Sunday, January 1, 2012

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cryptic Frogs Locate Their Respective Mates by Calls

A member of the Hyla versicolor Complex. JCM

Columbia, MO – When it comes to love songs, female tree frogs are pretty picky. According to a new study from the University of Missouri, certain female tree frogs may be remarkably attuned to the songs of mates who share the same number of chromosomes as they do. The discovery offers insight into how new frog species may have evolved.

Carl Gerhardt, Curators Professor of Biological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science and doctoral student Mitch Tucker studied two closely related species of grey tree frogs that live in Missouri, the eastern grey tree frog (Hyla versicolor) and the Cope’s grey tree frog (H. chrysoscelis).

“To the naked eye – human and frog – the two frogs look exactly alike,” Gerhardt said. “The frogs differ only in the number of chromosomes. The eastern grey tree frog has double the number of chromosomes.”

To the ears of potential mates, the two species differ in their vocal performances.

“The males are both singing the same love song – just one frog is singing it slower. It’s kind of like the difference between Eric Clapton’s original and unplugged versions of Layla,” Tucker said.

In previous studies, the scientists found that tree frogs with more sets of chromosome have larger cell sizes, which slows down the trill rate. What was not known was whether the calling preferences of females are similarly linked to chromosome number.

To answer this question, Tucker simulated the chromosome duplication event by replicating spring temperatures early in the frog development. Females were grown to maturity and then exposed to computer-generated, synthetic male calls that differed by trill rate. They found that the females hopped toward the calls with the trill rate of the males with matching chromosome numbers, which indicates female preference.

“This shows that chromosome number alone can control the behavior that keeps the species separate,” Gerhardt said. “In turn, as chromosome number increases, so does the size of cells, which is probably the immediate cause of the changes in calls and preferences.”

In animals, the origin of species is often associated with geographic barriers. A large body of water or range of mountains, for example, splits a large population and prevents mating. The eastern grey tree frog, according to Gerhardt, may represent a rare case of rapid evolution occurring by chromosome duplication, changes in behavior and reproductive isolation.

The report, titled “Parallel changes in mate-attracting calls and female preferences in autotriploid tree frogs,” was published by the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences. The study was supported by funding from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the University of Missouri Research Board.

Tucker, M. and C. Gerhardt. 2011. Parallel changes in mate-attracting calls and female preferences in autotriploid tree frogs. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1968

New Hypothesis on Limb Evolution

 EUGENE, Ore. -- (Dec. 27, 2011) -- A small fish crawling on stumpy limbs from a shrinking desert pond is an icon of can-do spirit, emblematic of a leading theory for the evolutionary transition between fish and amphibians. This theorized image of such a drastic adaptation to changing environmental conditions, however, may, itself, be evolving into a new picture.

Romer's desert hypothesis, left, and Retallack's flooded woodland, right. 
Image courtesy of University of Oregon.
University of Oregon scientist Gregory J. Retallack, professor of geological sciences, says that his discoveries at numerous sites in Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania suggest that "such a plucky hypothetical ancestor of ours probably could not have survived the overwhelming odds of perishing in a trek to another shrinking pond."

This scenario comes from the late Devonian, about 390 million years ago to roughly 360 million years ago. Paleontologist Alfred Romer, who died in 1973 after serving on the faculties at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, saw this time as a period of struggle and escape -- and important in fish-tetrapod transition -- to ensure survival.

Reporting in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of Geology, Retallack, who also is co-director of paleontological collections at the UO's Museum of Natural and Cultural History, argues for a very different explanation. He examined numerous buried soils in rocks yielding footprints and bones of early transitional fossils between fish and amphibians of Devonian and Carboniferous geological age. What he found raises a major challenge to Romer's theory.

"These transitional fossils were not associated with drying ponds or deserts, but consistently were found with humid woodland soils," he said. "Remains of drying ponds and desert soils also are known and are littered with fossil fish, but none of our distant ancestors. Judging from where their fossils were found, transitional forms between fish and amphibians lived in wooded floodplains. Our distant ancestors were not so much foolhardy, as opportunistic, taking advantage of floodplains and lakes choked with roots and logs for the first time in geological history."

Limbs proved handy for negotiating woody obstacles, and flexible necks allowed for feeding in shallow water, Retallack said. By this new woodland hypothesis, the limbs and necks, which distinguish salamanders from fish, did not arise from reckless adventure in deserts, but rather were nurtured by a newly evolved habitat of humid, wooded floodplains.

The findings, he said, dampen both the desert hypothesis of Romer and a newer inter-tidal theory put forth by Grzegorz Niedbwiedzki and colleagues at the University of Warsaw. In 2010, they published their discovery of eight-foot-long, 395-million-year-old tetrapods in ancient lagoonal mud in southeastern Poland, where Retallack also has been studying fossil soils with Polish colleague Marek Narkeiwicz.

"Ancient soils and sediments at sites for transitional fossils around the world are critical for understanding when and under what conditions fish first walked," Retallack said. "The Darwin fish of chrome adorning many car trunks represents a particular time and place in the long evolutionary history of life on earth."

Retallack. GJ. 2011. Woodland Hypothesis for Devonian Tetrapod Evolution. The Journal of Geology, 2011; 119 (3): 235 DOI: 10.1086/659144

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Suizo Report -- The King Doth Beg Again!

Howdy Herpers,                                                                               12/28/11

Well, typing boy here stepped squarely upon his Richard by stepping up to be the speaker for the 17 January 2012 THS meeting.

My subject is going to be on herps that hole up communally. I PROBABLY am a big enough boy to pull this off without help. But it would sure be nice to showcase some of the stuff so many of you are doing in herpland.

I've sent a few samples images to show what I'm after. If you are willing to share, send me some images, and state how you would like to be acknowledged.
A standard 1024 x 768 pixel image is fine.

I will not share use any images of yours for any other purpose but this presentation.

And, FYI, I need to have anything you're willing to share by next Friday, 6 January 2012.
Hope you can help out!

Best to all, roger

Suzio Report, Fall 2011

28 December 2011
Howdy Herpers,                                                                                      

Those who are text challenged can feel to skip the ~3 pages of rambling that follows, and go straight for the brief descriptions that compliment the attached images below. Go for the asterisks (*****). This year has taught me from all directions, (read: it isn’t just me!), that inserting images into the text of emails isn’t the best way to fly. Nor are website images the answer. Where this typing boy is concerned, attaching .jpgs to these Suizo Reports is the best way to assure that images of at least minimal quality arrive on the screens of you, the recipients. Anything else is sub-par, and when delivering images that are already sub-par, one must do their best to polish the turds that one offers.

For over 15 years, Thanksgiving has become the official traditional beginning of the winter herping season for the Herp King of Southern Arizona. The art of waiting until that glorious holiday before striking took many years to master. As hard as it must be to imagine, there was a time when there was no Herp King of Southern Arizona. (These were the darkest days of herpetological history in Arizona.) Prior to hoisting the weighty crown to its lofty perch, a mere mortal would foolishly begin scouring the hillsides in early October. He did this with hopes of discovering the winter lairs of various types of herps. As always, when he found something, there was great excitement and jubilation. And a week later, when that find was revisited, it would be long gone.

Nope, the lesson that was eventually learned here is that good things come to those who wait. While most herps commit to their winter homes by early November, it is best to just give them a few weeks to settle in before visiting them. By doing this, one assures that the animal being watched is usually dug in enough to endure flashing mirrors and cameras without being scared clean out of the county.

As some of you may remember, Thanksgiving 2011 recently descended upon us. On Wednesday, 23 November, the Director of NOAO sent us an email that dismissed us for the long holiday weekend at noon. Ever the dedicated company man, I took that to mean it was ok to leave at 1130. Whap! I was out of there­and heading for my first-ever winter playground. Back in 1991, I found my first “repeating herps,” (that is, herps that demonstrate fidelity to winter sheltersites), at Ragged Top.

With but limited time on my hands, I headed straight for a ridge where chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater) have been observed through the years. I first visited a crevice where a lone large adult chuckwalla has been observed, off and on, since 1996. The big guy was home, and looking good! I eventually worked my eastward to a place that I call “The White Rocks.” I have been visiting this particular rock structure since 1992, when I first found a chuckwalla there. It has been hit-or-miss at the white rocks through the years, but there has been a streak of one or more chucks hanging out here since 2009. And today, there was one present. The crevice where the chucks over-winter is extremely difficult to get a camera into. But I was lucky enough to get something to share. I was lathered in sweat from the effort to get this image, and questioned why taking a picture on a cool fall afternoon would cause this. I broke out my thermometer, and took a temperature on the rock face. It was 39 C, or 102 degrees F! Wow! The chucks know how to find a hot spot!

Thus endeth the Ragged Top adventure. Thanksgiving transpired, and it was learned that Jameson whiskey, Captain Hornitos, and the elixir of the world’s most interesting man doesn’t allow one to effectively mix with republicans­or anybody else for that matter. The day after Thanksgiving became “Misgiving,” but there was no way that a whopper of a hangover was going to stop the Herp King of Southern Arizona. Off he went on a visit to Hill 97, leaving a trail of toxic sweats and partially-digested turkey with all the trimmings in his wake. In all, the king saw, or at least hallucinated, eight diamond-backed rattlesnakes, a desert tortoise (Gopherus hardtospellit), and four Gila Monsters (Heloderma suspectum). A hog-nosed skunk was observed lying beside a rattlesnake in one of the dens. Faced with the spastic side-effects of the DTs, the king’s camera grew a mind of its own, and tried to twitch itself out of his grasp every time he tried to use it. The only image worth sharing from this day of Misgiving is of the “Lazy M” Gila Monster­a monster that has overwintered in the same Gila hole for eleven years now.

In a Suizo Report last year, the king made a big deal out of the Lazy M HESU, calling it the monster of the decade. He showed images of it from November of 2000, and again, November, 2010. I think we’ve done this enough without using comparative images again. The short story, for those who missed it, is that this monster was an adult when found in 2000, and is still with us today. One fine day, I expect we will know how long Gila Monsters live in the wild. For now, an estimate of 20 years is not unreasonable, and longer is certainly possible.  

Bringing it all back home, the Suizo Plot has also been well-monitored this fall. We begin with an accounting of the western diamond-backed rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) dens. Atrox Den #1 (AD1), has had three atrox viewed inside the crevice this fall. There are likely more. We have been monitoring AD1 since 1999. AD5 holds two atrox, AD6 holds one, and AD7 has had as many as six visible. We have been watching AD5 since 2001, AD6 since 2002, and AD7 since 2003. This fall, female CRAT #121, “Tracy,” surprised us by settling into AD6, which was the former home of the “Barbie Twins.” (The Barbie Twins were two female atrox, CRAT # 44 and 46. They were in our study from 2003-2007. The fact that they shared the same winter den, and dogged each other during the active season, led us to speculate that they are sisters. The time will come when their DNA will yield that information.) Our newer female CRAT #87, “Julie” settled into the upper crevice of AD7. (#87 in AD7 forces us to carefully enunciate our words, lest confusion arise when discussing either.) Female CRAT #133 has crossed the big wash, and has settled into a man-made boulder pile near the top of the southwestern flank of the Suizo Mountains proper. It is quite the climb to track her every week. Each time we make the trek, we gleefully cuss John Slone for finding this wayward snake. 

The tiger rattlesnakes (Crotalus tigris) have been somewhat predictable, but fun to watch. Female CRTI #8 “Zona” ended her yearly migration in the exact boulder that she started from last April. Male CRTI #10 “Jeff” snagged a big meal in Mid-October, and settled under a west-facing boulder jumble on the northwest side of Iron Mine Hill. Male CRTI #11 “Steven” ended exactly where Blake and Gordon predicted­AD5! Commensal overwintering between tigris and atrox is normally not a common situation. But there have been several instances of such behaviors on the upper east side of Iron Mine Hill. 

On 10 December, “Steven” gave us a big surprise by being discovered basking in 100% direct sunlight. The transmitter revealed his body temperature to be 22.3 C. By comparison, the two non-basking tigers had body temps of 13.8 and 8.7 C on this day. We have yet to really do much with all the micro-climate data we’ve collected, and these three points may point to how difficult that data will be to fathom. Getting back to Steven, this is only the second time that I’ve ever seen a tiger rattlesnake out basking in December. The first time was with a non-transmittered tiger on Hill 97 in 1998. Perhaps not-so coincidentally, this Hill 97 tiger was also sharing a den with atrox.  

On 19 November, our scrawny female Gila Monster female HESU #13, “Farrah” moved into a Gila hole that she occupied during the same period last year. She surprised us by making a three meter mini-move downslope between 10 December and 17 December. Her new location is a place where during the winters of 2006 through 2008, I would often see an unknown Gila Monster. As we did not actually catch/process Farrah until May of 2008, it is possible that this “unknown” monster was her. In her current location, she is poised to go downslope to a place she hibernated in 2009 and 2010, or she could head upslope to the communal Gila dens, as she did last year at this time. Time will tell.

I will be doing a blow-by-blow accounting of our female black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus) in the next report. For now, it is enough to say that female CRMO#10 “Susan” has entered a currently inactive beecave that resides about four meters directly above CRTI #10’s hibernaculum. (Which is also near an inactive beecave). There are still honeycombs visible in both hives, and it is possible that either hive will rejuvenate soon. (Both hives were explosively active during the winter of 2008. Beecaves tend to wax and wane depending on weather circumstances, and we are heading toward an ideal “waxing” situation this winter). A waxing hive does not fall under the category of “none of our beeswax.” An active hive could be the death of us, as we have to get close to the hives to collect the data. And a vibrant hive is equally scary for the snakes, as we speculate that our local “killer bees” (sons of bees) will not hesitate to merrily sting anything to death that they deem a threat­including snakes.

We will leave our wayward Mojave Rattlesnake "Blake the Snake" out in the middle of the flats, where he belongs. We'll stick to Iron Mine Hill for the remainder of this report. In much the same fashion that Ragged Top and Hill 97 have become hands off monitoring places, so has Iron Mine Hill. To be sure, we're sticking transmitters in some of the animals and following them around. But there are many animals that we are content to admire from a distance. Many times I put the receiver away and just hike our little hill, checking known sweet spots, as well as potential new honey holes. This fall has thus far been a little lean in terms of finding winter herps, but that could change shortly. Thus far, I have two Gila Monsters, a tortoise, and a Lyresnake under observation. 

We have reached the point where the images should do the rest of the talking:

Pic 1: Ragged Top. (Grin) I don't want to give away too many secrets, but the two chuckwallas pictured below were found somewhere within the framework of this image. Can you find them?

Pic 2: The first chuckwalla mentioned in the text above. He's a dandy!

Pic 3: The "White Rocks." Chuckwallas have been under observation in this formation since 1992.

Pic 4: The current occupant of the White Rocks.

Pic 5: "The monster of the decade" reaches year #11
Pic 6: "Farrah" looking out at you!

Pic 7: Good old tortoise #505 basking on 10 December. Although he was processed in March of 2005, he has been under watch since 1998.

Pic 8: #505 has consistently chosen a winter sheltersite that is open at two ends. This permits one the rare photo op of shooting a basking tortoise from behind.

Pic 9: CRTI #11, "Steven" found basking on 10 December 2011. This is only the second time this herper has seen a tiger basking in December.

Pic 10: Iron Mine Hill Lyresnake #7. My first attraction to Iron Mine Hill were the lyresnakes that could be found there. In 1992, I found four different crevices that were producing. Through the years, I have managed to find an even dozen crevices. Considering that this involves a time span of almost 20 years, one can understand how scarce they can be. Crevice #7 was first discovered in February of 2000. The last time a lyresnake has been seen here was 2006.

Pic 11: Iron Mine Hill as viewed from CRAT #133's hibernaculum.

Pic 12: Looking west from Iron Mine Hill. Fog smothering Picacho Peak, 4 December 2011. The rains have been generous thus far this fall. We hope for more this winter. Well, that was probably more than enough for the likes of all of you. Thanks to the two of you who hung in there!

Here's to wishing you all a happy and prosperous new year. roger

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Bite from Naja mossambica

news24 in Johannesburg is reporting on the condition of Mikayla Robbertse, a  5-year-old girl from Limpopo bitten by a Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica). The girl was going to sleep in the family home in Ellisras on Monday night when she was bitten on the hand by the snake in her bed. On Friday her health suddenly deteriorated, her grandmother, Charmaine, reported her liver enlarged and doctors are concerned about her kidneys, her chest tissue had also been affected by the snake's venom. Doctors warned that her condition could worsen at any time. According to the girl's grandmother Mikayala is weak and only weighs 15kg.

The molecules in the venom of a Mozambique spitting cobra moves faster through tissue than those in the venom of other snakes, Graham Alexander, a snake expert at the University of Witwatersrand, told the newspaper. It can necrosis away from the bite area and in the worst cases people can continue to lose tissue for months after being bitten.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Snakes Can Hear

Python regius. JCM
A paper just published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, again confirms that snakes can indeed hear. Snakes are sensitive to most stimuli, but the lack of ears, an auditory meatus, a tympanum, has produced the mis-belief that they cannot hear. Despite the absence of sound detection mechanisms, snakes do have an inner ear connected to the jaw by a single middle ear bone, the columella auris. Christian Christensen, Jakob Christensen-Dalsgaard, Christian Brandt and Peter Madsen inverstigated if snakes detect sound via sound pressure or sound-induced mechanical vibrations through the body.

Playing sounds ranging in pitch from 80 to 1000 Hz at volumes between 50 and 110 dB re. 20 μPa to 11 royal pythons, Christensen recorded electrical responses in one of the snakes' cranial nerves and their brain stems. Increasing the sound volume until he recorded a measurable electrical signal in the brain stem, he found snakes could hear very loud airborne sound (10,000 times louder than the softest sounds heard by humans) and that they were sensitive to low frequencies between 80 to 160 Hz with their sensitivity decreasing at higher frequencies, falling from 78 dB re. 20 μPa at 160 Hz to 96 dB re. 20 μPa at 800 Hz.

But how were the sounds transmitted to the snake's vibration-sensitive inner ear? As low-frequency sounds are efficiently carried by solid materials, the researchers wondered whether sound vibrations might be transmitted from the ground into the snake's body.

Christensen measured vibrations generated in the surface upon which the snakes were lying by a loudspeaker suspended above the platform. Meanwhile, he recorded the animals' auditory electrical response to the vibrations. He found that the animals responded well to 80 Hz vibrations, but at higher frequencies, the vibrations produced in the surface by the airborne sound were too weak for the snake to respond.

So, how were the snakes able to sense the higher pitched sounds that they hear? ‘Some suggested that they could use the lung as fish use the swim bladder. Also, we humans still hear by bone conduction in water, that would be another way of sending the sound’, says Christensen. So the team decided to test whether the animals could sense their own skulls' vibrating in response to airborne sounds.

Attaching minute vibrometers to the snakes' heads, Christensen measured the mechanical vibrations induced in the head by loud airborne sounds that were just above the snakes' hearing thresholds. He found that these skull vibrations were the same intensity as the minimum mechanical vibrations that the animals could sense. So instead of responding to sound pressure, snakes respond to vibrations transmitted directly from the air to the skeleton.

Having shown that snakes are sensitive to sound-induced vibrations rather than sound pressure, the team is interested in investigate the hearing of other earless animals.

Christensen, C. B., Christensen-Dalsgaard, J., Brandt, C. and Madsen, P. T. (2012). Hearing with an atympanic ear: good vibration and poor sound-pressure detection in the royal python, Python regius. J. Exp. Biol. 215, 331-342

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Captive Breeding, Biodiversity, and Sustainabiliy

Deep Sea World in North Queensferry, Scotland has annouced they have bred the Golden Mantella, an endemic forest frog from eastern Madagascar, for the firts time. They have about 50 tadpoles that will metamorphose into froglets after about 60 days of development. Mantella aurantiaca is a group of species threatened by habitat fragmentation, it is also an attractive frog, and a prime candidate for zoos, aquariums, and private collectors to use for display. But, the Golden Mantella can also be used to get people's attention about the environment.

Madagascar's herpetofauna is disappearing due to human activity but documenting those extinctions is difficult at best.Species most at risk are those that remain in small populations in fragmented habiat, like small patches of forest that still support frogs, but once those framents of forest are logged, the species are gone, and it is unlikely anyone is going to be their to document it. Surveying habitats for species often miss small, cryptic species - we really have no idea how many species exsist - and we are pushing them into extinction before we even know they exist. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red Lists include
a few dozens of species from Madagascar, but the very rich and unique fauna is poorly known and disappearing before our eyes - but is out of site.

Captive breeding projects, like the one at Deep Sea World, are useful. They provide knowledge that can be used to held species from becoming extinct. However, once the habitat is gone, captive breeding projects can re-establish new populations - or at least that is the thought. But really, long term projects like these are as unstainable as Noah's Ark. Temporarly they can be quite usefull, but it is impossible to save all of the species that humans are pushing into extinction through captive breeding projects. The only real sustainable approach to stop the declines in biodiversity is for humans to slow their reproduction, live sustainably, and stop habitat fragmentation and start habitat restoration - this does not seem likely. Recently the human population is thought to have exceeded 7 billion.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hellbender Salamanders, Micro-organisms & Global Amphibian Decline

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A new study co-authored by University of Florida researchers on the endangered Ozark Hellbender giant salamander is the first to detail its skin microbes, the bacteria and fungi that defend against pathogens.

Published today in the online journal PLoS One, the study details changes in the salamander’s declining health and habitat, and could provide a baseline for how changing ecosystems are affecting the rapid decline of amphibians worldwide.

“Scientists and biologists view amphibians as kind of a ‘canary in the coal mine’ and their health is often used as a barometer for overall ecosystem health, including potential problems that may affect humans,” said study co-author Max Nickerson, herpetology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

More than 2 feet long, the Ozark Hellbender is the one of largest salamander species in the United States. Its unusual biological characteristics include the ability to regenerate injured or missing body parts.

In the new study, lead author Cheryl Nickerson, a professor at Arizona State University, along with NASA and UF scientists, cultured and identified microorganisms from abnormal and injured tissue on the salamanders searching for pathogens that may be causing the lack of regeneration and population decline.

The researchers found several potentially dangerous pathogens, including Aeromonas hydrophila, a bacterium scientists believe is associated with disease and death in both amphibians and fish.

While many different pathogens were found in the injured tissue, no single organism was found to be responsible for the lack of regeneration. Researchers believe the occurrence of abnormalities and injury in the Ozark Hellbender may have many contributing factors, including disease and habitat degradation, and say further study is needed

“If you don’t understand an amphibian’s skin you don’t understand the amphibians,” Nickerson said.

Scientists have known about the remarkable powers of salamander regeneration for more than 200 years, but beginning in the 1980s, researchers noticed a sharp decline in the Ozark Hellbender population. They also found a specific population from the North Fork of Missouri’s White River was declining dramatically and losing the ability to regenerate.

“We were finding animals with no legs that were still alive with flesh wounds or bones sticking out of limbs,” Nickerson said.

“Looking at the microorganisms on their skin can help us understand why these animals aren’t regenerating at the rate we’re used to seeing, and may lead to conclusions about population declines,” he said.

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added the Ozark Hellbender to the federal endangered species list. Its species name is Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi.

Stanley Trauth, curator of amphibians and reptiles in the department of biological sciences at Arkansas State University, said public awareness of the species is increasing, and Hellbenders have recently been successfully bred for the first time in captivity at the St. Louis Zoo.

“There has been a dramatic decrease in the population and there are a number of factors that contribute to that,” Trauth said. “But these types of studies will help provide more consistent results on the impact of microorganisms and animal health.”

“In the last 20 years we have been finding a tremendous number of injuries on these animals and those injuries are not healing,” Nickerson said. “Now the population is down to almost nothing and we are very worried about the species and the environmental changes around them.”

The Ozark Hellbender’s fossil record goes back 161 million years and it represents one of the most ancient lines of amphibian life.

“This is about as far, in phylogeny, as that type of regeneration goes, this is the most ancient group of salamanders that we know of,” Nickerson said. “They have been through a lot and we want to find out what these changes mean.”

“The animals in the river systems in that area, just like in Florida, where we have these huge amounts of spring water you have to worry about it,” Nickerson said. “That’s a big dome of fresh water and it has implications on human health as well.”
Figure 2. Representative samples of normal and abnormal lesions on Ozark Hellbenders, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi.All individuals sampled were captured from the North Fork of the White River, Ozark County, Missouri on 17 August 2007. A shows a normal left back foot (NFWR 138), B shows lesion on palm of right back foot (NFWR 136), C shows lesion on toes of left front foot (NFWR 136), D shows lesion on right back limb with all toes missing (NFWR 135), E shows lesion on right back limb with all toes missing (NFWR 139), and F shows lesion on lower lip (NFWR 139).

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Old & New Species

Two new dwarf homalopsid snakes of the genus Myron described in 2011. A. Myron karnsi from the Aru Islands in eastern Indonesia. B. Myron resetari from Western Australia. Both species have been long confused with Myron richardsonii, a species from northern Australia.These are small (less than 400 mm), coastal species that probably hunt fish in marine environments. They are two of a small number of snakes, other than true sea snakes and file snakes, that have been able to adapt to saltwater. M. karnsi is known from a single specimen, M. resetari was known from two specimens when described, but other specimens have been found in the last few months. JCM
This is the time of year for retrospection and it is everywhere. One of the re-occurring stories is the number of new species described during the year. One press release from the California Academy of Sciences reports CAS researchers discovered 140 new species in 2011, including 72 arthropods, 31 sea slugs, 13 fishes, 11 plants, nine sponges, three corals, and one reptile (a tortoise).

A press release from 27 June of 2011 reports scientists discovered 1,060 previously unknown species during a decade of research in New Guinea, the world's second largest island; the majority of new species listed are plants and insects, but the inventory includes 134 amphibians, 71 fish, 43 reptiles, 12 mammals, and 2 birds. A similar, more recent, press release pertaining to the greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports 1068 species were discovered or newly identified by science between 1997 and 2007 – which averages two new species a week and includes 519 plants, 279 fish, 88 frogs, 88 spiders, 46 lizards, 22 snakes, 15 mammals, 4 birds, 4 turtles, 2 salamanders and a toad.

Using AmphibiaWeb and the Reptile Database it is possible to tract the number of species of amphibians and reptiles described during a given year. Despite the week or so left in 2011 it is of interest to note that as of now (December 17) 84 new species of reptiles were described during 2011 (one turtle, 21 snakes, and 62 lizards) and 134 species of amphibians (one caecilian, five salamanders, and 128 frogs). Combined that works out to 218 species, or about 0.59 new species per day. So, we can expect another five or six new species of amphibians and reptiles to be described this year.

What is more difficult to track is the number of species rescued from synonymy. During the late 19th century, and well into the mid to late 20th century it was popular to lump species, thus many species described during the 200 years after Linnaeus were considered mistakes and their names were placed in the synonymy of other names. Reviewers of species and genera often find old names placed in the synonymy of even older names are in fact valid species. Thus, 20th century zoologists were led to believe that the diversity of life on earth, in this case, the diversity of amphibians and reptiles was much less than what we know it to be today. So, while new names are easy to count, old names become more of a challenge - but they still count because they represent real species that have been misplaced and overlooked for decades, or in some cases centuries. 

Murphy, J. C. 2011. The Nomenclature and Systematics of Some Australasian Homalopsid Snakes (Squamata: Serpentes: Homalopsidae). Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 59(2):229-236.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

ShalinIndia Launches Snake Charmers’s Music Instrument Pungi on Global Online Marketplaces

ShalinIndia Launches Snake Charmers’s Music Instrument Pungi on Global Online Marketplaces
ShalinIndia, an online shopping store from India, has launched snake charmer’s pungi music instrument in the international online marketplaces. This may help India’s large number of snake charmers gain an alternative vocation of making and selling their unique music instrument.

New Delhi, India (PRWEB) December 16, 2011

India shopping store ShalinIndia has launched the pungi's music instrument on the online marketplaces. Pungi is a traditional folk music instrument used by the snake charmers of India to make snakes dance to their tunes. This flute like music instrument has intrigued westerners. They have often wondered how snake charmers make the deadly cobras sway to the tune of their pungi music. Actually the cobra is deaf to the snake charmer's pipe, but follows the visual cue of the moving pipe and it can sense the ground vibrations from the snake charmer's tapping.

As a seller of Indian culture products, we are happy to do a commercial launch of the pungi, on the global online marketplaces. Two months ago we began to test market this Indian music instrument. When we found that a good number of people were not only attracted, they had also begun to buy these pungis, we decided to launch them on a commercial scale.

"Besides having clear business goals, we are trying to sell Pungis to achieve certain social objectives too. Snake charmers are no longer allowed to catch snakes. So this community is now looking for alternative sources of income. Selling their music instruments is one of them. Most of the snake charmers make their own Pungis using dried and hollow gourd. If we succeed in achieving scale economies, we would be able to buy pungis from large number of snake charmers", said Shalini Verma.
We have launched two varieties of Pungis, one made from gourd, and the other made from coconut shell. Snake charmers generally use pungis made from gourd. However, this is very delicate and risks breaking at the joints with the flute like pipe. Pungis made from gourd often produce better quality sound than the one made with coconut shell. Pungis made from coconut shell are stronger and last longer. However, they produce inferior quality sound and are used only by the hobbyists.

ShalinIndia, one of the premier online India shopping stores, specializes in selling handmade gifts, silver and gemstone jewelry, clothing accessories like men scarfs and scarves for women to customers around the world. Through an arrangement with Amazon, ShalinIndia keeps its inventory in five countries US, UK, France, Germany, and Japan. This enables ShalinIndia to reduce not only delivery time but also shipping costs for its customers. ShalinIndia has maintained consistently high feedback ratings from its online customers.

ShalinIndia Launches Snake Charmers’s Music Instrument Pungi on Global Online Marketplaces

Funding Progress

Howdy Herpers,                                                               12/16/11

He stands now at $550.00. I hope to see something more by Monday AM, but am happy to have this much.

Who needs to track sidewinders anyhow?

Have a good weekend, roger

Suizo Report, December 16

Howdy Herpers,                                                                               16 December 2011                                          

We first begin with some very good news. We have been receiving steady and consistent rain since November. Our local weather guru is calling the phenomena "the rain train." I call these systems "Seattle Storms," as we are blessed with a jet stream that is dipping down from the Pacific Northwest.
These Seattle Storms are the kind where it rains gently all day long, allowing the top soil to get good and moist without washing away. I can already see the annuals starting to pop up on the landscape, which is quite the contrast to what we've seen lately down here. When the weather books are finally closed on 2011, I suspect that this will be the year of fire and rain.

If these storms continue, by mid-March, we can expect a quiet riot of lush flowers and greenery to carpet our desert.

We faced a severe drought through most of the summer months of 2011. By late July, we were bummed to the point of surrender with the Suizo study. We had six transmitters to use, and couldn't BUY a snake to put them in. We thought we were done. But a couple roundups later turned the tide.

The first cool thing to happen was finding our first Mojave Rattlesnake. We decided to rock with him. He was not exactly a homeboy, as we lost him for a month. We stayed with him, and eventually through intensive (and very enjoyable) effort, found him again. By the end of summer, he had led us 3.6 miles away from his capture spot.

The place he led us is magnificent. It is out in the flats, in the middle of nowhere. The ground is so infested with rodent holes that at times, we drop through the soil and into the networks. The saguaros are massively majestic on his turf, and the hedgehog cactus are waist high. I'm quite sure there will be more Mojave Rattlesnakes out his way, and I'm equally sure there is a good population of sidewinders in the vicinity--not to mention some "flat dwelling" diamondbacks. If we can find some of each, we hope to be able to shift some of our operation out that way.

Meanwhile, back at the rocky hillsides, we were lucky enough to score a new tiger rattlesnake, as well as the snake that sealed our enthusiasm for the upcoming year. We speak of a female black-tailed rattlesnake. We expect that the boys will be all over next year, and that will likely help us to start beefing up our N on them.

When all is said and done, I hope that by this time next year, we will be tracking FIVE species of rattlesnake, as well as a Gila Monster or two.

There has been some incredible activity on the plot lately, likely brought about by the rains.
I will be sending some pictures out next week.

Best to all, roger

The Mr. Snake Fundraiser

Howdy Herpers,                                      12/16/11

I don't wish to detract too much from the Susan show with my words. But I will say that I'm grateful to her, and equally grateful for the kind words about the Schuett/Repp Suizo Mountain study that have come from you.

On the heels of this email, I will send a brief report of what we hope to do in 2012. We are set up to play a brand new game, and MAN do we ever want to play!

Somebody has already bid $500.00 for Mr. Snake. Hence, it makes cents (ha! a play on werds...) that the minimum bid would be something above that--eh?

The bidding process is simple. Simply reply to this email, and write your bid above the "Howdy Herpers" line. (Please don't put your bid in the subject line.) Indicate whether you wish to melt some plastic (credit card/pay pal), or pay by check/money order/or cash.

Tonight, I will send out what the high bid is at that point. Monday morning, (12/19) I will do the same.

Are we paying attention? Good! When I crack open my computer on Tuesday morning at 0630 MST, whoever has submitted the highest bid gets the prize.

I will contact this person at that point in time, and see if they wish to remain anonymous. Following that, I will announce what the winning bid was.

And now, it's the Susan show. Please refer to  the attached .pdf file to see the effort that Susan put into making this one-of-a-kind, showcase piece. If you wish to see more of Susan's craftsmanship, check out her website at the link below:

Best to all, and thanks to all! roger

"What are rattlesnakes good for? Good enough for themselves, and we should not begrudge them their share of life." John Muir, 1901

Another Note from Roger

Howdy Herpers,                                                               15 December 2011

Attached one wrong thing, I did!

Attached is the image of Mr. Snake.

Off to drink the drain cleaner!