Friday, April 29, 2011

Another Vipera berus Envenomation

A second envenomation from Vipera berus in the last week has been reported. A 7-year old male was bitten on the middle finger of his right hand. He was being treated  with anti-venom at the University Hospital of North Tees, The boy was bitten at Sheep Wash, in Osmotherley, North Yorkshire, on Sunday while on a family outing. The family believed the snake to be a grass snake (Natrix natrix). The finger swelled up within seconds to more than double the size, and within half-an hour the swelling had spread to his wrist and his skin started to turn black. The full story is available at Peterlee Mail.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Amphibian Declines, Multiple Causes

Oregon State University
The following is a press release from Oregon State University.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Amphibian declines around the world have forced many species to the brink of extinction, are much more complex than realized and have multiple causes that are still not fully understood, researchers conclude in a new report.

The search for a single causative factor is often missing the larger picture, they said, and approaches to address the crisis may fail if they don’t consider the totality of causes – or could even make things worse.

No one issue can explain all of the population declines that are occurring at an unprecedented rate, and much faster in amphibians than most other animals, the scientists conclude in a study just published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

The amphibian declines are linked to natural forces such as competition, predation, reproduction and disease, as well as human-induced stresses such as habitat destruction, environmental contamination, invasive species and climate change, researchers said.

“An enormous rate of change has occurred in the last 100 years, and amphibians are not evolving fast enough to keep up with it,” said Andrew Blaustein, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University and an international leader in the study of amphibian declines.

“We’re now realizing that it’s not just one thing, it’s a whole range of things,” Blaustein said.

“With a permeable skin and exposure to both aquatic and terrestrial problems, amphibians face a double whammy,” he said. “Because of this, mammals, fish and birds have not experienced population impacts as severely as amphibians – at least, not yet.”

The totality of these changes leads these researchers to believe that the Earth is now in a major extinction episode similar to five other mass extinction events in the planet’s history. And amphibians are leading the field – one estimate indicates they are disappearing at more than 200 times that of the average extinction rate.

Efforts to understand these events, especially in the study of amphibians, have often focused on one cause or another, such as fungal diseases, invasive species, an increase in ultraviolet radiation due to ozone depletion, pollution, global warming, and others. All of these and more play a role in the amphibian declines, but the scope of the crisis can only be understood from the perspective of many causes, often overlapping. And efforts that address only one cause risk failure or even compounding the problems, the researchers said.

“Given that many stressors are acting simultaneously on amphibians, we suggest that single-factor explanations for amphibian population declines are likely the exception rather than the rule,” the researchers wrote in their report. “Studies focused on single causes may miss complex interrelationships involving multiple factors and indirect effects.”

One example is the fungus B. dendrobatidis, which has been implicated in the collapse of many frog populations around the world. However, in some populations the fungus causes no problems for years until a lethal threshold is reached, studies have shown.

And while this fungus disrupts electrolyte balance, other pathogens can have different effects such as a parasitic trematode that can cause severe limb malformations, and a nematode that can cause kidney damage. The combination and severity of these pathogens together in a single host, rather than any one individually, are all playing a role in dwindling frog populations.

Past studies at OSU have found a synergistic impact from ultraviolet radiation, which by itself can harm amphibians, and a pathogenic water mold that infects amphibian embryos. And they linked the whole process to water depths at egg-laying sites, which in turn are affected by winter precipitation in the Oregon Cascade Range that is related to climate change.

The problems facing amphibians are a particular concern, scientists say, because they have been one of Earth’s great survivors – evolving about 400 million years ago before the dinosaurs, persisting through ice ages, asteroid impacts, and myriad other ecological and climatic changes.

Their rapid disappearance now suggests that the variety and rate of change exceeds anything they have faced before, the researchers said.

“Modern selection pressures, especially those associated with human activity, may be too severe and may have arisen too rapidly for amphibians to evolve adaptations to overcome them,” the researchers concluded.

Snake Charmers, Economics, & Wildlife Laws

The following story is from the Economic Times

India is no longer a country of snake charmers. Today, this ceases to be just a symbol one can be proud of. For India is literally losing its beguiling and dwindling lot of snake charmers because of the enforcement of stringent wildlife laws and raucous rigour of various animal-rights activists. 
"The only snakes that are visible in our lives," says Shambu Nath - an 80-year-old man from Sapera Basti (hamlet), a community of about 200 families on the Northeastern outskirts of New Delhi - pointing to the tarred road beyond, "are the ones on which other mobile units move." Snakes, the sole route to their livelihood has been snuffed out of their lives with no provisions of or guidance to alternate modes of living. The snakes in their possession have starved to death and their charmers are on their way. 
A snake charmer usually seeks the attention of a snake by playing a long clarinet-like instrument (been) that is bloated at the bottom. For the common man the snake sways to its tunes but herpetologists say that the snakes can't hear sounds in the same frequency band as humans. They are actually preparing themselves to face the music rather than enjoying it. 
Today, these snake charmers have been asked to drop their beens and strip their skins or perish in penury. "This is the only work that we have learnt to do," says Lalan Nath. Tradition and its afterthought has crippled them beyond redemption. Most of the hutments they live in this village with thatched roofs and mud kilns are spare structures that reflect the state of depravation that the snake charmers have been subjected to ever since the the ban on keeping sakes under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. The Act was enforced in 2003. 

Lalan, who has had no education, refuses to move out of Sapera Basti saying that even cable television is partially responsible for the threat that they face in theior lives. He is sitting in a small room that also functions as the office of Pahalwan Band where some youngsters are sitting and watching a Hindi film on cable TV. 

The band does some scarce musical performances at marriages and has a few times gone abroad to perform at the government's Inda festivals. "It is ironic that the government still wants to project our image as representatives of the Indian culture abroad while back home they are trying to snuff the lives out of us," says 52-year-old Paras. 

He has handled snakes as venomous as cobras and kraits but now carries gas cylinders as he has joined a cooking gas supplying agency as a delivery vendor, the only slithering thing he handles is the blue gas pipe that connects the cylinder to the stove. "I often wonder if it will come alive and move and dance to my tune," he says. He among thousands others are surely an endangered species. And it is a problem that the government has not sunk its teeth into. 

Now these snake charmers are, particularly, the younger lot have got into rag-picking, collection of iron waste, polythene, and so on because these odd jobs offer better remuneration.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A New Species of Liolaemus

Liolaemus is a genus of South American lizards composed of at least 223 species ranging from Tierra del Fuego (southern Argentina) to Central Perú. While some species are found at sea level, many are found at high elevations, up to 4500 m. They have a tendency to like living on vertical surfaces such as tree trunks and rock faces.  Andres Q. Quinteros and Christian S. Abdala have now added a new species to what is perhaps the most species rich genus of lizards, with the exception of Anolis. The new species, Liolaemus vulcanus, is a member of the L. dorbignyi group within the montanus series. It was previously confused with L. dorbignyi, but it exhibits color and pattern differences. Liolaemus vulcanus is saxicolous and it inhabits in rocky hills in the Puna regions of Northwestern Argentina. L. vulcanus inhabits the Puna region of Catamarca Province, in Paycuqui, near the Trapiche river and the Punilla River, Antofagasta de la Sierra Department. It is saxicolous, living on rocky outcrops and can be seen basking on rocks. Like all other members of the montanus series it is viviparous.  The new species is sympatric with L. poecilochromus and Phymaturus laurenti. The name is derived from the Vulcan, the god of fire, because Liolaemus vulcanus has an orange-red body.

Quinteros, A. Q. and C. S. Abdala. 2011. A new species of Liolaemus of the Liolaemus montanus section (Iguania: Liolaemidae) from Northwestern Argentina. Zootaxa 2789: 35–48. 

A Non-lethal Bite from Vipera berus

The UK news outlet is reporting that a 9-year old girl sustained a bite from an Adder (Vipera berus) while walking in the New Forest, in Hampshire, with her family.She is now recovering in the hospital. The entire right leg turned black, The girl, was taken to Southampton General Hospital's intensive care unit. Doctors treated her with anti-venom and believe she will now make a full recovery. The bite victim was wearing flip flops on her feet. There are ten recorded cases of death from an adder bite in the last century but no one has died from one in Britain during the last 20 years. Follow this link to the Mailonline story.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"The Million Death Study" Published - Snakebite in India

Confusion over the number of people who die in India annully from snakebites is an on-going problem. In 1880, Joseph Fayrer suggested 19,060 Indians died from snake envenomation. His comment instituted a campaign of snake extermination , with 467,744 snakes killed for bounty. Fayrer reported a minimal decrease in deaths - 18,610 people died. However, by 1889, the snake bite deaths increased to 22,480 at a time when the population was 250 million. Swaroop and Grab (1954) assembled the World Health Organization's (WHO) first global snake bite estimates but they lacked reliable data from India, reporting 20,000 deaths. This number may have been based upon Fayrer's 1889 number. Sawai and Homma (1972) attempted to estimate the number by visiting Indian hospitals accompanied by extrapolation and estimated 10,000 deaths per year suggesting 90 per cent of the victims did not seek hospital treatment. Chippaux (1998) estimated snake envenomation killed between 9,900 and 21,600 per year when the population was nearing one billion. A 2005 WHO study estimated 50,000 snakebite deaths in India, but a 2008 follow-up,estimated 11,000 deaths; and a second 2008 report done by the Indian government estimated only 1,400 mortalities, possibly because 6 of the xx Indian states failed to respnd to the study. Snakebite in India does not have to be reported to the Ministry of Health, and traditional folk treatments are still relied upon in many regions. On April 12, 2011 a new study, with the nickname "The Million Death Study" was published in PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases (Mohapatra et al. 2011 -see below)

The study examined 123,000 deaths from 6,671 randomly selected areas between 2001and 2003. Full-time, non-medical field workers interviewed living respondents about all deaths. The underlying causes were independently coded by two of 130 trained physicians. The authors' summary follows:

Earlier hospital based reports estimate about 1,300 to 50,000 annual deaths from snakebites per year in India. Here, we present the first ever direct estimates from a national mortality survey of 1.1 million homes in 2001–03. Full-time, non-medical field workers interviewed living respondents about all deaths. The underlying causes were independently coded by two of 130 trained physicians. The study found 562 deaths (0.47% of total deaths) were assigned to snakebites, mostly in rural areas, and more commonly among males than females and peaking at ages 15–29. Snakebites also occurred more often during the rainy monsoon season. This proportion represents about 45,900 annual snakebite deaths nationally (99% CI 40,900 to 50,900) or an annual age-standardised rate of 4.1/100,000 (99% CI 3.6–4.5), with higher rates in rural areas (5.4) and with the highest rate in the state of Andhra Pradesh (6.2). Annual snakebite deaths were greatest in the states of Uttar Pradesh (8,700), Andhra Pradesh (5,200), and Bihar (4,500). Thus, snakebite remains an underestimated cause of accidental death in modern India, causing about one death for every two HIV-related deaths. Because a large proportion of global totals of snakebites arise from India, global snakebite totals might also be underestimated. Effective interventions involving education and antivenom provision would reduce snakebite deaths in India.
It seems unlikely that this study will end the on-going controversy over the number of snakebites and deaths from snake venom in India. However, it is an intriguing piece of work and if you are interested in the problem it is worth the time to ready the author's ideas. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Roger Repp & Crotalus cerberus

Howdy Herpers,

On 16 April, John Slone escorted me to some Arizona black rattlesnake (Crotalus cerberus) dens that Melissa Amarello, Jeff Smith and he are studying. As a few of you on this list are also aware of the place, allow me to first reassure you that your secret is safe with me. Truth be told, I got lost while I was out there. I still don't have a clue where I was. Pull out my nails--I'll never tell--because I can't! And I intend to keep my ignorance intact. It's better that way. The usual standard for a scientific study of the sort that the dynamic trio is performing is to wade crotch deep into the snakes, start grabbing as many as you can, draw some blood,
slap some transmitters and PIT tags into the animals, and then let everybody go at the place you caught them. You then expect that there was no herpetological yin and yang to your actions, and that nothing will change as a result.

Well, as one who has done way more than his share of den mucking, I can assure you that if you use this method of study you change the dynamics of that den. Maybe not forever, but certainly for longer than your study will last. The differences may be subtle, and you can slant your data and your thinking to say "we didn't change nuthin," but you are truly fooling yourself if you believe that.
What my three friends are trying to do is commendable. They are keeping their hands off the snakes at these dens. They are trying to gather information about social interactions that most scientists will likely refuse to believe. In many ways, science is the worst enemy of promoting what might be the most misunderstood animal on this planet. Some of the things these three have seen and documented I have seen in other places. When I bring these observations up, I am sometimes ridiculed. I do hope that when the outcome of their study is gathered, people will receive their interpretations graciously. I stand by my opinion that rattlesnakes are far more than wind up toys of nature, hard wired by instinct to react mechanically to physiological queues. I cut steel for a living--so I can do that. Nobody can tell me how to think, especially people who have never attempted to watch closely without interrupting what they see by using the conventional methods of science.

I can already hear half of this audience cheering. They are the half that the other half would call "amateurs." And I can also already feel the breeze of the other half prodigiously shaking their heads from side-to-side. It's okay guys and gals, I don't mind being called an amateur. And I will listen to you even when you say things that I believe are wrong.

The problem with natural history observations is that they are often open to a word that I already used: "interpretation." My answer to that is that if we who are constantly on the ground interpret something, who is in the better position to do so?

Well, the onus of the people involved in the study I'm describing is that they not only intend to interpret what they see. They also hope to prove it. They are trying to do that with good camera work, as well as performing the hard science on the snakes AFTER they disperse from the dens. This is a tough job, but it is one they are equal to.

Enough! Time for some pics, which I will interpret with something that ends in a question mark each time. Those of you who have closed minds, just call it all speculation. 

Pic 1: Has nothing to do with what we're talking about. This is a striped whipsnake wrapped around a small Arizona Black (hereafter: cerb.) Whipsnakes can be found denning with several species of rattlers out this way, and they do not appear to be eating the rattlers. At least, not at the dens.
Pics 2 and 3: A male cerb hanging out of a den they call "Caprock Den" (for obvious reasons). Take a look at pic 3--see the trees in the background? We're going around to that side of Caprock for the next pics.

Pics 4 and 5: This female was oblivious to us--which is another relic of hands off herping. Has she been subjected to the normal rigors of science, she would have bolted. What's that she is looking at? Could it possibly be her children?

Pics 6 and 7: A female in retreat back to her brood? Pic 7 = one of two possible offspring emerging from beneath a boulder where the adult is heading.
Pics 8 and 9: A couple more adults basking. I am told that both places often have neonates scattered about nearby. It could be these moms are just early risers, and the kids are still under the boulders.

Pics 10 and 11: Some close ups of the neonates in pics 4 and 5. Note the difference in pattern between the young and the adults.

I would like to end this report with encouragement to the trio for what they're trying to accomplish. Stick to your guns guys! If it were easy, somebody else would have already don it.

I'm going to send this--before I change my mind.

Best to all, roger

More Adventures With Roger in March

Howdy Herpers,
It's the moment we've all been waiting for. Time to put March 2011 to bed for good.

Pics 1-3: Images by John Murphy. At the end of the day on March 12, we put a beer in our hand and decided to wander over to AD7 on Iron Mine Hill. Thus, we arrived unprepared to snag this PERFECT female atrox for a transmitter. While there are always benefits to leaving a female unmolested at a den, I still hate myself every morning for letting this one go.

Thanks for the photos John--and your MOST excellent company this day.

Pic 4: One of five Smith's Black-headed snakes encountered by John and I on 12 March

Pic 5: Female Tiger #6, Gracie. While the photo is terrible, it was taken under near impossible conditions. She hung in this crevice for nearly a month, before moving all the way down the slope of our hill. Photo taken13 March.

Pic 6: Likely the last "in situ" image to be created of CRAT #122, an AD7 male who we have since removed from the study. (That is, we removed his transmitter. He's back home now, and still has the PIT tag. We may see him again someday!) 13 March

Pic 7: Female CRTI #8, "Zona." She had moved about 3m from her hibernaculum the day this image was taken, which was 27 March. She did not seem to move muscle when we saw her in the exact spot again on 2 April. On 3 April, she plunged to the bottom of her hill, and is now in the same crevice as she occupied last year at this time.

Pic 8: A smoking young AD4 male atrox found by John Murphy and I on 12 March.
This was another reason to hate myself in the morning. We left him as we found him.
I hope that you will all join me in conveying silent well-wishes to my friend Peter Lawrence from the UK. He is a stoic herper in his own right, and a devoted friend of our beloved Danny Brower, who recently passed away. Peter is going in for a brain tumor surgery soon. As I'm sure that his head is at least his second-most favored organ, we can only imagine his angst. Peter--you need to hang in there so you can catch the next report.

We speak of balls-out-banzai black velvet. We got moms, dads and babies all loving life together.Until then, all of you, live forever!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Future of Asian Snakes

Oriental Rat Snakes are a species of conservation 
concern because of unregulated trade.  © Mark 
Auliya/TRAFFIC  Southeast Asia
The Future of Asian Snakes is a press release from TRAFFIC, dated 12 April 2011

Guangzhou, China, 12th April 2011—A crucial meeting that could decide the future of Asia’s traded snake species takes place this week in Guangzhou, China.

Some 60 experts representing close to 20 governments and international and national organizations are meeting to consider conservation priorities and management and enforcement needs related to the trade of snakes.

They will focus on the markets and commercial trade in snakes originating in East, South, and South-east Asia.

Asian snakes are consumed locally and in neighbouring countries for food, traditional medicines and for their skins. They are also sold as pets and found in expensive luxury leather goods and accessories in the boutiques of Europe and North America. Their skins are often processed in various countries of re-export along the way.

According to a wildlife trade policy review conducted in Viet Nam, the income from snake breeding is three to five times higher than the income generated by vegetable and crop cultivation, and dozens of times higher than the income from pig and cattle breeding.

TRAFFIC has previously raised concern over the international exports of Oriental Rat Snakes Ptyas mucosus from Indonesia, after investigations revealed large numbers were harvested and traded outside of existing government regulations.

TRAFFIC found government-set quotas were being widely-flouted, leading to over-harvesting and illegal trade; and with no marking of skins taking place, it was impossible to track them through the trade chain to point of export.

“TRAFFIC welcomes the current spotlight on the international trade in Asian snakes, which is placing many species on the conservation danger list,” said Dr William Schaedla, Director of TRAFFIC South-east Asia.
“Snakes are clearly vital to natural ecosystems and to the economy of the region—it is in Asia’s interests to ensure snakes have a sustainable future.”

The global trade in snakes involves snake species from many different countries, with specimens taken from the wild or bred in captivity.

However, populations of some snakes have declined significantly through a combination of unsustainable use and habitat loss.

Of the 3,315 snake species globally recognized, one third occur in Asia, many of them endemic to particular countries: Indonesia has 128 endemic snake species, India 112, China 54, Papua New Guinea 42, Sri Lanka 41, and the Philippines 32.

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) regulates international trade in 130 snake species, 45 of them found in range States in the Asian countries attending the workshop.

John Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES, stated: “the global trade in snakes is an industry of considerable socio-economic importance for rural populations in several Asian countries.

"CITES is the main international tool to regulate effectively international snake trade in many of these species.

“The recommendations coming out of this meeting will be critical in addressing the wildlife conservation, sustainable use and livelihood aspects of such trade, and putting forward expert recommendations to CITES governing bodies for future directions.”

The technical workshop runs until 14th April under the leadership of CITES and brings together government experts, members of the CITES Animals Committee and organizations including IUCN and several of its Species Survival Commission specialist groups, TRAFFIC, WCS, UNCTAD-BioTrade, the China Wildlife Conservation Association and China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Venom in Open Grooved Fangs

The open grooved, rear fang of the Masked Water
 Snake, Homalopsis buccata (left), and the closed 
front fang of the Death Adder, Acanthophis 
antarticus (right). JCM
Ever since Herman Schlegel denied the fact that rear-fanged snakes were venomous in the early 19th century, science has been resisting the idea. Many snakes have fangs located on the rear of the maxillary bone, and many of those fangs have open grooves, the gooves are often connected to a venom gland. These snakes bite and hold their prey, chewing to work the venom into the animal so that it can be subdued before being swallowed. Previous studies have suggested the venom in snakes with fangs on the front of the maxillary bone (vipers, elapids, and Atracapsis) inject their venom under under high pressure, while those with open gooves in their fangs have venom that is moving under low pressure.

Bruce Young from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and the Technische Universität München (the Technical University of Munich, Germany) now provide an explanation how snakes use grooved fangs to deposit venom in prey. Snake venom is viscous and a non-Newtonian fluid,behaving sometimes like a solid and at other times like a liquid. Other non-Newtonian fluids include things like ketchup and Silly Putty.

Snake venom is rich in proteins, macromolecules that caus it to have a high viscosity and flow about 500 times more slowly than water. Despite this it flows fast enough down a fang and into a victim at about one centimeter per second (water flows about 7,000 centimeters a second). Snake venom changes its viscosity. When flowing througjh a fang, the venom has a high viscosity, clinging to the fang as the snake prepares to bite. When a snake sinks its fangs into a victim, the three walls of the grooved fang are sealed by the prey's tissue and forming a hollow venom tube (just like thant found in front-fanged snakes) allowing the venom to reach the deeper tissue layers where it will be picked up by the blood and distributed around the prey's body.

Roger Repps Suizo Report - March Madness, Part 3

Howdy Herpers,

With the first March Madness Report sent last week, I bragged about finding 18 different Gila Monsters. While that is a goodly number to find, worthy of chest pounding and Tarzan yodeling, I didn't say that I got great pictures of them all.

Well, even bad pictures of good Gila Monsters are worth sharing, and it is in that spirit that we do just that.

Pic 1: One of the Hilltop HESUs. Found 12 March 2011.

Pic 2: On the same day as above, John Murphy and I found a juvenile HESU prowling on top of the boulder that shelters the communal Gila Hole on Iron Mine Hill. We snagged him before he could enter that hole. This is a photo taken on the next day, after we processed him. GOAG-loving Melissa Amarello and I released him on top of the boulder, and he eventually entered the Gila Hole. He was the 10th different Gila to use this site over the ten years we've been working this plot. 13 March 2011.

Pic 3: A different Hilltop monster demonstrates the classic "ground-swimming" moves of a Gila on the prowl. Kent Jacobs and I found this one on 19 March 2011, and followed him around a while.

Pic 4: The 19th Gila Monster viewed this year proved to be good old stumpy, our transmittered Gila # 16. We have not seen her since November of last year. She had just finished climbing a near vertical channel between boulders when this picture was taken. 26 March 2011.

How you guys holding up? Guess what, we have some more snake shots for you. In a few days!

Best to all, roger

Roger Repps Suizo Report - March Madness, Part 2

Howdy Herpers,
Since Melissa Amarello is so into desert tortoises, I thought I'd just stick with that theme for this report. While I saw quite few of the loveable herp cows this year, I really didn't see much basking behavior. This because it has been a very dry spring. I am refraining from sending images of tortoises in burrows, because these kinds of shots are usually boring. A cowpie under a boulder would generate similar excitement. I only have 3 images that are worth sharing. 

Pic 1: 19 March, 2011. This is one of three tortoises thought to share in the atrox den that we call "Hilltop." The other two were monster males, that cleared out before I could get a photo.

This one is good sized, (~250mm MCL) old female. Note that she has been feeding.

Pic 2: 10 April 2011. The same tortoise as pic 1, only viewed out and about. She was roughly 20 meters away from Hilltop Den. I found her when I went back to photo the two big males found in the hole on 3 April of 2011. Much to my chagrin, the two big males had cleared out, and I couldn't find them out.

Pic 3: Dale DeNardo and company might recognize this tortoise as the one that denned on Iron Mine Hill right below the communal monster hole. This will likely be the best photo I get this spring. This image was taken 26 March. She was gone the next day.
Two of the denning tortoises found on Iron Mine Hill this winter are still in their burrows. This is yet another sign of dry times.

Best to all, roger

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another New Tiny Frog From Borneo

The Borneo microhylid, Microhyla 
berdmorei. This species is larger
than the one described here, females
of this species reach 32 mm JCM
Frogs in the family Microhylidae are mostly small, ground dwelling species that specilize in feeding on ants - there are exceptions, some have adapted to life in the trees, others are burrowers, and some are semi-aquatic; and some have adapted to eating larger prey. The genus Microhyla is widely distributed from the Japan, Taiwan, and southern China, westward to Southeast Asia, and South Asia including Sri Lanka Currently, about 30 species are recognized. The island of Borneo contains five known species of Microhyla (M. berdmorei, M. borneensis, M. perparva, M. petrigena, and M. maculifera). Recently, Das and Haas described M. nepenthicola from Sarawak, emphasizing its small size as the Old World’s smallest frog, and recorded its unique nepenthiphilous breeding habits - depositing the eggs in water that collects in plants - when they described the species. In the description of M. nepenthicola they treated a sympatric, and sometimes syntopic, larger sized species as M. borneensis. Parker (1934) identified a nepenthiphilous larva from Kuching, near the type locality of M. borneensis. During herpetological fieldwork in Sarawak, Masafumi Matsui studied nepenthiphilous larvae and their parental species at various altitudes of Gunung (= Mt.) Serapi, including the type locality of M. nepenthicola (Das & Haas). Some specimens that keyed out to M. borneensis using Inger's (1966) key, except they had a smaller adult body size. At the same locality, specimens of Microhyla sympatric with the small form also keyed out to M. borneensis. However their body size better fits his description than the smaller form. Matsui also found the large form and larvae assigned to M. borneensis in ponds and stream-side pools in Sarawak and Sabah, and the literature led him to consider the small, nepenthiphilous form as true M. borneensis, and idea confirmed examination of the holotype of M. borneensis. This lead Matsui to described Microhyla malang, a new species of microhylid from Gunung Serapi, Matang Range, in the suburbs of Kuching, Sarawak.The name malang is a Malay word meaning "unlucky," and alludes to the long history of taxonomic confusion with its related species, M. borneensis.To date the new species is known from western Sarawak and eastern Sabah, Malaysian Borneo at altitudes of 50 to 555 m above sea level. M. malang is sympatric with M. borneensis around the type locality, in Kubah National Park. Tadpoles were found in ponds and in shallow, muddy pools in drying stream beds. Adult males are in the size range of 18 to 22 mm, making it one of the smallest frogs of the Eastern Hemisphere.

Matsui, M. 2011. Taxonomic revision of one of the Old World's smallest frogs, with description of a new Bornean Microhyla (Amphibia: Microhylidae) Zootaxa 2814:33-49.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Snake Bite & the Use of Snake Repellents

A story carried on, in San Antonio reports a 12-year old boy is in stable condition after being bitten late in the baseball field's dugout by a rattlesnake.The bite occurred in Helotes, Texas a town northwest of San Antonio. The league canceled Thursday and Friday’s games after pest control experts sprayed the ball fields with snake repellent, because of concern that the repellent would "agitate" the snakes. 

The story raises the question - are snake repellents effective? Goggle "snake repellents" and you will find a surprising number of available products claiming to prevent snakes from entering your yard, livestock areas, or campground.

A look at the ingredients in snake repellents reveal a wide range of molecules and compounds that are volitile and have strong odors and includes the following: garlic oil, putrescent egg solids, menthol, menthene, camphor, camphene, carvacrol, thymol, carvone or 1,8-cineol; sulfur, cinnamon oil, clove oil, naphthalene, ammonium carbonate, dieldrin, heptachlor, texaphene, petroleum jelly, benzoyl chloride, civit musk, anise oil, cedarwood oil, clary sage oil, giner oil, grapefruit oil, juniper berry oil, lavender oil, rosemary oil, wintergreen oil yucca oil. The list could be much longer. In fact there seems to be little or no evidence that any of the snake repellents are effective. In fact they may be better at repelling humans, than snakes. See the references below. So, if you are looking to repel snakes, you might as well try the old horse hair rope around the tent trick. At least when it fails you still have the rope.

Some Snake Repellent Research Articles
Ferraro, D. M. 1995. The efficacy of naphthalene and sulfur repellents to cause avoidance behavior in the Plaind Garter Snkae. Great Plains Wildlife Damage Control Worksphop Proceedings. 1995:116-120.

Moran, S., Vaisman, S., Tayar, E. 2008. The efficacy of a naphthalene and sulfur formula to repel the venomous snake Vipera palaestinae in Israel. Applied Herpetology 5:225-232.

San Julian, G. J. 1985. What you wanted to know about all you ever heard concerning snake repellents. Second Eastern Wildlife Damage Control Conference 1985:243-248.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Roger Repp's Suzio Report, March, Part 1

Buenos Howdy Herpers,
Several of you have checked in to ask the "what up" of the reports lately. Truth be told, I've been so overwhelmed with what we're finding that I can't begin to report it all. It has been a glorious winter/spring.
The real story is the Gila Monsters. To date, I have seen 18 different Gilas thus far this year. To put that in perspective, last year was also a very good year, and I only racked up 16. I have yet to do a head count on the atrox, but I expect that I'm also kicking a$ with these.

The best day of the year thus far was 3 March. Jeff Smith and I started the day out with plans to go to sweet spots, but we got distracted, and found even better sweet spots. When the day was over, we observed 6 Gila Monsters, 5 of which were new.
I have NEVER seen five new Gila Monsters in day! 3 is the best I've done, albeit several times. We also observed 17 atrox, a lyresnake, two chuckwallas, a tortoise and a glossy snake that Jeff flipped a piece of tin sheet to find. 
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, in 2001 The Peach and I began the Schuett/Repp Suizo Mountain study with a den we call Atrox Den #1 (AD1). Through the years, the den died out--which I'm seeing is more than a relic of hands-on herping. Dens that I've never touched have died out before my eyes, only to spring back to life a couple years later. 
I think it's all a matter of having a female in the hole. Build a den with a girl in it, and the boys will come (literally and figuratively). 
To make a long story short, AD1 is coming back. 
For now, we'll throw a few pics out, and put together another report in a week or so. 
Pic 1: Spectacular in its remoteness, Gila Knob is a new place that Jeff, Melissa Amarello and I are watching.
Pic 2: The glossy snake that Jeff found on 3 March Photo by Jeff Smith
Pic 3: A new atrox den containing five atrox was found on 3 March. Three of the five can be seen in this photo. Unbeknownst to me at the time, there were two MONSTER tortoises in the hole behind these guys.
Pic 4: The same den 3 days later. Photo by Jeff Smith
Pic 5: A young atrox viewed at a den site on 3 March. It is rare to see youngsters occupying a denning situation.
Pic 6: A rerun. In the crevice just downslope from pic 5, a Gila and another young atrox were observed haniging out together. Jeff found both snakes together on his 6 March visit
Pic 7: The den comes back! Picture of a male atrox basking at AD1, 22 March 2010.
Pic 8: Obviously the same male viewed as last picture, 13 March 2011. On 12 March, John Murphy and I saw three males out here--the first time I've seen multiple snakes here since 2006. Welcome back AD1!
Pic 9: Another den to suddenly spring back to life on our little hill is AD8. On 2 April, Dale Denardo and I, along with others, found five atrox. The next day, Natalie Rowe, Gordon Campbell and I found this pair hooked up there.
With the next report, we'll show some more of these Gilas I'm talking about, as well as some drop dead gorgeous tortoise images.
This is not all that is fit to spit, but it will have to do for now.
Best to all, roger

Nocturnal Behavior Correlated With Orbit Morphology in Dinosaurs

The movie "Jurassic Park" got one thing right: Those velociraptors hunted by night while the big plant-eaters browsed around the clock, according to a new study of the eyes of fossil animals. The study was published online today (April 14) in the journal Science.

This conclusion overturns the conventional wisdom that dinosaurs were active by day while early mammals scurried around at night, said Ryosuke Motani, professor of geology at UC Davis and co-author of the paper.

Scleral Ring of a Gecko. JCM
"It was a surprise, but it makes sense," Motani said.

The research is also providing insight into how ecology influences the evolution of animal shape and form over tens of millions of years, according to Motani and collaborator Lars Schmitz, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Evolution and Ecology at UC Davis.

Motani and Schmitz, a former graduate student of Motani’s, worked out the dinosaur's daily habits by studying their eyes.

Dinosaurs, lizards and birds all have a bony ring called the "scleral ring” in their eye, a structure that is lacking in mammals and crocodiles. Schmitz and Motani measured the inner and outer dimensions of this ring, plus the size of the eye socket, in 33 fossils of dinosaurs, ancestral birds and pterosaurs. They took the same measurements in 164 living species.

Day-active, or diurnal, animals have a small opening in the middle of the ring. In nocturnal animals, the opening is much larger. Cathemeral animals -- active both day and night -- tend to be in between.

The size of these features is affected by a species’ environment (ecology) as well as by ancestry (phylogeny). For example, two closely related animals might have a similar eye shape even though one is active by day and the other by night: The shape of the eye is constrained by ancestry.

Schmitz and Motani wrote a computer program to separate the "ecological signal" from the "phylogenetic signal." The results of that analysis are in a separate paper published simultaneously in the journal Evolution.

By looking at 164 living species, the UC Davis team was able to confirm that eye measurements are quite accurate in predicting whether animals are active by day, by night or around the clock.

They then applied the technique to fossils from plant-eating and carnivorous dinosaurs, flying reptiles called pterosaurs, and ancestral birds.

The measurements revealed that the big plant-eating dinosaurs were active day and night, probably because they had to eat most of the time, except for the hottest hours of the day when they needed to avoid overheating. Modern megaherbivores like elephants show the same activity pattern, Motani said.

Velociraptors and other small carnivores were night hunters, Schmitz and Motani showed. They were not able to study big carnivores such as Tyrannosaurus rex, because there are no fossils with sufficiently well-preserved scleral rings.

Flying creatures, including early birds and pterosaurs, were mostly day-active, although some of the pterosaurs -- including a filter-feeding animal that probably lived rather like a duck, and a fish-eating pterosaur -- were apparently night-active.

The ability to separate out the effects of ancestry gives researchers a new tool to understand how animals lived in their environment and how changes in the environment influenced their evolution over millions of years, Motani said.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation and a postdoctoral fellowship from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Germany) to Schmitz.

Lars Schmitz and Ryosuke Motani. Nocturnality in Dinosaurs Inferred from Scleral Ring and Orbit Morphology. Science, 14 April 2011 DOI: 10.1126/science.1200043

Thursday, April 14, 2011

From the Brains of Toads

Bombina maxima
Frog and toad skins already are well known for the of hundreds of germ-fighting substances. Now a new report in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Proteome Research reveals that the toad brains also contain an abundance of antibacterial and ant-iviral substances that could inspire a new generation of medicines.

Despite many studies showing that amphibians synthesize and secrete a remarkably diverse array of antimicrobial substances in their skin, little is known about the molecules produced in their brains. Rui Liu and colleagues decided to begin filling that knowledge gap by analyzing brains from the Giant Fire-Bellied Toad (Bombina maxima), and the Small-webbed Bell Toad (Bombina microdeladigitora). They discovered 79 different antimicrobial peptides, the components of proteins, including 59 that were totally new to science. The diversity of the peptides "is, to our knowledge, the most extreme yet described for any animal brains," they noted. Some of the peptides showed strong antimicrobial activity, crippling or killing strains of staph bacteria, E. coli, and the fungus that causes yeast infections in humans. These promising findings suggest that the toad brains might be a valuable source for developing new antibacterial and antiviral drugs. The antimicrobial peptides discovered belong to two peptide groups (maximin and maximin-H). Some of the antimicrobial peptides showed strong antimicrobial activities against Gram-positive and -negative bacteria and fungi.

Rui Liu, Huan Liu, Yufang Ma, Jing Wu, Hailong Yang, Huahu Ye, Ren Lai. There are Abundant Antimicrobial Peptides in Brains of Two Kinds of Bombina Toads. Journal of Proteome Research, 2011; 10 (4): 1806 DOI: 10.1021/pr101285n

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Daemonosaurus chauliodus of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

This rendering of Daemonosaurus
chauliodus shows its size relative to an
 American quarter. The species name 
chauliodus is derived from the Greek 
word for “buck-toothed” and refers to 
the species’ big slanted front teeth.
Artist Credit: Jeffrey Martz

A team of scientists led by the Smithsonian Institution has discovered a fossilized dinosaur skull and neck vertebrae that not only reveal a new species, but also an evolutionary link between two groups of dinosaurs. The new species, Daemonosaurus chauliodus, was discovered at Ghost Ranch, N.M. The team's findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Wednesday, April 13.

The oldest known dinosaurs walked or ran on their hind legs and included early predatory species such as Herrerasaurus. They existed in what are now Argentina and Brazil early in the Late Triassic Period, approximately 230 million years ago. The evolutionary position of these early predatory dinosaurs was contentious because there was a gap in the fossil record between them and later theropod dinosaurs. The team's discovery of Daemonosaurus chauliodus helps fill in this gap.

Because only the skull and neck of Daemonosaurus were found, the total length of the new species is unknown. The dinosaur's skull, however, is narrow and relatively deep, measuring 5.5 inches long from the tip of its snout to the back of the skull and has proportionately large eye sockets. The upper jaw has large, forward-slanted front teeth. It is this feature that helped the scientists name the species. The name Daemonosaurus is based on the Greek words "daimon" meaning evil spirit (because it was found at Ghost Ranch), and "sauros" meaning lizard or reptile. The species name chauliodus is derived from the Greek word for "buck-toothed" and refers to the species' big slanted front teeth.

Daemonosaurus, a basal (primitive) theropod species, was dated to the latest part of the Triassic Period approximately 205 million years ago, just before the beginning of the Jurassic Period. This altered the previous belief that all basal dinosaurs had vanished millions of years earlier. The skull and neck vertebrae of Daemonosaurus also revealed several features similar to those in neotheropods—the succeeding group of dinosaurs on the evolutionary timeline.

"Various features of the skull and neck in Daemonosaurus indicate that it was intermediate between the earliest known predatory dinosaurs from South America and more advanced theropod dinosaurs," said Hans Sues, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and lead author of the team's findings. "One such feature is the presence of cavities on some of the neck vertebrae related to the structure of the respiratory system."

This new discovery shows that there is still much to be learned about the early evolution of dinosaurs. "The continued exploration of even well-studied regions like the American Southwest will still yield remarkable new fossil finds," Sues said.

Hans-Dieter Sues, Sterling J. Nesbitt, David S Berman, and Amy C. Henrici.  A late-surviving basal theropod dinosaur from the latest Triassic of North America. Proceedings of the Royal Society B published online before print April 13, 2011,doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.0410

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Scutulatus from Cochise County, AZ

The Mojave Rattlesnake, Crotalus scutulatus. JCM
Mojave rattlesnakes (Crotalus scutulatus) in Arizona have two quite different kinds of venom. The venom of population A (venom A) contains the toxin known as ‘Mojave toxin’ and it lacks hemorrhagic and specific proteolytic activities- instead it acts on the nervous system. Population B (venom B) does not contain Mojave toxin but instead produces hemorrhagic and proteolytic activities, acting on blood and blood vessels. This situation has been known since at least 1988. Glenn and Straight (1988) examined the venom of 15 Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus from the regions between the venom A and venom B populations in Arizona for the presence of Mojave toxin Seven of the venoms contained both the Mojave toxin of venom A and the proteolytic and hemorrhagic activities of venom B. The i.p. LD50 values of the A+B venoms were 0.4–2.6 mg/kg, compared to 0.2–0.5 mg/kg for venom A individuals and 2.1–5.3 mg/kg for the venom B individuals.Thus, populations with the A+B venom type are almost twice as venomous (at least to mice) as snakes with venom A or B types. Their results suggested an intergrade zone exists between the two venom types which arcs around the western and southern regions of the venom B population. Within these regions, three major venom types (A, B and A+B) can occur in Crotalus s. scutulatus. Thus, the reason for the following article. Crotalus scutulatus is most likely the most dangerous North American rattlesnake.

Glenn, JL and Straight, RC. 1988. Intergradation of two different venom populations of the Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus scutulatus) in Arizona. Toxicon 27, 411-418.

Cochise County's rattlesnakes even deadlier than most
Carly Kennedy
Arizona-Sonora News Service

Like humans, rattlesnakes like the outdoors this time of the year.

And the Mojave rattlesnake that's commonly found in Cochise County might be more deadly than any rattler in any other area of Arizona.

Emergency room doctors in Tucson and Sierra Vista have noticed that patients who suffer from a Cochise County Mojave rattlesnake bite do respond well to the anti-venom, but they often come back to the hospital complaining of the same symptoms.

Herpetologists have gathered from these cases that the Mojave rattlesnakes in Cochise County have venom that is more potent than that from Mojaves in other counties, said Brian Gill, owner of the Tombstone Reptile Exhibit.

One of the supporting theories behind this confusing trend has to do with the type of food the Cochise Mojave eats.

Mojaves typically eat rodents, but in Cochise County there aren't as many rodents available, and so the rattlesnakes in the region have grown accustomed to eating snacks that are more accessible, such as lizards and geckos, Gill said.

"This might be converting the toxins in their body into a more potent toxin," he added.

The Mojave rattlers are one of only four snakes in Arizona that have venom that is a neurotoxin. Upon entering the human body, the toxin starts attacking the nervous system and can ultimately lead to cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest.

Even with its powerful venom, the Mojave is not the most common species in the county, said Tombstone animal control officer James Everetts. He said the most prevalent species of rattler is the Western diamondback.

The diamondback rattlesnake has venom that is a hemotoxin, which affects the surrounding tissue of the bitten area. After the bite has occurred, the hemotoxin starts eating away tissue and causes a "burning" sensation, said Everetts, who has been bitten three times.

"It's like touching an open flame, but you can feel that pain inside your body," he said.

Rattlesnake season spans throughout early spring well into the summer months, seeing its height in May and June, which is the mating season, Gill said.

Experts warn to avoid the snakes altogether, especially during their midday sunning on nearby rocks. "As the snake's energy level increases, so does its aggression," Gill said.

At night, the snakes migrate to roadways because the asphalt acts as a source of warmth. Nighttime serves as their hunting time, so they can be aggressive and should be avoided, Gill said.

During snake season Tombstone Animal Control receives plenty of calls, but those tend to come in spurts as the rattlesnakes migrate in search of food and water. During runs of hotter weather, there will be an average of two calls a week, Everetts said.

"They spread out everywhere to find food and water, so I can go weeks without hearing of any sightings," he added.  Everetts warned victims of a diamondback strike not to place ice or heat on the infected area.

"Ice will keep the hemotoxin centralized, and it will eat away at the surrounding tissue," he said. "And heat will spread the poison too quickly." The best thing a rattlesnake bite victim can do immediately is wash the area with antibacterial soap, circle the marks the snake has made and write down the approximate time of the bite, Everetts said.

"When you get to the hospital, this allows the physicians to judge the severity of the swelling and how fast the poison is moving through the system."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Invasive Herps & Brain Size

Why is it that some amphibian and reptile species become invasive, while others do not? The anwer to this question may rest in the relative brain size of the species. This question is addressed in a new article by Joshua J. Amiel, Reid Tingley, and Richard Shine of the University of Syndney.  They report that amphibians and reptiles have smaller forebrains than birds and mammals, and are often viewed to have less behavioural complexity. In an effort to examine the relationship between larger brain size and capacity to thrive in a novel environment, the authors analysed data on human introductions of amphibians and reptiles to areas outside of their native geographic ranges. They assumed that if a larger brain facilitates dealing with new challenges, success in establishing feral populations following a human introduction will be higher in amphibians and reptiles with large brains relative to their body sizes.

They found brain size relative to body size was, in fact, larger in species of amphibians and reptiles reported to be successful invaders, compared to species that failed to thrive after translocation to new sites.
This was the same evolutionary trend previously found in birds and mammals suggesting that larger brain size enhances the ability to deal with novel environmental challenges in all major clades of terrestrial vertebrates. Interestingly, this pattern was present in all biogeographic regions, except Australasia. Introduced amphibians and reptiles with smaller (rather than larger) brains were more successful at establishing populations in Australasia. This may result from environmental factors selecting against larger brain size where a lack of resources exacerbates the energetic costs of maintaining such an energy expensive organ. The authors prpose that low resource availability in Australasia may favour small brain size and other traits that reduce an animal's total energy requirements. They note evolutionary trends towards reduced fecundity levels in rodents and in birds that have invaded Australia over longer time periods reinforce this hypothesis.

Amiel JJ, Tingley R, Shine R (2011) Smart Moves: Effects of Relative Brain Size on Establishment Success of Invasive Amphibians and Reptiles. PLoS ONE 6(4): e18277. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0018277

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Decline of the Adder in the United Kingdom

Recent reports from the UK suggest that the only venomous snake found on the island nation is in serious trouble. Herpetologists from Natural England, Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Oxford University have teamed up examine the status of  the  Adder. In the last decade it has declined, and surveys suggest a third of remaining adder populations may comprise fewer than ten adults, and likely results from degradation and fragmentation of habitat. Small populations, particularly in the English Midlands, are not capable of maintaining a healthy level of genetic diversity, which makes them less resilient to disease, and make them more susceptible to enetic defects, which in turn could lead to local extinctions. Dr Trent Garner, Senior Research Fellow at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology is quoted as saying, “Genetic diversity has been shown to be a key component for successful adder populations in Sweden and Hungary, but has yet to be studied in the UK. Our goal is to provide the first insights into how population size and isolation may be related to genetic diversity of the UK’s adders.” Jim Foster, herpetologist for Natural England, said, “With around a third of adder populations now restricted to isolated pockets of habitat, and with only a handful of snakes per site, they could be especially vulnerable. As we have seen with natterjack toads, populations that are small and isolated can start to decline purely through genetic effects. This ground-breaking study will see if adders are suffering a similar plight....Fortunately, if there are problems we still have time to deploy a number of conservation remedies. Habitat restoration and the creation of wildlife corridors will help get these snakes back on the move. We may even consider moving adders between populations, to artificially promote “gene flow” - although that carries risks and we’d need to look more closely at the genetics results before proceeding.” [Photo: The Adder, Vipera berus. Photo Credit: Marek Szczepanek].

Tobias Uller of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology agreed, saying, “When populations become small and isolated, with it comes the risk of expression of harmful genetic variants that normally remain ‘hidden’ in larger populations. Loss of genetic variation may also compromise the population’s ability to evolve – a problem that is particularly acute when habitats change rapidly or if a new disease emerges.”

The Adder is one of four reptiles  species described as "widespread" because they are scattered over a large area in Britain. It can be found from the south-west England all the way north to Scotland. But this not dose not mean the species is abundant, within their large distribution, they are restricted to grassland, scrub and woodland edge, primarily on sandy soils.

In 2004, English Nature (now Natural England) surveyed naturalists around the country asking them to evaluate the health of Vipera berus populations, the results suggested "disturbance" was the greatest threat. A third of the populations were small (estimated as fewer than 10 adult snakes), and a third of the populations were isolated. Population declines and extinctions tended to be more frequent in small and isolated populations.

Make the Adder Count, is a project encouraging local Adder conservation and long-term monitoring of populations, information from a small but dedicated band of Adder-watchers around the countrymay be able to alert conservationists of populations in trouble. Disturbance can have different causes. In some cases it is destruction of habitat, but the snakes are still being killed by humans. And, disturbance can also result from people visiting well-known adder sites.
Baker, J. 2011. Why we must make the adder count., April, 3, 2011.

Georgia Wildlife Officials Criticized for Rattlesnake Roundup Permit

ATLANTA— The Center for Biological Diversity and allies today sent a letter to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources denouncing a state wildlife exhibition permit issued for the Claxton Rattlesnake Roundup held on March 12 in Evans County. In January the groups sent a letter to the agency pointing out that state law requires a permit to display wildlife in public. The law states that the permit can only be issued if the display is solely for educational purposes. The Wildlife Resources Division issued the permit anyway, even though the display of rattlesnakes at the controversial roundups is not solely for educational purposes. Today’s letter urges state wildlife officials not to issue permits for roundups in the future.

“Roundups, which persecute and exploit Georgia’s wildlife, are obviously not solely for educational purposes,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist at the Center, which has opposed rattlesnake roundups in part because they harm eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, a once-common species in the Southeast that in recent years has seen its populations decline.

“Rattlesnake roundups” are annual contests where hunters bring in as many snakes as they can catch in a year to be milked for venom, butchered, then sold for meat and skin. Two roundups take place every year in Georgia, one in Whigham in January, the other in Claxton in March. The letter was sent by the Center, One More Generation, the Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy, and Protecting All Living Species.

“The Department of Natural Resources is charged with protecting Georgia’s resources for future generations, not with endorsing the unlimited hunting of one of our state’s rare species,” said Jim Ries, community director at One More Generation, which was founded by two elementary students in Georgia.

“The Georgia legislature never intended for this law to be used to justify the removal of animals from the wild for entertainment purposes. By issuing this permit the agency is contributing to the impending destruction of this species,” said Bill Matturro, founder of Protecting All Living Species, based in south Georgia.

A recently published study shows that rattlesnake roundups have depleted populations of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes in the southeastern United States. This once-common species is being pushed toward extinction by hunting pressure, habitat loss and road mortality. The snake hasn’t been seen in Louisiana since 1980, and is now uncommon throughout its range in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and the Carolinas. In response to dwindling rattlesnake populations, public pressure and environmental concerns, the town of Fitzgerald, Ga., replaced its rattlesnake roundup with a wild chicken festival, which organizers report has been an enormous success.

“All rattlesnake roundups should be replaced with festivals celebrating wildlife and offering educational programs on the importance of saving native species,” said Dr. Bruce Means, author of the recent study and executive director of the Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Evidence of the Benefits of Biodiversity

The following is a press release from NFS - April 6, 2011
View a webcast with Bradley Cardinale of the University of Michigan.

Frequent reports of accelerating species losses invariably raise questions about why such losses matter and why we should work to conserve biodiversity.

Biologists have traditionally responded to such questions by citing societal benefits that are often presumed to be offered by biodiversity--benefits like controlling pests and diseases, promoting the productivity of fisheries, and helping to purify air and water, among many others. Nevertheless, many of these presumed benefits are have yet to be supported by rigorous scientific data.

But Bradley J. Cardinale of the University of Michigan has produced a new study that finally verifies that biodiversity promotes water quality and explains how it does so. Specifically, the study reveals how biodiversity helps remove excess levels of nutrients from streams that commonly degrade water quality.

Cardinale said, "This is the first study that nails the mechanism by which biodiversity promotes water quality. And by nailing the mechanism, it provides solid evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship between biodiversity and water quality that was previously missing."

Here's how Cardinale's mechanism works: as the number of species of algae in a stream increases, the geographical distribution of these organisms within the stream expands, and the more water these widely distributed organisms may cleanse through a pollution-removing process common to algae.

Cardinale's study, which appears in the April 7 issue of Nature, was funded by the National Science Foundation.

The cleansing power of biodiversity
Scientists have long known that ecosystems that have more plant species tend to have a greater capacity to remove pollutants from soil and water than do ecosystems that have fewer species. But, until now, no one knew how or why this is so.

Cardinale's study helps solve this mystery by explaining how biodiversity promotes the self-cleaning power of streams. According to the study, as algae grow in streams and produce more biomass, they incorporate into their bodies some common forms of pollution and thereby remove it from the water. Each species of pollution-removing algae has evolved and adapted to a different set of conditions, and so occupies a unique mini habitat, or niche, within a water body. Therefore, as the number of species of pollution-removing algae increases in a stream, so too does the number of unique niches that are occupied, filtered and cleansed by them. Hence: the more algae species a stream has, the more total pollutants these organisms may remove from the water.

"As the different habitats in a stream are filled by diverse populations of algae, the stream receives more total biofiltration," said Cardinale. "It's as if the algae work as a better sponge."

"Algae are the sort of thing that are easily overlooked, however Cardinale provides an elegant experiment that shows how the biological diversity of algal species greatly increases the removal of one of the most deadly and insidious toxins in our streams, lakes and rivers," said George W. Gilchrist, a program director in NSF's Division of Environmental Biology.

The process by which species evolve to inhabit their own, unique habitats is known as niche partitioning. "People as far back as Darwin have argued that species should have unique niches, and as a result, we should see a division of labor in the environment," Cardinale said. "But demonstrating that directly has proven very difficult."

The varied types of habitats that may exist within any particular stream include, for example, areas where water flows swiftly vs. areas where water flows slowly.

Study design
Cardinale began his study by growing from one to eight species of algae that are common to North America in each of 150 miniature model streams; each model stream was designed to mimic the varied flow conditions that exist in natural streams, including those dominated by riffles, runs, or calm pools. He then measured the ability of each algal community to soak up a nitrogen compound called nitrate. Cardinale chose nitrates to represent pollution in the study because excess nitrogen is the most common pollutant and the leading cause of degraded water quality worldwide.

Nitrogen is a nutrient found in all living organisms. But excess nitrogen is a pollutant that is usually carried to water bodies in runoff containing nitrogen-based fertilizers and nitrogen-bearing sewage.

Various species of algae were chosen to represent biodiversity in the study because algae are the primary organisms that take up excess nutrients, such as nitrogen, from streams, lakes and oceans.

The power of niche partitioning
Cardinale's results showed that nitrate uptake in the model streams increased linearly with species diversity. On average, the eight-species mix removed nitrate 4.5 times faster than did a single species grown alone.

Evidence that these results were produced by niche partitioning includes the domination of differently shaped forms of algae in different types of stream habitats, as predicted by ecological theory. For example, high velocity habitats were dominated by small, single-celled species of algae that grew in ways that were resistant to displacement by the force of fast-moving water. By contrast, low velocity habitats were dominated by large, filamentous algae that were vulnerable to such forces.

In addition, as part of the research, streams were experimentally simplified until they contained just one type of a habitat, and no opportunity for species to express their niches. Results showed that each of these simplified water bodies then collapsed to one dominant species that singularly drove all nitrate uptake, without species diversity influencing such uptake. These result confirmed that niche differences among species provided the mechanism for biodiversity's cleansing ability.

"One of the primary contributions of this study," said Cardinale, "is that I was able to show exactly why streams that have more species are better at removing these nutrient pollutants from the water. It's just one study, but it's part of a growing body of scientific evidence that is now clearly showing that the modern mass extinction of species is going to affect humanity in some big, and important ways."

Implications of study
Cardinale continues, "One of the obvious implications of the study is that if we want to enhance water quality in large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake Bay watershed or around the Great Lakes, then the conservation of natural biodiversity in our streams would offer, among other benefits, help in cleaning them up."

Nevertheless, scientists are currently warning that accelerating species loses may ultimately lead to a mass extinction comparable in magnitude to that which wiped out the dinosaurs--a possibility that certainly threatens the biodiversity of rivers, streams and other water bodies.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bufo viridis on the Iberian Peninsula

The green toad (Bufo viridis) was present 

in the Iberian Peninsula during the late 
Analysis of fossils found in the Cueva Victoria deposit in Cartagena (Murcia), has for the first time confirmed the presence of the green toad (Bufo viridis) in south eastern Spain at the end of the Early Pleistocene (more than 1.1 million years ago), in the provinces of Granada, Murcia and Castellón.

"Around 500 fossilised bones document the entire skeleton of the green toad, and provide key osteological clues that mean they can be unequivocally attributed to this species," says Hugues-Alexandre Blain, one of the authors of the study and a researcher in the Prehistory Department at the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) in Tarragona.

The study, which has been published in Comptes Rendus Palevol, shows that at this time the amphibian belonged to a different subspecies than the green toads of today. Changes in the climate and landscape, "which have taken place frequently over the past two million years," could be the reason for them having become locally extinct.

Nowadays, B. viridis is distributed extensively throughout Eurasia and northern Africa, but until now its presence had never been demonstrated in the Iberian Peninsula. "Although the peninsula has favourable ecological conditions, the species is strangely absent," the expert says.

The south western limit of its current range in Europe is the border between Italy and France. In Spain, it is only found in the Balearic Islands, "where it is thought to have arrived recently, possibly having been introduced by the Phoenicians from northern Africa," says Blain.

Why did it disappear in the Iberian Peninsula?
There are various theories as to the causes that led to the green toad disappearing from the Peninsula during the Pleistocene. "Growing climate changes and in particular the cold period seen around one million years ago could be possible explanations," the scientist explains.

However, pressure from the natterjack toad (Bufo calamita), "which is stronger and more competitive," may have displaced the green toad and "made it locally extinct," leaving it "trapped" in south eastern Spain. The expert says that "we will only be able to find out what really caused the local extinction of B. viridis by carrying out studies on more deposits, covering a more extensive geographical area and longer time period."

In search of its ancestor
The green toad belongs to the family Bufonidae, but its ancestor is unknown. "Molecular studies suggest that green toads had an ancestor in Central Asia, but the oldest fossil record found to date is from the Early Miocene (more than 20 million years ago) in France and Spain," explains Blain.

In Spain, the closest living toad relative of B. viridis is the Natterjack Toad, which is found all the way to Ukraine. In Europe, "Bufo priscus could be a good candidate for the title of the European ancestor of B. viridis," says the scientist, who believes it is necessary to carry out a "serious review of all the fossils attributed to this group in Europe, Africa and Asia."

Hugues-Alexandre Blain, Luis Gibert, Carles Ferràndez-Cañadell. First report of a green toad (Bufo viridis sensu lato) in the Early Pleistocene of Spain: Palaeobiogeographical and palaeoecological implications. Comptes Rendus Palevol, 2010; 9 (8): 487 DOI: 10.1016/j.crpv.2010.10.002