Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Readers Write In: Mystery Fish Eater and Tennessee Yard Prowler-What Are These Snakes?


Two loyal readers of the blog recently received snake identification requests and wanted them to appear here. So, I include them both below. Readers, your snake identification skills are becoming legendary-keep up the good work.


1. Don't have tons of info. Was a forwarded picture I got from our hospital nutritionist. Her uncle was kayaking on flat water on the Yellow River [Newton Co, GA]. He took the picture. Everyone of course thought it was a cottonmouth but I doubted it. Glad to have your input.

J. K.
Georgia

2. This snake was in my front yard in Bon Aqua TN.  I live on a hill with fields and wooded areas and a creek bordering the bottom.

Karen B.
Tennessee

Readers: What are these Snakes?

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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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Changing Night Skies: How an Exotic Disease is Decimating America’s Backyard Bats



    Across the eastern half of the US, the bats you see in the night skies this spring and summer have dramatically changed from the ones you saw less than a decade ago.  The little brown bat, the once common dusk-time companion that harmlessly fluttered in millions over American homes has undergone a 91% decline.  Other species, like the endangered Indiana bat, have now gone from modest steps toward recovery back to the doorstep of extinction.

    The culprit is a disease, white-nose syndrome.  First documented in New York in 2006, over the short span of seven years the disease has been spreading south and west across the US, reaching 25 US states and 5 Canadian provinces and already killing more than 5.7 million bats according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    The disease is caused by a fungus that was introduced and now resides within infected caves where it is acquired when the bats enter for the winter.  And because bats roost communally in caves, they often are all exposed once the disease arrives.  The disease itself, in addition to causing the tell-tale white-nose on infected bats, causes damage to wings and reduction in overwinter energy stores.  The end result is massive (often over 90%) overwinter mortality in bat populations in infected caves within as little as a single year. 

    But what about the half of North American bat species that are non-cave roosters?  These species that overwinter in trees or attics or migrate south for the winter and otherwise avoid caves have yet to be found carrying the disease.   Are these non-cave roosters taking advantage of the night skies that formerly were dominated by little brown bats and other cave-roosting species? 

    Rather than a free-for-all, researchers have already shown that the night skies are highly structured and that bats typically avoid other bats while out foraging.  Bats tend to feed in other areas or become active at different times in the evening to avoid competition and interfering with each other’s echolocation calls (termed acoustical jamming).  For example, little brown bats like to swarm around wetlands and to be active at dusk, eating mayflies and other small, often soft-bodied insects; big browns forage deeper in the forest on harder-shelled beetles and moths.  Each bat species in the night skies has a unique set of adaptations allowing it to exploit a separate potential niche.  To see this you only have to open your field guide so you can you can see the different wing morphologies that allow the bats to forage in different ways, similar to the design of aircraft wings, some ideal for maneuvering dense forests while others ideal for speed in open wetlands.  

    I recently worked with researchers at Virginia Tech, U.S. Forest Service and Ft. Drum Military Installation in New York where they have been monitoring bats for over a decade to address the question:  What happens when the cave-roosting species die off and competition for space in the night skies of New York has gone away?  Results from our investigations, soon to be published in the journal, Diversity and Distributions reveal that following the arrival of the disease and crash in formerly dominant little brown bat populations, remnant bats primarily composed of non-cave roosters were shifting their activity to the early evening hours.  Also, several bat species were more active in the wetland areas formerly dominated by little brown bats.  It was evident that a massive re-shifting of bats was occurring in the night skies of a post-white-nose syndrome world. 

    However, despite the passage of over 5 years since arrival of the disease, we are not seeing more non-cave roosters on the landscape than prior to the disease arriving.  The non-cave roosters have not yet translated the behavioral shift in using areas where resources are likely more plentiful into higher survival and reproductive success.  So the non-impacted, non-cave roosting bat species are shifting when and where they are active, but so far they are not responding in sufficient numbers to have the same impact that the cave-roosters were having on the landscape.  This means that millions of insects will no longer be consumed, ranging from moths to garden pests and mosquitos. 

    Perhaps more troublesome, the non-cave roosting, often migratory bats are increasingly threatened by their own set of factors, including a recent push for wind energy development.  These non-cave roosters have to make long seasonal movements north and south to avoid the cold and take advantage of the summer insect bonanza like so many migratory birds.  But with increases in wind turbine development on their migratory paths, we could be seeing a wicked problem emerging: disease is nearly extirpating cave-roosting bats, and energy development is knocking back the migratory non-cave roosters.  The end result is a dramatic decline and uncertain future for bats in the night skies of North America.

Further reading

Jachowski, D., Dobony, C., Coleman, L., Ford, W., Britzke, E., & Rodrigue, J. (2014). Disease and community structure: white-nose syndrome alters spatial and temporal niche partitioning in sympatric bat species Diversity and Distributions DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12192

Kunz, T. H., Braun de Torrez, E., Bauer, D., Lobova, T., & Fleming, T. H. (2011). Ecosystem services provided by bats. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1223(1), 1-38.

Thogmartin, W. E., Sanders-Reed, C. A., Szymanski, J. A., McKann, P. C., Pruitt, L., King, R. A., ... & Russell, R. E. (2013). White-nose syndrome is likely to extirpate the endangered Indiana bat over large parts of its range.  Biological Conservation160, 162-172.

(Photos courtesy Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Readers Write In: Alabama Cottonmouth or Copperhead?


Cottonmouth or copperhead? I ran across this guy near the beginning of an 11 mile bike ride this evening. I was looking for a stick to see if he would assume the cottonmouth position when I noticed the neighbor's dog approaching.  Not wanting to endanger the dog or the snake, I got back on the bike and induced the dog to chase me. I'm thinking moccasin because I've seen similar juveniles with their mouths open. I have an argument going on facebook-but I'm getting out-numbered. Your thoughts?

Michael G.
Ashford, AL

Readers: What is this Snake? Need a Clue?

-----
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.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Readers Write In: What is this Ohio Snake?


I found this snake in my yard in Northeast Ohio. It is not aggressive at all and is prob less than 12 inches do you know what it is? I did not keep this snake I let him go. I only kept him long enough to take pictures I just want to make sure there aren't dangerous snakes around my house!

Kara
Ohio

Readers: What is this Snake?

-----
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.

Twitter Guesses










Sunday, April 6, 2014

Readers Write In: A New (Challenging?) Snake For Us to Identify

    Just a few days after our first snake identification challenge of 2014, another snake picture appeared in my e-mail. Most of you already know that I am happy to identify snakes and answer wildlife questions, but please do know my mind-reading abilities are moderate at best. If you send me a picture, please tell me why. I received this picture in an e-mail with no subject and no text. A follow-up e-mail suggested the picture was sent to me because the e-mail author wanted to know if I could identify the snake. The answer is yes. I'm going to assume they are also interested in knowing what kind of snake this is, so I'm going to feature it here. 

    I posted the picture on Twitter because I thought this identification might be tricky for people and I was right, check out all the guesses it received (below). 

    OK-blog readers, you're up. What kind of snake is this? I've also added a few ground rules that I plan to include in all future snake ID posts. Let me know if you have suggestions.

-----
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.












Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Roundup: The Week's Wildlife Links (April 4th, 2014)

Did you already take a guess at our first snake identification challenge of 2014?

Japan will no longer be allowed to go whaling in the Antarctic. But what does this new ruling actually mean?

For the first time since the 1700s, the nene, an endangered Hawaiian goose, is nesting on Oahu's North Shore.

The Night Lizard Cometh...back! Good news for a once-rare reptile.

Poaching is up for the Red Panda in Nepal. But, on the other hand, a Pallas Cat has been discovered there for the first time.

No longer just in India? Asiatic Lion spotted in Pakistan.

Should crocodiles in Australia be killed to reduce risk to people? Includes the awesome quote, "...if you dive off the Adelaide River bridge...there is a 100 percent certainty of being taken by a saltwater croc."

The state squares off with the feds regarding Alaska hunting regulations. The war on bears and wolves within national preserves.

How thick is thick? The story behind the study on murre eggshells.

A fascinating look behind the decision to kill protected sea lions to help conserve salmon populations.

I recently linked to a story about the Cincinnati Zoo's controversial plan to breed sibling Sumatran Rhinos to help save the species. It's a moot point now, the female just died.

Have rabbit populations crashed in Alabama?

Afganistan creates super-park. Will be home to Lynx, Snow Leopards, Marco Polo Sheep, and more.

10 extinct animals that have been preserved in photographs.

So much stupid. Florida woman makes friends with alligator, feeds it cereal, tries to avoid getting bit by screaming and kicking. The story ends the same way all these stories do, the alligator gets killed.

Tigers killed as entertainment for rich businessmen.

Why collecting butterflies isn't cruel. I don't buy the logic, but it's interesting to think about.

From frog massacre to frog rescue in Oregon. Helping amphibians across the road. They crossed the road to breed, that's why.

Are there too many salmon in the sea? Well, the answer is a little more complicated than yes or no.

Here are a few great long-reads:

The Madness of Modern-Day Poaching. How lion bones turned to rhino horns.

Buck Fever: An investigation of the captive deer and breeding industry in the United States.

The Most Trafficked Mammal You've Never Heard Of. Uh, whatever CNN, I know what a Pangolin is. Good read though.


Did I miss something interesting? Let me know below.



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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Readers Write In: Our First Snake ID Challenge of 2014

    One may know that spring has arrived when the Red-winged Blackbirds establish themselves in the cattails of a nearby marsh or when the songs of frogs start echoing through the night as they attempt to attract new partners. Last night was the first time this year I had heard Fowler's Toads and Gray Treefrogs singing in the marsh down the hill.

    But, the real way to know that it's starting to get warm out is that I begin to receive requests to identify snakes...And spring has sprung.


Can you ID this snake for us?  It was big and beautiful.  Photographed in Fort Myers.  

Thanks,

Judith B.
Fort Myers, Florida

    All right readers, it is time for you to emerge from your hibernations and resume your duties in identifying these creatures. What is this Florida snake?

Update: I thought I'd share some of the guesses that appeared on Twitter.