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

Herp News Around the World
by Ellin Beltz

Volume Nine

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

This was the eighth 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 9, Number 1 - 1997

Tuataras taken, man arrested

The story begins in the Christchurch, New Zealand Press on May 17 when four tuataras (Sphenodon sp.) were found in a box on the side of a road between Timaru and Waimate by a member of the public. The Department of Conservation suggested that the tuataras might have been taken from the Stephens Island population and said that blood work might reveal their actual point of origin. They were hungry, but stressed and were taken to a secret location at Nelson reptile research facility. A man was arraigned on charges of "attempting to procure two other people to commit an offense, namely possession of endangered species, knowing that the tuataras were intended for export." The names of all three people were temporarily withheld by judicial order. Only about 40,000 tuataras survive in the wild. New Zealand law makes possession without a permit, transport without permission and any export illegal - even zoos and research facilities outside the country may not exhibit tuataras. [The Press, May 17, 20 and July 7, 1997 from Kimberley Heaphy and Wes von Papinešu] This is not the first attempt to take and export tuataras discovered by authorities. A man was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail for taking two tuataras in 1991.

Crocodile killers charged

  • A Key Largo, Florida man was charged with two misdemeanors after killing an endangered American crocodile. The 9 1/2 foot reptile's corpse was discovered tied to a dock by wildlife investigators. Felony charges cannot be brought because investigators cannot prove the man intended to kill the crocodile when he set his fishing lines from the pier. [Miami Herald, June 10, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Felony charges were brought against six Plant City, Florida men who beat a pair of crocodiles to death inside their fenced exhibit cages at the Gator Jungle attraction. The men range in age from 15 to 20 years. Their motive in the beating has not been explained. [Naples Daily News, July 29, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]

SSSSwedish sssnake ssssticks up ssssstore

Shoppers and staff fled stores when a man wearing a snake around his neck entered. It is unclear whether he intended to rob the stores or whether he merely took goods in the absence of staff. Police say he took a pair of leather trousers from one store and a video camera from another. Ralph Tramontano reports that the Kristianstad police claim they have a confession from the perpetrator and that the snake (who has not been charged with any crime) was a Boa constrictor. [July 4, 1997: Toronto Globe and Mail from Kimberley Heaphy and Wes von Papinešu and St. Louis Post-Dispatch from Vicky Elwood]

Pet dog eaten, woman takes action

Several readers sent clippings about the 74-year-old Los Angles woman whose pet Chihuahua "Babette" was eaten by a 7-foot boa constrictor that may have escaped from, or been abandoned by, its owner. The 2-pound dog had just exited the doggy door when it encountered the snake coiled up on the patio. The woman said, "I think I'll hear [Babette's] scream for as long as I live." She is circulating a petition around the neighborhood in an effort to have possession of wild animals made illegal. She said, "Snakes don't belong in neighborhoods with families and little children." [Tacoma News Tribune, August 11, 1997 from Marty Marcus; Oakland Tribune, August 12 from Sean McKeown; and Boston Globe, August 13 from Phil Averbuck]

Heating pad eaten, vet takes action

An 8-foot boa constrictor ate a heating pad, controls, cord and all. Apparently, the pad had been put in the cage, but was not plugged in. It satisfied all of "food/not food" criteria: it was warm and fuzzy with little boney objects inside. It even had a nice, long tail. The owners took it to the vet, the vet took x-rays (which several papers published), and then took the pad out through an incision in a 2.5 hour surgery. [July 3, 1997: Miami Herald from Marty Marcus; The Oakland Press from new contributor Rena Burch; and The Post-Tribune of Jefferson City, Missouri from Vicky Elwood]

Too many loose snakes

  • A Copenhagen man woke up in a New York minute when he saw the head of a python peeping out from under the lid of his toilet. He yelled; his girlfriend called the cops. Before they arrived, someone else in the building flushed another toilet, sucking the snake back into the pipes. The girlfriend captured the snake hours later when it resurfaced in a neighbor's toilet. [Boston Globe, August 13, 1997 from Phil Averbuck]
  • A Luderhill, Florida man was cleaning out his warehouse when he found a "big snake" coiled up under a cardboard box full of plastic foam cups. The police arrived. One officer on their force is a snake fan, so they called him in on his day off. He arrived in tee shirt and shorts and quickly captured the four foot African ball python. The officer was disappointed in his coworkers who ran out of the warehouse when he first grabbed the snake. He said, "We're supposed to face robbers, guys with guns, and you're going to tell me you're afraid of snakes?" [Sun-Sentinel, June 8, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A Pompano Beach, Florida woman had something go slink in the night. She awoke to find a neighbor's "lost" rainbow boa in bed with her! The snake had escaped from its owner of only a few hours when he left it in the bathtub unattended. No one can figure out how the snake got to where it was found, four buildings away in the same complex. [Citrus County Chronicle, July 12, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A Lancashire, England man reported his 16 foot, 15 stone Burmese python missing. It was later discovered in the home under a flight of stairs. The owner said, "She is none the worse for her little adventure, but it has made me think she could be better off in a zoo." [Lancashire Evening Telegraph, June 19, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]
  • A 4-foot corn snake was missing in Bolton, England for two months after it slipped out of his tank and apparently disappeared. The snake was found in the same house in which it had disappeared. His owners have taped down the top of his tank in an effort to keep him home. [Bolton Evening News, June 13, 1997 from Kimberley Heaphy and Wes von Papinešu]
  • A 12-foot boa constrictor was found crawling around in the grass in Lancaster, Pennsylvania by some teenage boys. Police arrived and confiscated the snake. They are waiting for the owner to call, but have made arrangements to move it to a herpetarium. The police designated a "snake expert" who said, "I've been finding that in this police station with tough and hardened cops, everybody's afraid of [this snake]." [Lancaster New Era, July 15, 1997 from Michael Shrom] An editorial in the same paper two days later called for laws to restrict "poisonous and constricting snakes... [as] the right of an individual to own an exotic and possibly lethal animal must not be permitted to take precedence over... community safety, especially the safety of children."
  • A 15-foot python escaped from its tank in Columbia, Missouri after one of the kids left the top loose. A three-foot "blue iguana" escaped at the same time. A neighbor said, "If anything, [the snake] might snatch up a kitty cat or two. We've got a ton of cats around here." Animal control officers said that the snake is unlikely to pose a danger to children as it is known to be a calm and friendly snake. [Columbia Missourian, July 25, 1997 from Vicky Elwood] Incidentally, the town had just rescinded a law banning the sale of snakes!
  • A 6-foot boa constrictor was found in a yard in New Fairfield, Connecticut. Animal control officers took the 25-pound snake to a local veterinarian who pronounced it in good shape, although it had a rodent bite on its nose and was a little skinny. The snake is being housed at Reptile Rescue, a nonprofit organization. The animal control officer noted that they can't tell if the animal was lost or abandoned, and added, "I think a lot of the time, pet owners get them for the wrong reasons... I really suspect that someone abandoned it because nobody was looking for him ahead of time. He didn't just get away yesterday." [Danbury News-Times, August 7, 1997.

Anti-snake laws result

  • Fillmore, California bans possession of snakes and will confiscate any reported. A city representative said, "We're tightening up policy ever since one [snake] was caught on the mayor's front porch." [Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1997 from Kimberley Heaphy and Wes von Papinešu]
  • Simcoe, Ontario Canada just passed a new exotic animal law which bans possession of elephants, gorillas, anteaters, walruses, hyenas, sloths, bears, pythons and boa constrictors. The law was enacted after dozens of complaints about men taking their snakes shopping. Most of the complaints were about one person with a 4-meter [about 12 feet] Burmese python. [The Toronto Globe and Mail, June 19, 1997 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]

The world gets serious about exotics

  • The 50th state recently offered an amnesty deal to anyone who would turn in exotic snakes. Since then, several boas and pythons have been turned in and several more have been confiscated. An animal specialist at the state Department of Agriculture said "When you find two [loose] snakes in the same neighborhood, something is wrong... These things can reproduce a number of times with one fertilization and disrupt our ecology..." They searched one house and found scorpions, a tarantula and a piranha, but no more snakes. One of the scorpions had 20 babies on its back. Anyone caught with a snake is subject to up to a year in jail and $25,000 in fines. [The Honolulu Advertiser - Oahu, July 15, 1997 from new contributor Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • Hawaii is also training a team of volunteers poised to respond to any reports of the arrival of the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) on their islands. Native to islands in the western Pacific, the brown tree snake is mildly venomous and extremely hungry. It has devastated the fauna of the island of Guam where it was apparently accidentally released during World War II. Officials are concerned that it could expand its range on the many military flights between Guam and Hawaii, or arrive in shipping from other islands. Seven brown tree snakes have already been found on Hawaii. All were destroyed. [The Honolulu Advertiser, May 7, 1997 from Mike Gulley]
  • England has recently passed new laws on illegal trade in rare and endangered wildlife. Their list includes 49 foreign plants and animals in addition to the CITES species. The extra list includes the American bullfrog and red-eared terrapin (slider to us colonials). Even though these two are nowhere endangered, they have proven to be able to reproduce in England are putting local species in danger due to their competitive nature and voracious appetites. [The London Times, May 23, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]
  • The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission passed a rule making it illegal to kill, harm or possess the California mountain kingsnakes resident in a small area of that state. Apparently reptile collectors were decimating the population which was already so depleted that authors of the local field guide had a great deal of difficulty getting a photo of one for their book! [The Peninsula Gateway, July 16, 1997 from Marty Marcus]

Do you believe everything you read?

  • The Kingston Whig-Standard reports: "It rained toads in the Mexican town of Villa Angel Flores. Motorists reported the shower of toads ... in Sinaloa. A small tornado had whirled up a cluster of toads from a nearby pond and dumped them on the town..." [July 9, 1997 from Kimberley Heaphy and Wes von Papinešu]
  • The Johannesburg Star reports: "Swaziland game park authorities have warned the Swaziland police not to believe stories that mutilated bodies found in... rivers were killed by crocodiles... [nor] used as an excuse to kill crocodiles... Swaziland big game parks' [spokesperson] ... said recently that because crocodiles eat any bodies they find in rivers, livestock or human, ritual murderers dump their victims in rivers knowing crocodiles will be blamed." [June 23, 1997 from Kimberley Heaphy and Wes von Papinešu]
  • Reuters news agency reports that a Peruvian boy was playing in the jungle when: "he saw a black boa constrictor the size of two passenger buses slither[ing] by... Nuevo Tacha inhabitants [report] a 130-foot long serpent with a diameter of about 15 feet [that] crashed through jungle undergrowth, felling trees and forging a ditch wide enough to drive a tractor through." A local inhabitant stated that five witnesses actually saw it but that the rest of the 300 villagers "felt the effect of this thing as it dragged itself along and dived into the river." A Peruvian radio announcer derided the sighting, suggesting that the "locals mistakenly identified heavy construction machinery as a snake." However, officials report that no machinery is known to be in the area. [August 19, 1997 from Frank Werdiritsch and Mark Thompson]
  • China Daily reports that "A white tortoise which had been cared for by humans for 13 years in Zhengzhou, Huaiyang County in Central China's Henan Province was set free... On August 14, 1984, a local boy who was fishing in a lake caught a white tortoise. The 650-gram female was of a milky-white color, and according to an expert was about 250 years old. The county built a shed for it that approximated its natural environment, and assigned personnel to take care of it." [August 15, 1997 from P.L. Beltz]

Sea turtles: good news/bad news

  • "Freefall," the hatchling sea turtle who landed on a commuter's car two years ago in Fort Lauderdale, Florida was released into the sea about five miles south of where he was found. Wildlife workers speculated that he had been dropped by a bird which plucked the newborn turtle from the ocean. [Sun-Sentinel, June 13, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A girl fishing from a dock in Marathon, Florida hooked either a green or a loggerhead sea turtle according to witnesses who were shocked when her family shot the animal with a spear gun, then threw the corpse in a boat and disappeared with it out to sea. The Coast Guard brought the boat back to dock, but the only evidence remaining is blood on the dock and in the boat. Three men were charged in the incident. They said they threw the turtle into the ocean because they didn't want to get caught. Why the animal was shot to death remains unexplained. [Miami Herald, June 25 and 29, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • About 500 shrimp trawlers operate on the Orissa coast of India. They have been implicated in the decline of olive ridley sea turtles which nest only on Orissa and half a world away in Costa Rica and Mexico. Indian boat owners do not want to comply with turtle excluder device regulations, claiming that their income will not permit this additional expense and that up to 50,000 fishing families could be put out of work. Each boat earns about $100,000 US a year. [The Earth Times News, June 56, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]

She swallowed a spider to catch the fly...

Here we go again, folks. Department of Agriculture scientists in Gainesville, FL released thousands of Brazilian phorid flies in an attempt to control fire ants. One of their entomologists said, "This is the first real shot we've got at biological control. It will not eradicate them, but if it would drive down the populations, everybody would be thrilled." If the Florida tests are successful, the fields could be used to control ants in eleven states and Puerto Rico. Fire ants arrived in the US about 60 years ago. It is believed they were accidental stowaways on a ship from South America. The ants have been known to attack turtle nests, rapidly devouring every egg or hatchling in the nest. [Lebanon, PA Daily News, July 9, 1997 from new contributor Bonnie Kreiser]

Thanks to those who contributed to this column and to: Alan Rigerman, Kimberley Heaphy and Wes von Papinešu, Joe Sousa, Michael Shrom, and Gary Kettring for letters, cards, clippings and such that I very much enjoyed reading but did not use for this issue. You can contribute, too! Send whole pages from newspapers or magazines (or if you must clip, be sure the date/slug is on each page, or tape it to each page with clear tape), put your name on each piece of paper and send it to me at the address on the masthead. Supercontributers (and there are several - as you can see) use large envelopes, never use staples, and send so much stuff that I'm trying to give away my old files rather than just pitch them. If you have an interest in a particular group of herps or herp issues, write me. You pay the postage and I'll send them to you. Requests will be filled based on postmark. To be fair to the electronically impaired, requests for files cannot be accepted at my email address.

Volume 9, Number 2 - 1997

The human/reptile interface at the edge of the third millennium

  • Five Hialeah, Florida men were convicted of slaughtering a sea turtle and illegally taking one-third of the known breeding colony of queen conch from Biscayne National Park. They were banned from national parks for three years concurrent with their probation and 100 hours of community service. The men had been caught with the dead turtle, 458 queen conch and 37 other illegal fish in a 25-foot boat near a fishing shoal. [Miami Herald, September 3, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Nearly 500 tortoises illegally collected in Greece and bound for the restaurants of eastern Europe were confiscated from a bus along the Czech and Slovak border. Stuffed into suitcases and plastic bags, were the living and sixteen dead. More tortoises died after being taken to the Bratislava, Slovakia zoo although the staff managed to save more than originally expected. Greek officials arranged for the 423 survivors to be returned and released the animals into forests north of Salonica. [Fox News, September 23, 1997 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
  • The longest alligator ever killed in the state of Florida was recently killed by trappers in Lake Monroe in central Florida. Measuring 14 feet 5/8ths of an inch, the animal weighed about 800 pounds. The animal had not actually attacked anyone; it was killed because its size made it a potential threat and several neighbors had called to complain. [Naples Daily News, October 2, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Two well-known alligators,"Yellow Tail" and his three-legged mate "Peg," who lived for years in the National Key Deer Wildlife Refuge were recently found dead. They had been beheaded. Authorities are seeking information related to this incident for prosecution. The refuge telephone number is 305-872-2239. [Miami Herald, August 26, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A nature guide from Langkawi, Shan Mugan India one the top prize in a snake charmers' ability contest for his act which includes stuffing the head of a python into his mouth. [The Independent, September 15, 1997 from Mark O'Shea]
  • A Port Charlotte, Florida man thought he was protecting his family by spraying a 2-foot alligator that was in a culvert near his house with water from his garden hose, then capturing it and putting it in a recycling bin. When game wardens arrived, he and his neighbor were given tickets for unlawful possession of an alligator. The man plans to fight the citation in court. [The Miami Herald, October 12, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Seven suspects arrested in Pretoria, South Africa were involved in what authorities called a wild animal smuggling syndicate with links to Europe and the United States. The South African Endangered Species Protection Unit had spent two years documenting the sources and the buyers involved. The raid netted 150 reptiles, 185 scorpions and scores of birds. One investigator pointed out that some of the venomous snakes found were so rare that "we don't have the antidote in this country" and that some of the iguanas were carriers of the equine encephalomyelitis virus which threatens South Africa's horse breeding and racing industry. [Reuters, October 27, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]
  • Large African ticks were found on imported tortoises. The Florida Departments of Agriculture and the Game and Fish Commission as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspection Services and other agencies are asking all herp keepers and veterinarians to send any unusual ticks found on reptiles to Sandra Allan IFAS, University of Florida for analysis. The concern is an African disease called "heartwater" which kills livestock and wildlife. The disease has already spread from Africa to the Caribbean where it is now carried by a local tick. [Science Daily, October 21, 1997 from Kimberley Heaphy and Wes von Papinešu]
  • A father and son quietly fishing on the Manatee River in Florida spotted an alligator near a canoe ramp. As they got closer, the noticed that it was floating with a human body. The nine-foot alligator was shot to death by sheriff's deputies who arrived in response to their call. An autopsy will be performed to find out if the man was killed by the alligator, or merely being eaten postmortem. The man had been drinking along the shore the previous night, according to witnesses. [Miami Herald, August 26, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A 14-foot crocodile was killed by Tanzanian game wardens after local people complained that it had been responsible for the deaths of seven people in two villages and that four other people were recovering from serious injuries caused by the reptile. [Reuters, October 22, 1997 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
  • A Jacksonville, Florida veterinarian stepped in to try to save the life of a gopher tortoise that was discovered with 21 pellet holes in the upper shell and 11 more on its underside. John Rossi said, "We're already seeing so many [gopher tortoises] injured by cars. Now some idiot has to shoot one. What I would have to say to this person would be unprintable." The X-rays showed that at least one pellet had pierced the tortoise's lung, but several of the others are superficial. [Miami Herald, c. August 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A nine-foot-long eyeless, three-legged starved and dehydrated freshwater alligator was captured on a salt water beach near Miami, Florida by a licensed trapper. A beachcomber had found the animal and alerted authorities. Fishermen had previously reported a blind, three legged alligator, but they were 40 miles away in the Tamiami Canal. High water may have let the animal swim downstream to the bay. A close examination revealed that the alligator's eyes had been shot out by BBs or pellets. [The Miami Herald, September 27, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Two Connecticut men have been charged with illegally capturing two timber rattlesnakes, which are an endangered species in that state. [The Boston Globe, June 9, 1997 from Christopher J. Knuth]
  • A Jacksonville, Florida man has been where few men have gone before and lived to tell about it. He was snorkeling when he was grabbed by the neck by an alligator and dragged underwater. While doctors were treating the man for his injuries, wildlife authorities scoured the banks of the river near the Ocala National Forest for the alligator. The man suffered a punctured lung and was considered fortunate to be alive. The alligator was hunted down and killed by trappers. [The Miami Herald, September 30 and October 6, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A thief in Highland Cross, Texas left the television, stereo and jewelry behind, but took a cup with about $5 in change and a Burmese python which the owner said was worth $2,000. [Humble, TX Sun, October 8, 1997 from David Headrick]
  • The price of python meat in Vietnam dropped to an all time low as overbreeding by python suppliers led to a glut on the market. Depending on size, breeders only get from about $3 to $12. [The Independent, June 25, 1997 from Mark O'Shea]
  • A group of about 25-30 non-native terrapins were discovered by a man along the Tay in Perth, Scotland. Wildlife authorities speculated that since they were found in the harbor area, they may have been dumped overboard by a ship. A recovery effort was mounted and the animals were to be prepared for export to their native Portugal. [Dundee, Scotland The Courier, June 6, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]
  • A 7-year-old first grade student was bitten on the finger by a captive 5-foot-long Colombian boa being held by her teacher while the class posed for a picture in a nature studies center. A lawsuit followed, and the New York State Supreme Court Justice who wrote the four-page decision ruled that the snake is a "wild animal with vicious propensities" and that the school district was responsible to keep the snake from harming other people. A jury trial for millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages may follow. The child's mother said, "They had no business bringing that snake into a classroom of first-graders - they are such babies - and letting them play with the snake." The nature studies center still has snakes and says they are being as careful as possible. Curiously, this is the same animal which made the news in 1989 when it was stolen from an Oceanside, NY school and later returned in a library book bin. [Long Island, NY Newsday, October 15, 1997 from Steven Pond]
  • Volunteers and veterinarians offer care to injured sea turtles at the Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida. The vet "repairs shells cracked by boat propellers, removes fish hooks that have been swallowed or stuck in throats and amputates flippers caught or severed by fishing gear... during turtle season... lost and weak hatchlings are dropped off weekly in seaweed beds off the coast of the Bahamas when they are stronger... the center attracts 50,000 visitors annually, including an average of two bus loads of schoolchildren a day" according to the Fort Lauderdale, Florida Sun-Sentinel. [August 25, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Doctors in a Newport, Rhode Island emergency room had to summon a veterinarian to help get a two-foot Savanna monitor to release its bite-hold on a woman's chest. The woman had taken the lizard out of the cage at her friend's apartment. The lizard bit her, grabbed her with its legs and wouldn't let go. The vet injected the monitor with a sedative and the animal let go. [The New York Times, August 3, 1997 from Beverly Schee]
  • One-third of the 1,000 animals had already died when authorities discovered a shipment in a warehouse in Lima, Peru intended for Los Angeles, California. Animals found include were anacondas, water snakes, black crocodiles and several rare species of frogs. The total "street" worth was estimated around $500,000 U.S. [Tacoma, Washington News Tribune, August 26, 1997 from Marty Marcus]
  • A Brooklyn, New York man was extremely surprised when a 2.5 foot alligator lunged at him in his backyard. The man quickly covered the animal with a plastic swimming pool, then called authorities who removed the alligator. They suggested it was "an escaped pet, not some mutant spawned in the city's sewers," reports The Courier-Journal. [June 29, 1997 from Gary Kettring]
  • Cane toads and Cuban tree frogs have established themselves in Florida, but show two different distribution habits in their new homes. Cane toads prefer coastal suburbia while the tree frogs are steadily advancing their range from Key West through the Everglades to Lake Okeechobee. [XS Magazine, June 10, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Two women were driving along in a car with a 10-foot pet python snoozing on the back seat. Somewhere in Jefferson County, Kentucky, the snake woke up and slithered into the front seat. It's owner was trying to push it away when "she ran into the median on Interstate 71... and her car flipped" according to a county police spokesman. The women were treated for back and leg injuries at a nearby hospital. A local veterinarian was interviewed for the article. He recommended putting the snake in a snake bag, then putting the bag in a traveling cage or stout box rather than just letting the snake be loose in the car. [Courier-Journal, October 5, 1997 from Gary Kettring]
  • About 20 percent of people treated with standard horse derived antivenin for venomous snake bite have allergic reactions considered "serious" while 70 to 80 percent have serum sickness and from 35 to 40 percent experience anaphylactic reactions which can be fatal. A new sheep-derived serum may have less side effects. About 7,000 people a year are bitten by pit vipers including rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads. [New England Journal of Medicine Health News, August 26, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Firefighters in Frankfurt, Germany captured a 55-pound alligator snapping turtle in the Main River. Several newspapers had reported on the "killer" turtle spotted by locals as it lived along the river for seven years, eating ducks fish and animal cadavers. The turtle now lives at the Frankfurt Zoo, alone - because of its aggressive nature. [Reuters news service, August 12, 1997 from Michael Samuels]
  • Some condominiums along the Florida coast voluntarily turned down their outdoor lights this year, while others did not. Exterior lighting can disorient hatchling sea turtles. Every year come stories of baby turtles dying while trying to cross roads heading for electric lamps rather than the ocean. One condo decided to install light deflectors and other turtle-safe devices rather than pay court fines, but residents immediately began complaining that it was "too dark" outdoors at night. [Naples Daily News, July 25, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • An excess of tourists arriving at Komodo Island to see its famous dragons are actually putting the long term survival of the species at risk. Even though now most arrive by boat from Bali, a new airport is being planned only 40 miles from Komodo and more tourists are expected every year. Scientists are trying to reintroduce captive bred animals on the uninhabited island of Padar which would stay off-limits to tourists. [The Indonesia Times, August 1, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]
  • Salt Lake City, Utah paramedics revived a 2-foot green iguana which had been overcome by smoke before being rescued from a burning apartment by firefighters. They used a pediatric mask and about 30 seconds of straight oxygen. The young owner lost another iguana and his pet rat in the fire which caused about $20,000 in damage. [Deseret News, October 26, 1997 from Blair Carruth]
  • The German envoy in Pretoria, South Africa was bitten by a snake but actually died in the car wreck which resulted from his diplomatic car rushing him to a Cape Town hospital for treatment. [The Cape Times, September 1, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]
  • The director of a government-funded Mexican Turtle Center in Mazunte said that it is impossible to stop all the sea-turtle poachers. However, they established alternative businesses and encouraged local people to participate in sea-turtle conservation efforts. It's beginning to pay off. This year 35,000 olive ridley sea turtles nested, an increase over nesting numbers before meat hunting of sea turtles was banned absolutely. [The Tampa Tribune-Times, June 29, 1997 from Alan Rigerman.
  • In August, 1997 the owner of the tiny two-pound dog eaten by a neighbor's loose 7.5 foot snake sued for $5,000 in damages in "The People's Court," a U.S. television program where famous lawyers act as judges, and real people bring real cases for litigation in a pretend small-claims court under the glare of studio lights. The "judge" awarded no pain and suffering damage, only $1,500, the cash value of the Chihuahua, pointing out that, "under California law, there is no compensation for bereavement over a dead dog." [August 11, 1997: Shropshire Star from Mark O'Shea and Jefferson City, Missouri Post-Tribune from Vicky Elwood; USA Today, August 28, 1997 from Gary Kettring; Tacoma News Tribune, August 29 from Marty Marcus]
  • Authorities at the London Aquarium warn that if temperatures continue to rise in the United Kingdom, introduced terrapins might be able to breed more quickly. An estimated 8 million terrapins were imported during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze in the late 1980s, many have been set free along rivers and in ponds. Having no natural enemies in their new habitat, the turtles - including red eared sliders and painted turtles - are doing quite well at the expense of native fish frogs and newts. [The Independent, August 22, 1997 from Mark O'Shea]
  • "The illegal [frog collecting] activity involving scores of frog catchers, middlemen, traders and processors shows how ineffective the law is in protecting these endangered creatures whose survival is crucial to the maintenance of nature's balance. It will be naive to assume that the law is being flouted only in this area. After years of indiscriminate killing of frogs for export, the catching of these creatures was banned in this country and elsewhere in the region after environmentalists drew global attention to the [frogs] role in maintaining the delicate natural balance and the potential danger in wiping out this form of life from the face of the earth. Adult frogs with their insatiable appetite for insects prevent the unchecked multiplication of flies and other small forms of life which destroy crops and vegetation. Elimination of frogs would inevitably increase the dependence on chemical insecticides much to the detriment of many useful forms of life and of humans. Since the trading in frogs involves transportation, processing and shipping, it is hard to believe that the illegal activity can go on without the knowledge of government agencies which are supposed to enforce the ban..." [An editorial from Dhaka, Bangladesh The Independent, September 13, 1997 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
  • Illegal trade in animals and animal parts has surpassed all other illegal trades in profitability except for the international drug trade. Even though 136 countries of the United Nations have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) which bans 800 species from trade and limits trade in 23,000 other species, the international wildlife business grows every year. The players range from tourists buying illegal parts and pieces of animals like ivory, certain furs, corals and turtle shells to people who actively engage in trade in live animals whether for the restaurant or pet industries. [Cape Town, South Africa The Cape Argus, July 4, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]
Thanks to everyone who contributed this month. I use what I get and the file is almost empty, so please send whole pages from newspapers and magazines, or clippings with the date/publication slug firmly attached and your name on each page to me in care of the AFH at the address on the masthead. Large single pages are preferred to newsprint origami, please! Thanks for all the letters, cards, photos, stickers, stamps and decorated envelopes, too. I really enjoy hearing from all of you.

Volume 9, Number 3 - 1997


  • Banished once from the Emerald Isle by St. Patrick, snakes are now back in style, force and fashion as proved at the second annual Reptile Expo in Dublin. The Herpetological Society of Ireland sponsored the display of pythons, king snakes, corn snakes and boas and invited visitors to touch a snake and guess the weight of a large albino Burmese python. Lizards, turtles and amphibians were also on display. The society estimates that 3,000 people in Ireland keep herps. [Irish Times, August 25, 1997 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
  • Following in the tradition of St. Francis, a Pennsylvania priest takes the "blessing of the animals" out into his community. This year he blessed the usual furballs and fowl - and a milk snake. [Pocono Record, October 6, 1997] Contributor Steve Ford writes, "I wonder if [the priest] makes house calls? I could keep him busy for an afternoon!"

Grim ribbit

  • Researchers at Oregon State University studied embryos of the long-toed salamander in mountain lakes of the Cascade Mountains and found that excess Ultraviolet B was causing death and deformity in the animals' natural habitat. Scientists have been warning for several years that the thinning ozone layer in Earth's atmosphere would have unforseen effects on life on earth. The major industrial chemicals implicated in thinning ozone are used in refrigeration. In this study, some natural salamander nests were shaded from UVB while others remained unshaded. Reproduction occurred in the shaded nests, but 85 percent of the embryos in the exposed eggs died. All but four individuals in the 15 percent that hatched were deformed. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 9, 1997 from Alan Tuley]
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [USEPA] laboratory in Duluth, MN experimented with leopard frogs in an effort to discover why so many of that state's frogs were found to have extra limbs (supernumerary) or missing limbs which were not lost in predator attacks. What they found in the laboratory was that similar deformities could be induced by using ultraviolet radiation. Previously the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA] and the National Institute of Environmental Health Science [NIEHS] had announced that their preliminary research showed that something in the water might be responsible for the abnormalities and other researchers (most notably Stanley Sessions) claimed that parasites were responsible for all the deformities. [Boston Globe, November 18, 1997 from Chris Knuth]
  • Worldwide, scientists are concerned that global warming is changing environments for plants and animals - often with devastating effects. An official of Britain's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds commented on some of their research results in the U.K.: "It is a fact that our spring now comes a week earlier and two out of three birds [species] are nesting earlier. An early spring has a real impact on ecosystems..." The article points out that a "similar pattern is also emerging with newts and their main food source, frog spawn. Newts are arriving up to four weeks earlier each year, while frog spawn is hatching two weeks ahead of its traditional time. As a result, newts are dying because their food source is unavailable. This in turn affects larger fish and birds that usually prey on newts." [London Independent, via the San Francisco Examiner, November 23, 1997 from Matthew Aikawa]
  • Meanwhile, all is not quiet in the frog research pond. Used to be frog counters sat quietly in their ponds on warm, rainy nights and sang sweet songs to one another, but now that there is gold in the research pot and a world of news junkies hanging on their every word, frog researchers are displaying academic jealousies and pettiness usually reserved for the cancer and heart disease wunderkind. Some background for the latest charges and countercharges is in order. First, in 1995 a group of Minnesota school children found some deformed frogs in a pond. More deformed frogs were found in other states. Next, scientists hopped in. Then the research began. Conferences were held. Various "smoking guns" of death and deformity were debated. Then some terrifying results were announced by the MPCA and the NIEHS which claimed that frogs grown in Minnesota water samples were deformed probably by some chemical or chemicals unknown. Now comes a study from the USEPA's MidContinent Ecology lab in Duluth, MN which shows a totally different interpretation of the MPCA/NIEHS results and claims the study methodology was flawed in what one researcher described as "a rush for headlines." The MPCA/NIEHS lab study was of African clawed frogs (Xenopus) exposed to Minnesota water samples from one site for 96 hours, then "sacrificed" and microscopically examined for irregularities in head and gut development. USEPA scientists note that Xenopus is not a native North American species, that it has certain ion tolerances for proper development not met by pure Minnesota water and that MPCA/NIEHS is not experienced with aquatic species anyway. One researcher pointed out that most people know that pouring tap water in a tank full of tropical fish will result in dead fish, but that the tap water is not therefore considered unsafe to drink, merely ionically unsuitable for the fish that died. [Miami Herald, November 5, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • An associate director of the USEPA National Effects Laboratory said that he was "saddened by this [rancorous debate]... federal scientists are going to look like idiots. Even the ones who are ultimately proven right." A NIEHS scientist coordinating research with MPCA claimed that they felt pressured to release their results and is distressed that the USEPA does not concur with their methods and results. "But he also conceded that NIEHS still has insufficient data to support its prelimary finding[s]... and admits that `In science, spurious correlations happen all the time,'" according to the Washington Post. An EPA scientist said that for frog deformities, "there's no silver bullet; it's not going to turn out to be just one thing." [November 3, 1997 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
  • The Houston Chronicle reports that researcher Stanley Sessions is concerned that scientific method is "getting lost in the swell of `Chicken Little' web site information." He said that the Internet provides information, but sometimes misinformation about frog deformities and that a lot of the current reporting on water testing research (if not the research itself) is "just baloney... I say that as a scientist who's been working on it, and I also say it out of a sense of hope, because if it's not baloney, boy are we in trouble." [October 3, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]
  • A pond on the western edge of Delaware, adjoining the Maryland border has been found to contain the largest concentration of deformed bullfrogs ever found. The homeowner was the first to notice; searching the Internet led her to scientists who came out to see the site. Researchers found 91 frogs of which 79 percent were deformed, although none had extra legs as have been found in some other deformed amphibian sites. The water for the pond flows from an underground spring. A batch of tadpoles raised in water not from the pond grew normally which rules out genetic disorders according to researchers at Patuxent National Biological Survey offices. The landowner has switched to bottled water. [Philadelphia Daily News, November 4, 1997 from Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy]
  • Fremont, California residents are encouraged to volunteer for a frog survey in the 1,000-acre Coyote Hills Regional Park. In England James Baker at the Open University. [Oakland Tribune, November 27, 1997 from Matthew Aikawa]

New vertebrate species

The manager of a reptile and bird exporting company on Obi island in the Moluccas noticed a new kind of monitor lizard and sent specimens to the Indonesian Science Institute and the Bandung Institute of Technology. Researchers say that the monitors are of a species new to science. The remaining seven lizards are being kept at the firm's breeding farm. [The Weekend Argus, Johannesburg, South Africa, November 1, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]

Newest frog "urban legend" noted

Contributors Wes von Papinešu and Kimberley Heaphy sent a special note that an item which bounced around the newspapers of the world - while cute - was a so-called "urban legend." The story was that two Arkansas frog-hunters replaced a blown fuse on their pick up truck with a .22 caliber bullet which [when overheated]... shot the driver in the crotch. So laugh, but don't believe it when you next see this story in the news. Another contribution from this supercontributing pair should be a rural legend, but it's being reported as true. The Fayetteville, North Carolina Observer Times reports that a local farmer found an "immense" bull snake under a pile of lumber in the barn. When the snake was killed by having its head blown off by a shotgun and cut open, the farmer found nine whole hen's eggs which his wife "cooked and the family ate with relish." The farmer suggested that "A bull snake, after swallowing a goodly number of eggs, crawls to the limb of a tree, or some other high place, and falls to the ground, when the eggs are broken inside of him and then digested." [October 26, 1997]

As goes South Korea, so goes Yosemite

The National Park Service wildlife biologists drained the pond at Yosemite's historic Ahwahnee Hotel and removed 45 non-native bullfrogs and 200 pounds of tadpoles in an effort to encourage population growth of native yellow-legged and red-legged frogs. Park officials returned to the pond a month later. The Park spokesman vowed to continue the bullfrog hunt as needed to "eradicate them from everywhere." [Oakland Tribune, October 23, 1997 from Matthew Aikawa]

Medical reports

  • A 2-foot iguana being kept in a Middle School classroom developed a jaw cyst which prevented her from eating so the children raised the $158 for her surgery. One child said, "He's kind of like family to us." When Baxter gets back from the vet, he'll find new Ultraviolet lamps over his cage; the vet suggested that they would help his metabolism. The iguana had been kept in the classroom for four years on a diet of greens grown in the school's greenhouse. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 11, 1997 from Alan Tuley]
  • "[A man in] Euclid, Ohio, was agitated and in pain. His eyes were drooping, his arm was swelling, and he had difficulty breathing. His pet cobra had bitten him, and if he didn't receive the correct anti-venom, he would die... `This happens more and more frequently with people who keep snakes in private colections,' said R. Andrew Odum, curator of the reptile and amphibian department at the Toledo Zoo" which provided the antivenin which saved the man's life. [Toledo Blade, November 5, 1997 from James E. Wesley]
  • Two Washington, D.C. area men were bitten by pet venomous snakes in one week. One man was listed in good condition after a thumb-bite from his pit viper, and after officials rounded up 14 vials of antivenin and the snake that bit him. The other man was bitten by an Indian Cobra while milking it for venom. It was his second cobra bite since 1995. Officials seized 10 venomous snakes including cobras and water moccasins. In the 1995 incident, 22 venomous snakes and seven tarantulas were seized. [Washington Post, December 11, 1997 from Bryan McCarty]

PC Sea Turtles

  • Even though the area around Key West, Florida was overharvested for green sea turtles by the 1920s, its canning industry persisted until 1971 when sea turtles were protected. Eventually the whole old cannery building slid down around its piles and sank. In Key West's modern tourist-driven economy, however, a proposal has been floated to rebuild the cannery as a walk-through museum. The pens where turtles were kept awaiting slaughter may be reused to hold sea turtles which have stranded and cannot be released. [Miami Herald, December 17, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • The famous George Town, Cayman Islands turtle farm which has bred endangered Kemps Ridley turtles for about 15 years is planning on returning its 352 adults to the wild. The increasing turtle population has surpassed the farm's reseources and only a small group will be held for future breeding efforts. The remainder will be returned to Mexico and talks are underway with the Mexican National Institute of Fisheries to determine how to repatriate the turtles. [Miami Herald, September 7, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]

Death and taxes

A noted drinker and tax evader in the Iganga district of southeastern Uganda was fatally bitten by a snake when he hid in the bush to evade tax collectors. The PanAfrican News Agency reports: "Mwakaka wailed so loudly [after being bitten] that the tax enforcers thought they had walked into an ambush. It was when he shouted that he had been bitten that ... the agents took [him] to his relatives, who hurriedly ferried him to hospital by bicycle. However, Mwakaka died on the way." [May 22, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]

The price of skins is down, but...

North Carolina recently approved alligator farming and a man in Richmond County will be the state's first gator farmer. The alligators will be fed poultry which die on local chicken farms. Some neighbors have expressed concern about escapes, but the farmer assured them that alligators will not be able to climb the 4-foot high fence around the facility. [Miami Herald, November 27, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]

Do-it-yourself cloning

A 14-year-old 2.5 foot female timber rattlesnake kept alone in a research facility gave birth to a litter of babies, even though it had never mated. Earlier reports of apparent "virgin birth" in snakes have been attributed to "sperm storage." This is the first known case of apparent parthenogenesis in rattlesnakes. In the latest case, researchers examined the snake's DNA and the baby snakes' DNA and found that there had definitely been no contribution of genes from any source but the mother. [Newsday, August 12, 1997 from Christopher Knuth]

Herp law overturned

Thanks to the efforts of a private snake keeper, a snake restriction bylaw in Windsor, Ontario was amended in favor of the snake owners. The old law said that it was illegal to possess snakes more than 2 feet long (0.6 meters) in the town. A young lady who owns a 1.3 meter red rat snake convinced the town council to modify the bylaw to prohibit longer non-venomous snakes only on public property. [Halifax, Nova Scotia Mail Star, November 3, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]

Restrictive herp law enacted

Thanks to the overzealous collecting of native animals to be sold at so-called "swap meets," the state of Indiana reacted with a law which makes it illegal to sell animals native to that state in that state, whether captive raised or wild-collected. Contributor Gary Ketting points out that Kentucky is considering copying the law which itself is partially a copy of an Illinois law which bans absolutely the taking of reptiles and amphibians for commercial purposes. For more information, contact the Indiana Department of Natural Resources [IN-DNR], at 317-232-4080. [Source: Title 312 IN-DNR, LSA Document #97-342E DIGEST, undated but faxed by them on December 18, 1997.] It may well be that the new law was inspired by a case taken to court in the northern end of the state earlier this year. A local police officer was convicted of collecting many individuals of a protected species of turtle from a dedicated nature preserve with the intent to sell, or having actually sold, the animals into captivity for the pet trade. One expects an amendment to this law can be negotiated as soon as the local herp society and legitimate breeders are affected by it and can offer constructive suggestions of how to protect local wildlife while permitting sale of captive bred offspring.

Thanks to everybody who contributed this month and to David Blatchford, Sean McKeown, Kevin Cullen, and Mark O'Shea. You can contribute, too. Please be sure to include the date/publication slug and your name on each piece.

Volume 9, Number 4 - 1997

Think locally, escape globally

  • A shed skin from a 17-foot-long Indian python was found on a ranch in Makawao, Hawaii. State wildlife and agriculture officials immediately organized a search. An older snake skin of a different species was found near the first one and officials were told that a snake had been seen in the area the previous week. A 3-foot ball python was recently confiscated from a Makawao home and other snakes have been reported in the area from time to time. [The Maui News, January 8, 1998 from new contributor Chet Zoll of Haiku, HI] Some have suggested that the skins were planted in the area as a joke - but Hawaiian officials are very concerned that alien snakes - if established - could eat their way through the islands' ground nesting birds in much the same was as the avifauna of Guam has been decimated by the Brown Tree Snake (Boiga irregularis).
  • The Independent reports: "The huge boom in sales of exotic pets has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of these animals... which have escaped from captivity and are on the loose in towns and the countryside [of England]. While it is difficult to put a figure on the reptiles and amphibians which are on the loose, officials involved in re-capturing and finding new homes for them estimate a rise of between 150 and 200 percent in the last three years... In Leytonstone High Street, East London, a man about to sit down on a public toilet made a sharp exit after seeing a snake sticking its head out of the bowl... `The guy on the loo got quite a shock' said the chair of the British Reptile and Amphibian Society... [Also captured were] a Californian King Snake... in Essex, and a three foot Western Hognose in a garden at nearby Dagenham... an anaconda from Kent... a poisonous and aggressive six-foot Montpellier snake outside Walthamstow station in northeast London, and an escaped Simaloyan Milk Snake at a pub in Highbury, north London. [August 18, 1997 from David Blatchford]
  • A Baltimore, Maryland woman seeking the cause of a nasty odor in her car lifted the hood and screamed when she saw a dead python in the engine compartment. Part of the animal was wedged in the heating unit; workers took the dashboard apart to remove the carcass. No one knows why the snake crawled into her car or where the animal came from. [Statesman Journal, Dallas, Oregon, December 3, 1997 from Kenneth C. Morod]
  • In the last three months of 1997, eight boa constrictors or pythons were confiscated by Madison County, Alabama workers. Three of the eight were over 10 feet long. An official said that they are "getting too many [snakes] that are being turned loose or turned over to us," and added that most of the owners didn't realize how large the snakes were going to get, or how much time and effort was involved in keeping a big snake. Curiously, one snake of each species was albino; both were over 10-feet in length. [The Birmingham News, January 23, 1998 from Bert Langerwerf]
  • A man in Slidell, Louisiana got the scare of his life when he found a five-foot long snake crawling out of his stove. He ran for his landlord who told him former tenants had lost a snake, but assumed it escaped into the canal by the house. Police were called and the neighbors all came out to see what the excitement was about. Officers found the snake in the back of the man's oven in a little nest of its own sheds. The man had never turned the oven on because he does not know how to cook. [The Sentry-News, Slidell, Louisiana January 16, 1998 from Wes and Kimberley von Papinešu]
  • A 120-pound reticulated python lost in a Sunrise, Florida home on December 21 turned up only 90-pounds trying to get back into her cage. [Sun-Sentinel, February 24, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A 10-inch ball python which escaped when his owner took him to school for kindergarten show and tell was found by two students a year later. He had grown five inches in length and was much wider than he was when lost. The animal was given back to the child, but a day later, the snake died. A local vivarium advised the parents that this was not unusual for lost and found snakes. [The Oakland Tribune, September 20, 1997 from Matthew Aikawa]
  • A Fayetteville, Arkansas couple was surprised by what they found under their Christmas tree. Thinking they heard mice under the tree, they looked and found a three-foot-long black rat snake slithering around under the plastic tree skirt. They suspect the snake was in the tree when they brought it home. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 16, 1997 from Bill Burnett]
  • Torrential rains and rising waters in Eastern Texas "forced poisonous [sic] snakes out of the wild and into populated areas. Two children were bitten when the snakes invaded an area around a child care center in League City, near Houston... [The children] fully recovered." [The News-Tribune, Tacoma, Washington, October 20, 1997 from Alan Tuley]
  • From Portland, Oregon come reports that a five-foot caiman has been spotted several times in North Portland Harbor. Officials report finding tracks in the sand which suggest the caiman is live, not imaginary. A River Patrol Officer said, "The zoo people said we'd probably be surprised how many [caimans] exist out there. It's the same thing with snakes. They get too big, and people kick `em out." [The Seattle Times, October 5, 1997 from Alan Tuley]
  • "Just two weeks ago we lost all water to our house. Upon further investigation, we found a fried Garter Snake in the electrical portion of the pump motor. Seems he was able to crawl in through one of the vent holes and then must have gotten electrocuted. So every time that the pump tried to kick on, it short circuited due to the snake. I can now assure you that no other snake will become fried due to covering up the vent holes with screen. Take care! Kenneth C. Morod]."

Will he rename her "Farrah"?

A 34-year-old Chillicothe, Ohio man was charged with harboring a dangerous animal to wit his 95-pound, 12-foot python named "Gidget." After he left her to soak in the bath tub, Gidget apparently turned on the faucets and caused a flood which prompted the downstairs neighbor to call police. [Jefferson City Post-Tribune, Missouri, January 29, 1998 from Vicky Elwood]

Double your pleasure

A two-headed Russell's viper was found by students in southern Sri Lanka and has been kept in a jam jar at the police station awaiting pickup by workers at the local zoo. It is said to have four eyes, two brains, two tongues and two noses, with two esophagi joined together going to one stomach. The right head prefers to eat, although both heads function normally, a wildlife official said. [San Francisco Chronicle, November 22, 1997 from Matthew Aikawa]

It works like a mousetrap, ok?

An alligator wrestler who had only been on the job for two weeks found out why you never brush against anything inside a gators' mouth when he put his head in the jaws as a stunt - and the jaws snapped shut. As nearly 200 tourists stared, his friends wedged metal pipes in the animal's mouth and freed the man who was taken to the local medical center. He said, "I've got holes in my skull and my face from where he was throwing me around. He was squeezing just as hard as he could." The man returned to work two days later, although he's considering eliminating the head game from his act. [The Miami Herald, January 2 and 11, 1998 from Alan W. Rigerman]

Trilling softly into the night

An artificial pool designed to provide ideal breeding habitat for the Natterjack Toad has been built in a marsh created by Cheshire Wildlife Trust and Herpetological Conservation. The site is an historical breeding locality for the toad, which faced local extinction due to competition from common toads. "Now spawn is being introduced from Sefton Coast for a five-year breeding programme. `Careful management of this dynamic dune habitat will hopefully lead to a self-governing population of natterjacks at Red Rocks by year 2,000,'" said a Wildlife Trust official. [Warrington Guardian, September 18, 1997 from Wes and Kimberley von Papinešu]

Man eats frog stories

  • About 30 Tanzanian villagers from the central Dodoma region have become ill after eating frogs from local ponds. Amphibians are not a usual diet item in Africa, but villagers have depleted all their other food due to the drought which wiped out all the planted crops. The villagers were reported to be suffering from swollen limbs after they had roasted and eaten the frogs. Officials have promised relief food for the area. [Reuters, December 9, 1997 from Wes and Kimberley von Papinešu]
  • An Australian man claims he found a frozen frog in a bag of peas. He didn't see the frog when he fixed the meal and he didn't eat all the peas. After dinner he was violently ill and later noticed the frog in the peas in the pot. He called the store where he bought the frozen peas and their manager asked if he was sure it was a frog. The man replied, "A pea doesn't have its mouth open." [Herald Sun, Australia February 24, 1998 from Wes and Kimberley von Papinešu]

Rule One and Rule Two

  • A man who made the news two years ago when he was bitten by his pet venomous snake was bitten again at his home by another pet venomous snake. After the bite he ran next door to tell his sister what kind of snake bit him "in case he passed out before they got here," as she told reporters. Two years ago, authorities removed 22 venomous snakes and seven tarantulas from his apartment, he was charged with a misdemeanor and said that he wouldn't keep venomous animals illegally again. This time, ten venomous animals were seized by authorities. The man says he wants to move to Florida, where keeping venomous snakes is legal. [Potomac News, December 4, 1997 from Bryan McCarty] The Washington Post quoted the sister, "He's outgoing and kind. He's not strange. People may think that his hobby is strange, but he's not that kind of person." [December 5, 1997 from Wes and Kimberley von Papinešu]
  • A worker at the Long Island Reptile Museum was amazingly lucky after being bitten by a gaboon viper, rushed to the hospital and pumped full of antivenin brought by the Bronx Zoo under their venomous snake protocol with area hospitals. [Newsday, December 16, 1997] Contributor Steve Pond writes: "[He] broke the two cardinal rules one follows when dealing with any venomous animal. Rule One: Never approach any venomous animal alone and Rule Two: Repeat Rule One. Fortunately for this young man, the winds blew in his favor. The snake had just eaten, the bite was not serious and anti-venom was nearby.... [it] was very closely covered by local TV and other media until they learned [he] was out of danger."
  • The flagging Port Arthur, Tasmania tourism industry hopes to receive a shot in the arm (merely figurative) from the World Tiger Snake Centre which will keep about 1,000 tiger snakes. All of the animals are captive bred from known populations and will be used to assist Australian researchers in development of an anti-inflammatory drug from their hematology. [The Mercury, December 17, 1997 from Wes and Kimberley von Papinešu]

Living his dream

"An amateur naturalist who gave up his building society job, possessions and savings to go frog-hunting in Africa has discovered four new species. Martin Pickersgill, 41 ... set off on a ten-month trek from Cape Town to northern Africa... [he] has been keen on frogs since he was 13. In 1983, he made a similar trip to Natal and discovered the species now named after him (Hyperolius pickersgilli). [The Times, London June 5, 1997 from K and W Herp Haven]

Baby stories

  • Congratulations to the Colorado Gators for the first hatching of a "native" alligator in that state. Herpetologist Bob Pierson (who has contributed to these columns in the past) was on hand when the alligators began laying eggs. This is the first hatching of alligators known at a 7,500 foot elevation, but moms and babies (all twelve) are doing well. [The Gator, Fall, 1997 from Ardis Allen]
  • Street lights have been blamed for luring baby sea turtles away from the surf, but officials from Volusia County doubt that is the only factor in their deaths, but other officials are investigating the lights along the state route. Florida Power and Light had not yet delivered the special colored lenses for the lights which were ordered by the county, but officials of the company refused comment on the turtle casualties. [Orlando Sentinel, July 30, 1997 from Bill Burnett's mom] A month later, the company introduced new colored lenses which it hopes will reduce baby sea turtle deaths along Florida's brightly lighted beaches. [Sun-Sentinel, August 4, 1997 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Baby rattlesnakes are just as deadly as their parents, warn Arizona herpetologists. Lots of babies show up in late summer and early autumn along hiking trails and even in houses and garages with poor weatherstripping. Unlike adults, they cannot give a warning rattle and so strike in silence. About 60 people a year are treated for snakebite in the state.
  • Iguanas were the hottest pet of 1997. Baby iguanas were ubiquitous. Even our local mega-box pet shop had babies. Loose iguanas have been found wandering the streets or perched in trees all over these United States. In 1982, fewer than 50,000 iguanas were imported to the U.S., by 1994, the number had gone above 600,000. Few purchasers realize that full-grown iguanas can be over six-feet-long and aggressive if not cared for properly. "I tell the kids who want to buy iguanas, you have to take them out and play with them every day. If you don't they can get a real bad attitude. If you were put in a closet all your life, you'd have an attitude, too," said a pet store owner. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 14, 1997 from Bill Burnett]
  • Researchers found that UVB radiation can kill amphibian eggs in their own home ponds. Scientists from Oregon State covered some egg masses in the native pond, but left others exposed to sunlight. Up to 85 percent of the embryos in the exposed eggs died. Scarier still is what happened to the other 15 percent: all but four of the animals were deformed. [ December 9, 1997: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, from Bill Burnett and The Oakland Tribune from Matthew Aikawa]

Information sought in turtle assaults

  • "They were aiming to kill," a loggerhead turtle with a spear gun said the Miami Seaquarium veterinarian who successfully removed the spear which had gone through the turtle's neck. A reward of $2,500 was being offered for information leading to conviction. [The Miami Herald, December 26, 1997 from Alan W. Rigerman]
  • Two seafood industry groups, the National Fisheries Institute and the Texas Shrimp Association have each offered $5,000 rewards for information relating to the death of a Kemp's ridley sea turtle in Galveston, Texas and another $5,000 about deaths of 18 other sea turtles at Padre Island National Seashore. [PR Newswire, December 1, 1997 from Wes and Kimberley von Papinešu]

Prominent herpetologist tells all

The long awaited autobiography of Roger Conant including photographs by his late wife Isabelle Hunt Conant has been published. Roger and Isabelle worked tirelessly to produce the Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern North America. You may never have thought about it, but the illustrations in the field guide are all photographs, carefully taken by Isabelle. The photos were then bleached, and hand-colored to create the final illustration. Roger was the curator of Herps at the Toledo Zoo. [Press release from Canyonlands Publishing Group, December 1997]

Settle all brag bets here

Frank and Kate Slavens compile the breeding and longevity from collections around the world. Check out their website

Thanks to this month's contributors and to Hillary Webb, Gary Kettring, Christopher Knuth, Ms. G.E. Chow, Matthew Aikawa and congratulations to Wes and Kimberley von Papinešu who seem from their jointly printed last name to have finally gotten hitched! You can contribute, too. Gather herp stories by sending whole pages of newspapers and magazines or clippings with the date/publication slug firmly attached and your name on each piece to me.

Volume 9, Number 5 - 1998

Lizards turn Lyme's to lemons

Scientists puzzled why few people in the American West develop the tick-borne Lyme disease have studied the tick lifestyle in both places. In the east, the intermediate host of the Lyme spirochete is the white-footed mouse. Where the buffalo roam, the tick's host is the Western fence lizard. "Apparently a substance in the lizard blood travels to the young tick's mid-gut and kills all the spirochetes... The adult ticks may then go on to bite humans, but they will not transmit Lyme disease. The lizard-blood substance has been isolated, but its nature is not yet known... [according to Robert Lane from the University of California at Berkeley] In related research, scientists in Japan and Europe recently found that a substance in the blood of white-tail deer and European blackbirds also kills Lyme disease spirochetes," according to the Lancaster Sunday News, Pennsylvania from Michael J. Shrom]

Truth stranger than fiction

"I was interested to seen an item in [your] column ... where you seemed to doubt the veracity of a story about a man who ate chicken eggs which he had recovered from a slain bullsnake. I thought that you might be interested to know that I had a very similar experience. In the mid 80s, I maintained my art studio in rural southern Kentucky. We kept a large garden and raised chickens... One day... [when] I entered the hen house, salivating at the thought of a fried egg sandwich, when I discovered a large black ratsnake coiled in the nest box. There was a large lump in the snake and no egg in the nest... I gently picked up the snake and squeezed the egg forward in its esophagus until it popped out! Of course, the snake did not respond well to this... [Bagged and released, he] eventually returned to pilfer some chicks, so the next time I took him much further away for release. The fact that you have already tagged this kind of story as a legend, urban or rural, may make people doubt my story. Everyone always relates these legends as an event which happened to themselves or someone they knew, but I swear this really happened! So, don't doubt every strange story that comes across your desk! Very Truthfully Yours, John N. Agnew" Dear John: I think what I didn't believe was the snakes dropping out of trees to break the eggs they ate. I have no doubt that eggs can be gotten out of snakes either as I have had to get a few odd things out of various snakes, too. Thanks for your letter!

State agency fences diamonds

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority recently spent $1,000 for 600 feet of snow fencing installed along a stretch of highway which crossed the Meadowlands marsh were diamondback terrapins often bask on warm sand or gravel bars, similar to the gravel shoulders of the road. The fence is intended to keep the Malaclemys from mistaking the warm pavement for a good place to hang out. [The Oakland Tribune, March 18, 1998 from Matthew Aikawa]

A moving experience

A Lancaster, PA man was carrying his ball python in the tank up the stairs to his new apartment when he slipped and put his arm through the tank. The dispatcher from 911 called out on the air that the 28-year-old had fallen into a snake tank and police, medical personnel and a reporter dashed to the scene. The man was taken to the hospital, treated for his glass cuts and released. The ball python, of course, slept through the whole thing. [New Era, Pennsylvania April 10, 1998 from Michael J. Shrom]

Live, or a favorite brand of audiotape?

  • A letter to Ann Landers, "A python is a wild creature and cannot be blamed for behaving naturally. However anyone who keeps one as a pet does not, in my opinion, show much good sense... " Reply from Ann Landers, "I agree with you, but you can be sure there are many snake fanciers out there who do not. I'd rather have a canary. At least they sing. [The Washington Post, February 27, 1998 from Kimberley and Wes von Papinešu]
  • Researchers at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania are studying the sounds of snakes. So far they have rattled rattlesnake rattles, listed to coral snake flatulence, the scale-rubbing of soft-scaled vipers and the loud hissing of the gopher snake. They found the last to be the only known ophidian to have vocal cords. [The New York Times, February 14, 1998 from Carol Wollenstein]

Booty is in the bite of the beholder

Two teenage bagsnatchers in Sydney, Australia have been warned by police not to open the bag they stole because the victim was a licensed snake dealer moving two of his prize specimens for breeding. Stolen were a death adder and a red-bellied black snake. Both are highly venomous. A police specimen said, "They definitely should not open the bag." [South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, March 6, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

1,000 points of darkness

  • After receiving a tip, authorities in Thailand seized about 4,000 live snakes that had been squeezed into 84 foam or cardboard boxes and packed in air cargo crates destined for shipment to China. An official from the Thai Forest Protection Task Force said, "Packing like this tortures animals." [The Statesman-Journal, Oregon, March 25, 1998 from Kenneth C. Morod] Meanwhile, many southeast Asian countries are reporting increases in the number of rodents and the concurrent increase in crop damage.
  • "Five endangered green sea turtles died after becoming tangled in a 300-foot-long fishing net near Waialee Beach Park on Oahu's North Shore. Other turtles may also be caught in the net, but authorities last night could not confirm how many... Officials are trying to determine who owns the net. If caught... [they] face federal penalties of up to $10,000 fine and/or a year in jail for each dead turtle. State penalties are up to $500 and/or a year in jail... Hawaii's enforcement program is weak, and it's not often that someone gets caught," according to The Honolulu Advertiser. The conservation department faces the loss of 10 percent of its enforcement agents in the state if the legislature makes certain budget cuts. [March 16, 1998 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • Two pet pythons died in a mobile home fire from which their owner and his 15 dogs were saved by a gas company worker. Clark County, Nevada investigators are still trying to determine if they knocked over their heat lamp and started the fire. [Las Vegas Sun, March 6, 1998 from Kimberley and Wes von Papinešu]
  • The Japanese Ministry in charge of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries "stopped imports of British-made snake food ... over fears it would spread mad cow disease... [later] removed the administrative restrictions after a pet-food dealer complained and it was learned the food did not contain beef... [but were] sausages for snakes that were made from sheep intestines and came filled with hare and chicken meat... The ministry ... [said] it was unlikely humans would be infected through the food" even though English cows became ill with mad cow disease after being fed infected sheep parts. [Daily Yomiuri Shimbun, English edition c. February 24, 1998 from Cory Blane]
  • The California Fish and Game Department is considering a statewide ban on importing live frogs and turtles because of a concern of the risks to native species posed by non-native animals. Other testimony before the commission was that the animals "are held and butchered under cruel conditions." Asian-Americans complain that they were not given time to testify about the cultural nature of their use of freshly dead reptiles and amphibians for food. [The Oakland Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle, January 28, 1998 from Matthew Aikawa]
  • The Fish and Game Commission decided to wait and see if merchants comply with existing state laws prohibiting the sale of live turtles before enacting new regulation. The Wall Street Journal, April 16, 1998 describes the sting operations of an undercover member of the U.S. chapter of The Tortoise Trust who went in and out of Asian markets videoing the conditions of the fish tanks, lobster bins and boxes of live turtles and bullfrogs. Chinese markets in California reap $10 million a year from turtles imported from Arkansas and bullfrogs from Southeast Asia. Seven animal rights organizations have filed suit in California's Superior Court arguing that the markets are cruel to animals. The markets have posted signs saying that they can't sell live turtles and that turtles must not be released into the wild. Softshells are still reported to be available in bins "marked $2.99 a pound." The live turtle has its shell cut off first before its head is whacked off. Then the legs are shopped up and any spilled eggs and viscera are dumped as garbage. The undercover turtle person watched this and said, "I'm going to cry." [via fax]
  • Eight hundred lizards from the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire perished in unventilated boxes on a flight to Amsterdam. The animals were up to two feet long and were destined for a pet shop. [Fox News Network, February 11, 1998 from Kimberley and Wes von Papinešu]
  • Residents of Slidell, Louisiana have been seeing a lot of big snakes lately. Seeing them is even described as "not uncommon [on] the north shore area." The Sentry News reports "pythons... are often bought as pets when they are small and released into the wild when they grow [too big]... they can reach adult lengths of 20 feet." A local pet center owner said "Any python over 8 feet long should only be handled on the buddy system. You should always have someone with you when you do anything with it. [January 13, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]
  • South Africa: The third victim of exotic snakebite in a single month was taken to hospital for emergency treatment after being bitten by a cottonmouth. The curator of the Transvaal snake park, expressed his concern that inexpert people were keeping exotic pets, including venomous snakes. [The Cape Times, March 6, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]
  • An 84-year-old woman in Michigan looked down one night and saw a snake under the other chair. She called some friends who captured that one, two more behind the soft and one from the bedroom chest of drawers. They killed all of them and reported that they were from three to nearly five feet long and had rattles. A local biology professor suggested that since the tiny Eastern massasauga is the only local rattlesnake, that they may be non-native species escaped from a private collection. A "naturalist" from the local township advised the lady "to have an exterminator pump poison gas into the house and place a chemical barrier around its foundation," according to The Lansing State Journal, April 26, 1998 from Jim Harding]

Accidental Tourists in Paradise

  • "It was sad for us to read about the recent captured iguana in Waimanalo. We live [there, and]... have been privileged to have an iguana visit our lawn to sun... We never did anything but watch its growth over the years. Last week it stopped showing up, so we assumed it was this iguana that was captured. We have never noticed any harm or damage to any of our plants by this iguana... We find it hard to understand why anyone would capture this harmless animal. Sean McKeown in his book Hawaiian Reptiles and Amphibians mentions that iguanas have been here sine 1950. This was most likely just another wild animal like our gecko, Bufo, skink, Jackson's chameleon, bullfrog, etc. All are non-native. Evidently, some people won't rest until these also are captured and eliminated. Floyd Larson" [The Honolulu Adviser, April 23, 1998 from Sun Donoghue]
  • Experts are analyzing alternatives in their never ceasing battle to keep the brown tree snake out of Hawaii. A new deterrent is a smooth barrier fence made of concrete blocks or vinyl topped with a live electric wire. It has been suggested that the Guam airport be enclosed completely to help stop the spread of Boiga irregularis by planes to other Pacific islands. There are more than 12,000 brown tree snakes per spare mile in Guam and more than 30 species of birds have completely disappeared from that island. Seven island hopping serpents have been found on Oahu since 1981; six at airports and one in a military barracks. One was reported to have escaped into the bush from Hickam Air Force Base last summer. [The Honolulu Advertiser, March 18, 1998 from Ms. G.E. Chow]
  • Remember the big snake skins found on Maui, Hawaii? Turns out that they were just left over sheds being kept (without the snakes) on the island. Whether they were discarded or taken or whatever, authorities are now satisfied that they can call off the search. [West Hawaii Today, January 9, 1998] Along with the clipping was a note: "Apparently [the officials involved] have never read my two books about the two snakes occurring [naturally] in Hawaii or its offshore waters. :) Sean McKeown"

Declining amphibians

  • A Swiss study has found that triphenyltin, a chemical present in fungicides, kills or deforms tadpoles even in very low concentrations (0.09-1.82 micrograms per liter). The chemical appears to disrupt the tadpoles' central nervous systems. Triphenyltin is used to control blight in crops like sugar beets and potatoes has been found in ponds, lakes and temporary pools. [New Scientist via Reuters, February 11, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]
  • Vitamin A compounds found in lake water may be responsible for some of the frog deformities in Minnesota and more than a dozen other states. Retinoids, including retinoic acid, are vitamin A compounds which regulate key aspects of vertebrate development. Retinoic acid has been linked to birth defects in humans. [March 17, 1998: The Times-Picayune, New Orleans from Ernie Liner; Miami Herald from Alan Rigerman and Oakland Tribune from Matthew Aikawa]
  • Studies in the Cascades and Northern Rockies have determined a link between introduced fishery trout and declines in amphibians including long-toed salamanders and spotted frogs. In Colorado, work has shown that boreal toads are not on trout menus, perhaps because the tadpoles are distasteful. However, tiger salamanders have disappeared from trout zones. In addition to straight predation, salmon and trout spawn raised in fisheries often carries saprolegnia, a fungus that kills amphibians, eggs and tadpoles. Curiously, it was the federal government which sponsored the surveys and it is the state fishery departments which are stocking the trout. This study may result in policy changes according to some California state officials. [The Seattle Times, January 6, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]
  • Nearly 75 percent of 9- to 11-year-old children recognize the Anheuser-Busch advertising frogs and can imitate the slogan croaked by the animatronic amphibians. [Fox News Network, January 23, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu]

Astronewts return to Earth

Two Russian and a French astronaut left the Mir Space Station and landed softly in the deep snow of the Kazakh steppes. With them were six live salamanders which had been monitored for the effects of weightlessness on egg-laying. [Reuters, February 19, 1998 from Wes and Kim von Papinešu] One wonders what will happen to these lovely creatures after seeing that the amphibians taken aboard the American Space Shuttle were monitored carefully in space, but dissected upon their return to earth.

Thanks to everybody who contributed this month and to Dustin Hirschfeld, Ernie Liner, Kathy Bricker, Chris Hannaford and Lisa Marie Post for articles for future columns. You can contribute too. Send the whole page of newspaper (it doesn't weigh very much) or clippings with the date/publication slug and your name firmly attached to each piece. Those cheapie return-address labels the various organizations are constantly sending work really well for this!

Volume 9, Number 6 - 1997

Indiana targets animal-trafficantes

After realizing that its native wildlife was essentially unprotected and exploitable, the state of Indiana enacted an emergency rule forbidding the sale of native amphibians and reptiles in January. The Courier-Journal reports that two people in Clark County were arrested on charges of unlawful shipment or sale of life animals and six counts of possession of state endangered animals. A snapping turtle and five alligator snappers were seized from one location, 19 Blandings turtles, spotted turtles and ornamental box turtles were seized from the other man. In addition, conservation officers arrested, cited or served warrants on more than 25 other people in the state, while in Indianapolis, the Midwest Swap meet was shut down. Two bog turtles were among the animals seized in that action. In addition to Indiana native, 13 other states cooperated and people were arrested, cited or served with buying or selling reptiles and amphibians from Indiana. [June 29, 1998 from Gary Kettring]

Wine warning

The Pietersburg, South Africa Mail and Guardian reports that some mechanical harvesting devices in use in some vineyards in the Western Cape are incidentally killing chameleons. The President of the Western Cape Traditional Doctors, Herbalists and Spiritual Healer's Association said that wine contaminated by chameleons is poisonous to humans. Residents, students and members of the Food and Allied Workers' Union planned to picket outside a winery which uses the imported mechanical harvesters instead of local labor. The protest leader said, "Cape dwarf chameleons are among the species being decimated by the harvesters. They are listed on Appendix II by CITES... Quite apart from anything else, chameleons are of benefit to the vineyards in term of insect control, so they should be nurtured rather than wiped out." [February 20-26, 1998 from Harold Lemke]

Secret agent snake?

A 53-year-old man in rural Burrton, Kansas was bitten by a rattlesnake while mowing his yard. When the story and his picture were published in a Hutchinson newspaper, law enforcement officers recognized him. Seems he'd blown a court date on various charges. He now has a new court date on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, suspended license and illegal transportation of liquor. [United Press International wire, May 19, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Welcome back

  • About six years ago "Bubble" the sea turtle was hit by a boat propeller and an air bubble got trapped under his shell and he couldn't make long dives for food. Judged to be unable to survive in the wild, he was kept at the Marathon Turtle Hospital in Florida until he disappeared. A reward was offered, but it was feared someone copying the movie "Free Willy" had put the turtle in the ocean in a misguided effort to "set him free." Volunteers and staff who had been handfeeding Bubble every day for years were devastated. [Miami Herald, April 10, 1998] The same paper, May 7 reports that the animal was spotted struggling at the sea shore of Vaca Cut by two turtle volunteers and rescued by the Turtle Ambulance and returned to the hospital. [both from Alan Rigerman]
  • Two Kemp's ridleys turtles were found nesting on Padre Island National Seashore. One of them had a tag showing that is was born in 1984 and was one of the 13,500 headstarted Kemp's ridleys released in the Gulf of Mexico by that popular, but closed federal program. [Amarillo Globe News, April 27, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

The few, the proud, the green

  • The Star, a tabloid from the United Kingdom, reports: "Frogs eat small pets. Carnivorous amphibian rampage. Giant meat-eating killer frogs have Britain's garden lovers ribbeted with fear... Conservationists warn that pond owners who had bought North American bullfrog tadpoles may have bitten off more than they can chew. Forget Ninja Turtles. These vicious frogs, which grow to be as big as footballs, are the Tyrannosaurus rex of the reptile world. They can gobble up pets the size of kittens and guinea pigs... The ferocious cannibals eat snakes, bats and small mammals... [a] nature park warden... said..., "We know some have escaped to breed in the wild, devastating ponds and eating everything in sight." [May 28, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
  • The record jump (in three hops) for the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee was 21 feet, 5 inches in 1986. This year's winner sprang a mere 19 feet, 4 inches but beat 2,000 other frogs in the 70th annual event. [ABC News, May 18, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
  • The debate about deformities (natural or unnatural) continues. The Miami Herald reports: "... for the record, [a federal biologist in Gainesville, FL] has never seen a frog with a fifth leg or any other deformity and he has handled tens of thousands of them... the federal government logged its first official report of deformed frog in Florida - a southern leopard frog with an extra foreleg - in Jackson County in 1954." The U.S. Geological Survey collected 15 more reports last year. C. Kenneth Dodd, Jr. who also chairs the Declining Amphibian Task Force in the Southeastern U.S. said, "There's been a tremendous loss of frogs going on in Florida because of the loss of its wetlands. When you pave over all the wetlands, frogs are going to disappear. No mystery in that." [June 22, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
  • Police arrested a Long Island, NY man on charges of selling animal snuff films including scenes of women in high heels stomping frogs and rodents to death. A spokesman for the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said that the tapes were intended as a "foot-fetish type of thing." The man was released on $750 bail and faces "thousands of counts of animal cruelty, each of which can carry up to a $1,000 fine and a one-year jail sentence," according to Fox News Network. [May 5, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
  • "[A] wildlife conservationist at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural services said, `If someone destroyed a work of art, we would decry the act, and we should be equally upset by the declines we're seeing in frogs and toads.'" [Sun-Sentinel, April 17, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
  • People in Oregon either love or hate Pacific Tree Frogs in breeding season. The warm, wet spring due to the El NiŮo weather system resulting in lots more frogs breeding in lots more ponds, and lots more people complaining about "the noise." One biologist at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said, "I can't believe the irony. I mean, here you have residents complaining about this wonderful, musical little native animal that's doing well in spite of us. They're complaining about a success. Some people actually go out and buy CDs just to bring these noises inside their homes." [The Oregonian, June 6, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
  • Meanwhile people in England are concerned that noise from two new nightclubs is bothering the breeding patterns of birds, frogs and small mammals in a London Nature Park. One councillor said, she was "very upset" that the noise made by the young people were a danger to the wildlife, "Frogs and so on make their mating calls at night. High levels of noise obscure their mating calls and they can misunderstand each other, which can cause a decline in the population." Her worries "were greeted with a degree of hilarity among other councilors, who heckled from benches on both sides of the council chamber," according to The Hamstead and Highgate Express. However, environmental health officers will be monitoring noise levels. [June 5, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

New species

  • The Wyoming toad, found in only a small areal of Albany County (and in several zoo recovery programs) has been elevated to a full species and is now to be known as Bufo baxteri. The specific name honors George Baxter of Laramie who discovered to toad in 1946. [The Star Tribune, Caspar, Wyoming, April 3, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]
  • "... For years it was believed frogs on Maud and Stephens Islands in the Marlborough Sound were the same species. But genetic testing has revealed the 10,000 frogs on Maud Island are in fact a separate species. That means that the 300 frogs on Stephens Island are all that remain of the Leiopelma hamiltoni species," reports the Christchurch, New Zealand Press. [June 19, 1998 from Kim and Wes von Papinešu]

Check your connections today

  • "Dozens of fish made the ultimate sacrifice when a smoldering blaze at a pet store was doused by water from an exploding aquarium... heat from an electrical fire shattered its glass... lost [the] fish, a few birds and some lizards... the fire apparently started in an area behind the fish tank littered with strip plugs and electrical outlets." [Lancaster, PA New Era, April 18, 1998 from Michael J. Shrom]
  • More than 200 animals died in a fire which burned the Cape May Court House zoo reptile house to the ground. The fire was believed to be electrical in origin. The one-story wood frame building had housed lizards, snakes, turtles, tortoise and insects was burned to the ground. [The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C., May 29, 1998 from Linda A. Hauser]

Deja vu all over again

  • "Researchers will monitor loggerhead turtle nests in the Florida Panhandle this summer to further study how temperature determines whether hatchlings are male or female." [Miami Herald, June 23, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A 14-year-old Manhattan high school student was bitten by the school's Burmese python while he was trying to feed the snake a mouse. There was no teacher present at the time of the bite. The student was taken to Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx where he received five stitches and was released. The student said, "I don't think it was the snake's fault, and I don't think it's my fault. It think it just got scared and reacted the way any animal would." [The New York Times, April 29, 1998 from Jim and Kathy Bricker]
  • The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission is seeking anyone with information relating to the shooting deaths of eight alligators on Lake Trafford on May 22nd. Call their hotline at 1-800-432-2046 any time if you know anything about the case. One agent said he believes that "this was simply slaughter for no purpose... a gross act of nature vandalism." Illegally killing a gator in Florida can result in up to five years in jail or a $5,000 fine if convicted. Florida has a legal gator season for tagholders. [Immokalee Bulletin, June 25, 1998 from Alan Rigerman] Four more alligators were poached "apparently killed for mere blood sport... in the Big Cypress National Preserve east of Naples," according to The Miami Herald. They were shot, but - as in the case in Lake Trafford - nothing was removed from the corpse. Law enforcement agents say that it is not unusual for illegal hunters to remove the skin or tail. [May 29, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
  • A man who has been charged with the same crime six times in the past has been arrested again for stealing 388 sea turtle eggs from Florida beaches. According to The Miami Herald, "Marine Patrol officers, using night vision goggles, confiscated 388 marine turtle eggs when they arrested [the man] before dawn... [he] dropped a canvas bag full of eggs and fled into the ocean, but he emerged minutes later... [he] was charged with possession of marine turtle eggs, molesting a marine turtle [by moving her to get at the eggs] and resisting arrest without violence." The man could face three years in jail and up to $3,000 in criminal penalties as well as up to $38,300 in civil penalties. Federal charges are also being considered. They carry maximum penalties of five years in jail and a $10,000 fine. [May 31, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
  • The homeowner wasn't too worried when she ran over one snake with the lawnmower. Then her dog was bitten by another snake which she claims is a "poisonous copperhead," and says that development across the way from her house is shaking so many snakes and rats loose that it's too dangerous to let her children play outside anymore - so instead she lets them play Nintendo all day. [The Courier Journal, June 8, 1998 from Gary Kettring]

The shape of things to come?

"A major senate inquiry into commercial use of Australian wildlife is likely to recommend that export controls on native birds and fauna be loosened. The inquiry, due to report later this month, is sure to ignite debate about the best way to control fauna smuggling, as well as the use of kangaroos, opossums and emus for meat. It is likely to recommend that export bans be lifted for the first time, but only for birds and animals which are bred in captivity. Evidence put to the inquiry suggested that captive breeding and overseas breeding could assist conservation by reducing the market for smuggled birds, reptiles and, less often animals. Committee chairman John Woodley said the report had not been completed but would be monumental and controversial. Senator Woodley said the committee was still considering all the evidence but the export question was one of the issues that would be addressed. Export of captive bred animals was being considered. "In terms of evidence we heard, that's the way the argument is going, but at this stage I need to review the evidence" he said. Reptile expert and author of two books on wildlife smuggling, Raymond Hoser, said he would be delighted if the committee recommended that exports be allowed. Mr. Hoser said the best system would be to apply a hefty tax on each animal sent out of Australia to ensure that the trade was kept at a low level. Overseas owners would then look after their exotic Australian animals and attempt to breed them, he said. `The only way to stop the corruption and cruelty is legalizing exports,' he said." [Sydney, Australia The Sun Herald, July 6, 1998, from Raymond Hoser]

Don't drink the water

  • Why 54 alligators died in Central Florida's Lake Griffin remains a mystery. An earlier alligator die-off of this scale in another Florida lake was traced to man-made chemicals that mimic hormones which resulted in underdeveloped genitalia in male alligators. Alligators' position at the top of the food chain makes them a bellwether for contamination. "Alligators are doing things that people don't do," said University of Florida scientist Perran Ross. "I don't know anyone who has been sitting in the bottom of a lake eating fish for 20 years." [GREENlines quoting the St. Petersburg Times, June 10, 1998 from Roger Featherstone] Additionally, 96 percent of alligator eggs at Lake Griffin have died within 10 days of being laid. Four causes are being examined: a blue-green algal bloom, disease, chemical pollution and poor nutrition. [Miami Herald, June 8, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
  • "...The National Park Service decided to ban personal watercraft from Washington State's Olympic National Park, citing the need to protect "natural and recreational resources." The Park originally favored limiting the watercraft to portions of Lake Crescent, but after public hearings and over 1,000 comment letters opposing the plan, the Park opted for a ban. `Clearly, any technology that dumps raw fuel into park waterways [and] disrupts the natural state of wholly incompatible with the natural, cultural, and wilderness resource values legally protected under the National Park mission,'" said a local environmentalist. [GREENlines, June 9, 1998 from Roger Featherstone]

Caiman and goin' for years

"For years there have been sporadic, unverified reports of some sort of sea serpent cruising along the ocean side of Key Biscayne [Florida]. Then on Thursday morning [a] Crandon Park Lifeguard... jogged right by it... `He saw about a four-foot alligator or crocodile coming out of the water and taking a breath and going back in the water,'" said the woman who took his call. A naturalist responded to the report, then a professional wildlife remover arrived, and the supervisor of the crocodile nesting beaches near the local power station. After a couple of hours, they saw it again at dark, but couldn't catch it. They think it's a caiman which was stolen from temporary housing during the Metrozoo remodeling in 1981 and used to belong to the croc nesting supervisor! [Miami Herald, June 13, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]

Thanks to everyone who contributed this month and to AFH members Lisa Marie M. Post, Chris Hannaford, Catherine Johnson, and Robert Innes for repeats of stories, cards, letters and material I enjoyed, but was unable to figure out how to summarize! As always many, many thanks to Alan Rigerman and Kim and Wes von Papinešu for their unflagging support and contributions. You can contribute, too. Send the whole page of newspaper or magazine with your name firmly attached with a label or tape. If you clip, please minimize the origami. Tape everything together and mail to me at the address on the masthead. See you next issue!

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