Sunday, November 30, 2014

Friday Roundup: The Week's Wildlife Links (November 28th, 2014)

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    We have a lot of catching up to do.


On the Cottonmouth called Preacher Killer and getting to know the southern practice of religious snake handling.

Why do snakes poop when they're feeling threatened?

Tracking a secretive snake on the prairie.


Wood Bison to be reintroduced to Alaska. And, scientists want them in Montana too (but doesn't everyone?)'s starting to happen.


The Ocelot has a chance in South TexasWisconsin DNR confirms pair of Cougar sightings. There's a Cougar prowling around south Kansas too. Twenty Florida Panthers have been killed on the road this year, breaking the record. Bears are chasing Cougars off their kills, which means they need to spend more time hunting.

Snow Leopards spotted on Mount Everest. Putin's tiger swims to China.

The rise and the fall of the great sabercats.

Cheetahs are running out of run.


A dead bear cub was found in Central Park and that made big news. But Black Bears used to be very common in ManhattanRare Black Bear attack results in a fatality in northern New Jersey (not far from where I grew up, incidentally). Maine voters decide to keep the practice of bear baiting legal

Less ice means less seals for Polar Bears. They're eating Snow Geese now instead. And, they're finding their way into towns more too

But, in Alberta, people can learn to live alongside Grizzlies. Can we live alongside them in Yellowstone? Not with climate change and current government policies. However, government scientists will be exploring whether Grizzlies could be reintroduced to the North Cascades.

The bears of Laos are threatened by the bile business.


A Gray Wolf has been spotted at the Grand Canyon. Confirmed.

Got too many wild horses out west? How about some wolves for that?

Wolves are running through Denmark for the first time in 200 years.

The Ocean:

Obama to create world's largest protected marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean. And, why the "laziest" fish will benefit most.

Bluefin catch a break, no more longlining during their spawning seasons in the Gulf of Mexico. On the other hand, Canada appalls conservationists after the country raises Atlantic Bluefin quota.

Researchers drop dead pigs into the ocean to study ocean scavengers.

Incredible pictures of walrus without ice to rest coming to shore...planes were diverted to avoid spooking them. It is a sign of things to come.

Is the octopus too smart to eat?

A viral shark video on the beach gives a rare look at feeding frenzies. Similarly, epic mullet migration = epic predator free for all.

Shark feeding, managed risk, and the Tredwellian paradigm.

Three reasons why you should have invited a Greenland Shark to Thanksgiving.

Shark researchers catch holy grail of photographs - a seal is not impressed.

A big day for tagging Great Whites in Australia.

Years of marine-fish research down the drain-seals are zeroing in on tagged research animals.

Sensational nonsense about a Whale Shark "attack" gets taken to task by Deep Sea News.

Everything else:

The incredible colors and diversity in our freshwater streams.

The first two hours of a Barnacle Gosling's life include an incredible free fall - a must watch.

America's original razorbacks: the peccary and its ancestors.

The loneliest frog in the world. There is one Rabbs Fringe-limbed Treefrog left.

Delmarva Fox Squirrel may have recovered enough to leave the list of Endangered Species.

Oregon has mapped out the locations of 42,000 roadkills.

An incredible picture of Bolivian Flamingos. And, the BBC wildlife camera trap photo contest winners - my favorite is the Amur Leopard. Here are another series of photos highlighting animals at risk of extinction.

What is a Raccoon Dog and why are they now an invasive species?

Why people used to believe that beavers bit off their own testicles.

On the efforts to eradicate the Brown Anole from Taiwan.

This eel, placed in a Swedish well to keep the water clean, reportedly lived 155 years.

The USA has reduced Indonesia's debt to redirect funds toward protecting wildlife.

America's Pronghorn migration faces human obstacles.

In the wake of California droughts and fires, a turtle's habitat becomes its death trap.

The Quagga - can an extinct animal be bred back into existence? How about mammoths, should we?

Would bring Tasmanian Devils back to mainland Australia (where they went extinct) help control feral cats?

What became of India's corpse-eating turtles?

Vietnam seizes over 1,000 dead sea turtles.

The exotic pet trade is a global evil that must be stopped.

These rare photos of a Javan Rhino might be your last chance to see one.

Pancho, the American Crocodile that bit two swimmers in Florida and was killed while being captured, will not be forgotten.

Watch crocodiles grab bats out of the sky.

Ever hear of the Pygmy Falcon?

Poachers are decimating Ontario's turtles.

Police tell man he can't keep Alligator Snapping Turtle - so heat eats it.

Africa's loneliest monkey: the baboon that got stranded on an island in the Zambezi River.

First Spotted Gar Chicago.

Did I miss something interesting? Let me know below.


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Thursday, November 27, 2014

What Jurassic World Has Gotten Wrong About Wildlife So Far....


    In case you have been living under a rock the last few days, the trailer for the upcoming Jurassic World has just been released, you can check it out below.

    The Jurassic Park series is close to the heart of a generation of wildlife biologists and paleontologists, but that doesn't mean it is immune from criticism. Hey, if you're going to make a movie about dinosaurs and science, you should get both right! Well, I suppose they don't need to get everything right, it is a science-fiction movie after all, but it is our responsibility to point out where the movie is being inconsistent with the wildlife science (and don't call anyone nerds for doing so!).

    Most of the criticism so far has focused on the trailer, but before we get into that I want to note that a website that was created for the company that runs Jurassic World (the Masrani Corporation) says that the most common animal on Isla Nublar (a fictional Costa Rican island and site of Jurassic World) is the Nublar Tufted Deer (Elaphodus cephalophus nublaris). First off, there's no such thing as that subspecies (you can tell the subspecies by the third name) and second, all Tufted Deer (Elaphodus) are from Asia, not North, South, or Central America.

    Over on his Biodiversity on Focus blog, University of Guelph entomologist Morgan Jackson takes Jurassic World to task for once again not being able to distinguish between Crane Flies (which do not suck blood and are therefore unsuitable candidates for obtaining dinosaur DNA) and mosquitoes. You would think they'd get this right after the wrong insects they used in the first Jurassic Park movie!

    Do you know that scene where they feed the shark to the big aquatic beast? Well, that was a Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) and, based on the United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), they are a protected species. In other words, notes Rick MacPherson on the Deep Sea News blog, Jurassic World may be violating international law by feeding Great White Sharks to their animals. Update 11/28: The Jurassic World website now indicates that a feeding like this occurs every two hours! That is a lot of protected sharks being made into dinosaur chow. Second update: this interview with director Colin Trevorrow reveals that the sharks are clones! So that is how they stayed out of trouble.

    Well, I should make clear that the beast that eats the Great White Shark is not actually a dinosaur, it is a mosasaurus. And, as Darren Naish has noted on Twitter, that means it should probably have a forked tongue and no frill down its back.

    Did you know that best available evidence is now pretty clear that dinosaurs had feathers? So, to be scientifically accurate the dinosaurs in Jurassic World shouldn't be so...naked! Brian Switek summarized the issue last year and everything he wrote is as relevant as ever.

Update 11/28 As more information on the Jurassic World website gets released, we have more to critique!

    John is right and Jurassic World is wrong! The first Tyrannosaurus rex was not named Sue! The first T-rex specimen was discovered within the first few years of the 20th century and Sue was found about 85 years later, in 1990. Sue is notable because she is so complete and well-preserved.

Update 11/29

    The Jurassic World website has rotating "Did You Know?" facts that provide some questionable dinosaur information. For example, one of the facts is that, "Dinosaurs are both hot and cold-blooded. Usually carnivores are hot; herbivores run cold."

    The mortal sin here is their use of "hot" and "cold-blooded". In the past, we used "cold-blooded" to refer to things like reptiles and amphibians because they relied on the external environment to regulate their body temperature. That is why you see snakes and turtles basking, they are using the sun to warm up. On the other hand, animals like mammals (including us) have a metabolism that converts what we eat into heat and energy, we used to call ourselves "warm-blooded". We do not do that anymore. Recent studies have shown that the animals we used to call "cold-blooded" really aren't that cold. In fact, just by positioning their body in relation to the sun, some reptiles can keep their body temperature warmer than we can, and with more precision! So, we now used "ectothermic" instead of "cold-blooded" and "endothermic" instead of "warm-blooded".

    That is not the only reason that the words used in this Jurassic World fact are a little off. Are they saying that each dinosaur species has a metabolism that is somewhere in the middle of endothermy and ectothermy or that some dinosaur species are ectothermic and some are endothermic? Saying that carnivores are usually hot and herbivores run cold does not really clear it up, because they could again be talking about, for example, how one carnivorous dinosaur is usually hot but sometimes cold, or they could talking about how most carnivorous dinosaur species are endothermic and just a few are ectothermic.

    Whatever the meaning, the science does not conclusively support the statements, at least not yet. It is a topic of some debate. Assuming they did not generate this information from Jurassic Park scientists in the Jurassic World universe, I think they based it on this summary of a paper that was published in 2013 that provided evidence that dinosaurs probably were not cold-blooded. There is a mention in this summary about how carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs might be different (I couldn't find that distinction in the actual scientific paper though). In any case, more recent work has suggested it is probably not accurate to think of dinosaurs as either strictly endothermic or ectothermic, and they could have a hybrid system, not unlike Leatherback Sea Turtles or Bluefin Tuna.

    I went to Twitter to confirm my interpretation and asked Brian Switek to comment.

    In other words, we do not have a definitive answer yet but the situation is probably a little more complicated than Jurassic World would have us believe.

Update 12/1

    Over on the Symbiartic blog, Glendon Mellow points out that Jurassic World is borrowing (i.e., stealing) artwork for their trailer (and movie, presumably) but also observes that the DNA shown in the lab is backwards! DNA is not left-handed.

    Have you noticed problems with any of the Jurassic World information being released that has not been talked about yet? Describe below!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Readers Write In: Two Fall Snakes from the West Coast

It's getting quite cold here on the East Coast of the USA, so that means there are fewer snakes being encountered to identify. But, fortunately we have readers on the West Coast to bail us out.

A friend of mine recently took this picture and he thinks this is a rattle snake. We live in Northern Nevada (Great Basin) and we do have rattlesnakes but there is nothing about this snake that looks like a rattlesnake to me. My theory is that it's a gopher snake. Would you be able to help?

His theory was that it's "less than a year old" which is "why there's no rattle"... aside from that not making any sense (because from what I know snakes can shed more often than once per year) this seems way too big to be less than a year old no matter what type of snake it is). Thank you for having an awesome website with great information! I really appreciate what you are doing!

Logan N.


Please help me identify this snake it was on my deck and is still in my yard.... Yikes!!

Thank You,


Monterey County, California

Readers: What Are These Snakes?

Snake Identification Post Ground Rules

-Guesses are welcome and encouraged. Don't worry if you're not an expert, wrong guesses allow us to talk about how to distinguish between the various species and that's why I run these posts.

-If you can't explain why you think a snake is a particular species, go ahead and just say what you think it is. But otherwise please do let us all know how you identified the animal. If you're wrong, we can explain why. If you're right, this helps everyone learn how to identify snakes, which is the goal of these posts.

-You can safely assume that I know what kind of snake is in the picture, I run these posts because they are outreach opportunities. Please don't send me private e-mails with your guesses, include them below.

-Remember, the person that sent me the picture is probably reading your comments. Although it is frustrating to know that many of these snakes have been killed, these people do want to learn more about them. More snake knowledge will lead to fewer snakes being killed.