Monday, September 30, 2013

Readers Write In: What is this Texas Rattlesnake?

Dear Mr. Steen,

Can you tell me what kind of a rattlesnake this is (outside of Houston TX)

F. B. H., M.D.
Houston, Texas

Is it true that the motto of the Texas Rangers used to be "shoot first and ask questions later?"

The rattle is a giveaway that this animal is a rattlesnake. But readers, would you please let the good doctor know what kind of dead rattlesnake this is? Texas is home to a relatively large number of rattlesnake species, so, if you can, be sure to indicate how you ruled out the other rattlers in the area.

Friday, September 27, 2013

This Week's Wildlife Links (September 27th 2013)

The five biggest myths about the Endangered Species Act.

Indigo Snake habitat to be developed because the Endangered Species Act doesn't work like you probably think it does (see above).

Viper collectors nearly caused a Turkish species to go extinct, now a U.S. zoo is helping.

Turns out Muskoxen aren't that stationary after all.

Mississippi hunter claims to have killed chupacabra. The evidence is not sufficient to convince him otherwise.

Mental Floss presents a list of 11 "really weird" snakes. Should read "really incredible".

The spy who loved frogs.

Engineers work to conserve species in the Lower Mississippi.

How to attract 80 Polar Bears: leave a whale carcass to rot.

Animal Planet reptile "expert" charged with illegally selling incredibly rare lizards

The secrets of the sea are being revealed in whale earwax.

How are cats and coyotes interacting in the suburbs?

Awesome live cam of...well, a river. But hopefully there are some Grizzlies fishing for salmon around when you click on it.

Video of thousands of baby octopi dispersing from their mother and into the ocean.

An Australian lizard is about to go extinct. Can we learn any lessons?

Hope for a Black-footed Ferret reintroduction in Montana.

Don't miss a post: Click on this link to subscribe to the blog today! 
Looking for more? Follow me on Twitter.
If you would like to support this blog and if you're going to be shopping on Amazon anyway, please get there by following this link (or the banner on the very bottom of this page).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Readers Write In: Is this a Kansas Cottonmouth?

This is what I saw when I was running tonight it was right by a pond. I think it may be a Water Moccasin but I'm pretty sure they're not common around here.

Jacob P.
Derby Kansas

Okay folks, I'm wondering if this will be a challenge for you all. Let's hear your identifications for this critter. There is a clue in the original note, it was found by a pond. Here's another clue: it is baby snake season and they're showing up everywhere. Is it a Cottonmouth? Why or why not?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cougars and Wolves in the East: Where Would They Live? --Guest Post--

    In my first post to this blog, I made the ecological case for returning the top predators, wolves and cougars, to the eastern United States. I argued that the eastern ecosystem needed their star actors to make it all work. In ending, I posed several questions that needed to be addressed beyond the ecological necessity of bringing back cougars and wolves. The first of these was: Can wolves and cougars still survive on the modern stage that is the Appalachians (the East) of today? Of all the subsequent questions regarding the possible return of these top predators to the east, this one should be first. Simply because IF they cannot survive in what is now the eastern forests, then all the subsequent questions are moot. In fact, this is often the first and final question people ask and then quickly answer with a resounding NO, end of discussion, end of debate. Many people argue that the East is just too settled, too populated with humans that these large predators need large areas to roam and could just not survive in the East. There is just not enough places for them to roam free. They would get killed on the too many roads that crisscross the forests. They would have to be killed when they would wander into the far reaching tentacles of suburbia and exurbia. There are just too many of us for many of them to survive.

     Upon looking at the initial numbers, one might concede that these arguments are justified. Maybe the East is just too tame, too domesticated, too settled, for the return of wild creatures such as wolves and cougars. After all, is not the East the most densely populated area of the Nation? Do not cities string one after another along the East coast? A look from the night sky over the east would tend to support this; the east is light up like a fireworks display! Are not wolves and cougars animals of the wilderness? Where would wolves and cougars find room to live in such an area? Where would they find enough food to survive? 

    Obviously these are two questions and one misconception that need to be addressed to determine if wolves and cougars can live in the East. The first is the misconception: cougars and wolves are animals of the wilderness. Of all the misconceptions we have about wolves and cougars, this is the one that prevents us from even talking about their return to the East: no wilderness – no wolves and cougars. However, regardless of how often people play the “wilderness” card, it is indeed a misconception. When Europeans first came to the Americas, it did appear to be a “wilderness” by their standards. However, millions of people lived here before Europeans came, many in highly structured villages and “towns”. To them it was not a wilderness, it was as much a tame home to them as ours is to us today. And their home included wolves and cougars.

    Additionally, wilderness or not, the reason cougars and wolves disappeared from the east was not so much because of the destruction of the “wilderness” but the fact that we purposely killed them off! The fact that we had to purposely kill them off attests to the fact that they WERE living along with us, as they did with the Native Americans. Even today, where humans tolerate their existence, wolves and cougars coexist with humans under less than wilderness standards. There are two thousand wolves in Minnesota, a densely populated Midwestern state. There are around 10 thousand cougars living all across the west, in states such as California, which are as densely populated as the East. And not just in the wilder areas, but near and within suburban and exurban areas. I studied cougars in an area surrounded by potato fields and overlooking the densely populated Salt Lake Valley of Utah. It is time to put this misconception to rest: Wolves and cougars don’t need wilderness to survive, just human tolerance of their presence.

    Ok, they don’t need wilderness but they do need somewhere other than our backyard! Is there enough room where people don’t actually live for them to roam? Remember the night sky? Well apart from showing that we must be afraid of the dark, what do all those lights signify? Not much really, yes there are a lot of people and cities and towns in the East but there are also a lot of areas where few or no people live. In the West, many of the wolves and cougars there live on public lands, lands where there are few people and wildlife is given priority. Are there such lands in the East? I started tallying up the number and sizes of just Federal lands in the East, places such as Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, the White Mountain National Forest in Vermont and stopped when I reached over 10 million acres of federal protected lands in the East! The two thousand wolves in Minnesota live in an area only about 1.5 times larger! In my state of New York, the Adirondack State Park is over two times the size of Yellowstone National Park! And on top of all that, these areas are embedded within a contiguously connected forest ecosystem that is approximately two times larger than the often fragmented forested ecosystems of the West. Cougars and wolves could move from central Florida to northern Maine without ever leaving forest cover. That there is enough room for them in the East, there is no doubt. 

    Lastly, is there enough for them to eat? Anyone who is aware of what is happening to deer in the east would have no doubt that the answer is YES! New York alone has a million deer. In Pennsylvania, more deer are killed by cars than by human hunters. The list goes on and on across all the Eastern states. That there is enough prey for wolves and cougars to live on is also not in doubt.

    Ok, so they are not wilderness obligates, there is enough room, and enough food for them. Why are we not bringing them back? Because there is so much evidence that there IS room and food for cougars and wolves in the East, one wonders if these arguments of the east not being wild enough or big enough for cougars and wolves are based not on fact but because many people just do not want them back. In my next post I will start to look at that.

About the Author

John Laundré

I was born and raised in the Midwest (Wisconsin) and received my bachelors and masters degrees there.  I received my PhD from Idaho State University in 1979.  Since then, I have been working in large mammal predator-prey ecology for over 30 years and have studied predators and their prey in the western U.S. and northern Mexico.  My experience includes working with cougars, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, deer, elk, bison, and bighorn sheep.  I have conducted one of the longest (17 years) studies of cougar ecology and behavior to date and have published over 15 scientific articles both on this work and work conducted in Mexico.  I am the originator of the concept of the landscape of fear that proposed that fear of prey for their predators drives many, if not all ecological processes.  The one important aspect of this concept is that predators become instrumental in maintaining the balance between prey species and their habitat, not so much by killing their prey but affecting how they use the landscape.  I am the author of the newly published book,
Phantoms of the Prairie: The Return of Cougars to the Midwest that looks at the phenomenon of cougars actually moving back into the Great Plains region of the U.S. I am currently living in Upstate New York in Oswego where I am an adjunct faculty member at the SUNY Oswego and also active in issues concerning cougars in the Northeast. I am the vice president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation whose goal is the eventual re-establishment of viable cougar populations in the Eastern U.S.

Want to Learn More?

John Laundre (2013). The feasibility of the north-eastern USA supporting the return of the cougar Puma concolor Oryx, 47 (1), 96-104 DOI: 10.1017/S0030605311001475

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Roundup: This Week's Wildlife Links (September 20th 2013)

Unlikely allies: how Buddhist monks are helping with Snow Leopard Conservation and how warblers are helping Costa Rica coffee farmers.

Saiga conservation: there's good news and bad news.

Feral hog gets drunk, fights cow and passes out.

Natural history of the Five-lined Skink in Missouri.

Golfer feels harassed by crocodile in Cancun, sues.

Garbage journalism about a dead Whale Shark.

Cyclist comes across a mountain lion feeding on a deer on Mulholland Drive, with a great interview.

Video of a wolf pack trying to take down a grizzly in Grand Tetons National Park.

Don't miss a post: Click on this link to subscribe to the blog today! 
Looking for more? Follow me on Twitter.
If you would like to support this blog and if you're going to be shopping on Amazon anyway, please get there by following this link (or the banner on the very bottom of this page).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Readers Write In: Of Decapitated Copperheads Biting Themselves

Hey Dave,

Have you seen this video yet? It's getting a bit of attention online and might be worth posting about on your blog.

It shows an unfortunately decapitated Copperhead still wiggling and around 28 seconds the head bites the tail. If you do make a post, I had a couple of questions! I was wondering, can the decapitated head still inject venom? Also, one of the comments I've seen was along the lines of, "If it wasn't dead yet, it is now." So could this bite (assuming venom was injected) have affected the lingering nerve action in the body? Thanks!

Stephanie C.
Williamsburg, VA

Caution: Graphic Video

    A lot of attention is right, various iterations of this video have been viewed millions of times and Twitter is alive with people sharing the link. I'd generally avoided this clip and hadn't watched it because I think pictures and videos of people killing snakes is boring and I don't want to feed the publicity. More attention only encourages even more people to kill snakes and videotape the act, but, Stephanie brings up some interesting biological questions (National Geographic has also briefly touched on some of them).

    First off, can the decapitated head still inject venom? Yes. A pit viper's venom glands (there are two) are located on each side of the head just behind their eyes. Venom travels from the glands to the fangs during a bite, so a decapitated pit viper head has everything it needs to deliver venom. It is generally thought that an animal will die nearly immediately after being decapitated, but reflexive movements may still happen. That could be what this bite was. Stick something in front of a pit viper head and it might reflexively bite (let's not test this).

   Secondly, can a snake's own venom harm it? Yes. This isn't an area where there has been a lot of research and experimentation (just imagine the required permits!), but snakes do not have special immunity from their own venom. When venom is stored in a snake's body, it is located within specially-evolved glands that can safely contain it. This is the same basic idea that allows us to hold potentially harmful stuff in our appendix or gall bladder. If chemicals escaped from a snake's venom gland (or our appendix or gall bladder), it would be bad news.

    Also, regardless of whether venom was injected, two large fangs can cause some serious physical damage. So, it's probably an all-around good idea to avoid bites from venomous snakes.

   There are some snakes, like Kingsnakes or Indigo Snakes, that have developed resistance to pit viper venom. These two snakes are well-known for eating things like Copperheads and rattlesnakes, so it's not surprising they've developed some resistance. A few other snake-eating animals also have some degree of immunity from venom, but again, this isn't an area that has enjoyed much research.

    But, we do know that humans aren't immune from pit viper venom, so I'll have to continue to warn potential future snake-killers that harassing venomous snakes is dangerous. Compared to when you just let a snake go on its way, you are much more likely to get bitten by a snake when you mess with it. That may be especially true when you stick around to record what happens afterwards.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Readers Write In: Are Endangered Insects Burying Rats in my Yard?

Good afternoon!

I appear to have a mating pair of an endangered beetle that has not populated the state of Florida, or any bordering states, for a while.  

Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of the beetles themselves, as I only saw them momentarily.  I have, however, attached still images of the “proof” I have to my little neighbors’ identity.  Here is my story.

Yesterday afternoon (around 3:30), I stopped by my house and greeting us on our front porch was the carcass of a rat, courtesy of one of my outdoor cats (I have two).  I snapped a picture of it, made a few jokes with both kids about it becoming a zombie rat, we laughed, and I returned to work.

When I got home in the evening (about 7:00), the rat was off of the porch, about 10-11 inches further from where it had been laid out on the porch earlier in the afternoon.  Thinking my oldest may have done a “typical boy thing” and kicked it or something when he had gotten home, I asked if he’d moved it.  He said no, and was surprised that it was no longer on the porch.  More jokes about zombie rat ensued, but I figured it was one of the cats that moved it (for some unknown feline reason).

Upon further inspection (because now I was curious), I noticed what looked like the rat’s head (it was face-down at this point) pulsating up and down, followed by dirt shifting around its head.  I snapped another picture of it, suspecting it was being pulled into the earth by some burrowing creature.  Even through the smell, I watched, to confirm my suspicion.  It was during this time that I caught a couple glimpses of an orange and black insect, that would show up for very brief instances around the side of the rat’s head, in the dirt.

I snapped another picture of the carcass, with the intention of sharing my story on Facebook (which I have).  The dirt at this time was up to the rat’s ear. Closer inspection of this image shows orange spot in dirt near top of rat’s head; I caught a brief glance of one of the beetles!  There also appears to be a black and orange shape near the base of the rat’s tail; could this possibly be the mate?

The next morning I checked on the progress.  The rat was buried almost entirely, with only a foot, it’s very hind quarters, and its tail still exposed.  

I decided I needed to do a little research and find out who my friends were, that were saving me from cleaning up this smelly rat carcass.  My research yielded link after link to the American Burying Beetle, which is not thought to be in my region, let alone my state, anymore.  Excitement!  Not only did I have an endangered insect who cleaned up after my cats, but I have a mating pair!

If you know of anyone that could confirm my pair, that would be great.

Angela N.
Jacksonville, Florida

    This isn't the first time I've been asked to solve a mystery about mysteriously disappearing corpses in yards. As I wrote in that previous post, there are a number of invertebrates that carry out their life cycles by finding corpses of small animals, burying them, and/or consuming them and laying their eggs on it. It's quite a useful service, just think of all the rat bodies that we don't have to see (or smell) because of these little insects.

    These insects are beetles within the Silphidae family, which includes Carrion and Burying Beetles, like the American Carrion Beetle (Necrophila americana, is that a cool scientific name or what?). Beetles in the Necrophila genus (what I call the Carrion Beetles) tend to be large, robust insects with a black body and bright yellow head. They don't fit the description Angela provides. But, also within the Silphidae family is the Nicrophorus genus (what I call the Burying Beetles). These beetles have a black body and variously patterned orange spots. Now I think we have identified the culprit.

   But, there are a number of different Burying Beetles within the Nicrophorus genus and there's the rub. The most famous of these beetles is Nicrophorus americanus, the American Burying Beetle. This species is now very rare and we do not really know why. One theory is that they evolved to feed on the carcasses of Passenger Pigeons, a now extinct but once extremely plentiful source of dead bodies to eat. In any case, I am going to rule out the American Burying Beetle because A) it is extremely rare and B) it is never known to have occurred in Florida even when it was abundant long ago.

    My guess is that Angela observed the closely related Nearctic Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus orbicollis). With its orange spots and black body, this species closely resembles the much rarer American Burying Beetle. However, one key difference is that the shield behind the American Burying Beetle is orange, while it is black in the Nearctic Burying Beetle. In any case, I based my identification on the fact that Nearctic Burying Beetle is one of the most common species within its family and it is known from Florida.

    Burying beetles are fascinating. Male beetles will find a recent corpse and attract a female with pheromones. Once she arrives, they will mate and bury the corpse together. Afterwards, the female will lay eggs nearby so her grubs will have something convenient to eat after they hatch. Interestingly, the adults will hang around to protect and feed their young.

    Fascinating to see the photos of two burying beetles at work.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Roundup: This Week's Wildlife Links (September 13th 2013)

Last week marked 50 years since the Eskimo Curlew was last seen alive. A tribute. On that note, last week was a similar anniversary for the Tasmanian Tiger and a vindication that came too late. And, because we're on a roll, more vindication for another Australian predator: the Dingo.

Don't call it a comeback. The forests of New England are returning.

A couple weeks ago I highlighted a rodent-eating trout. Now here's the sequel: this trout likes shrews.

First Nations groups in British Columbia do not want their grizzly bears hunted.

Incredible sequence of photographs showing a jaguar hunting a caiman.

Why do the Bobcats showing up on these camera trap pictures have mange? An investigation (with awesome photos) from nature of a man.

Speaking of camera traps, check out this 18-point buck.

Snakes that live in the sea and the creatures that live on them, by Andrew Durso.

Alabama bans the rescue and rehabilitation of some wildlife.

Great read: the swordfish with a nose ring, a tale of ocean garbage and ocean giants. Following that theme: keep your discarded monofilament fishing line out of the water.

Don't miss a post: Click on this link to subscribe to the blog today! 
Looking for more? Follow me on Twitter.
If you would like to support this blog and if you're going to be shopping on Amazon anyway, please get there by following this link (or the banner on the very bottom of this page).

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Readers Write In: I Found A Baby Rattlesnake, Are There More Nearby?

Hi David,

My partner and I are in the process of moving to Placitas, New Mexico.  We haven't moved our dogs yet because we wanted to prepare the yard for them with fencing, etc, anyway, my partner was leaving the house this evening and when she walked out the door she looked to her left and saw a baby rattlesnake.  She gasped, but did not jump, the rattlesnake coiled up and shook its rattler. It totally freaked her out!  We have four dogs, one of which is an elderly Silky Terrier that is deaf and has poor eyesight.  My other dogs are very curious and would most certainly pursue a snake.  Do you think it's likely that there are many more rattlesnakes near our house since we spotted a baby?  How many eggs hatch at one time?  Can snakes go through a dog door?  I can't believe that we haven't even moved in yet and we've seen our first rattlesnake...right by the front door, the same door the dogs with be going in and out of!  I would appreciate any information and/or advice you can offer us.

Toni O.
Placitas, New Mexico

    Although I know that many people would be excited to know that they are sharing their land with rattlesnakes, I don't get the feeling that a "congratulations" is appropriate in this case. I've written a lot about living near venomous reptiles and the associated problems and, unfortunately, there are no easy solutions. It is possible to relocate rattlesnakes, doing so doesn't necessarily mean a death sentence for the animal, but catching venomous snakes increases your chance of a bite. It is possible to kill any and all rattlesnakes you encounter, but again, most venomous snake bites happen when people try to kill or harass these animals. It's not a good strategy for you or, of course, the snake.

    So, there are a couple potential strategies for dealing with the individual rattlesnakes that you may encounter around your home, but none get at the root issue. That is, you're living in rattlesnake habitat. If you find one snake, that likely means there are many more present because it is unlikely that you happened across some rogue traveler. So, to answer the first question, whether the presence of one snake means there are likely more around: yes.

   The few snakes that we do observe are a small fraction of the number of snakes actually out there. In a way, that's good news: it means that we probably overestimate the risk we have of a dangerous encounter with a snake. We're close to snakes every day with no problem. That said, one bad incident with a venomous snake is too many. The best long-term strategy is to make your yard and home inhospitable for snakes so they have no reason to stay. That means removing any hiding spots and getting rid of anything else snakes might be attracted to, like rodents. I created a brochure on the topic that is available here.

    Many species of rattlesnakes den communally, that is, many individual rattlesnakes spend the winter together underground in burrows or rock shelters. Rattlesnakes do not lay eggs, they give birth to live young, so they do not have nests. However, the rattlesnakes often give birth in the fall around their dens and shelters so there may be a congregation of animals in one spot (for more on the interactions between mothers and offspring in these areas, check out Melissa Amarello's blog). 

    Rattlesnake litters can be anywhere in the neighborhood of 5-25 animals, depending on the species and the individual animal. And, if there are a few mother rattlesnakes giving birth in the same spot, you can see that the number of rattlesnakes can get quite high (although many of the babies will be eaten by other animals).

   Can snakes get in through a dog door? Unfortunately, there's no reason to think they could not. Anyone that has had a snake as a pet knows that these animals have an exceptional ability to escape their cages by squeezing through tight spots and pushing off lids. And, anyone that has encountered a ratsnake in their attic knows that they can penetrate even seemingly secure strongholds. Having a swinging door at ground level is just making it too easy for snakes and is not advisable when sharing the land with rattlesnakes.

    As I've written here, I think the best solution for your dogs is aversion training. But I haven't heard from many people regarding how well it works. Readers, please offer your tips for sharing land with rattlesnakes, particularly if you have dogs.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sharing the Night with the Nesting Sea Turtles of Tortuguero --Guest Post--

    It was June 22nd at eight o'clock in the evening when Juan, the self-proclaimed "predator turned protector" tour guide, introduced himself to me and five other tourists on a dimly lit footpath. We were in Tortuguero. This Costa Rican town, only accessible by boat or air, is on a narrow strip of land nuzzled between the Caribbean Sea and the Tortuguero River. Tortuguero is a popular tourist destination because it is one of few prime sea turtle nesting sites in tropical America.

    No cameras, no lights, our tour guide Juan warned us before we took off on a night tour to see nesting sea turtles. Artificial light is a sea turtle's enemy. Artificial light can disorient nesting mothers as well as baby sea turtles, disrupting mothers' ability to nest and the babies' sense of direction. With too much artificial light, the babies cannot find their way to the sea after hatching. So, for decades now, Tortuguero residents have kept their beaches artificial-light free. With our flashlights, cell phones, and cameras off, Juan gestured us to follow him to the beach.

    Now I don't have to tell those of you who read this blog that wildlife spotting is never a sure thing. So I walked with no expectation of seeing a turtle and took pleasure just being at a site where these creatures visit. But, to my surprise, we did not even hit the beach path before Juan told us to stop walking.

    Our guide Juan worked with beach patrollers that roam the beach to find nesting sea turtles. In addition to finding turtles for tourists, these roaming turtle spotters limit traffic on the beach to prevent scaring nesting turtle mothers. Juan told us to wait because he got word from beach patrol that there was a nesting mother within meters of our group.

    Although I was elated at the chance to see a sea turtle nesting for the first time, I understood we had to wait. If we walked over before this awesome creature dug her nest and began the laying process, she was likely to head back into the water before she had finished nesting. But, female turtles go into a trance-like state when they begin to lay. So, if tourists wait and only approach turtles when they are in this trance, females are unlikely to turn back to the sea early.

    While we waited for her to begin laying, the six of us sat on a piece of driftwood near her nesting site. The beach was dark and although we were sitting just 10 meters from the turtle, all I could see was a large spot on the sand that was darker than its surroundings. We waited while she diligently pushed sand away from her body with her strong flippers to carve her nest.

    During the wait, a fellow on our tour became impatient. He paced back and forth on the small strip of beach that we were allowed to walk on. He scurried to the town road just beyond the shore to have a cigarette or two. He asked our guide countless times how long it would take this female to make her nest. Finally, and surely to his relief, 45 minutes later we were invited to approach her.

    A Green Sea Turtle. She was nestled in a cozy spot next to some grass and a sea grape. I was so close to my hotel that I could still see it, yet, I was standing just a meter away from this turtle, closer than I could have hoped to be. But Juan motioned us even closer.

    I was speechless. Nothing I was told beforehand, no picture, no video, nothing could have prepared me for what I walked up to. I knelt down right behind her majestic flippers, I could have reached out and touched her huge aged-shell. I sat and watched her tail and cloaca pulsate as eggs dropped deep into a bed of sand that she had excavated.

    I too was in a trance. I moved with her as she moved up and down dropping the eggs a few at a time. I inhaled with her heavily as she gasped for energy. Her deep sigh-like exhalations pushed tears from my eyes.

    While witnessing something so personal in a female's life, I couldn't help but think of what my birthing experience would be like. The onset of my labour would summon a support team of kin and caregivers. She was doing this alone, with the exception of a gathering few uninvited observers.

    Pauses in between her egg laying lengthened. I thought she would stop but she kept on. Then, just when I thought she was energy-drained to the last drop, her flippers began to propel backwards. Sand flew in every direction and her eggs started to disappear under a blanket of sand.

    Covering her nest took time and my fellow tour mates were impatiently fidgeting. The same particularly restless fellow, with his eyes glued to his watch, asked our guide how long it would take for her to finish. Juan respectfully replied, "As long as she needs".

    When her nest was indistinguishable from the kilometers of sand ahead on each side of her, she maneuvered her body around to make her way back to the dark, rocky, uninviting sea. I could only hope she had enough energy to endure that final push. She did. She pushed the sand back with her flippers to move her land-awkward body down the beach. With each powerful push she inched toward the tide. Her energy was such that all six of us began to follow her. She pushed forward and we marched behind, almost in single file, but never in her tracks. When she braked we stopped as well, tentatively, wavering on the tips of our toes as if we were rooting for her to make it to the finish line.

    We were quiet and something was different. That fellow, my overly antsy tour mate, was calm now. I observed as he followed her tracks with a patience I've only seen few people exude. His eyes were wide, watching intently as not to miss any of her movements. His neck was strained as if he was anxiously anticipating her safe arrival into the water. As she approached the water, his stance was still, as still as a statue. And in his statue-like state, he embodied solidarity for her and her journey. In that moment, I felt him say: I'll wait here with you, for as long as you need to make your way home.

About the Author

This is a guest post by Olivia Sylvester. Olivia researches 
ethnobiology and food justice in the tropical forests of Costa Rica. She blogs about her work and you can follow her @farmsforests on Twitter