Monday, August 30, 2010

Titanoboa Exhibit at IU

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Titanoboa cerrejonensis is now a special exhibit at Indiana University Bloomington. A cast of the remains of the giant boid snake can be viewed Geology Building at 1001 E. 10th St., Bloomington, Indiana, and can be visited from 8AM to 6PM Monday through Friday. Titanoboa is estimated to have been 43 feet long and weigh 2500 pounds. Paleontologist David Polly was a coauthor of the 2009 paper in Nature that reported the discovery of the world's largest known snake. The exhibit was organized by Donald Hattin (Professor Emeritus of Geological Sciences ) and is sponsored by the IU Bloomington Geological Sciences Department and the Indiana Geological Survey. The Titanoboa exhibit will be viewable until Oct. 1, 2010. Polly will give a talk entitled Hip-deep in giant snakes: Titanoboa and temperature in the Paleocene, at 4:00 p.m. on Sept. 13 (Geology Bldg. 143). The lecture is free and open to the public.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Is the Liana Snake a Specialized Bird Nest Predator?

The Liana Snake, Pseustes poecilonotus, is a widespread neotropical snake and probably an important predator on nestling birds. Recently I observed this species emerge from its hiding place under a corrugated tin roof at the Asa Wright Nature Center (AWNC) in Trinidad in the late afternoon. The snake was very cautious and protruded its head from under the roof for about 10 minutes before slowly crawling onto the roof's surface. The AWNC is a popular destination for bird watchers and the roof was adjacent to a large veranda surrounded by bird feeders. There were several Palm Tanager nests within three meters of the snake's hiding place. The Psuestes crawled along the roof and into a small tree where I lost track of it.  Robinson et al. [2005 Ornitologia Neotropical 16:187-195] videotaped 10 instances of nest predation on Panama's Barro Colorado Island, and P. poecilonotus was responsible for eight of the predation events. In one instance the snake ate one nestling and returned to the nest the next day and ate the second bird. Tarwater [2008, The Wilson Bulletin of Ornithology 120(3):620-624] videotaped a P. poecilonotus feeding on a nestling Western Slaty Antshrike, Thamnophilus atrinucha, on Barro Colorado Island. The snake took two minutes to consume the bird. P. poecilonotus is also known to feed on lizards and mammals, but it may specialize in nestling birds when they are available.

Tiny Frogs, and a New One from Borneo

Indraneil Das and Alexander Haas have described what has been reported as the world's smallest known frog, Microhyla nepenthicola (Family Microhylidae), in a recent issue of Zootaxa. The frog inhabits Gunung Serapi mountain, located in Kubah National Park, on the island of Borneo. Adult male M. nepenthicola are 10.6 to 12.8 mm and live in the pitcher plant Nepenthes ampullaria,  which has a globe-like pitcher and grows in damp, shady forests.  Females deposit their eggs on the sides of the pitcher, and tadpoles  grow in the water that has collected inside the plant. [Full citation: Das, I. and A. Haas. 2010. New species of Microhyla  from Sarawak: Old World’s smallest frogs crawl out of miniature pitcher  plants on Borneo (Amphibia: Anura: Microhylidae). Zootaxa, 2571 37-52.]

Tiny frog species have been discovered in abundance in recent decades and media reports claiming title to the world's smallest frog have been almost as numerous. The Brazilian Gold Frog, Brachycephalus didactylus (Izecksohn, 1971)(Family Brachycephalidae) grows to a tiny 9.8 mm and appears to still hold the title to the World's smallest frog. But there are many runners-up. Hoogmoed and Lescure described Adelophryne adiastola (Family Eleutherodactylidae) from Letica, Colombia in 1984, it has a body length of 12.9 mm. In 1986, Lynch descibed Nobella (Phyllonastes) heyeri (Family Strabomantidae) from Loja province Ecuador, males were 12.9 to 14.1 mm and females were 13.1 to 15.9 in body length. In the same paper Lynch described Phrynopus bagrecito (Family Strabomantidae)  from Cuzco, Peru; this species has males that are 13.8 to 16.3 mm and  females that are 14.4 to 18.6 mm long. The small  Monte Iberia Eleuth, Eleutherodactylus iberia, Family Eleutherodactylidae), was described from Cuba in 1996 by Estrada and  Hedges; fully grown adult males are 10.5 mm and females are 9.8 mm; it seems to most closely rival Brachycephalus didactylus for the smallest body size in frogs. Nyctibatrachus minimus (Family Nyctibatrachidae) was described by  Biju et al. in 2007 from southern India; its males average 12.3  mm in body length. Lehr and Coloma (2008) described Pristimantis andinognomus (Family Strabomantidae) . They found a maximum snout–vent length of 17.9 mm  with males averaging 12.3 mm and females averaging 15.9 mm. Lehr and Catenazzi (2009) described Noblella pygmaea (Family Strabomantidae), commonly called Noble's Pygmy Frog; females measured less than half an inch (12.5 mm) in body length, whereas males are just a bit longer than 1 cm. More recently,Teran-Valdez and Guayasamin (2010) described Pristimantis minimus from Ecuador with a maximum body length of 13.7 mm.  Below is a group of photos of some of these tiny frogs taken from a variety of sources on the web. Being small allows these species to exploit resources unavailable to larger frogs. JCM

Ellsemere Island Eocene Climate & Giant Reptiles

Ellesmere Island is adjacent to Greenalnd and covered with ice and permafrost today, but in the past it contained lush vegetation and some large reptiles. Jaelyn Eberle from the University of Colorado and colleagues have examined oxygen isotope ratios from Ellesmere fossil vertebrates that were 52 to 53 MY old and concluded that the warmest months on Ellesmere during the early Eocene averaged 66 to 68 degrees F (19-20 degrees C) and the coldest months averaged 32 to 38 degrees F (0-3.5 degrees F). Therefore it probably did not freeze, or freezing was not frequent.The island is known to have supported populations of giant tortoises and crocodilians as well as a variety of large mammals. Today there is concern that the Ellesmere fossil beds are threatened by coal mining. [Full Citation: Eberle et al. Seasonal variability in Arctic temperatures during early Eocene time. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 2010; 296 (3-4): 481 DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2010.06.005]

Saturday, August 28, 2010

UK Medics Mis-Diagnosis Snake Bite Twice

A 54 year old woman was bitten by  the Adder, Vipera berus, in her garden in Eastleigh. Her ankle swelled, her leg was painful, and she suffered severe headaches. She went to Eastleigh Health Center where the doctor gave her antibiotics and assured her it was not a snakebite.The following day she was still in pain and went to Royal Hampshire County Hospital where the doctors dismissed the claim that she was bitten by a snake.The woman contacted Grange Reptiles and was told by an employee who had been a former paramedic that it was indeed a snakebite. She was admitted to Southampton General Hospital. Hampshire Chronicle, 28 August 2010. Apparently snakebite is rare enough in the UK that medical personnel have not been trained to deal with it. The same is probably true in much of the US.

Indigo Snake Conservation Effort

Project Orianne is an Indigo Snake conservation initiative that works to conserve and restore eastern indigo snake populations as well as other species of rare reptiles including Chinese Alligators, Montane Vipers, and Tortoises. The Orlando Sentinel (August 26, 2010) reports that the Lake County commissioners approved a change in zoning that will allow Project Orianne to use a 25 acre plot to culture snakes, despite a complaint form a neighbor. Fred Antonio, former curator of the Central Florida Zoo will be director of the project. JCM