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

Herp News Around the World
by Ellin Beltz

Volume Eleven

Vol. 2 . Vol. 3 . Vol. 4 . Vol. 5 . Vol. 6 . Vol. 7 . Vol. 8 . Vol. 9 . Vol. 10 . Vol. 11

This was the tenth and final 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 11, Number 1 - 1999

Oh no!

"Carlyle, Illinois -- The parents of a 3-year-old boy squeezed to death by a pet python were charged... with endangering the life of a child and possession of a dangerous animal. [The 26-year-old father said]... he didn't know the snake was vicious enough to kill his son... who was asleep on the living room floor of the family's mobile home... `I wouldn't have had a snake in my house if I'd though it was going to kill my son, [he said] that boy was everything in my world.' The endangerment charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison." [Associated Press from The Tacoma, Washington News-Tribune, September 2, 1999 from Marty Marcus]

Gators, gators everywhere

  • A member of the "Kachunga and the Alligator" show lost the tip of his finger during a performance in Sedalia, Missouri. He was showing the crowd the inside of the alligator's mouth, then pushed it shut. Unfortunately, his finger was in the gator's mouth and 2,000 pounds per square inch of gator jaw strength sheared off the tip. He said, "I never lost anything like this [before] it was just a clean bite." The man will remain as an announcer with the show and may return to performing after his injury heals. [The Jefferson City Post-Tribune, August 19, 1999 from Vicky Elwood]
  • The mysterious Chinese clipping puzzle has been solved by Bill Burnett of Arkansas. The picture showed an alligator with a volleyball, but no one could figure out what it meant. The story says that the alligator grabbed a volleyball that people had been playing with at an RV park in Fort Myers, Florida. The alligator swam around with the ball for about three hours. One player shouted, "It's an automatic forfeit!" when the gator grabbed the ball which was never seen again. [The Little Rock Democrat-Gazette and The Orlando Sentinel, both April 23, 1999]
  • The deaths of more than 100 alligators in Lake Griffin, Florida have been attributed to a rare algae called "Cylindrospermopsis." It may look like harmless pond scum, but it can release deadly toxins, and now covers almost all of Lake Griffin. It has also been found in other lakes and the St. Johns River in Florida. Getting rid of the algae is a nasty job, too. Scientists in Queensland, Australia tried to get it out of the Solomon Dam lake in 1979. They used copper sulfate, which did kill the algae, but the dying algae released a toxin which caused gastrointestinal, liver and kidney damage in 150 people who drank the water. The algae has also been found in Kansas, Minnesota and Texas, but those cases do not seem to have included toxic releases. [Naples, Florida Daily News, July 23, 1999 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu and Alan Rigerman]
  • Meanwhile, in the Savanna River site owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, wildlife is flourishing. While most people think of this area as a nuclear site, both for bomb manufacture and the final clean up from the Cold War, the animals and plants seem to regard it as a human-free zone and grow bigger and live longer than they do elsewhere. And they don't glow in the dark. Indeed, tests show no more radiation in Savanna River critters than elsewhere. The DOE transferred 10,000 acres to the South Carolina Natural Resource Department which was thrilled to get the land. There are more than 100 species of reptiles and amphibians on the site including several hundred alligators and rare and endangered species. [The Miami Herald, July 4, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]
  • An alligator handler was bitten during filming of a scary video presentation called "When Animals Attack." In a case of life imitating video, the handler was bitten by a 8.5-foot alligator who had managed to free its mouth of duct tape while waiting for his turn in the footlights. The animal was killed. The handler went to hospital. [The Miami Herald, July 27, 1999 from Alan Rigerman] This prompted an angry letter to the editor from a woman who felt that "there is no excuse for the way we treat animals in the name of entertainment... [this] hokey production ... portrays animals as evil killers... A man ended up in the hospital, an alligator was killed needlessly and the fates of the remaining two reptiles are unknown, all for a marginal tabloid TV show. It makes you wonder what kind of person finds this scenario of fear, injury, torment and death to be entertaining." [The Miami Herald, August 21, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]
  • On a happier note, the August 17, 1999 Miami Herald shows a wildlife biologist holding an albino alligator at an attraction in South Miami. The albino was the first such captured in South Florida, and one of only 17 known albino alligators in the U.S. Albino alligators have no skin pigment and this one has red eyes. [From Alan Rigerman] And officials are planning to restore Florida's Everglades. The new Army Corps of Engineers plan would restore the water flow to millions of acres of southern Florida and provide access under Route 41 for water and wildlife. If approved, this project will be the largest environmental restoration project ever undertaken anywhere in the world. [USA Today, July 1, 1999 from Gary Kettring]

Can you have an urban legend in Africa?

The Herald from Harare, Zimbabwe reports that "Police have dismissed as untrue and unfounded allegations that a number of women have died countrywide after being forced to breastfeed frogs [for allegedly ritual purposes]... The story of a girl who was forced to breastfeed a large frog after being offered a lift by a businessman driving a posh Mercedes-Benz has spread far and wide. It now has numerous versions, each one more sensational than the previous one... making it appear as if the number of victims is increasing by the day." The senior police officer in Harare said, "We have investigated the case and found it to be totally false. There is no such case and the nation should not panic." [August 16, 1999 from Nathan Tenny]

Really, don't kiss that toad

Florida officials are warning residents not to kiss, lick, smooch or let their children play with Bufo marinus, the cane toad. The amphibians were introduced to the sunshine state from South America in 1930s in the mistaken belief that they would eat destructive beetles off the state's sugar cane crop. Owners of introduced dogs and cats are warned not to let these animals out of sight, particularly at night when the toad are most active. If a dog bites a Bufo, the dog will foam at the mouth, its gums will become bright red and the dog will act drunk. While cats do not usually put toads in their mouths, they can get toad toxins on their paws and irritate their mouths and eyes indirectly. Pet owners are advised to seek veterinary help immediately. [The Miami Herald, July 8, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

And don't eat frogs with too many legs

Stanley Sessions was right. Many amphibian deformities are caused by trematodes, parasites which infest the hind limb buds of tadpoles. You may have dissected flatworms in school. That seems to be what is causing duplicate limb deformities in amphibians all over the U.S. The trematode carries out one stage of its life in predatory birds which eat amphibians and release trematodes in the ponds whilst feeding. Scientists speculate that deformed amphibians may be easier for the birds to catch, leading to a spiraling cycle of frog deformities. [The San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 1999 from Matthew Aikawa]

Settle all bar bets now

How do you tell an American crocodile from an alligator? The Miami Herald reports that crocs are usually green-gray or olive with a long and slender snout. The fourth tooth on the lower jaw is exposed even when the mouth is closed and the whole animals is from seven to 15 feet long. Alligators are usually dark gray or black with a rounded and broad snout. No teeth are visible when the mouth is closed (I guess this is why alligator show-men always open gators' jaws). Gators grown from six to 19 feet long. Both crocodilians occur in South Florida. While experts consider the American crocodile more docile than the alligator, crocodile warning signs are being installed in all the places where they may interact with humans. [August 11, 1999 from Alan Rigerman] There are about 600 American crocodiles in South Florida compared with 1.5 million alligators in the same area. [The San Francisco Chronicle, July 10, 1999 from Matthew Aikawa]

You cute ol' things

Veterinarians at the National Zoo are beginning to develop a geriatric medicine practice for the aging animals in their care. Some of their oldest animals are tortoises: two Aldabras were born in 1956 and their African pancake tortoise hatched in 1965. Other long-lived animals are elephants, hippos, gorillas, crocodiles and cranes. [The Washington Post, August 1, 1999 from Andy Via]

Watch for these guys on Nasdaq

Two children who live in South America read about a contest in Young Entrepreneur magazine to develop the best small business plan. They have founded "Pipa Shippa International," an exotic-animal export company which specializes in shipping South American toads to North American pet shops. Pipa pipa is everywhere in Venezuela; they sell for $1.50 retail in the pet shops there. So the kids wrote the award-winning plan to buy cheap, ship cheap and sell high. They estimate their first year profits at about $13,000. They received a $1,200 award from the magazine and the business is taking off by leaps and bounds! [The Orlando Sentinel, August 14, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

Speakers support salamanders

More than 30 residents who spoke at a public hearing about a new roadway through a Mabee's salamander breeding pond in Hampton, Virginia "preferred protecting the salamander or not building the road at all," according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. A contractor had started work on the road without an environmental permit; work was stopped and wetland mitigation for the damages will now be required. But the state still wants the road through the last remaining natural area near Hampton. Current plans are for two spans to cross the pond, supposedly keeping the salamanders' breeding pond clear and open. What is not addressed in the article is the influence of volatile organic chemical and salt runoff from the bridge, VOCs as airborne emissions, salt as airborne emissions and vibrations from the bridges interfering with salamander breeding. [August 15, 1999 from Andy Via]

Iguana come into your neighborhood

Residents of Dania Beach, Florida often stand around with their arms straight out to the sides. Not because they are a huggy community; usually they are showing visitors just how big the loose iguanas in their neighborhood grow. The area east of I-95 and south of Griffin Road is an odd place to have a wild population of iguanas and other lizards; residents speculate that construction of an "outdoor park" may have displaced the critters into their area. Several residents report loose six foot iguanas disrupting their patio furniture and harassing pets. But iguanas are not the only lacertan residents; also found are water monitors, Cuban anoles and the so-called "Jesus lizard" which walks on water. One biologist said that it is as if the neighborhood got a shipment from some tropical island. Others speculate the animals may all be released pets. [City Link, August 4, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

Snakes alive catch a thief

An alert Panama City, Florida pet shop clerk noticed live snakes swirling out of a customer's shirt and jeans. She noticed that the critters looked a lot like animals belonging to the store - which were now missing from their cages. So she called 911. A 46-year-old man was caught and pleased no contest to grand theft of snakes from the shop. He was sentenced to two years of community control (house arrest) and three years of probation. He was also ordered to stay away from the pet shop. The clerk said, "It was hilarious. He kept saying he wasn't taking anything, but those snakes were just moving around and one was under his shirt and he was doing all kinds of strange things and trying to keep it in there." [Citrus County Chronicle, August 21, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

Feds plan to replace snakes

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering reintroducing the giant garter snake to the San Joaquin Valley as part of a larger program covering the Central Valley... the estimated cost... is $70 million, and it is expected to take nearly 30 years to complete... [in] the Sacramento Valley... rice farmers are already working to assist in the snakes recovery... Areas of central Bakersfield, California where water is now controlled by canals were once fertile ground for the giant garter snake." [The San Francisco Chronicle, July 13, 1999 from Matthew Aikawa]

Woman glad her dog survived

In a sight rather unusual in Montgomery County (near Washington, D.C.) a woman saw her dog nearly strangled by a giant snake. The dog had been outside when it was grabbed. The woman's 18-year-old daughter tried to pull the 12-foot snake off the small dog, but was unable to make it stop constricting. Finally the husband attacked the snake with a surfboard and a shovel, and it released the dog which was not breathing. The family revived the dog and rushed it to the vet. The snake was killed by a neighbor with a .22 rifle. No one positively identified the snake; nor did anyone know where it came from. [The Washington Post, July 28 from Any Via and The Erie, Pennsylvania Morning News, July 29, 1999 from Brian Wettekin]

Letters

  • The Friends of Sean McKeown would like to thank everyone who contributed to Sean's fund. At present, he is still on the artificial heart machine, but has been able to go back home while he waits for a donor heart to become available. They write, "most importantly, your generous gifts and the outpouring of support from so many fellow herpers have provided an important morale boost to Sean and his family during this extremely difficult period... On behalf of Sean, Wendy and their daughter Dorie, we extend our most sincere thanks to you for your generous support and friendship."
  • Robert E. McGrath wrote about his life and reptiles now that he is retired and living amidst his personal jungle. He sent pictures of iguanas, turtles and koi and remarked that he has subscribed for nine years and enjoys every issue from cover to cover. Thanks Robert!
  • Bert Langerwerf wrote: "A dangerous Bothrops atrox was claimed to be escaped from a shed in the Dutch town of Enkhuisen (according to the newspaper Algemeen Daglad, August 18, 1999). About 40 policemen and firefighters were involved in the search... a snake specialist ["slangenexpert"] was flown in from Delft with a helicopter. No snake was found. According to the notifier, who informed the escape days later, the owner of the snake left the snake with him while he went on vacation to France. Most recent news in another Dutch newspaper, The Telegraaf, is that the whole story may have been invented, as the vacationer in France was never found. The notifier also went on vacation. Whatever is the truth... this is bad news for serious snake keepers." The articles are from August 18 - 25, 1999 and are available on the internet (in Dutch) by searching the journal names. I was fascinated to read that "Een exotisch dier is voor sommigen een statussymbool." Which I think means that some people think exotic critters are status symbols! Do we know anyone like that?

Thanks to every contributor this month! You can contribute too! Send the whole page of newspaper or magazine with the publication/date slug still attached and your name on each piece to me in care of the AFH at the new address on the masthead. Please don't delay!!! I have no backlog of material right now and am wondering how I'm going to write a column for 11-2.

Volume 11, Number 2 - 1999

What would we do without us?

  • The News of the Weird reports that a 26-year-old man who "habitually carries a live snake around his neck, escaped from police in Tennessee" where he was allegedly being held on suspicion of Driving Under the Influence of alcohol. About six hours later, the same man was arrested in Athens, Alabama "when people reported seeing a guy with a snake around his neck." [San Jose Mercury, October 5, 1999 from Wes von Papinešu and Andy Via]
  • Chuck Shepard also wrote, "if people didn't drink, there wouldn't be enough News of the Weird for a weekly column," and cites a story in the June New England Journal of Medicine. Two doctors, repeating earlier work, found that decapitated rattlesnake heads can deliver a venomous bite and added that "young men, particularly while intoxicated" receive most of these bites after grabbing or "engaging" the snakes head. [Columbia Daily Tribune, September 23, 1999 from Oliver J. Sieckmann; Health News, July 25, 1999 from Alan Rigerman and the NEJM story from Gary Kettring June 17, 1999 Volume 340, Number 24]
  • A 24-year-old man rescued his grandmother and his albino Burmese python from their home after an airplane crashed into it and set the house on fire. Three other residents of the home were not there during the accident. The occupants of the plane, which was owned by a Miami law firm, apparently died in the crash. [The Miami Herald, August 14, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]
  • The Orlando, Florida Gatorland sponsored a Gator Cookoff to celebrate the success of the Endangered Species Program. Their spokesman said that it was due to conservation that alligators are again so common that "you can come here and eat them." The top prize was $1,500; entries included gator pizza, gator linguini and gator fettuccine. None of Gatorland's 3,000 live gators was on the menu. [The Miami Herald, September 20, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

Two-in-two million too

  • The Times-News Weekender reports that an eight-grade boy found a two headed snake while he was out flipping rocks with friends. In the past four years, these budding herpetologists had found harmless snakes, snapping turtles and frogs. "Because the two-headed snakes is not venomous" the boy's mother let him keep "the pencil-sized reptile... in a 10-gallon terrarium in their home." The boy said that he thinks it's a queen snake because he's "caught a bunch of them." He also reports that both heads eat, and even fight for food items. [Erie, Pennsylvania, October 2, 1999 from Brian Wettekin]
  • Meanwhile in St. Louis at the Children's Aquarium, a 3-month-old albino black rat snake with two heads is the star of their new show of captive bred reptiles. The founder of the Aquarium said, "The active head's [eye] pupils are thicker, but it switches back and forth so we know both brains are working." A veterinarian said that the two-headed mutation is one-in-a-million and cannot be induced by captive breeding. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 16, 1999 from Vicky Elwood]

Road kill is so in, you know

Developer Donald Trump's latest golf course project in West Palm Beach, Florida has a set aside for gopher tortoises, but his representative balked at tortoise-friendly parking and road edging. One local Zoning Commissioner said it was inexplicable because "Donald is known throughout the world for going first-class on everything." [The Ocala Star-Banner, September 4, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

To die for

The most endangered of all sea turtle species is the Kemp's ridley. But few stop to wonder who was Richard Kemp for whom this lonely wanderer of the Sargasso is named. He was born in 1825 in Green Turtle Cay, sent the specimen to the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1880 and died of chronic bronchitis in Key West at age 83. He may or may not have been related to the other Kemps in the Keys. The only gravestone was of his son, Richard H. Kemp. A local environmentalist is now raising funds to get the patronymic Kemp a headstone, with his proper name and dates and a drawing of the odd Lepidochelys kempii which bears his name. One local board member said, "It's incredibly cool. Wouldn't you kill to have some species named after you?" [The Herald, September 5, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

Caught whilst hanging out

The South China Morning Post reports that a father who bought a python as a pet for his six-year-old child as a pet was fined $1,000 U.S. for keeping the snake without a license. After several months of keeping the snake without incident, it had escaped and was discovered wrapped around some washing lines by a neighbor who notified authorities. [October 6, 1999 from Wes von Papinešu and Eloise Beltz-Decker]

Scary stories from Florida

On August 30, 1999 The Miami Herald reported that researchers studying Lake Griffin alligator deaths have found a mysterious toxin, unlike any known previously to science, which causes microscopic sores in a particular area of dead gators' brains. The gators were killed because they were disoriented and even let people pick them up without a fight. Necropsies revealed the lesions. "Scientists are particularly concerned that if something can kill a species like the alligator which has survived more than 300 million years [that] other, less hardy animals around the lake might be affected, too. On September 10 comes a story that alligator hunters were permitted to take gators from parts of the Everglades previously closed to hunting because of high mercury levels in the food chain. Gators taken from this area are only supposed to be mounted, or used for skins - not eaten. Gator hunters said that they spotted nothing longer than 10 feet and that the ones they caught are "scrawny" and "look terrible. Then, on September 19, the same paper reported that frog leg hunters in Kenansville, Florida are finding that frog are more scarce than in years past. The "best frogging" according to the hunters occurs in Lakes Kissimmee, Jackson, East Toho, Marian and Okeechobee. [from Alan Rigerman]

Chytrid again?

The Environmental News Service reports that more than 30 endangered boreal toads were found dead of a fungal infection in their locality west of Denver, Colorado. Many of the deceased were subjects of five years of intensive research and are tagged with bar codes or radio transmitters that could help provide information to researchers "on why amphibians have been disappearing around the world." [GreenLines, September 8, 1999 from Roger Featherstone]

Snake attacks in the news

  • The Orlando Sentinel reports that an 18-month-old boy was bitten in the face by a 13-foot Burmese python which had been placed in the tub to soak. Surgeons saved the child's eye, sewed up the scalp wounds, and reattached his eyelids. Family members said the snake had never been aggressive before and that the children were accustomed to touching and being around it. After the attack the snake was judged to be dangerous, was euthanized and buried in the landfill. [August 6, 1999 from Wes von Papinešu]
  • An eight-year-old Georgia boy was attacked by a ball python being kept at his school which specializes in children with emotional disorders. The three-foot-long snake curled around the child's neck and bit him. The child was reported to have been playing with the school's pet mice shortly before the attack. The snake was removed from the school. [Yahoo News, October 5, 1999 from Wes von Papinešu and Eloise Beltz-Decker]
  • The parents of a Centralia, Illinois 3-year-old boy who was killed by the family's pet African rock python have received hate mail, vicious phone calls and have been charged by authorities with child endangerment and keeping a dangerous animal. If convicted, each could face up to 10 years in prison. Their lawyer said that it should be obvious that the parents had "zero criminal intent." The state's attorney said that "parents should know if their child is in danger," and suggested the case should be judged as if the parents were driving drunk or letting a violent or sexual offender into their home. Both parents are out of work; friends helped them get the St. Louis attorney who will represent them at trial. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 19, 1999 from Oliver J. Sieckmann]

Please release me!

"Scientists have determined that the little [sea turtles] experience ... a `swimming frenzy' that's needed for their long journey to the Gulf Stream. Delaying the transition to the water could harm their already-slim chance of survival," according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch [August 29, 1999 from Andy Via] Researchers have long held babies collected on the beaches overnight and released them when they can be easily seen and photographed. New work shows this may influence their survival rate. [Northern Virginia Daily. August 30, 1999 from Bryan McCarty]

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column and to Marty Marcus, Alan Rigerman, Matthew Aikawa, Carla and Miguel Ochoa. I look forward to receiving contributions from you, too. Just fold up the pieces of newspaper, put one of those holiday address labels on each piece and mail to me at the address on the masthead. Our "lead time" is shortening - but it still may be a while before you see your name! Don't delay... the file is almost empty again!

Volume 11, Number 3 - 1999

He's lucky it wasn't a fire-log!

A salamander was found up curled up under a Christmas tree at a Newport News, Virginia hardware store by a shopper. It was identified at the Virginia Living Museum as being native to Oregon - which is where the trees were cut and shipped from. The museum planned to Fed Ex it to the Portland, Oregon Zoo. [Northern Virginia Daily, December 1 from Bryan McCarty; Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 4, 1999 from Andy Via]

Lots of herp news from California

  • Five miles of fences and traps are being used to save San Francisco garter snakes on perhaps the most involved and expensive "snake saving project" ever. The snakes are being maintained in captivity. Completion of the affected Bay Area Rapid Transit line is still two years away, but the snakes will be returned home this spring because the disruption near their home should be finished by then. [Tacoma News-Tribune, December 25, 1999 from Marty Marcus; San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 2000 from Jack Corning]
  • The Van Nuys woman found dead apparently bitten by a pet viper did not have permits for her snakes which would have been confiscated as illegal. The venomous animals found in her apartment were killed and sent to the coroner as evidence; the nonvenomous pets were taken to an animal rescue group. [Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1999 from Emerson Sy]
  • The Los Angeles Basin Yellow-Legged Frogs will be protected under the Endangered Species Act because only about 100 adults remain in areas which supported thousands up until the 1960s. Only Southern California members of the species are protected because 99 percent have disappeared. [Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1999 from Emerson Sy]
  • The headline in The Palo Alto Daily News read: "Scientists grow frog eyes, ears - it could lead to human organs." Wait a minute, writers! Scientists have human organs already - your story was about growing tissue in vitro in a lab. [January 4, 2000 from Kenneth S. Mierzwa]

Sea turtles get two breaks

A federal judge in Honolulu, Hawaii banned swordfish boats from a huge, million square mile chunk of the Pacific until the government decides if they adversely affect sea turtles. The industry claims this will kill or cripple their industry. Leatherback, olive ridley and loggerhead turtles take the bait, hook and die on thousands of baited hooks on 30-mile-long lines used by the swordfish boats in the Pacific north of the Hawaiian Islands. Federal reports for 1991-1997 "estimate that as many as 150 loggerheads, olive ridleys and leatherbacks are killed by longliners each year," according to the Erie, Pennsylvania Morning News, November 25, 1999 from Brian Wettekin. Then, the National Marine Fisheries Service issued an emergency rule to shrimpers from Melbourn, Florida north to the Georgia state line to widen the size of their turtle excluder device (TEDs) exits to permit large turtles to get out of their shrimp nets. The previously required size was 35 inches. Now the nets must open to 71 inches. The federal agency realized that the habitat use of the area by leatherbacks was poorly understood when the dimensions of TEDs were designed. Now that they see the dead, huge leatherbacks piling up on the beaches, they see that the net exits weren't big enough for the biggest and oldest of the giant turtles, which grow up to 1,300 pounds and 6 feet long. [The Sun-Sentinel, December 16, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

Data massage surprises researchers

Galapagos marine iguanas with insufficient food actually grow smaller until food becomes available. Then they grow bigger again. It is this last fact which is making researchers study the species in an effort to find out how to reverse osteoporosis in people. Researchers had assumed that the apparent shortening of individuals was a measurement error until it correlated with the El Nino cycle of declining marine resources. [Science News, January 8, 2000 from Mark Witwer]

Unexpected holiday present

A realtor's office in Mansfield, Massachusetts received a surprise when a rat snake slithered out of the bags of donations collected in their office as part of a benevolent holiday collection drive. They suspect it was someone's pet snake that hid in the donated items. [Sun Chronicle, December 8, 1999 from G.G. Lapierre, Sr.]

Not just an Internet myth

"A homesick American crocodile named `Snaggletooth' outfoxed state biologists by finding her way back to a South Miami-Dade golf club from the Southwest Florida park where she had been banished last February for scaring golfers and course employees. No one's quite sure how Snaggletooth managed her amazing journey... [they] think she swam 140 or so miles around the southern tip of Florida - a feat that raises concerns about the effectiveness of relocating nuisance crocs," reports The Miami Herald. The article points out that her journey has made this crocodile more wary of people and she no longer annoys the golfers - so she may stay home. [January 14, 2000 from Alan Rigerman]

Worldwatch

  • "Hundreds of Cambodians are flocking to a remote village to be blessed by a 100 kilogram, 4.5 meter python that villagers see as a sign of peace... Pilgrims seeking good fortune line up to slosh the snake's head in a bucket of water, then splash their faces. Children take turns sitting on its back. The huge snake 30 centimeters in diameter and nearly triple the length of an average man, slithered into the yard of a chicken farmer... about two weeks ago, the Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea said... The appearance of the snake so close to the country's much-touted millennium celebration fuelled the belief that it was sent as a sign of peace. [Taipei Times, January 8, 2000 from Emerson Sy and Wes von Papinešu]
  • A 65-year-old woman went line fishing by the Black River in western Jamaica "when the crocodile grabbed her by the hand and took her underwater... she was pronounced dead ... at a hospital. [The Daily News Caribbean Briefs, September 10, 1999 from G.E. Chow]
  • The Dutch town of Alphen Aan de Rijn, in the Netherlands plans to build a shelter for homeless tortoises. After 25 years of adopting turtles and placing them with volunteers, the local group has decided to build a home for the 5,000 turtles who have grown old and large and need a permanent home. [Morning News, December 7, 1999 from Brian Wettekin]

He lets the chicken go to lay again?

An interesting natural history observation from Wild Ohio Magazine, sent by Thomas Carter: "Maybe pro. wrestling's next new character should be `Dead Eye,' the six-foot black rat snake (blind in one eye) that lives on [a] farm ... in Miami County. The [farmers] use banty hens to incubate pheasant, quail and partridge eggs in their chicken house. They shot this photo of `Dead Eye' as he put a full nelson on one of their sitting hens, ate five of the eggs she was incubating, and then released the chicken unharmed."

Snakefood annoys Floridians

A mere 25-miles from the biggest mouse in the world, real rodents are overrunning about 10,000 homes around Apopka, Florida. The mice seem to have lived in agricultural fields which were flooded as a wetland restoration program, but now they're moving in among the suburban-style homes, and residents have had enough. The mice are the non-native Mus musculus beloved of pet snakes everywhere; they arrived in the New World shortly after or with Columbus and expanded as North America Euro-agriculturalized. Local mice were displaced and new residents killed off everything that slithered (and ate mice). Now they're getting $200,000 to combat the rodent plague when all they need is one of the local 12 mouse-eating varieties of snake under every crawlspace like they used to have. [San Francisco Chronicle, October 15, 1999 from Jack Corning] Other alien species including Asian Long-Horned Beetles and Chinese Mitten Crabs are costing the U.S. taxpayer $30 million a year in Florida alone. [South Florida Newspaper Network, Inc. 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

Hiaasen on hunting

Reading a catalog offering for a saltwater crocodile, "shoot your own leather" safari idea, Carl Hiaasen wrote satirically about this helicopter/professional guide adventure experience: "Some of us are new to the sport of shooting at dozing reptiles the size of Subarus from a hovering aircraft. We'd probably want to start around 500 feet, and descend closer according to our individual degrees of marksmanship and airsickness." He quotes the catalog and adds, "`Because the skin is extremely rare and offers the unique ability to create furniture without a seam,' much like the brain tissue of the person writing the catalog, 'this is the trophy of a lifetime.' Yes, whenever you park your butt in your crocodile-hide chair, the memory of that thrilling chopper attack will come flooding back." When no one called him back when he enquired, he concluded, "That's fine. The den can wait. It's exciting enough to think that somewhere on a reptile farm on the outskirts of Darwin [Australia] lurks 2,000 pounds of drowsy, chicken-fed fury. My future chair, yawning in the mud." [The Miami Herald, November 14, 1999 from Alan Rigerman]

On guard and in jail, aliens in Hawaii

The Honolulu Advertiser reports that a closely guarded brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) has been taken to Hawaii to assist in training dogs to recognize its scent. The Governor said this is "a major step in the fight to keep the unwanted pest out of Hawaii." The newspaper says the "five-foot snake is being held in a double-locked box, and three inspectors are to be on site every time it is taken out for training. In addition to being neutered, a radio transmitter has been implanted in the snake to detect its whereabouts. The brown tree snake has destroyed most of Guam's bird population and has caused frequent power failures after crawling into power lines. Hawaii has no snakes." [October 27, 1999 from Sean McKeown] Meanwhile the Honolulu Zoo displayed two captive bred Komodo dragons (male and female siblings) sent by the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. [Honolulu Star-Bulletin, September 10, 1999 from Jon H. Pegg]

Lies, damned lies and statistics.

The current edition of "Reptiles and amphibians in captivity, breeding, longevity and inventory" by Frank and Kate Slavens includes 26,053 specimens in 264 collections from around the world. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports: "Got a baby or a toddler in the house? Time to get rid of that iguana. Pet reptiles - including all types of lizards, snakes and turtles - can be a source of life-threatening infections and do not belong in households that have children younger than 5, according to a recommendation issued... by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention... although most cases of salmonella are caused by food contamination, reptiles account for about 93,000 cases... each year... about 7 percent of the total... about 3 percent of U.S. households have reptiles... CDC researchers are training their microscopes on amphibians such as frogs, toads, newts and salamanders." [Los Angeles Times, November 22, 1999 from Emerson Sy; Courier-Journal, January 25, 2000 from Gary Kettring] I couldn't believe the numbers, so I grabbed The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1999 which says there are 101 million households in the U.S. If 3 percent have reptiles, this works out to 3,030,000 households. Doesn't that seem high? Is there anyway to really estimate - or should we start checking our math? Sea turtle exits too small, too few animals left, people interested but not everyone should own an animal. Our entire civilization doesn't seem to be able to keep animals alive whether in captivity or in the wild. Maybe this 21st Century we'll learn how - or maybe they'll all disappear. What we all do matters. Maybe we need a way to count ourselves and encourage all who join us to be responsible - or face another century of legal actions. Who knows what the new age brings?

Letters, letters

  • "You probably saw [the story about the man arrested with reptiles in his pants] ... since it's an `AP' item, but ... [I] can't quite imagine what it would feel like to have 55 four-inch Red Foots [tortoises] in my pants, much less try to sit on an airplane so equipped! I enjoy your column! John L. Lambert."
  • "It's amazing what goes on in the world of herps! Here's a picture of my current pride and joy. even with taking care of 40 different herps, a wife and a 17-month-old daughter, I always have time to read the best herp magazine on the planet - and really enjoy your section. Oliver Sieckmann"
  • "It has been a feast, now it's famine... clipping material scarce. Best! Alan Rigerman"
  • "I'm on a roll of finding these, does it always go in cycles? Andy Via"

Thanks to everyone who contributed stories, photos and letters and to Gary Kettring, Oliver J. Sieckmann, Sean McKeown, Jack Corning, Andy Via, Bob Krager, G.E. Chow, J.L. Lambert, Vicky Elwood, David Scott, Alan Rigerman, Stephen O. Emerick, Carla and Miguel Ochoa, Marty Marcus, Julie Takaesu, and Michael Mastison for things I've enjoyed but couldn't figure out how to summarize. And a very special thanks to Wes von Papinešu for his never-ending contributions of news from around the world. You can contribute too. Send whole pages of newspapers and magazines and mail to me at the address inside the masthead. Be sure to put your name on each piece. My six inches of mail a month can get really confusing if I have to guess who sent what!

Volume 11, Number 4 - 2000

Three Articles typed in and Never Used because Vivarium was sold and the new owners discontinued my column without even a note.

Snakes as commodities

"In Greek mythology, anyone who looked at Medusa, the fearsome woman whose head crawled with snakes, turned to stone. But when [a Michigan pet store owner] looks at Medusa he thinks green. This Medusa is a 30-inch nonvenomous albino rat snake with two heads... [he] says he paid $15,000 for the snake. He says he won't let go of it until someone pays him $30,000 for it." Some herpetologists were skeptical that Medusa could be worth so much, since so many two headed snakes are born, but so few survive for long. Medusa is one of a hatch of fifteen; she was the only bicephalic. "Several herpetologists say two-headed snakes are more likely to be hatched in captivity because inbreeding is so common. But the experts say another cause of this trait is the incomplete split of the eggs during the birthing period." [Detroit Free Press, January 17, 2000 from Wes von Papinešu]

More TEDs

A study by the National Marine Fisheries Service [NMFS] has found that designers of now mandatory Turtle Excluder Devices [TEDs] may have miscalculated, leading to the drowings of larger (and older) leatherback sea turtles. While people have been fighting to save the turtles for the past 20 years, their numbers have dwindled from an estimated 115,000 to 22,000 today. After studying thousands of turtle carcasses over the past three years, researchers found that nearly 40 percent were too large to exit the net via the TEDs. [The Arizona Republic, December 13, 1999 from Wes von Papinešu]

OnStar Commercial Trashed

A writer from The San Francisco Chronicle mirrors the opinion of herpetologists across America. And it's so well written and so pointed that I am not going to change a word. Here follows the entire article: "Help, I'm Stupid And I'm Rich. So there is a television commercial. A prosperous-looking white couple are sitting on a big couch. They are talking to the camera about their adventure. They were driving in the desert when they got a flat tire. They wanted to change the tire, but when they looked out the window the ground was `crawling with snakes.' They hate snakes. So they pushed this button, the Special Blue Button that only Cadillacs have, and somehow a person spoke to them and sent a `service vehicle' -- driven, presumably, by a member of a social class that does not mind wading through snakes to change a tire. Meanwhile, we are led to believe, they sat in their car with the motor running and the air conditioner going full blast, listening to a soothing CD and staring out at the bleak and terrifying landscape. How stupid and how vile. In my opinion. Let us deconstruct. I have spent a lot of time in the desert. I have camped in the Mojave and the Sonora and the Carrizo Plain, where a rattlesnake sighting is guaranteed by management on every hike. I have seen rattlers and red racers and gopher snakes and even Gila monsters, which are not really snakes but are poisonous. I have never seen the ground crawling with snakes. Only in an Indiana Jones movie have I seen that. Snakes do not hunt in packs. They do not attend snake conventions where they wear funny hats and attend seminars on slithering. It doesn't happen. Plus: There are even fewer snakes near large highways. Snakes have a certain cunning; they understand that, despite their little sacs of venom, they are likely to lose any encounter with (a) a human, (b) a 4,000-pound button-enabled vehicle. Snakes do not wish to be seen. We can only conclude that this couple were taking hallucinogens. They were out in the desert just like Jim Morrison, dropping acid and having visions, and suddenly the man screamed, `Oh my God, snakes everywhere snakes oh God they're beautiful.' The woman ran to her car and pressed the button placed there by the good people at Cadillac for all their drug-using customers, and the man from the detox center came and talked them down. `Deep breaths now. You are in a safe place. The world loves you. You own a button.' Later, they made up the story about the tire." [January 7, 2000 from Wes von Papinešu]

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January 10, 2008

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