Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sign the Petition to Stop Rattlesnake Round-Ups!

Here is an opportunity to help stop rattlesnake round-ups

Rattlesnake Roundups are festivals that are held annually across the United States. The snakes used in these roundups are captured from their natural habitat. In many cases gasoline is poured into dens to force out the snakes. During the roundups the snakes are subjected to brutal torture, including being kicked, stomped on, whipped, burned, and skinned alive. Snakes are then callously killed by decapitation. False information on snakebites are given out at roundups to inspire fear and the justification of the barbaric animal cruelty and disregard of life that is carried out. According to the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), roundups account for the annual take of over 100,000 rattlesnakes.

This makes roundups a huge conservation concern, as well as an immense animal cruelty issue, and a concern of environmental degradation.

Roger comments: Howdy All,

My friend Peter Lawrence from the UK was kind enough to send me something which was under my very nose for quite a while. Well, it's better late than never.

I hope that you will take a moment to at least look at the link that Peter sent me. I have followed his advice, signed it myself, and now sending it along to you. It was painless to sign.
I was amazed and mostly ashamed that roughly 20 signatures to one were all from foreign countries. We have the power to turn that around.

I'm also ashamed that I misspelled "butchering" with my comments! I hope that they don't take points off for bad spelling........

If you haven't already done so, please consider signing and forwarding.
Thanks, roger

>very good, a moving letter and images. Thanks, I am shipping it
>around. Looking up Melissa I found this, can you ship it to your
>friends, or already maybe you have done so?

Attempted Predation on a Human by Python sebae

Python sebae, JCM Natural History Photography
The following story is being reported today by The Standard, Kenya's Bold Newspaper

50-year-old woman is admitted in hospital after she was attacked by a python in a maize plantation in Siaya County.

The woman fought for nearly ten minutes with the huge reptile that had coiled around her in Ginga Village in Gem district.

She sustained serious bite wounds from the python—which is not among poisonous snakes.

Roseline Akinyi was on her way from a neighbour’s house where she had taken her mobile phone for charging barely 100 metres from her house when she was attacked by the snake.

On her way back through a maize plantation, the huge snake pounced and bit her coiling itself around her but she put up a spirited fight and managed to free herself from the python.

She raised alarm screaming at the top of her voice but neighbours could not hear her due to heavy rain.

She said she managed to hold the python's neck, which she kept on squeezing tightly until it uncoiled and slithered into the maize plantation.

She managed to call a neighbour and was rushed to Yala sub-district hospital.

The hospital Medical Superintendent, Dr Bob Awino confirmed that the patient was closely being monitored and that her condition was stable.

Arizona Black Rattlesnake Maternal Care

Howdy Herpers,

Before I launch into the meat of the missive, I want to first describe Melissa Amarello's mentality in the early days of our association. Our first solo outing together occurred in March of 2004. I was poised to take her to some of my "hands off" atrox dens. But she put the kabong on that idea when she indicated that she wanted to go somewhere where we could actually grab and process snakes.

That left me only one option: The Suizo Mountains. Anything and everything else under my watch was, and mostly still is, hands off.

And so our first mission was one of war on the snakes. On that day, Melissa earned the nickname "Hurricane Melissa," for she found three atrox and a female tiger rattlesnake. I found two tortoises.

The atrox she found were to become males CA54 and CA55--also known as "Doublenicks," and later, "The Road Warrior." Some of you may remember Doublenicks as the snake that eventually became a DOR. The female atrox that Melissa found became CA56. All three snakes were PIT tagged and released. Only CA55 was ever captured again.

I've attached a photo that Melissa took from that day. It is of Doublenicks perched on top of CA56, in a behavior called "Stacking." It remains to this day the best image I've ever seen of the behavior. Stacking is in essence a male's way of "hiding" a female from other male interlopers.

Melissa, her partner Jeff Smith, Young Cage and I all share a secret in the blackest parts of our hearts. Young had an atrox den that was known as "Jason's Den." Melissa and Jeff were starting to turn the corner on their mentality towards processing rattlesnakes. They wanted to study a den in hands off fashion. The four of us met, discussed strategy, and off they went to do their study on Jason's Den.

This den "was" a Cinderella kind of den. It "was" a wide open affair, where as many as 14 atrox could be observed all winter long. In terms of a den that "was" easy to study, this "was" the best to ever cross my path.

The key word is "was." Jason's Den no longer exists. Some murderous swine found the den, and in an act of senseless and wanton slaughter, ripped some bloody geysers through the snakes with their shotguns.

A few were left. They came back and got the rest. It was all carefully documented, but none of us can bear to show the pictures, or write about the heartbreak of it all. I still tear up thinking about it, but like so many things in life, I'm powerless to do anything about it.

Every year, atrocities that make this seem like kissing a pretty girl occur in this not-so-great country of ours. This is because of ignorance, and greed. While we can't do much to combat greed, we can at least educate the public to the fact that snakes do much, much more than just sit around and look at each other. If we can do everything  in our power to cast snakes in a better light, perhaps one day the rest of the world will catch on.

Melissa and Jeff are doing this very sort of thing with Arizona black rattlesnakes. I think the time has come to share some of this with you. Please click on the link at the bottom of this email, watch the video, and look at the stills. Do click one more link off to the side, the one under October that is entitled "A Rattlesnake Helper."

In closing, in many ways, some of those who study rattlesnakes are the rattlesnakes' worst enemy. People doing these studies cringe at the thought of presenting snakes as anything more than primitive wind up toys, the key being a physiological chemical reaction to queues around them--a hard-wiring at birth--instinct driven.

The ability to actually think can not happen, it's all instinct. This is the type of thinking that is never going to advance rattlesnakes in the eye of the public. It is also the type of thinking mostly done by those who have never actually taken the time to watch them.

I hope you all enjoy this video as much as I did. It is by far the best observational work I've ever seen.
We can only hope for more of this sort of thing in the future.

Best to all, roger


Monday, November 28, 2011

Atrazine, Gender & Frogs

Above: Both of these African clawed frogs are genetically male, but lifelong exposure to the herbicide atrazine transformed the frog on the bottom to female. The frog reproduced with normal males twice. Photo Credit: Tyrone B. Hayes.

The following is a press release from the University of Illinois at Champaign.

CHAMPAIGN, lll. — An international team of researchers has reviewed the evidence linking exposure to atrazine – an herbicide widely used in the U.S. and more than 60 other nations – to reproductive problems in animals. The team found consistent patterns of reproductive dysfunction in amphibians, fish, reptiles and mammals exposed to the chemical.

Atrazine is the second-most widely used herbicide in the U.S. More than 75 million pounds of it are applied to corn and other crops, and it is the most commonly detected pesticide contaminant of groundwater, surface water and rain in the U.S.

The new review, compiled by 22 scientists studying atrazine in North and South America, Europe and Japan, appears in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

The researchers looked at studies linking atrazine exposure to abnormal androgen (male hormone) levels in fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals and studies that found a common association between exposure to the herbicide and the “feminization” of male gonads in many animals.

The most robust findings are in amphibians, said University of Illinois comparative biosciences professor Val Beasley, a co-author of the review. At least 10 studies found that exposure to atrazine feminizes male frogs, sometimes to the point of sex reversal, he said.

Beasley’s lab was one of the first to find that male frogs exposed to atrazine in the wild were more likely to have both male and female gonadal tissue than frogs living in an atrazine-free environment. And in a 2010 study, Tyrone Hayes, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley and lead author of the review, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that atrazine exposure in frogs was associated with “genetic males becoming females and functioning as females,” Beasley said.

“And this is not at extremely high concentrations,” he said. “These are at concentrations that are found in the environment.”

The new review describes the disruptions of hormone function and sexual development reported in studies of mammals, frogs, fish, reptiles and human cells exposed to the herbicide. The studies found that atrazine exposure can change the expression of genes involved in hormone signaling, interfere with metamorphosis, inhibit key enzymes that control estrogen and androgen production, skew the sex ratio of wild and laboratory animals (toward female) and otherwise disrupt the normal reproductive development and functioning of males and females.

“One of the things that became clear in writing this paper is that atrazine works through a number of different mechanisms,” Hayes said. “It’s been shown that it increases production of (the stress hormone) cortisol. It’s been shown that it inhibits key enzymes in steroid hormone production while increasing others. It’s been shown that it somehow prevents androgen from binding to its receptor.”

The review also consolidates the evidence that atrazine undermines immune function in a variety of animals, in part by increasing cortisol.

“Cortisol is a nonspecific response to chronic stress,” Beasley said. “But guess what? Wildlife in many of today’s habitats are stressed a great deal of the time. They’re stressed because they’re crowded into little remnant habitats. They’re stressed because there’s not enough oxygen in the water because there are not enough plants in the water (another consequence of herbicide use). They’re stressed because of other contaminants in the water. And the long-term release of cortisol causes them to be immuno-suppressed.”

There also are studies that show no effects – or different effects – in animals exposed to atrazine, Beasley said. “But the studies are not all the same. There are different species, different times of exposure, different stages of development and different strains within a species.” All in all, he said, the evidence that atrazine harms animals, particularly amphibians and other creatures that encounter it in the water, is compelling.

“I hope this will stimulate policymakers to look at the totality of the data and ask very broad questions,” Hayes said. “Do we want this stuff in our environment? Do we want – knowing what we know – our children to drink this stuff? I would think the answer would be no.”

Tyrone B. Hayes, Lloyd L. Anderson, Val R. Beasley, Shane R. de Solla, Taisen Iguchi, Holly Ingraham, Patrick Kestemont, Jasna Kniewald, Zlatko Kniewald, Valerie S. Langlois, Enrique H. Luque, Krista A. McCoy, Mónica Muñoz-de-Toro, Tomohiro Oka, Cleida A. Oliveira, Frances Orton, Sylvia Ruby, Miyuki Suzawa, Luz E. Tavera-Mendoza, Vance L. Trudeau, Anna Bolivar Victor-Costa, Emily Willingham. Demasculinization and feminization of male gonads by atrazine: Consistent effects across vertebrate classes. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2011; 127 (1-2): 64 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsbmb.2011.03.015

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bungarus Bites in Thar Desert

Photo Credit Amar Guriro. 
The following story is on Pakistan Today's web site. Note that it has some considerable mis-information, there is no snake repellent known to work! The snake in the story is probably Bungarus sindanus Boulenger, 1897, or something related to it.

KARACHI - One of the most ecologically diverse areas in the country, the Thar desert is home to several exotic species of wildlife, especially Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus), Chinkara (Gazella bennettii), hog deer (Hyelaphus porcinus), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), apart from quite a few other members of the canine family, birds of prey and reptiles.

But among the many wildlife species, a typically shy resident of the desert area is grabbing all the attention these days.

Of the many snakes, including the famed Indian cobra (Naja naja) and the dreaded vipers (locally called Lundi), the nocturnal Sindh krait (Bungarus sindanus) is sowing fear in the hearts of the desert dwellers this time round.

Locally referred to as the ‘Phookani Bala’, myth has it that the snake sucks the air out of its victim during his sleep and breathes out its toxin-laced breath inside the prey.

The locals believe that the snake sits near the mouth of a sleeping person and sucks in its breath while returning its own poisonous breath inside the victim. The throat of the victim swells to such an extent that he dies within a few hours.

As a snake repellent, the people of Thar eat onion at night and spread pieces of onion around their sleeping places.

Experts say that the Sindh krait does actually bite the victim but the bite is so light that the victim seldom comes to know of it as he may be dead even before he wakes up.

Kraits are highly nocturnal and often hide in rodent holes, loose soil, beneath debris and are rarely seen during the day. During the rainy season, the snake often comes out of its hiding place to find dry refuge and enters houses.

Kraits are many times more poisonous than cobras or vipers while the Sindh krait is the most dangerous of the Bunguarus species. Its venom is highly toxic and causes haemorrhage of capillaries. When bitten, a person can feel violent abdominal pains, as breathing becomes difficult and paralysis sets in, which is followed by death.

The Phookani Bala varies from a dark steely blue black to a pale bluish grey with narrow white bands across its body. The average length ranges between two and three feet but some have been reported to have reached lengths up to five feet.

Snake bites are a routine in Sindh, but this year due to more than average monsoon rains, Sindh krait bite cases are on the rise.

According to figures collected by Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy (AWARE) – a non-governmental organisation working in Thar Desert, 27 bite cases of Sindh krait have been reported from six villages in the Chachro taluka during the past two months.

Talking with Pakistan Today, AWARE Executive Director Ali Akbar Rahimoo said that this year the area has seen an unusual rise in the number of people being bitten by the snake. “Sindh krait bite cases in Thar have risen by almost 200 percent as compared to the previous years.”

“Absence of anti-venom and the required medicines [for treatment] at the state-run healthcare facilities is resulting in immense inconvenience,” he said. “Many people have died after falling victim to this poisonous snake.”

Rahimoo urged the provincial government to take the issue seriously and help the people of Thar Desert on humanitarian grounds.

“We have contacted several international snake experts, who recommended a special powder that is used as a krait repellent across the world,” he said. “We cannot afford the repellent and therefore request the Sindh government to import it and also arrange anti-venom for the treatment of Tharis.”

Sixty percent of Sindh’s total livestock population is scattered across the vast Thar Desert, spread along the Indian border. The area has a long history of suffering from severe droughts, acute water shortage, epidemics, lack of civic facilities and seasonal migrations.

Without basic healthcare facilities, many people die every year as snake bite cases are widespread in the area.

World Health Organisation (WHO)’s surveillance officer at Mirpurkhas, Dr Wali Mohammad, thinks that most people believe it is the Sindh krait but it is difficult to confirm the exact type of snake from the bite.

“No official data is available on how many people are bitten by the Sindh krait or how many of them die every year,” he said. “Even then, this is a serious matter and should be taken seriously.”

Mohammad said that anti-venom is not available locally and a detailed study is needed on this particular snake to determine the exact treatment of its bite.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reward Offered for Sightings of South Florida Rainbow Snake

Farancia erytrogramma seminola. 
Photo credit:: J. D. Wilson
The following is a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity. Did the Federal Government prematurely declared the species extinct? The  $500 reward is intended to spur rediscovery.

TAMPA, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Snake Conservation announced today that they are offering a $500 reward for the first person to document the existence of the South Florida rainbow snake. Both conservation organizations believe that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last month prematurely declared the species extinct without conducting targeted surveys and despite several unconfirmed sightings.

“Declaring the South Florida rainbow snake extinct without adequate search effort is scientifically irresponsible,” said Cameron Young, executive director of the Center for Snake Conservation. “We hope that by offering a reward, we can rediscover this amazing reptile and implement conservation measures to ensure its survival into the future.”

The South Florida rainbow snake is a harmless aquatic snake that feeds exclusively on the American eel. It is known from just three specimens, the last of which was collected in 1952 near Fisheating Creek in Glades County, Fla. In early October, the Service declared the snake extinct, thereby denying it protections under the Endangered Species Act. The Service made its determination without conducting any focused surveys for the reclusive reptile and despite anecdotal evidence of snakes eating eels in the Fisheating Creek area.

“It’s heart-wrenching to think the South Florida rainbow snake could be lost forever,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney focused on the protection of imperiled reptiles and amphibians. “But if we can find these snakes, they’d be very likely to get protection under the Endangered Species Act — the most powerful tool in the country for saving plants and animals from extinction.”

The Service announced the extinction of the South Florida rainbow snake in response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the snake and more than 400 other aquatic species in the southeastern United States. If rediscovered, the rainbow snake would receive an in-depth scientific review along with 374 species from the petition (including 114 in Florida), which the Service found may warrant protection under Act.

The South Florida rainbow snake (Farancia erytrogramma seminola) is a subspecies of rainbow snake known only from a single population in Fisheating Creek, which flows into the western side of Lake Okeechobee. Fisheating Creek remains relatively pristine and could still support the snakes. But potential habitat in other parts of Florida has been severely degraded by channelization and pollution, especially agricultural runoff. The snake is believed to be nearly entirely aquatic and active only at night, making detection difficult without extensive and specialized survey effort, although there were multiple unconfirmed sightings of the snake in the late 1980s. It’s a beautiful animal, with three red stripes along its iridescent bluish-black back and a belly that is yellow and red with black spots on each scale. Adult snakes can be over four feet long.

Snakes and other reptiles are among the most imperiled vertebrate species on the planet. Globally, nearly one-quarter of all evaluated reptile species are endangered or vulnerable to extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2011 Red List. Also, scientists currently lack sufficient information to assess the status of nearly 20 percent of the world’s reptiles. Many species are disappearing faster than scientists can study them.

Concern for Vipera berus in the UK

The following story is on the Daily Mail website go to the website for the complete article, my summary follows. The adder (Vipera berus) is endangered and Britain's only poisonous snake is in urgent need of help. more so than any other reptile or amphibian species in the UK. A conservation conference at the Greenwich University campus in Chatham, Kent, met over the weekend to discuss ways of saving the once common snake from extinction. The conference attendees supported a plan to create a website for a survey project using volunteers to monitor snake numbers locally. Adders are in decline and already extinct in some counties such as  Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire. Damage to hibernation sites, such as rabbit holes and tree roots is one of the major threats. 'The adder is an enigmatic snake, steeped in history and folklore, from the druids to Shakespeare and Arthurian legend" said herpetologist Dr Chris Gleed-Owen told the Daily Telegraph, and  'It would be tragic to see it disappear.' Despite the decling numbers, there is anecdotal evidence increased bites in people and pets for this year. In July, two dogs died in Essex after being bitten by poisonous adders that were out in unusually large numbers because of the hot weather. There have been 14 known fatalities among humans in Britain since 1876. The most recent was a five-year-old child who died in 1975. Antivenom is now available, which reduces the damage caused by the venom.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Parental Care in Horned Dinosaurs

KINGSTON, R.I. – November 21, 2011 – A nest containing the fossilized remains of 15 juvenile Protoceratops andrewsi dinosaurs from Mongolia has been described by a University of Rhode Island paleontologist, revealing new information about postnatal development and parental care. It is the first nest of this genus ever found and the first indication that Protoceratops juveniles remained in the nest for an extended period.

The findings were reported in the most recent issue of the Journal of Paleontology.

David Fastovsky, URI professor of geosciences, said the bowl-shaped nest measuring 2.3 feet in diameter was found in the Djadochta Formation at Tugrikinshire, Mongolia.

“Finding juveniles at a nest is a relatively uncommon occurrence, and I cannot think of another dinosaur specimen that preserves 15 juveniles at its nest in this way,” he said.

The analysis of the 70-million-year-old nest by Fastovsky and his colleagues found that all 15 dinosaurs – at least 10 of which are complete specimens – were about the same size and had achieved the same state of growth and development, suggesting they represent a single clutch from a single mother. The discovery also indicates that the young dinosaurs remained in the nest through the early stages of postnatal development and were cared for by their parents.

Protoceratops grew to about 6 feet long and may have taken as long as 10 years to reach full size. Those Fastovsky found in the nest were likely less than one year old when they died.

“I suspect that the preserved animals were rapidly buried by the shifting, accumulating sands that must have constituted the bulk of sedimentation in this setting,” he said. “Death likely occurred during a desert sandstorm. My guess is that the initial and present-day dryness contributed significantly to the superb preservation, not just of Protoceratops, but of all the fossils from this unit.”

Fastovsky calls Protoceratops “a fascinating and unexpected mass of contradictions.” It is an herbivore that lived in a sand sea much like the Sahara Desert and likely bestowed significant parental care on a relatively large number of offspring, perhaps because it lived where mortality was quite high.

A wide variety of theropod dinosaurs lived in Mongolia at the time, some of which, including the notorious Velociraptor, probably ate young Protoceratops’.

“Juvenile Protoceratops mortality may have been rather high, not only from predation but from a potentially stressful environment, and large clutches may have been a way of ensuring survival of the animals in that setting,” he said. “Nonetheless, if preservation is any indicator of abundance in life, then during the time represented by the Djadochta Formation, Protoceratops were a very common feature of Mongolian Late Cretaceous desert landscapes.”

Photo courtesy of Dr. Kh. Tsogtbaatar.

Fastovsky, D. E., D. B. Weishampel, M. Watabe, R. Barsbold, Kh. Tsogtbaatar & P. Narmandakh. 2011. A Nest of Protoceratops andrewsi (Dinosauria, Ornithischia). Journal of Paleontology, Nov 2011 DOI: 10.1666/%u200B11-008.1

The Arms Race in Dendrobatid Frogs

Shape dough into frogs, that's normal in a day care. At university, it is more rare. However, the biologist Mathieu Chouteau in 3600 he made a carefully painted as part of his Ph.D. project in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Montreal. A month of work to which his wife had worked closely.

He then divided this bestiary in sites previously identified in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. "The hardest part was carrying my models without arousing suspicion at the airport and customs controls," says Mathieu Chouteau in an interview from Peru, where he pursued a fellowship in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural History of Paris.

In an article to be published in December in Natural History that has already been the subject of a new site ScienceNOW (Helen Fields, "Why Are There So Many Colors of Poisonous Frogs", November 4, 2011), he concludes that the Predation is a natural selection factor in the development of multiple motifs in the species Ranitomeya imitator, a frog under a centimeter in various colors. The models on clay he has documented fact in the evolution of colors and patterns of dendrobates: the role of predators.

As we learned from our first visit to the Montreal Biodome, brightly colored frogs which can be seen in the rain forests launched a clear message to predators: do not approach me because I am poisoned! But why is it some green with a pattern of leopard and other yellow lines while in the same species? Presumably because predators taste the local people they do not associate with frogs in the area, hoping that these frogs are edible. "When predators are they are dealing with a different species, they attack. In the long term, this would explain the unity of the patterns and colors, "says Bernard Angers, who led the research of Mr. Chouteau.

The methodology is rather original. Three times for three days at two sites, Mathieu Chouteau noted his false attacks on frogs - mostly pecking. The least attacked were those most closely resembles the native species, while those who were most distant showed signs of aggression. He had more than 300 fake frogs per site.

Seeing that no food, some predators attacked plasticine frog.

Why play dough to observe predation? The doc had this idea by browsing the scientific literature. "We have successfully used models in clay for snakes, salamanders and also dendrobates," said Mathieu Chouteau. It was in the Peruvian jungle terrain ideal for testing the hypothesis, as two radically different colonies of frogs have been studied: one attending the plain is dotted with green and the other on top of a mountain is yellow line ... The two settlements are separated by about 10 km. False frogs were deposited in two sites in specific locations. As for colors and patterns, they differed in several combinations.

What was most surprising in this research is "the very small spatial scale at which evolutionary processes occur." In the case of Dendrobates, a distance of 10 km is sufficient to demonstrate an adaptation clearly different. "A second surprise has been the learning capacity of the communities of predators, but also the speed with which this process begins when a new aposematic signal is massively introduced exotic," said the biologist.

"We have proved empirically that avian predators can recognize and avoid aposematic signals in various sites," he wrote in conclusion of his article.

This process could be the cause of the wide variety of color patterns observed not only in frogs but also among many species of butterflies and bees and other animals. The purpose of the postdoctoral fellowship is also to explain the polymorphism in the butterfly genus Heliconius. "Given that such a project request to be on the ground regularly, I settled in the small town of Tarapoto , where I am responsible for implementing a research center to facilitate studies of mimetic neotropical butterflies, "he says via email.

Bernard Angers admiration for his student, especially as this research is only one of four components of his doctorate. Patience, creativity and discipline were to converge to implement such a protocol. It also highlights the qualities of photographer Mathieu Chouteau (including readers of Forum can get an idea on page 1).

If they are of great beauty, dendrobates are among the most toxic animals on the planet. The student has experienced when, after a hard day's work Cainarachi, it has not taken the time to wash their hands before snack. "Error! Approximately five minutes after starting to eat, I had the lips and throat stung and it ended with a serious food poisoning that lasted two days, "he recounts.

Mathieu-Robert Sauvé

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Opinions on Invasive Pythons

The Orlando Sentinel web site is carrying an opinion piece on the Everglades' python problem this morning that seems to be motivated by photos of large snakes eating deer. The writer states,
"Last year, the Legislature sought to wrestle some control by banning the import, sale, breeding and possession as pets of six species of large constrictor snakes. The problem, though, is that breeders can still possess, breed and import the slithery troublemakers for their business. That leaves Florida, and its wildlife and habitat, still vulnerable. It's people, too — as we saw with the tragic 2009 death of a Sumter County 2-year-old, crushed to death in her crib by a starving family pet python that tried to eat her. 
"It's time the Sunshine State get an assist from a more authoritative source — the White House. The Obama administration has been sitting on a proposed rule to ban the interstate transport and importation throughout the country of the most harmful constrictors, those identified in a 2009 U.S. Geological Survey as posing the most risk to America's natural resources."
 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to target eleven species of large constrictors in March including some not currently banned under Florida law. Two, or more, of the  species have already established populations; and, some see these snakes as serious threat to the Florida panther and Key deer as well as other native wildlife.

While I can appreciate the writers' viewpoint. The python is already out of the bag. Preventing future colonization and contributions to the already established gene pool is useful, but the real damage has already been done. The pythons are already established. If there are any lessons to be learded from Guam's brown tree snake invasion, its that invasive snakes probably can not be eradicated once they are established.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Bio-mechanics of a Leaping Frog

The Northern Leopard Frog loads its tendons before leaping. 
“Muscles alone couldn’t produce jumps that good,” said 
graduate student Henry Astley. Photo Credit: Mike Cohea/
Brown University
PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Some species of frogs and many other animals are able to jump far beyond what appear to be their capabilities. The trained contestants in the frog-jumping competition in Calaveras County, Calif., come to mind, but even ordinary frogs can leap several times farther than their physiology would seem to allow.

“Muscles alone couldn’t produce jumps that good,” said Henry Astley, who studies the biomechanics of frog jumping at Brown University.

In a paper published in Biology Letters, Astley and Thomas Roberts, associate professor of biology, show that the key to frogs’ leaping lies in their stretchy tendons: Before jumping, the leg muscle shortens, loading energy into the tendon, which then recoils like a spring to propel the frog up, up and away. Even though as much as a quarter of a frog’s mass is in its legs, it would be physically incapable of jumping as far without the tendon’s services.

“In order to get truly exceptional jumping performance, you need some sort of elastic structure,” said Astley, a fourth-year graduate student in Roberts’s lab in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Astley and Roberts examined jumps by the northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens), a pond frog common in the northeast United States. The pair implanted metal beads into the shin bone, ankle bone and leg muscle of four frogs and then recorded their leaps with 3-D X-ray video technology developed at Brown. The video, filmed at 500 frames per second and displaying the jump about 17 times slower than normal, tracks the changes in the leg muscle’s length and joint movement before, during and after a jump.

As the frog readies itself to leap, its calf muscle shortens. After about 100 milliseconds, the calf muscle stops moving, and the energy has been fully loaded into the stretched tendon. At the moment the frog jumps, the tendon, which wraps around the ankle bone, releases its energy, much like a catapult or archer’s bow, causing a very rapid extension of the ankle joint that propels the frog forward. The entire jump — from preparation to leap — lasts about a fifth of a second, the experiments showed. Other frog species jump much faster.

“It’s the first time we’ve really gotten the inner workings, that we’ve put all the pieces (to frog jumping) together,” Astley said. “We now have a clearer idea what’s going on.”

How the tendons, muscles and joints work in frog jumping may help explain how other animals are such head-scratching leapers — invertebrates like the humble flea or the grasshopper or vertebrates like guinea fowl and bush babies.

“Frogs are interesting in their own right, but we are also confident that this study gives us insight into how muscles and tendons work together in animal movement,” said Roberts. “Other studies have presented evidence for an elastic mechanism, but Henry's gives us the first glimpse of how it actually works.“

See the video by clicking here.

Astley H. C.  and  T. J. Roberts. 2011. Evidence for a vertebrate catapult: elastic energy storage in the plantaris tendon during frog jumping. Biology Letters,  DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0982

Another Potential Product From Snake Venom

Texas Coral Snake, Micrurus tener tener.
National Natural Toxins Research Center,
Texas A&M University.

Snake venom is a potential source of many new medicines, and new research finds the Texas Coral Snake, Micrurus tener tener, has venom molecules capable of triggering an previously unknown pain mechanism in humans. There are many different types of pain some respond to changes in heat or pressure from a burn or a punched while  others respond to chemicals, such as acids. Micrurus venom triggers a novel pain receptor on nerves that could be useful in the development of drugs to treat snakebites or other painful phenomena in a targeted fashion without having to use opiates.

Texas coral venom has  MitTx which activates some nerve cells, by opening a channel on the outside of the skin's nerve cells, sending a signal up to the brain. Oddly, even though MitTx isn't acidic, it turned on a channel related to those that usually respond to acids.The channels' acid-sensing relatives produce pain when tissues are deprived of blood and oxygen, but MitTx is specific for a channel that hasn't been implicated in pain sensation before.The pain pathway uncovered here is not one previously studied.

Because this pain caused by MiTx is mediated through this newly discovered pathway, it's possible that traditional pain relievers such as aspirin, which work through different receptors, wouldn't help the pain. Pain from coral snake bites is usually treated opiates , like morphine, but a more targeted and less addictive pain reliever would be beneficial.

Bohlen, C. J. et al. 2011. A heteromeric Texas coral snake toxin targets acid-sensing ion channels to produce pain. Nature 479, 410–414 

The Skin of the Mosasaur

Extinct animals hide their secrets well, but an exceptionally well-preserved fossil of an aquatic reptile, with traces of soft tissue present, is providing scientists a new window into the behavior of these ancient swimmers.
(A) Skull, partial axial and appendicular skeleton, and calcified sternal cartilage in oblique ventro-lateral view. (B) Slab FHSM VP-401-05 showing phosphatized integumentary structures in medial view. Black and white arrow indicates anterior. Scale bars, (A) 10 cm and (B) 10 mm. From PLoSOne

According to the study published in PLoS ONE's Nov. 16 issue, the fossil, characterized by a team led by Johan Lindgren of Lund University in Sweden, is from the mosasaur family, a group of reptiles that lived between 65 and 98 million years ago.

The fossil was found in Western Kansas, and was submerged under a shallow sea at the time of the mosasaur's existence. Previous analysis of mosasaur locomotion had been limited by a lack of soft tissue fossils, which was crucial for the scientists to truly understand the degree of aquatic adaptation that the creature had achieved. The new findings, which include scales and skin impressions, suggest that the mosasaur was able to minimize its frictional drag in the water. Additional features suggest that it held the front of its body somewhat rigid during swimming, leading it to depend on the rear of its body and tail for propulsion.

According to Dr. Lindgren, this study provides "unique insights into the biology of an extinct group of marine lizards that became adapted to aquatic environments in a fashion similar to that of the preceding ichthyosaurs ('fish-lizards') and succeeding whales." Thus, these results may have implications for understanding how this group ultimately transformed from land-dwellers to pelagic cruisers in a relatively short period of geological time.

Citation: Lindgren J, Everhart MJ, Caldwell MW (2011) Three-Dimensionally Preserved Integument Reveals Hydrodynamic Adaptations in the Extinct Marine Lizard Ectenosaurus (Reptilia, Mosasauridae). PLoS ONE 6(11): e27343. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027343

BioPark Rattlesnakes Used In Ground-Breaking Cancer Research

Photo courtesy of ABQ BioPark
ALBUQUERQUE, NM- Four western diamondback rattlesnakes from the Albuquerque BioPark will soon be part of the first clinical trials for venom as a cancer treatment. The snakes traveled today, November 10, 2011, to the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, one of the four premier venom laboratories in the United States. The snakes' venom will be extracted and sent to Paris, France where the clinical studies are underway.

Snake venom contains hundreds of proteins which impact the human body in various ways. When combined, the proteins can be devastating. In isolation, these proteins can be used to treat health issues from strokes and heart attacks to Alzheimer's disease and cancer.

 "Copperhead venom is probably going to be our saving grace for breast cancer. It puts the cancer cells in suspended animation," said Doug Hotle, a venom expert and Curator of Reptiles at the ABQ BioPark. "The lab tests using rattlesnake venom to treat cancer have also been extremely successful. We know that there are a lot of great things on the horizon."

Scientists at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo will extract the rattlesnake venom using a non-harmful method which allows the snakes to bite and excrete the venom naturally. "Anyone in the snake venom world began as a snake enthusiast," said Hotle. "The last thing they'd want to do is to see the snakes hurt."
From there, the venom will travel to Paris, France, where Celtic Biotech, an Irish pharmaceutical company, is conducting the first clinical trials of rattlesnake venom as a cancer treatment in humans.

"We're excited to be involved in such groundbreaking research, especially on a health issue which has impacted so many people," said Mayor Richard Berry. "It is a great credit to the City of Albuquerque, our Zoo, and to Curator Doug Hotle."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Snakes of Togo

One species found in Togo is Atheris chlorechis. JCM

The Togolese Republic is a West Africa nation bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north. It extends south to the Gulf of Guinea. Togo covers an area of about 57,000 square kilometers with a population of approximately 6.7 million people highly dependent on agriculture. Togo has very little remaining rainforest and what is left is degraded and fragmented by subsistence slash-and-burn agriculture, mining and deforestation for fuel wood. The country has a poorly known herpetofauna. Segniagbeto et al. (2011)  published an annotated list of 91 snake species representing 10 families, including seven species recorded for the first time from this country (Calabaria reinhardtii, Hapsidophrys lineatus, Lycophidion nigromaculatum, Philothamnus carinatus, Leptotyphlops cf. narirostris, Letheobia crossi and Typhlops lineolatus). The species present are a mixture of forest and savanna forms from the Sudenese and Guinea savannas and as well as forest which includes the Dahomey gap, a range that peaks at 900 m with heavy amounts of precipitation and forms an island of forest habitat surrounded by savannas. It therefore seems likely to be an area of endemism - three endemic frogs are already known from the region Conraua derooi, Hyperolius baumanni and H. torrentis. The entire article can be found on-line.

Segniagbeto G. H., Trape J. F., David P., Ohler A., Dubois A. & Glitho I. A. 2011. — The snake fauna of Togo: systematics, distribution and biogeography, with remarks on selected taxonomic problems. Zoosystema 33 (3): 325-360. DOI: 10.5252/z2011n3a4

Another Book Review on Invasive Pythons

The following is a book review from Whit Gibbons on the Dorcas and Wilson volume. The review was published in the Aiken Standard.

"Invasive Pythons in the United States: Ecology of an Introduced Predator" might be the title of a great new horror film instead of the well-researched, professional yet entertaining book that it is. Written by Michael E. Dorcas and John D. Willson (2011, University of Georgia Press, Athens; $24.95) "Invasive Pythons" sets the record straight about the thousands of Burmese pythons introduced from Asia that now thrive in Florida. These snakes can be longer than two pickup trucks parked end to end and weigh more than an NFL linebacker. Not a pet snake you'd want to drape around your neck.

Nonetheless, released or escaped animals from the pet snake trade are almost certainly the origin of these enormous nuisance predators that now slither through southern Florida. What do pythons eat? In their native lands from India to China they have been documented to eat mammals as large as jackals, monkeys, antelope, and even a leopard. Accounts of humans becoming python prey are rare but unfortunately true. In their new home in the Everglades National Park and surrounding areas, pythons have found plenty of native mammals and birds to consume, some in disturbingly high numbers. Alligators as well as virtually all warm-blooded wildlife are apparently fair game. A valid concern is that pythons in Florida will eventually consume pets such as dogs and cats. Records already exist of their eating domestic chickens, geese, and turkeys.

The book's focus is on Burmese pythons, but the authors also discuss the potential risk of other species of pythons and boas becoming established in southern Florida. Included are African rock pythons and green anacondas. Both reach lengths exceeding 25 feet and have been found in the Everglades.

A feature that will captivate many readers--from youngsters enthralled with snakes to naturalists of any ilk to professional herpetologists--are the 188 outstanding high-resolution color photographs. To say that some are dramatic would be an understatement. The picture of the authors and two colleagues holding a 16-foot female Burmese python captured at night in Everglades National Park is enough to make anyone realize that studying these reptiles is an adventure. Other Everglades photos include a large python coiled around an adult great blue heron that's about to become lunch and a giant alligator eating a large python. A photo of a female python coiled around her eggs illustrates a more maternalistic trait: the mother staying with the clutch until they hatch, thus incubating them by raising her own body temperature and protecting them from predators.

Barring yet unknown population controls for these invasive predators, which can hatch more than 40 young from a clutch, Burmese pythons can now be considered part of the naturalized fauna of Florida. Are they likely to expand their geographic range into Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, and beyond? According to the authors, expanding their range outside of Florida will take quite awhile. How far north they can go is heavily debated by scientists and commercial python breeders. In their native range in Asia, they extend into cool areas in central China and to the foothills of the Himalayas in India and Nepal. But new population centers in the United States could arise in another way. Without originating from the solidly established Florida population, a released female python that has outgrown its owner's cage might ultimately be the source of a new population in California, Louisiana, or other temperate regions in southern portions of the country. On the other hand, large pythons have been found in recent months as far up peninsular Florida as Lake Okeechobee, almost a hundred miles north of the heavy concentrations in the Everglades.

Hollywood screenplay writers and science fiction authors hold the franchise on horror tales of Earth being invaded by scary monsters. The gigantic, stealthy, and potentially man-eating predator described in "Invasive Pythons" is scarier than any of those imaginary creatures because it's real. Whether for its scientific facts, fascinating natural history information, entertainment value, or striking photography the book by Mike Dorcas and J. D. Willson should appeal to a wide audience.

THS Meeting Announcement and Answers to Where's Waldo x 4

Howdy Herpers,                                      11/11/11

Happy Veteran's Day to all. My heartfelt thanks to all of you served, and continue to serve, the armed forces of this country.

Speaking of serving, Mr. Everything here is stepping back into the realm of assisting the Tucson Herp Society. I'm running for Vice President. When I stepped down from the Board two years ago, I had high hopes that somebody else would carry on the tradition of emailed meeting reminders. That didn't happen, and a whole lot of other things didn't happen either. I was hoping they didn't need me. I'm convinced now that they do. Every living organism and organization needs an a$$hole. The THS will soon have one again.

One of the first things I will do is get together a new list, so that the meeting reminders can start going out again. With this list, I only address about 30% of the membership But that is better than nothing.

The next meeting for the THS will be held on Tuesday, 25 November, 7:15 PM. Directions to meeting room: http://tucsonherpsociety.org/BIO5MapP1.pdf

Round one of the evening will transpire at ~5:00 PM.

We will have our pre-meeting gathering at Dirtbags, directions are below:

On the south side of Speedway, just west of Campbell, and just east of 1702 and the 7-11 is a dive called Dirtbags. Plenty of parking on west and south side of Dirtbags. Their address is 1800 East Speedway Blvd 85719, phone is 326-2600.

I will be giving their owner a heads up. I will be requesting that the waitresses
collect the tab directly from you when you receive your food and beverage.

Following the usual display of belching, gluttony and disgusting table manners associated with feasting herpers, we will all truck over to our meeting room. Herewe will experience the following:

THS Elections, and then:

Dr. Jon Davis

Arizona Game and Fish Department

Confronting contemporary conservation challenges from Memphis to mainland China

Jon Davis began to study Arizona herps as an undergraduate at Northern Arizona University where he met Erika Nowak and began volunteering on her projects. Jon completed his dissertation at Arizona State University in 2008 where he worked in Dale DeNardo’s laboratory and studied the environmental physiology of the Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum), which he previously presented at THS in spring of 2007.

Jon spent 2008-2011 in Memphis, Tennessee, as a postdoc with a dual appointment at Rhodes College and the Memphis Zoo where he developed a broad amphibian conservation research program that took him from downtown Memphis to the remote mountains of China. Jon is now back in Arizona for good and is a Wildlife Specialist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department Wildlife Management Division.

Welcome back Jon! I hope to see aggregations of herpers in our arena.
Ok, back to this Waldo Business,

The grand prize goes to a new winner, Mr. John Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan totally came in WAY ahead of the rest
of you. By 2:30 PM on the day this was sent out, he had them all nailed. He told me that he sacrificed
his lunch hour to conquer the puzzles. If you all heard the sighs of relief around noon last Wednesday, it
came from the turnip patch. The turnips were safe for a day.

Kudos John!

Honorable mention goes to Marty as always, Jeff as always, Bill "There-ain't-no colubrid" Montgomery, and especially Hugh McCrystal--who learned how to circle the herps on the pictures. Now, if Hugh can just learn to send all images at once, the company server will gush with gratitude.

Images 1 and 2: Rather than rely on a circle to give her away, I have just resorted to a close up of the snake in Pic 2.

Those of you who are Waldo-challenged can look at that second image, and see if the hint shows you the snake in Pic 1.

The snake is female CRAT #133, and this is the first time I've been able to get a shot of her in the open. It had rained in the early morning hours of 5 November, and she likely emerged to get a drink. At the time the photo was taken, the ambient temp was 7 C (44.6 F). Look at image 2 carefully. See how her pupil has rolled downward? That is a sure sign that the snake was sleeping. They don't have eyelids, but the trick of rolling the pupils down likely minimizes the glare of bright sunlight.

Images 3 and 4: Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnake. Circle in image 3 by John Sullivan, both images by Shannon Hoss. I think the second shot is one of the best images of a hiding snake that I've ever seen. If you look closely, you will note that every blade of grass and visible snake is in sharp focus. This belongs on the cover of a book or magazine, NOT on Roger Repp Suizo email. Nice shot Shannon--what were you aiming at?

Images 5 and 6: Yes Mr. Barker, we were finally  "busted." These images were photoshopped. Also, the last batch included an image of ribbon snake and frogs. That was also photoshopped. Dave worked hard on these, so I couldn't say no to him--this time. And I'm sure you'll all agree, Dave did a damn good job with these. (Dave doesn't do anything half-assed.)

Circles and labels are by the current champ, John Sullivan on these images.

In the future, I will only reluctantly accept any more of this sort of thing. So don't get in a snit if I say "no."
The real spirit of this game is for all of us to get out there, and take some real images of real herps. What
this teaches us to do is to take a step back, as well as the step forward, when taking a photo.

I'm also not going to accept anything where the animal is deliberately fuzzed-out in an attempt to hide it.

The next "Where's Waldo" will include some EXCELLENT images from Jon Davis. These, as well as
Shannon's images (and mine this go around), are EXACTLY what I'm looking for.

Best to all, thanks for playing!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The First Exotic Animal Amnesty Day In Florida

Human's, particularly males under the age of 25 are quite impulsive, and it is not uncommon to find them buying large pythons as well as venomous snakes.  The Florida Wildlife and Conservation Department (FWC)  held its first Exotic Pet Amnesty Day on November 6, 2011 - an event for exotic pet owners looking to get rid of those impusive buys, and opportunity to give up their animals, no questions asked. The FWC collected 64 animals, including a leopard gecko, two Madagascar giant chameleons, pythons, boas, turtles, fish, and about 30 Australian sugar gliders. On Exotic Pet Amnesty Day pet owners can turn in their animals without consequences. But FWC officials said most people who turned in animals were just not prepared to keep them. One woman impulsively bought a sugar glider and then a couple more for breeding. She turned in 25 of them, including a few newborns.

An event like this is a great idea and should be copied by other states and cities. Veterinarians gave advice and tips as to how to care for the animals, but the main goal is to prevent people from  releasing the animals into the wild once they can no longer care for them. If the pet industry was think towards the future they would be encouraging, supporting, and organizing exotic animal amnesty days across the county.

Where's Waldo x 4

Howdy Herpers,                             11/8/11

Image 1, by Roger Repp: Find the rattlesnake, identify the species.

Image 2, By Shannon Hoss, taken in Georgia, find the rattlesnake, identify the species.

Image 3, By Dave Barker, within the framework of this image, there is a red-spotted toad, a gray tree frog, a southern leopard frog, and a broad-banded copperhead. Find 'em.

Image 4, By Dave Barker. From the San Luis Mountains, the birthplace of my second wind with herpetology.

Two species of rattlesnake, and a colubrid. Find and identify.

Try not to pop out your eyeballs.

Ready, set, go!

(I'll send the answers on Friday.)


Suizo Report -- A Good Deed for GOAG

Howdy Herpers,
No need for any of you to pat me on the back--my hand is in the way.

We FINALLY got some rain last Saturday, which ushered in a cold spell.

John Slone and I did some radio tracking at the plot, which will be another story.

Upon finishing up with that, we decided to do some fun herping in a canyon in the NW Tortolita Mountains. I call the canyon we visited "Atrox Canyon." It is the first place ever that I started scoring some major atrox dens.

My first visit to the place occurred on New Years Day, 1993. I've since been able to line up nine different atrox dens, which I try to visit several times a year. Interspersed between the atrox dens are various repeat Desert Tortoise honey holes. I always check these when there as well.

Upon visiting a tortoise den that I've been watching since 1994, my heart sank when I saw a young ~2 year old tortoise upside down on the apron. I thought it was dead, and began the grim task of photographing it. By the time the second image was taken, Slone piped up with the magic words "It's still alive." Sure enough, it had withdrawn its head when the flash went off.

We of course then flipped the poor little fella over, and he wandered right into the known tortoise den. Very cool!

I don't know how long the little creature was upside down, or if he could have eventually flipped himself over. I doubt it, he had a pretty high-domed shell, and the weather was still quite cold.

I do know the hole he entered, and look forward to visiting it whenever time permits. I'm thinking it will stay there. Time will tell.

Image 1: In situ

Image 2: Wandering into sheltersite.

Best to all, roger

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Earthworm, The Salamander, & The Garter Snake

Organisms that alter the physical structure of their environments are ecosystem engineers and they create new habitat that can be exploited by other species in multiple ways, beavers, termites, leaf cutter ants, and mud lobsters are all environmental engineers, as are earthworms that improve the environment for use by other species. Ransom (2011) experimented with earthworms and red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) in an effort to determine if salamanders use earthworm burrows, and if they do, to examine the influence earthworm burrow use has on the salamander's competition with other salamanders and their ability to survive predators. Ransom found red-back salamander used earthworm burrows 50% of the time when burrows were present. However, the slimy salamander, Plethodon glutinosus, did not use the worm burrows. When other slimy salamanders were present or the red-backed were alone they used cover objects 70% of the time instead of the worm burrows, when other red-backed salamanders were present P. cinereus used cover objects only 40% of the time. The presence of earthworms did not change the behavior of the red-backed salamanders. Earthworms reduced the leaf litter and the number of micro invertebrates but did not impact the mass of salamanders in the study area. Additional experiments suggest that the use of earthworm burrows allowed the red backed salamanders to escape predation from garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis) and increased their survival rate during the winter.

Ransom, T. S. 2011.  The influence of habitat provisioning: use of earthworm burrows by the terrestrial salamander, Plethodon cinereus. Oecologia, 165: 745-754.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Squirrel-Rattlesnake Research Needs Funding

Money to fund serpent research is getting harder and harder to find.  Research grants are few and far between, but scientists are starting to get creative when it comes to bringing in the dough. A process called crowdfunding may be the new avenue of securing research money. Crowdfunding works by funding projects through many small donations solicited over the internet. Currently, 50 scientists from around the globe are participating in the #SciFund Challenge, a project that has brought them together to raise research money through crowdfunding on the RocketHub website - http://scifund.rockethub.com. One participating scientist, a Ph.D. student named Bree Putman, is looking to get people interested in snakes and why we should study them. She is studying the predator-prey interactions between rattlesnakes and ground squirrels in California. She has used creative techniques (check out her promotional video) to pique the interest of web surfers whom she hopes will fund her research.  Check out her creative way of raising money:  …and support her research as fellow snake lovers.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Camels as a Source of Antivenom

The following story is from The National, a UAE media outlet. The article was written by Caline Malek.

DUBAI // An innovative plan to use camels as four-legged factories for snakebite treatment has been put on hold despite promising early results. 
The problem: a lack of funding.
"It's a shame," says the virologist Renate Wernery, "because the principle is magnificent." 
The antivenins were developed last year using camel antibodies in the hope they could be used in Africa as early as next year to treat snakebites. They were being developed by researchers in the United Kingdom, and at Dubai's Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, among them Mrs Wernery. 
She said testing of the antivenins - each is specific to a species of snake - had cleared its first two phases. 
The first phase had found that camel antibodies were as effective as existing sheep and horse antivenins but were smaller, cheaper and could be stored unrefrigerated - making them an appealing substitute. 
"You can carry this vaccine in your pocket, it's that easy," Mrs Wernery said. Not having to be stored cold would make any treatment far more useful in developing countries where refrigeration might be unavailable or unreliable. 
Current treatments have a short shelf life, so hard-up hospitals in the developing world are often reluctant to order them. With few customers, big pharmaceutical companies largely stopped production a decade ago. 
Another advantage of camel-derived antivenins over those extracted from sheep and horses is that camel antibodies are smaller - about a tenth the size. One of the problems with horse and sheep antibodies is that their large size hinders their movement through the human tissue wall, making them less able to stop the death of living tissue as toxins from venom spread.

The more compact camel antibodies are better able to get to where they are needed. They are also less dangerous than existing antibodies, which cause severe side effects in 15 to 30 per cent of patients, according to Dr Rob Harrison, the head of the Alistair Reid Venom Research Unit at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. His lab milked snakes of their venom, which was then sent to Dubai to be injected into the camels, thereby provoking their system into producing antibodies. 
Camel antibodies are "more tolerated by the human system, whereas the horse's isn't so good because it causes reactions in humans called anaphylactic shocks, which can then cause the same problems as the venom", Mrs Wernery said. 
Anaphylactic shocks are allergic reactions that can cause loss of consciousness, laboured breathing, blueness of skin, low blood pressure, heart failure and death. 
"Those are the effects that we were interested in reducing," Dr Harrison said 
The researchers successfully completed the second phase of the research, creating antivenins specific to individual snake species - such as the puff adder, the saw-scaled viper and the black spitting cobra - and testing them, safely and effectively, in mice. 
Forty camels in Dubai were injected with tiny amounts of the toxins from snakes commonly found in Africa, using venom from Dr Harrison's lab. Over six months, the Dubai scientists extracted around 70 litres of antivenin serum, which was refined to seven litres of antivenin - enough to treat 1,000 snakebites. 
The team was ready to go to the next stage of producing antivenins in quantity, having fitted out two laboratories with equipment worth Dh3 million to produce the antibodies needed for the treatment. 
At that point, costs ground the project to a halt. "It became too expensive," Mrs Wernery said. "There was more than Dh1 million that still needed to be invested in it." 
Since then the project has remained on hold, despite hopes of using the same technique to make vaccines for diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, malaria and HIV. "We haven't touched phase three yet and that involves clinical trials on humans in Africa." 
Dr Harrison is among those left in limbo. "We haven't been able to secure the funds to do a clinical trial with the antivenins and we need that to move forward," he said. "The great shame about this research project is that we came up with what is potentially a very promising therapeutic lead but were not able to pursue it."

Commentaries on Humans, Animals & the Environment

Commentary on the relationships between humans and other animals -including snakes - are becoming more common in the media given recent events: the 16-foot Burmese python killed in the Florida everglades, the Zanesville Animal tragedy; escaped mambas terrorizing Bangkok, or at least the thought of escaped mambas.

Ken White. President of the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA has a commentary in the San Francisco Examiner where he expresses the following opinions: (1) far too many people keep exotic animals, (2)  too much money is made by the industries which supply and then support the keeping of these animals, and none of those industries’ practices are in any way good for the animals (3) it's clear we need laws to protect both wild animals from people and to protect people from what happens when wild animals are kept where they do not belong by a species which is, frighteningly often, incapable of taking care of itself.

The Gainesville Sun has an editorial that is asking, why is it still legal to import and sell these dangerous snakes? And, demanding legislation and a halt to the exotic animal industry.

Unfortunately all of the editors and the outraged public demanding legislation are looking for answers in the wrong place, just as the "war on drugs" was doomed to failure, laws banning exotic animals are doomed to failure. Legislation is the quick solution for the politician to appear to solve a social problem - just pass a law and the public will fall in-line. This is quite in-effective when it comes to basic human needs - it may work for traffic regulation (at least some of the time). You can't control drug addiction with laws or explosives because the root cause is in the biochemistry in the human central nervous system.

People keep exotic animals because of the basic human need to understand and relate to nature (biophilia), a need that is poorly understood and has been ignored as society becomes more technological. The long term answer to solving drug addiction and problems of human-animal relationships lies in education.

There is but one way to influence human behavior long term and in a way that is effective - education. Natural history education has the potential to change the world as we know it, and produce a society that respects the environment, the environment that is both internal (the human body) and external (ecosystems). If you are unfamiliar with the Natural History Network it is worth the time to investigate their movement.

At the moment huge amounts of money are pumped into legislation, law enforcement and the justice system all attempt to solve problems after the fact. The money would be much better spent educating the public on the stories of nature and how humans play a role in the ecosystem so that we treat the environment, each other, and ourselves much better than we do now. Currently, most school curriculums decouple human and nature - a disastrous road into the future.

Escaped Mambas in Thailand?

The following has been complied from two press releases from the Bangkok Post. For the last few days reports from Thailand have suggested that 15 snakes escaped from a flooded hous near Bangkok. The National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department and the Zoological Park Organisation are investigating. The probe follows a report on Wednesday from Facebook that was creating panic and fear among flood victims in flood-hit provinces Nonthaburi, Bangkok and Pathum Thani. Pimuk Simaroj, director of the Zoological Park Organisation, said it was unclear whether the report was true and there was no official record of this type of snake being imported into Thailand. Zoological Park Organisation official Anupong Nualpang said he had received information that about eight people were being bitten by poisonous snakes each day during the floods.

As a precautionary measure, Health Minister Wittaya Buranasiri said his agency ordered the antivenom after 15 poisonous green mambas, with body lengths of 1-2 metres, had reportedly escaped via floodwater from a house in Nonthaburi province. No bites have been reported as yet. The public health ministry currently reserves 3,500 bottles of seven kinds of serum especially for use during flooding situations according to the types of snakes commonly found in each part of the country – the cobra, king cobra, banded krait, Malayan krait, Siamese Russell's viper, Malayan Pit viper and green pit viper.

Suizo Report -- Atrox Action

Howdy Herpers,                                                               3 November 2011

With the active season drawing to a close, the time we will actually see and photograph our animals in action is growing short. Rather than going into long stories about what you are seeing, we will let the pictures do the talking.

Subject numbers and dates are on each .jpg

Image 1-3: 22 October 2011, CRAT #121 as viewed prowling outside Atrox Den # 4 (AD4). We spooked her, and she made a beeline for the usual crevice entrance. AD4 has been heavily involved in our study since 2001.

Image 4-5: 29 October 2011: CRAT # 121 again. Just because she went into a known den didn't mean that she was going to stay. On this day, she was roughly 70 meters south of  AD4.

Image 6 and 7: 22 Oct 2011: We FINALLY got a decent visual of new CRAT #131. She was almost all the way up the Southwestern flanks of Suizo Mountains proper. She has since come all the way back down. It will be interesting to see where she winds up for the winter.

Image 8: 15 October 2011: This unmarked big male was dogging our female CRAT # 87 for several days. She was always in hiding when he was around.

Image 9 and 10: 22 October 2011: The unmarked male stayed with CRAT #87--right into AD7. The two atrox in  these photos were just outside the den itself. The big boy and #87 were inside the crevice. My last visit to AD7 was on 29 October 2011. The big male, CRAT #87, and one other unknown CRAT were jammed into a cluster of coils. A  lone female was  viewed  above them. I expect that these snakes are all there to stay, with more due any minute.

Image 10 courtesy of Hans-Werner Herrmann

We hope to get a few more above ground shots soon. And we have some good stuff to share on our other subjects as well.

Best to all, roger