Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Roundup: Child-snatching Eagle Hoax and Targeting Turtles in the Road

Conserving Georgia's state reptile, the Gopher Tortoise, requires cooperation between state and federal biologists and private landowners.

An excellent summary of some recent research suggesting that the largemouth bass that are best at protecting their nests and young are the ones most likely to be hooked by fishers. This means that their offspring are less likely to survive. Assuming that the parenting behavior is influenced by genetics, each generation of largemouth bass will be poorer parents-and that means less bass will survive to adulthood.

What the distribution of lion populations in Africa means for the future of the species.

The plight facing Madagascar tortoises and some of the efforts to save them.

White tigers aren't an endangered species; they represent a genetic mutation encouraged by zoos to increase visitors and money. A discussion of why we need to stop encouraging them.

Several readers have sent me a link to this story from Clemson University, that describes a student's discovery that a fake turtle in the road will attract many cars (thanks to M.G. and A.J. for the story).

More on the Nile Crocodile roaming Florida.

Jamaica is more than sandy beaches, it is the sole habitat of the Jamaican Iguana. Learn how you can help this highly endangered species.

Encouraging news from the Bronx Zoo in their efforts to breed Chinese Yellow-headed Box Turtles. The ultimate goal is to ensure the persistence of wild populations.

The above video, that apparently shows a Golden Eagle attacking a small child, has been viewed over 40 million times (as of December 28th, 2012). How many people viewing know it's a hoax? Students at Centre NAD (a technology school in Montreal) deals a considerable setback to public perception of raptors and their conservation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Seven Foot, 87 Pound Cottonmouth from Baldwin, Florida

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In recent days, several people have brought my attention to a story circulating about a large Cottonmouth, Agkistrodon piscivorus, that was killed in Baldwin, Florida. Fair enough-this is easy enough to believe. After all, Cottonmouths are very unpopular among the general public, perhaps in part due to the numerous myths surrounding the swamp creature. They are also very common throughout Florida.

However, this story quickly veers into the nonsensical because of a combination of two all-too-common themes: 1) a photograph using a camera trick called forced perspective to make an object look larger than it really is (something that happens all the time with Rattlesnakes) and 2) journalists/reporters that are just a little too quick to believe something that might make for a sensational story.

The individual that originally sent me the news article said it might be the, "worst snake story (he) had ever seen." I'm inclined to agree. The reporters don't say how they obtained the measurements on this animal (probably because it wasn't with a tape measure or scale).

Despite what is reported in the story, this snake is not seven feet long (1.9 m) and 87 pounds (39.5 kg). For reference, the largest known Cottonmouth (i.e., the World Record) was only a little over six feet long. Based on my experience with big bulky vipers like rattlesnakes and including Cottonmouths, my guess is that this World Record snake would almost certainly weigh less than ten pounds and definitely less than twenty. So, the length/weight ratios of snakes rule out a seven foot and 87 pound animal. It's not possible. So, even if we accept that the snake is seven feet long (remember, this would make it the longest Cottonmouth ever known), then the weight can't be true. And if we know the weight isn't true, then why should we believe this is the world's longest Cottonmouth in the first place?!

Now, the snake in the picture is a large individual but it looks bigger than it really is. I am hoping someone in the construction or farming business can inform me regarding how far apart the teeth on that 'dozer are (I'm not actually sure that is even a bulldozer).

This picture reminds of a python that was doing the rounds a few years ago. That snake was also hoisted up by construction equipment and claimed to be the world's largest boa. It wasn't.

Updated 12/20/12 9:30 PM

I've now heard from a couple readers (in the comments and via e-mail) knowledgeable about the construction equipment in the picture above. It is apparently a root rake mounted on a tractor and they estimate the teeth are between 8-12 inches apart. So, now we can estimate the snake's length; let's assume the largest possible distance and say the teeth are 12 inches apart. The Cottonmouth clearly spans the gap between two teeth, so that's 24 inches. There is a little slack so we'll round up to 26 inches. Let's be generous and say the head would have reached the next tooth if it wasn't draping down. Now we're up to 38 inches. It's also clear the the back portion of the snake could at least reach the next tooth (50 inches). Let's get crazy and say it could have reached the tooth after that (62 inches). Finally, we can add six inches for the total length of all the actual teeth (not the distance between them). Our final (very generous) estimate is 68 inches, in other words: roughly five and a half feet long-a huge Cottonmouth but no world record.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Roundup: Bird-eating Catfish and a License to Kill Crocodiles

New research documents giant catfish beaching themselves to grab and eat pigeons (awesome video of attacks above). I don't really get why people are calling them "freshwater killer whales", they seem more like freshwater catfish. Maybe killer whales are saltwater catfish.

Wildlife research doesn't have to happen in the wild. Here's a turtle study occurring in the Bronx River, New York City.

Last week I wrote about a Nile Crocodile on the loose outside Miami, Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided they didn't want to take any chances. To avoid any possibility of the Burmese Python problem repeating itself, they now have orders to shoot to kill.

Ever seen a bird nest this big?

National Geographic Photo Contest 2012. Amazing photos, such as the baitfish taking refuge near a sea turtle as sailfish circle; and lessons learned, like don't throw rocks at leopards. Part II: highlight: using fire to catch fish.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how a shark taking part in a research project off the coast of Africa was killed by people. Now the same thing is happening to research wolves around Yellowstone National Park.

Think rhinos are big today? Compare them to their relatively recent ancestors, from the blog of a researcher who stores lots of dead things in his freezer.

Last year I wrote about some research I conducted in Costa Rica on two very similar snakes. I was curious to know how these snakes could persist in the same area without competing for resources. Looks like the situation is even more complicated in Central and South America than anyone thought, here's a recently discovered species within the same genus.

Cucherousset J, BoulĂȘtreau S, AzĂ©mar F, Compin A, Guillaume M,, & et al. (2012). Freshwater Killer Whales”: Beaching Behavior of an Alien Fish to Hunt Land Birds PLos ONE, (12): e50840

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Friday Roundup: Wildlife News From this Week

Maybe I should re-title these posts as Saturday roundups. 

Twenty-tons of rat poison to help finally rid the Galapagos Islands of invasive creatures. Native hawks and iguanas temporarily relocated. What could go wrong?

Cuttlefish vs. Octopus. Two masters of camouflage in a death-feast.

Speaking of killing octopi. A couple weeks ago I wrote about how the killing of a Pacific Giant Octopus sparked outrage among the diving community. Looks like they're trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.

White humpback whale spotted. Not quite Moby Dick, but still. Incredible video.

We're going to need a bigger boat. Keep track of White Sharks.

Porpoises back in San Francisco Bay after 65 years.

Rare Right Whales cruising South Carolina coast.

Ya can't cage a wild thing. They get bored. Zoos may not be much better. A quote that resonated, "Rather than raising awareness, zoos might be hindering us from recognising the reality. We humans are not the Ark; we are the flood"

Goldfish invasion in Colorado. When I was young, I once released a pet goldfish into a nearby lake. I thought I was doing it a favor. A bass ate it in three seconds. These goldfish have been luckier, until now.

Is this the world's rarest snake? 18-100 St. Lucia Racers remain.

Can we identify snakes by the skins they leave behind?

Too ugly to conserve? You would think people wouldn't eat them.

Drones used to protect wildlife. They don't drop bombs on poachers, yet.

So much left to learn. Surprise! That sea snake is actually two different species.

On that note, here's a new species of lion. In a zoo.

In honor of Thanksgiving. It's easy to forget that the turkey is a wild animal. Don't, their natural history is fascinating.

Wolves are reclaiming Germany.

Grasslands are important and unique habitats for wildlife. An attempt to reclaim them in Australia.

Grizzly bears don't just live in the cold mountains. There are still a few that live in the desert.

But, that said, some are roaming into Polar Bear habitat. And this means we will be seeing more Grolar Bears.

Some animals are hard to find. How can you figure out if a particular species is in a particular area? Catch some leeches and analyze the DNA in the blood they've been feeding on.

I'm still not sure what Tumbler is. But here are some field notes on biology and culture, exploring disease, ecology, and wildlife.

Incredible photographs of owls in flight.

It's too late for Lonesome George. But maybe not too late for his species after all. Could it be that sailors that meant to eat giant tortoises hundreds of years ago have inadvertently saved a species?

The best camera trap photos of 2012. These wildlife photographs are amazing, you have to check them out. Here are the winners and here are the editors' choices. Which is your favorite?

At least one Nile Crocodile is cruising through Florida.

Remember the Spotted Owl? It just received some more habitat.

The Museum of Natural History in New York was a frequent destination when I was growing up. One of the signature displays was and is a life-sized replica of a Blue Whale. Here is the surprising story of how it came to be. In two parts.

One of the rarest fish in the world is not doing well. A very similar species is thriving. What do we lose if we mix them up? Conservation, ecology, taxonomy and philosophy collide.

Bonus points for anyone that can tell me what is wrong with this article about obtaining a sanctuary for Blanding's Turtles.

Did you miss this week's guest post about Alligator Snapping Turtles? Join the conversation.