Friday, February 28, 2014

Friday Roundup: This Week's Wildlife Links (February 28th, 2014)

There are whales around today that were alive before Moby Dick was written.

New species of fish discovered in remote Amazonian river. Just kidding, it lives in Idaho and Montana.

The Labrador Duck went extinct in North America. Or did it? Maybe what we have been calling Labrador Ducks were actually just hybrids between two different species.

The Oregon Chub becomes first fish species to recover enough to take off the Endangered Species Act.

Huge Chimpanzee population discovered in remote Congo forest.

Washington locals don't want nature (beavers) in their parks.

Big fish stories are getting smaller and smaller.

Cattle ranchers out west that like wildlife might protect springs and seeps from cows. Here's a series of pictures of the animals that might visit.

Troubling number of Grizzlies killed in Alberta in 2013.

Moose falls in ditch in Newfoundland. Rescued. Doesn't like carrots.

Finally spotting the white winter weasel.

Hungry Polar Bears are looking for food and finding bird nest colonies.

Buddhist ritual gets ecologically correct update.

Interesting animal cannibalism facts.

Stunning underwater photography of hammerhead shark schools and much more.

Elephant poaching is a huge issue with serious implications for both the elephants and those that protect them. A eulogy for one great elephant.

Conservation of the incredible Babirusa, a pig of the Sulawesi Forest.

The real tragedy of Taiji is our inhumanity toward animals.

Killing Marius the giraffe exposes myths about zoos.

The scientist who took on a leading herbicide manufacturer.

Jaguars are in trouble in the Atlantic forest ecosystem of Brazil. Here's why the loss of big carnivores is a big problem. Can two big predators (wolves and people) coexist in the American West? Red Wolves and people are in conflict in the southeastern United States.

Several species thought extinct were "rediscovered" in 2013.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tropical Paradise with Tropical Parasites

By Brian Folt

    Last fall I kicked off my third year of graduate school at Auburn University, during which I was pitted against a series of tests for the semester. Fortunately, I made it through the semester alive, and the department gave me the green light to get to work out in the field. So, I packed my bags and made power moves to move down to Costa Rica. Field season, babyyy! 

    So now I’m back at La Selva Biological Station, a research site in Costa Rica that we’ve blogged about a time or two. Simply put, La Selva is a special place: an extremely diverse Caribbean lowland wet forest, the home of a flagship tropical research station, a place where diverse nature and science converge. In addition to avoiding the sub-zero temperatures currently bursting pipes across the United States, I’ve been busier than a peccary in mierda working in the forest, selecting field sites, setting up plots, and solving problems. I’ve been enjoying adjusting away from the groove and grind of living in an Alabama college town, to the activity and dirtiness of a field season.

Wet boots and socks are a staple
when working at the rainy La Selva.
    I like to think I’ve been logging a good bit of field time, and there are a few ways to evaluate this. For one, I’ve already filled out an entire field notebook with research data and observations, which means I’ve been putting in some solid work. Another measure is that my rubber boots are dying, both bearing open wounds in the form of holes from long kilometers in the forest. A third gauge might be that my body is currently decorated with a substantial number of scrapes, bruises, insect bites, chigger welts, and what not. As the Costa Ricans say: ¡Pura vida! 

    At some point a few weeks ago I developed an itchy rash of sorts on my upper leg…fairly sizeable, think along the lines of poison ivy. This sort of situation is more or less standard around here though, so I didn’t put too much thought to it and just kept grinding. Then a strange thing happened when the rash started moving. 

    Over the course of a few days, the reticulated pustule patches were snaking in a consistent linear pattern down my thigh, and the itchiness was fierce. These observations were a bit more concerning, and I felt sick to my stomach thinking that these patches might be more than just a reaction to a nasty plant. So naturally I snapped an iPhone picture or two, and I sent a message to the family doctors. 

    “Hey dudes-- Check out the attached picture; I’ve got some suspicious rashes creeping down my legs. Any clue what the #$%^&* is going on here?” (The family doctors being my two older brothers.)

“Whoa, cool! Cutaneous larval migrans! Yeah—hate to break it to you, bro, but you’ve got worms."

To be continued...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Friday Roundup: This Week's Wildlife Links (February 21st, 2014)

Drugs, Death, Neglect: Behind the Scenes at Animal Planet.

How industry-driven changes to the landscape affect Wolverines.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation plans to kill every swan in the state. They're after pigs too, from helicopters.

Conspiracy alert: Coyotes being released around the East Coast to reduce the deer population.

Where do birds sleep? Not in their nest.

Gray Seals can kill and eat Harbor Porpoises.

Crocodile keeps bird-watchers from seeing rare bird in Australia. They'd probably rather take their chances.

Setting up disease-free zones for the Tasmanian Devil.

Man kills venomous snake. Gets bitten by it 45 minutes later.

You should also be careful of falling porcupines.

Want to know if your building in NYC has rats?

In addition to rats, what mammals should New Yorkers expect to recolonize NYC over the next 5-100 years?

A Snowy Owl set up shop in downtown Washington DC recently. Then, it got hit by a bus.

Speaking of Snowy Owls, what does it mean to see so many in the States this year? Must read.

Recently there were a few articles about how recent searches in Mexico have failed to document any Axolotls. It wasn't long before additional articles started making the case that they were extinct in the wild. Or simply stating so in their headlines. Axolotls aren't extinct, but they're still critically endangered.

Another story that got a lot of press is the alarming decline of the Monarch Butterfly. It's pretty bad, with many theories why.

Been hearing a lot about Putin's leopard conservation efforts? Here's why we should be skeptical. More on the conservation of the Sochi Olympics mascot here, including their real prospects for recovery.

Speaking of leopards, first ever pictures of a successful Snow Leopard kill as it happened. Why conserving Snow Leopards preserves more than just animals.

Only four Northern White Rhinos remain.

Crocodiles are making a comeback in Florida. Now they need more people to help deal with them. Jobs! On that note, a new species of crocodile from West Africa has just been described. That's too much good croc news: here's some fear mongering.

Blurred lines between wildlife photographer and his seal subject, but pretty incredible footage.

What was the first invasive snake?

How farmers can help bring back the insect pollinators they need.

Whale Shark slaughterhouse exposed in China.

Conservation efforts are of no use when house cats are around to erase any progress.

What to do when stranded whales need to be euthanized?

First high-res photo of Bay Cat in Borneo.

An elephant photobomb.

In case you missed it, Western Australia began to catch and kill sharks because they think this will reduce danger to swimmers (no evidence for that, but here are some other options). It's worth considering how Mexico is making moves to conserve sharks while Australia kills them. I was amused to see that some reporter from the Australian Associated Press took something I tweeted about this policy and inserted it into their article while turning it into a quote; the quote then appeared in articles about the cull throughout Australia. For fun, check out this video explaining the "merits" of the policy. 

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Amphibians and Reptiles Adapt! A New Blog Carnival This Week

Remember the Snakes at Your Service Blog Carnival? Well, our network of bloggers has expanded and organized a bit more (you can visit our website, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter) and this week we started our second carnival: Herps Adapt!

This event is all about the unique adaptations of amphibians and reptiles so today I'm featuring a blast from the past, "Are Rattlesnakes Rattling Less Because of Hogs?" Have you heard that hogs are eating loud rattlesnakes? I sure have and in this post I tackle the myth that this is resulting in quieter snakes that don't rattle.

Please make sure to check out the other blog posts on the topic, appearing all this week.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Don't Snakes Know Better Than to Go Out In the Cold? ---Guest Post---

    Last weekend the snakes of south Georgia broadcast loud and clear, we don’t fear no stinking polar vortexes!

    It was 25 degrees at dawn (that would be Fahrenheit, not Celsius), a north wind slapping against my home as I prepped for the day’s snake surveys. As a herpetologist with The Orianne Society I conduct field work throughout the Altamaha River drainage of southeastern Georgia—field work designed to monitor population trends of two great snakes, the Eastern Indigo Snake and the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Crossing a flood-swollen and roiling Altamaha under a dark sky, my vehicle swaying in a mammoth gust, reinforced the futility and/or lunacy of snake-hunting in such brutal conditions. An hour later I drove by a local country kitchen, the parking lot packed to the gills with pickups. Blue smoke played over the roof. I’ve bellied up in that little kitchen, and I knew that inside one could encounter hot coffee, sizzling grease, cute waitresses… I shivered, eyed my grapefruit with disdain, and drove on.

    I started out wearing a hat, scarf, two sweaters over a t-shirt, and a heavy blaze-orange vest over the sweaters. Because both species I was after take refuge in Gopher Tortoise Burrows, those burrows were the target of my search. By moving-moving and doing a poor-man’s pushup on every tortoise burrow apron (I lie on my belly, stick my head in the mouth of the burrow, and shine the beam of my small but high-powered flashlight deep into the nether-regions of the turtle’s lodge; then, courtesy of aging knees and pectorals the consistency of overcooked pasta, I endeavor to make an awkward rise, via a three-point crab-like stance to a bipedal posture), after an hour or so I found a rhythm of sorts, and shed one of the sweaters. The temp had bumped up to the low 40s. I finally saw my first vertebrate of the day when I spotted, 10 feet down, the butt end of a gopher turtle, damp with condensation. Hip, hip, hooray…

    By 1330, the temperature had soared to 48 F. At this point, I was phoning it in; this snake survey had become little more than an extended exercise session. The sun would shine, teasingly, but within minutes would again disappear. Now I moved rapidly over the sandhill, stopping only for a quick drop-and-shine (yep, no snake here, no snake here…) then on. A small tortoise burrow beckoned. Only the width of soda can, the white sand humped at its entrance was clean and smooth. Surely not a snake track, or is it? I parted some thorny shrubs as I got ready to get down on the cold ground. Suddenly, a misplaced jewel patterned with repeated and hypnotic diamonds materializes underfoot.

    Fortunately I saw the rattlesnake before doing my push-up. He was sure a little feller. Such young specimens are very seldom found during our tortoise-burrow surveys (at just a bit over two feet long with only two rattle segments plus his button, this was a snake born in 2013). He looked cold, even trembly. He was wound tight in a compact circular coil, and positioned such that in those rare moments when the sun did shine it slathered his grossly swollen belly (evidently, the little guy had suppered on rodent only a day or two before). Excited, I reached in my vest pocket to grab a quick-reading thermometer carried expressly for such moments. What was left of the grapefruit, a tortoise bone, my eyeglasses, and the remnants of a yet unidentified shed skin spilled from my pocket to the sand. I placed the thermometer on the ground in the open near the snake; when the sun’s rays struck and held it read 73 F, but when the sun went missing (and it mostly did) it read only 57 F. 

    Near the end of what was becoming a memorably long and cold field day (over 125 burrow push-ups), I gasped when I trod past a burrow visited earlier in the day and found a fresh indigo track sculpted into the sand. I searched around for the snake for a good half hour... About the same time, a team of my colleagues searching elsewhere (Team Sissy-Britches, see their coats on the right) captained by Kevin Stohlgren was photographing a young Indigo found on the surface. It was small, two years old, a great find, and a snake that we had never captured and marked. Over hot chocolates that evening, we traded e-mail photos and stories. 
    My wife reported that my sleep was heavy, dense, my body unmoving. I can’t recall my dreams, so I’ll employ creative license here and say they were of sunshine, bubbling wrens, the new pink blossoms of fetterbush, and bright-eyed tortoises perched on burrow aprons. I awoke with the backs of both hands raspberry-stippled with many dozens of tiny wounds where the tips of blackberry thorns had broken off like snake teeth.

    The next morning it was 29 at dawn, but clear and calm. With fresh legs and a new attitude, I was up and out early for another day of snake surveying. Again the diner parking lot was congested, and I’ll be darned if at 45 mph with the windows up I didn't smell bacon.

    I returned to the same site, passing many blackwater swamps—wetlands that, per your mood, are inviting or forbidding. Our wet winter means full swamps, where, later this spring, Indigos will chase frogs. The tea-stained waters are now eerily quiet, verging on melancholic—but critters like sirens and spotted turtles will be stirring soon.

    By noon it’s 54, but now some full sun. The weather feels calm, easy, almost snaky. My little rattler buddy, still warming his gut, is right where he was yesterday. I almost forget about the Indigo- track- burrow until I am on it, and I look up to see what might be mistaken for an ink-dipped, extra-large hockey puck curled on the edge of the apron. In my excitement I drop my camera bag and run 20 feet to the burrow…the snake hasn’t moved an inch. What a beautiful snake, and a little female at that. I later learn that Team Sissy-Britches also locates a fine Indigo, a male woven in and out of dense wiregrass. They actually spotted him, his shine that is, from afar with binoculars. 

    I move to another survey site, and here I visit the money burrow, the Indigo honey-hole you might say, where on my last visit I was treated to a circus-like affair. Ambling up a month ago, I found two fresh shed skins of adult Indigos and a large male snake—a purple flash in the sun— relaxing contentedly, nearby. As if that wasn’t enough, another Indigo emerged from the burrow as I stood there. 

    Today there is no snake, but ample signs about the burrow—including a sizeable Indigo scat. The scat begins on the burrow apron and trails off a good 12 inches into the shadows of the burrow interior. Snake feces are clearly recognizable as such —a stream of yellow-green, powdery urates (the color alone is diagnostic and reptilian-odd, almost a bioluminescent yellow-green, a color seen in nature only in certain runny species of fungi and marine organisms). Part of the stream is punctuated by two sizeable packets of dense material (picture owl pellets), and like an excited monkey I crouch on the burrow apron and begin to break these apart. As I begin to crush the scat between my fingers a single fang drops to the sand. Then a tight wad of snake scales, and more balled-up scales. Satisfied, I bag it, and conclude that one of the Indigos recently ate a small diamondback.

And here, a much larger Diamondback,
found by the author a month ago.
    Another arctic blast drifted south soon after the cold blast we had just experienced, and yes, I was scared. But, the brave snakes of south Georgia have been there before, knew what to do, and surely persevered.

About the Author: Dirk Stevenson

Dirk Stevenson, who has been with The Orianne Society for six years, monitors Eastern Indigo Snake populations throughout Georgia.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Frog Love is in the Air (and on Video): The Winter Breeders of Louisiana ---Guest Post---

    Hello! My name is Philip Vanbergen, and I am a first-year college student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as well as an aspiring biologist. For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by the beauty of the natural world. As a child, I recall when I would be so amazed by the sound of frogs and toads calling in my grandfather’s backyard pond in Baton Rouge. Once my family and I moved from Alabama to Louisiana in 2008, I was overwhelmed with the excitement of exploring a new environment. I was immediately captivated by the great variety of wildlife in Southern Louisiana, particularly the reptiles and amphibians. As my interest in nature grew, so did my desire to share my findings with others. This desire lead me to pursue wildlife photography and videography. I tried my best to capture the beauty of the specimen in its environment in my photos and videos. However, over the years, I have found that nothing beats the quality of experiencing the beauty of nature first-hand. It is my hope that my photos and videos will inspire others to go out and appreciate the beautiful creation that is always at hand. 

    As time went on, I acquired a particular interest in the sounds of nature. The way that the forest echoed with the choruses of countless frogs and insects left me awestruck. Because of this, I have recently made it a personal project of mine to get high quality footage of every species of frog that calls in Southern Louisiana. I feel that videography combines the sights and sounds of nature in a way that gives the viewer the closest thing to a first-hand experience. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce the first two species of frogs that are heard in the year.

Cajun Chorus Frog Pseudacris fouquettei 
    Perhaps my favorite frog in the area, the small and strikingly beautiful Cajun Chorus Frog is one of the first frog species to be heard during the year in Southern Louisiana. In fact, due to Southern Louisiana’s rather mild winter, the Cajun Chorus Frog can be heard calling as early as October. Though this is very common frog in many areas, I myself have only encountered this frog a handful of times after having lived in Louisiana for over five years. This is likely due to the lack of suitable habitat in and around the city of Lafayette. The Cajun Chorus Frog can be heard calling from temporary bodies of water, especially in swamps and old-growth forests throughout the state. Though primarily a winter breeder, the Cajun Chorus Frog has been heard as late as July in Southern Louisiana, and breeding activity is enhanced after periods of heavy rainfall. Being a winter-breeder, the Cajun Chorus Frog has exceptional tolerance of the cold, and has been heard calling in temperatures as low as 44 degrees Fahrenheit. 

    To get footage of this species calling, I had to leave the city of Lafayette and venture east to the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest wetland and swamp in the United States. After speaking with local naturalists, as well as through my own experience, I was aware that a healthy population of the species existed there. So, on January 13, 2014, after a period of heavy rainfall in the morning, I departed for the Basin. Only a few seconds after exiting I-10, I heard a full-scale chorus of frogs. Filled with excitement, I drove a few miles north to find a good area for filming. Once I found a remote area where the species was breeding along the road, I brought my camera equipment down to the water and began to film. First, I wanted to get a shot of the breeding pond with the chorus of frogs calling in the background. Then, after much patience and perseverance, I was finally able to locate a calling individual in some partially-submerged vegetation. I was fortunate enough to get footage of this cooperative individual from many different angles. As I was standing in the pool filming this frog, I was able to locate other calling individuals in the area that I had not noticed before. It was exhilarating to be alone in the woods surrounded by beautiful sounds of calling Cajun Chorus Frogs.

Spring Peeper Pseudacris crucifer 
    Another small and beautiful species, the Spring Peeper is also one of the first frogs to be heard in the year in Southern Louisiana. Perhaps a more appropriate name for the frog in Louisiana would be the “Winter Peeper”, as the frog is mostly heard calling in the winter months. The call of the Spring Peeper is a beautiful, pure “peep” that, when heard among many other individuals from a distance, has been compared to the sound of sleigh bells. It truly is a celestial experience to hear a chorus of this species rising from the swamp after sunset on cool, still evening. The Spring Peeper is common throughout the state of Louisiana, but prefers old-growth forests. The species has been heard as early as November in Louisiana and has incredible cold tolerance, calling as long as it is above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). 

    Unlike for the Chorus Frogs, I didn’t have to travel very far out of the city to find a good place for filming Spring Peepers. In fact, there are many areas in and around the city of Lafayette where the Spring Peeper exists. However, for this video, I wanted to recreate a moment that I had experienced a few winters ago, when I heard the chorus of countless Spring Peepers echo through the forest as I saw the sun set over beautiful Lake Martin. It was a very memorable moment for me, as it was one of the first choruses of Spring Peepers I had ever heard. So, after filming the Chorus Frogs in the Atchafalaya Basin, I drove over to Lake Martin to make it in time to film the sunset. As I hoped, the Spring Peepers were calling in full-force. I couldn’t describe in words the wondrous scene of the sun setting over the lake with the continuous ring of Spring Peepers in the distance; it was just as I remembered. After getting shots of the sun setting over the lake as well as the moon rising, I headed over to the south end of the lake to film the frogs. I was fortunate enough to find several individuals within a short distance singing the night away.

    I really hope that you enjoyed, and I hope to post more frog call videos to this blog as the year goes on. In addition to frogs, I also plan to make videos of local singing insects as well. Until then, keep your ears open for the beautiful and endless love song of nature!