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

Herp News Around the World
by Ellin Beltz

Volume Six

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

This was the fifth 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 6, Number 1 - 1994

Sad but true

A man was found dead in a Long Island, NY field. His pet 3-foot long Mojave Desert rattler was found "a considerable distance" from the man's body according to police. Tthe man's ex-girlfriend told police the man had threatened to use the snake to commit suicide after having an argument with her. He then left with the snake. Autopsy revealed that the man had been bitten by the rattlesnake. [Asbury Park, NJ Press, March 15, 1994 - from Andy Zaayenga]

Letters, letters

  • "In Vivarium 5.5 you published an article concerning Vice President Gore's attempt to eliminate funding for training beagles to sniff out brown tree snakes in Hawaii. I am completely in favor of doing anything that we can to eliminate and keep out the brown tree snake from Hawaii (it is probably already there) - including training dogs to find them. The article stated "If established, they could wipe out many of Hawaii's unique birds" and it appears that you or someone else added "[and many beautiful geckos, skinks and Jackson's chameleons there]." This is the part that bothers me. The Jackson's chameleons (and any other chameleon) and many, if not all, of the geckos and skinks now found in Hawaii are introduced and have no more right to be there than brown tree snakes, mongooses, house finches, starlings, mynas, catfish, largemouth bass or any other introduced species. The Jackson's chameleons and other lizards as well as the Dendrobates auratus (green and black poison-arrow frogs) that have been introduced are capable of destroying much of the native insect life, many of which have evolved into many more distinct species than Hawaii's native famous birds. Much landmark work in evolution, genetics and behavior has been conducted on the myriad of species of fruit flies found in Hawaii. These invertebrates are no less evolved than anything else and have more of a right to be there than the herps that we all enjoy. We need to take more of an ecosystem approach and try to preserve what belongs there and try to remove what doesn't - especially on islands, whose ecosystems are exceptionally fragile. I, for one, would not feel the least bit sorry if D. auratus and Jackson's chameleons were wiped out of Hawaii, hopefully along with all of the other exotic species that plague these and other islands. Tim Hoffnagle." You're right, Tim, the comment about lizards was added by my editors. I agree with you that native species have priority and rights - but as a native of New York City until my teens - I would have been greatly saddened by the removal of non-native species. They (roaches, rats, mice, dogs, cats, pigeons, starlings, and opossums) were all the wildlife we ever saw!
  • "In response to a letter in the current issue of The Vivarium, I am enclosing a copy of my chapter in Biology of the Pitvipers which discusses the [venom] Extractor. Many readers are apparently not aware of this source of information and although it is somewhat dated, it discusses the issues. It seems books are not as widely read as journals. I would emphasize that although testimonials are interesting, they play into the old trap of ascribing any outcome to be the result of what went before. Since there is no way to know how much venom is injected in any bite, and it is not known what the evolution of the envenomation would have been without use of any treatment, e.g. the Extractor, no conclusions about outcome are warranted. In fact they should be resisted. In addition, it should be noted that the Bronstein et al. article was published as an abstract only and no paper, refereed or otherwise, has appeared in print. Thus the methodology used cannot be evaluated. This device appears to do no harm, and I would use one, but not based on any proof of its effectiveness. David L. Hardy, Sr., M.D."
  • "It was amusing to read two versions of the story about the alligator which was shot by a homeowner in Florida - one in your pages, and the other in my copy of Bird Talk which arrived two days later... No doubt all of us herpers are sorry that the confrontation between man and reptile resulted in the reptile's death, but I must admit I'd probably have gone for my rifle had it happened to me. Two points are of interest though, one is the heroic behavior of Louis the parrot in alerting the Ennises of their unwelcome visitor. The other is the response to Gail Ennis' frantic 911 call - that she should call a wildlife rescue number. At 2 a.m., we can guess what sort of help she'd have gotten from that! Mary Stafford."
  • Attached to a clipping from Discover [April, 1993] which talks about a vertical posture seen by Bill Brown while studying rattlesnakes: "This doesn't surprise me. I have a 3-foot albino Burmese that I hand feed mice. She's learned that food comes from the top of her enclosure whenever her hidebox is removed. She'll come up to the top to grab the mouse from me. I hold the pre-killed mouse by the tail and sway the head in front of her. Of course, I won't hand feed her much longer. I'm not stupid! I have a 10-foot Burmese that I feed in the bathtub, so he doesn't think every time his enclosure door is opened he's going to be fed. Plus, I toss the food in the tub and stay out of the way. " Attached to a copy of a clipping of a boa constrictor which was finally removed from her owner's car dashboard: "I laughed when I saw this story, because the same thing happened to me. When I first got my male Royal python in 1990, I left him in my camera bag with the top unzipped in my car while I was at my brother's. His wife is scared of snakes and doesn't want (I should say allow) any snakes in her house. When I returned to my car and went to get him, I discovered that he was gone. I tore the entire car apart except the dashboard. I even checked the vent covers in the engine compartment. My brother decided to check the glove box, and found him curled up on top of my papers. Now I don't let any of my snakes roam free in the car. David A. Webb" Good advice on both counts! Don't let big snakes get the idea that every time the lid comes off, food's coming down and don't leave snakes unattended! EB
  • From earlier this year: "I can't believe what I'm seeing on TV about the weather in your part of the country. How are you and the herps surviving? Maybe you should ask people to send their news clippings wrapped around a piece of firewood!... As for Lake Lagunita behind the Stanford Campus being a vernal pond, I have to disagree with your ecologist friend. Water is diverted from San Francisquito Creek to form the lake. It is impounded because of levees on three sides. In summer, because they don't want the liability risk of someone drowning there, Stanford opens a valve and drains the lake into the bay. During the springtime they allow boating, and I used to take my students there to observe the wildlife. Western toads used to breed there in such numbers that if you dipped a coffee can into the water, you'd come up with more tadpoles than water. Two years ago I went there to catch two or three tadpoles to feed to a baby garter snake, and I couldn't find even one tadpole! Thamnophis sirtalis infernalis used to be common there also, but no more. I guess with no toadlets to eat there wasn't much use for a garter snake to hang around there. Keep warm! Marty Marcus"

Costly critters

  • A 36-inch pet iguana is believed to have started a fire which destroyed his family's home and sent a fireman to the hospital. It is believed "Iggy" crawled from his cage and knocked over a heat lamp which may in turn have started the fire which was discovered in the early afternoon while the family was out shopping. His owner said, "He would crawl out and sit in the window. I didn't mind. He didn't make a mess." Iggy was killed in the fire. [The Frontiersman, March 23, 1994 - from Sam Goldman]
  • A python which had slithered away after being left to soak in the tub unattended cost his owner $800, an amount which the city of Santa Rosa, CA says is not nearly what it really cost to search the sewers for the missing serpent. The snake was found in another part of the house where he was lost. [San Luis Obispo County, CA Telegram-Tribune February 16, 1994 - from Dennis Sheridan]
  • Fourteen people were arrested and more than 200 snakes were confiscated by state and federal wildlife agents in a daybreak sweep of Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange Counties, CA. Authorities reported that 124 snakes were taken from one apartment, with "another hundred or so" left behind. Two 16-year-olds were arrested. One had 12 rattlesnakes. The other was busted as he was being released from hospital following a rattlesnake bite. The arrests culminated four months of investigation into suspected illegal reptile trafficking, violations of Section 40.15(c)(1) of the state's Fish and Game Code. Each one is a misdemeanor calling for a maximum penalty of $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. In addition to the snakes, a desert tortoise, two geckos, and a chuckwalla were seized. [The Los Angeles Times "late 1993" - from Raymond Terrence Hoser, Doncaster Australia]

We knew this

Recently a spate of articles have appeared which report that a biologist at the University of Connecticut has discovered that snakes have forked tongues which permit them to follow aromatic trails left by other snakes or prey items. The biologist stated that high-speed photos show that during each tongue-flick, snakes separate the tips of their tongues so that the ends are separated as far as possible. This permits the snake to test the force of the scent molecules in two different directions and more accurately gauge the direction to follow. [Deseret News, March 18, 1994 - from David A. Webb; Washington Post, March 21 - from Daniel Riley] Marty Marcus sent a copy from the Gannett News Service with the comment: "What a novel idea. I always thought the purpose of the forked tongue was so the snake could lie to Adam and Eve about what the real effect of the Apple would be!"

Turtle tales

  • Recent statistics show that seven million baby red-eared sliders are exported annually from the U.S. to other countries for pets. The International Wildlife Coalition Wildlife Watch [January, 1994 - from JoAnn Dalcin] reports that the majority of the hatchlings die of starvation or malnutrition and that hundreds of thousands of breeding females are taken from the wild each year. The "turtle farms" then hatch the eggs, and sell the offspring. They add that "most females die soon after due to poor conditions."
  • Last fall the Florida Department of Environment permitted a 650-foot soil and cement revetment on a small barrier island off the west coast of that state. Last year at least 21 sea turtle nests, belonging to all three species of sea turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico, were documented on Casey Key. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that this revetment constituted a take under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Caribbean Conservation Corporation is challenging the permit. The first hearing was scheduled for April, 1994. If any reader hears more about this sea wall, I'd appreciate hearing about it. [In Brief Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Winter/Spring, 1994 - from Marty Marcus]
  • The Bangkok Post reports that naturalists are trying to save two local species of turtles from overharvesting and development [January 20, 1994 - from Giovanni Fagioli]. The paper calls the turtles the "rare Kra-an and Krarian turtles" which we must assume are local names for animals identified as having a red head stripe during the breeding season, being round as juveniles, and able to live in both brackish and fresh water. It states that the turtles were discovered at a Beach in Phattalung, Thailand where locals gather eggs and are building houses and logging on local breeding sites. If anyone knows just what these animals are, I'd like to know. The photo shows an animal which looks vaguely like a diamondback terrapin in shape, and foot characteristics. The head has a prominent v-shaped marking from the eyes back to the top center.
  • A researcher from Ohio University at Athens has found that DDT can turn on vitellogenin production in male red-eared sliders, although it doesn't cause the same broad suite of changes that estrogen does. Brent Palmer said, "Certainly, if we can find vitellogenin in males in the wild, that's a sign they've been exposed to an environmental estrogen." However, he is not yet sure if negative vitellogenin findings indicate that no exposure has occurred. He added that his new data "make me wonder if there might not still be an environmental estrogen present." [Science News January 8, 1994 - from Jack Corning]
  • Allen Salzberg sent a clipping from The New York Times Magazine [January 30, 1994] which reads: "Sexually Incorrect Sand - Dade County, FL is about to confront the gender issue. Well, the gender/sand/turtle issue. The story begins with sand loss, which is to beaches what hair loss is to middle-aged men. Dade County has been losing, and replacing, storm-tossed sand for years. No problem... The problem is where to get the sand.. 11 million to 12 million cubic yards... Counties north of Dade are not about to give up their sand. Inland sand near Lake Okeechobee might have unwanted land bugs. Deep-water sand is hard to get. Sand from the Bahamas looks good, but at least one problem has been identified. The sand is aragonite (calcium carbonate), lighter than Florida quartz, and tends to maintain slightly cooler temperatures. Sex in sea turtles is determined by egg temperature during development, and the fear is that cooler sand could turn all the sea turtle eggs laid in it into males, which would make environmentalists cranky - and the turtles extinct."
  • The One World Work Force is seeking volunteers for sea-turtle conservation projects in the Mexican states of Jalisco and Baja California Norte. For information write OWWF, P.O. Box 3188, La Mesa, CA 91944-3188. [Salt Lake City, UT Tribune, March 13, 1994 - from David A. Webb]

Iguana Big Mac?

"Dear Abby: Most fast-food places have a policy about pets brought into their establishment: It's OK if the pet is on a leash. My fiance and I brought our pet iguana into an establishment in Chula Vista. He was on a leash and wasn't bothering anyone... [After they had been served and seated] we were told the other customers were feeling uneasy about our pet... we were asked to sit outside... how come ... we were given the cold shoulder because of our unusual pet? A.B. in San Diego. Dear A.B. Even though some reptiles make good pets, they seem to frighten most people. The management was obviously concerned about its other customers when it objected to your unusual pet. It's ironic that with all the people who have been nipped by fluffy, adorable little creatures, they haven't learned that looks can be deceiving and snap judgments based on appearances are unfair. Abigail Van Buren" [Tacoma, WA The News Tribune, March 16, 1994 - from Marty Marcus] Additional contributor Andy Zaayenga commented "Personally I would never bring my iguana into a fast food joint. He is used to much better food." Thanks to these and other contributors including Daniel Riley, Lt. Buckingham, Michael Lundgren, Alan Beck, Matthew and Laurie Aikawa, Dennis Sheridan, Gary Gomez, Rod Sutton, and Mike McNeil. Believe it or not, I actually ran over my allotted space and still have some stuff left for next time. Don't let this stop you from becoming a contributor! Send clippings with the publication name/date slug and your name firmly attached to me.

Volume 6, Number 2 - 1994

Galapagos tortoises slaughtered

Workers who fought the month-long fire on the Galapagos Island of Isabela report finding the remains of at least 42 giant tortoises believed to have been killed by local people for food. Reuters News Service reports one fire fighter said, "It turns out that man, not the fire, is the real enemy of these animals. It is a real massacre." The 42 tortoises were all killed since the beginning of 1994 and the remains were dumped at two sites. The hunters may have come from Isabela or other nearby islands. Isabela supports only about 6,000 tortoises of five species. Workers labored long and hard to save them from the wildfire which destroyed 5,400 acres of woodland. In some areas, they dug trenches as firebreaks. A national park official said 400 tortoises would be moved to special reserves "more because of the danger they face from the hunters that the flames." Tortoise-hunting is illegal under Ecuadorian law, but has reemerged in recent months. [The Salt Lake City Deseret News, May 11-12, 1994 from David A. Webb]

Desert tortoises imprisoned

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating a situation in Washington County, UT. It seems someone has been going around blocking up desert tortoise burrows with rocks. Although one tortoise burrowed around the obstruction, the new burrow was later reblocked. Animals prevented from using their burrows can starve inside them, or freeze outside them, according to authorities. Some speculate that the den-blocker is angry with recent rulings which prevent real estate development including an 18-hole golf course. Anyone with information on these incidents can call the DWR. [May 12, 1994 Utah News, The Salt Lake City Desert News, and The Salt Lake Tribune, from David A. Webb]

Gopher tortoises dying

Upper respiratory disease has previously been reported in desert tortoises in the western U.S., but has now been documented in gopher tortoises all over Florida are affected, too. Last month the remains of 12 gopher tortoises were found on the campus of the Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Researchers suspect that the majority of the nearly 600 tortoises on campus are infected, but can do nothing to stop its spread or treat the stricken. The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission considers gopher tortoises to be a keystone species because they return nutrients to the earth by digging, disperse seeds in their droppings and provide shelter for about 360 other animal and insect species in their burrows. Animals exposed to upper respiratory disease have been reported in Lee, Collier, Indian River, Orange, Nassau, Palm Beach and Broward Counties. Some researchers speculate the gopher tortoises first caught the disease in captivity. University of Florida professor of wildlife medicine Elliott Jacobson has confirmed that the bacteria causing the infection in gopher tortoises is the same as that found in desert tortoises. [ Sun Sentinel, April 26, 1994 from Chris Raden]

Thousands of Box Turtles shipped abroad

The New York Times reports that thousands of box turtles are killed each year in a booming trade in wildlife between the U.S. and Europe. Shipped packed together without food or water, the weakened animals often succumb to the European climate and maltreatment by their new owners. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 25 to 30 thousand box turtles a year are being shipped out every year. Since, on average, only two offspring of any given turtle survive to reproductive age, this rate of export is unsustainable and may endanger the survival of the species. Supporters of the turtle have appealed to have the box turtle species listed under CITES which would enable regulation of the trade by Fish and Wildlife. After the 1984 ban on tortoise trade in Europe, wildlife dealers began shipping thousands of box turtles overseas. They are especially popular in England. Wildlife dealers pay about $1 per turtle, declare the export value at between $5-6, and sell them for 10 times that much in England or Europe. The director of the Tortoise Trust, a British conservation society The Tortoise Trust, said, "They are stressed, overcrowded, and quite frankly, half dead by the time they arrive in Europe. We are seeing the result here and it's not a pretty sight." Some conservationists estimate that 90 percent die soon after capture. The president of the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society said, "That foreign market is absolutely draining us. You can't buy a box turtle legally in new York State, but you can ship thousands of them out of Kennedy Airport. We cry about saving animals, and yet we let situations like this go on. Something's not quite right." [May 10, 1994 from Gregory Peet and P.L. Beltz; May 15 The Durham, NC Herald-Sun from Joe Zawodowski]

First eggs laid

Wyoming toads are in big trouble. Only one is known to exist in the wild and a mere 12 are maintained in captivity. Their numbers in captivity have declined rapidly and no reproduction has been documented in the wild. However, one captive toad has laid a string of eggs in the laboratory leading researchers to hope that their efforts to save this species may not be in vain. [The Wyoming Tribune Eagle, May 28, 1994 from Bryan M. McCarty]

Iguana be loved by you

Omni Magazine [May, 1994 from Frank J. Calogero and Marty Marcus] reports that more than menstruating women have reported attacks from male lizards. Helen L. Benton said "If I become submissive, he mounts me and masturbates." Apparently adult human males are rarely present when male lizards attack human females. Dr. Fredric L. Frye said, "We think [the male lizards] could be responding to chemical cues, or pheromes, produced by menstruating or ovulating women. Male iguanas may respond to the cues as if they were secreted by the female of their species." Ms. Benton wards off her 40-inch iguana’s affections by jamming a baby pacifier into his mouth when he lunges. Frye suggested neutering male iguanas to prevent further attacks.

It's a strange world out there...

  • The San Jose Mercury News [May 28, 1994 from Valerie Haecky] reports "Experts have confirmed that a new photograph of the moon reveals the fossilized remains of a huge snake - a giant serpent more than 12 miles long," and adds that a photo of the fossil was reportedly taken by the Hubble telescope and leaked to the press by an "unidentified NASA scientist." With tongue firmly in cheek I wonder if this is the snake which ate all the mice which nibbled all the holes in the green cheese of which the planetoid is composed.
  • A woman who stopped in the middle of a highway to help a turtle across the road was ticketed by a police officer. The woman plans to contest the $60 ticket in court. The turtle was placed back in the wild. [Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, May 22, 1994 from Bryan McCarty and the Salt Lake City Deseret News, May 18-19, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • The Crealy Country fun farm at Clyst St. Mary near Exeter, England plans to set up a tortoise dating agency with a 45-year old female tortoise as the first customer. Tortoises used to be imported into the U.K. by the thousands, but an 1984 ban put an end to all that. All tortoises registered with the dating agency will receive suggestions on suitable tortoises of the opposite sex, and tortoise owners will receive information on tortoise care and breeding. [The London Daily Mirror, March 22, 1993 from Capt. von Papinešu, Quebec]
  • A 9-foot alligator charged at passing cars, chased a police officer and then bit a police car in Jacksonville, FL. As reported in several newspapers [May 3, 1994 Leesburg Daily Commercial from Bill Burnett and The Salt Lake City Tribune from David A. Webb] the police officer said, "That darned thing almost grabbed me. It came after me with its mouth wide open. When he couldn't get me, he bit my patrol car and was just shaking it until he tore part of it off." The gator got a 10-in chunk of plastic bumper and crouched by the curb glaring at the police. A state trapper snared the gator and hauled it away.
  • A frog named "Free Willy" won the 66th annual Calaveras County Jumping Frog Jubilee in three hops totalling 19 feet, 1/2 inch. Free Willy was entered in the contest by 3-year old Cody Shilts of Roseville who won a trophy bigger than he is and $750. [Potomac News, May 27, 1994 from Daniel Riley]
  • Three rare turtles which were stolen from New Orleans Audubon Zoo were recovered by local residents entirely by chance. Two women saw two youths with a box near a canal. The youths dropped the box and when the women looked inside, they saw the turtles. Zoo officials speculate the youths planned to release the turtles. However, their natural habitat is the eastern U.S. and they would probably have died in the Louisiana slough. [The New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 3, 1994 from Bernard Hayman]
  • Only 0.2 percent of all U.S. households own snakes or lizards. [San Jose Mercury News, May, 1994 from Howard Kveck]
  • Mechanics in Utah who took apart yet another auto dashboard to remove yet another lost snake refused to accept payment from the family, instead insisted that they wanted to watch it feed on a gerbil. [The Salt Lake City Tribune, May 13, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • Thieves stole the carcass of a 12-foot Burmese python from a freezer in which it had been placed to "humanely" kill it. The woman had adopted the snake when he was smaller, and had begun to worry that her 4-year old son might be at risk of becoming dinner, so she put the snake in the freezer to kill it. She had planned to have the corpse skinned and sold for snakeskin. Then she noticed the snake was missing. Contributor Daniel Riley wrote: "It sounds very strange that someone broke into her house just to steal a frozen snake." [Potomac News, May 13, 1994; also sent by Lori Gibson]

A slither in the right direction

The Manitoba, Canada natural resources department has installed an under road culvert in an attempt to end the squashing of thousands of garter snakes by motorists using Highway 17. The road bisects the snakes' home range, cutting their dens off from the marshland where they live during warmer months. The culvert has been dubbed the "Snunnel" after the much larger tunnel under the English Channel. A half-meter, kilometer-long barrier is intended to route the snakes to the culvert. [The Kingston, Ontario Whig Standard, May 31, 1994 from Capt. von Papinešu]

Sceloporis occidentalis "newtoni"?

Researchers have found that western fence lizards which live in areas with no fences, live in trees. They also fall out a lot. One scientist went so far as to put out 200 large plastic flowerpots to see how many lizards were falling. In 2.5 years, they recorded 198 falls, although several lizards fell more than once. A quick bit of math suggests that in a one-acre woodland, 5,000 lizards fall every year and that averages out to 10 falls per lizard per year. None of the lizards that fell in the pots was injured, and - surprisingly - none of the researchers has seen a lizard fall. [Discover Magazine, April 1994 from David A. Webb] Therefore, it remains to be proven that a lizard falling in the forest makes a sound.

Oriental medicine men busted

A cache of snakes was found and three Korean immigrants were arrested by the New York City Police on charges of reckless endangerment and possession of wildlife without a permit. Found were 62 western diamondbacks, 30 miscellaneous snakes, 10 jars of pickled snakes, and a dozen baby rattlers floating in pint vodka bottles. More snakes were found in a simmering crock pot. The various snake potions are believed to reawaken masculinity and increase sexual stamina. The vodka with baby snakes is equivalent to the worms in tequila or mescal and sells for about $100 a pint according to John Behler, curator of hers at the Bronx Zoo. Mr. Behler added that the rattlesnakes had apparently been captured in late May in Texas or Oklahoma and shipped to the Queens apartment from which they were removed to the zoo. [The New York Times, June 4,1994 from P.L. Beltz]

Caveat emptor

An Australian zoologist who supports the legalization of exporting Australian wildlife was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald [May 24, 1993 from Raymond Hoser], "Large numbers of diamond pythons are exported illegally from one source in New South Wales each year. They are all sterilized before they leave the country. The buyers pay between $1,000 and $10,000 per snake for the purpose of breeding them, no knowing they are sterilized." This prevention of overseas captive breeding keeps the demand, and thereby the price, high. Reportedly the main destinations of smuggled Australian animals is the U.S., followed by Western Europe. Indonesia is reportedly a major transit point.

Shell-54 where are you?

Fifteen radio-equipped 3-year-old desert tortoises were deliberately released as part of a joint venture of the U.S. Army and the biology department of the California State University at Dominguez Hills. The tortoises will be tracked as they move around on Fort Irwin, CA which already supports about 130 desert tortoises. Researchers have made some interesting discoveries since the project began including the fact that young tortoises eat parental feces. This may provide juveniles with bacteria necessary to digest their food. Fecal ingestion has previously been reported in iguanas. Desert tortoises lay two clutches of eggs in their burrows each year at the fort. The project has an 85 percent survival rate of juveniles compared with zero to 50 percent survival in the wild. [The Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1994 from David A. Webb]


  • The couple arrested in California for having Colorado River Toads and having extracted toad juice from same have agreed to attend a drug education program to avoid prison. Charges against the pair will be dropped if they complete the program and stay drug free for two years. [The Lowell, MA Sun, April 30, 1994 from Alan LaFreniere]
  • The Hooper, Colorado alligator farm which was slow in opening is now in operation 7,500 feet above sea level and half a continent away from the animals' native Florida. Geological conditions in the valley provide 87 degree F water from underground which permits raising exotic and tropical animals such as tilliquia fish and alligators. Dan Meyers, staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer [April 26, 1994] wrote: "My how they've grown. About six to eight feet long now, they lounge around the warm pool like malformed college kids on spring break, some alone, some resting their snouts on the rump or shoulder of another." [ Contributed by Brent Griffith]
  • The chairman of the zoology department at the University of Guelph has found that tannin - which is found in many leaves, fruits, and tree bark - helps combat the suspected effects of increased ultraviolet radiation implicated in the decline of frogs and toads worldwide. Ultraviolet intensity is reduced 53 percent after passing through a cubic meter of water treated with tannin from tea leaves. Another Guelph zoologist will be testing various levels of tannin on amphibian larvae. [The Ottawa, Canada Citizen, May 18, 1994 from Capt. von Papinešu]

Good snake book for kids

"A Snake in the House" is Faith McNulty's latest creation for the 3 to 8-year old set. It tells of a snake that was captured by a boy and placed in a jar. The snake escapes and tries to find its way home - in the process illustrating why a house for humans is inhospitable to animals. The New York Times Book Review [June 5, 1994] states "[The author's] real achievement is to make the reader identify with the snake as it negotiates the unfamiliar maze of the house, encounters strange dangers and has trouble finding food and water... debunks the classic myth that snakes are cold and slippery... and some charming moments... The message about enjoying nature without possessing it is worth hearing, and the little snake's trials demonstrate it ably." [Contributed by P.L. Beltz]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to Dennis Sheridan, John Corning, David A. Webb, Rod Sutton, Daniel Riley, Joe Zawandowski, Mark Miller, Marty Marcus, Matthew and Laurie Aikawa, Sean Kraft, Alan Beck, Michael Lundgren, L.T. Buckingham, Alan W. Rigerman, David Scott, Glenn Kelley, Gary Kooienga, Phil Venditto, Mike Kilby, Andrew Zaayenga, and Simon Long. You can contribute, too - but please take pity on the columnist by photocopying articles onto one page whenever possible, or by using transparent tape to hold pieces together, and by putting your name on every clipping. The name and date of publication must be attached in order for the piece to be used. To see why staples and yellow self-adhesive notes are not recommended, staple a few pieces of newsprint together, attach a note, mash it into an envelope, jump up and down on it a few times, then try to take it apart and still read the clipping! Send your contributions to me in care of the AFH on the address or to the fax number shown on the masthead.

Volume 6, Number 3 - 1994

Conviction overturned

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, GA has ruled that the trial tactics of the public prosector, Michael Rubenstein, were so "inexcusable" and "unquestionably out of line" that they overturned the 1992 conviction of Thomas Crutchfield and have ordered a new trial. The St. Petersburg Times [July 29, 1994] summarized the situation so far by reporting; "After a two-week trial in 1992 that offered a glimpse into the far-flung, close-knit exotic reptile trade, Crutchfield was found guilty of illegally importing endangered Fiji banded iguanas into the US. He was sentenced to 17 months in prison. Crutchfield argued that the iguanas were captive-bred offspring of iguanas imported before the law forbade it, and that he was the victim of vindictive former business partners... Because the case turned entirely on the credibility of witnesses, prejudicial information about them demanded a new trial, according to the (appellate) court... [which] noted that Rubenstein disobeyed several rulings and instructions from U.S. District Judge Anne Conway."

Stir-fried frog with Beaujolais?

In a one-month period in one district of the Chinese city of Shanghai, 980 pounds of frogs (not counting "farmed" bullfrogs) were seized. Shanghaians pay up to $11.50 per kilo (2.24 pounds) for live, wild frogs which are prepared fried, steamed, stewed or stir-fried in homes, hotels and restaurants. [Salt Lake City, UT Deseret News, June 3, 1994 from David A. Webb] On the other side of the world, The European, reports "Europe's huge craving for frogs' legs is threatening to drive some species... into extinction." Millions of frogs are imported annually to the EC from Bangladesh and Indonesia, however, this rapacious collecting has depleted frog populations and may result in insect pest overpopulation in those area. India banned frog exports in 1987 for the same reason. [April 22, 1993 from Capt. Wes von Papinešu] In the US state of Maine, machines similar to coin-operated sandwich dispensers supply two, chilled but live frogs for $1.50. [The Toronto, Ontario Canada Globe and Mail, July 23, 1993 from Capt. Wes von Papinešu]

Range extensions opposed

  • The environment minister of the North-Rhine-Westphalia province of Germany has issued a warning to gardeners who release American bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) into their yards; they can now be fined up to 100,000 German marks. The situation seems to have been caused by laws preventing the removal of Rhineland amphibians from their natural habitat. Faced with a huge demand from hobbyists, zoo suppliers and garden centers began to offer "exotic amphibians," including Asian salamanders as well as North American newts and bullfrogs. It is to be hoped that none of these species will be able to reproduce in their new habitat. [Der Spiegel May 3, 1993, translated by Denis Blanchet and sent by Capt. Wes von Papinešu ]
  • Bullfrogs are not the only species gaining a toepad on the continent. According to The New York Times [July 5, 1994 from Gregory Peet] American aquatic turtles, released from captivity by their "owners" are taking over various river and pond niches in Europe. Most of the turtles are red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) which can grow to a length of between six and ten inches in two or three years. Transported as hatchlings, most however die within the first year. Those that survive may be released if they get "too big" or "too much for the owner to handle." The French Society of Herpetologists has formed a pressure group, in the interest of limiting or banning turtle imports. They state that France imported 300,000 red-eared sliders in 1991, and 500,000 in 1992. A Dutch biologist said, "The animals are stuffed 500 or more in a box. It looks miserable." Sanitation workers in the Netherlands have found dead tortoises and turtles blocking sewage systems and in water treatment plants.
  • -This last item reminds me of something that happened to an acquaintance of mine some years ago. The person (let's call him "Mr. X") received a letter from someone in Korea describing in detail a "new turtle" for sale in the local market. Mr. X got all excited and wrote back offering to buy a pair of the "new turtle" for a large sum of American dollars. The sum changed hands; the turtles were shipped; the box was opened to reveal a pair of medium sized red-eared sliders!
  • The Austin American-Statesman [June 14, 1994 from Gerald Keown] reminded its readers of the non-native introductions which have occurred from other countries into the U.S. While not specifically herpetological - our readers may find it interesting that 142 non-native vertebrates are reproducing in the US. The introduction of the fire ant is believed to be partly to blame for population declines in the Texas horned lizard. Zebra mussels, pigeons, starlings, house finches, fire-ants, buckthorn, dandelions, plantain, and (of course) kudzu are all plants and animals which really belong somewhere else (and should have stayed there). Herpetologists should be very, very careful not to let something go which could become the next "supertramp." So far, non-native lizards, geckos, and frogs have been reported. We really don't need the negative press associated with reproducing king cobras, gaboon vipers or Burmese pythons, do we?

One toad over the line

Or perhaps six toads in a bucket if the newly formed International Amphibian Hurling Association has its way. According to the report in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle [June 16, 1994 from Bryan McCarty], contestants in an event sponsored by a bar in Key West, Florida would try to throw as many toads as possible into a bucket to "win." After the event was vociferously opposed by a new group "Friends of Toads" founded by a local bartender, it was revealed the whole thing was only a publicity stunt. In any case, the event took place with toad-shaped beanbags being hurled into buckets. The event organizer said that Bufo hurling ought to be considered a valid event, adding, "That's what everybody does when they find them in their backyard anyway."

Wyoming toad update

After a few hopeful events, including the laying of about 10,000 eggs by a hormone-injected female Bufo hemiophrys baxteri, the captive-breeding program in Cheyenne has suffered an enormous setback. Most of the eggs died, leaving about 100-200 live tadpoles. Thomas Thorne, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department veterinarian said that the 12 toads currently held in captivity must reproduce this year or next to prevent the extinction of the species. [June 5, 1994] Meanwhile, no Wyoming toads have been found by search teams in Albany County, the only place the toad was known to exist in the wild [June 24, 1994, both from the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, contributed by Bryan McCarty].

No newts is not good newts

After much fanfare and hype surrounding the newts/newt eggs on board the space shuttle Columbia's spacelab, two of the newts died and all the offspring of one were sacrificed by freezing. The newts were originally collected from Japanese rice paddies and included in Columbia's payload along with some fish and other vertebrates. One newt egg hatched on July 12; scientists were excited. On July 14, the most prolific female newt was found dead in her tank surrounded by her 40 eggs. The dead newt and live (?) eggs were unhooked from the freshwater system and frozen to prevent contaminating the other three tanks remaining. On July 18, a second newt died. Astronauts removed just the newt from its tank this time, since the system required three functional tanks to filter water. Getting the newt out of the tank was a challenge since the tank designers had allowed no option for removal of material while in flight. In the absence of gravity, of course, spilled water forms free floating globules. [July 13: Salt Lake Tribune and USA Today from David Webb; July 15 and 19: San Francisco Chronicle from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa; July 19: Provo, UT, Daily Herald, Salt Lake Tribune, USA Today and Deseret News from David Webb]

Recent busts

Part 1.
"Four deadly snakes confiscated in raid at [Olneyville, RI] Reptile Emporium" screamed the headline in The Providence Journal-Bulletin [June 4, 1994 from Joe Sousa]. Three gaboon vipers and a monocled cobra were confiscated and the owner of the store was charged with criminal possession of the snakes without a permit. The individual who allegedly sold the snakes to the shop has been charged with illegally importing the animals from Florida according to the enforcement chief of the state Department of Environmental Management.
Part 2.
"683 Charges Against [Poplarville] Mississippi Pet Breeder" shouted the Bastrop, LA Daily Enterprise [June 28, 1994 from Martha Ann Messinger and George M. Patton]. Apparently when police and a representative of "In Defense of Animals" searched the Purrfect Parakeet shop they found 142 dead birds and reptiles. Three more animals died while inspectors were on the premises. The animals "were packed in filthy cages, cardboard boxes or tubs and were covered with maggots, ants or flies. Some of the dead and decomposed animals were mixed in with live ones, which had little or not food and water," according to one person who was present during the search. She added, "You could smell death. Some of the officers who went in were actually reeling out of the door gasping for fresh air because of the stench." The owner of the shop was charged with animal cruelty and held for $30,000 bail.

Desert Tortoises in the News

First, the House Appropriations Committee approved spending $4 million to purchase land near St. George, UT as a wildlife preserve intended to help chuckwallas, gila monsters, and desert tortoises survive in the area. The bill still requires approval of the full House and Senate as well as the President's signature [The Salt Lake Tribune, June 20 and The Deseret News, June 25, 1994]. The next bit of news was more sobering. Federal agents were investigating the deaths of two desert tortoises which were found along the road to an entertainment arts complex being built outside St. George. One died of unknown causes; the other was smashed on the road by a construction truck tire. The developer faces fines of up to $50,000 for each tortoise since the project does not have a permit for the incidental taking of any protected species. [June 28: The Provo, UT Daily Herald and The Salt Lake Tribune] On July 3 The Daily Herald reported that the Foundation for whom the arts complex is being built has banned the use of any vehicles along the 1.3 mile road leading to the construction site. The foundation director said, "If workmen determine to go on-site, they can go by horseback or bicycle. In the morning, it's a great little walk." The foundation has spent more than $50,000 on biological studies and legal advise in an effort to protect the tortoises. The director concluded, "We have educated, educated, educated contractors and subcontractors. In one year of construction, with 60 percent completed, we have an almost perfect record except for one dead tortoise. It was a risk." [July 3: The Daily Herald] By the 13th of July, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that heavy construction on the entire project had been halted pending negotiations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Wiring and other small jobs continues; workers are using horses and bicycles to get to the site. On August 5, 1994 The Salt Lake Tribune reported on the announcement of the final recovery plan for the desert tortoise by the USFWS. Washington County, UT officials have been playing hardball on a land conservation scheme in the county. One official said, "We've requested a 30-day extension... if they don't change... we'll politely walk away from the table. Everyone loses if the plan goes away." Washington County wants to allow development in certain areas of desert tortoise habitat while setting aside other lands for species recovery. The area in question covers 60,000 acres. [All clippings in this section were sent by super-clipper David A. Webb of Orem, UT.

"This is fun for us"

Said a rattlesnake handler at the Apache, OK rattlesnake roundup, and added, "It's a sport just like all others with a bit more risk if you're not careful." This year's Festival included "a butcher shop, snake pit, snake hunts, live country music and many little shops" and collected between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of live rattlesnakes according to The Cannoneer newspaper [April 9 and 21, 1994 from William Wells].

Was she wearing fuzzy slippers?

New Brunswick, NJ police report that a 3-foot boa constrictor which was loose in an apartment in an old folks' home bit an 80-year-old woman on the foot while she was eating dinner. A neighbor beat the snake to death with an umbrella. Police said that no one had reported a missing snake and that it was not known how the snake entered the woman's apartment. [The Home News, June 16, 1994] Contributor Robert Carl Danley wrote "If it was a stray cocker spaniel, would the reaction have been the same?"

Herp lovers...

  • A 34-year-old Columbia, PA man climbed through windows and across a second-story porch to rescue his wife and two daughters then crawled into the basement and saved 50 non-venomous snakes in their tanks. Several animals which were outside the home were also saved. However a Springer Spaniel, three doves, eight cockatiels, and between 10 and twelve white mice died.
  • Members of the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society are submitting applications to adopt a python found in Tacoma's Wright Park. The animal was taken to the Humane Society then released to a 25-year-old PNHS member who will keep it until the next meeting of that group. The media had a circus on this story, but at least the press was favorable. [Tacoma, WA News-Tribune, June 20, 21, and 25, 1994 from Marty Marcus]
  • The May/June 1994 issue of Organic Gardening headlines a story titled "Leapin' Lizards" which outlines all kinds of organic pest control. The keeping of snakes and toads in one's yard is particularly featured and plans for a frog pond are presented. It's a great article and much too long to summarize here. Perhaps you can find a copy at your library or recycling center. [Contributed by Marty Marcus]
  • Workers for the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources are digging "snunnels" in hopes of cutting the death toll of garter snakes on local roads. The plan is to funnel snakes into the culvert with short fences on each side of the road. A propane heater will be installed to keep the culvert warm and dry. A few snakes will be pushed through the culvert by workers in lay down scent rails for the rest to follow. If all this works, future plans include a solar heating system and more culverts at other points on the road. [The Ottawa Citizen, May 31, 1994 from Kim Heaphy]
  • Purified snake venom has been tested and found to reduce cholesterol levels in rabbits undergoing a treatment similar to that of kidney dialysis. [Omni Magazine, August, 1994 from Marty Marcus]
  • A man bitten by his own rattlesnake after allegedly stealing seven exotic snakes from a Pasadena, CA pet store faces felony theft charges. This weird tale begins when the bitten man and a friend tried to sell the store owner a couple of Western diamondbacks. Then the man snatched the exotic snakes and took off in his truck. The pet store owner gave chase and struck the man's truck which overturned. Then one of the snakes got loose and bit the man on the hand. The seven boas and pythons stolen were returned. [The Houston Chronicle, June 28 and 29, 1994 from Sheldon Parks]

Thanks to everyone who sent stuff including Bill and Sheri Cruger, Carl Camillo III, Mike Kilby, Peggy Lee, Joe Zawadowski, Nancy and Michael Shrom, Rick Dowling, Paul J. Kayser, and Kim Sanders. You can contribute, too. Merely send your clippings with date/source slug and your name firmly attached with tape (or photocopy the whole thing-please) to me in care of AFH at the address on the masthead.

Volume 6, Number 4 - 1994

Revenge of the frogs

  • A 42-year old Fresno, CA man died after falling into the San Joaquin River. A stringer of frogs was attached to his belt when he was found, and a companion said he had been hunting anurans. [Sacramento Bee, c. September, 1994 from Robert Hansen]
  • Researchers are studying how wood frogs survive freezing in an effort to learn how to store human organs for transport and reuse. What they have found are a series of proteins which function like antifreeze does in a car radiator; ice crystals never have a chance to form. [Discover Magazine, August 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • Japanese customers are snapping up a new CD titled "The Frog Chorus." Solos and choruses of that island nations's 36 species of frogs are featured and the CD comes with a book of color photos. It was released by Yamato Keikokusha music publishing company in early June. [The San Francisco Chronicle, June 17, 1994 from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa.] If anybody finds out how to order this, would they please let me know?
  • The disappearance or decline of certain species of frogs worldwide is keeping some researchers awake. Famous disappearances include the Costa Rican Golden Toad, the Australian gastric-brooding frog, northern ranges of the American Cricket Frog among others. Worldwide it appears as though populations of other frogs and toads are in severe decline including the Yosemite toad in California, the Wyoming Toad, and even the American Toad has become reduced in numbers in some areas. On the other hand, last year's midwestern U.S. flooding has provided new habitat for several species as farmers abandon flood plain agricultural areas. [The Provo, UT Daily Herald, July 19, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • Thousands of frogs swarmed over a quiet suburban road on a rainy night in Waterloo, outside of Toronto, Canada. A resident said, "I heard the tires splatting over top of them, there were thousands." He said he had to close his garage to stop the frogs from coming in. The invaders were leopard frogs accompanied by a few large toads. [The Toronto Star, July 27, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
  • Officials with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish are not pleased with the state's newest tourist attraction: licking Colorado River toads. The toads' secrete bufotenine, which is listed as a psycho-active drug under state law as well as a drug called dimenthyltryptamine. Undercover agents with the department have busted several people, including one man who was caught with 62 toads. [The Potomac News, August 19, 1994 from Daniel Riley]

Man's best friend...

  • A 47-year old Tucson, AZ man credits Goliath, his pet iguana, for saving his life. The man suffers from sleep apnea and other chronic respiratory disorders. Recently, he was awakened by the lizard scratching his face and beating him around the head with its tail. He feels the reptile roused him just in time because he had barely enough energy left to reach his medication. [Tucson Citizen, June 1, 1994 from Mike Smith] A related story in the Salt Lake Tribune [August 19, 1994 from David A. Webb] reports that the same man and Goliath were banned from shopping at Wal-Mart even though the man claims the iguana should be allowed under the category of "trained assistance animals" which are permitted in the stores of the retailing giant. The man claims Goliath warns him of being weak or sick even before he is aware of it himself. Unimpressed Wal-Mart workers banned the lizard anyway. Wal-Mart executives claim that assistance animals can only be dogs.
  • Three Wyoming Tribune-Eagle stories sent by Bryan McCarty deal with iguanas. First it was the stolen iguana [May 25 and 28, 1994 ] wherein three male juveniles were busted after leaving a lizard they had apparently kidnapped from a high school during a burglary alongside a local road. According to witnesses, a man in a pickup truck stopped, picked up the iguana and drove off with it. He was found, the lizard was returned, and this story ended happily. On June 11, the paper picked up an AP report which stated that four Denver-area children have caught salmonella from pet iguanas in the last three months. Headlined "pet iguanas spreading salmonella," the report advised families with young children, older family members, or persons with decreased immunity or chronic illness, not to buy iguanas. Expect legislation momentarily.

Not monitored closely enough

Mongo, the meter-long monitor is still on the loose in Kingston, Ontario Canada. Its 18-year owner was away. When the family returned from vacation, they found Mongo's cage door open, and the lizard was (surprise, surprise) nowhere to be found. Cat owners were warned to keep their pets inside. [The Kingston Whig Standard, July 22 and the Ottawa Globe and Mail, July 25, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]

Costly prank revealed

Two workers admitted they placed a dead desert tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) along the access road to the Tuachan Arts Complex being constructed in St. George, UT. After the dead tortoise was found, the foundation director suspended all vehicular traffic to the site; in effect shutting down his own project. An agreement was negotiated in which the foundation agreed to pay $20,000 in fines for the tortoises accidentally killed last spring along the same access road. A tortoise-proof fence has been build along the road and monitors walk the 1.3 section to look for tortoises. The dead tortoise placed as a "joke" was found inside the fenced perimeter. The workers were fired and an investigation is underway. All told, desert tortoises have cost the project about $200,000 in fines, legal fees, and tortoise-protection measures. [The Salt Lake City, UT Deseret News, August 25-26, 1994 from David A. Webb]

Mystery turtle identified by reader

Dan Leavitt of Washington state wrote about the turtle being saved by the Thai government: "By your description, the turtle would most likely be the large batagurine turtle Callagur borniensis. Large males (with 20" plus shells) during the breeding period develop a prominent bright red mark on top of the head and snout bordered by light cream and dark colors. The Callagur ranges from Thailand southeast through parts of Malaysia. Its eggs and flesh have been used extensively by the people of this region causing depletion in many regions. These turtles are purely vegetarian and are related to the genera Batagur, Heosemys, Hieremys, etc. As you stated, there is a slight resemblance in markings and foot webbing to our native diamond back terrapins (Malaclemys)."

Ditch the alligator

Writer Bob Morris recently suggested changing the state reptile of Florida from the alligator to the green anole. He wrote: "The lizard is a noble animal. An unlike its larger cousin, it has never posed for a tacky postcard, been humiliated by pseudo-wresters at roadside tourist attractions or made its brunch from a wayward poodle." [The Lakeland, FL Ledger, July 30, 1994 from Melody Smith]

Short croc-tales

  • A 4-foot alligator caught by a fisherman in the Iowa River was airlifted and released into the Savanna River in Georgia. Officials believe that the animal was released into the Iowa River by a person or persons unknown. [USA Today, September 2, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • The city of Kansas City gave a local woman two days to get rid of her 36 crocodiles, some of which she's had for 28 years. The woman gives school talks with the animals and local animal welfare officials said she takes good care of them. [USA Today, August 12, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • A crocodile farm has been founded in southeastern France. The first of its kind on that continent, the farm uses cooling water from the nearby Eurodif-Tricastin nuclear power plant to warm it hot houses. [The Ottawa Sun, August 11, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu.]
  • Farmers in the African nation of Zimbabwe have secured a lucrative market deal for crocodile meat from Hong Kong, Thailand, and Malaysia. Last year 40,000 crocodile skins worth $3.13 million were exported. [The Salt Lake City Deseret News, June 6-7, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • A cranky 265-pound alligator bit two trainers at the Sunken Gardens tourist attraction in St. Petersburg, FL. Attendance increased after the first attack although a spokesperson for the attraction credited the increase to advertising, not morbid curiosity. [San Francisco Chronicle, August 6, 1994 from Matthew and Laurie Aikawa]
  • A crocodile in Australia recently took a chunk out of a chef who regularly cooks crocodile meat. The croc lost several teeth, the man was covered with puncture marks and deep scratches. [The Provo, UT Daily Herald, July 21, 1994 from David A. Webb]

Grisly discovery leads to arrest

The decaying body was found floating in a canal in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It was missing both arms and a leg. Nearby floated an 8-foot alligator. Authorities shot the gator and found the arms and the leg inside the gator, but the medical examiner reported that the man was beaten to death and was already dead when the alligator ate his limbs. Police arrested a man who later confessed to the killing. [USA Today, July 26 and The Salt Lake Tribune, September 2, 1994 both from David A. Webb]

Assault with a harmless snake

A couple was robbed in the wee hours of the morning by two men brandishing a black snake in Camden, NJ. The Trenton-Metro Times [August 14, 1994 from Paul Mitchell, Jr.] reports the couple was walking down the street when a four men in a late model car pulled up. Two men leaped out of the car and threatened the couple with the snake, then the other two got out and robbed them. They took $20 in cash, and $30 personal stereo and a $95 watch. A police supervisor said, "I'm sure the officer has run home and told his wife and all the neighbors `Yeah, I had this case the other day, robbery at point of snake.'"

Study threatened by neighbors

Alan and Barbara Savitzky are in the second year of a multi-year radiotransmitter study of the endangered canebrake rattlesnake at the Northwest River Park near Chesapeake, VA. Recently, two of the snakes swam across a creek and settled into some adjoining farmland. The landowners prevented the Savitzky's from entering their property and have complained to a state legislator about the study, the snakes, and the government intrusion onto their land. According the local farm bureau's president, farmers are worried that if the snakes remain on their land, the state will tell the farmers what they can and cannot do on their own land. A game and fish department official said "We only wish the farmers would let the Savitzkys have access to their land so we can learn more about an animal we know very little about." [Washington Times, September 1, 1994 from Carl A. Hess]

Wake up and smell the boa

A young couple in Colorado Springs woke up at 4:00 a.m. one morning only to find a 20-foot boa on the floor. It had apparently entered their apartment through a screen window. The 120-pound animal was removed by police. No one had reported a snake of this description missing. [June 22 USA Today and Salt Lake City Deseret News from David A. Webb, Delaware County Daily Times from Kim Sanders and June 23, 1994 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle from Bryan McCarty]

Oooh, bad puns!

  • Tom Quinn, of the Salt Lake Tribune, must have used up every ophidian metaphor, simile, pun, and word play he'd ever heard on a recent story: "The scales of justice tipped against two teen-agers after they rolled snake eyes in their attempt to purloin a python..." The teens were busted, the 20-inch long $180 Burmese python was unhurt and returned to the pet store whence it was taken. [August 9, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • A U.S. Army soldier recently transferred from Germany to the states is "in squeeze over snakes" reports the Tacoma, WA News Tribune [July 16, 1994]. Apparently the soldier is facing the end of his 9-year Army career and confinement in the stockade because his wife tried to take her two pet pythons home from Germany on a military-chartered airplane. The commander got wind of the plan and notified the soldier that he couldn't take the reptiles home on that plane, but the wife snuck them aboard without the husband's knowledge. She stuffed the snakes under her shirt and walked through the metal detector, then transferred the animals to a canvas carryall. The burlap bag attracted attention because it was writhing in flight. The wife said the snakes are part of their family like their three children. Contributor Marty Marcus wrote, "This certainly supports the old saying `There's a right way, a wrong way, and the Army way.'"

Snake collecting controversy

Contributor Gerald Keown sent a series of clippings about reptile collecting in the state of Texas which has received a lot of press of late. The Austin-American Statesman [June 13 ,14, and 15, 1994] reports that collectors eagerly seek gray-banded kingsnakes in a small area of desert in West Texas. The prices for hatchlings are from $100-150 wholesale and up to $300 retail. Most collectors say they only capture a snake a year, then take them home and breed them to their other animals. The owner of a reptile store in Austin was quoted, "It's the demand. When you convert these animals into a business, you have to look at supply and demand. Anything from Australia, for instance, is worth $200, no matter what." He said he could see the need from some sort of permit and control system to monitor sales and track reptile transport. Texas presently has no restrictions on harvesting, no permitting or reporting requirements, and no ongoing studies of the biology and habitats of frequently collected snake species, including the gray-banded king snakes. A reporter with the paper spent time snake hunting with collectors and reported that the collectors were in violation of Texas law which prohibits using motor vehicles to hunt from state roads. A representative of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club said, "I'd like to see collection of reptiles be done only for scientific purposes. This issue keeps coming up with non-game species. You need to monitor the taking or you need to prohibit possession of any kind." A visiting Californian snake hunter said that he thought only captive offspring should be allowed to be sold. Another said that reptile stamps (like duck stamps) should be sold and the money used for conservation. He said, "I would like to see it legislated and controlled. It's a resource; use it wisely." Perhaps the first action will be for Texas to sell hunting licenses and non-commercial collection licenses in much the same way as the state of Oklahoma does now.

Sea turtle briefs

  • Authorities posed a $10,000 reward for anyone violating sea turtle protection laws after 33 dead sea turtles were found washed up on Texas beaches. [USA Today, September 7, 1994 from David A. Webb] You can contribute to the reward fund. Contact HEART, P.O. Box 681231, Houston, TX 77268-1231 for more information.
  • Three green sea turtles are being studied by means of Walkman-sized satellite transmitters strapped to their shells. A researcher pointed out that 95 percent of the life history of these animals is unknown, and hopes that this study will shed some light on just where they go when they are not nesting. [The Provo, UT Daily Herald, August 18, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • The Earth Island Institute and Ralph Nader's Public Citizen organization filed suit against the U.S. Commerce Department in federal court in San Francisco. They accuse the agency of ignoring the destruction of endangered sea turtles by shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico. The plaintiffs said that fishermen disable their Turtle Excluder Devices, and mutilate any turtles they drown in their nets to look like shark attacks. One turtle was found tied to a group of metal bars, apparently to keep it from washing up on shore. A spokesperson for the Earth Island Institute said that when the feds crack down, turtle deaths have dropped sharply. [The Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 14, 1994]

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this column and to Steven M. Coogan, Melody Smith, John Barrie, Michael Perez, Marty Marcus, Ann Townsend, and Eric R. Skov. This column is reader-supported. What you send is what I use; and I've used all of it. The file folder is empty. Don't wait to contribute! Send clippings with the date and publication slug and your name firmly attached (or photocopied or send the whole page) to me in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead.

Volume 6, Number 5 - 1994

It's a weird, weird world we live in

  • A 22-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service was arrested and charged with theft after undelivered mail and 88 live and dead birds and turtles were found in his condo in Washington, D.C. [USA Today, October 19, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • Government agencies and wildlife agencies are supporting toad hunting in northeastern Australia in an attempt to control the cane toad, an aggressive invader species which eats local fauna. Bufo marinus was originally deliberately imported to the island continent in 1935 in an effort to rid sugar cane fields of the grayback cane beetle. The toads ignored the beetle and reproduced wildly in the absence of predators. Their toad venom can kill cats and dogs foolish enough to try to eat one. [San Francisco Chronicle, October 22, 1994 from Matthew & Lauric Aikawa]
  • An elaborate ceremony was held near the South Korean port of Pusan in an effort to appease "guardian dragon deities of the oceans." What had happened was that two sea turtles were captured in fishing nets about three months previously. They were held in captivity and it was believed that their captivity led to three months of drought and poor fishing. The Buddhists gave the critters an elaborate ceremony and a maritime police patrol boat carried the turtles back to the open ocean where they were released. [San Francisco Chronicle, October 1, 1994 from Matthew & Lauric Aikawa]
  • "When I hear that someone's been eaten by a crocodile or shark, I just get all gooey," said rocker Tori Amos as quoted in Rolling Stone. She added, "If I had to get tortured by a human being or eaten by a crocodile, I'd take the croc any day... The reason is that it's not personal. You were lunch." [Tacoma, WA News Tribune, November 4, 1994 from Marty Marcus]
  • A multi-millionaire and wife were robbed at gunpoint last year on the French Riviera of $10 million worth of goods (honestly, I'm not making this up) including jewelry and an alligator purse worth $10,000. A sharp local police officer saw the purse while checking a parked car. Authorities captured the perpetrators. [The Toronto Star, November 30, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
  • A cross-country foot race for all-female running teams was cancelled after the lead runner saw a rattlesnake laying in the course at the Malibu Creek State Park, CA. [The Kingston Whig-Standard, September 26, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
  • A 7-inch long two-headed grass snake was found in a compost heap in Winchelsea, East Sussex, England. Named "Four-eyes," it was taken to the Living World Centre at Exceat, near Alfriston. A senior keeper at the London Zoo's reptile house said, "It is unusual... for a snake to be born with two heads... If both heads can feed, then it will survive, but there are usually complications." [International Express, London, September 21-27, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
  • Reuters reports that workers who were building a school near Beijing, China discovered more than 300 three-legged frogs in a pit. The cause of the deformity was unknown according the Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. [Salt Lake Tribune, September 17, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • The "hanging judge" of the Philippines, Maximiano Asuncion is reported by Agence France-Presse to have said "that people convicted of capital crimes should be obliged to wrestle with cobras inside an aquarium open to public gaze." [The Toronto Globe & Mail, September 20, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
  • From a letter to the Metropolitan Diary column in The New York Times: "...I find the urban street peddling of miniature live turtles to be an offense against nature. New York University students can be seen walking down the street carrying little plastic `turtle houses' or, worse yet, plastic bags containing live turtles. However, I had to smile at the conversation I overheard between a potential customer and turtle vendor. Customer, peering into a bowl of swimming turtles: `What is it?' Vendor: `Nice turtle, good pet! Only needs water and a little food. Good pet!' Customer: `What kind of batteries do they use?'" [from P.L. Beltz, November 22, 1994]

Removed, Lost, Stolen, Strayed, or Found

  • Neighbors of the Tanks Alot pet shop in North Las Vegas, NV blame the shop for a 3-foot python they found coiled in the toilet one morning. The owner of the nearby wood shop said, "We had to remove the toilet off its base because [the snake] balled up..." They claim this is not the first snake to have slithered away from the pet shop. The owner of the pet store says that the whole thing is the latest round in a long standing feud between the two stores. He suggests the wood merchants are buying the snakes and then "finding" them in their shop. The owner of the wood shop said, "If I was going to do something, I would flatten his tires, I'm not ridiculous." Animal control took the animal and is waiting for someone to claim it. [Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 9, 1994 from Bob Pierson]
  • The U.S. National Park Service spent $15,000 in what has been called the "Great Snake Bust." In a classic sting operation, 27 people from Texas to Florida were nabbed by federal agents posing as amateur herpetologists and would-be buyers. The alleged ringleader gave up without a fight. The effects of the wild snake poaching in the Big Bend National Park include a plague of rats, which have apparently bred wildly in the absence of ophidian predators. [Time Magazine, August 22, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
  • Keepers at Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Bastrop, LA were horrified to find that someone had used a key to open cages at the zoo and remove more than $10,000 worth of snakes. The taken include: four green tree pythons, four emerald tree boas, two D'Alberts pythons, two Bismark ringed pythons, two Honduran milk snakes, and three Brazilian rainbow boas. The keeper said, "The person who took these is not someone who is just going to sell them or collect them; it most definitely is a breeder. My guess is that whoever took them is not here anymore." [Monroe, LA News-Star, October 30, 1994 from George M. Patton]
  • The Indianapolis, IN Star [November 5, 1994] reports: "Police and fire officials rescued a 4-year-old Northeastside boy Friday night who was all wrapped up in a 14-foot python... [they] arrived... to find the pet snake entwined around the boy's legs and chest. They had been advised to leave the snake alone until animal control officers arrived unless the snake was threatening the boy's life... After the nonpoisonous snake bit the boy, a rescue worker cut off its head to free the boy... the family had owned the snake, a Ball python, for some time." [from Erin K. Berger]
  • A 9-foot long Burmese python was found by some youngsters fishing in a Flamborough Township, Ontario, Canada pond. One boy said, "I wasn't that scared of the snake; it wasn't that bad." The Provincial Police had no speculation on how someone could lose a 9-foot, 32-pound snake. A man who lives near the pond reported he saw the animal's apparent owner "swimming in the water with the snake" recently, and it wasn't the first time, either! [The Toronto Star, September 1, 1994, from Captain Wes von Papinešu]
  • When a Salt Lake City, UT man climbed a ladder recently to trim his pear tree, he came face to face with a python. Three Salt County sheriff's deputies arrived, and one lured the snake down. The animal promptly wrapped itself around the deputy, giving her a big, snaky hug. The other two deputies had to pull it off her. [The Salt Lake Tribune, October 3, 1994, from David A. Webb] You know, for years, we've been singing a mangled version of that holiday song and ending it with "and a python in a pear tree." Life imitates art, I suppose.
  • A worker with the Toronto Humane Society captured a runaway iguana off the roof of a house where he had apparently gone to warm up from the family's holiday lights. [The Kingston Whig-Standard, October 14, 1994] In the same area, Mongo the monitor is still on the loose as reported in the same paper September 21, 1994. Contributor Captain Wes von Papinešu wrote: "Interesting is the Human Officer's comment that `this was the first [lizard] to have gotten away from him in a while...;' I'm not sure that the idyllic ville of Kingston is overrun with rampaging, tree-climbing, cat-eating Monitor-iguanas with Godzilla complexes! Cheers!"

"Gator-raid" nets caimans

"Leapin' lizards!" screams the headline in the New York Daily News [October 28 from Kevin Palestino and Sean Kraft] Apparently fire inspectors discovered a tropical paradise in a Brooklyn, NY loft apartment including six loose spectacled caimans. Newsday [same day from Frank Calogero] reports: "The alligators were the best known secret on B------- Street in ... Brooklyn for two decades. Hardly a kid had not seen them... Yesterday... a zoo expert and animal rescue workers moved in for a roundup. They left with a menagerie that included... six spectacled caimans ranging from four to six feet... a turtle and an iguana. They left behind an angry iguana and an assortment of small reptiles who made their homes in the jungle habitat created for them ...[by] the loft's owners... [who] would be cited for health code violations. " According to the Salt Lake City Deseret News [same date, from David A. Webb] the director of the ASPCA's Brooklyn animal shelter said it is illegal to keep a wild animal in the City [of New York]. The next day, the Daily News reported the reaction of the couple from whose loft the animals were taken. The woman said, "The major tragedy is that when the police took the animals, our lone female, Buena, who's 8-years old, was protecting her nest. It's just under the microwave, made from dirt and sand and grass. She always checket is every day to listen for her babies. We expect them to hatch momentarily." Police said the couple would be charged with keeping dangerous animals without a license. The couple said they would fight back, supported by the New York Herpetological Society. They claim that they've had the animals for more than 20 years and that they have been used for educational purposes. Also, the male in the human couple is a lawyer. [from Sean Kraft] It's kind of a shame to see all this administrative effort being used to protect "the public" from some "wild animals." I just wish that our major cities would enforce the laws about human "wild animals" with the same diligence.

Sea turtle briefs

  • Five loggerhead sea turtles were found dead, stranded on the Delaware coast on one week. Authorities say a storm could be responsible for the beachings. No cause of death was reported [USA Today, September 23, 1994] A total of eight dead turtles have been found along the coast since September 20. [same paper - October 14, both from David A. Webb]
  • Stairwell lighting which disoriented baby turtles may cost a condo complex $45,000 in fines, according to Melbourne Beach, FL officials. [USA Today, October 11, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • Environmental activists filed suit in San Francisco Federal Court claiming the Clinton administration is ignoring the slaughter of endangered sea turtles in Mexico so as not to jeopardize the North American Free Trade Agreement. Federal border officials have seized 9,350 turtle products valued at over a half million dollars from 1988 to 1993. [USA Today, November 1, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • A pro-shrimper organization called the "Environmental Group of America" says that a sea turtle hatchery might help restock endangered turtles without loss to shrimpers who are often blamed for the animals' deaths. [USA Today, October 20, 1994 from David A. Webb] The conflicting nature of this issue and the high passions aroused on both sides deserve a little explanation and background: Carole Allen, director of HEART (Help Endangered Animals Ridley Turtles) has supported the Galveston Head Starting facility from its inception to its demise at the hands of National Marine Fisheries personnel last year. She told me that several of the shrimp fishing groups have created "environmental groups" hoping to reopen turtle "hatcheries." After their "good faith" was proven in this manner, the groups would then go to government and ask that the turtle excluder device [TEDs] provision be removed from the U.S. Commerce Department regulations. I've still never figured out why the shrimpers don't embrace the TEDs wholeheartedly: For every pound of shrimp, nine pounds of fin fish and turtles are caught. The weight of the fin fish and turtles mangles the shrimp during the drag and increases the amount of diesel fuel used by the boat to trawl. The nine pounds of fin fish and turtles are mostly wasted, being dropped over the side of the boat as "garbage." Some fin fish are retained since they are of commercially valuable species. If the shrimpers want fin fish, why don't they buy a rod and reel? They'll have money left over from their fuel bill after they install a TED. Not to mention how much more shrimp will be sold after they decide to become law abiding shrimpers with TEDs! Remember the tuna-fish wars? At the end, they couldn't give the stuff away until they stopped drowning dolphins.

Survival of the coolest?

  • Global warming may contribute to a shortage of male lizards, turtles and crocodiles according to a paper published in August in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Population biologist, Frederic J. Janzen found that in the warmest of the six summers he spent studying painted turtles nesting on an island in the Mississippi River, nearly 100 percent of the eggs that hatched produced female offspring. [San Jose, CA Mercury News, August 30, 1994 from Valerie Haecky]
  • Geologist Paul Markwick of the University of Chicago presented his work on a computerized analysis that traces global fossil records of crocodiles, alligators and their relatives over the last 100 million years at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Seattle. He points out that ancient crocodiles thrived while dinosaurs were declining and disappearing at the end of the Cretaceous Period. Lethal climate change following a meteorite impact has been suggested as a possible model for this extinction event by Luis Alvarez and other workers. Markwick disagrees, "If the dinosaur extinction were caused by a climate shift, you would expect to see something with crocodiles, because they are very climate-sensitive. But there is nothing." [The Fresno, CA Bee November 3, 1994 from Wendy McKeown]

Thanks to everyone who contributed and to: David A. Webb, Marty Marcus, Lee W. Roof, John & Shelli Doremus, Daniel Riley, Richard F. Welch, and Mark Lawson for interesting materials either used before, or too tough to summarize. You can contribute too! Attach the date/publication slug and your name to the clipping with tape (no staples) or photocopy the whole thing (much preferred!) and send it to me, Ellin Beltz, in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead. I always pick out one new and one regular contributor per issue for a reply in addition to recognizing everyone who contributes in the column.

Volume 6, Number 6 - 1995

A real "living bra"

According to reports picked up around the world, an alert Swedish customs official noticed "something weird" about a woman's chest. Upon investigation, 65 baby snakes were found in the bra of the 42-year-old woman who said she intended to start a reptile farm. The woman is being prosecuted, no one said what happened to the animals. [Extra special thanks to Steven M. Coogan of Lincoln, IL who contributed both the clipping from The Pantagraph, January 20, 1995 and the very excellent pun which I used to headline this article!]

Loose, busted, banned, blamed and sued!

  • A live brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) was found at a warehouse in Honolulu, Hawaii. A nighttime search for more found nothing, neither did a search by trained dogs the next night. The brown tree snake has wiped up nine populations of birds native to the island of Guam. The one found in Hawaii is suspected of having stowed away on a boat or a plane from Guam. [USA Today, December 23 and 30, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • Boca Raton, FL has had two loose snake sightings recently... The first was a 2-foot snake found and rescued from beside a resident's garage. The snake will probably be given to an animal safari. The second incident involved a 3-foot-long Burmese python who was laying in a driveway when the homeowner tried to pull in. She said, "It reared its head and looked at me and I said, `Oh, my God.'" Police were summoned, the snake was removed, and the newspapers had a field day. [From Bryan Lorber, S. Burlington, VT Boca Raton News November 10, 1994. Bryan wrote, "Sure looks like a Ball Python to me!"]
  • A 20-year-old man was arrested in Miami at year's end for trying to smuggle 200 baby tarantulas, 300 poison-arrow frogs, sacks of tarantula eggs and 14 baby boas which he'd stuffed inside some jeans in his suitcase. The wriggling of the snakes was noticed by a Customs agent feeling around inside the suitcase. The man was charged with smuggling animals in violation of the federal Endangered Species act and faces up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines if convicted. [Seattle, WA Times, December 31, 1994 from Jett; also from Alan W. Rigerman, and Michael J. Shrom]
  • According to a notice e-mailed to staffers of the Alameda Newspaper Group which publishes five dailies in the San Francisco Bay Area: "[We] will not publish photos of snakes `until a snake actually holds up a bank, is nominated for a Cabinet post, or wins the Super Lotto. Charles Cooper, executive editor." [Quoted in the West County Times sent by Jerry Boyer.] Readers wishing to protest this blatant discrimination can write: David Burgin, Editor-in-Chief, Alameda Newspaper Group, 66 Jack London Square, Oakland, CA 94607. Mr. Burgin is apparently so ophidophobic that he only refers to snakes as, "that S word." Please be kind.
  • Three recent deaths from salmonellosis in Los Angeles are being blamed on pills containing rattlesnake meat which were sold as an Hispanic folk remedy. At least four other people have been hospitalized for salmonellosis after taking the capsules which are known as "polvo de vibora," "carne de vibora," and "vibora de cascabel." The rattlesnake strain of salmonella has been implicated in between 15 and 30 cases of salmonellosis each year since 1987. [Deseret News, December 20-21, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • A couple whose rest in a motel was interrupted when they found a "large boa constrictor" in their room in the middle of the night have filed suit for $1.5 million against the parent chain of the Comfort Inn. The man said, "It was a night of horror." [Mrs. Linda A. Hauser sent the clipping from The Frederick, MD Post, November 25, 1994]

Ribbito, ribbitas, ribbitam, ribbitorum!

  • New news on the declining amphibian crisis is slim, but a lot of magazines are just now picking up the story of Oregon State University researchers linking declining amphibian populations to ultraviolet-B radiation [The Science Teacher, January 1995 from Alan W. Rigerman, Natural History Magazine and Tacoma, WA News Tribune, November 24, 1994 from Marty Marcus, Discover from David A. Webb]. Also USA Today reports on the Wyoming Toad [December 27, 1994 and January 6, 1995 both from David A. Webb]. The task force which has been searching for any remaining wild populations is trying to get teams up for the summer and is hoping to get volunteers, since they have little or no funding. Also, three more zoos will begin trying to breed the toad. The zoos, two in Ohio and one in Texas, will join zoos in Colorado and Nebraska in a Species Survival Plan effort to save the rare, warty beastie.
  • Chen Xumei of Jiangsu Province in China wrote a letter to the editors of China Daily: "When you walk along the streets of Hongze County on a summer night, you will see brown objects sitting under the street lamps. On closer inspection, you will find they're toads jumping up and down trying to catch insects lured there by the lamplight. I used to live near a lake and heard a chorus of frogs croaking during the summer nights. But the sound of their croaking has become increasingly rare as the number of frogs dwindles. This is because frogs are being served up in restaurants and on farmers' dining tables. Frog meat is also being used as bait to trap lobsters in my hometown. Like frogs, the numbers of snakes and turtles are getting smaller because of their gourmet value. For the sake of our natural environment, I appeal to diners and restaurant owners alike to protect nature and wildlife." [August 19, 1994 from P.L. Beltz]
  • David Barry on Colorado River Toads: "... and licking this toad has become a fad... Does this occur in social settings? How do you get the toad excited? Show it movies? Give it a tiny marital aid? Will Anheuser-Busch come out with a TV commercial wherein some rugged looking workmen, exhausted from a hard day of not showing up at people's houses, relax by taking some man-sized slurps off a Toad Lite?" [From a 1993 Dave Barry desk calendar, March 17 - contributed by Captain Wes von Papinešu.]
  • A recent presentation at a medical conference in Miami Beach was "How do small frogs capture long earthworms?" The researcher said that "the predictable manner in which a frog approaches, lunges and retrieves a prey into the mouth offers us an excellent [chance] to investigate a vertebrate motor pattern generator and its fine-tuning for optimum performance." She analyzed high speed video to determine the degree of extension of the tongue, jaw movement, delay before the first snap, distance between snout and worm, and worm length. What she found was that the frogs changed behaviors after they determined how big the worm was. [Deseret News, November 22-23, 1994 from David A. Webb]

Men think like lizards, says scientist

That's the news according to a report by Mark Bowden of the Knight-Ridder News Service picked up in the Salt Lake City Tribune [January 27, 1995 sent by David A. Webb]. I always wondered why my husband had flies on his tongue... But seriously, folks, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that men and women literally use their brains differently. One researcher said, "If you peel off the outer cortex you get to the part of the brain we share with reptiles and beasts of prey... It is made up of several structures, some older and more primitive than others. The most complex portion... is thought be involved in regulating emotion." This slimy bit, known as the singulate gyrus, is more used by women than men who tend to display more brain activity in the lower, more primitive limbic regions.

Venomous snake-tales

  • Golfers are more accustomed to avoiding water and sand traps but U.S. Open champ Ernie Els encountered a 3-foot night adder after he stepped off the tee on the par-5 16th hole at the Nashua Wild Coast Challenge in South Africa. He lost, 2 over par.
  • Another catalog without a clue - Orvis of Manchester, VT (1-800-541-3541 24 hours a day) advertises a "handsome safari hat... with distinctive genuine rattlesnake hatband... band-only $39.00." and a "rattlesnake skin belt offers a rugged western look to any outfit... $79.00" and piece de resistance "rattlesnake earrings, authentic accessories for the western woman." Clips or pierced they cost $17.00.
  • Five baby midget faded rattlesnakes were born last summer at Utah's Hogle Zoo. They are the result of the first successful breeding in captivity. The zoo did not cool the animals before the courtship to simulate hibernation as had previous breeders. All five offspring were female. [The Provo, UT Daily Herald, July 13, 1994 from David A. Webb]
  • Snake venom is part of a new drug therapy for strokes which cause reduced blood flow to the brain. Researchers found that an ingredient found in Malayan pit viper venom "appears safe and potentially effective" when appropriately delivered within 6 hours of the stroke. [San Jose Mercury News , October 4, 1994 from Valerie Haecky]
  • The Toronto, Ontario, Canada Globe and Mail [November 9, 1994 from Captain Wes von Papinešu] reports that timber rattlesnakes do not stray far from home. Citing the London Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, the paper quoted a Pennsylvania biologist: "They may only go a mile or a half mile from a home denning site. They have a very strong affinity to a home place."
  • Several papers picked up on the recent death of a devout Baptist man who received a fatal envenomation from a rattlesnake he brought to church, following a Bible quote which says believers "shall take up serpents." The 40-year-old was bitten during Sunday services and apparently died at home later that night. [January 19, 1995 New York Post from Ivan Martinez, Deseret News from David A. Webb, Seattle Times from Lee W. Roof, and The Lancaster, PA New Era from Michael J. Shrom]

Internet turtle tales

  • An e-mail request from Brian L. West of the Earth Island Institute arrived. He recently visited India and found that although the Bhitarkanika Forest Division and the Wildlife Institute of India have plenty of people for turtle tagging - they don't have any tags! The need about 30,000 to monitor turtles at the sanctuary in Orissa which is threatened by nearby construction of a fishing complex. As recently as 1991, an estimated 600,000 turtles arrived in a two-week aribada. This massive collection of turtles is threatened by the local shrimp fishing industry which will be moving en masse into the new fishing complex when it's finished. The Earth Island Institute is also looking for people to help in their campaigns to save sea turtles.
  • Liew Hock Chark recently posted: "Sale and consumption of turtle eggs pose a serious conservation problem in developing countries, some of which are Islamic states. However, according to the Muslim religion, turtle meat is `haram' i.e. forbidden for consumption as the animal lives in land and water. However, most Muslims do eat the eggs as they feel that it is `halal' i.e. permitted, since the eggs are buried in sand. I have heard that in some muslim countries, even the consumption of eggs is `haram.' Does anybody know where and if there are any strong arguments according to Muslim law regarding the consumption of turtle eggs?" Reply to Don't forget to mention salmonella.

Stop! In the name of law...

A pet shop owner was served with a lawsuit by the Snohomish Health District because he openly sells baby turtles with a carapace length of less than 4 inches. Because turtles have been implicated in the spread of salmonella bacteria, only animals over 4 inches can be sold. That legal non sequitur is based on the idea that children cannot put turtles over 4 inches in size into their darling little mouths. With its usual efficiency, the federal government apparently didn't think about the little monsters putting their fingers into their mouths after handling turtles of any size; thus, are turtle populations being decimated for the pet trade. Instead of relatively expendable juveniles being removed from the populations, reproductively active adults are taken. But back to the story... The pet store owner claims that the babies are being sold for educational or research purposes. The owner points out that most egg-bearing animals carry salmonella and noted: "The next thing, they will be banning baby iguanas... If [the health district] wants to raise hell with somebody, why not the chicken ranches or the supermarkets?" The Seattle Times, January 4, 1995 from Lee W. Roof]

Thanks to everyone who contributed and to: David A. Webb, Marty Marcus, Lee W. Roof, Mark Paul Henderson, Alan W. Rigerman, Jett, Daniel Riley, and Laura Stinson for interesting materials either used before, or too tough to summarize. Extra special thanks to David A. Webb and Bill Burnett for the photo Christmas cards of themselves and favorite herps. It's neat to know what you guys look like! You can become an appreciated contributor too! Attach the date/publication slug and your name to the clipping with tape (no staples or "post-its" please) or - the preferred method - send the whole page or photocopy the clipping/slug combo - and send it to Ellin Beltz, in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead. I always pick out one new and one regular contributor per issue for a reply in addition to recognizing everyone who contributes in the column.

My new book!
Frogs: Inside Their Remarkable World
by Ellin Beltz
Read another column...
Vol. 2 . Vol. 3 . Vol. 4 . Vol. 5 . Vol. 6 . Vol. 7 . Vol. 8 . Vol. 9 . Vol. 10 . Vol. 11

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

January 10, 2008

Valid HTML 4.01!