Saturday, April 27, 2013

Readers Write In: What is This Snake in My Laundry Room (International Edition)?

Dear Readers:

Word of your snake-identification skills has been traveling far and wide and across the globe. This week we hear from Dan in Mexico.

"Hello David,

I was wondering if you could identify this young snake for me, which I found it in my laundry room a year or so ago.  I live in Cuernavaca, Mexico (central, almost south Mexico), about an hour south of Mexico City.  Semi-tropical, and elevation is about 5000 ft.  I assume it's a rat snake or corn snake, but was curious to see if you could confirm.

Dan D."

We can rule out Cornsnake (Pantherophis guttatus) and I'll give bonus points to anyone who can point out the two primary reasons we can confidently do so. As far as whether this animal is a ratsnake, that is certainly an intriguing guess. Readers, please identify this snake for Dan (a lot more pictures are available here). I'm hoping to hear from more of you than last time.

Experts: show off your skills.

Amateurs: Help the experts figure out why some people have trouble identifying this animal 

Monday, April 22, 2013

An Ode to Loud Ponds and Raucous Springs on Earth Day

A few weeks ago I had some family come down to spend the weekend in Virginia; one of the highlights was exploring the small pond on the edge of the property with my young cousin. He was particularly interested in the numerous newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) walking along the bottom and swimming through the open water. We wondered aloud how they avoided the mouths of the bass patrolling the area and tried to figure out what a few particularly amorous amphibians were doing.

A week later and spring officially began when the Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) in the marshy wetland around the pond started piercing the night with their calls. Not long afterwards Pickerel Frogs (Lithobates palustris) could be heard uttering their long snoring call during the day. Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans) won't start with their banjo-like calls for some time now, they prefer the summer months for that, but the males had appeared in advance to establish their territories. They congregated near where the spring water - also our source of drinking water - emerged from the mountain behind us to feed the pond and where my partner and I harvest watercress for our salads. Not surprisingly, a few scaled and frog-eating creatures wanted in on the action and a Northern Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon) appeared reliably each day to catch the sun's rays in the warming weather.

The small pond offered plenty of opportunities for wildlife-watching and it was exciting to gauge the changing seasons as the animals appeared and went about their business. Living alongside this pond has been one of my favorite parts of living outside of town.

So, it was with some surprise and concern that I arrived home the other day to see the pond like this. 

A newt suspended in paint
It was almost as if the water in the small pond had been replaced with milk. In talking with my roommates, they revealed what had happened: every year the university with which I am affiliated hosts a large event designed to encourage undergraduate students to volunteer within the local community. Homeowners throughout the area ask for help with various projects and students spend the day completing these tasks. 

The landlord that owns the house where I board had enlisted volunteers to help paint the fences that run throughout the property. After they completed the work, one or more of the students had decided to clean their painting supplies in the pond

It is interesting to try to imagine how others perceive the things in nature we value. But, it is difficult to understand how this pond, a home and territory for wildlife, could be considered by someone as merely a sink for washing off chemicals.

Bass make their way through the murk
The mountain spring that feeds the pond might help eventually flush the paint out (although I'm not sure where the chemicals will end up after that). I'll be watching (and listening) to see if the amphibians suffer any ill-effects. It's no fun finding fault in people volunteering within the community, I just wish that we emphasized that commitments to society are incomplete without a strong environmental ethic.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Friday Roundup: This Week's Wildlife Links (April 19th, 2013)

Awesome camera trap shots of Coyotes in the western United States. Do they look different than the Coyotes we have out east to you too? Or the midwest?

How a bottom-dwelling ocean fish was found with birds in its stomach. With pics!

An account of how fishing practices and regulations designed to reduce sea turtle mortality affect not only sea turtles, but small-scale commercial fisherpeople in Trinidad.

Evidence that marine mammal protections established in 1972 are showing dividends in the United States.

It's been a cold winter. But that didn't stop Dirk from finding Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes.

Woodchucks aka Groundhogs aka Whistlepigs are showing up everywhere here in Virginia, including an emergence from under the barn on the property. Here are some candid shots of Woodchucks becoming active elsewhere.

Live near Ohio? There's a giant crocodile in your neck of the woods now. Here's how.

The Amazing Mantis Shrimp: NPR covers the coverage gave an NPR program about the world of the Mantis Shrimp. The Oatmeal link is the one you want. And on that topic, recent research documenting just how many animals house cats kill is also highlighted.

How much influence should the government have in how scientists communicate science?

The ongoing collapses of beehives is an impending catastrophe. The UK is hoping that banning pesticides that kill bees will help. That seems like a no-brainer.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Fea's Viper.

The incredible story about how a giant insect long-thought extinct was rediscovered on a tiny rock-island. It just required a little mountain-climbing at night.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Readers Write In: Good Snake or Bad Snake?

   Now that the warm weather is here to stay, I expect we will all be encountering more cold-blooded critters that are taking advantage of the reasonable temperatures. This is exciting for someone like me who enjoys spotting snakes. But, I don't expect everyone to have the same reaction.

In any case, baby snakes are emerging from their winter refuges and becoming unwanted guests just about everywhere. An encounter with one of these small creatures doesn't have to be a terrifying experience, but it helps to be able to distinguish between venomous and non-venomous species.

"My daughter found this snake near her walkway this morning. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama. Baby snakes are hard to ID...Thank you for help. I have taught my children not to kill snakes but to recognize that we share the area with them.

Paula C.
Birmingham, Alabama"

I told Paula that I didn't think there was such a thing as a bad snake* but I don't think that was a helpful tip. Esteemed readership, I leave it to you to identify this animal and tell us whether it is venomous. As always, guesses are welcome but tell us how you came to your conclusion.

* Not to discourage comments below, but I am well aware of the expression that the only good snake is a dead snake.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Roundup: This Week's Wildlife Links (April 4th, 2013)

The background story of a recent rattlesnake myth about pigs eating rattlin' rattlers has surfaced.

A thought-provoking photo essay (of sorts) of trophy hunters and their quarry.

Marine researchers from OCEARCH video their efforts to tag and release an adult White Shark. And speaking of White Sharks, looks like they eat even more than we thought.

This is an ambitious smuggler: about 400 Ploughshare Tortoises are thought to remain in the wilds of Madagascar and this guy was caught at an airport with about 54 of them.

Looking for a good place to eat endangered turtles in Ontario? Come on in.

Check out this month's newsletter from Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Here's the good news: that species of turtle isn't extinct. The bad news is that it never existed in the first place.

Too many dead sea turtles are washing up on shore...

Cool new genus name? Or coolest new genus name.

Want to know how to manage your southeastern US property for amphibians and reptiles? These guidelines are now free to download.

What do we know about nature and wildlife? It depends on when you ask: the benefits (and frustrations) of long-term research on wolves and moose.

In the wake of recent research, an excellent summary of some of the controversy surrounding feral cats and how we should view them, considering they eat lots of wildlife.

If someone had asked me to name the one thing about scientific knowledge that has changed the most since I grew up, I would have to say that it is probably the fact that now we are supposed to imagine dinosaurs with feathers. Here's a fascinating summary about what we know about the color of dinosaur feathers.

What's the best way to protect wild lions, trophy hunting or fenced-in-preserves? A summary of recent research.

Incredible video of a very bad decision made by a Red-tailed Hawk and a poignant reminder of how wild animals always live on the edge of death.

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam...In Germany?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Readers Write In: Is This a Juvenile Ratsnake?

It's been a long and cold winter but there are some tell-tale signs that spring is coming: e-mails from readers requesting snake identifications. I expect more to come as snakes emerge from their winter refuges to warm themselves in the sun.

Found on porch of our new home. Definitely had kinked posture.  My 3 year old son tried to pick up and he promptly left. We live in a subdivision in sc, there are wetlands behind our home and we just moved in after long negotiations with bank on the shortsale and the house had been vacant.  We had to get rid of roof rats that had made it into the attic of the home, so I am not at all surprised that there are rat snakes. Thanks for your help and reassurance, my 6 year old daughter is quite thrilled to live where there is a home suitable for snakes.

Chris M.
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina

Readers, you know what to do. Please identify this snake (guesses welcome) and tell us how you came to your conclusion. Bonus points for explaining how the color and patterning of some snakes change as the snake ages.