Sunday, October 30, 2011

De-listing the Concho Water Snake

Texas Parks & Wildlife, Martin Whiting
The Courthouse News Service is carrying the following story about the Concho Water Snake, Nerodia paucimaculata, which was listed because of habitat loss. Stream inpoundments flooded many miles of  habitat above the dams which restrict water flow and prevent siltation of rocky streambeds, encroaching vegetation, and the loss of riffle habitat required by young snakes. Today, efforts are being made to restore stream habitat and manage water flows to maintain habitat for the Concho Water Snake. The snakes have colonized artificial riffles that have been built to offset loss of natural habitat. The snake was federally listed in 1986.

WASHINGTON (CN) - The number of Concho water snakes in central Texas has continued to grow despite several years of severe drought, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the species from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

When the species was listed in 1986, its numbers were in decline, a trend the agency believed was due to dams blocking the Colorado River.

A recovery plan implemented by the agency, the state of Texas and the Colorado River Municipal Water District required changes in the release of water from the Freese and other dams along the Colorado river to provide more water flow for the snake to travel, improving breeding opportunities and increasing genetic diversity.

The agency said data collected since the snake's initial listing indicate that it is hardier than previously thought and that it is able to adapt to changing environmental conditions, such as drought and relative isolation between breeding populations.

As a result of its delisting, the Concho water snake also will lose its federally designated critical habitat, which required that all activities in the area subject to federal funding had to be reviewed by the agency to be sure they had no negative impact on the species.

The Concho water snake will officially be removed from the endangered species list on Nov. 28.

The Business of Snake Charming

The Hindu is reporting the following story by V. S. Palaniappan .

What should a person do when she sights a snake? Who should she turn to for help? These questions remain unanswered as there is no system in place to handle such a situation. It was evident on Friday too when a snake appeared on a busy stretch holding up the traffic for more than an hour.

The city has no official snake handlers and the people are left at the mercy of private snake charmers who try to make a fortune out of every rescue call. Depending on the size and specie of the snake, charmers charge anything between Rs. 3,000 and Rs. 10,000. Even authorities at the Coimbatore Corporation's Zoo have to rely on private snake charmers in case of emergencies.

District Forest Officer V. Thirunavukkarasu said Sadiq from the Nilgiris, a snake handler who has the expertise of even catching King Cobras has come forward to offer training in snake handling to field staff of the Forest Department.

The training programme will be held in November. The objective is to have 30 to 40 professional snake handlers available in all the six ranges of the Forest Department.

. At present, the department was making use of the services of five trained volunteers who are part of nature conservation groups and NGOs.

He said people can call the District Forest Office at 0422-2456911 when they sight a snake.

Earlier, the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services Department had fire and rescue men who were trained in handling snakes. At present, Coimbatore has four firemen with skills in handling snakes. People can call fire control room at 101. Though Firemen used to be trained at State Fire Service Headquarters in snake handling, it is not being done in the last couple of years, it is reliably learnt.

16-foot Python bivittatus collected in the Everglades

The South Florida Sentinel is reporting a 16 foot Burmese python was found in the Florida Everglades with a 76 pound female deer that it had consumed. The snake after it was captured and killed Thursday on a tree island in western Miami-Dade County. Skip Snow, a biologist and python specialist at Everglades National Park, who conducted the necropsy on the snake after it was killed by a shotgun blast, said it had a huge bulge from recently consuming the deer. Work crews discovered the snake while walking on the island to remove non-native lygodium plants. This may be the larges specimen of Python bivittatus found to date in Florida. For more photos click here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Non-Production of Antivenom, A Sign of the Times

The commentary below is from Mike Leggett at the Austin Statesman's website.
I’m a capitalist in a capitalist society and so I have to support business decisions made for profit/loss reasons. Right? Therefore I must support the decision by drug manufacturers NOT to produce any more coral snake antivenom products in this country. The current supply, which was stockpiled in 2003, has been declared expired already but tests showed it still potent enough to use on humans. But it’s supposed to go away again Oct. 31. The odd truth is that not enough people are getting bitten by coral snakes and therefore there’s no money to be made in restocking the supply.Therefore, North America’s only neurotoxic poisonous snake — the Eastern diamondback and a couple of others have some neurotoxic properties — will have free rein to bite, poison and possibly kill a couple of people each year. Red and yellow, kill a fellow. Those are the cold hard facts. Here are some others: There is a Mexican version of the antivenom but it hasn’t been approved for use in this country as far as I can tell.There are only about 20 bites per year by coral snakes in this country and 60 percent of those — because of the snake’s primitive poison delivery system — involve no venom at all. Before the development of the antivenom, only 10 percent of coral snake bites were fatal, so we’re talking two per year, far less than from rattlesnakes (which do have antivenom), dog bites, bees and falling in the bathtub.With such a low incidence of harm or fatal bites, we have to wonder why we went to the trouble to acquire the amounts of venom needed to develop the serum and then grow it for sale. Maybe it’s because of the way a coral snake kills. There’s a Poe-like quality to a serious coral snake bite. The respiratory system slowly begins to shut down and victims, untreated victims, tend to die from a lack of oxygen as their lungs slowly cease functioning. Fortunately, coral snakes are really shy little creatures. I’ve only seen four or five of them in my entire life. And I’m looking. And, they have fixed fangs in a tiny mouth and requires them to sort of grind their teeth to break the skin and eventually inject any venom at all. Get them off quickly and you’re unlikely to receive any dose of venom from the bite. Of course, if I’m ever in that group of 20 bites, I want my antivenom. And I want it now.
This commentary clearly reflects the problem with big pharmaceutical companies and the profit motive. Being a capitalist should not be the reason to allow human deaths from snakebites or any other disease. It is at the heart of the twisted view that if you can't make money from human suffering, we should just let humans suffer. Antivenom is not the only disappearing pharmaceutical product, there are hundreds of them. It seems to be time to re-think the way medical care is delivered - do we really want big, greedy corporations practicing medicine - they are doing so right now.

Where's Waldo? (x 3)

Ok Gamers, 10/27/11
Most of you know the score. Find and identify the herp(s) in the three images below.
First Pic: By Steve Barten.
Second Pic by me, find and identify the rattlesnake species in this image
Third Pic, a wonderful image from Dave Barker. Find the ribbon snake, two cricket frogs, and leopard frog.
The first person in with the correct answers to all three wins.............. NOTHING!
I'll send the answers next week.
One two three..................go!
Good luck, roger

Hidden Savings

Hi All,
From Jesse Rothacker.
Any other smartasses out there?
Stuff like this is the best part of the game.
Thanks Jesse, roger

Land Animals & Ecosystems Decimated During the Permian Extinction

To the left. Lystrosaurs escaped the destruction of the Permian catastrophe as did the meter high spore-tree Pleuromeia it is feeding on. Illustration credit: Victor Leshky.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The cataclysmic events that marked the end of the Permian Period some 252 million years ago were a watershed moment in the history of life on Earth. As much as 90 percent of ocean organisms were extinguished, ushering in a new order of marine species, some of which we still see today. But while land dwellers certainly sustained major losses, the extent of extinction and the reshuffling afterward were less clear.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers at Brown University and the University of Utah undertook an exhaustive specimen-by-specimen analysis to confirm that land-based vertebrates suffered catastrophic losses as the Permian drew to a close. From the ashes, the survivors, a handful of genera labeled "disaster taxa," were free to roam more or less unimpeded, with few competitors in their respective ecological niches. This lack of competition, the researchers write, caused vicious boom-and-bust cycles in the ecosystems, as external forces wreaked magnified havoc on the tenuous links in the food web. As a result, the scientists conclude from the fossil record that terrestrial ecosystems took up to 8 million years to rebound fully from the mass extinction through incremental evolution and speciation.

"It means the (terrestrial ecosystems) were more subject to greater risk of collapse because there were fewer links" in the food web, said Jessica Whiteside, assistant professor of geological sciences at Brown and co-author on the paper.

The boom-and-bust cycles that marked land-based ecosystems' erratic rebound were like "mini-extinction events and recoveries," said Randall Irmis, a co-author on the paper, who is a curator of paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Utah and an assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Utah.

The hypothesis, in essence, places ecosystems' recovery post-Permian squarely on the repopulation and diversification of species, rather than on an outside event, such as a smoothing out of climate. The analysis mirrors the conclusions reached by Whiteside in a paper published last year in Geology, in which she and a colleague argued that it took up to 10 million years after the end-Permian mass extinction for enough species to repopulate the ocean — restoring the food web — for the marine ecosystem to stabilize.

"It really is the same pattern" with land-based ecosystems as marine environments, Whiteside said. The same seems to hold true for plants, she added.

Some studies have argued that continued volcanism following the end-Permian extinction kept ecosystems' recovery at bay, but Whiteside and Irmis say there's no physical evidence of such activity.

The researchers examined nearly 8,600 specimens, from near the end of the Permian to the middle Triassic, roughly 260 million to 242 million years ago. The fossils came from sites in the southern Ural Mountains of Russia and from the Karoo Basin in South Africa. The specimen count and analysis indicated that approximately 78 percent of land-based vertebrate genera perished in the end-Permian mass extinction. Out of the rubble emerged just a few species, the disaster taxa. One of these was Lystrosaurus, a dicynodont synapsid (related to mammals) about the size of a German shepherd. This creature barely registered during the Permian but dominated the ecosystem following the end-Permian extinction, the fossil record showed. Why Lystrosaurus survived the cataclysm when most others did not is a mystery, perhaps a combination of luck and not being picky about what it ate or where it lived. Similarly, a reptilian taxon, procolophonids, were mostly absent leading to the end-Permian extinction, yet exploded onto the scene afterward.

"Comparison with previous food-web modeling studies suggests this low diversity and prevalence of just a few taxa meant that links in the food web were few, causing instability in the ecosystem and making it susceptible to boom-bust cycles and further extinction," Whiteside said.

The ecosystems that emerged from the extinction had such low animal diversity that it was especially vulnerable to crashes spawned by environmental and other changes, the authors write. Only after species richness and evenness had been re-established, restoring enough population numbers and redundancy to the food web, did the terrestrial ecosystem fully recover. At that point, the carbon cycle, a broad indicator of life and death as well as the effect of outside influences, stabilized, the researchers note, using data from previous studies of carbon isotopes spanning the Permian and Triassic periods.

"These results are consistent with the idea that the fluctuating carbon cycle reflects the unstable ecosystems in the aftermath of the extinction event," Whiteside said.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An Real Case of Sperm Storage in Eastern Diamondbacks

The New Scientist is carrying the following story. It is of interest because female snakes that have not been in contact with a male have produced offspring by parthenogenesis. Here is an apparent case of long term sperm storage. In most vertebrates sperm is thought to have a relatively short shelf life - unless of course the cells are placed in stasis, which some times happens in special sperm storage tubules.

FAMILY planning campaigners looking for a mascot should consider the eastern diamond-backed rattlesnake. A female of the species can store sperm in her body for at least five years before using it.

The rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) in question was collected in Florida in 2005 and kept in a private collection for five years, with no contact with other snakes. In late 2010, she unexpectedly gave birth to 19 snakelets. To find out what had happened, Warren Booth of North Carolina State University in Raleigh took samples of DNA from the mother and her young.

Booth studies "virgin birth", in which a female produces young without any contribution from a male. But in this case the snakelets carried genes that their mother didn't, so she must have mated before she was captured and stored the sperm (Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8312.2011.01782.x).

Previous studies have hinted that reptiles can store sperm for several years, but this is the first case confirmed by genetics. Booth suspects other reptiles can store sperm even longer. "How long is anyone's guess," he says.It's becoming clear that snakes have unconventional ways of reproducing, including virgin birth and long-term sperm storage, says William Holt of the Institute of Zoology in London, though so far no one knows how they do it.

So much for the press release. In fact sperm storage in squamates has been relatively well studied. 

Oviducal sperm storage is known in females of all taxa of squamates except Amphisbaenia. However, in Rhynchocephalia and Crocodilia, sperm storage is poorly studied, and specialized sperm storage tubules (Ssts) are unknown. Sever and Hamlett (2002) used the molecular phylogenetic hypothesis [(Chelonia+Archosauria) (Squamata)] to trace evolution of sperm storage characters and found Ssts arose independently in Chelonia and Squamata. Turtles have albumen-secreting glands in the anterior half of the oviduct (the tuba or isthmus), and the most distal of these glands act as  Ssts; in addition, some turtles possess Ssts in the adjacent segment of the oviduct, the uterus. Squamates lack albumen-secreting glands, and the ancestral state is possession of Ssts in the posterior infundibulum (uterine tube). Secondarily, iguanids have evolved vaginal Ssts. They used ultrastructural observations on vaginal Ssts in lizards, with Anolis sagrei (Polychrotidae). Proximally, the neck of these simple tubular glands continues the alternation of ciliated and secretory cells lining the lumen of the vagina. However, the epithelial cells of the distal sperm storage area are neither secretory nor ciliated. The Ssts of Anolis are more similar to those of birds more than to infundibular receptacles in snakes and lizards.

Sever, D. M. and Hamlett, W. C. (2002), Female sperm storage in reptiles. Journal of Experimental Zoology, 292:187–199. doi: 10.1002/jez.1154

Saving the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

The Center fo Biological Diversity needs your help saving the dunes sagebrush lizard from extinction.

Widespread destruction of the lizard's New Mexico and Texas dune-oak habitat has prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to propose protecting the lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

But the lizard has become a pawn in a cynical game. The oil and gas industry is trying to block the creature's protections with misinformation and scare tactics so it can drill and pollute the lizard's last pockets of habitat.

You can help save the lizard by signing the Center's petition to White House policymakers. It asks the administration to put in place the protections federal biologists have already proposed.

They need 25,000 signatures by Nov. 19 for policymakers to review this petition. Please sign today. The text of the petition is shown below.


Save the dunes sagebrush lizard by protecting it under the Endangered Species Act.

Fast losing habitat to oil and gas development, the dunes sagebrush lizard is dwindling toward extinction. Because of threats to its survival, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year proposed protecting it under the Endangered Species Act.

But if the oil and gas industry and cronies in Congress have their way, the lizard will never see protection. Restricted to small pockets of habitat in southeast New Mexico and west Texas, the creature is indeed threatened with extinction.

The oil and gas industry, though, is using unfounded and debunked claims that protection of the lizard will kill jobs. In fact, the lizard occupies a fraction of oil and gas leasing areas in a region where many leases offered have gone unsold and where existing protections for the lizard have had little impact.
Created: Oct 20, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hiding In Plain Sight

Phrynosoma modestum is a small (3.7-7.1 cm)
lizard that is found from New Mexico Colorado and 
Oklahoma to San Luis Post, Mexico. JCM

Hiding in plain sight is a well used slogan and many squamates use this principle - to reduced their exposure to predators. Eucrypsis is the name for the type of crypsis used by species to allow them to blend with the environmental background. It may be looking like a leaf, a piece of bark, or a rock. It may also involve behavior, swaying with the branch, moving with a current of water, or freezing in place. Cooper and Sherbrooke (in press) have a forth comming article that describes how the round-tailed horned lizard (Phrynosoma modestum ) mimics rocks, the lizard's body resembles a small stone when it pulls its legs close to its body while simultaneously elevating its back. The authors investigate the efectiveness of the camouflage in  modestum and its dependence on stones by placing a lizards in one of two microhabitats (1) a uniform sand, or (2) sand with surfaceof  rocks about the same size as lizards. Observers who knew which microhabitat contained the lizard was asked to visually locate the lizard. The time to detection was longer and probability of no detection within 60 seconds was higher for lizards on rocky background than on bare sand. In other experiments, lizards were given a choice of sitting on rocky sand or bare sand, a high proportion selected the rocky background throughout the day, but at night all lizards slept among stones. The unique stone mimicing posture gives P. modestum the rounded appearance similar to many naturally eroded stones. Lizards adopted the unusualy posture, but none did so in response to a nearby experimenter, the stimuli that elicits the posture remain unknown.

Cooper, W. E. and W. C. Sherbrooke. In press.Choosing between a rock and a hard place: Camouflage in the round-tailed horned lizard Phrynosoma modestum. Current Zoology 58(1)

Invasive Pythons, The Book

Humans have been moving exotic animals around for a very long time, giant snakes are not an acception. Onesicritus, a lieutenant in Alexander the Greats campaign in India (352–327 BC), relayed stories of the Indian king Abisarus keeping pet snakes that were 120 and 210 feet long. While others with Alexander the Great’s army (Nearchus and Arisobulus) reported seeing Indian snakes that were a more believable 24 and 13.5 feet long (see the Giant Constricting Snakes web site). Pythons have also been imported into the USA for at least the last century for carnivals, zoos, and of course the pet trade. As more people and institutions kept giant snakes escapes and releases were invetiable. Virtually any animal kept as a pet, capable of surviveing in its new geography is likely to become established as a feral population. Thus, it should not be a surprise that giant snakes have become established in Florida, and become the cane toads of the snake world. Google "snakes" virtually any day of any week and there will likely be an escaped python story reported from some place in the developed world.

Michael E. Dorcas and John D. Willson have produced a book that will be of interest to all of those interested in snakes, particularly giant snakes or invasive species, Invasive Pythons in the United States, Ecology of an Introduced Predator.The book is well written and documented, the photographs are excellent, and the overall approach to the problem of invasive pythons are sound.There is an excellent discussion of the climate matching studies that have received considerable criticism as well as the risk humans face from the giant snakes - it is really quite minimal.

A new climate study released this week confirms global warming/climate is real, despite issues raised by climate change skeptics. The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study foud reliable evidence of a rise in the average world land temperature of approximately 1°C since the mid-1950s. Will invasive pythons adapt and spread to other areas of the USA over the next century? This seems highly probable, but don't expect them to be in New York, Chicago, or Los Angles soon.

Michael E. Dorcas and John D. Willson 2011. Invasive Pythons in the United States, Ecology of an Introduced Predator. A Wormsloe Foundation Nature Book, The University of Georgia Press. 176 pp. 188 color photos, 8 maps, 1 table, 7 figures.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Drug Cartels & Snake Venom

From the Khaleej Times On-Line, a story by Nithin Belle that stretches the imagination, but not in a positive direction.

Drug syndicates’ hand feared as demand for snake venom rises

22 October 2011 MUMBAI - The seizure of snake venom in Mumbai and Thane in recent days has led the police to suspect that a new syndicate dealing in the poison has emerged, as perhaps demand from drug addicts has grown.

Heroin addicts, who have virtually no space left on their limbs for injecting the drugs, are known to take snake bites on their tongues. Many addicts who have been abusing narcotic substances for years are also known to try snake venom to get a new high.

On Wednesday, Mumbai police arrested one Naeem Bakshi, 38, a Delhi resident, who was trying to sell a litre of snake venom, estimated to be worth Rs40 million, near Sion in central Mumbai. He has been remanded to police custody.

Police sources suspect that consumption of snake venom is on the rise, especially among drug addicts seeking a new high. This could have attracted drug syndicates into what could be a lucrative trade.

Last month, the Thane police arrested three persons who had in their possession 600 gramme of snake venom. Just a few days earlier they had arrested two others for illegally possessing snake venom. According to R.P. Shivdas, assistant commissioner of police, the venom was probably extracted from a king cobra. A few days ago, the anti-narcotics cell of Thane police arrested one Kiran Sagre, 34, from the Karad ST bus stand, with snake venom worth almost Rs25 million.

Police sources here say that snake venom is being sold as an esoteric narcotic and drug-pushers are extracting large sums of up to Rs4,000 for a prick of the poison. It can be highly dangerous, and only a few drug addicts are known to go for it. About two years ago, the Maharashtra government angered environmentalists by deciding to legalise the snake venom trade. The government allowed snake rescuers to engage in venom extraction activities in Nashik.

The objective was to enable snake rescuers, who catch snakes that stray into residential areas, to earn a livelihood. The government had set a ceiling of extracting venom from 8,000 snakes every year.

But environmentalists warned that this would encourage smuggling of snake venom and even result in an illegal trade in snake parts. They feared that the move would also result in large-scale killings of the reptiles.

Snake venom is used by a few pharmaceutical companies in India to produce life-saving drugs and antidotes to snake bites. The venom is usually extracted from the ‘big four’ Indian snakes — the cobra, common krait, Russel’s viper and saw-scaled viper.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Some Ideas Are Better Than Others

Some ideas are better than others, and establishing a method that allows citizens to report information on the presence of amphibians and reptiles on-line is an excellent one. These types of websites have an obvious value for conservation efforts, but they also increase awarness, educate the public and stimulate interest. The Carolina Herp Atlas (CHA) project developed by the Davidson College Herpetology Laboratory and Davidson College Information Technology Services is aimed at providing detailed data on the distribution of reptiles and amphibians of North and South Carolina. The resulting database can be used by registered users to record personal observations and herp enthusiasts, ametur naturalists, and scientists to study county level distribution maps, photographs, and data on activity periods, habitat relationships, current distributions and other aspects of amphibian and reptile ecology in North and South Carolina. In the 29 month period between 1 March 2007 to 22 September 2009, almost 700 users were registered and received the database received 15,626 amphibian and reptile occurrence records.Distribution data for 32 frog, 51 salamander, 38 snake, 12 lizard, 16 turtle species, and the American Alligator were collected, with  snakes (5,349 records) being the most frequently reported. For conservationsits and scientists obating this data by themselves would be time consuming and expensive. If you have not yet visted this website, take a few minutes to explore it. An on-line article about the site by Price and Dorcas discusses the development and advantages of the database.

Suizo Report -- The Fine Nine

Howdy Herpers, 18 October 2011

On 17 September of 2011, a well-advertised “we need more rattlesnake subjects” roundup shook a total of seven herpers out of the bushes. These heros shall not go unsung, although mention of their names here will not necessarily earn them any merit elsewhere. (Quite the contrary!) In no particular order, the superb seven were Blake Thomason, Hans-Werner Herrmann, John Slone, Brian Park, Paul and Steven Condon, and typing boy here.

The mission was clear: The Schuett/Repp Suizo Mountain Study had one transmitter left to burn. As the invite indicated, we were mainly after a tiger rattlesnake or a black-tailed rattlesnake to utilize the $400 electronic wonder at our disposal. But as it was late in the season, we would take whatever was deemed the best catch of the night, stuff in the afore mentioned high-priced piece of wired fruit, and throw any would-be recipient into the game.

As darkness descended upon the plot, the edict was issued: “Go ye therefore upon the hills and washes, and collecteth thou every buzzworm that crosses thy path. Gettest thou thy sorry selves not bitten in the process. Let it be said, let it be done, amen.”

Soon, Iron Mine Hill and the washes surrounding were ablaze with glimmering headlamps and flashlights. Everybody scattered nicely, nobody was tripping over anybody else. By 2300, everybody reassembled at camp. Steven had found a nice male tiger rattlesnake (success!). Brian brought in a hatchling lyresnake. All things considered, this was probably the best find of the night. John Slone found not one, but two blacktails for us! (We have not seen a blacktail on our plot in two years!)

As one of John’s blacktails was a female, it became a question of where would our investment go? The lady, or the tiger?

A quick phone call to Holohil transpired the following Monday. They promised the impossible­delivery of a transmitter that week! The lady or the tiger? How about BOTH!

A huge thank you is in order to all of those who participated that night. We can’t do this thing alone, and your good help has assured that this very tough year has drawn to a successful close. We now have nine transmittered reptiles to take us into the next year and beyond. The framework of the “fine nine” contains five species of venomous herps. I don’t know if this kind of variety has ever been radio-tracked anywhere else.

As the remainder of this year and the next will contain reports of the coming and going of these nine very cool animals, an introduction is in order. We will get biblical with said introduction. “The last shall be the first.” Hence, in reverse order, we chronologically describe our most recent additions, and work through the years to some old friends.

Image 1, by Paul T. Condon: Male CRTI #11, “Steven.” (Posed image taken the night of capture.) This is the tiger found by Steven Condon on the night of 17 September. He appears to be moving up the eastern slope of Iron Mine Hill, and seems poised to wrap around the north side. Other tigers that we have followed through the years favor the north side of the hill for hibernation. He will likely do the same. Time will tell. 
Image 2: Female CRMO #10, “Susan.” (Another posed image taken on the night of capture.) This is one of two blacktails that John Slone found on the evening of 17 September. She has thus far shifted westward along a contour of Iron Mine Hill, and then dropped down to the bajada. She is in serious need of a plot biscuit. I expect that one way or another, she’ll get one soon. Note the full string of rattles that indicate her to be a younger snake.

Image 3: Male CRSC #1, “Blake.” This world-traveling scut was found by Blake Thomason on the evening of 27 August 2011. He has moved an astounding 4,350 meters northwest of his capture spot since then. I’m pleased to report that he seems to have settled in to a more reasonable home range. Image taken 28 September, 2011.

Image 4: Male CRTI#10, “Jeff.” Found by Jeff Smith in Suizo Wash on the evening of 23 July 2011. He was observed choking down a pocket mouse that night. During the course of the summer, he made a major move to the west, and then shifted back to the wash. He is currently slugging his way up the west slope of Iron Mine Hill. He was last seen on 16 October with a major food bolus distending his flanks. It is presumed that this meal will enable him to enter his hibernaculum soon. Image taken 1 October 2011.

Image 5: Female CRAT #87, “Julie.” This snake was originally found in April of 2005 by Dwight Lawson. At that time, she was deemed to be an up and coming two-year old snake. She was too small for a transmitter. She was recaptured on 7 August 2011, (a team effort involving Repp/Slone/Schuett/Herrmann), and gave birth to 12 young on 15 August. She thus far has exhibited a tiny home range, hanging out between Suizo Wash and the north-center of lower Iron Mine Hill. This image was taken on 24 September, 2011. 
Image 6: Female CRAT #133. She was found by John Slone at the far east side of Iron Mine Hill the evening of 6 August, 2011. She gave birth to six young on 26 August. Upon release, she moved across Suizo Wash, and appears to be heading to the Suizo Mountains proper. This image, taken 8 October 2011, is shown as the absolute “Antichrist” of the sprit of the recent deluge of “Where’s Waldo” emails. Typing boy here did everything in his power to actually SHOW YOU a one meter long rattlesnake in a hunting/hiding posture. I’m actually using every (minimal) digital photographic skill I posses to allow the reader see her. Perhaps the right person with the right camera could do it better. But the bottom line is that this is a difficult to produce image of an in situ subject. (And this is the only time I’ve seen her up since we began tracking her.) 

Image 7: Female CRAT #121, “Tracy.” Found by Tracy Keppelkolb on 23 May 2009. She was a sweet young thing at her time of capture, but she has grown to adulthood before our very eyes. She gave birth in September of 2010, and again in August of 2011. As with most female atrox on our plot, her home range is tiny, bopping between Iron Mine Hill and the southern channels of Suizo Wash. This image was taken on 16 October 2011. She could use a plot biscuit. The effort to reproduce on an annual basis takes a lot out of our females. We can only hope she scores a meal before she moves to her hibernaculum.

Image 8: Female CRTI #8, “Zona.” Found on 15 August 2009 by young Arizona Sawby, the eight year-old daughter of Ryan Sawby. She gave birth in July of 2011, but all we had to show for it was a fat snake/skinny snake. Tigers sometimes give birth in impossible-to-observe places. At this point in time, she has shifted from her Suizo Wash summer hangout to a crevice midway up the west-center of Iron Mine Hill. This crevice is exactly where she went at this point in 2010. It is expected she will shift uphill to her hibernaculum of last year. Image taken 1 October 2011.

 Image 9: Female HESU #13, “Farrah.” Found and captured on 24 May 2008 by Schuett and Repp, Farrah is our one finger left in the Gila Monster pie. We deliberately removed the transmitters from two other HESU this year, thinking we were done with them. But a last second decision by typing boy kept this one in the game. You won’t hear me bragging about her appearance in the image below. Despite some highly respected nay saying from our knowledgeable peers to the south, we are sticking to our best guess that what we are looking at is a HESU who has just laid her eggs. She is currently working her way around the upper east contours of Iron Mine Hill, and I expect her to eventually wind up in one of the communal Gila dens on the upper west side of Iron Mine Hill for the winter. I was lucky enough to see her tail on 16 October. It looked a little better than in the image below, but not much. This year was hard on some of the herps under watch in many places, not just ours. We can only hope for wet winter to save the day for her and others like her. The image below was taken 10 July, 2011.

If I had to depict a herping year with but one image, the one above might serve 2011 perfectly. I am just beginning to gather my off plot data, so until all that is in front of me, I won't know for sure how good or bad this year really was. And there are still things to look for in the days ahead. One good indicator will be the dozen or so atrox dens that we've accumulated on Iron Mine Hill and the areas surrounding. By end of November, they will tell us much. But as it all stands, right now, my opinion is that everything will add up to a very bad year for the herps and other wildlife in our area. I expect mortalities next spring. I don't think we will have a good winter/spring rain. It's just not looking good.

Also in peril is our ability to continue our study. By January of 2012, we will face an expense of $2,000.00 for PIT tags and transmitters. It is at that point where the final decision will transpire. But regardless of that decision, we will at least be out there tracking until the end of September 2012. We look forward to where our new friends will take us, as well as developments with the old.

Thanks to all of you for making what has transpired thus far happen.

Kind regards to all, roger

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jaffna, Sri Lanka - Bites of the Saw-scaled viper, Echis carinatus synhaleus

The following story appears on the The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) website, October 16, 2011.

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi
The not much talked of saw-scaled viper is the No. 1 biter in the Jaffna peninsula among the deadliest venomous five in Sri Lanka, with the more feared Russell’s viper and cobra coming second and third.

This has been revealed by a long overdue research conducted at the Jaffna Teaching Hospital by an eminent team, as soon as the war-ravaged peninsula became accessible with the end of the conflict.

The unexpected confrontations with the saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus) are many, leaving many unsuspicious women and children going about household chores, the victims, the research which has been published in Elsevier by the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, has found.

Titled ‘Revisiting saw-scaled viper bites in the Jaffna peninsula of Sri Lanka: Distribution, epidemiology and clinical manifestations’, the research has been carried out by Prof. S.A.M. Kularatne and Dr. S.C. Medagedera both of the Peradeniya Medical Faculty’s Department of Medicine; Dr. S. Sivansuthan of the Jaffna Teaching Hospital; Dr. K. Maduwage of the Peradeniya Medical Faculty’s Department of Biochemistry and Anslem de Silva, herpetologist and well-known “snakeman”.

Venomous snake bites in the Jaffna peninsula, foremost of which are saw-scaled viper bites, have been an issue lying dormant and swept under the undergrowth but has now been brought to light.

This study is of major significance because it is the first comprehensive one with voucher specimens of the venomous snake, the Sunday Times understands.

The study of a total of 304 patients admitted to the Jaffna Hospital with a history of snake-bite from February 2009 to January 2010, fills the information lacuna on saw-scaled viper bites after P.E.P Deraniyagala’s ‘A coloured atlas of some vertebrates from Ceylon’ published as way back as 1955.

The research spanning Jaffna Hospital and Peradeniya University miles away, had been designed to “evaluate the true burden, effects of envenoming, distribution and epidemiology” of the bites of the saw-scaled viper known as “vali polonga” in Sinhala and “suratti pamba” in Tamil.

Of the total number, 217 (71%) patients had been bitten by venomous species or envenomed by unidentified snakes. Among the identified species, 99 (46%) were saw-scaled viper bites while the balance included 42 Russell’s viper (D. russelii), 6 cobra (N. naja) and 10 common krait (B. caeruleus) bites, according to the study. (see graphic above)

Interesting details emerge from the research which had also studied the 26 saw-scaled vipers (21 dead and five alive) brought by the bite-victims. The median length of the snakes, comprising both male and female, had been 260mm. Examination of mouth parts had found unbroken folded front fangs measuring 3-5 mm in length. The body surface of the vipers had been serrated and the live snakes had coiled into a double fold and rubbed the lateral aspects of their bodies continuously producing a characteristic shrill sound.

They had attacked with lightning speed at the slightest provocation, darting about two-third of their body length and then returned to the original posture, the study states.

With the saw-scaled viper usually inhabiting dry and coastal plains near the sea, the majority of the bite victims from the Jaffna peninsula had been from the Kayts/Velanai islets, while no cases had come in from the south of Chavakachcheri down to Kilinochchi. The reason attributed by the study is that “these areas were uninhabited for many years due to the military occupation from 2001”. However, security forces personnel in the Jaffna peninsula (Elephant Pass isthmus) had reported seeing saw-scaled vipers among the debris and had frequent encounters at night, it states.

The bite victims were mostly people living in ill-constructed houses surrounded by sandy and low grown shrubs, piles of coconut husks or palmyrah leaves near the compounds. Careless human activities were the probable major contributory factors for bites, it has been found.

Meanwhile, the study also brought out the fact that most victims had sought hospital treatment within hours of the bite, the majority had washed the bitten site with water while some had applied a tourniquet. The possible impact of tourniquets on increasing the severity of the local effect at the bite-site should be investigated, the study urges.

Another important factor disclosed in the study is that though the Indian polyvalent anti-venom seemed to be effective in reversing the coagulation defect (the clinical picture of the bite victims had been dominated by incoagulable blood and occasional situations of spontaneous bleeding from mucus membranes), its action was slow in onset and incomplete in reversing the clotting defect.

Battling the poison
The priority is the development of effective and less allergenic anti-venom against all Sri Lankan venomous snakes including the saw-scaled viper, stresses the research team, as a failure in efficacy of the Indian polyvalent anti-venom has been indicated in saw-scaled viper bites.

When resettling the displaced, the team requests not only government agencies but also non-governmental organizations to make people aware about the saw-scaled viper and how to avoid coming into contact with it. “They should be advised against killing these snakes as their venom is a valuable medical and scientific tool,” a team member said.

It is also vital to have adequate stocks of anti-venin serum in northern hospitals, he said, commending the immense support extended by the Jaffna Hospital authorities and also security forces personnel when conducting the research.

Pointing out that the Sri Lankan saw-scaled viper is smaller than the Indian saw-scaled vipers especially E. sochureki which cause severe envenoming and death, the team urges that more research should be carried out to ascertain why the Lankan snake is only causing non-fatal envenoming.

Rodents, Snake Evolution, and Dates

South America was isolated during most of the Cenozoic and evolved a terrestrial vertebrate fauna that included many mammals, including caviomorph rodent. Antoine and colleagues (2011) have now describe South America's oldest known rodents, based on a new diverse caviomorph assemblage from the late Middle Eocene, about 41 million years ago (MYA) of Peru, including five small rodents with three stem caviomorphs. This means rodent dispersal is not linked to the Eocene/Oligocene global cooling and drying episode (about 34 MYA), as previously thought, instead rodents arrived in South America during the much warmer and wetter conditions of the Mid-Eocene Climatic Optimum. Thus, rodents evolved in China about 55 MYA (early Eocene), reached India, Southeast Asia, and Africa by about 46 MYA, and were in South America by 43 MYA. The authors phylogenetic results reaffirm the African origin of South American rodents and support a trans-Atlantic dispersal of these mammals during Middle Eocene times. This discovery further extends the gap of 15 million years between first appearances of rodents and primates in South America. But perhaps of more interest to people, who read this blog, is what impact did it have on snakes? Click on the table to enlarge it.

Rodents are snake food - many species feed on rodents today - and it has been long thought that snakes evolved their macrostomate lineage (snakes with the ability to gape their mouths to swallow excessively large prey) to feed on mammals. Could this prey have been rodents? Rodríguez-Robles et al. (1999) thought rodents were the reason the erycine boas evolved a large gape. Recently Pyron and Burbrink (2011) published a revised list of dates for the appearance of the different lineages of snakes based upon the DNA clock, these dates are shown in the attached table, and the snake clades are shown in their order of appearance. A quick look at the table shows the first mammal eating snakes alive today were the pythons which appeared a mere 40 MYA. Given that pythons probably evolved in Australasia and rodents were not present in Gondwanan it seem probably that pythons evolved there large gape to eat something else - marsupial mammals seem more likely. The earliest snakes with the macro-gape that appear in the list are the acrochordids, completely aquatic snakes, snakes that feed on fish - they were around 84.66 MYA according to this data. Given that boines were in South America 45 MYA, and rodents did not arrive until 43 MYA, it is unlikely they evolved their huge gape to consume the mammals they do today- see video. Therefore, it appears macro-gape snakes may have first evolved their big, elastic mouths to eat big fish. 

Pierre-Olivier Antoine, Laurent Marivaux, Darin A. Croft, Guillaume Billet, Morgan Ganerød, Carlos Jaramillo, Thomas Martin, Maëva J. Orliac, Julia Tejada, Ali J. Altamirano, Francis Duranthon, Grégory Fanjat, Sonia Rousse, and Rodolfo Salas Gismondi. 2011. Middle Eocene rodents from Peruvian Amazonia reveal the pattern and timing of caviomorph origins and biogeography. Proceedings of the Royal Society B published online before print October 12, 2011, doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1732. 

Pyron, R. A. and Burbrink, F. T. (2011), EXTINCTION, ECOLOGICAL OPPORTUNITY, AND THE ORIGINS OF GLOBAL SNAKE DIVERSITY. Evolution. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01437.x 

Rodríguez-Robles, J. A., Bell, C. J. and Greene, H. W. (1999), Gape size and evolution of diet in snakes: feeding ecology of erycine boas. Journal of Zoology, 248: 49–58. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.1999.tb01021.x

Friday, October 14, 2011

Coloborhynchus capito, A Huge Pterosaur

Coloborhynchus capito.  Image courtesy of  
Mark Witton,University of Portsmouth 

New research from the Universities of Portsmouth and Leicester has identified a small fossil fragment at the Natural History Museum, London as being part of a giant pterosaur – setting a new upper limit for the size of winged and toothed animals.

Dr David Martill from the University of Portsmouth and Dr David Unwin from the University of Leicester examined the fossil - which consisted of the tip of a pterosaur snout that had been in the Museum collections since 1884.

Their identification of the fossil as being part of the world's largest toothed pterosaur has been published in Cretaceous Research.

Dr Unwin, from the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, said: "Our study showed that the fossil represented a huge individual with a wingspan that might have reached 7 metres. This is far larger than, for example, any modern bird, although some extinct birds may have reached 6 metres in wingspan.

"What this research shows is that some toothed pterosaurs reached truly spectacular sizes and, for now, it allows us to put a likely upper limit on that size – around 7 metres in wingspan."

Dr Martill, from the University of Portsmouth, added: "It's an ugly looking specimen, but with a bit of skill you can work out just exactly what it was. All we have is the tip of the upper jaws - bones called the premaxillae, and a broken tooth preserved in one socket.

"Although the crown of the tooth has broken off, its diameter is 13mm. This is huge for a pterosaur. Once you do the calculations you realise that the scrap in your hand is a very exciting discovery.

"The specimen was placed in the collections of London's Natural History Museum by Sir Richard Owen, perhaps the world's greatest vertebrate palaeontologist. In his day, Owen reconstructed a giant New Zealand Moa from a single bone. We might never achieve Owen's calibre, but it is nice to think that we are following in his footsteps."

Pterosaurs are flying reptiles, famously seen in Jurassic Park, that lived in the Mesozoic Era alongside dinosaurs between 210 and 65 million years ago.

There are six or seven major groups of toothed pterosaurs, but in this study the researchers focused on just one: the ornithocheirids. Unlike other toothed groups, all of which were of relatively modest size (wingspans at most of 2 or 3 metres), they are known to have achieved very large and possibly even giant sizes with wingspans of 6 meters or more. Ornithocheirids were specialised fish-feeding pterosaurs that used a fiercesome set of teeth in the tips of the jaws, to grab their prey as they flew low and slow over the surface of the water.

Dr Unwin said: "We found that, generally speaking, large ornithocheirids reached wingspans of 5 or 6 metres which was consistent with previous ideas about this group. However, we also came across one fossil, collected in the mid-19th century from a deposit in Cambridgeshire called the Cambridge Greensand that seemed to be unusually large.

"This fossil, now in the collections of the Natural History Museum, London, consisted of the tip of a pterosaur snout. The shape of the snout and the broken-off tooth that it contained allowed us to identify the new find as belonging to Coloborhynchus capito, a very rare ornithocheirid represented only by a few fossil fragments from the Cambridge Greensand. Calculating the original size of the animal based on just a fragment is difficult, but we were able to take advantage of some recent finds in Brazil of almost complete skeletons of ornithocheirids that are closely related to the Cambridge Greensand jaw fragment."

"Our study showed that the fossil did indeed represent a very large individual with a wingspan that might have reached 7 metres."

Significantly, though, this is still far short of the giant size achieved by some toothless pterosaurs. Several species of a group called azhdarchids achieved wingspans of around 10 metres.

The challenge for the researchers now is to try to understand why some groups, such as azhdarchids, reached these giant sizes, while toothed forms, such as the ornithocheirids, did not. Teeth are heavy, so part of the explanation may lie in weight reduction by losing these.

Dr Unwin said: "This research is important because it helps us to better understand patterns of evolution over millions of years, and in groups that are now extinct. At a more general level, it feeds into TV documentaries such as the current series 'Dinosaur Planet' on BBC, ensuring that they have the 'ring of authenticity' that ensures successful reception, by experts and the lay public alike. Indeed, these programs are enormously popular, as viewing figures show, allowing us to comfort ourselves with the thought that the research we carry out is helping to satisfy the interests of a not insignificant portion of the viewing public.

"For Dave Martill and I, this was to some extent the 'bread and butter' stuff that we do everyday. But it's this slow piling up of data and, critically, its connection into our general understanding, that leads to the really big discoveries. Dave likes to refer to the fossil as the ugliest fossil he ever studied, and I can see his point, but as I did my PhD on Cambridge Greensand pterosaurs they have a special place in my affections and, no matter how ugly, I still love them."

Martill, D. M. and Unwin, D. M. 2011. The world's largest toothed pterosaur, NHMUK R481, an incomplete rostrum of Coloborhynchus capito (Seeley 1870) from the Cambridge Greensand of England. Cretaceous Research 10.1016/j.cretres.2011.09.003.

Answers to Where's Waldo

Howdy Herpers,

First off, I hope you all know that I've sworn off sending impossible
puzzles. I did that once, it won't happen again.

I solved both of these myself before sending them off to you.
The second one took me two guesses to get right--but I didn't
know what type of herp was in the second one initially.

That's another thing that I will do from now on: tell you whether it
is a snake, turtle, or lizard etc that you are looking for.

Without further adieu, all 9 responses for the first image found
the snake. But only Jeff M. and Marty F. got the species right.
As Jeff M. is close to the action, his correct guess didn't surprise
me. Marty getting it right did. Good show!

My initial guess when I first saw Steve's photo was that it
was a cottonmouth. But knowing that Steve has a good place
for eastern hognose snakes led me to the correct guess. Yes,
the snake in image one is a hognose.
Way the hell over in the UK, Peter Lawrence was the first to get the second
image correct. Dave Barker came right in behind him with the circle that you
see on answer number 2.
As one who sometimes steps on obvious snakes to look in escarpments under boulders
or trees, this one was duck soup for me. But it isn't very clear in the image, deliberately so.
The snake is a black-tailed rattlesnake, from the Ruby Road area of Southern Arizona.
I had originally guessed this molossus to be from the Huachucas, as did a few of you. But
Paul Condon's labeling on the attached third image makes it clear that it was not
a WOWchuca animal.
Next week, I'll introduce you to the full crop of Suizo animals we are tracking.

I have a few Waldos ready for the next game as well. Feel free to send me anything
along these lines that you have. If you stump me, I most likely won't send it out. So, make
it hard if you like, but make it possible. I enjoy looking for Waldo as much as you guys do.

Best to all, roger

Reproductive Modes of Frogs - Recent Discoveries

A male Oreophryne guarding 
eggs glued to a leaf, a rarely 
observed behavior amongst 
microhylids. Photo credit: 
S. J. Richards.
Reproductive modes in amphibians encompasses a combination of morphological, physiological and behavioral traits that include where the anaimal lays its eggs,  egg size and number, development time, stage and size of hatchling, and the type of parental care, if it occurs at all. Most of us in North America are familar with frogs depositing their eggs in water, the tadpoles develop into froglets, and then into adults, but go to the tropics or other regions of the world and frog reproductive modes become remarably diverese. The number of papers reporting advances in knowledge on reproductive modes in frogs is ever increasing, and some species have evolved remarkably complex and diverse mechanisms for protecting their offspring. Here are just a few that have been reported in the last year.

Within the genus Hypsiboas (family Hylidae) two reproductive modes are known: some species deposit their eggs in stagnant water and others deposite eggs in natural or constructed basins, with subsequent flooding that releases tadpoles into ponds or streams. Apparently, individuals within a species can be somewhat flexible in their reproductive modes. Ribeiro de Moura and colleagues (2011) described Hypsiboas pardalis depositing its eggs in a terrestrial bromeliad. Bromeliads are relatively safe habitat for tadpoles and spawns compared to puddles and streams, where competitors and predators are more abundant. Similarly, Touchona and colleagues (2011) recently reported that the neotropical treefrog Dendropsophus ebraccatus (Hylidae) lays eggs both above water on leaves and directly in water, this exposes embryos to different abiotic conditions and predator communities and undoubtedly increases the chances of survival for some of the eggs.

 Rodriguesa and colleagues (2011)  report observations on the reproduction of three shoaling/maternal-caring leptodactylids  (Leptodactylus latrans, Leptodactylus podicipinus and Leptodactylus  leptodactyloides), that suggest female presence to tadpoles is important. Females of the three species connected water bodies by digging channels to their tadpoles so that the larvae would not be stranded in drying pools and could find additional food. Females of one species,  Leptodactylus latrans, drove off predatory snakes, as well as conspecific males that approached tadpoles to prey upon tadpoles. In water bodies containing predatory fish, tadpoles of L. latrans only reached metamorphosis despite the presence of guardian females.

Direct development in frogs is where the embryos bypass the aquatic tadpole stage and hatch from the egg as froglets - miniatures of the adults. It is perhaps the most extreme evolutionary modifications of amphibian life histories. The direct development strategy has evolved independently at least 10 times in frogs and resulted in many hundreds of direct-developing species that are mostly tropical. The family Microhylidae (sometimes called narrow-mouth frogs) has a global distribution in the tropics and subtropics with members of the family exhibiting  a diversity of reproductive strategies, however direct development has been documented in only one microhylid subfamily, the Australasian Asterophryinae. This subfamily reaches its greatest diversity in New Guinea, where it is represented by 23 genera. Anstis and colleagues (2011) examined embryonic development in some members of three genera Cophixalus,  Austrochaperina, and Oreophryne and found direct development during which the embryo develops to a minute froglet within the jelly capsule. They compared the development of these Australasian frogs with the neotrpical Eleutherodactylus and foun the New Guinea frogs have a different scenario for development - so not all direct developing frogs are the same.

Gramapurohit and colleagues (2011) studied another direct developing frog in India's Western Ghats, Nyctibatrachus humayuni (family Nyctibatrachidae). Nyctibatrachus frogs exhibit a unique reproductive behavior  completely lacking or having an abbreviated amplexus. They deposit terrestrial eggs and have male paternal care. The authors studied the courtship and spawning behaviour of Nyctibatrachus humayuni from Matheran in the northern region of the Western Ghats. The breeding season coincides with the onset of south-west monsoon; and adult males vocalize from wet rocks or dead logs that often contain egg clutches. Females approach the calling males, resulting in a loose cephalic amplexus that lasts less than 10 minutes. The male dismounts, sits on the side, while the female deposits the eggs and moves away from the spawning site. Once the female moves off the spawn, the male slowly moves on to the eggs and fertilizes them. The males appear to be territorial and attend the eggs only at night, and presumably reduces the risk of predation by nocturnal predators.

Anstis, M., F. Parker, T. Hawkes, I. Morris, and S. J. Richards. 2011.  Direct development in some Australopapuan microhylid frogs of the genera Aus­trochaperina, Cophixalus and Oreophryne (Anura: Microhylidae) from northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. Zootaxa 3052: 1–50.

Gramapurohit, N. P., M. S. Gosavi, and S. K. Phuge. 2011. Unique courtship and spawning behaviour in the wrinkled frog, Nyctibatrachus humayuni.  Amphibia-Reptilia, 32: 333-339

Ribeiro de Moura, M., A. P. Motta, and R. Neves Feio. 2011. An unusual reproductive mode in Hypsiboas (Anura: Hylidae).Zoologia (Curitiba, Impr.) 28(1)

 Rodriguesa, A. P., A A. Giarettab, D. R. da Silvab and K. G. Facureb. 2011.Reproductive features of three maternal-caring species of Leptodactylus (Anura: Leptodactylidae) with a report on alloparental care in frogs.Journal of Natural History 45 (33-34):2037-2047.

Touchona, J.C., J. Urbinac and K. M. Warkentina, 2011. Habitat-specific constraints on induced hatching in a treefrog with reproductive mode plasticity. Behavioral Ecology (2011) 22 (1): 169-175.

New Game -- Where's Waldo?

Howdy Herpers,

In both cases, it's a snake. Find and identify if you can.

Image 1: by Steve Barten

Image 2: by Paul Condon

1-2-3 GO!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Airborne Pheromones Detected by Reproducing Snakes

Photo Credit: Veer
Throughout history snake tongues have been hypothesized to be a venom delivery mechanism, a prey capture device, and a way to lubricate prey with saliva before swallowing. By the end of the 19th century the hypotheses turned more toward sensory functions, such as tactile and smell. Ever since George K. Noble's work in the 1930's it has been known that snakes used their tongues to detect molecules released by other other snakes - pheromones. Serpent tongues have been known as molecule collectors for the 70 years and have been experimentally demonstrated to be part of the vomero-nasal system. Now, new experiments demonstrate snake's don't have to pick-up pheromones with their tongue.

Rick Shine at the University of Sydney and Robert Mason at the Oregon State University have found snakes not only able to sense molecular communications through direct contact of their tongue, but are also able to 'smell' airborne molecules.

"Snakes usually depend on large fat molecules to tell them about another snake's sex and reproductive condition. Because these molecules are large, they don't float through the air - and so, a snake picks them up by tongue-flicking the body of another snake directly, or by tongue-flicking a trail that the other snake has left on the ground," said lead author Shine.

"Our work shows that snakes are more flexible that we had realised - they are quite capable of using airborne cues as well, involving different kinds of molecules, so long as these provide useful information."

Males snakes can detect that a female has mated - and will stop courtship- from the airborne scent of the fluids produced during copulation. Using red-sided gartersnakes (Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis) the authors exposed courting males to odors released by female snakes, male snakes, and two mating snakes, and recorded changes in behavior.

"We took an empty margarine container, and cut two holes (one on each side) through which we could pass hollow flexible plastic tubes. One tube ran to a portable aquarium pump, so that when we switched on the pump it pushed air through the margarine tub and out the tube on the other side," said Shine.

"We placed our 'stimulus' (say, a female snake) inside the margarine tub, and held the outlet opening close to the heads of courting male snakes at the den. That way, we could expose them to specific smells, but without giving them access to the large surface-bound molecules that snakes generally use as sex pheromones."

As predicted, when courting snakes were exposed to smells issued by the mating pair of snakes in the margarine container, the courting stopped.

The research suggests that snakes are able to adjust their behaviour to take advantage of certain cues in their environment to maximise their chances of reproductive success.

"Previous studies by these authors have shown that the presence of sperm plugs plays a significant role in the prevention of re-mating by females. The pheromonal evidence described here shows that sperm plugs are not the only deterrent employed by males to maximise their reproductive success," commented Warren Booth from North Carolina State University in the U.S., who was not involved with the study.

"Thus, we have evidence that males have evolved multiple strategies, both physical and chemical, to prevent females re-mating, and therefore to maximise their reproductive success," Booth added.

"In many species, courtship is an energetically expensive behaviour that can reduce or even eliminate a male's reproductive success if he is unable to find a responsive female. In instances where visual confirmation is not available olfactory cues in the form of airborne sex pheromones, as described here, provide the only information available to a male."


Noble, G. K. 1937. The sense organs involved in the courtship of Storeria, Thamnophis, and other snakes. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 73, 673–725.

Shine, R. and T. Mason. 2011. An airborne sex pheromone in snakes. Biology Letters October 12, 2011, doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0802

Monday, October 10, 2011

147 Years of Invasive Herps

Living in the Chicago suburbs, between a metropolitan concrete desert and a vast agroecosystems, you don't expect to find an exotic herpetofauna. However, over the years people have brought me a variety of released pets. The occasional boa or iguana is to be expected, but perhaps the most unusual was an acquaintance that pulled his pickup into my driveway and said, "...are there lizards in Illinois," of course I replied in the affirmative. He removed a shovel from the back of the truck, on the blade was a very large, road killed Tokay Gecko. He had found the lizard on a road that runs through miles of cornfield, and the nearest human dwelling was at least a mile away.

In a recently published paper Kenneth Krysto and colleagues confirm three intercepted and 137 introduced amphibian and reptile taxa that have been found in the state of Florida. Remarkably only two (1.34%) were the result of biological controls, four (2.68%) came from zoo escapes; 18 (12.08%) came from cargo; and totally unsurprising, 125 (83.89%) came courtesy of the pet trade.

Florida holds the record for having the largest (56 taxa) established non-indigenous herpetofauna in world, Hawaii is a distant second (31 taxa).The origins of the non-native species spanning span the globe, and includes species from Australia, Oceania and Indonesia, Asia, the Mediterranean, Africa, Madagascar, South America, the Caribbean, as well as other states.

The literature suggests that about 10% of non-indigenous species that are transported to a new area actually become introduced, and 10% of those become established, and 10% of those become pests. This model was developed for British plants and animals, but exceptions to the rule are introduced birds in Hawaii, where more than half of the introduced species became established. The number (43 species) of non-indigenous lizards in Florida is spectacular, considering Florida has only 16 native lizards. This may be due to a combination of their popularity in the pet trade, but also the climate and microhabitats available in Florida.

This report is likely to have consequences for the pet trade and exotic animal business. It also raises the issue of ignoring non-native species or trying to do something about them. The flora and fauna at any given location is the result of co-evolved species, species that have adapted to each other over geological time. Humans have altered those communities in the blink of an eye, with little regard for the consequences. Ignorance is an enemy and released pets that become established can also become pests, and some are capable of causing serious damage to ecosystems. This paper makes for fascinating reading.

The African Clawed Frog was intentionally
introduced into Florida in 1964 by an animal
dealer. JCM
Krysko, K. L. et al. 2011. Verified non-indigenous amphibians and reptiles in Florida from 1863 through 2010: Outlining the invasion process and identifying invasion pathways and stages. Zootaxa 3028: 1–64.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Alligators, Pseudomonas, & Human Welfare

Alligator (above) JCM, Pseudomonas
Human welfare may very much depend upon biodiversity. No matter how you feel about the environment, no matter how greedy you are, you will get sick at some point and your health problem will more than likely be treated with a product that its molecular origin in an organism. Stories about superbugs, pathogens that have evolved resistance to known antibiotics, are a regular feature on the nightly news. Getting a superbug is frequently associated with a visit to a hospital, a place with lots of germs and where people are treated with many antibiotics.  Solutions to antibiotic resistance will likely be solved with more molecules from organisms. Linking human welfare to biodiversity provides a window of opportunity to educate the ignorant masses unable to find value in protecting the biosphere and changing their attitudes toward nature. More than 60% of all pharmaceuticals originate from  molecules found in organisms. Loss of biodiversity is a loss of potential future medicines. Venkata Machha and colleagues (2011) report the results of testing bacteria resistance to antibiotics with a refined leukocyte extract from the American Alligator. The alligator blood extract exhibited the strongest antibacterial effect on Pseudomonas aeruginosa followed by Enterococcus faecium and then Klebsiella pneumonia. The antibacterial activities were acid-soluble, heat-stable at 70oC for one hour, sensitive to protease treatment, and did not require divalent metal ions for antibacterial activity. Taken together their data suggest that the molecule(s) responsible for the observed antibacterial activities are small, cationic antimicrobial peptides. Why is it that alligator blood is so effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria. Think about where alligators live - dirty water and add to this the fact that they frequently get injured taking prey or fighting with other gators. Those injuries are exposed to all of those nasty bacteria and alligator immune systems have evolved the means to overcome the pathogens. The article is available on-line.

Machha, V., P. Spencer and M. Merchant 2011. Effects of Leukocyte Extract from the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) on Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. The Open Zoology Journal 4:9-13 [DOI: 10.2174/1874336601104010009]

Where's Waldo - Chelonian Answers

Howdy All,

There were some very creative answers to yesterdays puzzle.
But Jeff Moorbeck, Marty Feldner, and Craig Ivanyi (in that order) came smoking
in within minutes of each other with the correct answers.

Marty and Craig even went so far as to correctly identify the region of Arizona in which
the snake was found. I will pass along only a hint: "T.A."

Are we right, Chip? (I also guessed it to be from there).

It is a Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii). See Jeff's circle on the Chip Cochran attached image.

Two honorable mentions for this image are a spiny lizard (Al Muth) and a horny toad
(John Sullivan). While I'm not seeing them in the image, that doesn't mean
that they aren't there.

The answer of three with the tortoises was mostly unanimous, and probably correct.
If you all care look at the image again, three are certainly obvious. Look
behind the head of the rear-most tortoise. Is that the rear end of yet another
tortoise carapace, or a rock?

My own answer was 3, maybe 4.

The one incorrect answer came from one of the hawk-eyed turtle
folk from Chicago:
"I keep scanning in the sticks and twigs in the foreground and I don't see
any tortoises anywhere. Is this another unrealistic waldo pic? Maybe if the
resolution was increased a little bit. There is kind of a pebble thing in
the foreground, is that a tortoise?"
Enough with the BS. You all have a great weekend.


Another Where's Waldo - Chelonians

Howdy Herpers,

Image 1 (Photo by Chip Cochran): Where is it, and what is it?

Image 2 (Photo by Young Cage): This one is for all of who had trouble with the mud turtle.

Question 1: Do you see a tortoise in the picture?

Question 2: Do you see more than one tortoise in the picture?

Question 3: How many tortoises are there in the picture?

One, two, three --- GO!