|My new book!|
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz
Herp News Around the World
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Vol. 10 . Vol. 11|
This was the ninth year I wrote for The Vivarium.
I started in their Volume Two, Number 5 and stopped in Volume 11 when the publication was bought out and closed by the competition.
Volume 10, Number 1 - 1998
I see an elephant
Surprise! Big iguanas unwantedA story that is increasingly common was echoed in The Oakland Tribune: "Pet iguanas used to be a big fad, but now the iguanas are big and the fad has faded. Rescue organizations say they can't handle any more of the castoff lizards and the city [of Los Angeles] is considering regulating their sale... 2,000 South American iguanas come through [the Port of Los Angeles] each month, although the number lately has tapered off... Imports were driven by the development of a large Latin-American breeding industry. The oversupply drove prices here down to about $20 a few years ago... iguanas grow until they die. A pencil-length green lizard that makes a cute Christmas gift may be six feet long within a few years... males can be aggressive and territorial... some of the proposed rules go before the city council in the next week." [June 9, 1998 from Matthew Aikawa]
Caiman eludes paparazzi, film at 11Contributor Petra Spiess wrote: "Enclosed are several newspaper articles on the Washington Park Caiman Saga occurring here in Denver, Colorado..." It was front page news on the 17th, then on "the 19th, a local radio station set up a booth at the `Caiman Park.' One of the disk jockeys taped four T-bone steaks around his waist and waded into the lake in an amusing attempt at attracting the wily caiman - but to no avail. Then ... on the 20th someone called in to say the caiman sighting was a hoax. The latest articles in this silly reptile saga are included. They are now draining the lake in an attempt to find this caiman, which they don't know for sure if it even exists because, like the Loch Ness monster, they only have second hand sightings to go on as evidence, and some idiot's confession on the Colorado Harp Society answering machine. Oh yeah, both of the major papers in town have had a `namin' the caiman' contest... The Rocky Mountain News [winning name was] Monica Chewinsky!" [Clippings: RMN, August 22 and The Denver Post, August 20 - 22, 1998]
Wanted: Dead or AliveThe Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports: "A brown tree snake from Guam was found dead in the landing gear of an Air Micronesia aircraft at Honolulu Airport. Officials believe the 28-inch snake stowed away in the wheel well when the plane departed from Guam on one of two flights made between July 30 and August 4. State plant quarantine inspectors and a dog team searched the plane and maintenance area and found no evidence of other snakes... the discovery [by a mechanic] led state and federal officials to review procedures to prevent arrival of the reptile species in the islands. It is the eighth brown tree snake to be found in Hawaii since 1981. The species has devastated the bird population on Guam, posing a threat to people as well as causing economic and ecological loss..." [August 8, 1998 from G. E. Chow]
Hide your Pomeranians
Resort threatens sea turtlesDevelopment of tourist facilities on an untouched beach in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo may result in destruction of nesting facilities and loss of hatchlings to beach lighting and traffic, according to one of Mexico's leading sea turtle specialists and a marine biologist at the local college. There is precedent for these fears. In Malaysia a beach which used to host 1,000 nesting turtles every year, now only sees a few. Development in Greece and Turkey has erased loggerhead nests, and thousands of baby turtles are disrupted by lighting in oceanfront communities along the ocean shores of the United States. [San Francisco Chronicle, July 10, 1998 from Matthew Aikawa]
While a judge rules in their favorThe 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, GA ordered the 3-year-old coastal light case be returned to the federal district court in Orlando for a ruling. Volusia County may be held responsible for the deaths of endangered sea turtles due to beach driving and excessive outdoor night lighting and may result in new regulations or regulatory permit changes affecting both human land uses. [Orlando Sentinel, August 5, 1998 from Bill Burnett]
And traders do timeTwo Muskogee, AL brothers in their 30s were sentenced to home confinement after pleading guilty to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act. They sold protected turtles to wildlife officers and a Texas reptile dealer at flea markets in 1995 and 1996. The turtles were collected in eastern Oklahoma. Fifty-two of the 820 box turtles seized as part of this case were ill with runny noses, swollen eyes and other signs of vitamin deficiency They were treated at Oklahoma State University and the rremainderwere released in proper habitat. [Tulsa World, August 14, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
While more babies hatchBlissfully unaware of all the controversies in this column and indeed of any controversy at all, this year's hatch of baby sea turtles on Florida beaches was watched by children, adults, tourists, natives, and hordes and hordes of press. Geoffrey Tomb in The Miami Herald writes "While the ups and downs of Wall Street, World Cup soccer and Bill and Monica play out elsewhere this summer, something far more enduring is happening all along the beaches of South Florida. It is turtle time." For more information on how to become involved with next year's hatch, contact Miami Date County naturalists at 305-365-3018.
Bits, bites, bytes
Cutest pictureI wish we could print pictures in this column because I received the most adorable photo of "Hank and Brenda," Rankin's dragons in the care of Andy Via. Hank has his arm around Brenda's shoulder. She's plumply gravid and leans gently into him. Andy writes that she has just laid 16 eggs.
It's not easy being prolificRegular readers of this column realize that an enormous amount of material is acknowledged to be "from Kim and Wes von Papinešu." These two illustrious contributors must never sleep, for in addition to caring for a massive personal collection of things that hop, slither and wriggle, they not only do their regular jobs, but contribute about 100 pages of reptile and amphibian clippings every couple of months. Recently Wes addressed a group of herpetologists and was introduced as a renowned "newter who monopolizes the Vivarium column!" Not really. And I don't know what I'd do without him and Kim. Probably write longer paragraphs about fewer topics!
Thanks to everybody who contributed to this issue. This is my 45th uninterrupted column in Vivarium, in addition to ten years of monthly columns for the Bulletin of the Chicago Herpetological Society. How time flies! You can become a contributor, too. The easiest thing to do is send whole pages of newspaper, or magazines, being sure that the date/publication slug appears on one of the corners. Otherwise, write it on - or stick it on with tape and write your name on the clipping. Send it to me at the address on the masthead.
Ellin teaches geology and natural history at Northeastern Illinois University, the Field Museum of Natural History and the Morton Arboretum. She is a big-wall rock climber and field naturalist who spent more than three months primitive camping in the last year.
Volume 10, Number 2 - 1998
Watch out for phony photogs"Greetings, I recently received a phone call from a Michael McCoy, a self-described `film producer for National Geographic.' He wants to film bog turtles preparing for hibernation in Pennsylvania. He asked for exact locations where he could take his film crew. I called the National Geographic Society in Washington D.C. -- they never heard of him. He never can leave me a contact phone number, either. He's `on the road' or `between cellular contracts,' etc. So, as always, be alert. Do not share sensitive locations where imperilled species are located. Regards, Mark Miller, President, Philadelphia Herpetological Society http://herpetology.com/phs.html" [from James Harding, October 12, 1998 by email] And to this I would add my own caveat: Do not speak about reptiles or amphibians unless you really know to whom you are speaking. I still get asked for localities. I do not know if this is
Then the boggling and the busted
The quick, the dead and the weirdest
Cleopatra and the asp, 90s styleResearchers at the University of Southern California have isolated a protein from snake venom which they feel will work to reduce the rate of growth of breast cancer and other tumors. The lead researcher said, "It doesn't hurt the cells, but suspends aspects of physiology." His team used specially bred mice and copperhead venom for the study. [from Joanne Tinsley] Also from The Daily Oklahoman, August 27, 1998 from Chris Hannaford]
Iguana go to the next islandIn an observed first, 15 large iguanas sailed into biological history by arriving at Anguilla on a raft made of storm tossed logs from Caribbean hurricanes in September 1995. It has taken this long to get all the details and get published in Nature. The story was picked up by The New York Times, October 8, 1998 from P.L. Beltz, the Jefferson City Missouri Post Tribune (10/15) from Vicky Elwood and global bounces from Kim and Wes von Papinešu.
It's turtles all the way down
One of life's little lessons?"High school's science snake draws blood, gets the boot" Hermiston, Oregon: One more reason not to bite the hand that feeds you: You might wind up as a pair of boots. That's the unfortunate fate of a boa constrictor that's been a year long science project for students at Hermiston High School. [Their] science teacher ... was getting ready to move the classroom snake from its glass cage last week when the reptile struck at him, biting his index finger. School officials said [he] was not seriously hurt. He got a bandage and later went to the hospital for a tetanus shot ... the school's athletic director said. But the 6-foot-long boa apparently made a fatal mistake in drawing blood. `[The teacher] was going to have it destroyed today and made into a pair of boots,'... said [the athletic director]." [The Register-Guard, Eugene Oregon, September 20, 1998 from Susan E. Stewart; The Oregonian, September 21, 1998 from Joanne Tinsley]
On the other handA 17-year-old fed his 8-foot python two rats at a friend's house, then tried to handle the snake. The python then bit the boy's hand, began to swallow and constricted the youth. When the Fire Department Captain arrived, he found that "The snake was constricting on both arms and ingesting his hand. When you tried to move or fight it, the snake constricted harder.... [The youth] was in a lot of pain, and his arm was turning blue." So, after trying some less forceful methods, the Fire Captain cut the snake's head off and released the injured owner. He said, "I hope the animal rights people don't get after me for killing the snake because I sure didn't want to do it. But you don't ever want to endanger the victim." [The Jefferson City Post-Tribune, September 29, 1998 from Vicky Elwood]
USGS Wildlife Health AlertEarlier this summer, salamander die-offs occurred in Maine and North Dakota. Then in October, the U.S.G.S. press release reports: "A virus is believed to be responsible [for these dieoffs]. The Utah event occurred in early September ... east of Salt Lake City. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists reported finding about 200 tiger salamander carcasses littering the shoreline and lake bottom. Salamanders that were still alive appeared lethargic, swam in circles and were unable to remain upright. The sick salamanders also had red spots and swollen areas on the skin. A small number of seemingly healthy salamanders were also observed, but quickly swam into deeper water. No other species appeared to be affected... a USGS wildlife pathologist [performed tests which] indicated a viral infection ... a USGS virologist, reported isolating a virus from diseased tissues... [the same workers] found a virus in dead tiger and spotted salamanders earlier this year from Maine and North Dakota.... [but] data from these salamander die-offs are still being collected and evaluated. The health alert asks wildlife biologists to report any unusual observations of mortality or disease in salamanders to the USGS center. The die-offs are troubling to scientists because many amphibians (the group including frogs, toads and salamanders) have shown sharp population declines in many parts of the world in recent years. Whether the recently identified salamander disease is related to global amphibian declines is still unknown. Salamander die-offs have been reported previously, but scientists are not sure how common such events may be. USGS biologists say die-offs of tiger salamanders were recorded at the same Utah location during in the early 1980s but these deaths were thought to be caused by a bacterial infection. In 1995 researchers at the University of Arizona reported on a similar die-off of tiger salamanders living in stock ponds in southern Arizona. These deaths were also attributed to an contagious iridovirus infection. Canadian scientists recently announced that they too had isolated an iridovirus from a tiger salamander die-offs near Regina, Saskatchewan, in Canada. ... The international scientific community has expressed growing concern over population declines in all amphibian groups. These losses are now well documented and have occurred in a wide range of habitats, including remote and pristine areas in California, the Rocky Mountains, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Australia. ... Researchers are trying to determine why amphibians are disappearing. Current hypotheses to explain the declines include widespread infection by viruses, fungi, bacteria or parasites; increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation due to ozone thinning; the spread of non-native predators; contamination from pesticides and other chemicals; and rising temperatures. Many biologists suspect that a combination of factors may be responsible." [USGS Press Release from Wes von Papinešu by email]
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to those who are thinking of sending pages of their local paper - please, don't procrastinate! Be sure your name and the publication date are on each piece and mail to me at the address on the masthead. Thanks especially to people who send pictures. I really enjoy seeing my contributors as people (and herps)!
Ellin Beltz is a professor of geology with a particular interest in the tectonics of Illinois. She recently led two field trips for students at the Morton Arboretum/College of DuPage to locations along the Sandwich Fault zone of northeastern Illinois. She is the editor of "Care in Captivity" and a long-term contributor to the Chicago Herpetological Society Bulletin. This is her 46th column for Vivarium since 1990.
Volume 10, Number 3 - 1998
It's not easy being a green salad eitherA live toad hopped out of a bag of mixed salad and onto the kitchen table of a 42-year-old teacher in Northumberland, England. The staff at the supermarket was surprised that a live toad was found in the mixed greens which they say were imported from Africa. They promise not to kill the toad while trying to find out where it came from. [The Independent and The Times of London, October 1, 1998 from Mark O'Shea] Meanwhile on our side of the pond, the Brazil, Indiana couple who claimed that they found a withered frog in a taco were convicted of trying to extort money from Taco Bell by placing the frog there themselves and then raising a fuss. They could receive up to 3.5 years in prison and $11,000 in fines - each. [The Sun-Sentinel, September 26, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
Good news for local rats"Napganchami, the Hindu festival in honor of the snake god... is lethal to snakes. Thousands of the reptiles are cruelly ensnared, defanged, tortured, starved and later pumped with milk - only to cater to the faith of devotees on this one day." [The Times of India, July 28, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu.]
Deja snake stories
Up to his ____ in alligatorsA 77-year-old sleepwalker awoke in the pond behind his house and tried to extricate himself from the mud - but couldn't. His struggles attracted alligators, and when found he was surrounded. Deputies and fire fighters used lights to scare the gators away, grabbed the man's cane and pulled him to shore. His wife plans on locking the doors at night. [The Tampa Tribune, November 24, 1998 from Laura Vietje]
Turtles lost, stolen and slaughtered
Plain speaking"Tallahassee Memorial Hospital reports a rash of snake bite cases, probably because people and snakes are more active... Lapses in human intelligence may also be a factor: Many cases involve alcohol or people trying to catch poisonous snakes with their hands." [The Herald, August 7, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
A victim of statisticsA 34-year-old snakehandling preacher died of a snakebite while handling a timber rattlesnake during a church service. He had survived 22 previous bites from venomous snakes. His wife died three years ago from a snakebite. The state is trying to take the orphans from the grand parents because they handle venomous snakes, too. Another "serpent handler" noted that the courts "don't take race car drivers' kids away from them. They don't take boxers' kids away from them." Some of the children are reported to have had nightmares about snakes. [October 6, 1998 Jefferson City, MO Post Tribune from Vicky Elwood and December 6 Pocono Record from Steve Ford]
Pun nets wildlife agentsWhile only one standholder was arrested and fined $500, media coverage of Pennsylvania wildlife sales and shows in the Lancaster, PA New Era "makes it sound like a major conspiracy," according to contributor Michael Shrom. The same paper reports that "Hunters accuse game wardens of harassment... In one letter read at the hearing [at the state House committee regulating state game officers], a... woman said she had told a friend at a supermarket that her husband `shot an eagle' during a round of golf... [Wildlife] agents came to her house and searched through rooms and [furniture]... looking for evidence of a dead eagle." For those of you who (like me) do not golf, an `eagle' is a score two under par for that hole. [August 21 and 26, 1998]
A Kiwi's glimpse of America"In May... [we] went on a group tour around the USA... we did manage to find two pet shops... The only food they seemed to sell for lizards was crickets and if they don't like crickets they starve... One day our train had stopped for some reason, [we] saw some small brown lizards darting around the rocks and bushes, also a ground squirrel small and pretty. The tree squirrels in the parks were fairly quiet and also smaller than I expected. We saw a blue jay and two red cardinals - a startling color to see hopping around the ground and in the bushes." [Heather Barton, MOKO, Summer, 1998]
Things to do while waiting for Y2K
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column and to Vicky Elwood, Michael J. Shrom, Erik Keyster, Charles P. Salmon, Alan Rigerman, Gary Kettring, Jo Ann Dalein, J.N. Stuart, Chris Hannaford, Ernie Liner and Wes and Kim von Papinešu. Send whole pages with media name and publication date as well as your name on each piece to me in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead. Remember the lead time. This column was written December 25, 1998!
Ellin Beltz was recently introduced as an ecogeologist because her class field trips include everything from stars to dirt, frogs, bugs, fish and (of course) rocks. She wrote this column while hibernating over break with her pet salamander and toad, "Zilla."
Volume 10, Number 4 - 1999
We'll never know whyA 21-year-old Phoenix, AZ man apparently died from multiple bites from his pet rattlesnake. His family had found him dead on the floor and called paramedics who called Phoenix police, who entered the room with shotguns in search of the snake. They did not find it immediately. The Fire Division Chief said, "[he] apparently collected snakes, because there were also boas and other snakes around... There was nothing we could do for him. He was pronounced dead at the scene." [The Arizona Republic, January 11, 1999 from Marc Morris]
Truly venomous cricket fansPolice brought expert snake handlers to the cricket games between India and Pakistan being held in New Delhi, India after threats from the Shiv Sena party to disrupt the games by releasing "poisonous snakes" among the spectators. The group withdrew its threats after protests from the Indian Prime Minister and cricket fans, but police took no chances, stationing snake handlers throughout the crowds. It has been over a decade since India/Pakistan cricket matches were held due to political rivalry between the nations which separated 51 years ago at independence from Britain. [The Oakland Tribune, February 5, 1999 from Matthew Aikawa]
Biography of a BullfrogResearchers in Canada studying Rana catesbeiana, the bullfrog, have found singing males in chorus who emit loud "hick" calls and pair off in a aggressive wrestling match, "often looking like a pair of straining sumo wrestlers, nose to nose, arms flailing. Eventually, one topples the other, sometimes holding the loser underwater for a time and then chasing him away from the conquered territory. Females cruise by these noisy groups and eventually sidle up to a male with a resonant voice and well-chosen territory... [after laying up to 20,000 eggs] the couple soon parts, the female to rest, the male... to his territory in hopes of another conquest..." according to Nature Canada [Autumn 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu].
One froggy, two froggyIn a project which reminds me of my own early nocturnal audio frog surveys, the Friends of Five Creeks and Friends of Baxter Creek are seeking volunteers to survey for amphibian life in Berkeley, Albany and El Cerrito creeks. This will be the first project in the Bay Area to use volunteers to survey amphibians and follows a national trend to involve local people in monitoring local wildlife. Contact the Friends at 510-848-9358. [The San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 1999 from Matthew Aikawa] Or contact the U.S. Geological Survey for more information on frog counting opportunities in your area. If you live in an area without an organized survey, consider following standard guidelines of other surveys (so that your data can be included with all the rest), and start your own frog-count!
E-real or e-legend?Contributor Brian Wettekin writes: "I'd like to see... if this is true. Of course, if it is, I'm sure it sounds really good to some government office worker who once saw a big snake in a movie. I must say... it appears to be working very well. I have never heard of any Peace Corps workers being eaten alive by any snakes." The following is from Jerry Constantino's Shooting Times, 1999 column: ...directly from the "U.S. Government Peace Corps Manual."...
Our throw-away worldRight before Christmas last year, two animal lovers in Readington, NJ noticed a bag along the side of the road. They circled back and poked the bag, expecting to find kittens or puppies, as they had before. But this time it was two ball pythons and a 4-foot boa constrictor. A Police officer who says he's deathly afraid of snakes put them in the trunk of his patrol car and drove them to the home of a fellow officer who has a pet snake. The latter warmed them up gently with a blow dryer and found them homes among his friends and neighbors. [December 1998: 23rd The Trentonian from Jonathan Eglinton; no date The Star-Ledger from Larry Gruber; and 25th The Pocono Record no name on clipping, but "Parts is Parts" on the envelope!]
Snakes learn fastA researcher at the University of Rochester has found that snakes can learn more than previous workers thought, and that older and younger snakes collect information differently - and seem to interpret it differently in some cases. The study involved 24 captive bred corn snakes. The snakes were filmed during the tests which sought to find how quickly snakes discovered the exits from the first chamber and how they remembered where they were over time. Young snakes were more adaptable, finding exits by a variety of means while older snakes relied on visual cues and became confused if the cues were changed. [The Democrat and Chronicle, February 6, 1999 from Kevin Wiebeld]
Crash with crocodileA 71-year-old wildlife park owner in England was taking a crocodile from his park to the vet when he drove over an embankment and crashed his car. According to The London Evening Standard, the police opened the door, found the 5-foot reptile swishing his tail and just as quick shut the door and drew lots to decide which officer would carry the croc's cage to their police van. The owner said, "I was thinking about my crocodile... and I got lost going the wrong way... I tried to turn around, but I drove over an embankment... I'm a good driver on the wide open plains of Africa, but put me on a narrow road, and I'm helpless... I doubt if the police get many crocodiles as road accident victims." [February 6, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
Down the tortoise holeScientists at the Tall Timbers Research Station, near Tallahassee, FL and Auburn University, set up cameras at the entrances to gopher tortoise burrows to see where and how they use their space. Gopher tortoises were once so common that people ate them during the economic Depression of the 1930s, calling them "Hoover chicken." But now the tortoises have declined due to development and disease, and are listed as a species of special concern in Florida. The Auburn cameras "caught gophers leaving their burrows for no more than a half an hour at a time. It was long enough for the tortoises to make every date on their social calendar: Browse the buffet, greet neighbors, and ... find a mate... the pictures ... paint a far more detailed portrait of what their lives are like," according to The Herald. [December 15, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
Bogged down by tiny turtle"The bog turtle never asked for much. Just a patch of muck... and [to] snack on larvae and grubs... a spot of sunlight for basking and a pillow of sedge on which to lay its few eggs. Wanting so little, it got even less," writes Sandy Bauers in The Philadelphia Inquirer [November 15, 1999, no name on clipping]. New Jersey and Pennsylvania have had laws on the books protecting the turtles for 25 years, but there was no enforcement and the turtles continued to decline. A year ago, bog turtles were federally listed, now the species has stopped the expansion of Route 222 in Berks County, PA and halted a dam project in Lebanon County. Some turtles have apparently been "planted" in an effort to halt other projects, but their placement in suboptimal (or even fatal) habitat is usually a dead give-away of the stunt. Even so, the turtle continues to lose. It has been listed among the "top 10 most wanted" species of pet by one wildlife organization which claims that the turtles fetch up to $1,000 on the black market.
Babies!Andy Via writes that Hank and Brenda, his romantic Rankin's dragons, have hatched the 16 eggs which were mentioned in a previous column, adds "glad you liked the picture... I was very surprised (and proud) to see it mentioned. I took this picture of their offspring..." Shown are three, very cute - very young dragons. Thanks Andy! I love baby pictures!
At least it's not a KomodoA Tampa, FL woman thought something was amiss outside her house for quite a while. The ducks stopped having ducklings, the local armadillos disappeared. Then one day, she saw a large scaly black lizard slide under her house. Next it started sunning itself on her deck. At first advised it was a vegetarian iguana, comparing some photos with a wildlife book showed it was either a Nile or Savanna Monitor - either one a carnivore with claws. She said, "I won't sit out there at night and look at the stars.. we don't barbecue... we haven't trimmed the hedges... It's like the monitor has taken control of our neighborhood." It has foiled every trap and trapper sent to catch it and is now interfering with the woman's homebased Mary Kay Cosmetics business. She says that she's been told it would be illegal to shoot the monitor, but adds, "They have a septic mouth, they have teeth that can sever limb, they have a tail that can whip around and rip your leg open. I want this thing out of here." [St. Petersburg Times, January 24, 1999 from Robert E. McGrath]
At least one real oneThe Honolulu Star-Bulletin reports that a man turned in a 4-foot-long boa constrictor to the Hawaiian Humane Society. Loose snake reports continue to be called in on Maui, although traps using live mice as bait have, so far, caught nothing. [September 5, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
From an African Friend of SnakesThe Times of Zambia ran a whole series of articles in the spring and summer, all obviously written by someone who knows snakes well, and loves them. The very best was from March 30, 1998 sent by Major Martin Mumbi of the Zambian Army: "Man is fascinated by what he finds fearful and strange. Looking at the snake, it is without limbs, eyelids, swallows its food whole without taking bites out of it...[the snake] lives in water, trees, on the ground and under ground... [it] stare[s] with unblinking eyes at the world, wearing a permanent cunning looking straight smile... depending on the society, tribe and religion - snakes are seen as symbols of evil, good, peace, war, fertility barrenness, demons etcetera. It al lies with one come from. So, those of the readers interested in myths, legends and beliefs, I must let you know that it is a complex topic due to the complexity of human society both locally and international. The fact is, whether most of us like to admit it or not, snakes somehow fascinate us... I am pretty sure a number of you on visiting a zoo will not go to first see the lion. You will inquire where the snakes pets are; why? After satisfying your fear and curiosity, lion and leopard are next on your list... The question I am always asked about my work is `what about snakes?' Look, dear reader, going to a national park does not mean you will find snakes falling over each other. You probably will spend a week or two, without seeing one. Perhaps a longer stay may produce one, probably a smashed representative, a victim of someone's battering. You could maybe see one crossing the road or vanishing down a hole. Don't go after it, you might find yourself grabbing the tail end or following a mamba or cobra... [you] are aware that these two are not pleasant customers to provoke... Snakes do not... go out to attack you deliberately... a snake bite is not cured by sexual union. It is cured by applying medical treatment... It really is funny what myths pop here and there... There is the spitting cobra myth that if it spits at you - you spit back... Cobras are very unpredictable... Just avoid them as they prefer to do the same to you... Shed snake skin when held does not cause one to start losing his skin..." I wish I could tell you the author of this series. I enjoyed it immensely and hope someday to read them all in a book.
Thanks to everyone who contributed material to this column and to Alan Rigerman, Don Wheeler, Mark Banas, David Schultz and Kim and Wes von Papinešu for material I enjoyed but did not use. You can join our six new contributors this month! Send pages of newspaper with reptile/amphibian articles. Be sure the date/publication slug and your name is on each piece. Mail it to me in care of the AFH at the new address on the masthead. This column was written in February, so you can calculate the lead time until your contribution will be seen here! I'm looking forward to hearing from more and more AFH members.
Volume 10, Number 5 - 1999
Not just the missing link, but the claspA study published in Science suggests that turtles may be closer relatives of crocodiles than previously thought - and that turtles and crocodiles are the "most modern of reptiles, leaping past lizards, snakes and birds into the top branches of the reptile family tree." [The Times-Union, February 12, 1999] According to Reuters, the researchers said "that an animal that lived in the Triassic era, the Aetosaur, shared some characteristics of both turtles and crocodiles. They said they hoped scientists who study physical characteristics will take another look and perhaps confirm their findings." [February 11, 1999 both from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
Nearly eaten - but sparedA turtle hunter caught a white snapping turtle in Elkhorn Creek near Frankfort, Kentucky. According to The Evansville, Indiana Courier, the hunter originally considered eating it - as he usually does with the turtles he catches, but then decided to spare the white one and gave it to a local nature center. [March 22, 1999 from Gary Kettring]
Rare but coolA leatherback turtle laid eggs on a beach near 25th Street in Miami, Florida. The Herald reports: "The endangered turtles are a rare sight in Florida. To observe them laying eggs in the daylight is even more unusual." The accompanying picture shows about 30 people and a Jeep in front of some palm trees and high rise buildings. [April 1, 1999] Meanwhile, three subadult sea turtles were released off Cocoa Beach after rescue and treatment at Orlando's Sea World. They are the 43rd, 44th and 45th rescues this year. [The Herald, April 22, 1999 both from Alan Rigerman]
Thanks for the memoriesAfter 12 years of peregrinations with pythons and other pet snakes, "The Snake Lady" of Vermont has decided to retire. She wrote the 60 schools and libraries at which she'd done programs and told them her snakes were "getting tired," although they will occasionally do a local show. [States News Service, February 9, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
Nature's revenge?"Public health officials in Beijing warned local citizens to be cautious when eating fresh aquatic products in order to avoid possible acute intestinal infectious diseases... [including] bullfrog, trout, soft-shelled turtle, carp and loach," reports China Daily News. [February 2, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
Asian economy good and bad news for herps
More big snakes on the Big IslandThe Honolulu, Hawaii Star Bulletin reports that a man dropped a bulging pillowcase on a counter in a pet store and left. When the assistant manager opened, a 5.5-foot Burmese python poked its head out. He called the State Department of Land and Natural Resources and they came and took it away. This surrender follows one the previous week when a many dropped off a 4-foot boa constrictor at the Hawaiian Humane Society. An amnesty program was in effect during these surrenders, so no one will be prosecuted. [September 8, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
And back in the (former) U.S.S.R.About 1,000 tortoises bound for Moscow were seized on the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border. the tortoises were in a dozen canvas sacks and are valued about $25-30US in the Russian capital. The shells are used for decoration, while the meat is served in upscale Muscovite restaurants. Traffickers snare the tortoises as they leave underground burrows in spring. [Russia Today, March 24, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
A reader's tale of smart snakesContributor Kevin Wiebeld wrote: "... about 30 years ago... I convinced my mother to allow me to keep, in the house, the slithering treasures I was always bringing home. The subjects of the study were a pair of red-bellied snakes, Storeria occipitomaculata. It took them a very short while to discover that a particular hole in the aquarium cover I had made was indeed large enough to squeeze their diminutive selves through. As is often the case in these circumstances, it was my mother, en route to the kitchen, who discovered their escape. My father returned them to their cage, but before I got home from school, they repeated their breakout; again seeking out my mother, as if to show off their underappreciated intellectual skills. Thus ended my first attempt at housing herps. After some time had passed, and with the purchase of a latching screen aquarium cover, I was again able to convince my parents to let me keep herps. With the knowledge gained from my first attempt, and a little luck. I never had another escape." You remind me of my favorite "found, lost, found" snake. It was a milk snake (natch!) and how exactly it got out we don't know but we suspect a house guest "lost" it and didn't `fess up. About two years later, my septagenarian father called me at work. "Hello, Ellin? One of your friends is loose and slithering across the floor." (You have to imagine his voice getting higher and higher until "floor" comes out at a high C!) "O.K. dad. It won't bite you. Pick it up. Put it in a trash can, put something on top and I'll get it when I get home." What I found was a 35 gallon trash can with paper liner, water bowl, rock and hidebox, with two 2x6 boards, two chunks of plywood and two concrete blocks on top! The snake's tag for museum deposit read, "collected by K.S. Mierzwa, recollected by P.L. Beltz." We figured somebody would get a laugh out of it in 100 years.
Thanks to everyone who contributed clippings, letters, cards and photos this month and to Chris Hannaford, Gary H. Kettring, Vicky Elwood, Kim and Wes von Papinešu, and Alan Rigerman for stuff I enjoyed - but couldn't figure out how to use. You can contribute, too. Just send whole pages of newspaper (it doesn't weigh much) to me in care of the new address on the masthead. Be sure your name is on each piece. Those little address labels work great! Please don't delay. My clipping folder is just about empty. Thanks!
Volume 10, Number 6 - 1999
Letters from you
Et tu, brute?
Birds versus frogs?According to a paper in the journal Science, the life cycle of the trematode which seems to cause some, if not most, frog hind limb deformities is slanted in favor of the avian host. The worm starts out in the gut of birds which dine on frogs; comes out the other end and into frog ponds where predation occurs; goes through an aquatic snail host; hatches and bores into tadpoles making a beeline for developing hind limb buds and causes deformity. With deformed limbs, frogs are "sitting ducks" for predation by birds and the cycle continues. [San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 1999 from Jack Corning]
Got `em caiman and goin'"Using a K Mart fishing net, their own shoelaces and a touch of adventurism, two men yesterday afternoon captured the 3-foot crocodile that had been set loose in Lake Accotink Park in Fairfax County, [Virginia]. The men then carried the thrashing reptile to one of their homes... placed the animal in an inflatable plastic pool and called parks officials to let them know the croc had been caught," according to the Fairfax Journal. One of the men is from Moscow, former Soviet Union, and he said that it was "the most exciting thing that has ever happened to him," and "there's not a lot of caimans roaming the streets [in Moscow]." County Park officials were less than thrilled, however, because it is illegal to trap wildlife in public parks and it could have been dangerous. Officials also said they thought the animal had been released in the park by someone who had kept it as a pet. [May 11 and 12, 1999 both from Bryan McCarty]
Police wore respirators to remove the cages"The badly decomposed body of a man was found... in the apartment he shared with as many as 15 snakes, most of them poisonous [sic], police said... [He] had been bitten at least once by a rattlesnake... Animal control officers... removed eight rattlesnakes, two king cobras, two corn snakes, one desert snake and two others that had not been identified," according to the Wilmington, Delaware News Journal. The police spokesperson said that the rattlesnake that they think administered the fatal bite was loose in the apartment when they arrived. All 21 units in the housing complex were evacuated while police searched for the loose snake. Neighbors claimed to have seen loose cobras and other snakes in and around the buildings during the two years that the man lived in the unit. Venomous snakes not native to the state of Delaware cannot be kept under that state's Department of Agriculture permit process. [June 9 and 10, 1999] After that, authorities got serious and have seized three pythons because their owners did not have permits. Police had notified animal control about "complaints of juveniles harassing a neighbor with snakes... two 3-foot long pythons belonging to a 16-year-old boy [were confiscated]." [June 16, 1999, all from new contributor Anakin Rullens]
Decline due to disease?Researchers at Texas A and M University at Kingsville announced that they may have discovered that malaria may be the reason for the rapid loss of the horned lizard throughout the state. Scientists have found that the reproductive rate of these cute little critters (often misnamed "horned toads") has dropped. Other lizards in Texas have been found to have malaria in their systems - so the remaining horned lizards will be checked. [The Trentonian, May 18, 1999 from Jonathan Eglinton]
Jungle legend, or actual fact?With no provenance other than "central Tolima province, Colombia," Reuters reports that "A Colombian boy died over the weekend after being locked in the bone-crushing embrace of an Anaconda snake, authorities said Monday. The victim was fishing with his father... when the snake -- a South American boa that can grow to more than 20 feet (six meters) -- grabbed him and pulled him into the water... The boy's body surfaced later... An autopsy showed he died of asphyxiation... [authorities said] at least two [anacondas] were believed to inhabit [the] lake... and may have been put there to ward off unwanted fishermen or poachers. `All we know for sure is that one person is dead, several have disappeared and empty boats have been appearing on the lake,' said [the spokesman]." [Yahoo! News, May 24, 1999 from Paul and Kristin Shoemaker]
Take one snake and two aspirin...The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Tirofiban for use on patients May 14. The drug is made from the venom of the African saw-scaled viper and is marketed under the brand name Aggrastat. Tirofiban must be taken with aspirin and heparin blood thinner; the combination reduces the chance of heart attack better than any of the drugs alone. [U.S. News and World Report, June 1, 1998 from Chris Hannaford]
Meaningful tombstoningOld time news hounds will recall that the practice of reading only the headlines on a page is called "tombstoning," and that some combinations are truly hilarious. Alan Rigerman sent this example from the Citrus County Chronicle, April 8, 1999. "Wanted: Women in the outdoors." Apparently the National Turkey hunters group is hoping to interest more women in outdoor activities - like hunting. Meanwhile, the adjacent headline reads, "Springtime means snakes, ticks and dreaded skeeters." Any other questions, guys?
Lost and found
Tortoise and terrapin tales
Thanks to all my contributors, this is the fiftieth "Herp News" to be published in Vivarium since Sean McKeown and I hatched this column in 1990. This issue, I'd like to thank W. Scott Bazemore, Bryan McCarty, Jeff Moorbeck, "Nick," Alan Rigerman, Vicky Elwood, Chris Hannaford, Oliver Sieckmann, Gary H. Kettring, Wes and Kim von Papinešu, and Michael Mastison for things I received since the last column, but couldn't summarize. You can contribute too. (In fact, I hope you do - since I used every clipping I had to write this!) Send whole sheets of newspapers or magazines with the date/publication slug firmly attached to each one. Write your name on each page so I can give you proper credit! Send to me in care of the Vivarium at the address on the masthead. Thanks again!
My new book!
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz
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January 10, 2008