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Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz
Herp News Around the World
Vol. 2 . Vol. 3 . Vol. 4 . Vol. 5 .
Vol. 6 . Vol. 7 . Vol. 8 . Vol. 9 .
Vol. 10 . Vol. 11
This was the fourth 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 5, Number 1 - 1993
Python found behind sofa"Killer python" screamed headlines around the U.S. in mid May. I received a slew of articles about the 47-year-old Jefferson Parish, Louisiana man who was found dead with his favorite python Ebanezer, slashed and stabbed, cowering behind a sofa in their home. At first, police announced that William Bassett had been crushed to death by Ebanezer, however the coroner found that Bassett had a heart attack. Why Bassett stabbed the snake through the mouth and out the top of the head is unknown. The wounds required over 100 stitches and hours of veterinary time. Pythons are illegal in the parish, so authorities impounded the snake. News reports led to hundreds of people calling from all over the country seeking to adopt Ebanezer. Final custody was awarded to a licensed snake dealer in Hancock County, Mississippi. The newspapers also overreacted on the snakes weight in the early stories reporting that the animal weighed 200 pounds. The later stories amend this (without mentioning the mistake) and describe the animal as 16-feet 36-pounds. A fascinating clipping [May 23, 1993 The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, from Ernie Liner] was from the editorial page. Written by David Meeks, it describes the situation clearly and calmly. Meeks wrote: "So when you hear someone say, `The only good snake is a dead snake,' remember that you are talking to the uninformed. What you should learn from this episode is that people who keep reticulated pythons, anacondas or other dangerous, large snakes just aren't too smart. In many places, they're also breaking the law. What you also can learn is there is nothing wrong with snakes... So if you see a snake in the wild, resist the urge to kill it first and identify it later." How times change! The other clippings and their contributors are: May 18, 1993- The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, Rick Dietz and Mary E. Behrens the grandmother of an AFH member; Herald Wire Services, Alan W. Rigerman/ May 19- USA Today, Lillian Cowdrey and Bill Burnett; Orlando FL Sentinel, Bill Burnett; The Times-Picayune, Ernie Liner/ May 20- USA Today, Lillian Cowdrey and Bill Burnett; Memphis, TN Commercial Appeal, Bill Burnett; The Baton Rouge, LA Advocate, Ernie Liner/ May 21- The Times-Picayune, Ernie Liner/ May 23- Utica, NY Observer Dispatch, Sue Black/ June 10- The Houma, LA Courier, Ernie Liner. (This is the most clippings on any one story I've ever received! EB)
Gator killed 10-year-old boyBradley Weidenhamer, a 10-year-old Little Leaguer, was killed by an alligator during a canoe outing with his team and his parents. It is the first gator fatality since 1988, and only the sixth since the Florida Game and Fres Water Fish Commission began keeping records of alligator attacks on humans in 1972. No one on the canoe trip had seen any alligators, and the victim had gotten out of the canoe he was sharing with his parents to pull the boat over a log. While he was knee-deep in water, the alligator grabbed him and bit into the right side of his head, then pulled him under water, according to a sheriff's deputy. Bradley's father Gary jumped out, and pulled the boy away from the gator, but the gator yanked the boy back and kept the child under water for up to five minutes. The gator released the boy after the father and several adults on nearby canoes hit the animal with their paddles. Twenty minutes elapsed from the time of the boy's rescue until the group of canoes reached a visitor stopping point where the Palm Beach County's trauma helicopter could pick up the boy. Help had been summoned by a canoe which had left the scene when the attack began, so the paramedics were waiting when the rest of the canoes arrived. The father performed CPR on the unconscious boy most of the way from the attack scene to Trapper Nelson's house. The boy was pronounced dead on arrival at Jupiter Medical Center. The 11.5 foot alligator was killed by a professional hunter, and a necropsy was conducted. [Miami, FL Herald, June 20, 1993. Contributed by Mike McNeil.]
The ultimate in halitosisNow I know where that deadly saliva quote came from that I used in my other column from the Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel! Linda McIntosh sent a copy of an article from International Wildlife [May/June 1993, 23(3):30-35.] which has a subhead that reads: "Why worry if you're a giant lizard with scalpel teeth and killer saliva?" Writer Jane Stevens was fortunate enough to actually visit the island of the Giant Drago Lizards in Indonesia last year. Some quotes: "The numbers tell the story. Over the last 65 years, the score is Komodo dragons - 280 killed by people and 500 captured; humans - at most 12 killed or injured, none captured. Population of humans - 5.5 billion. Komodo dragons on Earth - no one knows exactly, but perhaps 5,000... In their extreme ugliness, Komodo dragons are beautiful. Knobby skin drapes like gray chain mail over their elongated bodies... On goat-free days, the monitors' hungry stares reduce us to walking body parts... Monitor saliva is chock full of deadly species of bacteria and most bitten prey that escape die from a fast-moving bacterial superinfection... [After the goat show, I] put down my notebook and crunch into a banana chip. Seventeen pairs of yellow eyelids flip up... Komodo dragons have demonstrated that smart lizards have no rules."
Tales of two iguanas
Oriental reptile tales
American snake stories
Excellent essay on C.B. herpsI was delighted to receive a note that read "Ellin Beltz is welcome to use anything from my herp trivia column in Vivarium. Roy Pinney." Roy is a world famous herpetologist who writes the "Herp Trivia" column for the New York Herpetological Society. With his imprimatur then, I present a thought provoking essay he wrote for their March/April 1993 Newsletter. "Captive-born? The surprising proliferation of herp expos where specimens are sold, swapped, or purchased, usually have the proviso that the vendors offer only captive-born or captive-bred animals and no wild caught or native specimens. The stipulation is to be applauded, but what exactly is captive born? Bill Love, owner of Glades Herp Inc. in Fort Myers, FL explains that many people consider captive-born and captive-bred one and the same, and in many cases the quality of offspring produced by either `method' will be identical or nearly so. Thus the abbreviation C.B. as used on price lists and in articles has become understood to generally imply that the desired animal is healthy and free of parasites. It is very likely to acclimate to captivity and thrive, at least with greater likelihood than a wild-collected animal.
The difference between - born and -bred comes when two common assumptions are made by some buyers of captive-born animals. First, they often think that no animals are being removed from nature, thus not contributing to the loss of wildlife. If they are captive-bred this may be true, but the offspring born in captivity from recently imported gravid herps is certainly a loss to the native population.
The second assumption is that -born and -bred are the same thing. Dedicated herpetoculturists, who work hard to propagate animals in captivity, frown when they see someone take credit for breeding when they know (or strongly suspect) that the offspring were the lucky dividend of getting already-gravid adult animals. A variation of this type of `cheating' is introducing recently collected herps that instantly copulate. They were caught at about the time they were cycled to mate in the wild anyway. The `breeder' may get a false sense of accomplishment with such an easy `victory.' Years later, are they able to repeat the event with either the original adults or the now mature offspring?
To truly captive breed a species, Bill Love believes "The breeder must either start with immature animals or maintain the adults for a period of time prior to propagation equal to or greater than the duration of the species' nature reproductive cycle to demonstrate that he/she has indeed simulated the conditions necessary to induce successful captive breeding." Ideally, a prove `recipe' is recorded and can be repeated by others in the future. What do you think?"
About meIn response to several letters wherein my contributors have asked about how this column is created, and other questions, please indulge me a few lines about myself. First question... I just graduated college after 20 years of working on a B.S. in Biology and have applied to graduate school in Earth Science with the hopes of (someday) getting a Ph.D. and teaching college or university students. I work under contract for our Department of Conservation and other agencies studying the distribution and status of Illinois reptiles and amphibians. I presented some results of my work at the Toronto Massasauga Symposium, and I will present some Illinois Chorus Frog results at the Bloomington, IN SSAR meeting in August. The best book on Illinois herps is Phil Smith's 1961 classic, still in print from the Natural History Survey, 607 East Peabody Drive, Champaign, IL 61820 ($5.00 ppd). The state of Illinois prohibits the collection of reptiles and amphibians for commercial purposes. The best field guide for the U.S. is the Peterson (#12, by Conant and Collins) available at most bookstores. Other than than, I can't tell you where to "get" any particular type of herps, and I would suggest that anyone considering collecting wild animals contact the state in which they plan to collect and find out if it is legal. There is no one source for up-to-the-minute reptile laws, although somebody sure ought to get than info on HerpNet. Second question... This column began because I was doing a similar column for a local herp society and I saw the opportunity to become involved in A.F.H., and to get in contact with so many wonderful fellow herpetologists worldwide. You see, I love to travel, and being in school, and having a daughter in college, I didn't have much time or money to indulge my wanderlust. So I traveled by mail. Each time I receive clippings, letters, postcards (I collect `em - hint, hint), photographs, it is almost as if I could actually be there. I used to respond to every contributor personally. Time and the volume of clippings received no longer permits this. However, I do pick one contributor every month, usually one with a letter, and write to that person. Third question... I'm sorry that I've had to turn down offers to do presentations for various groups for the last few years, but money (and time) have not permitted. That is also why I've not been able to go to the Expo and other events. Fourth question... Yes, I keep herps. My critters range from "FrogKing" who arrived in our house as a tadpole in 1985 and is now a gloriously plump Pig Frog to a large black rat snake (who really belongs to a friend) that eats all our extra mice. I named him "Malthus" because he solved our population problem. We have many salamanders, several frogs, a lizard or two, three turtles, and a few snakes. All our animals are domestic, U.S. herps. I don't keep exotics (or know much about keeping them), or venomous animals (even though I WORK with rattlesnakes), nor do I breed herps, just mice (many mice). Fifth question... I cannot advise anyone what kind of herps they should keep, nor can I suggest which ones would be "worth most." You see to me, "worth" is not necessarily monetary. I have gained the greatest pleasure and knowledge from some unlikely critters, so to me they were "worth" more than all the piebald pythons in Pittsburgh. Sixth question... I'm married, to a fellow herpetologist who works for an engineering company. Seventh question... Tape is preferred to staples because I can see what it covers and it doesn't destroy the clippings the same way as a staple does. To do my column, I first sit down with all the clippings forwarded by the staff at AFH (which is why everything must be firmly attached) and unfold everything, cut and paste big articles down to manageable sizes, and read `em all. I used to photocopy all the articles and highlight what I wanted to use, but since that meant going to a copy shop and I'm almost always late getting around to writing, I've been omitting that step. (Blessed, however, are those who send photocopied clippings!!!) Next, I sit down with the source material and type into my old PC-XT, save, spellcheck, and print. Then the column is mailed on disc to the AFH where they work their magic and get it to you. Last question... I'd be delighted to come and speak to any herp society most any Thursday through Sunday, but you'll have to figure out how to get me there. Any more questions? I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks to this month's contributors for some wild and wierd tales. Also, thanks to contributors Barry Nielsen (dead snake in alley), Basil Valle (tunnels of love), Mike McNeil (arm removed by croc), Bob Pierson (desert tortoise post card), JoAnn Dalein (don't move tortoises!), Paul J. Kayser (Zoo nutritionist), Douglas Kranich (shell repair in turtles), John A. Rybak of Parachute, CO for a multi-year multi-state collection of clippings, Wayne Hill for a huge envelope full of clippings from years past, and very special thanks to Brian A. Potter who sent me the entire Cayman Island Turtle Farm brochure along with a clipping previously used. You too can become a contributor! Simply send clippings with the date/publication slug and your name firmly attached (tape preferred) to the AFH at their new address on the masthead. We have a 60-120 day lead time plus the time it takes for the clippings to be forwarded to me by the office, so if you don't see your contribution right away, don't despair. Also, I confess, I occasionally hold onto items and use them in later columns when I have several of the same thing (e.g. tortoise tales). Your understanding and patience is most appreciated!
Volume 5, Number 2 - 1993
Python may have killed boyA 15-year-old was apparently strangled by "Sally," an eight year old 11.5-foot python kept as a pet by the victim's brother. Police reported that the animal was "aggressive, hissing and reacting" when they arrived. The boy had bites on his body and the autopsy listed the cause of death as suffocation. Commerce City, Colorado Police Captain Michael Maudlin said, "The snake had been allowed to run free in its residence since it was first owned about eight years ago." The Captain added that one of the family told police that the snake had been fed within the last week, and that they fed it a rabbit every month or so. The story was an instant sensation with the news media and was picked up by many of our members. From July 21, 1993 editions: Provo, UT Daily Herald, from David Webb; Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, from John Rybak who wrote, "I really feel bad for the kid and the family, but I wonder what was the situation that the Burmese would constrict and asphyxiate the boy?"; Denver, CO Rocky Mountain News, from Monte McEntee with a note: "All of us here in Colorado who keep snakes, large constrictors especially, are concerned about the increase in negative public relations effects generated by such incidents."; Deseret News, from David A. Webb, Provo, UT; and the New York Post, from W.P. Mara. From July 22, 1993 editions: Lancaster, PA New Era, from Michael Shrom; Rocky Mountain News, from Monte McEntee; McKinleyville, CA Times-Standard, from Dan G. Wake; computer printout of news stories from Dave Rotheroe, Dallas, TX; and The Potomac News, from Daniel Riley, Woodbridge, VA.
Other snakes in the news
Bacteria responsible for turtle deaths?A Milwaukee man filed a $2,240 claim against the city after six of his exotic turtles died. The water system in that city had a highly publicized infestation of Cryptosporidium. This bacterium is apparently dangerous to reptiles as well as humans. The turtles became sick when the man added tainted city water to their tank. The City Attorney had no comment. [The Milwaukee Sentinel, May 27, 1993, from Mike McNeil]
Ugh of the monthAn ad published in Father's Day editions of Seattle, Washington papers by Sears-Robuck and Company shows several small boys wearing Jurassic Park logo shirts and shorts bashing plastic lizards with rocks. Contributor Jeff Asher wrote: "I called Sears and complained and they said they were sorry I was upset but they really didn't have anything to do with the ad."
Does it walk on water too?Steve Newman, in his widely syndicated "Earthweek: A diary of the planet" column [Tacoma News Tribune, July 26, 1993 wrote "Israel's Jordan Valley council has offered a $1,000 reward for the capture, dead or alive, of a crocodile terrorizing bathers in the Sea of Galilee. Several hunters attracted by the reward gathered around the lake where swimmers and fishermen have seen the 5-foot reptile. "More than 2,000 crocodiles are being raised in farms around here," said an official of The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. "Sooner or later one had to get out." Contributor Marty Marcus wrote, "Crocs in Israel? I didn't know they were kosher."
Lost and found department
Comments about boa/cocaine storyFrom Brandon Malure: "This just proves how crazy people get when it comes to drugs. It's really bad that these snakes died, and the people that did this will only get five years at the most. If it was up to me, they would all get the death sentence." From Lance Gritton: "Why are we still importing boas?"
Colorado considers changes to endangered listTwo Western or boreal toads (Bufo boreas) were spotted high up in the West Elk Mountains. One was near a pond and the other was in the outflow from a hot springs. Boreal toads used to be so common in the Colorado high country that biologists surveyed them with a shrug, according to naturalist Lauren Livo of Denver. But the state's only high elevation toad has all but disappeared in the last 10-15 years. "We need to find out what they're telling us about our environment," said Cynthia Carey, a biology professor at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The boreal toad will be presented to the state Wildlife Commission as a candidate for inclusion on the state's endangered species list. Carey was working with the toads when the population she was studying went extinct. The culprit was "red leg disease," caused by a bacteria that attacked the toad's circulatory system. Environmental changes appear to be weakening the toads' immune systems, making them more vulnerable to fatal diseases, according to Carey. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pledged to give the Colorado Division of Wildlife $15,000 a year for the next five years to reintroduce toads to their old habitat. [The Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, July 4, 1993, contributed by loyal reader John Rybak]
Baxter an epithet in parts of WyomingThe Wyoming Toad, Bufo hemiophrys baxteri, was named after George Baxter, an emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Wyoming. However, the prof is persona non grata in Laramie these days after a proposal by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prohibit the use of any of 43 chemicals within one mile of standing water in a 970-square-mile region. The problem is just about everywhere in the County matches that description and no one has conclusively proven that any of these pesticides harm the toads. Residents fear that the chemical ban will permit even more mosquitos to hatch, decimating ranching and an incipient tourism industry, and create a bad name for Laramie at a time when the city is trying hard to attract businesses and jobs. One resident said, "I wish I could get some of those EPA guys out in my fields naked when the mosquitoes are thicker than hair on a dog's back." Fully dressed and DEET-covered county and city officials will send teams of volunteers into wetlands and pastures at night to search for the toads. Toad-free zones may be permitted to spray. As these posses comb the outback, the Wyoming Toad Task Force will try to draft a compromise protecting the amphibian and allow for mosquito control. Only about 100 toads still live in the wild about 12 miles southwest of Laramie. Many of them are suffering from an Aeromonas bacterial infection ("red-leg") as well as a fungus disease and unseasonably cold temperatures. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Steven Corn said, "They are virtually extinct. The population [there] did not reproduce last year. This year we have not seen or even heard one." Another 55 toads live in captivity and reproduced this year. "It's sad," Corn added, "But it's entirely possible that this captive-breeding population will be the only Wyoming Toads left by the end of the year." [Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1993, sent by John Holmes]
Hop to it and shell out some bucks...As gift planning and gift season approaches, I would remind all our readers that supporting conservation is among the most worthy things that we as reptile-keepers and breeders can do. Here are two organizations very worthy of support... 1.) Join Frog's Leap Vineyards of California in providing support for FROGLOG, the newsletter of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Species Survival Commission Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force by sending a check to James L. Vial, EPA Environmental Research Laboratory, 200 SW 35th Street, Corvallis, OR 97333. You can request a subscription to the journal at the same time; 2.) Michael Klemens is the tireless director of the Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Recovery Program, a joint initiative of the American Museum of Natural History and the IUCN-World Conservation Union. In 1992, they marked their "third year of operations by launching new initiatives in the old world tropics, expanding... economic and public policy activities, and providing training and technical advise to conservation practitioners, government agencies, and the private sector," according to Klemens, who added, "Our best hopes for ensuring the survival of turtles and the ecosystems upon which they depend are programs which enable humans to both appreciate and sustainably use the ecosystems which they inhabit." New projects are planned in Burma, Madagascar, Tanzania, and the Galapagos Islands. Your donations will be most sincerely appreciated. Make checks payable to "AMNH-IUCN-Turtle" and send to: Dr. M.W. Klemens, Director, Turtle Recovery Program AMNH, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192. Please mention your affiliation with AFH when contributing.
Time to work for reauthorizationThe Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) is up for reauthorization and you can help it get passed! Write or call your state's Senators at "U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510; 212-224-3121" and ask them to cosponsor and support S-921. Contact your state's Representatives at by writing "U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515," or using the same phone number as above to call them. Ask them to cosponsor HR 2043 and to support it when it comes to the floor for a vote. Also ask your politicians to support the ESA at funding time. ESA funding is not automatic; it is set by Congress every year. Listed species can be imperiled by stingy appropriations, too - just think where the Wyoming Toad would be without the captive breeding program! I hope every AFH member takes a moment and writes a note or a postcard (put it in an envelope so the U.S. Snail can't slime it up) to their Rep. or Senator. Americans who participate in the political process are the exception rather than the rule, but I've found reptile people to be exceptional in many ways before!
Thanks to all of you who sent clippings... In addition to contributors listed above: Bernard Hayman, Mike Scoville, John C. Young, "M.E.B.," Richard Flippo, Brian Bankowski, Keith Neff, Mason Daniel, and Melody Smith sent clippings which covered stories I used in previous issues. The cutest photo of the month was of a two-year-old iguana sent by Mark Masco. The critter sure looks happy! Unfortunately, two envelopes were received without contents, so Mark Paul Henderson and J. Huff have my thanks for trying to contribute, but their clippings apparently became separated from their names somewhere. Also, one mystery clipping about bog turtles from the Lancaster, PA Sunday News was received with no clue as to who it was from. Please... when you send in clippings write your name on it, or put your address label on it, don't forget the "credit slug" from the top of the page with the date and publication name, and attach any loose pieces with tape (not staples) before sending it to the AFH office!
Volume 5, Number 3 - 1993
Unhappy reader writes..."I have a few comments regarding `Can Pythons Eat People' (Vivarium 4.5:7), in which I was quoted out of context, with my name misspelled. [However, there was no quotation in my paragraph, and the misspelling came from the Edmonton Journal clipping. I don't think there was any bias in the account. EB] The news item ... had to do with a man who was fined for keeping a Burmese python without a permit, and had his snake confiscated. The tone of your brief account implied that he had been unfairly convicted. It might interest you that this case began when police were called to protect the man's girlfriend... When asked if he had a permit for the snake (necessary in the province of Alberta), the defendant first hesitated, then later produced a permit for a different snake, registered to a different owner. On the stand, as an expert witness under oath, I was asked if a fully-grown Burmese python could eat a newborn human. I answered yes, as any informed zoologist would. The prosecuting attorney then presented evidence that large pythons had, in some instances, accidentally killed their owners. Another part of my testimony indicated that the snake in questions was healthy and docile, and the judge took this into account when he decided on a less-than maximum fine for the defendant. Sincerely, John Acorn." Curiously, when cases of large snakes eating babies are sincerely investigated in the third world, the usual conclusion is that the snakes are being blamed for female infanticide. Is there anywhere any incontrovertible proof (articles from Weekly World News will NOT be accepted) that large snakes eat Homo sapiens, of any size? I have a four drawer file cabinet full of clippings since 1985, and have no verifiable "snake eats man" stories therein.
Snakes everywhere in the news
Gators good and bad
Caiman soon to a place near you?The San Juan (PR) Star had a multi-page feature article in the September 7, 1993 issue [sent by Kenneth Orth] about the natural history and management implications of the caiman in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. Experts and biologists at the Department of Natural Resources claim that the estimated 2,000 caimans in the lagoon have affected the ecology, because caimans eat fish, native turtles, birds, frogs, and toads. The DNR classifies caimans as a destructive pets, like rats and mongooses. The caimans arrived as a pet craze in the late 1960s, and owners who were afraid of the animals apparently released their pets into the lagoon. A few years ago, residents began noticing caimans in the streets, in backyards, and near the lagoon. Resident Angel Natal said, "Suddenly they were all over, then we remembered... those are the weird pets we used to have." Caimans have been spotted in Caparra, Puerto Nuevo, Hatillo, Aibonito, and Corozal. Residents have taken to hunting the caimans and stuffed caimans are available in shops as well as being offered as a food item. The meat is sold for $9 to $13 per pound.
Oh, yuck!A fifth grader in Manchester, N.H. discovered a frog baked onto a pretzel his mother had put in a bowl for his snack. He said, "I though someone might be playing a joke on me, but it was stuck right to the pretzel." The snack was prepared at a Reisman plant in Pennsauken, NJ. Company Vice President Barry Reisman said, "We get plenty of complaints from too crunchy to not crunch enough. Too salty, not salty enough, But a frog? That's pretty strange." Reisman ships 35 tons of baked snacks daily. Reisman said, "It's virtually impossible to imagine how it could happen." He's hoping that the find won't affect his business too much. The child said, "I'll still eat pretzels. I like pretzels. It's just frogs that I don't like." [The Trentonian, June 18, 1993 from Angel L. Rivera]
Lost and foundResidents of Lancaster, PA can sleep easier knowing that two of their reptile mysteries have been solved. The 2-foot-lizard found in a bathtub by a distraught grandmother turned out to be the surly pet of a neighbor which had disappeared two months before but had not been reported to police. It apparently arrived in the tub through a window, not up the drain as was first reported. The other lost lizard, a caiman was found in a backyard near where it was lost. The caiman was quite plump and had apparently been eating. The owner said, "I'm just glad she didn't bit anybody, and I'm really glad she's home. [Lancaster, PA New Era, August 23 and 24, 1993 both from Michael J. Shrom]
Thanks to everyone whose contribution I used for this issue! In addition, Mark Masco, P.L. Beltz, Daniel Riley, Bryan McCarty, Allen Salzberg, Casey Hendley, Rick Welcher, Mike Kreger, David A. Webb, Melody V. Smith, Rick Young, Paul J. Kayser, Gordon M. Burhardt, Jim Trainor, David Smith, John Rybak, Matthew Aikawa, L.D. Gritton, Robert Sliwinski, and Michael J. Shrom. You can contribute, too! Send clippings with the publication name, date slug, and your name firmly attached to Ellin Beltz, in care of the AFH at the address shown on the masthead. The most blessed contributors (you known who you are) send photocopies of the article, masthead, date, and write their name directly on each copy. If you see an article, don't delay! This is a reader supported column and the file folder is now empty.
Volume 5, Number 4 - 1993
Victim of El Niño?A resident of Homer, Alaska found a dead green sea turtle washed up on a local beach and reported it to the Pratt Museum. Betsy Webb, the collections curator believes that the 103 pound "teen-aged" turtle may have ridden a warm current to Alaska, but then been killed by the icy waters of Kachemak Bay and added, "There have been a lot of interesting things showing up, like schools of sharks." Another theory is that the turtle could have been caught in a fishing net since she said, "There are some abrasions on the front flippers." Webb will perform a necropsy after which the animal's remains will be placed on display. [Anchorage, AK Daily News, October 27, 1993 from Sam Goldman]
Can the turtle save a valley?Residents of Leona Valley a relatively undeveloped area in Los Angeles County, CA are determined to keep development away, so they've enlisted the help of the once plentiful Western pond turtle (Clemmys marmorata). At present there are only six known habitats for this species. Dan Holland of the Western Aquatic Turtle Research Corp said, "To be candid, we're just trying to create emotional interest here. We'd like to get a bunch of environmentalists shook up over this and put pressure on the city." There are only 700 home in the 18-square-mile valley, but a 7,200 home development was approved by the Palmdale City council despite heavy protest and court battles instituted by the Leona Valley Town Council. [October 31, 1993: San Francisco Examiner, from Matt Aikawa; and Fresno Bee from Wendy McKeown]
Iranian frog jamA three-mile section of highway in the Hamadan province of western Iran was blocked by millions of frogs according to Steve Newman's syndicated column Earthweek [The Tacoma, WA News Tribune, November 8, 1993 from Marty Marcus]. The report indicated the amphibians may have been "flushed out of their usual breeding grounds by several days of heavy rains. However, some unconventional Iranian researchers have speculated that major changes in the earth's strata and faults may have increased underground temperatures, making some subterranean habitats too warm for the frogs."
Don't try this at home departmentAn Egyptian villager visiting the town of Desouq, a delta town 135 miles northeast of Cairo, died after trying to imitate a traditional snake-handler. He put a venomous snake's head in his mouth and was biten twice, once on the lip and once on the tongue. [San Diego, CA Union from William Wells]
No fire for this salamanderA student committee in charge of planning Stanford University's annual Big Game bonfire cancelled it because the nearly-endangered California tiger salamander has taken up residence in the dry bed of Lake Lagunita which is the usual site of the event. Way to go, Stanford students! [San Francisco Examiner, October 10, 1993 from Matt Aikawa] An ecologist of my acquaintance informs me that this site is probably a vernal pool which is the actual habitat of Ambystoma californiense.
Splat-free zoneSensitive, kind, caring city officials in the enlightened town of Berkeley, CA have closed a one mile stretch of South Park Drive to protect Roughskin Newts (Taricha granulosa) during their annual migration to and from their breeding ponds. The road will remain closed to cars and bikes until the conclusion of the newts' breeding season in March. [San Francisco Chronicle, October 27, 1993 from Matt Aikawa] Next some enterprising entrepreneur should come out with Alfred E. Newtman shirts... "What me worry?" Send me one, ok?
Bet it never heard of the 2nd amendment...A Delray Beach, Florida man shot and killed a seven foot alligator inside his house with a .357 Magnum. His wife had first seen the animal while it was strolling on the lawn outside their lakefront home. As she began to call the Florida Game and Fres Water Fish Commission when the alligator crawled through their screen door and across the living room floor. The man said, "[My wife] heard the screen crinkling or crunching. He opened his mouth wide, I mean wide, and that's when she went hysterical." [Tacoma, WA News Tribune, November 20, 1993 from Marty Marcus]
New way to get SalmonellaA Utah resident was diagnosed with Salmonella irumu after she had lost 10 to 15 pounds and experienced nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. County nurses interviewed the woman and found that she had trained her pet iguana to defecate in the bathtub everyday. A specimen from the iguana revealed the same strain of bacteria in its feces had had been identified from its owner. State epidemiologist Craig Nichols said, "The key point really is in handling and keeping any of these large lizards, people need to know they can be a helath risk. An they need to be extremely careful about their own personal hygience and also in cleaning cages and terrariums. You really have to disinfect and sanitize after you have an animal in a tub or anything else that used for human use or food preparation. The same thing would apply if it were a kitchen sink." [Idaho Falls, ID Post Register, August 12, 1993 from DelRay S. Davenport]
Feds propose increase in tortoise habitatThe Interior Department plans to protect 6.2 million acres of mostly federal land in California, Nevada, ande Utah to provide habitat for the threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). If the proposal is finalized, mining, grazing, off-road vehicle use and other activities harmful to the tortoises could be banned. Utah officials have been negotiating for less than the proposed 137,000 acres of land to be set aside in Washington County and have proposed that less that half that amount be saved. State and local officials contend that the Endangered Species Act has thwarted economic growth around St. George. [The Provo, UT Daily Herald, August 29 and September 1, 1993 from David A. Webb]
"Mambaphobia" strikes Palo AltoAFH members Valerie Haecky, Mike Kilby, Matt Aikawa, and Al Colby just about filled my mailbox with their contributions about the infamous "mamba" lost in Palo Alto; or was it lost? It seems as though a man called city animal control officers about 5 p.m. on October 13, 1993 and reported his 7-foot black mamba missing. He said he feared arrest for not having the proper license to keep the snake and said he'd warn his neighbors with posters. He also said that he had a collector's permit in Arizona where he used to live according to the Palo Alto police department. Immediately the reaction (or overreaction) began... The mayor went on tv to ask people to stay at home and call the police if the snake was seen. Officers went door to door in the area where the snake was reported missing. School officials and neighborhood watch groups organized. The poison control center tried to have antivenin moved from Los Angeles Zoo to Stanford University Medical Center. Pet owners carried their cats inside, parents slammed windows shut. Police detectives conferred in a makeshift "war room." Over 1,000 residents jammed police switchboards, most asking if the mamba had been captured. Neighbors described a special gait, "The Palo Alto Quickstep." Newspapers published info boxes about the black mamba and called famous herpetologists including Madge Minton and David Chiszar for comment. The San Francisco Examiner printed the magic incantation to ward off venomous snakes from the Atharva Veda of ancient Hinduism ("O, serpent, die, do not live; back upon thee shall thy poison turn"). Edward O. Wilson of Harvard was quoted: "The good people of Palo Alto are more likely to be hit by a car than bitten by a black mamba." Police appointed two shooting range masters as snake sharpshooters. "Snakes" were reported everywhere. One was actually a squirrel rustling tree branches and leaves, another was determined to be a sprinkler head in a local park. A cafe added black mamba filet with peanut sauce to the top of their daily specials list. By the third day, a group of children dressed in turbans and veils gathered at a park and danced while their ringleader played the flut in an effort to tease the unseen and unfound mamba into a wicker laundry basket. The snake did not attend. The next day, one firefighter was seen wearing a t-shirt which read, "I survived the quake, I'll survive the snake." Local snake owners came out against the owner of the missing mamaba calling him everything from "irresponsible" to "a bozo." Residents placed a rubber snake and a toy duck in a hardware cloth cage decorated with a sign "Caution! Black Mamba Snake Trap!" By the fifth day, the papers were beginning to suggest the whole thing could have been a hoax. One interviewed Peter van der Linden who studies urban legends. He said the snake story has serious credibility problems: "Its right before Halloween, people are expecting to be scared. It looks to me more like a hoax, but the jury's still out." No "reliable" reports of the mamba were received by police although several callers had themselves convinced they'd seen it. Arizona Game and Fish Department provided the Palo Alto police with the names of 28 people with deadly snake permits who had moved to California, but none of the leads panned out. Police said that the costs of seeking the snake were not considerable. One officer said that it seemed as though everything else in town stopped for mambaphobia. [October 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 21 San Jose Mercury News; October 14, and 15 San Francisco Examiner; October 14, San Francisco Chronicle; October 13 San Mateo Times; October 14 and 15 Hayward, CA Daily Review]
Viginia response and reaction to venomous bitesAFH member Daniel Riley of Woodbride, Virginia has clipped out a plump envelope full of stories which follow up on the widely reported pair of venomous snake bites suffered by Virginia snake keepers earlier in 1993.
Thanks to everyone who contributed clippings for this column and to Michael J. and Nancy R. Shrom, David A. Webb, David Wright, Alan R. Mills, P.L. Beltz, and Daniel Riley for stories previously used. You can contribute, too! Send newspaper or magazine clippings with the publication slug with date and your name firmly attached (tape preferred to staples, glue, or paper clips, please!) to me at the address on the masthead of this publication. VIVARIUM 5.5 MY NUMBER 19, JANUARY 18, 1993
Volume 5, Number 5
Greetings! I hope the Vivarium office wasn't too badly shaken... Tried to put this in your CompuServe mailbox and received "unspecified error message (1)!" I suspect that means their phone lines are down somewhere. Please contact me and let me know that everyone is ok. Even though we've never met, I feel as if I know you folks. Also, got a 486 55-MHz DX for Xmas. Let me know if you have any problems with the column, now. It's being produced on WP 6.0 WIN. It makes it a lot more fun than an amber monitor XT with 5.25" floppies!
Letters, letters, letters
Police confiscated reptiles in Norfolk, VAMr. Robert Parks, 63, was known to neighbors as a soft-spoken, retired telephone worker with "GABOON" license plates. In 1984, he'd had a brush with the law concerning his reptile collection which was settled by building larger containers for his alligators. Parks dreamt of moving himself and his collection to Florida to open a tourist attraction. All that changed in mid-September after police raided his house and removed 33 venomous and 37 nonvenomous snakes, 12 alligators, crocodiles, and caimans, 171 rats and mice, 10 turtles, two iguanas and many dead reptiles and rodents. "We are in way over out heads," observed one animal-control worker after surveying the collection. A worker at the Virginia Zoological Park said there were probably more varieties of snakes in the wooden one-story house than in the collection at the National Zoo in Washington. Authorities said that Parks' snakes were kept in dirty aquariums and wire cages and charged Parks with cruelty to animals and failure to perform duties of ownership. The health department declared his home a heath hazard. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals received 142 rats and mice from the home. Eight canebrake rattlers (Crotalus horridus) were removed by Virginia game wardens because they are on the state's endangered species list. Gary Ochsenbein, superintendent of the Norfolk Zoo said, "I have seen some large (private) animal collections, but mostly they were of mammals. I have never seen a private residence with this many reptiles, and this many poisonous reptiles, kept in such an unsecured manner." Mr. Parks said, "I'm trying to be a decent law-abiding citizen who has a hobby much like collecting stamps. I have a hard time saying no when somebody wants to give me something or I have an opportunity to collect something." Mary Lamb, who lives across the street from Mr. Parks, said, "He's a good neighbor. Everybody likes cats and dogs. He likes reptiles." At a court hearing testimony was heard that authorities found two snakes, a caiman, and an alligator in freezers, 12 mummified, decomposed, or maggot-ridden reptiles, dozens of dead mice and rats either mummified or partially eaten by other rodents, cages and dry aquariums caked with feces, cages without food or water, alligators living in water "sludgy with feces and decomposing animals parts," and an encyclopedia and a picture frame covering a hole in the top of a cage containing three venomous vipers. The city later dropped some of the charges but presented Parks with a bill for more than $21,000 for the time and equipment used by city workers to remove the animals. Parks said that he intended to sell his home quickly and leave Norfolk as soon as possible. [September 18,19, and 25, 1993: The Virginian-Pilot from Mike Schmitt; September 18, 1993; The Winchester Star by Brad Ross; Potomac News October 20, 1993 and The Washington Post October 21, 1993 from Daniel Riley; November 24, 1993 USA Today from David Webb]
Can more legislation be far behind?As if two non-fatal envenomations and the sad tale of Mr. Robert Parks were not enough, firefighters in Fauquier County, VA discovered nine nonvenomous snakes dead after battling flames on the second story of a residence. The two human residents, a mother and her 5-year-old son had escaped. The dead snakes included six pythons, four indigos, and one type which was not identified. [The Washington Post, September 28, 1993 from Daniel Riley] The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has begun to require permits for the collection of snapping turtles, certain captive bred snakes, and frogs as well as permits to sell certain snakes and frogs. Pet stores, bait shops, or "any other person or facility wanting to deal with any of the species listed in the permit packet are required to have a `Hold and Sell' permit" according to an article in the Old Bridge Observer [October 23, 1993 from Daniel Riley]. Additional information can be obtained on the new regulations by calling 804-367-1000.
Zoned agricultural, but...Mark Bell of Michigan wants to found a commercial snake breeding farm in an area near Naples, FL zoned agricultural, but neighbors are up in arms. According to the county's planning manager, Ken Baginski, there are a number of permitted uses in agricultural zoning such as animal breeding, livestock, bee-keeping, and kenneling. Upset residents have besieged county commissioners with phone calls even though a permit for the farm has not been issued. A resident said there are at least 500 homes and an elementary school within one mile of the site. Contributor Alan W. Rigerman wrote the editors of the Naples Daily News which ran the original story on page one [November 26, 1993]: "Residents have purchased homes built on land they knew was zoned for agricultural uses. Lets look at the residents' concerns with regard to what they would consider `normal' agricultural uses. Bee-keeping is allowed. I am sure some residents are allergic to the stings of these animals; some people have actually died as a result of a sting. Livestock are subject to many diseases and must be checked constantly. Where there is livestock there are rats and mice. Kenneling is allowable. Don't we read often about adults and children bitten by dogs? As for the aftermath of a hurricane, the aforementioned livestock will be a greater threat than snakes and other reptiles housed according to regulations enforced by the state of Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. I certainly understand the concerns of the neighbors. I would be more concerned, however, about buying a home next to someone who legally kept stud bulls, stallions, or a guard dog kennel. The breeding and/or keeping of snakes and related reptiles (animals) will not affect property values." [December 2, 1993, page 5A]
Tank too small, says readerContributor Larry Gorecki sent a clipping from New York Newsday [December 9, 1993] about a man who was bitten by his 7-foot Burmese python as he was trying to return it to its 20 gallon tank after a bath. Finally his mother called 911. One of the ambulance crew squirted the snake with a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher and the python let go. The man was treated for nine puncture wounds and received a tetanus shot. Larry sent a note with this clipping that reads, "I feel that a 20 gallon tank is a cruelty to inflict on a 7-foot python. perhaps it's justice that she got bit."
Menagerie retiresAfter a two-year campaign by the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) of Lynnwood, WA, a 13-foot Burmese python, a boa constrictor, four monkeys and a blue and yellow parrot formerly displayed at the B and I Shopping Center in South Tacoma are headed into retirement at exotic animal sanctuaries in California and Texas. Only Ivan the gorilla remains at "The Amazing Circus Store," a regional landmark that once had an elephant and a chicken in a vending machine. The owner of the property filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year although the center and its tenants remain open for business. PAWS purchase the seven animals for $1,000 from the court-appointed trustee. It is hoped that a zoo will accept Ivan. [The Tacoma, WA News Tribune, December 11, 1993 from Marty Marcus]
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month. Also, Roxann Moore, Marty Marcus, David Webb, Linda C. Modica, Jim & Retha Kelly, Philip Venditto, and the unknown contributor (no name on clipping) sent clippings that I had either used previously, unsourced or undated clippings, photos, cards, cartoons and other materials which I enjoy, but cannot reprint. You can contribute, too! Send clippings with publication name/date slug firmly attached with transparent tape. Also, print your name clearly on the clipping itself, or use a return address label so that I know who sent what and how to contact you. We cannot use any stories without the name and date of original publication. Send your contributions to me at the address on the masthead.
Volume 5, Number 6 - 1993
Salmonella and reptilesFrom a letter dated January 18, 1994 from Richard Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., Chief - Division of Communicable Disease Control, California Department of Health Services to various health workers and veterinarians throughout the state: "[We have] received an increasing number of reports from Southern California of human Salmonella infections associated with pet reptiles, especially iguanas. Unusual Salmonella serotypes (e.g. poona, java, marina, chameleon, wassenaar, give, [and] unnamed numbered serotypes, etc.) have been cultured from human cases and the reptiles with which they had contact. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other states are reporting similar findings. We believe that this problem may be widespread... Since 1992, Los Angeles County has identified 22 reptile-associated human salmonellosis cases, with 9 hospitalizations. Salmonella was isolated from 11 of 15 reptiles tested that were associated with the human cases. During 1993, Orange County reported 10 reptile-associated cases, with 2 hospitalizations. Salmonella was isolated from all seven associated reptiles that were tested. Many of the cases were in infants. In some instances, no direct contact with the reptile was reported. However, environmental contamination by reptiles has been documented, and some of the pets in question were allowed to roam freely in the house or were placed in kitchen sinks and bathtubs in which infants and children were later bathed. Since the existing Salmonella case report form does not specifically ask about reptile contact, we ask that your staff begin to routinely make this inquiry... At this time, we recommend that reptiles not be kept as pets in the homes of persons at high risk (e.g., the very young, the very old, and immunosuppressed individuals). If reptiles are kept as pets children should not be allowed direct contact with them. We recommend thorough hand washing after contact with the animal or its environment, and containment of the reptile in its cage..."
"Cop recalls horror of snake pit"The Trentonian [NJ, January 25 and 26, 1994 from Paul Mitchell Jr.] trumpeted on two consecutive front pages the story of how police "waded through reptile-filled cages to seize pot plants." The first report (is anyone surprised) was rather inaccurate to type of animals, size, and other minor details, focusing instead on the disgust and horror experienced by police. Apparently a domestic dispute started it all. When police arrived at the log cabin home, they found four spectacled caimans, six Burmese pythons up to 10-feet long including one albino, two four-foot boas, one three-foot Brazilian rainbow boa, one baby reticulated python, two three-foot northern copperheads, one four-foot timber rattlesnake (protected in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania), one three-foot western diamondback, one two-foot dusky pygmy rattlesnake, one Wagler's pit viper, one monocled cobra, two snapping turtles and two painted turtles as well as 17 marijuana plants and a pound of dried pot. The animals, plants and pot were confiscated. The man faces possession charges for both the drugs and the reptiles. John Hedden, Captation of the state Fish and Game Department said, "This is the largest case that we ever came across for illegal poisonous (sic) reptiles."
Something's odd hereSteve Newman's Earth Week Column for February 26, 1994 carried in the San Francisco Chronicle [from Matthew Aikawa] reports: "Battered by a violent volcanic eruption in 1991 and plagued recently by typhoons and locusts, Philippine residents living near the rumbling Mount Pinatubo are facing a new menace - poisonous (sic) snakes. The deadly reptiles, including cobras, have been lured to the area by an infestation of locusts that have destroyed rice, vegetable and banana crops. Farmers have been reluctant to catch the locusts in nets or to spray them, for fear of being bitten by the snakes."
All that slithers is not bold
Get your calculatorAccording to a reptile census taken in 1991 and reported in the Rocky Mountain News [Denver, CO, January 15, 1994 from Gaylon Holmes] there are 735,000 pet snakes, 708,000 turtles, 314,000 lizards, and 280,000 other reptiles in homes in the U.S. The remainder of the article was unfortunately quite "anti-reptile." It seems as though some of the commentators who take this position do not realize that they are being "anti fellow citizen" as well. Think of it this way, if every one of those animals was in a separate house, there would be 2,037,000 reptile owners in the U.S. Obviously, most of us owns more than one reptile... If we each own ten, then there are 203,700 reptile owners in our country. Also, what if the survey undercounted? I certainly wouldn't tell a stranger what or how much I owned and I suspect that many other reptile keepers wouldn't either. Does anyone out there have any newer numbers? Better interpretations?
Tortoise habitat preserved in UtahThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 129,100 acres of southwestern Utah as "critical habitat" for the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). While it seems like a lot of land, it is less than the acreage set aside for the same species in neighboring states: 338,700 in Arizona, 1.2 million in Nevada, and 4.8 million in California. Critics of the plan say that it impedes development. [San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 1994 from Matthew Aikawa, USA Today, February 9 and The Deseret News, February 10 from David A. Webb and The Wall Street Journal, February 9 from K.S. Mierzwa]
Box turtle survives house fireA young couple in Tacoma, WA watched in horror as fire swept away everything they owned. They were sure that their 20-year old box turtle was trapped and dying. The roof fell in and fire roared from every window. Marc Olson said, "What we figured was, if the smoke didn't kill him, then the heat would have. If the heat didn't kill him then all the water they poured on the fire did. Then, when the roof fell in, we thought the roof would have killed him. Then it got back down to 20 degrees and we thought that would kill him." The next day, they found what they thought looked like "Elijah's" remains floating in about 8 inches of water in his tank. However, when Marc touched one leg, it was quickly pulled back in the shell! The turtle was alive! Finding the turtle was just the beginning of the good luck for the mostly student tenants of the building. Neighbors and strangers brought bags and bags of clothes, books and school supplies to help the burned out tenants start over. [Tacoma, WA The News Tribune, February 20, 1994 from Marty Marcus and Anchorage, AK Daily News, February 21 from Sam Goldman]
Bufo bust makes newsA couple in Angels Camp, CA was arrested, four toads and a few dime store cactus were seized in what authorities called a "bizarre" case of experimentation with hallucinogenic drugs. Literature confiscated from the couple's home indicates there may be an underground group of toad-venom smokers. This is the first case where someone was arrested for possession of this ancient drug, although U.S. laws banning its possession date to the late 1960s. Wildlife laws ban possession of Colorado River Toads (Bufo alvarius) due to their declining numbers in the wild. The practice of toad-venom smoking may have had its beginnings in an obscure scientific article which reported on finding dried toad skins in early American sites and postulated a religious or spiritual use of toad-venom. All Vivarium readers should be aware that bufotenine, "the active ingredient" in all this foolishness is a very dangerous chemical mix. In fact, if we ever get around to it, a friend of mine and I will publish a report on our highly unpleasant reactions to toad juice after picking up and photographing a toad on the U.S. border near El Paso a couple of years ago. Kids, the reaction was like nerve gas. The two day experience was neither fun nor pleasant. After that, I find it hard to believe that licking one would be pleasurable. [January 6, 1994 Baton Rouge, LA The Advocate from Ernie Liner; January 29 The San Francisco Chronicle from Matt Aikawa, and the Oxnard Star-Free Press from John Scanlon; February 17 Lexington, KY Herald-Leader from Champe Greis, Tacoma, WA News Tribune from Marty Marcus, Lakeland, FL Ledger from Melody Smith, Provo, UT Daily Herald from David Webb; and March 7 The Wall Street Journal from K.S. Mierzwa]
The Croc Pot
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Linda Modica and John Ryback who sent stuff I really enjoyed, but couldn't quite put into words! You can contribute too. Send clippings with your name, the date and publication slug firmly attached with tape or photocopy the whole thing (bless you, bless you) and send to me in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead.
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