett, who was placed on leave more than a year ago for moving 400 Chiricahua leopard frog tadpoles without a permit. `Too bad it came out of my pocket because Arizona Game & Fish and (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife wouldn't stand up for them,' he said. `There surely would have been destruction of the whole population (had I not acted.)' The discovery of the rare amphibians at the refuge south of Tucson was made in the mid-1980s, he said. `I took a picture of a leopard (frog) in 1986.' But the drought that southern Arizona has endured for nearly a decade was threatening the frog, which was was added to the list of endangered species in June 2002, he said. In 2003, staff members at the refuge hauled water daily to provide an environment for the animals to survive, but the schedule was too arduous to maintain, he said. After about a week Arizona Game & Fish issued a permit to move seven adults to a Tucson backyard with the hope that another permit would be issued to move them back to the refuge when conditions improved. A good crop of tadpoles developed, but there was fear that the adults, who don't distinguish between their own young and other food, would eat them, he said. But Arizona Game & Fish, which declined to comment for this story, would not issue a permit for the move... Shifflett said that because he had an endangered species permit, he decided to move the tadpoles to breeding tanks built on the refuge. `I moved about 400 and put them in there. That was in May 2003,' he said. `We didn't tell Arizona Game & Fish. Then on Dec. 18, (2003) I got a visit from two federal agents who said they were here is investigate me for moving the frogs onto the refuge,' Shifflett said. 'They proceeded to tell me about all the laws I had broken. I told them the only thing I did was try to save the Chiricahua leopard frog from becoming extirpated from the valley,' Shifflett said. `But I gave them a statement about what I had done.' In January 2004, Shifflett received a letter saying he had been put on administrative leave pending an investigation of the illegal movement of the frogs, he said. [He retired instead.] ... Shifflett left his $94,320-a-year job in May 2004, he said. Late last month he received a certified letter from U.S. Fish and Wild Service saying he was fined $3,500 for illegally moving wildlife onto the refuge." [Tucson Citizen, February 24, 2005]
  • Some things he forgot to point out were included in a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility which states: "This is the only prosecution on record of a wildlife refuge manager for a conservation-related offense. `Refuge managers who act boldly to protect wildlife should not be prosecuted; they should be commended,' stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who noted that the U.S. Attorney's office in Arizona twice declined to prosecute Shifflett and that charges were ultimately filed out of Justice Department Headquarters in Washington, D.C. `While it is a mystery why Justice would use scarce prosecutorial resources to pursue this case, it is a certainty that this action reeks of slimy politics.' Shifflett's decision to move the tadpoles has saved the species from complete elimination on the refuge. The frogs are now thriving in ponds, tanks and a breeding facility for which taxpayers had already spent $100,000 to facilitate the threatened leopard frogs' reintroduction. Shifflett acted after Arizona Game & Fish had refused to issue a permit to a university researcher to move the frogs onto the refuge. `I have been asked many times by peers and friends if I had to make that decision again, would I have made the same decision and my answer is always the same: Without a doubt, it was the right decision for me and the resource,' said Shifflett, who retired this May after a 38-year career in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. `A former Director of the Service would always remind us "Refuge Managers are all about saving dirt and protecting critters." Politics change but saving dirt and critters has always remained the only constant which has directed my decisions.` Rather than spend months in his retirement fighting the criminal charges, Wayne Shifflett has decided to pay the fine. The criminal charges come more than a year and a half after his actions to save the frogs. The delay reflects months of back room pressure and meetings about whether Shifflett should be prosecuted even after he retired. `This case is the perfect illustration of how federal wildlife policy is now being set by pencil pushers and political schemers rather than by experienced, dedicated professionals,' Ruch added. 'Regardless of the costs, Wayne Shifflett's decisiveness will pay dividends to the restoration of the Sonoran Desert ecosystem for generations to come.'' [from Michael Dloogatch]

Too much $$ and no ¢

"Forget saying it with flowers - at least 50 people in Bahrain have shelled out on live turtles to show their Valentines how much they care. There has been the usual rush for bouquets, soft toys and chocolates, but the more adventurous are getting the message across with turtles, with their loved one's name written on the shell in waterproof silver and gold!" [Bahrain Gulf Daily News, February 14, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Thanks to Wes and Mike and the folks at the San Diego Herp Society,

and to Bill Burnett, Paul Breese, G.E. Chow, Mary Beth Trilling, Ray Boldt, the Oregon Herp Society and others who have sent clippings in the last month which I'm saving up for next month! You can contribute too. Send whole pages of newspapers and magazines folded a minimum number of times to me.

April 2005

Sensationalism abounds

A woman dead of natural causes is not news. A woman dead of natural causes in a house with five dozen snakes is most definitely news. "Animal control officers said most of the 66 animals are poisonous and some may even be deadly. Albuquerque police said the woman took good care of all her pets, but they don't think she had the proper licenses to care for them..." [The New Mexico Channel, no joke, April 1, 2005 from MaryBeth Trilling]

Asclepius' staff

Pundits rejoice. A doctor recently wrote The New York Times to complain about an illustration for a medical story with two snakes coiled around a pole topped by wings. He wrote, that it's a "grievous error." He wrote, "The proper symbol, regardless of what the dictionaries say and what can be seen flapping on many doctors' coats and letterheads, is the staff of Asclepius, or the Asklepian, which is a stout club with one snake and no wings." The article continued, "In Greek mythology, Asclepius was a half-mortal who had the power to heal the dead. He learned it by seeing a snake he had killed with his staff revived by another snake, which had crammed herbs into its mouth. Using the same herbs, Asclepius saved a man killed by one of Zeus's thunderbolts. (Zeus frowned on that presumption, which also threatened to put his brother Hades, the god of the dead, out of business, so he zapped Asclepius too. Zeus later relented and made Asclepius the god of medicine.)" The two snake winged staff belonged to Hermes, the messenger - but also the god of thieves. The misuse is either appropriate or inappropriate depending on which side of the stethoscope you are on, it would seem. It's a message perhaps needfully noted by taxpayers, too. "The Army uses the caduceus; the Air Force uses the Asklepian," reports The Times. [March 8, 2005]

What's the common theme?

  • "State workers have set out traps after a Kona resident spotted a snake slithering up a tree... a brown, 2 1/2- to 3-foot snake climbing... 10 snake traps baited with live mice were set up... snake sightings on the Big Island are unusual. The last time a snake was caught there was in May 1999 when a 22-inch gopher snake was found at a nursery in Hilo." [Honolulu Advertiser (Hawaii) 05 March 05] Six days later, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that the snake which was seen was probably not a brown tree snake. [March 11, 2005]
  • "The Big Island's shrieking coqui frogs seem to reach their maximum numbers when they live in non-native albizia forests," reports the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and adds that researchers will "also study the effect on forest ecology of thousands of coquis per acre gobbling up every insect, spider and other small, edible creature... Eradicating coquis is not the direct intent of the study... but the researcher opposes their presence in Hawaii because they appear bad for the environment. They might eat spiders that control mosquitoes, and they might eat bugs that birds need, he said. But the big worry is the enormous amount of food that the frogs would represent to snakes, if snakes ever got established on the island." [March 11, 2005]
  • Ever inventive, the Australians held a competition to see who could design the best cane toad trap. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has had several stories about it. The first here says "While every state and territory but Tasmania put in an entry before last Monday's deadline, almost half of the 90 designs came from the state where cane toads are already so widespread they have been adopted as the mascot for the State of Origin rugby league team. Forty-three Queensland inventors put in a bid to be one of the six short-listed entries that will get a $1,000 grant to develop their trap before the final winner is announced in late April. Northern Territory residents had 25 entries, and the sole international competitor sent in an idea from Germany." [March 4, 2005] Meanwhile the same "Northern Territory Government is recruiting residents around Darwin and Palmerston to take up arms in the fight against the cane toad. A household guide on identifying, deterring and disposing of cane toads will be delivered to letterboxes in the city and rural areas over the next week." [March 7, 2005]

Busy month for fossils down under

  • The Australian (Sydney) reported that " Researchers have discovered a new species of prehistoric crocodile after unearthing 40-million-year-old remains in south-east Queensland... consisting of two nearly complete skulls, a lower jaw and bits of legs, ribs and claws... has excited researchers who hope to study them to shed light on the evolution of one of the world's most dangerous killers... earliest known genus of what's called Mekosuchinae' a big group of extinct crocodiles that dominated Australia and developed a large degree of diversity." [February 23, 2005]
  • "The 110 million year old fossils of several turtles are the earliest remains of their kind found in Australia.... [and] are some of the earliest ancestors of modern sea turtles. Paleontologists from the South Australian Museum and the University of Adelaide made the discovery, from the Early Cretaceous period, at a dig near Boulia in western Queensland. [A] research scientist ... said the fossils suggest the Cheloniidae family of modern turtles had some of their earliest origins in Australia." [Australian Broadcasting Company, February 21. 2005]

Change the textbooks

"Sixteen New Reptile And Amphibian Species Discovered In Viet Nam... The announcement was made following joint research conducted by the institute, the Biological Institute of Saint Petersburg (Russia), the American Natural History Museum and the World Wildlife Fund... The newly-discovered species include 14 frog species with scientific names Rana trankieni Orlov, Rana bacboensis, Rana daorum Bain, Rana hmongorum, Rana morafkai, Rana banaorum, Rana megatympanum, Rana iriodes Bain, Rana tabaca Bain, Chirixalus anajevae, Philautus supercorrnutus, Mirohyla marmorata, Microhyla pulverata, and Microhyla nanapollexa. A new species of snake named Trimeresurus truongsonensis and a chameleon called Bronchocela orlovi were also listed." [Vietnam News Agency, January 16, 2005]

No more baby food, Steve!

"Steve Irwin's decision to hold his baby son near a crocodile has sparked a review of Queensland Government croc enclosure guidelines. The State Government today released the new rules prohibiting children and any untrained adult from entering crocodile enclosures. In January last year, Mr Irwin, the 'Crocodile Hunter', held baby son Bob close to a crocodile at his Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast. The incident was captured by television cameras, sparking an international outcry and a review of crocodile handling practices... Australia Zoo, north of Brisbane, declined to comment on the government guidelines." [The Australian (Sydney), February 23, 2005] There's also a growing feeling that keepers should enter enclosures only to clean, not to bait and entertain.

Adding reality to injury

"A man bitten by his pet rattlesnake was still hospitalized... after his pet Western diamondback rattlesnake bit his hand... [LaPorte Hospital] did not have anti-venom for a rattlesnake so [he] was transported to... Indianapolis... in serious condition... Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lt. ... explained that precautions must be taken when owning a dangerous animal. `When you're going to own a venomous-type reptile, you've got to be thoroughly trained and have the knowledge to how to handle those.'" [WTHR, Indianapolis, February 23, 2005]

Anything for a buck?

"Eighty-two deadly snakes have apparently been stolen from a Red Cross facility in Bangkok, and police fear they were destined for the stew pot. The 82 King Cobras had been kept with other poisonous [sic] snakes... where they are milked for their poison to be used as serum for snakebite medicine. On Jan. 13, workers discovered that 32 cobras were missing. A week later, 30 more were gone. After 20 more snakes went missing on Feb. 2, [a] Red Cross veterinarian... filed a complaint with the police. Police said Friday they suspect a Red Cross employee stole the cobras, which have never escaped through the steel nets enclosing the cement pits where they lived... Snake is regarded as a delicacy by many Asians - particularly Chinese, who believe it has medicinal qualities. Ten workers at the facility were interrogated but denied involvement in the snakes' disappearance. Police planned to question them again next week with lie detector machines..." [Winnipeg Sun (Manitoba, B.C.) March 11, 2005]

Nice historical research

Mudpuppies were not native to every east coast stream. Now a professor has found that "In Vermont... mudpuppies are at the eastern edge of their range. That range centers on the Ohio River drainage. Because they are totally aquatic, if a mudpuppy can't swim to a lake or river from the Ohio River watershed, it probably was never native to it... [Same for the] Connecticut River. Mudpuppies were first described in the river in 1875, yet there is no water link between the Ohio River drainage and the Connecticut River. Could these secretive creatures, which are active at night and are at least as active in the winter as the summer, have been there all along? Were they simply overlooked, in the age before flashlights? While some scientists say that is so... a herpetologist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst... read a lot of old scientific papers in an effort to solve the mystery... In 1842, a scientist named James DeKay wrote that there were no mudpuppies in the Hudson River or its tributaries, but that he expected to find them soon after the Erie Canal connected the Hudson to the St. Lawrence River watershed, where mudpuppies are native... introduced species usually go through an initial spike in population... Sure enough, in the 1890s, mudpuppies were abundant enough in the Hudson River that they gushed out of fire hydrants in Albany, N.Y. There was a similar explosion of mudpuppies in the Connecticut River around 1930. Richmond found a record of mudpuppies clogging pipes at the Connecticut River oxbow in Northampton, Mass. That the mudpuppy population in the Connecticut River appears to be centered near Amherst, Massachusetts... is an important clue... the mudpuppies in the Connecticut River are salamanders with a college education. Mudpuppies are commonly used as laboratory animals and for dissections. Apparently, they offer a little variety to students who have already aced their frog dissections. These study animals sometimes escape and sometimes get dumped into the nearest body of water. There is good documentation of escaped mudpuppies, destined for use in Colby College classes, making a home in a series of lakes in Maine. [Perhaps] Connecticut River mudpuppies are also escapees, perhaps from science classes at Amherst and Dartmouth colleges... funding to analyze the DNA of mudpuppies in the river [will] test his theory. [Rutland Herald (Virginia) March 6, 2005]

Hello my honey!

Reports of frogs and toads stuck tight in coal, mud balls, concrete, limestone and holes in trees abound. In 1862 " at London's 1862 Great Exhibition was a lump of coal dug from a seam 300ft below Newport, Monmouthshire. With it was a frog that miners claimed to have found alive, encased in a lump of coal presumably millions of years old. Their claim enraged the naturalist Frank Buckland, who demanded in the London Times that the frog be removed from display. As a result, Professor Richard Owen, then superintendent of the British Museum's natural history department, received so many specimens of toads and frogs found in rocks that he appointed his wife to deal with them. Written records of animals, predominantly amphibians, found encased in solid rock date back to at least the 16th century. The usual story is that workmen digging in a quarry or mine find the creatures inhabiting a cavity roughly their own size. Whether they fell down a crack which was then sealed over, were dropped, flowed or blown there as frogspawn, as was once thought, or even placed into the cracks by humans is anyone's guess... In 1771, the French naturalist Louis-Theodore Herissant entombed three toads in plaster cells, themselves encased in wood. Two were alive three years later. In 1825, the Oxford geologist William Buckland found that several toads he had encased in limestone were still living a year later. Biology would support these two examples - the Sonoran Desert Toad, Bufo alvarius, for example, can spend years hibernating in dry ground. Though this hardly explains cases like that which so enraged Buckland. [London UK Guardian, January 20, 2005]

News of the wierd

OK, how much stranger can you get than herps anyway? Here's some strangest of the strange from the email box:
  • "The right vibrations transform a meek salamander larva into a killing machine. The `predator' morph, with its larger head and aggressive attitude, is better adapted to grabbing larger prey. Visual, chemical or sound signals can trigger striking morphological changes in a range of aquatic animals and amphibians. [New Scientist (London, UK) March 5, 2005]
  • "A snake has eaten its own tail... [An American] king snake... on display at the National Taidong Aquarium in Taiwan... had not eaten in 24 hours, mistook his reflection for another snake, and swallowed it. After an hour's emergency treatment, the reptile recovered. [Ananova (London, UK) March 2, 2005]
  • "Research into the origins of venom production has revealed that there are 2,200 species of poisonous snake in the world - 2,000 more than previously believed," reports The Independent. Most just don't have any way to deliver the tiny drops of specialized proteins they produce and are therefore considered harmless. The others, well, "It is estimated that about five million people each year are bitten by snakes, resulting in about 125,000 deaths... Several treatments, including the widely used anticoagulant Arvin, have already been derived from components of snake venom. According to these findings, therefore, there are thousands more types of snake venom that can be used in medical research than previously thought." The researcher remarked "This makes perfect evolutionary sense. There could not have been a strong selection pressure for the development of advanced pieces of architecture like fangs unless there was already a potent venom worth delivering. Therefore, venom preceded the fang just as the ability to make noise in the primates preceded the voicebox." [March 9, 2005]

Letters

"Thank you for covering the important issue of military planes leaving Guam without being inspected for Brown Treesnakes [Boiga irregularis] in them (Bull. Chicago Herpetol. Soc., December 2004). The inspection gap was temporarily resolved, but has reemerged in the last week (due to funding shortfalls, inspections were limited to weekdays). One minor error in the column, undoubtedly attributable to an error in the Honolulu Advertiser article you quoted, concerns the land area occupied by 10,000 snakes on Guam. Your squib cited 10,000 per ACRE. At the peak of the Brown Treesnake irruption in the mid 1980s, peak densities were estimated at more than 10,000 per SQUARE MILE. Since that time the numbers have generally declined. A typical figure today might be around 15 per hectare (=6/acre or 3840/square mile). The highest recent peak density figure that I deem credible is about 50 snakes per hectare, or about 20 per acre. Because these snakes are nocturnal and arboreal, few visitors or even residents see them. Still, 20 per acre is a remarkable density for a large snake and it contributes to the substantial likelihood that snakes will accidentally board planes or cargo that are uninspected. Nonetheless, this density is appreciably lower than that reported in the Honolulu Advertiser clipping. Keep up the good work; your column is always worth reading. Cheers, Gordon Rodda, USGS Fort Collins Science Center"

Well I hope so...

Thanks to my regular contributors for sending a ton of stuff and to my doctor who took yet another cyst out of my wrist making it so I couldn't type. To the rescue, riding on a pure white newt, came Commander Salamander himself the infamous Wes von Papinešu - a herpetologist so renouned that whole Middle Eastern peoples have settled down and behaved themselves at the mere mention of his possible deployment. In his spare time, after settling the problems of the world, Wes cares for a houseful of amphibians - mostly with tails - and his local herp society. Bless you Wes for coming thru electronically for me one more time! But next month... it's back to the typewriter. So keep those whole pages of newspapers and magazines coming with their date slug and publication name still attached. Pop into a big recycled envelope, decorate profusely and mail to me. You'll see your name here too!

May 2005

Letters...

--March 7, 2005 - "When can we order your soon coming frog book? Here's a clipping... the reporter called me... I told her since there's no direct flights from Guam to Kona it probably wasn't a brown tree snake. Paul Breese" Dear Paul: Your wish is my command: click here --http://www.fireflybooks.com/advance/bookdetail.asp?id=8574--

--April 28, 2005 - "Herp of the month was turtles or tortoises. Alicia Singer won with her painted turtle, which incidentally is probably our state reptile. Frog power. MaryBeth Trilling p.s. What is a snake's favorite subject in school? Hissss-tory"

Bad pun... wish I'd said it first!

Allen Salzberg was the first to grace my mailbox with this gem: "Sex shells: Turtle lovers Team Up with Playboy Model to Save Turtles... Conservationists are teaming up with a Playboy model for a racy new campaign aimed at stopping a Mexican tradition: swallowing raw sea turtle eggs as a sexual aid. `My man doesn't need to eat turtle eggs,' says one magazine ad, as Argentine model Dorismar unbuttons her shirt for the camera. Behind her, two baby sea turtles scoot along a beach." [April 18, 2005 HerpDigest Special]

Save a few, kill the rest

  • A creative deal between a rancher, Orange County and developers may net the county more than $12 million dollars, just for saving a 1,280 acre pristine piece of land from development. The process is called "mitigation banking" and permits developers to help pay for the land set aside. In return, the developers can rip the heck out of their own land and save nothing. Voters are paying for the initial purchases, but development fees can return hundreds of millions of dollars in builders' fees. [Orlando, Florida Sun-Sentinel, January 17, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • "Gopher tortoises decline as builders pay to kill them," cried a Sun-Sentinel headline. The story is, as it has been for years, that developers move some and can't find others, so pay the state fees which are used to set aside habitat with tortoises in the hopes of saving the species. However, this article has bias. Read the following carefully, "Few dispute, though, that tens of thousands of tortoises have perished... `They die slowly of starvation and suffocation,' said... a Winter Park environmental activist and devotee of tortoises. To ecologists, the horror goes beyond individual tortoises..." it includes all the other species trapped in the burrows with the tortoises including burrowing owls and indigo snakes. No where is the source of the activist's data provided. The whole piece is full of setups, little pieces out of context strung together for an emotional whole. Unfortunately, it wasn't on the op-ed page, it was presented as news. [February 6, 2005 from Bill Burnett] The problem, of course is that people are insatiable for flat, dry land on which to build - a habitat choice tortoises made millions of years ago before any pesky little primates rose to self-appointed supremacy.
  • The decline in the number of loggerhead turtle nests on Florida beaches continues rapidly. In 1998, there were 18,000 nests, in 2004 only 8,000. Experts discount the folk wisdom that last year's hurricanes are to blame, citing instead the increase in long-line fisheries in the Azores Islands, owned by Portugal. Long-lines have thousands of baited hooks set to catch fish. Young turtles reportedly get hooked straight through their throats and are unable to escape. The fishermen in the Azores collect data; most of their turtle by-catch is 7 to 12 year old animals. [January 22, 2005: Miami Herald, from Alan Rigerman; Orlando, Florida Sun-Sentinel, from Bill Burnett]

Don't believe everything you've read

A professional snake handler has been found dead at his South Australian home... a police spokesman said this morning: "The man kept a snake in the house but at this time there is no evidence to show that the snake was involved in the man's death." ... [He] is not believed to have had any pre-existing medical conditions, but it is understood he had consumed a large amount of alcohol before his death... Last year... [he] beat about 150 applicants for the position of exotic snake curator at a Tanunda-based venom supplies business... involved in milking hundreds of venomous snakes for the production of anti-venin. [News.com.au May 2, 2005 from MaryBeth Trilling and Raymond Hoser]

I'd lose my appetite, too

Amylin Pharmaceuticals of San Diego, California won government approval to bring to market a potential blockbuster diabetes drug derived Gila monster saliva. Another drug from the same source may prevent the onset of diabetes and the FDA is considering that one as well. Gila monster spit mimics a hormone which helps the body process blood sugar after a meal. The drugs being marketed are synthetic versions of the original. [Union-Tribune, April 30, 2005 from MaryBeth Trilling]

Busted!

Sacramento Business Journal April 22, 2005 reports: "After years of improperly filling wetlands at the airport, county officials now are competing with commercial developers to acquire land as habitat for Giant Garter Snakes (Thamnophis gigas). In the end, the snafu could wind up costing the airport system more than $11 million, with some of the cost passed along to the airlines that pay landing fees here... the airport [is trying] to buy 300 undeveloped acres in northern Sacramento and southern Sutter counties, land that other eager buyers are trying to snap up to mitigate for construction elsewhere. Federal wildlife officials ordered the buying binge as punishment for the airport's years of plowing dirt, without authorization, over wetlands that had been home to the snakes. Giant Garter Snakes are listed as threatened and protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. "It was illegal and they got caught," said environmental attorney Jim Pachl, who three years ago was among a group who discovered the filled-in wetlands and notified regulators. "It was clearly wrong." [from Bradford Norman]

Exploded!

Literally dozens of copies of the "toads exploding by the thousands in northern European ponds" arrived in my inbox this month! Contributors included a who's who of CHS column contributors: James Harding, J.N. Stuart, Joe Collins, MaryBeth Trilling, Wes von Papinešu, Bradford Norman, Ken Mierzwa, Eloise Beltz-Decker, Helmut Viss, Ms. G.E. Chow, Allen Salzberg, and quite a few others who I don't think are CHS members! Anyway, as you've probably already heard that dozens of toad were discovered puffed up and bloated in German and Danish ponds. Much media frou-frou resulted; apparently slow news days in Europe bring out the networks just like they do on this side of the Atlantic. Ultimately, "one German scientist studying the splattered amphibian remains now has a theory: Hungry crows may be pecking out their livers." The Associated Press continues, "So far, more than 1,000 toad corpses have been found at a pond in Hamburg and in Denmark. But the pond water in Hamburg has been tested, and its quality is no better or worse than elsewhere in the city. The remains have been checked for a virus or bacteria, but none has been found. Based on the wounds, [the scientist] said, it appears that a bird pecks into the toad with its beak between the amphibian's chest and abdominal cavity, and the toad puffs itself up as a natural defense mechanism. But, because the liver is missing and there's a hole in the toad's body, the blood vessels and lungs burst and the other organs ooze out, he said. As gruesome as it sounds, it isn't actually that unusual, he said... [In any case] local officials in Hamburg were advising residents to stay away from the pond dubbed by German tabloids, `the death pool.'" [Associated Press, April 28, 2005 in one form or another from all of the above]

Reinacted!

Long-term contributor and veterinarian Laurence Reed was featured on the Discovery Health Channel in April. As reported by the Porter, Indiana Post-Tribune [April 24, 2005]: Reed was bitten on the thumb by a 5-foot Western diamondback rattlesnake in March 2004 at his Westchester Animal Clinic. Reed was changing the snake's water dish in its cage... A film crew completed a re-enactment in January with several of the people involved in saving Reed's life. After the bite, Reed went to a local medical clinic, but it didn't have the snake antivenom. Porter hospital didn't either. Neither did Brookfield Zoo in Chicago. High, gusty winds prevented air travel, so he was rushed by ambulance to Indianapolis' Clarion Health Methodist Hospital. By then, the thumb was swelling and Reed was having trouble breathing. During the 150-mile trip, they changed police along the way. Reed received an antivenom injection in Lafayette. Reed only had about 30 minutes left before any medication would have been useless. After the (antivenom) injection, he was able to breathe again. [from MaryBeth Trilling]

Revealed!

"A group of crocodiles living in a remote pond in the Sahara Desert may be the last members of a once-abundant population to survive since the region's climate became arid about 9,000 years ago... in a small Mauritania pond near the Senegalese border. The pond is only about 330 square feet in size and is 125 miles from the nearest river... contains large amounts of micro-organisms... plants and the fish the crocodiles feed on. [Scientists] say the delicate ecosystem had remained stable despite its small size for millennia, and describe it as a `unique ecological phenomenon.'" [Earthweek, The Honolulu Advertiser, April 17, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

The yin and the yang in news

  • Another story of which I received many copies was of a turtle with shell markings reputed to look like Satan. Apparently the turtle was the only survivor of a fire in their pet shop. When they got him out of the ruins, his shell was marked with the apparent face. They are selling DVDs of the turtle's markings on eBay and offering it for sale privately. [The Times, Frankfort, Indiana, March 18, 2005 from MaryBeth Trilling; The South Bend Indiana Tribune, March, 19, 2005 from Garrett Kazmierski; CNN.com, March 21, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • To prove there are two sides to every story and that nature has exceptions to everything, I offer this from the Chicago Daily Herald [April 23, 2005]: "You've seen Our Lady of the Underpass. Now meet Our Lady of the Underbelly. A miracle of reptilian proportions may be occurring in Glendale Heights, where a pet turtle's markings look eerily similar to the Virgin Mary... [The owner] didn't think much about the spot until a few weeks ago when people swore they saw a Marian apparition on the Kennedy Expressway. The faithful and the curious have flocked to the image, a salt stain located on a concrete wall near Fullerton Avenue in Chicago. Dubbed Our Lady of the Underpass, the spot's resemblance to Mary is, at best, debatable. The suburban turtle, named Red Belly, bears a much stronger likeness to the Blessed Virgin, even if his owners don't believe Mother Mary has come to comfort them. "I'm Catholic," [the owner] said, laughing. "But not that Catholic." Convinced Red Belly looked holier than the salt stain, the ... family began showing his tummy to neighbors. Their shell-shocked reactions convinced them they weren't the only ones who saw deux ex tortoise."

Thanks to everyone who contributed for this column.

You can contribute too. I have a little stack of newspaper all flattened out and ready to type in for next month's column. Other than that, it's up to you! Send whole pages of newspapers, magazines and other print sources to me!

June 2005

Wrong way, Cornie!

Just when I think I've seen them all, here's a new snake story from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin [June 1, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]. A 32-year-old woman was caught by Transportation Security Agents with a 3-foot-long albino corn snake at the airport in Hawai'i. The difference is, she was headed out of Hawai'i for California rather than the other way around. While she said she packed her own luggage she also told the checkers she had no idea how the snake got into her bag.

Just nature red in tooth and claw

"On Friday, May 13, 2005 Volcano Fernandina exploded in the Galapagos Islands. It exploded on its namesake island, where no humans live. Fernandina is the westernmost island in the formation. The volcano shot a column of ash and gas 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) into the air while lava descended its banks. Galapagos National Park Director ... told Reuters. "Evidently a lot of vegetation will be burned and some animals, especially iguanas, will die. But considering that Fernandina is the most pristine island of the archipelago, we don't have to worry much. This is a natural process," he said. The most active volcano in the Galapagos, Fernandina has had between 20 and 22 eruptions since 1813. In five days the lava flow could reach the Pacific Ocean." [HerpDigest Lite, May 29, 2005 from Allen Salzberg]

How tortoises get around

"I have just received a report of an Aldabra giant tortoise that washed ashore in Tanzania. It was apparently extremely thin and just about on its last legs when found but has now recovered. It looks good in photographs and has the most incredible growth of goose barnacles. I am tracking down more information and will make sure this intriguing story is written up properly. From its morphology its clearly been a wild Aldabra tortoise so presumably was washed out to sea. I think this will probably be the first documented case of a tortoise surviving a sea crossing (even if it did it from island to mainland rather than the other, textbook direction). Does anyone know of any similar stories? Dr. Justin Gerlach - Scientific Co-ordinator - Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles Affiliated Researcher - University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge May 20, 2005"

Is there a correlation?

  • "The number of households with pet reptiles and amphibians, and the number of herps they have is still growing. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2005-2006 National Pet Owners Survey... 11 million herps are kept as pets in 4.4 million homes in the U.S. Or on average 2.5 pets per household [keeping herps]. The number of households with herps as pets represent a 7 percent increase from 2002. The amount of herps being kept as pets increases by 22 percent from 2002. [HerpDigest Lite, May 6, 2005 from Allen Salzberg]
  • "Arizona Game and Fish law enforcement agents and other officials say they have seen an influx of alligators, cobras, imported diamondbacks, vipers and other illegal creatures in recent years. The number of exotic pets seized by the agency or sparking complaints isn't huge - about 115 cases statewide since 2000, including about a half-dozen alligators a year. But investigators say complaints are rising as the state's population grows, causing concern about threats both to public safety - what's living next door to you? - and to the natural environment. 'The crux of the problem is that people are importing all sorts of critters, from all over the globe, with no regard to the regulations, and animals are being released either accidentally or intentionally,' said ... a Tucson-based field supervisor for Game and Fish. [Tucson, Arizona Daily Star, June 5, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Range extensions

  • "A rare Mediterranean toad which was once thought to be extinct is causing a bit of a stir at night in the heart of leafy Bedfordshire [U.K.]. The rare and tiny Mallorcan midwife toads have mysteriously found their way into the village of Sharnbrook. After a lucky find on Mallorca in 1980 and a successful breeding program, there were thought to be about 500 left in the world. One theory is they may have arrived in Sharnbrook on imported plants... the piping calls of the male toads sound like a hammer on an anvil. Villagers said they first became aware of the toads about a year ago, but thought their metallic nocturnal noise was coming from the nearby railway line. They later tracked the noise down to the amphibian invaders to local ponds." [British Broadcasting Company, June 1, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • A Thai academician warned that alien species, including North American red-eared sliders, locally called "Tao Kaemdaeng" are increasing rapidly in Bangkok canals. They were originally sold as pets, but were abandoned after they "lost their cuteness" and have begun feasting on native fauna. [The Nation, Bangkok, Thailand, June 4, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • "The wilderness between Western Australia's Lake Argyle and the Victoria River in the Northern Territory is soon to become a battleground against the cane toad. And among those breathing a sigh of relief will be the east Kimberley's local frogs. Widespread trapping, fencing and a five-person border patrol will form the basis of an all-out assault by the West Australian Government to keep the cane toad from entering the state. [The Sydney Australian, June 2, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Hip, hop, hooray!

"Green and black spotted frogs loiter beneath the surface of the glassy water in a concrete pond, occasionally allowing their bumpy heads to break through into the desert air. Others hop into the artificial pool from behind tall tufts of dry grass, diving below their glistening eggs nestled in tangled masses of floating plants. When the pond level drops, a plastic float opens a pipe and allows a rush of water to replenish it. A rancher transported the threatened Chiricahua leopard frogs to the pond in southeastern Arizona because they were dying in a nearby reservoir that was being reduced to dried, cracked mud by years of drought. 'I knew something needed to be done,' said rancher Matt Magoffin, who spent years hauling water to the reservoir before moving the frogs with the approval of the federal government." [The Phoenix, Arizona Republic, May 31, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Salamanders, salamanders and more salamanders

  • "... After years of checking genetics and morphology, scientists have determined the critters dubbed the Scott Bar salamander, Plethodon asupak, represent a newly discovered species. The findings are published in the June edition of Herpetologica, the scientific journal focusing on the crawly creatures. Until now, the population of salamanders in that area were believed to be Siskiyou Mountain salamanders, Plethodon stormi, found in a small area of both the Klamath and Applegate river drainages.... scientists continue to look for more information, he said, citing the region's rich history of biological diversity... For more information on the Scott Bar salamander, check out www.inhs.uiuc.edu/cbd/HL/HL.html." [May 31, 2005: Medford, Oregon Mail Tribune and the Seattle Times, both from Wes von Papinešu and materials forwarded from The Center for North American Herpetology by Joe Collins]
  • "A Canadian scientist said that it may be possible to find new salamander species in amphibian fossils formed during the time dinosaurs roamed the earth... a Montreal-based paleontologist, is currently in Hohhot, north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, to study 50 amphibian fossils at the regional museum. All the fossils date back to the Mesozoic, the third era of geologic time... Chinese scientists named about eight species of salamanders through fossil analysis and new ones may be found. [Beijing, China - People's Daily, June 5, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • A new species of plethodontid salamander was found under a rock in South Korea by a biology teacher who sent it to his old advisor at Southern Illinois University who forwarded it to David Wake who discovered that it's a totally new and quite unexpected species. Up until now, all Asian salamanders were aquatic. Finding this one on land was unpredicted and unexpected according to all sorts of amphibian experts. "The nocturnal creature was named Karsenia koreana but will be commonly known as the Korean crevice salamander and is significantly different from other lungless salamanders. So far they have been found in 16 locations in three South Korean provinces." [Reuters, May 4, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Lifestyles of the rich and ?

"Hotel heiress Paris Hilton is staunchly opposed to animal hunting with one exception - frog hunting, because it's one of her favorite leisure pursuits. The Simple Life reality TV star spends much of her spare time chasing the green amphibians, but she insists she's more humane than most hunters, because she releases them back into the wild afterwards. She says, `I love frog hunting. I go at my ranches. I have one near Oakland, California, and another in Nevada, and I own an island. So I catch frogs and put them in a bucket and then I let them go.'" [Florida Sun-Sentinel, May 16, 2005 from Bill Burnett's Mom]

I feel old

Kemp's ridley turtles are starting to nest on Galveston Island, Texas.
  • "The Kemp's ridley that laid 103 eggs in a nest on the beach at Galveston Island State Park was taken to a NOAA laboratory for fitting with a satellite tracking device and was expected to be released into the gulf on Sunday night... Another 87 eggs were recovered around 10:30 a.m. from another nest on the beach ... [and would] be taken to the Padre Island National Seashore for incubation, and the young turtles should be released about two months after hatching. The first Kemp's ridley nesting on the upper coast occurred in 2002 on Galveston Island. The last Kemp's ridley turtle nesting recorded on Galveston Island was on May 16 [before these two in late May]." [Houston Chronicle, May 29, 2005, from Wes von Papinešu]
  • "Last year, there were 42 known Kemp's ridley nestings on the Texas coast, including two on Galveston Island, two on the Bolivar Peninsula and one at Surfside in Brazoria County, Shaver said. As of 2003, the estimated worldwide female population of Kemp's ridleys was 3,200, Shaver said. That estimate is based mainly on the number of nests located at a beach near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico - until recent years, the only known Kemp's nesting place in the world." [Houston Chronicle, May 17, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • Carole Allen and her tireless volunteers raised funds for and headstarted more than 23,000 Kemp's hatchlings between 1978 and 1992. It was one of my first stories when I began writing my column in 1987. Back then we wondered how long it would take for them to return, if they did. Now, we know it takes Kemp's sixteen to eighteen years to mature and return to breed!

Great writing

We all know "snakes come out of their holes about this time every year. But, until today, I had managed to conveniently block this bit of knowledge out of my mind. Oh, it's not that I have anything personal against snakes. I'm sure they're very useful for a lot of things like, say, controlling garden pests and guarding ancient tombs. But, you see, my year is divided into two distinct seasons: Spider and Snake. Both equally heinous and terrifying. But right now I'm more concerned with the latter since Memorial Day was the annual kick off of Snake Season, which lasts through the summer and into fall. [Debbie Farmer, Gilroy, California The Dispatch, June 5, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Human or turtle "Survivor" clones?

"Environmentalists in Tobago are concerned over the filming of MTV's popular Gauntlet program at Turtle Beach where the endangered leatherback turtle nests at this time of the year. A spokesman for the "Save our Sea Turtles" association said the shooting, taking place over the next six weeks, falls smack in the middle of the 2005 nesting season and would scare away the turtles... The Assembly granted permission for the use of an area where nesting turtles will not be disturbed. MTV will host more than 15 episodes of the popular "survivor type" series in locations around Tobago and the Division said the production, which will be viewed by millions of people around the world, will add to Tobago's visibility as the island is promoted as a natural eco paradise." [Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, The Express, June 3, 2005 from Wes von Papinešu]

Let's hear it for bird flu!

Low demand for snake meat in the international market following the bird flu scare has resulted in an increase in the number of snakes in Kedah. Demand dropped because consumers feared that snakes could be feeding on sick chicken. [Petaling Jaya, Malaysia The Star, May 13, 2005 from Wes VP]

Like Losing the Golden Gate?

According to the June 2, 2005 San Francisco Chronicle: San Francisco garter snakes have returned to San Francisco -- but they didn't just slither into town. The newest residents of the zoo are so rare and endangered that they had to be imported from the Netherlands... Their arrival is the result of a collaboration between the zoo and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which means many officials, lots of long titles, and lifestyle improvements for San Francisco garter snakes -- both captive and wild... More than 50 representatives of local and national environmental agencies, along with the U.S. assistant secretary of the interior, will welcome the reptiles... By any measure, the San Francisco garter snake is a knockout: Its head is red, its belly turquoise, and coral and black stripes run the length of its body... Listed as federally endangered in 1967 and state endangered in 1971, the San Francisco garter snake disappeared from North American zoos in 2003, when 8-year-old Alcatraz died at the San Francisco Zoo. His wild relatives can be found only in pockets of coastal San Mateo County, the northwest corner of Santa Cruz County and near San Francisco International Airport. And even though they're the patron snake of San Francisco, Lake Merced is the main place in the city where they might once have lived... The Fish and Wildlife Service bought the 10 Dutch snakes -- which are 18 inches long and will mark their first birthday on Tuesday -- from a private breeder in the Netherlands for $1,780. It's likely that they're descendants of snakes the Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated from suspected smugglers in the early 1980s and gave to the Jersey Zoo in England. Four will stay in San Francisco. The other six will go to the San Diego Zoo later this month and be bred eventually for other American Zoo and Aquarium Association institutions... [It's hoped someday to add some snakes to] a restored wild snake habitat at Mori Point, on the coast in Pacifica. The main attractions were two recently built seasonal ponds that provide homes for Pacific tree frogs and California red-legged frogs. They, in turn, provide dinner for the garter snakes. As real estate goes, the ponds, grasses, uplands and rodent burrows of Mori Point are perfect for the garter snake, and a counterpoint to the Sharp Park Golf Course and Fairway West housing complex next door. Agricultural, commercial and urban development are all threats to the snake -- along with lawnmowers, BMX jumps, bullfrogs, teenage boys and phobics.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month, especially to those still doing it the old fashioned way with whole sheets of newspapers mailed to my snail address. The file folder looks plump enough to withstand a whole column of real clippings next month!

July 2005

Only the good die young

A woman stopped her car when she saw a turtle trying to cross a highway near Fort Myers, Florida. Her six-year-old daughter jumped out even though her mother screamed at her to wait. The child was hit by an oncoming car whose driver was repentant but said she couldn't stop because the child "came out of nowhere." No charges were filed even though one of the officers described it as "tragic." [Miami Herald, June 8, 2005 from Alan Rigerman] Perhaps someone could endow a chair of herpetology or name a new species for heroic Miss Emily Kent, who so loved a turtle that she gave her life for it.

Snake Season Starts

  • "Nothing thrills and chills quite like the sight of a snake. For most people, crossing paths with a snake is more chilling than thrilling, but for [a] local snake hunter... it's all thrills." [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 29, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • The Chicago Tribune [May 20, 2005 from Ray Boldt] reports: "After accidentally squishing a Mohave rattlesnake under the tires of his dirt bike, [a] contractor... whacked off its head for a souvenir. The decapitated serpent was not amused. When [the man] reached down to pluck up the head - with 3 inches of body attached - it wheeled around and chomped his left index finger." For doctors it was just another indication of the arrival of "Snake Season" in California. A snakebite specialist at Stanford University Medical Center estimated that from 7,000 to 8,000 people are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the U.S. Amazingly, less than a dozen usually die. Even the decapitator at the beginning of the article lived to drive his dirt bike again.

Your tax dollars at work

"As the owner of 425 active bases and more than 10,000 training ranges, the Defense Department is widely regarded as one of the nation's leading polluters, producing vast amounts of chemicals from ordnance that leach into groundwater as well as air pollution from military vehicles. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists more than 130 Superfund sites on military bases," and dozens of rare plants and animals occur on bases dotted all over the U.S. Even so, the military keeps asking for "greater latitude in complying with environmental laws." Congress has rolled back several laws which only affect animals but is holding firm on things they feel would impact human health as if humans were not animals, too. Desert tortoises, in particular, are disliked by military trainers who say the presence of the ancient animals "hinders training." [The New York Times, May 11, 2005 from new contributor Paula Shevick] Meanwhile I recently spotted a good-ol'boy special with an interesting spin. The backless pickup truck with high mud tires and a gun rack sported a black and white bumper sticker that read "Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam."

Poisons and traps, or tolerance?

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the use of hydrated lime for coqui frog eradication efforts in Hawai'i. Lime is cheaper than citric acid which should help in large scale applications. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 28, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • Meanwhile inventive researchers in Puerto Rico developed a plastic pipe trap to catch coquis. Approximately 10-inch sections of 3/4 or 1/2 inch diameter white plastic pipe are open on the bottom and topped with a tee fitting. The frogs crawl in, lay eggs and wait inside for the eggs to hatch. The frogs don't move when people pick up the tubes which lets them be counted or killed, your choice. The pipes have to be weathered to removed the plastic smell which apparently keeps the frogs from wanting to use them. As soon as the first crop of frogs are taken from the traps it takes about two weeks for them to be re-colonized. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 28, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • USA Today reported that some neighbors in a community on Maui get together at night to "fog frogs" with citric acid spray. One "regularly heads out wearing a gas mask, headlamp and plastic backpack fogging machine... 'This is just a part of my life now,'" [he said]. [April 13, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • A recent letter to the editor in the Honolulu Advertiser [May 14, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow] reads: "Paranoia and misinformation about the coqui has spread much faster and further her in Hawai'i than the frog itself has... Since it isn't trendy right now... to show appreciation for non-native species... [the writer claims the whole story is not being told]..."
    "Unlike what you've heard, the coqui does have natural predators here in Hawai'i: Rats hunt them here just as they do in the frogs' native habitat." [Ellin's note: rats are native neither to Puerto Rico nor Hawai'i having been introduced to both in the 1600s to 1800s from European sailing vessels.]

    "The coqui does not sing at 90 decibels... [but] at about 75 decibels - the same volume as your average songbird." [Ellin's note: This would be fine if coquis sang in the daytime. A whole pond of them outside your window at night can be much more annoying than songbirds at any volume.]

    "Just because the coqui eats Hawaiian insects and spiders doesn't mean it's a threat to the native ecology. Many non-native bugs compete with and eat native ones, and coquis eat them too, so the overall net effect of the coqui is unknown." [Ellin's note: He's got a point here.]

    "Whether you like them or not it isn't right for anyone to make false claims and present them to the public as facts." [Ellin's note: unfortunately your speculations aren't fact either, but it was an interesting letter anyway.]

Well guys have a "third leg," so...

Early in May the wire services buzzed with a story that a snake killed in Washington State had little leg buds coming off its hips. In newspaper parlance, all puns intended, this story had legs. Or it did, until someone realized they weren't legs at all, but the dead snake's male reproductive organs called hemipenes. The story ultimately didn't have a leg to stand on, and died. [various sources: the closest to the original story and the fastest by mail came from Norman J. Scott, Jr. Mid-Columbia Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, Washington State) May 6 and May 7, 2005]

Sea Turtle Nesting in an Odd-Numbered Year

  • Biologists are very concerned about the state of Florida's beaches after last year's record hurricane season and the unexplained decline in loggerhead sea turtle nests over the last decade. Despite some fluctuation, the overall trend has been down from a peak nesting of 85,988 in 1998 to an alarming 47,173 in 2004. [Orlando Sentinel, May 1, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • Additionally, the peak of sea turtle nesting is ten days earlier on average than fifteen years ago as temperatures continue to warm earlier every year. Sea temperature is up 1.44 degrees F for the entire Florida coast of the Atlantic Ocean. [Orlando Sentinel, May 2, 2005 from Bill Burnett] For comparison, the Earth's overall temperature warmed only one degree in the entire 20th Century.

The English Impatient

Two British tourists watched long enough to know what they were seeing then called in authorities who arrested two twenty-something Florida men on felony charges. The men allegedly lured an alligator out of a retention pond with some bread and then both men beat it to death. One of the tourists called the attack "appalling." [Orlando Sentinel, April 16, 2005 from Bill Burnett]

Determining sex of petrified rex

A specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex removed from a site so remote that the bones had to be broken for helicopter transport yielded not only soft tissue in excellent preservation but the best evidence so far for a dinosaur-bird relation as opposed to dinosaur-crocodile. It seems that this rex had medullary bone which is only found now in birds, not crocodiles. Medullary bone is generated by estrogen in ovulating females and is used in the egg-shell building process. Between this bone type and the occasional finding of a dinosaur "in egg," paleontologists now have another tool to determine the sex of these long-departed beasts. Dinosaur hunter Jack Horner said that they have another dozen rex's in the Museum of the Rockies. He said "We're about to find out if any of them are female," and added, "I can assure you, this is one of those happenstance situations that we will create on purpose in the future." Horner was the first paleontologist to deliberately open a dinosaur egg, a situation which he described one night as "folks waiting 100 years to open a Christmas present." As soon as he found fossilized embryos, paleontologists around the world opened other eggs and much was learned about dinosaur growth and metabolism. [The Chicago Tribune, June 3, 2005 from Ray Boldt]

Stupid Human Tricks

A columnist for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports that high altitude Andean frogs of the genus Telmatobius may be becoming extinct due to local custom of blending the frogs into cocktails which allegedly have aphrodisiacal properties. [April 28, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Just another love bite

A man who owned a five- to six-foot-long green mamba was bitten on the hand at 5 a.m., went to the hospital without calling 911 and received antivenin. The case was considered serious. Mambas are, of course, some of the most venomous and also the fastest snakes native to their parts of Africa. [Miami Herald, June 9, 2005 from Bill Burnett] Green or black, mambas are definitely not something to trifle with in the average American home, but there are some folks who consider themselves the exceptionally blessed.

Case closed

The Scotsman who died in Arkansas last year after being bitten by a venomous snake started a huge press storm; all sorts of appalling tales and lascivious frills were added to a fairly simple story. Man is obsessed with venomous snakes. Man orders snakes. Man opens box in car. Man gets bitten. Man dies from snakebite. The coroner said there was no evidence to support any sort of fancy "suicide by snake" theory, nor was there any evidence to show what happened to the two snakes he'd ordered from the same supplier earlier - including a boomslang. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 10, 2005 from Bill Burnett]

Good neighbors

Blanding's turtles in McHenry County, Illinois will receive a 6-acre tract of land courtesy of a mall developer who will now be able to proceed with his strip mall. According to The Chicago Tribune, "The developer has paid for a study of the turtles and created artificial nesting sites for them... [and] dug storm-water detention ponds that will help protect the marsh from seeping pollutants... the neighboring marsh covers 116 acres." The mall will cover 21. The population of the yellow-throated large turtles at the marsh is considered the largest in McHenry County and perhaps the state. [June 3, 2005 from Ray Boldt] I will never forget the time when I saw a Blanding's crossing the tow-path road on the way to Split Rock. I dropped my stuff, broke into a sprint and tackled the critter like it was a football before it plopped into the I and M Canal. I didn't think they were recorded from there, so I took pictures and got all excited until I got home and checked Phil Smith's book and lo-and-behold, there was already a filled in dot for LaSalle County! Oh well. It was good exercise, anyway.

Newt challenges, snake responds

"An evolutionary arms race is underway between newts and snakes in the Pacific Northwest... A toxin produced by the rough-skinned newt has triggered recent evolutionary changes several times in the garter snake... three out of four snake populations... have become resistant [to the toxin] ... one-thirtieth of the toxin inside each newt is enough to kill the average human, says the report in ... Nature. [USA Today, April 7, 2005 from Bill Burnett and Ms. G.E. Chow]

Python Pete in training

Borrowing an idea that is used on Guam to fight brown tree snakes, a beagle is being trained to find Burmese pythons in Florida's Everglades where "visitors... hope to encounter some scary swamp creatures. But a 20-foot snake draped across a two-lane road? That's a postcard moment wildlife officials want to erase... Some tourists have gotten out of their cars to move what they thought was a large branch, only to be alarmed when a huge snake slithers away," reports the Orlando Sentinel [March 20, 2005 from Bill Burnett]. The article adds that more than 50 Burmese pythons were removed from Everglades National Park from the mid 1990s to 2003 and 61 more were taken in 2004. This year, they've been catching one every other day. And there's no doubt anymore that they're breeding out there. There's plenty of rats, rabbits and squirrels as well as birds and other small prey items.

Hello Marin? We have a problem.

The Marin County California Municipal Water District recently discovered a problem after a herpetologist was hired to count Western pond turtles in their five reservoirs. He found that most of the MWD's turtles were non-native species, including the ubiquitous red-eared slider. It seems people have been dumping unwanted pets in the reservoirs for years. [San Francisco Chronicle, May 16, 2005 from Mystie Rios]

Welcome back!

"After a seven-year hiatus from public view, [Grand Cayman blue iguanas]... the most endangered lizard in the world - are back on display at the [Shedd] Aquarium... [in] their new habitat... in celebration of the Shedd's 75th anniversary... The new exhibit lets viewers see the iguanas above and below the water, but still gives... [them] some privacy... recent estimates suggest there may be as few as 25 of this type of iguana left in the wild," according to the Daily Herald, February 11, 2005 from Ray Boldt] The Shedd has two, Eleanor and Marley. Let's hope the specially made exhibit helps them produce many fertile eggs.

Back from the brink?

In late May 2005, a few Kihansi Spray Toads were found in the upper wet zone of the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania, Africa. While not front page news on any paper I've yet seen, the story was on of the most Googled news stories of the month. The Kihansi Spray Toad was unknown to science until the mid 1980s when its unusual habitat, the moist and misty edges of some incredible waterfalls, was proposed for a hydropower dam site. As is typical in these cases, the dam was funded by the World Bank and several international development agencies indebting the Tanzanians to $275 million in principal. Even though biologists found rare and unusual species, the project continued full speed through the 1990s, and in 1999 the dam began water diversions. Six months later, the river had been reduced to only one fourth its original flow and the remaining Kihansi Spray Toads were found clustered by the tens of thousands in the little remaining habitat. Over 90 percent of the original habitat was destroyed by desiccation nearly instantly. In July 2001, a sprinkler system was installed to attempt to return mist to the gorge, however it was silted up and stopped working. A captive breeding program was begun along with survey work of the remaining population. The captive programs have had their ups and downs; much has been learned and much remains to learn about these tiny amphibians. But the story turns tragic when biologists were hired from several African nations to survey the gorge for remaining toads where the population had climbed back to 20,000 individuals. One or more of the imported biologists couldn't be bothered to wash their stuff before going to work at the gorge where endangered animals live and so the remaining population, having survived desiccation and habitat loss was exposed to the virulent and deadly chytrid fungus which is endemic in South Africa where several of the biologists originated. The population crashed nearly over night to forty individuals. Then none were seen in 2004. But the good news is that a few were spotted in May 2005 so the species is not extinct in the wild, yet. [Mongo.bay, May 2005 from Google News (beta) http://news.mongabay.com/2005/0629-kihansi_spray_toad_extinction.html]
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month especially new contributor Paula Shevick who joins a long list of distinguished contributors to this column. However, the clippings envelope got emptied and as you can see I also used an article I surfed off the web. So please keep those whole pages of newspapers and magazines coming! Put your name on each piece - perhaps those pesky return address labels from holiday charities will finally find a good use - and mail tome. Extra bennies and a free copy of my book "Frogs, their inner life revealed" to the very first person who sends me an original, printed article about it. To read up on the book until the media campaign hits in just about 60 days go to http://Amazon.com and type my name in the "search" line!

September 2005

I'm Looking Through You

Airport security put a loggerhead turtle through airport security while KSTP-TV of Minneapolis, MN ran film. You can see the webvideo at http://www.kstp.com/article/stories/S9828.html?cat=1. The turtle looks suitably bored. It was on its way to "Florida, where it was illegally taken from a beach as a baby last September. An agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service will accompany the seven pound turtle. The turtle will be placed at the Conservancy of South West Florida, a nature center close to Sanibel Island, until it is large enough to be released into the wild. Loggerhead turtles grow to about 350 pounds. The turtle has been at the Minnesota Zoo since it was confiscated by wildlife agents when it was a week old. The zoo couldn't keep the turtle indefinitely because regulations require that all healthy loggerhead turtles be released into the wild. Only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings make it to adulthood." [KSTP-TV, August 10, 2005 from several folks with email. First arrival: Teri Radke]

Brilliant writing (puns intended)

Natalie Angier of the New York Times, pulled out all stops with her review of a paper in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "Among frogs and New Yorkers alike, those wearing loud colors are assumed to have very poor taste. As researchers have long observed, the brightest frog species in nature are often the most poisonous, and for good reason. Why else would a creature coveted by everything from snakes to birds evolve an extravagantly colored skin, except to warn any would-be predators of bitter toxins embedded therein? Now it turns out that it is no mean feat for a frog to earn its mean feet, and that one of the surest routes to optimal toxicity is through a highly specialized form of ant eating... Through entirely independent pathways, it seems, the two unrelated groups of frogs evolved a similar capacity to store, or sequester, the ingested alkaloids in their skin sacs without being harmed by the pungent substances themselves. And once the unrelated amphibian clans had succeeded in caching the ant bane in their glands, they autonomously evolved bright coloration to broadcast to potential frog-eaters their possession of distasteful alkaloids... The power of convergent evolution has fascinated naturalists from Charles Darwin onward, and it helps explain the appearance of the many aesthetic and functional deja-vus that abound throughout nature: the sleekly hydrodynamic silhouettes of sharks and dolphins, the spindly wings of bats, birds and pterosaurs. As evolutionary biologists see it, the underlying principle of evolutionary convergence - that often there is one right tool for the job, and that selective pressures will reinvent the bio-utensil whenever the need arises - exemplifies just how non-random and ostensibly purposeful natural selection can be, and how readily it may be mistaken for evidence of supernatural `design.' In the case of poison frogs, specific palettes and patterns seem to be so useful for warning off predators that they pop up again and again. On both continents can be found frogs of pure bold Velveeta gold, frogs with glaring spots of red on black." [August 9, 2005 Convergent evolution of chemical defense in poison frogs and arthropod prey between Madagascar and the Neotropics Valerie C. Clark, Christopher J. Raxworthy, Valerie Rakotomalala, Petra Sierwald, and Brian L. Fisher. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA published 8 August 2005, 10.1073/pnas.0503502102]

Deadlier than a serpent's tooth

The University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania reports that one of their researchers has found that "Roundup®, the most commonly used herbicide in the world, is deadly to tadpoles at lower concentrations than previously tested; that the presence of soil does not mitigate the chemical's effects; and that the product kills frogs in addition to tadpoles... In two articles published in the Aug. 1 issue of the journal Ecological Applications, ... [researchers] found that even when applied at concentrations that are one-third of the maximum concentrations expected in nature, Roundup® still killed up to 71 percent of tadpoles raised in outdoor tanks... After exposure to the maximum concentration expected in nature, nearly all of the tadpoles from three species died. Although Roundup® is not approved for use in water, scientists have found that the herbicide can wind up in small wetlands where tadpoles live due to inadvertent spraying during the application of Roundup®. Studying how Roundup® affected frogs after metamorphosis, [they] found that the recommended application of Roundup® Weed and Grass Killer, a formulation marketed to homeowners and gardeners, killed up to 86 percent of terrestrial frogs after only one day. `The most striking result from the experiments was that a chemical designed to kill plants killed 98 percent of all tadpoles within three weeks and 79 percent of all frogs within one day, .. . wrote [the professor]. Previous studies have determined that it is Roundup®'s surfactant (polyethoxylated tallowamine, or POEA, an `inert' ingredient added to make the herbicide penetrate plant leaves) and not the active herbicide (glyphosate) that is lethal to amphibians. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, [The University of Pittsburg's] Pitt's McKinley Fund, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. [August 24, 2005; http://www.umc.pitt.edu/media/pcc/sci3_roundup_2005AUG24.html]

Found down Unda!

"A rare frog species, the Southern Toadlet, has appeared in a record-breaking frog census in Melbourne [Australia] for the first time... the discovery was a highlight of the survey, which involved 900 volunteers collecting information on frogs across Melbourne - the largest number of participants so far. 'The Census also discovered the endangered Growling Grass Frog in two new locations - Caroline Springs and Rockbank,' [The Minister of Water] said. 'These are very important discoveries. Frogs are great indicators of the health of our rivers, creeks, and wetland environments.' But while the survey delivered plenty of good news, the census also recorded an interstate species that could threaten local frogs... 'Unfortunately we've also found more populations of the Eastern Dwarf Tree Frog, also known as the banana box frog, which comes from interstate and poses a threat to Victorian native frogs,' ... through disease or competition... [August 18, 2005 -- http://www.theage.com.au/ news/national/ribbiting-news-for-frog-lovers /2005/08/18/1123958169092.html]

Invading a Town Near You!

On August 15, 2005, the Associated Press reported: "Thousands of quarter-sized toads have invaded... [Big Sandy, a] north-central Montana farming community, causing slippery streets and raising the entrepreneurial spirits of some. The toads started showing up in the southeast portion of town in the past couple of weeks. 'I have no idea how many thousands of toads are in town,' said [one resident]. 'At times, you just about can't take a step.' [Another local] said some lawns in town are filled with so many toads, it looks like the grass is moving. 'They're pretty cute,' she said, ... [although] driving in town is a little sticky because the roads are filled with tiny, smashed toads. 'Poor little toads,' she said. 'Everyone keeps running them over. They have nowhere to go.' Some are collecting the toads with plans to sell them to pet stores. Others are talking about trying them out as fish bait... [The] chief of the volunteer fire department, said the toads seem to be migrating from east to west and believes they will soon be on their way. It was just two years ago that the town's streets were blocked by 10-foot drifts of tumbleweeds. Firefighters hauled the tumbleweeds away and burned them. 'The tumbleweeds were a hazard,' [the chief] said. 'The toads are just a nuisance.'" [Great Falls Tribune, http://www.greatfallstribune.com]

Toadally absent

The whole community turned out in the Australian city of Darwin to search for cane toads after 24 toads were found in the past two months, including 16 at their Botanic Gardens. But only one toad was found in the audit which "coincided with the 70th anniversary of the day cane toads were released in Australia... They have since marched across Australia, killing millions of native animals - from lizards to crocodiles - including in world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park." The local Frog Watch Coordinator said he was both surprised and happy that dozens hadn't been found as feared. [August 19, 2005 -- http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,16312964-1702,00.html]

A reasonably sympathetic trait!

Wild Notebook by Simon Barnes from the Times of London (online) August 20, 2005: "The other evening, I found a toad in the lav. He melted with rather surprising speed into a corner and pretended he wasn't there. Now you're not supposed to touch toads, because they can put out severe skin irritants and, so I gather, hallucinogens. How did any one find that out? They are creatures with a low reputation: poisonous (King John may have died from toad poison rather than a surfeit of lampreys), witches' familiars, generally regarded as sinister beasts. But toads have performed a U-turn over the past century: the more we lose our wild beasts, the more affection we have for them. We now rather like the bumbling toads. Intelligent gardeners love them, because they are great eaters of slugs. Their sex-mad lives... contributed to their poor reputation: Othello talks madly about 'a cistern for foul toads to knot and gender in'. In mass-mating frenzies, toads will seize anything within range to copulate with. These days, again, sex-mad behaviour is regarded as a reasonably sympathetic trait. I picked my toad up in a cloth: and he at once turned belly-up in a graceful faint like a Victorian maiden, front paws either side of the head. Dead, dead! I put him outside the back-door and, smugly delighted that his strategy had fooled me, he hopped off into the night. We build our houses and our cities as fortresses against the wild: and we act as if a visitation from the non-human world (Pest! Infestation!) were some kind of disaster. Not so. Doff your hat to your wild visitors, tell them it is pleasure to share a planet with them, and send them on their way." Thank you Simon, for a wonderful view of toads in the newest century!

More clothes, same story

August 21, 2005, the Reuters news service brings this update to a story previously reported here: "Mexican environmentalists said they might tone down posters of scantily clad women aimed at saving endangered turtles after a government panel that promotes women's rights objected. The posters seek to dispel a myth that sea turtle eggs are an aphrodisiac. The panel complained that using suggestive images to raise consciousness, even if it is for a worthy cause, is degrading to women. 'My man doesn't need turtle eggs. Because he knows they don't make him more potent,' says an Argentine model staring at one of the posters. Environmentalists said the southern state of Guerrero had asked them to change the posters following complaints by the National Women's Institute... [Even so] the groups behind the posters would likely issue new posters with models in less suggestive poses. 'We might change them,' he said. 'For the next campaign, I would opt for a famous Mexican actress with more clothes on but with the same message.' Every year, tens of thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs on Mexico's Pacific and Caribbean beaches. Many fall prey to poachers who kill the females, extract the eggs from their wombs and sell them as a supposed aphrodisiac. Earlier this month, poachers chopped to death some 80 protected Olive Ridley sea turtles for their eggs and left their shells scattered on a Pacific beach in Mexico." [The Financial Express, August 21, 2005]

Anything for a buck

"Small turtles were being sold at kiosks in Tallahassee's two shopping malls Monday despite a federal ban against their sale. Federal law prohibits the sale of turtles under four inches as pets. Their sale has been banned since 1970 because of concerns that they transmit salmonella, a potentially deadly bacteria. A ... mall spokeswoman said the lease for the Turtle World kiosk where the turtles were being sold... was being terminated this week... [A] Turtle biologist ... of Tallahassee said Monday he had contacted mall managers about the turtle sales. He's concerned the red-eared turtles have been released into the wild and will harm native turtles... [he and another biologist] are filing a petition with the state to ban the sale of any red-eared turtles, which live primarily in the Mississippi River valley and as close to Florida as Alabama. They are related to the yellow-bellied slider, which lives in Florida. Once released in Florida, they can breed with the yellow-bellied slider to create a hybrid subspecies... Red-eared turtles also grow larger than the yellow-bellied slider and can out-compete them for food and basking areas on logs, he said. [Sarasota Herald Today, Aug. 25, 2005]

Turtles, turtles and more turtles

Political pundit Paul Campos wrote: An old philosophical joke goes like this: The student asks the great sage, "O Master, upon what does the Earth rest?" The sage replies, "O seeker of knowledge, the Earth rests on the back of an enormous turtle." The student then asks, "Tell me, Wise One, upon what does this turtle rest?" The sage answers with annoyance, "Well obviously it's turtles all the way down!" The predictable brouhaha that erupted when President Bush suggested that intelligent design theory ought to be presented to public school students as an alternative to Darwinian evolution revealed, among other things, that a lot of people don't get this joke. [August 9, 2005]

Mercury Retrograde

California is just different than Chicago. Recently a friend of mine who is a well-known astrologer called me. He said, "I just finished your chart and I have to tell you to be very careful. Mercury is going retrograde and it's going to turn your world upside down." What ho, I thought. How can the movement of little spots of light o, so far away have the slightest effect on us down here? And I still don't believe it, but have had the worst streak of "bad luck" imaginable, starting the day after his call and ending right when he predicted it on the 19th of August! I got majorly sick. Details unnecessary, but bed rest for 14 days killed my last column and a sudden change from cable modem to DSL wiped out my email just about simultaneously. Next month clippings! And please send more as the file is still rather thin despite the best efforts of several wonderful contributors... Send whole pages of newspaper with the date/ publication slugs attached to me.

October 2005

Foreword

In much the same way as we think before and after 9/11, so too have we begun to think of before and after the devastating hurricanes and resultant destruction and flooding visited upon the Gulf Shore from Louisiana through Mississippi and into Texas. Stories familiar to all include the staff of the Audubon Zoo weathering Katrina in the reptile house and their heroic struggle to save all the animals while outside humans waited in vain for rescue or fell victim to human predators in areas of presumed safety. And, like 9/11, we'll all remember where we were when we "heard about New Orleans." In my case it was at the Burning Man art festival when a glazed young woman covered head to toe in tribal tattoos came into our camp crying, "The whole city is under water, my studio is flooded, there's people shooting people in the Superdome and we've all got to do something!" Hermes flew on, but I was left with an emptiness behind the joyous festival which continued until today when I realized I have survivors' guilt. This column has survived all other natural disasters for nearly two decades, I realized it was time to write this column of herpetological miscellany for one more time! As they say in many other endeavors: the show must go on.

Contribute to a herpetological icon

Allen Salzberg writes: "As you know HerpDigest, a non-profit organization, for over five years has existed on foundation grants, generous donations from individuals, special sales, money from my own pocket, and this year, for the first time, subscriptions... the support this year that we received from the foundations has totally dried up... unable to find any foundations or other organizations to replace the lost grants we are now totally dependent on individual donations and subscriptions.... [which] has not increased over the year and so the future of HerpDigest is bad. If we are to continue doing what you say we do so well, we need to raise money to continue, fast. Almost $10,000. Over 5,000 people receive either HerpDigest or HerpDigest Lite. A good 95 percent of them receive HerpDigest Lite, the free version. Those who have helped in the past through donations, sales or subscriptions, we have thank you. You know who you are." To help out, visit http://HerpArts.com or send a check to HerpDigest, c/o Allen Salzberg, 67-87 Booth Street, 5B, Forest Hills, NY 11375.

Hungry lizards invade Sanibel

Lock up the small dogs, cats and children. The city manager of Sanibel on Florida's Gulf Coast reports that Nile Monitors have invaded. The Miami Herald (September 26, 2005] reports: "The[y] ... arrived furtively, almost certainly by sea. Tucking scaly little arms into its slender body, it propelled itself with its ridged tail, a well-muscled rudder, through the waters from neighboring Cape Coral or Pine Island, biologists believe. And here it now is, just as the experts feared, a carnivorous, dagger-clawed, razor-toothed African monitor lizard that knows no Florida predators, running amok in a fragile nature preserve filled with nestlings and delectable bird and turtle eggs. `'We did consider offering a reward, but we didn't want people to bring them from elsewhere,'' said ... [the] city manager for Sanibel on the southwest Gulf Coast, which posted the lizard's mug on its website and cautioned that no `infant humans' be left alone. `We're very concerned, yes.' [From Allen Salzberg, HerpDigest #5/79, October 5, 2005]

Weird enough?

I sometimes wonder what my contributors think of me. Marybeth Trilling also forwarded this note from a German herpetologist, commenting that "it's weird enough for your column." A woman died of snake bite in the Sundarbans region which spans India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. What made the situation come to the attention of westerners was that her neighbors took her to a voodoo practitioner first. Only after her condition got worse was she taken to the local Christian Missionary Hospital where she died. The villagers blamed western medicine, not the delay to treatment. They credit native healers with a high success rate which is probably more a function of the number of dry bites than any particular ability to deal with snake toxin.

More Coqui-tales

  • "Hydrated lime improperly administered to fight coqui frogs poses a serious potential human health risk and the state is hearing... several reports about residents not following the directions on the labels of hydrated lime when using it as a pesticide. Instead, some people are applying just the dust." [West Hawaii Today, May 28, 2005, from Paul Breese]
  • "Costly coqui frogs affecting state economy. Frogs disrupt real estate deals, nurseries..." scream the headlines. Eradicating coqui frogs costs an arm and a leg because the "Oahu Invasive Species Committee sprays at least four nights a week amid fears the rapidly multiplying coqui could easily spread if they aren't completely eradicated." [West Hawaii Today, July 11, 2005, from Paul Breese]
  • "A tiny, 2-inch frog is causing a big stir in Hawaii. Beloved in its native Puerto Rico, the coqui frog has become a menace... where it suddenly appeared in the 1990s. With no natural predators... the frogs and their loud "ko-KEE" mating calls have multiplied exponentially - causing headaches for homeowners." [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 16, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • Recent studies show that coqui frogs (Eleutherodactylus coqui) "don't inhabit the same high-elevation areas as endangered Hawaiian birds, meaning there is little fear the invasive amphibians will compete with the birds for food and push them into extinction." [West Hawaii Today, August 29, 2005, from Paul Breese; USA Today, August 30, 2005 from Bill Burnett]

Count Frog-ula?

"I would like to contact herpetologists involved in size-assessment of amphibian populations of species that are of commercial interest. For example, in the U.S. specimens of the Bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, are harvested in order to obtain the legs, which are sold on the commercial market for consumption in restaurants... because, in the Danube Delta of Romania, there have been requests submitted by various commercial firms for a license for frog-leg exploitation. Before issuing a permit to them, we feel we must establish a quota for existing frog populations, which might then put limits on the number to be harvested for the commercial market. To set a quota, we are trying to find out any research details or results that focused both on assessments of numbers of frogs in a given population and on establishment of numbers of frogs that might be removed from said population without long term damage to the a species. Anyone involved in such research and willing to provide reprints or research results, please contact me at: Zsolt TÖRÖK - Danube Delta National Institute - 165, Babadag Street - Tulcea 820112 - Tulcea County, Romania - Fax (+04) 0240 533547 - email: torok@indd.tim.ro" [from Jim Harding, October 4, 2005]

Toxic frog legs

Super contributor Marybeth Trilling wrote: "This article made me very unhoppy. Good that there is something being done." The story reports that the wildlife department of the western Indian state of Goa, ran a campaign "this monsoon to save the frog - traditionally poached from flooded paddy fields for frog legs. The department's poster Save the frogs warned that monsoonal frog poaching was an "ecological crime against the food chain, affecting the ecological balance of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems," according to Asian Age, July 14, 2005. Poached frogs feed not only the people who catch them, but are sold to restaurants and some probably end up exported. The article continues, "Frogs though perform a vital function, reducing insect population and preventing insect borne diseases like malaria, the incidence of which has risen in recent years. In a bid to reduce demand itself, the administration issues annual warning notices that sustained consumption of frog legs - whose fat contains `toxic residues from chemical fertilizers' - increases risk of cancers, strokes and kidney failure. Villagers though comment that there has been an audible decline in frog population, and fields that once resounded with frog night calls are less noisy after the first few rains. The use of chemical fertilizers is attributed as one major cause, along with poaching, which though reduced still continues in pockets... [A] wildlife enthusiast... rescued some fifty frogs from seven poachers one night registering the first police complaint for frog poaching under the 1972 Wildlife Act, which makes it an offense."

Frogs may save us yet

"A judge this week struck a blow to Bush administration efforts to simplify the federal approval of pesticides, saying that the Environmental Protection Agency must consider whether pesticides will harm the red-legged frog before approving those pesticides for use... [and] ordered the EPA to consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists on whether dozens of different pesticides are harmful to the frog... a rule change in July 2004 allowed the EPA to approve pesticides without consulting with federal wildlife agencies... Although this week's ruling applies only to the frog, it sets a regional legal precedent that would apply to any of the hundreds of endangered species of plants and animals in California. The red-legged frog, a native to the Mother Lode and other parts of California, is believed to be the frog featured in Mark Twain's story `The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.' ... No red-legged frog had been seen in Calaveras County for 34 years until 2003 when a rancher's children found a few of them. Last year, a study... found that frog populations across the state had declined the most in areas with the highest exposure to farm pesticides over the 17 years from 1974 to 1991... Prevailing Central Valley winds spread air pollution east into the foothills and Sierra Nevada." This ruling has implications in human health, too. "The EPA has been approving pesticides based on each chemical's individual effects. No study is done of what happens when a bunch of different chemicals combine," and no one can predict what will happen when different pesticides combine and meet up in ditches, streams, lakes and rivers. [Sacramento Record, September 21, 2005 from Ken Mierzwa]

Can it be done?

The BBC reports that "saving the world's frogs, toads and salamanders from oblivion will top $400 million over five years... the estimated cost of a global action plan drawn up during an expert summit in Washington DC, and backed by the UN's biodiversity agency IUCN. The money would pay for the protection of habitats, for disease prevention and captive-breeding projects, and for the ability to respond to emergencies. About a third of all amphibian species are at a high risk of extinction... [The] deputy chair of IUCN's species survival commission, told the BBC News website, `The extent of these declines and extinctions is without precedent in any class of animals over the last few millennia.' According to the Global Amphibian Assessment, a vast and authoritative study which reported its findings last year, almost a third of the 5,743 known species are at risk of extinction; up to 122 have disappeared within the last 25 years... [Due to] habitat loss and degradation, climate change, chemical contamination, infectious disease, notably the fungal infection chytridiomycosis, invasive species, [and] over-harvesting... The action plan sees captive breeding as a bridge to a better era when chytridiomycosis can be beaten and the amphibians returned to the wild. [However, one group points out,] `we've been running a captive-breeding program with the boreal toad ( Bufo boreas ) since 1995,' said ... [one of the researchers]. `We've tried re-introducing them to the wild seven or eight times, but every time they die within a couple of years; if you don't get rid of the fungus, all you're doing is providing it with lunch.'" [September 19, 2005 from all the usual suspects including Jim Harding, Ken Mierzwa, Bill Burnett, Ray Boldt, Alan Rigerman. And if I haven't found it in the pile, I'm sure there's three more copies down there, or on the way.]

It's real, not a legend

Email this morning was full of copies of a rather disgusting photo and the question, "Is it real or Photoshop?" The photo is of a python, half of which is stretched wide over the top half of a six foot alligator, while the other end floats, bloated and decomposed in the water. The tail of the gator is sticking out of the middle of the python. I'm sure it'll make the rounds to an email box near you. Ever mindful of hoaxes in this job, I got in touch with Dr. Frank Mazzotti's office at University of Florida whose helpful coworker Michelle Casler wrote: "It is, in fact, a true story. I personally received several photos that were sent out by the photographer that took them in the Everglades National Park before it was covered by the Associated Press." One of my contributors suggested "What these two giant reptiles should be doing is uniting against the sugar growers," not eating each other. [From Wes von Papinešu, Karen Furnweger, Allen Salzberg, the local newspaper and about a zillion clippings still in the mail]

Check your deodorant around him!

Michael Tyler's team from University of Adelaide has been awarded a 2005 Ig Nobel Prize honoring "achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think." Tyler's team discovered that frogs smell differently when they are happy or stressed. Compounds derived from this research are used to repel pigeons on high rises and work continues on unraveling other froggie fumes. [ABC Science Online, October 7, 2005]

Rare frogs found again in their natural habitat

A biologist found a mountain yellow-legged frog in the hills about San Bernardino surprising everyone because the last known eleven frogs had been taken to Los Angeles Zoo after catastrophic wildfires created landslide and flooding risk. So where did this one, and the two more they rustled up on a return trip, come from? Tissue samples may reveal how closely related they are to those in the Zoo. "Most amazing is the change in habitat in two years. It appears the floods can take away habitat and restore it... The discovery comes just as the federal government last week proposed designating 8,283 acres in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties as critical habitat for the frog." [Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, September 22, 2005 from Aiken Reed, II]

ESA Endangered

On September 29, 2005 the "Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2005.' H.R. 3824, Passed the House of Representatives: 229 to 193. Of those in favor, 193 were Republicans, 36 Democrats. On the other side, 158 Democrats opposed the bill joined by 34 Republicans and one Independent. Not present were four Republicans and eight Democrats. The Senate will consider the bill in early 2006. [Multiple sources: September 29, 2005]

Routine news days

  • "Two people were arrested... on suspicion of releasing an alligator in a small city lake, [in Los Angeles, CA] where the reptile has evaded capture while drawing many spectators... Officers also seized other alligators, turtles and snakes [in the suspects' home]." A crew from a central Florida attraction offered to "take the gator back with them if the city doesn't want to keep it." [Orlando Florida Sentinel, August 25, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • "State agriculture officials say a Honolulu family captured an illegal lizard after a son spied the two-foot long reptile on a wall in the driveway of the family's... home. The green-colored lizard was identified as a Solomon Island Prehensile-tailed Skink." The family caught the lizard before calling authorities who assume it's an escaped pet. [West Hawaii Today, July 6, 2005, from Paul Breese]

Massasaugas online

Charlotte Cox of Metro Toronto Zoo writes: "Fellow rattlesnake enthusiasts, Just a quick note to let you know that the Fall/Winter 2005 issue of Rattlesnake Tales has been completed, and is now available online at http://www.massasauga.ca. Please note that the document is in PDF format, so you will need Adobe Reader to open the newsletter. [September 29, 2005]

Science is applied laziness

The New Zealand Times, October 6, 2005 reports: [A] 13-year-old [boy] made a leap forward for frog-kind with his award-winning invention which keeps these little guys alive in urban areas. The Howick College student swatted three awards at this year's HiTech Bright Spark competition with his solar and micro-processor powered frog home, Frog Paradise. `In the day it's hooked up to a solar panel which powers a pump that keeps the water fresh and oxygenated,' he says. `The panel also powers a car battery, so at night it switches on a bright spotlight LED and two flashing LEDs which attract insects. Frogs live around damp areas so my unit makes it possible for them to live in urban areas.' The young scientist flew to Christchurch last week to receive the best junior project supreme award, best biotechnology circuit and best original circuit in the nationwide competition... the inspiration came from his brother who studies biology at Auckland University. `He was quite interested in frogs so he bought some, but he didn't take care of them. So I decided to create a unit to take care of them without me having to do anything. If I could make it easier for people to keep frogs as pets and hopefully the frog population would grow.' The unit took a month to make - two weeks for research followed by two weeks of design and construction."

A dose of reality

"The red eared slider story `Spanish Fish Live In Fear Of Predator Turtles' ... is hysterically funny. Old timers (sorry!) like us, have lived with this species for a hell of long time - we know them well. I've never seen one catch a fish on the fly - they can't. They can only do it when starved to the brink of death, in a too-small container and given no choice but die or corner that goldfish who usually is on its last legs or fins anyway. In South Florida where I live... red ears, their congeners and hybrids are all over the place. Some like T. terrapene make the red ear look like a sissy. I can go out and catch an assortment of Trachemys on a halfway decent day. To call these scavengers `predators,' is ... tantamount to calling the non-native Bahamian Anolis... `New World Komodo Dragons.' Some one has to stick up for this red, white and blue chelonian. OK, it doesn't belong there... or in Indonesia, Turkey, Taiwan, California ... my backyard, and who knows where else. Only the Spanish have an ecological disaster? [If they were such fish eating predators, he wonders,] why don't [Trachemys turtles] kill carp in Tennessee where there are a trillion of `em? I think they (the Spanish 'experts')... have caught on... one can grants for yelling `fire' in crowded theatre when it comes to misplaced flora and fauna. Still laughing, Marc Weiss P.S.: this isn't directed at you for reporting the news. This one really cracked me up. They pollute their water; the fish die, the turtles can take the pain and eat the dead fish and take the spotlight off the real cause. Sounds like Monroe County down here. `The Keys,' to you Yankees." [The original story was in HerpDigest # 5/5; this letter in #5/76, September 23, 2005]

New books this month include

  • Texas Snakes. A Field Guide by James R. Dixon and the late John E. Werler with drawings by Regina Levoy. The press release from The Center for North American Herpetology, Lawrence, Kansas, reads: "From the legendary Western Diamondback Rattlesnake to the brightly-colored Texas Coral Snake to the harmless New Mexico Blind Snake, Texas has a greater diversity of snake species than any other state in the country. Recognizing the need for a complete field guide to identifying and understanding the snakes of Texas, two of the state's most respected herpetologists wrote this definitive reference to all species of Texas snakes." [September 22, 2005 from Jim Harding]
  • Venomous Snakes of the World by Mark O'Shea will be out by the time you get this issue. It's a 160 page hardcover from Princeton University Press, companion piece to Mark's Lizards of two years ago.
  • Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World by Ellin Beltz, 175 pages of glorious color photographs of frogs sitting, eating, sleeping, mating (lots of those), estivating, burrowing, calling, and just hanging out accompanying scientifically accurate text accessible to readers of all ages (according to Science News, September 20, 2005). As the publisher says it's available at better book-dealers everywhere - if your store doesn't have one - ask for it by ISBN 1552978699. The CHS is listed in the author's biography for all the obvious reasons. Humboldt Beacon writer Emma Breacain read the whole book and did a great story on it, and me, in their October 6, 2005 issue. She wrote, "Exhaustively researched, thoughtfully organized and exploding with exquisite color photos, `Frogs' may be candy for the eye and food for the brain. And when you're done reading it, you may find it too pretty to put on a shelf... Beltz starts off with frogs' place in human culture and history, then launches into the astounding array of different families and species of frogs, then breaks out chapters on anatomy and physiology and frog's precarious place in our quickly changing (i.e. polluted) Earth environment. It's all here." I told her about my earliest introduction to frogs and added "It was one of the most important days of my life... It was a day when the plastic, artificial world I lived in fell away. I looked into this frog's eyes. This was something that wasn't made in a machine. This wasn't under human control. This was my first inkling of something beyond the concrete and skyscrapers. At that point, who cares how much trouble I got into [for getting dirty that day]?" She also captured my artist's statement for Frogs, "I'm so tired of boring reference books. It think they turn our kids off. Why not write everything we know in language we can understand? Some of my colleagues might accuse me of dummying down, but I'd rather have a book that everyone can read." I hoping you all want to read it!

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this issue and to Paula Shevick, Ms. G.E. Chow, Alan Rigerman, Bill Burnett, Garrett Kazmierski, John Christianson, Marty Marcus, Teri Radke, Eloise Mason and everyone else kind enough to clip out whole pages of newspapers or magazines and send to me.

November 2005

New Ozzie Word

Reviewing a new dictionary of Australian slang, the reviewer wrote, "And if you want to include plays on road rage, what of toad rage? Why is there no mention of this common term to describe the fury of tropical householders fighting off cane toads? Is it because the dictionary compilers live on this island's temperate shore?" [The Australian Age, November 5, 2005 from Eric Schmidt]

Still stupid after all these years

Northern Territory News, Australia reported: "Some juveniles and young adults in Katherine and Arnhem Land are even drying out the skins of cane toads and rolling them up as joints to get a hit. But Territory health authorities have warned that those who lick or smoke cane toads are dicing with death and stress that there are no hallucinogenic effects possible from bufo toxin, the toxin excreted by the introduced pest." [September 28, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow] Even so, there are no reports of death or injury due to bufotoxin. The only person reportedly "stoned" on toad may just as likely have been drinking home made hooch and the whole story hopped around the world with more legs than it deserved. If you've ever tried to dry out a toad skin, you know it's a lot harder than the news reports would have you believe. Do not put live or dead toads in ovens. Do not put toads in microwaves. Do not hold toads in front of car defoggers on rainy nights. And do not email me for any other details.

Dodging another bullet

On the third day of a volcanic eruption on 4,920 foot-tall Sierra Negra in the Galapagos Islands, officials stressed that the tourist magnet's famous wildlife was definitely not at risk. Three spectacular rivers of lava flowed down the northeast slopes of the mountain, an area not used by animals. [Associated Press, October 25, 2005 from Bill Burnett]

Envenomations this month

  • A Florida fire marshal shot a five-foot-long rattlesnake "multiple times... thought it was close to death... reached out to grab the snake... and... was bitten on his right hand." The man was taken to intensive care where he died despite the administration of 18 vials of antivenin. [Orlando Sentinel, October 11, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • A life-long Florida City snake keeper said that "he'd been bitten so many times, by so many snakes, he thought he was immune," according to the Miami Herald [September, 17, 2005 from Alan Rigerman]. He kept cleaning cages at Everglades Outpost until the owner insisted on taking him to the hospital where he remained in the intensive care unit after receiving 20 vials of antivenin. Albert Killian received his first snake bite at 11-years old, and had collected more than 1,200 snakes by the time he could vote. Since then his life has been catching, caring for, and giving presentations about snakes. Incidentally, the last time anyone was bitten at the Outpost, which houses animals taken and turned in as well as collected, it was Mr. Killian.

Florida - the Exotic Battleground State

  • A Miami-Dade homeowner and his friend captured a 10-foot Burmese python in the homeowners yard. They discovered the snake because they'd staked out his fish pond after his prize exotic fish kept vanishing. The capture was filmed by a local television station and hence the story gained legs even though the snake, of course, has none. [Miami Herald, October 19, 2005 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Meanwhile a family in Miami lost their pet cat to a 12-foot python recently. They know for sure because the dead python was x-rayed and a cat clearly showed on the film. It was, of course, the lead story that night on the news. [Miami Herald, October 23, 2005 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Newspaper readers wrote in about the sudden attention being paid to pythons after the cat got eaten. One wrote: "The question is, who owned this snake and let it go? That irresponsible person should pay for a new cat and the time spent by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue people trying to catch the reptile." Another added: "My condolences to the owners whose pet was eaten by a snake that has no business in Florida." [ Miami Herald, October 11, 2005 from Alan Rigerman also the Honolulu Advertiser, October 16, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • One writer suggested putting microchips in every single imported exotic animal which could lead to a registration system to attribute responsibility for releases, [Miami Herald, October 17, 2005 from Alan Rigerman]. The problem is now with native-bred non-native animals; there's no way to tag their offspring.
  • Another suggested "why not initiate a python roundup event? Prizes could be given for catching the most, and a special prize for the largest." The writer goes on to cite the western rattlesnake roundups as a model for his proposed event. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, October 16, 2005 from Alan Rigerman] I can just see it now, thousands of tourists wrestling giant pythons all over Florida. The liability risk alone is mind-boggling.
  • "Experts estimate that nearly 400 non-native species of mammals, reptiles and fish have invaded [Florida], many in the past 20 years... At least 125 of those have established themselves as permanent residents... from giant Burmese pythons to 9-pound African rats, Florida is teeming with exotic critters that have no business being here... And once they make themselves at home, they often can cause havoc," according to the Orlando Sentinel [October 17, 2005 from Bill Burnett]. Burmese pythons are reportedly breeding in the wild and eating native animals as well as challenging the panther and alligator for the real title "king of the Everglades." The list of species illegally released includes dozens of non-native fish species, 48 species of reptiles, 33 species of mammals and four species of amphibians. An "amnesty day" is planned in Orlando next spring in the hopes that people who no longer wish their scaly pets will turn them in, no questions asked.
  • In a front page story, lots of facts and figures about the Burmese python invasion were presented including "between 1979 and 2000, only a dozen [pythons] were documented in the wild of south Florida. In the five years since, 236 have been found... and an established reptile invader has never been wiped out... the U.S. government spent several years and $50 million to remove the brown tree snake from... Guam, where it was accidentally introduced decades ago with devastating effects..." [Miami Herald, October 17, 2005 from Alan Rigerman]

Still more Florida exotics

  • And when they run out of snakes, gators step in to fill the news. The Orlando Sentinel (October 7, 2005 from Bill Burnett) reports: "A Palm Bay woman who fed an alligator bread learned why that's both unwise and illegal." She was bitten on the hand and written up by wildlife officers. The woman insisted the alligator didn't attack her, it was just trying to take bread out of her hand because she'd tossed it a couple of pieces already. The woman also expressed remorse that the alligator would have to be put down.
  • Cape Coral, Florida has a population of nearly 1,000 Nile monitor lizards even though officials have been officially eradicating the lizards for two years. Each female can lay 80 or so eggs at a time. Once grown to their full 7-foot size, they climb, swim and run as fast as 18 miles per hour. People have reported monitors on their roofs; the pests apparently don't see "house," rather "cliff" with a nice basking spot on top. Officials now worry the monitors will find the offshore bird rookeries within the 6,000 acre federal wildlife refuge. [Orlando Sentinel, October 10, 2005 from Ray Boldt]

Offshore ecosystem trashed too

One of the largest algal blooms called a "red tide" has been perched offshore Florida's Gulf Coast for months. The highest risk has been around Destin and Panama City on the Panhandle and Sarasota on the peninsula where humans can experience respiratory effects, fish die and the water is a strange red-brown color. "The algae (Karenia brevis) produce potent neurotoxins that can be deadly to fish... [which with shellfish can] accumulate red-tide toxins in their tissues, making them unsafe to eat," according to the Orlando Sentinel [October 16, 2005 from Bill Burnett] Possible causes of the tides include pollution, Florida's explosive growth and concomitant releases of chemicals into the waterways. Meanwhile, tourists have avoided the area and local businesses are suffering. After 30 column inches of problems for humans, the report points out that "tens of thousands of fish, crabs, birds and other small creatures... killed 66 manatees... 34 dolphins and ... almost 180 sea turtles." Total space devoted to the impact of this event nature? Two inches.

"Frogs" on Stamps!

Kermit the Frog turned 50 this year and his likeness now graces a U.S. postage stamp along with creator, the late Jim Henson, Miss Piggy, the Swedish Chef, and Dr. Bunson Honeydew and his assistant Beaker are honored on the new 37-cent stamps. [Associated Press, September 29, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Toxic snappers

The interesting factoid that South Korea alone imports 220 tons of snapping turtle while raising another 135 tons per year is of only the most marginal interest, until recent reports that fish and turtle farmers are using illegal toxic chemicals as part of the raising process. The government, understandably upset, closed a few of the worst offenders and has ordered testing of the rest. Snapping turtles are served for food in much of Asia where they are regarded as effective in boosting stamina. [Joongang Daily, South Korea, September 26, 2005 from Allen Salzberg and several other articles from Wes von Papinešu] Just where 220 tons of snapping turtle gets collected and the environmental effects thereof beggars the imagination.

Hopping to help

Twenty-eight oversized leaping ceramic frogs were decorated by local artists and auctioned off at a dinner in Angels Camp, CA, the home of the "Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." More than one hundred and thirty thousand dollars was raised for local charities. [MotherLode, October 23, 2005]

Coming soon to a pond near you

A population of non-native tiger salamanders, probably introduced from a bait-bucket, crawled out of Tom Sawyer Lake near Golden Hills, California and crawled through the subdivision until a biologist from Cal State Bakersville came out for a look. A genetic analysis at University of California at Berkeley revealed these weren't the native species, California tiger salamanders, but another genetic morph usually sold for bait. Locals are being asked not to translocate the animals to other ponds. [Tehachapi News, October 5, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow and Wes von Papinešu] Watch this space. These salamanders have legs and will travel if not eliminated. It's only eighty miles to the nearest California tiger salamanders. I give them ten years - if that.

Sewer Man and the Flush

A 10-foot-long boa constrictor lived in the sewer pipes of an English apartment building for three months since its owner was evicted for non-payment. According to the Manchester Guardian [October 17, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]: "It has been slithering out of toilet bowls throughout the flats in Manchester since August... The creature has been spotted on several occasions and homeowners have put bricks on toilet seats in a bid to keep the beast from popping out of the pan. Previous sightings of the animal were treated with skepticism but firefighters were called to the block of flats ... after [the snake] confronted a resident going to the toilet in the middle of the night." Fiber optics couldn't find it but another resident found it in the middle of the bathroom floor and trapped it in a tub. The paper concluded: "A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals said it was not uncommon for snakes to be found in household sewage pipes..., [he said] `It would have no problem traveling up and down the waste pipe and has probably been eating rats from the sewer.'"

Just buy a screen top!

A 2-foot-long Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) was found wandering around on a street in the Japanese city of Kawasaki after heavy rains. Police returned the animal to its owner who said it was lost after rains filled up its enclosure and permitted the animal to swim away from the second floor veranda of his house. Japanese giant salamanders are considered "living treasures" and cannot be owned as pets. Meanwhile in Yokohama, police received a[n 18-inch] ... iguana as a lost and found item when a citizen found it munching away in his garden. Police said they are looking for its owner. [Daily Yomuri Shinbun, October 10, 2005 from Eric Schmidt]

It was a very bad year

Florida researchers feel this year's "Sea turtle season [was] a disaster." According to the Venice Gondolier Sun [November 6, 2005], "Southwest Florida is wrapping up its latest sea turtle-nesting season -- the worst for some beaches in recent history -- during which beach renourishment projects, disorientations, storms and even a coyote devastated nests and newborn turtles... Beaches that previously saw 100-150 sea turtle nests failed to produce a single hatchling this year... Hurricane Dennis, which brushed the area in June, ate large chunks of Manasota Key's beach, taking newly laid nests with it... sea turtles that came ashore afterward were forced to lay nests on a narrow beach, which later got larger with additional sand brought up from at least two major storms... [Meanwhile} Sarasota County Environmental Services said the county tallied about 1,200 nests this year, down nearly 70 nests from 2004. The county also reported 700 disorientations, in which baby sea turtles likely followed artificial light and crawled away from the water... Beach renourishment projects in Venice, a coyote on Caspersen Beach and red tide throughout the gulf took a toll on both adult and baby turtles. More than 130 sea turtles have been killed by red tide since June, Mote Marine Laboratory reported. In addition, an adult turtle was run over on Longboat Key after it became disoriented and wandered onto the road, and a turtle was killed by a dredging boat in Venice." Meanwhile local homeowners had 95 percent compliance with lights-out and no junk on beaches laws, and no one has been complaining either.
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to all of you who are going to send more clippings for a very skinny clippings file folder. Send full pages of paper when possible, they don't weigh any more than clips and you'll save the origami time. Please no staples! Ouch! Nuff said. Mail in highly interesting envelopes to me. Letters and links only (no long articles with a zillion photos) to my email. And for a huge laugh, read this: Amy Stewart's Dirt Column in the North Coast Journal.

December 2005

One half-life=20 years

The Chicago Herpetological Society will be 40 on February 23rd, 2006! Perhaps even more amazing than the long term survival of this popular educational group, this column marks the beginning of my 20th year writing for CHS, first for the Newsletter, later the Bulletin. But even more exciting, there's two people who've been at it even longer than I have: Michael Dloogatch, our long-suffering editor and contributor Bill Burnett. His never ending clippings of all things herpetological were copied in the old Newsletter, the conversion to the Bulletin required us to abbreviate the clippings to paragraphs. Who knew? Realize that about 2 billion people have been born since 1986. Consequently, the number of reptile and amphibian stories goes up every single year.

Frog sweat stops HIV

"Vanderbilt University researchers found that secretions from the skin of some Australian frogs were effective in the test tube at killing HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. They hope their findings will lead to the creation of a topical ointment containing synthetic secretions that will help cut the spread of the deadly worldwide pandemic," according to the October 21, 2005 Daily Tennessean (online). "The pair tested the secretions of 12 different frogs. The best results came from three species from Australia... [the primary researcher said that] the discovery that frog secretions may potentially save lives reinforces the importance of protecting animals and their environments. She noted that the Australian frog species used in the study are being threatened by disease and disappearing habitat."

Attention Australia

Perhaps all you need to do is totally trash your environment to kill toads. The Bermuda Amphibian Project discovered that "Bermuda‚Äôs ponds and nature reserves have reached a state of unsustainable pollution, with pollutants in the sediment at toxic levels" by studying cane toads. "Deformities were first noticed ... in 1998... By last year [2004], the abnormality rate in juvenile and adult toads had grown to 30 percent ‚Äď with the normal rate for abnormalities being five percent." Some sites have had up to 55 percent abnormalities. Deformities were found at every site in every parish on the island nation. Researchers pointed out that tadpoles particularly are concentrating toxins and passing them up the food chain. [The Royal Gazette, October 24, 2005 from Wes von Papine√§u]

World Roundup 2006: Drowned, cooked or fried?

  • Scientists studying ice cores from east Antarctica have discovered that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere now are at their highest concentration for the last 650,000 years. "The analysis showed that today's atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, at 380 parts per million, is already 27 per cent greater than previous highs... The levels of primary greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are up dramatically since the Industrial Revolution, at a speed and magnitude that the Earth has not seen in hundreds of thousands of years. There is now no question this is due to human influence... [consequently] ocean levels are rising by two millimeters per year compared with one millimeter annually for the last several thousand years," according to the U.K. News Telegraph, November 25, 2005]
  • Officials in several Asian countries are beginning to be very worried about bird flu. Doctors in Jakarta, Indonesia report the numbers of people infected is jumping rapidly. They and Thai researchers believe the virus has made the jump to human-to-human transmission. Meanwhile the Chinese are admitting that the situation in the countryside is beyond their control. Three villages in Romania were quarantined; the virus was also detected on the Crimean peninsula in neighboring Ukraine. All of Europe is on alert. [WHO reports, several sources] Meanwhile, "Dr. Nguyen Tuong Van runs the intensive care unit at the Center for Tropical Diseases in Hanoi and has treated 41 victims of H5N1. Van followed World Health Organization guidelines and gave her patients Tamiflu, but concluded it had no effect." [The Qatar Sunday Times, December 5, 2005 from Ed Greenwood] Pet birds and poultry are being destroyed as the H5 form of the virus spreads around the world.

Fossil Wranglers

  • A fossil of what researchers believe is an early aquatic turtle was found in 120-million year old rocks in Brazil. Some soft tissue was preserved, allowing scientists to state for sure that the creature had webbing on its feet. Some of the specimens are juvenile turtles visually indistinguishable from some alive today. Older turtle-like creatures are known, but they are more tortoise-like. [BBC News, November 16, 2005 from Ed Greenwood and Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • A complete skull of Dakosaurus andiniensis, an early crocodile previously known only from fragments, was found in Argentina. According to Science Magazine, the creature grew to about 13-feet and cruised Jurassic seas, eating just about anything it desired. Pictures are available in the December National Geographic. [Little Rock, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 11, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • Another Argentinean find, Buitreraptor gonalezorum, "proves that a family of small, swift dinosaurs called dromaeosaurs evolved tens of millions of years earlier than previously believed." And even more interesting, the central area of their evolution is not North America as previously believed, but South! The specimen was prepared at the Field Museum and returned to Argentina. [Chicago Tribune, October 13, 2005 from Ray Boldt]

Pentacular trauma

A member of the North Queensland (Australia) Herpetological Society found a five-tailed gecko. Not a new species, the animal sustained tail trauma causing five new tails to grow where previously there had been only one. [Earthweek, The Honolulu Advertiser, November 20, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Let's do the time-warp again

  • In 1994, in the October journal of the New England Herpetological Society, Bob Campbell reported a call record for Eleutherodactylus coqui, the Puerto Rican tree frog from the grounds of the Hyatt Regency Hotel on the island of Maui. He also reported that Cuban green anoles and house geckos were "conspicuous" on the property as well. If the coquis naturalize on Hawaii, they will be the first calling frog in the islands as the native poison arrow frog does not vocalize, according to the journal. [March 1997 this column - online archive]
  • "Even with the door and windows in my [sixth floor hotel] room at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel closed and the curtains pulled, even with the AC cranked up to full throttle (on a night that was already plenty chilly), the ceaseless coqui calls penetrated... the call reaches 90 to 100 decibels... How the heck can something the size of a quarter make so much noise? ... [I propose] not Nuke The Coqui with real nuke-you-ler warheads, but certainly an all-out campaign to eradicate this alien invader... Think of it as a Hawaii version of a Texas rattlesnake hunt, but less dangerous... Make no mistake, the coquis are coming your way, if they're not there already. The first coqui is believed to have arrived in 1988, probably on the Big Island. [Not what we recorded, but perhaps the Maui hotel was a second point of infestation?] Today there are more than 200 infestation colonies on the Big Island; Maui has 40 or more... Oahu five, Kauai one... in Puerto Rico [where they're native] an average 40 adult frogs per 20-by-20 meter plot, compared to 200 [on the same size]... on the Big Island... in Puerto Rico female coqui frogs usually lay a clutch of 34-75 eggs, four to six times a year (450 eggs max.). In Hawaii, however, mating pairs can produce a clutch every two and a half weeks without a loss of fertility... 26 clutches per year... more than 1,400 eggs per female annually!... without needing to dodge hungry predators, coquis are fee to do nothing but eat, screech and fornicate. Forge rabbits when seeking an active sex life simile. [Don Chapman, MidWeek Hawaii, November 16, 2005 from Ms. G.E. Chow]

Life in the Slow Lane

  • Several papers reported on the recent 175th birthday of Harriet, the oldest creature on earth. She's a Galapagos tortoise which may or may not have been collected by Darwin himself. In either case, she ended up in the drafty old zoos of Mother England; then was shipped to Australia when they realized the cold was killing her. She celebrated her 175th at Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo outside Brisbane where she's lived for the past 17 years. The event was widely covered by tabloids and real press. [Daily Mail, England, November 14, 2005 from Bill Burnett's Aunt Peggy and CNN News from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • One of the famed white alligators of New Orleans Audubon Zoo is on loan to the Florida Aquarium. Jose Blanco was one of the original 19 white hatchlings found in a Louisiana swamp by fishermen in 1987. He's now 10-feet long and 260 pounds of pure white chicken chomping indolence. [Leesburg, Florida Daily Commercial, November 14, 2005 from Bill Burnett]
  • Swedish fishermen caught a turtle under solid ice - an event so unusual in that cold northern country that it made the news. Turns out the turtle is a 10-inch long, non-native, North American red-eared slider. Welcome to the new millennium. [HerpDigest, November 27, 2005 from Allen Salzberg]
  • Someone has finally discovered what cave dwelling salamanders, Eurycea spelaeus, eat. It was formerly believed they ate stuff that ate bat guano, now a researcher has found they consume the guano directly. Grey bats, Myotis grisescens, "don't digest their food properly, weight for weight their droppings contain more protein and nutrients than a Big Mac. This makes them a perfect snack in a pitch-black environment where food can be scarce," according to Nature [November 16, 2005] which added that the guano is piled up to two meters deep along the banks of an underground river.

Life in the rich lane

The Porsche Magazine [October/November 2005 from Ray Boldt] is full of stuff about their new Cayman SUV vehicle including details of the photo shoot which produced the luscious photo of three caimans lit apparently only by the full moon. It's a studio shot and they explain that they had to build a heated pool, provide fog, make waves and light the caimans eyes just so to get it. So when you see the ad, yes those are real animals - it's gorgeous and it's real, sort of. [Ray credits his daughter Katy who drives one of these for sending the magazine along.]

Sarcasm or ?

"The fifteen pound cat had it coming. Let others wring their hands about the threat that slithered into Miami-Dade [and ate a loose pet]. I say it's high time to praise the python. Good for you Mr. Python, for daring to do what no one else would. The rest of us talk a good game. But you're the only one with the long expandable gut to go after the smug suburban house pet all by yourself. Bon appetit... [And] that American alligator that was eaten? Good riddance to him, too. What did he ever do to save the Everglades? Developers and their devoted politicians want to put more houses, more concrete and more people near what's left of the wetlands... so what is the good old American alligator doing about it? Does he bother to graze on any developers? Snap at well-fed politicians? No. Gator just lounges around expecting the good times to last forever. Swallow every last one of them, I say, and spit up luggage and fancy shoes... Go for it, mighty python! You've only just begun. Miami is full of turkeys and fat cats ripe for the culling." [Ana Menendez, Miami Herald, October 12, 2005 from Alan Rigerman]

Unusual pas de deux

Fifteen years ago, a Miami-Dade woman opened the door to her carport and came face to face with an alligator. In October, she opened the same door and discovered a crocodile sunning itself. Reptile trapper Todd Hardwick said it was unusual to have an endangered crocodile in proximity to people, usually that's reserved for alligators. Captured and released pretty far away, chances are he'll be back, since crocodiles are very territorial - rather like the people with whom they now try to coexist. [Miami Herald, October 6, 2005 from Alan Rigerman]

Gator-aides

  • Piscataway, New Jersey police took a 3-foot alligator from the back yard of a local house. "It's not normal to find an alligator around here," said the Lieutenant, who added "I know we've had a lot of rain." Others speculated someone had released a no longer desired pet animal. [Chicago Tribune, October 16, 2005 from Ray Boldt]
  • "A Schaumburg man found out the hard way that pet alligators aren't welcome in the northwest suburb. [He] was ticketed for keeping an exotic animal after he hauled a 4-foot-long alligator to the police station... [He] told authorities that a friend asked him to care for the alligator for two days but didn't come back to claim the reptile." It was turned over to a member of the CHS for return to Florida after quarantine. [Chicago Tribune, October 20, 2005 from Ray Boldt]

She must really hate snakes!

"A Nacogdoches, Texas woman [accidentally shot herself] in the foot while trying to kill a snake on her property,... and the same woman, again trying to kill a snake, shot herself in the other foot the next day. [News of the Weird, Memphis, Tennessee Flyer, November 10-16, 2005 from Bill Burnett]

Kosher pups?

People who treat pets like people are becoming quite common. The Miami Herald reports that a couple had a "bark mitzvah" party for their 13-year-old poodle, claiming that since they're both Jewish, the dog is too. [October 11, 2005 from Alan Rigerman]

My Frog Book Reviewed

"Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World" ($35, Firefly). The splendid leaf frog seems ready to jump off the cover of Ellin Beltz' book. The one-two delivery of information and fascinating photographs is a great deal. Learn a bit of natural history and about frogs in myth and culture, anatomy, environment and adaptation, and simply enjoy how differently each frog approaches life." [Sharon Wootton, The Olympian, November 5, 2005]

Thanks to everyone who contributed,

and to everyone who is just about ready to send in their first, middlest or many-est envelope full of clippings to me. As we enter, 2006, I'm looking forward to celebrating all my old contributors and meeting many new ones! Send clippings with date/publication slug firmly attached to me. Letters to my email will be answered even though life's getting busy!

My new book!
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz
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Ellin Beltz / ebeltz@ebeltz.net
January 10, 2008

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