Posts Tagged ‘Reptiles-and-Amphibians’

Throwback: Stuffed

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Monday, December 10th, 2012

Common Gartersnake eating a Green Frog

Having just returned from a Thanksgiving vacation in Massachusetts, I had hoped to write about something uniquely New Englandy. To me the greater Boston area is all about clams, lobsters, shorebirds and cranberry bogs. Granted it’s a narrow, stereotypical view but if I could expand my limited expectations then my trip would be a success.

Unfortunately I only spotted a few dumpster gulls and a couple of Deer Ticks (Ixodes scapularis). I probably should have gotten out more. But you know how Thanksgiving is. It’s all about the thanking and the eating and despite picking up a cold on the plane ride up (thanks open air sneezer in seat 24A!) I still managed to eat more than any normal person should at any given meal. It’s a funny thing, I don’t need to eat so much. I just want to and this makes me wonder how much joy a snake gets when it consumes a feast much larger than it appears it should.

A few years ago I was leading a summer camp in Vermont. A couple of kids heard a strange noise in the woods, called me over and we discovered a Common Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis) eating a Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans). Several kids were horrified but for the most part there was great interest in the likelihood that this slender snake could eat this wide-bodied and seemingly unflappable frog. The snake meticulously maneuvered its ever widening mouth to position the frog into an easy transition down its throat.

Once in the intestine, the gartersnake has the ability to elevate its metabolic rate, increase enzyme activity and blood flow to the digestive system and increase the mass of the intestine, liver and kidney to aid in removing and storing nutrients from its prey. It can just as quickly reverse all of these functions and revert to normal conditions. Ultimately the quick digestive process prevents a snake from slithering about with a large meal in its belly.

No such luck for me on Thanksgiving. My digestive system is used to a pattern of thrice-a-day feedings and I had clearly overwhelmed my system. Happy Belated Thanksgiving.

Tree Frog in the Bathroom

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Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
Cope's Gray Treefrog and Common Gray Treefrog

Cope’s Gray Treefrog and Common Gray Treefrog © David Liebman

Tree Frog in the Bathroom by Julie Craves

The first amphibian we found at our new property was a gray treefrog. We have a wooded wetland, but we found the frog on the floor of an interior, windowless bathroom on our second walk-through prior to buying the house. Presumably it gained entry through the exhaust fan. I suppose this would have been a turn-off to some prospective buyers, who might wonder what else could make its way into the crapper from outdoors, but it charmed us. My husband scooped up the little hopper and placed it outside where it belonged.

We’ve since seen and heard many of this frog’s kin and neighbors. In the eastern U.S., Hyla versicolor and Hyla chrysoscelis are the two sister species of gray treefrog, Eastern and Cope’s. The former has a slower call than the latter, which is the best way to tell these two apart, unless you have your heart set on counting chromosomes.

Cope's Gray Treefrog and Common Gray Treefrog

Cope’s Gray Treefrog and Common Gray Treefrog © Bill Beatty

My ear has not yet heard enough of both species to be able to distinguish the pace of the bird-like trills. Some studies have suggested that Cope’s Gray Treefrogs can tolerate (or prefer) lower humidity, more often call from trees, and consequently eat more arboreal insects, while Eastern Gray Treefrogs like it more humid, tend to call closer to the ground, and eat more terrestrial insects. Even at the end of a dry, hot summer, treefrogs were pretty ubiquitous high and low around the property. Perhaps we have both species, although confirmation will prove difficult.

But no matter. These are my favorite frogs, so beautiful in mottled, slightly warty patterns of green, gray, and brown. They are especially hard to spot when perched on tree bark, but stick out like a sore thumb when adhered by sticky toe pads to porch lights, window screens, sliding glass doors…or bathroom floors.

Glass-blown Snake – The Eastern Indigo

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Monday, November 19th, 2012
Eastern Indigo Snake

Eastern Indigo Snake © Jungle Pete Corradino

Glass-blown Snake – The Eastern Indigo by Jungle Pete Corradino

There’s a snake that reaches lengths of over 8 ½ feet and subdues its prey with an incredibly powerful bite that is disappearing from the Southeastern United States. Most people might be fine if a snake species disappeared forever but this snake is nonvenomous and even eats venomous snakes. It’s gorgeous and it deserves to keep its place in the ecosystem. I’m referring to North America’s longest native snake – the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi)

Eastern Indigo Snake

Eastern Indigo Snake © Jungle Pete Corradino

The problem is four fold.

1) They share subterranean Gopher Tortoise dens, as do rattlesnakes. For years collectors and hunters would gas the dens to round up the rattlers and the Indigos and Tortoises paid the price as well.

2) This hefty snake is amazingly beautiful with gleaming blue-to-black scales from head to tail that give it a glass-blown look. Certain individuals, including the one in my arms, also have a sunset-red pattern under the chin. These snakes were prized for many years by collectors and despite their protected status today, are still poached from the wild.

3) Invasive fire ants do harm to snakes and eggs, while feral hogs destroy nests as well.

4) The greatest problem facing the Indigo today is habitat destruction. The snake prefers dry habitat such as Saw Palmetto scrub bordered by a water source. They feed on a wide variety of species including reptiles, amphibians, small mammals and birds. (Growing up at the Florida Monkey Sanctuary, we had an Indigo famously slither into a cage and sadly, eat one of the rescued animals. It had to wait until it had fully digested its meal before it could exit the cage.)

Eastern Indigo Snake

Eastern Indigo Snake © Jungle Pete Corradino

When land is slated to be cleared in Indigo habitat, developers are required to post educational Indigo Snake Protection Plan posters to inform the public about the species whose habitat they have just destroyed.

On a more positive note, an Indigo was recently spotted on Captiva Island in SW Florida for the first time since 1988. November is the start of the Indigo breeding season. Indigo boys and girls mate and disperse but what comes next is a mystery. It has been suggested that the Indigo girls nest in tortoise holes where eggs incubate for roughly 90 days to the sweet melodies of American folk rock. Or so I’m told.

Make No Mistake – Pygmies and Diamondbacks

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Monday, November 5th, 2012
Rattlesnakes

Top Photo: Eastern Diamond-back Rattlesnake Bottom Photo: Pygmy Rattlesnake © Jungle Pete Corradino

Make No Mistake – Pygmies and Diamondbacks

A young boy about the age of nine came to my place of employment and with snake in hand, asked what kind it was and if we wanted it. It was a Pygmy Rattlesnake. As boys will do, he saw a snake and picked it up, having no idea how dangerous the venomous pit viper was. It was safely taken from him and returned to the wild.

On a recent tour of the Everglades, I spotted a dark line across a back country road ahead of the tour van. “Lines” often turn out to be palm fronds, shredded tires or shotgun-peppered beer cans but as I approached it became apparent it was a snake. As I drove closer I could see that what appeared to be an 18-inch snake had a triangular head, typical of pit vipers, so I announced “rattlesnake” with a great deal of enthusiasm. (top photo). A tourist yelled “run it over”.

Blame it on the early morning 48-degree South Florida chill, the late afternoon glare of the sun, or the garlic biscuits I had at lunch. I called it a Pygmy Rattlesnake. I was really wrong. Both snakes in the photo are roughly the same size. Both are rattlesnakes found in the Everglades. Both have distinctive patterns. My brain directed me to the tail and the modified keratin skin cells that make up the rattle. From the safety of my perch in the driver’s seat I could see little to no rattle and the size suggested it was a Pygmy Rattlesnake which only get to be about 30 inches. I did note that the distinctive brown spots between the black spots were missing.

I failed to notice the most obvious characteristic that identifies this snake – the diamonds on its back. Yes, this very young snake is an Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnake. Duh.

Tire tracks seemed to lead right up to it and over it and the snake looked flat in the road. It did not move and I jumped to the conclusion that it had been run over as many snakes often are out of fear and ignorance. I got out of the van, picked up a palm frond and cautiously nudged it. It twitched, inflated itself and slithered off the road.

Diamondback or Pygmy, make no mistake, both are dangerous but still a sight to see.

All We Have To Fear…

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Monday, October 29th, 2012

All We Have To Fear © Jungle Pete

All We Have To Fear… by Jungle Pete Corradino 

Arachnids with web spinning architectural prowess
Long-legged daddies with eight legs more or less
Brown furred mammalians with leathery wings
These are a few of my favorite things

Snakes striped with colors that will kill-a-fella
Turtles accused of passing salmonella
Poisonous ivy that desperately clings
These are a few of my favorite things

Aquatic finned creatures with razor sharp gnashers
Thundering, bumbling, honeycomb crashers
Well armored grubbers with nine banded rings
These are a few of my favorite things

When people fear them
When they kill them
This makes me mad
Please would you respect my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Dinosaurs Found in Nevada!

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Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Grallator tracks are those footprints made by small theropod dinosaurs (two-legged, three-toed, meat-eating dinosaurs.) The tracks and trackways were made 180 to 190 million years ago during the Early Jurassic period and are found in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Photo courtesy of BLM

Dinosaurs Found in Nevada!

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) paleontologists have confirmed fossilized tracks (footprints) made 180 to 190 million years ago in sandstone within Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This is the first documented dinosaur tracksite in Nevada.

Dubbed the Red Rock Tracksite, dozens of tracks from the Early Jurassic period have currently been documented.

Red Rocks, Nevada Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

At this point, two types of tracks and trackways are recognized from the site:

  • Grallator tracks are footprints made by small theropod dinosaurs (two-legged, three-toed, meat-eating dinosaurs)
  • Octopodichnus tracks are footprints made by arthropods (possibly similar to modern spiders and scorpions)

Grallator tracks are those footprints made by small theropod dinosaurs (two-legged, three-toed, meat-eating dinosaurs.) The tracks and trackways were made 180 to 190 million years ago during the Early Jurassic period and are found in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The sheet shows an ID of Grallator track. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Because of the fragile nature of fossils such as these, the specific location of the Red Rock Tracksite is not being released at this time.

Grallator tracks are those footprints made by small theropod dinosaurs (two-legged, three-toed, meat-eating dinosaurs.) The tracks and trackways were made 180 to 190 million years ago during the Early Jurassic period and are found in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The bar in the photo is used for 3D photo imagery and is about one foot long. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

BLM will partner with researchers to collect more data and further research the tracksite as well as create a monitoring plan and management plan.

Red Rocks, Nevada Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

An interpretive display about the Red Rock Tracksite will soon be available at the visitor center and more information will also be posted on the BLM website.

Grallator tracks are those footprints made by small theropod dinosaurs (two-legged, three-toed, meat-eating dinosaurs.) The tracks and trackways were made 180 to 190 million years ago during the Early Jurassic period and are found in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. This fossilized print also shows a ripple mark. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

The tracksite was discovered by Red Rock visitors. Many significant discoveries are made by the public who work with public land managers and professional paleontologists to discover, record and preserve paleontological resources on public lands. If you discover tracks or trackways at Red Rock Canyon, please call 702-515-5350 as soon as possible and provide information about location and photographs.

Octopodichnus tracks are those footprints made by arthropods (possibly similar to modern spiders and scorpions.) The tracks and trackways were made 180 to 190 million years ago during the Early Jurassic period and are found in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Please help protect paleontological sites. It is illegal to dig, remove, or collect vertebrate fossils without a permit. Never take molds or castings, or apply anything to fossils including trackways. Never drive over, walk on or sit on fossils.

Octopodichnus tracks are those footprints made by arthropods (possibly similar to modern spiders and scorpions.) The tracks and trackways were made 180 to 190 million years ago during the Early Jurassic period and are found in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The bar in the photo is used for 3D photo imagery and is about three feet long. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

Did You Know: Petrified Forest National Park

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Thursday, October 11th, 2012
Petrified Forest National Park

Photo Courtesy of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park

34.910147° N 109.807377° W

Petrified Forest National Park, located on the Colorado Plateau in northeastern Arizona, is known for its Late Triassic fossils. Here you’ll find native Arizona grassland, mesas, buttes, rivers, springs, and wildflowers. Over 13,000 years of human history and culture can be found here. Best known for globally significant Late Triassic fossils, the park attracts many researchers. Geologists study the multi-hued Chinle Formation. Archeologists research over 13,000 years of history. Biologists explore one of the best remnants of native Arizona grassland. Air quality is an ongoing study in the park. Discover your own passion at Petrified Forest!

Petrified Forest National Park

Photo Courtesy of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park

1 Park Road
P.O. Box 2217
Petrified Forest, AZ 86028

(928) 524-6228

Petrified Forest National Park

Photo Courtesy of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Did you know? Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park has one of the most diverse collections of prehistoric pottery fragments in the Southwest.

The ecosystem at Petrified Forest National Park is not a desert. It’s one of the largest areas of intact grassland in the Southwest.

Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park unit to protect a section of Historic Route 66!

In addition to the world-class fossil record at Petrified Forest National Park, archeological resources are so abundant and so significant that they could stand alone within their own park!

On clear days in the Southwest, especially on crisp, cold winter days, you can see landscape features almost 100 miles away!

Petrified Forest National Park

Photo Courtesy of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Nature

Birds:

A bird list can be found here.

Petrified Forest National Park

Pronghorn Photo Courtesy of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Mammals:

Coyote, Gray Fox, Swift Fox, Bobcat, Mule Deer, Pronghorn, Ringtail, Raccoon, Badger, Striped Skunk, Western Spotted Skunk, Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Desert Cottontail, Desert Shrew, Pallid Bat, Townsend’s Big-eared Bat, California Myotis, Fringed Myotis, Yuma Myotis, Canyon Bat, Porcupine, Gunnison’s Prairie Dog, White-tailed Antelope Squirrel, Spotted Ground Squirrel, Rock Squirrel, Botta’s Pocket Gopher, White-throated Woodrat, Stephens’ Woodrat, Ord’s Kangaroo Rat, Silky Pocket Mouse, Northern Grasshopper Mouse, Brush Mouse, Canyon Mouse, White-footed Mouse, Deer Mouse, Pinon Mouse, Western Harvest Mouse, House Mouse

Eastern Collard Lizard

Eastern Collard Lizard © Rod Planck, Photo Researchers, Inc.

Reptiles and Amphibians:

Tiger Salamander, Great Plains Toad, Red-spotted Toad, Woodhouse’s Toad, Couch’s Spadefoot, Mexican Spadefoot, Plains Spadefoot. Reptiles are Plateau Striped Whiptail, Eastern Collared Lizard, Common Lesser Earless Lizard, Greater Short-horned lizard, Sagebrush Lizard, Plateau Lizard, Common Side-blotched Lizard, Ornate Box Turtle, Glossy Snake, Rattlesnake, Nightsnake, Common Kingsnake, Milksnake, Pai Striped Whiptail, New Mexico Whiptail, Striped Whipsnake, Gophersnake, Black-necked Gartersnake

Colorado Pinyon Pine

Colorado Pinyon Pine © Lance Beeny

Trees:

Two needle Pinyon/Pinyon Pine, One Seed Juniper, Little Utah Juniper, James Narrow Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Narrow Leaf Willow, Coyote Willow, Goodding’s Willow, Russian Olive, Tamarisk, Nevada Jointfir, Torrey’s Jointfir, Siberian Elm

Wildflowers:

A wildflower list can be found here.

Petrified Forest National Park

Photo Courtesy of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

 

Petrified Forest National Park

Photo Courtesy of Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

What Not To Lick – The Southern Toad

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Monday, October 8th, 2012
Southern Toad

Southern Toad © Jungle Pete Corradino

What Not To Lick – The Southern Toad by Jungle Pete

I had a dream about the game show Family Feud the other night. The one hosted by Richard Dawson, the guy that kissed all of the ladies.

He said “One hundred people surveyed, top five answers on the board. Here’s the question: name me something you lick.”

I couldn’t think. I panicked. Frozen flag poles. Lobsters. Newborns (no that’s what animals do). Toads!

“Show me Toads!”

XXX

Yeah that’s a bad idea. Toads in general have a powerful defense in the form of bufotoxin, a white venomous substance that is secreted through the “warts” on their skin. Licking the neurotoxin of a toad would be harmful and potentially fatal. In fact it’s illegal to produce drugs from toad venom in the U.S.

I had a dog when I was young that would routinely pick toads up in its mouth, quickly drop them and then froth at the mouth to eliminate the toxin. He often looked rabid. Did he learn? No and he repeated this behavior despite the negative reinforcement of the painful experience. Both the dog and toads survived nonetheless.

The Southern Toad (Anaxyrus terrestris) has bumpy skin with two large kidney-shaped parotoid glands behind the eyes. It is best not to handle toads and these bumps especially should be avoided. Southern Toads can reach lengths of over 3.5 inches, are slow hoppers and are found near water in sandy soiled areas. They’re also the ones hanging around your doorstep at night feeding on bugs. Keep the dog inside. During the day they dig a burrow to protect their moist skin from the long sunny days in the Southeastern United States.

In the spring, females will find a slow-flowing body of water and lay duel strands of thousands of gelatinous eggs that will hatch within 2-3 days. Once the tadpoles develop feet, thousands of them will disperse together on rainy nights, but their neurotoxin offers no defense for what awaits them on the roads.

You may have better ideas of what’s acceptable to lick. Just remember toads are not one of them.

When in Drought – The Roseate Spoonbill

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Monday, September 10th, 2012

When in Drought – The Roseate Spoonbill by Jungle Pete Corradino

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbills © Jungle Pete Corradino

I could be a meteorologist in Florida. In May the weather forecast is a chance of rain through November. The rainy season coincides with the tropical storm season. A nice afternoon rain shower is par for the course on any given day.

Lake Trafford is a 1600 acre inland lake in northeast Collier County. It’s been called the headwaters of the western Everglades. There are no springs or creeks to fill it up. The lake relies solely on rain water. At its deepest point it’s about thirteen feet deep. As the afternoon rains have fallen across south Florida, the clouds have parted as they’ve passed the lake. When Tropical Storm Isaac skirted the gulf coast, rain bands slipped past the lake on either side. The result is a 1600 acre lake that has dried down to about 1200 acres with mudflats extending far out from shore. The lake is more than four to five feet lower than normal.

The consequence is a high concentration of American Alligators, estimated at about 3000-4000. A variety of wading birds are also enjoying the late summer shallows. The Roseate Spoonbills are most conspicuous. In a landscape of leafy greens and muddy browns, the cotton candy pink plumage of the spoonbills is a carnival of contrast.

The bald-headed, spatula-spoon-billed bird has a distinct method of feeding, sweeping the bill back and forth over the shallow mudflats, sucking in water, fish, crustaceans and insects and straining out anything undesirable through its serrated-edged bill. The pink is diet related. Certain algae contain carotenoid pigments which shrimp consume and then pass on to spoonbills. These pigments are displayed in the pink flight feathers as well as the creamcicle-orange tail feathers.

Spoonbill populations have suffered for over a century in part from plumage hunters who collected the feathers for ornamentation in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Populations declined further due to the use of the chemical pesticide DDT that caused thinning of the eggshells and low birthrates. The population has increased in the last few years and despite the lack of rain on Lake Trafford, the low water has created a refuge of sorts. If every cloud has a silver lining, than it’s reflection on Lake Trafford is pink.

Leading Lizard

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Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Leaping Lizard by Jack Ballard

Desert Collared Lizard

Desert Collared Lizard © Jack Ballard

I nearly miss sighting the creature, though my footsteps on an arid path take me within an arm’s length of its motionless body. A large lizard basks contentedly on a rock. While I’m sweating with exertion and in response to the intense summer sun, this fellow looks downright comfortable.

Stopping to observe my reptilian trail-mate, my eyes are immediately drawn to an unusual band of color circling its neck just above its shoulders. The band consists of two stripes of black, sandwiching a lighter streak of white.

I move closer to take a photo. The lizard’s unblinking eye betrays no hint of my presence. The utter stillness of its body seems relaxed, even confident. I slide in a few more inches to compose a more interesting portrait. Suddenly the reptile cocks its head a bit higher and opens its mouth, clearly an indication of displeasure. Although I know it’s not going to attack me, its actions are intimidating.

As it turns out, I’m not the only one a bit unnerved by a handsome Desert Collared Lizard. The leading lizard in many areas, collared lizards often prey on their own kind, running down smaller lizards and gobbling them with their large mouths and strong jaws. Collared lizards have large hind feet, which allow them to run upright, similar to a human.

After a somewhat startling experience with this bold lizard, I turn my own two legs up the trail.