Tuesday, December 31, 2013

10 Animals That Went Extinct in 2013

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Our extinction crisis continues; 2013 allowed us to safely conclude that we will never again see the animals listed below (2012 version here).

One of the last known photos of
a Formosan Clouded Leopard;

taken by Torii Ryūzō.
The Formosan Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa brachyura) of Taiwan is now thought to be extinct. None have been seen in over thirty years, despite a recent and intensive 13-year effort to document one. We did just about everything we could to eliminate this animal; we destroyed their habitat, killed them for their skins, and got rid of the other animals they normally ate. They didn't have a chance.

The Cape Verde Giant Skink (Chioninia coctei), which hasn't been seen since 1912, has been declared extinct, although a jawbone from one of these lizards was found in some cat scat in 2005. However, since then the cat (i.e., house cat) population has increased substantially and, aided by rats and dogs, has likely wiped out the skink.

The Sri Lanka Spiny Eel (Macrognathus pentophthalmos) is probably extinct. As recently as 1980 the species was considered common but it was likely done in by a non-native species of fish that ate many of them.

The Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) was once so abundant that the sizes of its flocks were compared to those of Passenger Pigeons. They now have something else in common. The last known Eskimo Curlew was observed in 1963; Canada is likely to decide it is officially extinct because it has been 50 years since one has been seen. Eskimo Curlews probably suffered from a decline in their locust prey as well as loss of habitat but the primary cause of extinction is thought to be overhunting. Indeed, the last known Eskimo Curlew was shot by a hunter in Barbados.

The Southern Darwin's Frog
(i.e., not the extinct one);
by Mono Andes,
This year, scientists concluded that the Northern Darwin's Frog (Rhinoderma rufum), known only from Chile, is extinct. Closely related to the Southern Darwin's Frog (Rhinoderma darwinii), it was only recognized as a distinct species in 1975. The last one ever seen alive was found just five years later, in 1980. Fascinatingly, males of both of these frogs hold (er, held, in the case of R. rufum) their tadpoles inside of them, as if they were pregnant (think seahorses). Based on previous sightings of these species and intensive surveys where they were known to occur, a group of researchers from Chile and the UK estimated that R. rufum blinked out in 1982. They were cautious though, and suggest in their study that the species should be considered critically endangered (and only possibly extinct). Maybe some frogs are still hanging on somewhere.

The Santa Cruz Pupfish (Cyprinodon arcuatus) of Arizona has been declared extinct. This small fish was probably once found in a few small wetlands that disappeared due to water management practices that dried them up. The last (and only?) spring known to harbor the species was altered into a pond and canal many years ago. The altered habitats were then invaded by predatory bass, which did their part by eating a bunch of pupfish.

A freshwater shrimp (Macrobrachium leptodactylus) from Indonesia found once in 1888 and never since has been declared extinct. The area where the shrimp was discovered has been heavily developed.

This is a madtom, but not a Scioto Madtom;
image by Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp.
The Scioto Madtom (Noturus trautmani), a small catfish known from Ohio, has been declared extinct. The species hasn't been found since 1957. Habitat degradation is the likely cause: runoff and increased siltation degraded the streams the madtom called home.

Two butterflies known only from South Florida, the Zestos Skipper (Epargyreus zestos oberon) and the Rockland Grass Skipper (Hesperia meskei pinocayo) are likely extinct. Habitat loss and modification are probably to blame for the extinction of these two butterflies.

The Western Black Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes) was declared extinct in 2011 but for some reason it received a lot of press in late 2013. Here is a comprehensive breakdown of how we lost this magnificent beast.

It is just unfathomable, if not unconscionable, that we are responsible for causing a single species to completely disappear from the planet forever. Yet, we continue to do so over and over again. Extinct species have no future, they are gone to us and everyone that comes after us. 

Let's hope that our 2014 list is shorter than this year's. Did I leave something out? Let me know below. To learn about species on the brink of extinction, do not miss John Platt's excellent blog: Extinction Countdown.

Check Out The Following Scientific Article For More on Darwin's Frogs:

Soto-Azat C, Valenzuela-Sánchez A, Collen B, Rowcliffe JM, Veloso A, & Cunningham AA (2013). The population decline and extinction of Darwin's frogs. PloS one, 8 (6) PMID: 23776705

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Readers Write In: Snake in the Bathtub Edition (grisly photo alert)

Sir, I am hoping you can identify this snake found this evening in my bathroom. My daughter killed it before I got home as she knows we have had pygmy rattlers in the back yard over the years. It is maybe 18" long and I have attached a photo of the dead snake. We have an 18 month old in the room next to the bath and she was very concerned for the child so she took action. I live on 2 and 1/2 acres of oak trees and lawn and am high and dry. Just don't know if there are more and if I should be concerned. I am as severely color blind as one can be and I do not see color but for the brightest of snakes. They all look to be shades of gray and their patterns in general are not perceived well because of that.


Bill M.

Readers, what is this snake and should Bill be concerned? Do you have any tips for identifying this animal without relying heavily on its color or pattern?

Friday, December 20, 2013

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

The U.S. government has just dropped 2,000 mice outfitted with miniature parachutes and stuffed with pain meds over Guam in an attempt to kill invasive Brown Tree Snakes.

Recently described species from the Amazon include a tapir and a small cat.

Newly-constructed rock ladders help restore historic fish runs in Rhode Island.

Rescuing juvenile Sawfish in Australia with crocs prowling nearby.

Is a freshwater octopus drowning swimmers in Oklahoma? Spoiler alert: no.

Tracking the secret lives of Great White Sharks.

Florida biologists conduct search for Rock Pythons.

Did I miss an interesting wildlife link from this week? Provide it below

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Readers Write In: What Are These Pennsylvania Snakes?


    Found this (top picture) in my back yard. I know it's non-venomous but what is it? I live in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania. My wife gets mad cause I catch the snakes around the house and put them back out in the field. She wants me to kill them. She is scared to death that they are going to climb through the heater vents or the dryer vents and get into the house. I explained it's impossible. Need you to back me up on that...

    Finally found the other picture (bottom picture) I wanted to send you. This picture was taken at our shop in West Grove, Pennsylvania sometime in August of 2010. Please tell me what kind of snake this is. We removed the snake from this shop and let it go in our wood shop where he could come and go as he pleased. 

Thanks a lot,


    Readers, can you help John out with this Pennsylvania two-fer?

Friday, December 13, 2013

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

This week Living Alongside Wildlife surpassed one million views! Thank you everybody for reading. If you know someone that might enjoy the blog, why don't you tell them about it?

Did you catch the blog carnival this week? A bunch of herpetology-themed bloggers, including myself, all published posts about the diversity of ecosystem services provided by snakes. 

Check 'em out and follow them on Twitter!

Life is Short But Snakes are LongEcology of Snake Sheds by Andrew Durso @am_durso

Living Alongside WildlifeKingsnakes Keep Copperheads in Check by David Steen @AlongsideWild

Nature AfieldPythons as Model Organisms by Heidi Smith @HeidiKayDeidl

The Traveling TaxonomistSnakes of Madagascar: Cultural and Ecological Roles by Mark Scherz @MarkScherz

Social SnakesGood Neighbors Make a Greater Impact by Melissa Amarello @SocialSnakes

Strike, Rattle, and RollSnakes and the Ecology of Fear by Bree Putman @breeput

Australian MuseumWhen the Frogs Go, the Snakes Follow by Jodi Rowley @jodirowley

SnakeBytes TV: The Brown Tree Snakes of Guam by Brian Barczyk @SnakeBytesTV

Onto the regular links:

The dark side of discovering species: those new species will be targeted by collectors.

A recent paper describing how crocodilians might use sticks to lure in nesting birds got a lot of press. For example, here and here and here.

Great White Sharks are getting smaller. Here's why that's bad.

Sometimes in this blog I mention additional relevant scientific articles that might be of interest. Here are 20 tips for non-scientists to interpret scientific claims

Guard dogs are helping conserve cheetahs.

Video camera in Australia is set out to record crocodiles and an eagle ends up stealing it-providing footage of a 110 km journey.

It's that time of year, sharks are congregating off beaches in South Florida, but there's little danger to humans.

Snowy Owls sometimes migrate south, maybe to find food. This year's invasion is incredible and has resulted in many, many sightings. Check out this breakdown and map.

Australian officials are planning to cull Great White Sharks in an effort to reduce the amount of attacks on swimmers. The response has been mixed.

Did I miss an interesting wildlife link from this week? Provide it below

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.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Kingsnakes Keep Copperheads in Check **Special Blog Carnival Edition - Don't Miss Links at Bottom**

 "We just found one of our Kingsnakes doing something really cool." 

    It was 2006 and we had recently started radio-tracking about a dozen Kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula) in a big chunk of longleaf pine forest in southwestern Georgia. Kingsnakes were fascinating to me because they were a big, recognizable species for which we knew next to nothing. In fact, this was one of the first radio-tracking studies conducted on the species. Almost anything we documented would be new to science, so when the two field techs working on the project came into my office to report on what they had observed that day, I was ready to be surprised.

    Radio-telemetry is an exciting research tool because it allows you to spend a day in the life of the animal you are tracking. You can find out where the animal sleeps, swims, rests and how it finds its food. These insights are particularly treasured by snake biologists like myself because snakes are so secretive; it is almost impossible to observe them without radio-telemetry but a lot of work goes into catching snakes, implanting them with radio-transmitters, and then tracking the snakes in the field.

This is me assisting on a Kingsnake
 surgery, we don't mess around.
    Kingsnakes are perhaps most famous for their habit of eating other snakes and our study animals did not disappoint. As you can see from the picture above, we lucked out and got to observe one of our Kingsnakes chowing down on a Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). Not only was this incredibly cool to see, but it was also reassuring to know that our animals could easily return to their regular routines after going through the transmitter-implantation surgery.

    Fast forward a few years and I am a Ph.D. student at Auburn University. Our Kingsnake study had produced a couple papers related to how much land the animals use as well as the habitats they preferred, this information can now be used to help figure out what Kingsnakes might need to survive in a particular area. This was particularly important to know because people had started to notice that Kingsnake populations across the southeastern United States had started to decline and even disappear. And, nobody knew why. Although our Kingsnake studies were interesting and novel, they didn't help us figure out why Kingsnake populations were blinking out other than to rule out habitat change as a likely cause of these declines.

    In any case, one of the areas where Kingsnake declines were the most dramatic was Conecuh National Forest, Alabama, a forest that my new Auburn colleagues had spent a lot of time exploring. When the renowned Auburn herpetologist/professor Dr. Robert Mount had surveyed Conecuh in the 1970s and 1980s, he reported Kingsnakes as one of the most commonly encountered species. However, none had been reported for years by the time I arrived in Alabama. 

    Fascinatingly, while Kingsnakes were apparently disappearing over the last few decades, another species was becoming more and more common. Dr. Mount had reported Copperheads to be a rare species but today they are far and away the most commonly observed snake. For biologists that knew about the Kingsnake's taste for Copperheads, the appeal of generating a convenient hypothesis proved irresistible. Soon an idea started popping up frequently in conversation and also in the newspapers: Kingsnakes are predators of Copperheads, so Copperheads are becoming more common because Kingsnakes are disappearing.

    I was skeptical. There was no question that Kingsnakes loved to eat Copperheads, at least they did so frequently. And, the population trends for the two species over the last thirty years in Conecuh National Forest sure seemed to suggest something could have been going on between them. But it still seemed fishy to me. The numbers of Copperheads and Kingsnakes could be changing due to something completely unrelated to each other, like habitat change. Furthermore, snakes weren't really known to dramatically influence prey populations, particularly when that prey is another species of snake. So, I set out to prove everybody wrong.

    Due to a few ongoing collaborations I was involved in, I had access to a giant database of snake observations from across the southeastern United States, from North Carolina down to Florida and west to eastern Texas. All these data were from traps and the traps were located in areas where Kingsnakes were still abundant, where they had disappeared, and everything in between. I predicted that if Kingsnakes truly had an ability to influence the size of Copperhead populations, we would see a negative relationship between their numbers. Specifically, if Kingsnakes controlled Copperhead abundances, we would expect to see lots of Copperheads in areas where there were few Kingsnakes and few Copperheads in areas where there were lots of Kingsnakes. Critically, we were able to characterize the habitat surrounding each of these traps and control for it in our analyses. I was confident that we would find no relationship between the abundances of Kingsnakes and Copperheads once we examined trends at many different sites instead of just focusing on Conecuh National Forest. I looked forward to taking the results and rubbing them in the faces of all my friends while yelling, "This is what you get for not using good data to generate your scientific hypotheses!"

    I never got the chance. 

    To my surprise, we revealed a clear, negative relationship between the abundances of Kingsnakes and Copperheads, actually supporting the hypothesis that everyone was already talking about. So, I had to change my mind. We still can't prove that Kingsnakes lower the abundances of Copperheads, but the best available data sure seem to suggest this is the case. If true, the implications are clear. First, snakes can be important predators in their ecosystems with the potential to influence populations of their prey. Second, the mysterious Kingsnake declines that are occurring in the southeastern United States could end up having surprising effects on other species. Finally, and perhaps ironically, if people do not want to have a lot of venomous Copperheads in their yards, they should become champions of snake conservation!

***   I want to bring up one last point. Many people already know that Kingsnakes eat Copperheads and some folks even catch Kingsnakes wherever they are found and release them into their yards hoping that all the Copperheads will be eaten. I don't think that's a good idea. First of all, if your yard was good habitat for Kingsnakes, they would be there already. If you drop off a Kingsnake in a spot that isn't a good habitat for that species, it will probably wander off and/or die (I covered this when discussing how to relocate rattlesnakes away from your yard). Second of all, moving a strange Kingsnake to your property could actually be bad for the Kingsnakes already there, because the new animal could introduce a disease they aren't used to. Finally, moving snakes around, especially if they have been held in captivity, might even be illegal in your state. The best way to keep Copperheads away from your house is to make your yard unappealing to snakes.

Photos appear courtesy of Aubrey Heupel and Benjamin McDaniel.

Related Scientific Articles

Steen, D.A., & et al. (in press). Copperheads are abundant where kingsnakes are not: relationships between the abundances of a predator and one of their prey Herpetologica

Steen, D.A., Linehan, J.M., & Smith, L.L. (2010). Multiscale habitat selection and refuge use of common kingsnakes, Lampropeltis getula, in southwestern Georgia Copeia, 2010, 227-231 DOI: 10.1643/CE-09-092

C.T. Winne, & et al. (2007). Enigmatic decline of a protected population of eastern kingsnakes, Lampropeltis getula, in South Carolina Copeia, 2007, 507-519 DOI: 10.1643/0045-8511(2007)2007[507:EDOAPP]2.0.CO;2


    Social media has become an important tool in conducting effective science education and outreach. A few other bloggers and myself have decided to bring attention to a network of students, naturalists, and professionals that use social media to communicate information about amphibian and reptile natural history, science, and conservation.

    Our inaugural event is inspired by Partner in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s (PARC) Year of the Snake. Today we all published blog posts about the diversity of ecosystem services provided by snakes. We encourage everyone to follow us on Twitter, visit all of our blogs, and help spread the word about our outreach event, we hope the first of many touching on different themes related to the importance of amphibians and reptiles.

Check 'em out!

Life is Short But Snakes are Long: Ecology of Snake Sheds by Andrew Durso @am_durso

Living Alongside Wildlife: Kingsnakes Keep Copperheads in Check by David Steen @AlongsideWild

Nature Afield: Pythons as Model Organisms by Heidi Smith @HeidiKayDeidl

The Traveling Taxonomist: Snakes of Madagascar: Cultural and Ecological Roles by Mark Scherz @MarkScherz

Social Snakes: Good Neighbors Make a Greater Impact by Melissa Amarello @SocialSnakes

Strike, Rattle, and Roll: Snakes and the Ecology of Fear by Bree Putman @breeput

Australian Museum: When the Frogs Go, the Snakes Follow by Jodi Rowley @jodirowley

SnakeBytes TV: The Brown Tree Snakes of Guam by Brian Barczyk @SnakeBytesTV