Monday, May 2, 2011

Loggerhead Turtles & Pollutants

Up close and personal with a
loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
 in the Gulf of Mexico's Flower
Garden Banks National Marine
Sanctuary (about 170 kilometers,
or 100 miles, off the Louisiana
coast). Photo Credit: T. Moore,
The following is a press release from the Material Measurment Laboratory, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

In a pair of studies—one recently published online* and the other soon-to-be published**— researchers at the Hollings Marine Laboratory (HML), a government-university collaboration in Charleston, S.C., report that persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are consistently showing up in the blood and eggs of loggerhead sea turtles, that the turtles accumulate more of the contaminant chemicals the farther they travel up the Atlantic coast, and that the pollutants may pose a threat to the survival of this endangered species.

POPs are a large group of man-made chemicals that, as their name indicates, persist in the environment. They also spread great distances through air and water, accumulate in human and animal tissues, infiltrate food chains, and may have carcinogenic and neurodevelopmental effects. POPs include banned substances such as DDT and toxaphenes, once used as pesticides; polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), once used as insulating fluids; and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), once used as flame retardants. While POPs have been recognized for many years as a health threat to loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), there is little scientific data available to help understand the nature and scope of the risk.

"This uncertainty makes it difficult for wildlife conservation managers to make informed decisions about how best to assist the recovery of the loggerhead species," says National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) researcher Jennifer Keller. "Our recent studies provide some of the first measurements of POP levels in adult male and nesting female loggerhead turtles at various locations across their migratory range."

In the first study*, HML researchers from NIST and the College of Charleston (C of C), working with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), used satellites to track 19 adult male loggerheads that had been captured in 2006 and 2007 by the SCDNR near Port Canaveral, Fla., fitted with transmitters on their backs and then released back into the wild. The animals, whose blood had been drawn at the time of capture and analyzed for POP concentrations, were followed for at least 60 days to learn their travel patterns. Ten turtles travelled north along the Atlantic coast, eventually migrating to ocean shelf waters between South Carolina and New Jersey. The other nine remained residents in Florida.

Blood plasma concentrations for all of the POPs examined were higher in the transient loggerheads, suggesting that they had eaten prey that were contaminated, such as crabs, in the northern latitudes during previous migrations. Additionally, the loggerheads that travelled farthest north had the highest POP concentrations in their systems. "This may be because the turtles' northern feeding grounds are subjected to higher levels of POPs from areas more populated and more industrialized than those in Florida," says C of C researcher Jared Ragland.

In the other HML turtle study**, Keller and researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Florida Atlantic University and Duke University measured a large suite of POPs in loggerhead egg yolk samples collected from 44 nests in western Florida, eastern Florida and North Carolina. The team found that POP concentrations were lowest in western Florida, at intermediate levels in eastern Florida and highest in North Carolina.

"This, we believe, can be partly explained by the foraging site selections of nesting females," Keller says. "Turtles that nest in western Florida forage in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea where POP contamination is apparently lower than along the Atlantic coast of the United States where the North Carolina nesters forage, whereas the eastern Florida nesting females forage in areas that overlap the two in terms of geography and POP levels."

The HML is a unique partnership of governmental and academic agencies including NIST, NOAA's National Ocean Service, the SCDNR, the C of C and the Medical University of South Carolina.

* J.M. Ragland, M.D. Arendt, J.R. Kucklick and J.M. Keller. "Persistent organic pollutants in blood plasma of satellite-tracked adult male loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Vol. 30, No. 5, May 2011 (published online Apr. 20, 2011).

** J.J. Alava, J.M. Keller, J. Wyneken, L. Crowder, G. Scott and J.R. Kucklick. "Geographical variation of persistent organic pollutants in eggs of threatened loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) from southeastern USA." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (accepted for publication Apr. 12, 2011).

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Why are there so many species of Terrarana frogs?

Pristimantis urichi, a Terrarana Frog. JCM

Some evolutionary lineages have been much more successful at producing more individual species than others. Lizards of the genus Anolis and snakes in the genus Atractus have been particularly sucessful at producing large numbers of species. Gonzalez-Voyer and colleagues have used a comparative anayslis  to examine correlates of species richness for the largest radiation of Neotropical frogs, the direct-developing frogs, the Terrarana. More than 900 species are known to compose the Terrarana clade, and they make up almost 33% ofl New World Tropical frogs and 16% of the world's described species. The authord found that time the clade had been around - its age- was not significant in explain the Terrarana clade's variation in species richness. Instead, they found ecological and morphological traits explained 65% of the variance in species richness. The traits included a more vascularized ventral skin, the ability to colonize high-altitudes, and use a variety of vegetation types. These traits had a significant correlation with species richness, while large body size was marginally correlated with species richness.Thus. high-altitudes play a role in shaping clade diversity in the Neotropics while intrinsic factors, such as skin structures and possibly body size, may ultimately determine which clades are more speciose than others.

GONZALEZ-VOYER, A., PADIAL, J. M., CASTROVIEJO-FISHER, S., DE LA RIVA, I. and VILÀ, C. (2011), Correlates of species richness in the largest Neotropical amphibian radiation. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 24: 931–942. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2011.02243.x

Friday, April 29, 2011

Another Vipera berus Envenomation

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Amphibian Declines, Multiple Causes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snake Charmers, Economics, & Wildlife Laws

The following story is from the Economic Times

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 25, 2011

A New Species of Liolaemus

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

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

A Non-lethal Bite from Vipera berus

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

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"The Million Death Study" Published - Snakebite in India

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

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

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

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Roger Repp & Crotalus cerberus

Howdy Herpers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best to all, roger

More Adventures With Roger in March

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Future of Asian Snakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 18, 2011

Venom in Open Grooved Fangs

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

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

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

Roger Repps Suizo Report - March Madness, Part 3

Howdy Herpers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best to all, roger

Roger Repps Suizo Report - March Madness, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

Best to all, roger

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another New Tiny Frog From Borneo

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

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