Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Human modified California kingsnakes now invasive species in the Canary Islands

The LA Times is carrying the following story. 

By Louis Sahagun
April 27, 2014, 5:05 p.m.

An albino variety of California kingsnake popular in the pet trade has infested the Canary Islands, decimating native bird, mammal and lizard species that have had no time to evolve evasive patterns in what was once a stable ecology northwest of Africa.

Unchecked by natural predators, the kingsnake population has exploded, say U.S. Geological Survey biologists helping the Spanish archipelago attempt to control the highly adaptive and secretive predators.
"The kingsnakes in question are from a species found in San Diego and bred in captivity," said Robert Fisher, a research biologist with the USGS. "Some of their offspring wound up in the Canary Islands via the international pet trade, and then got loose.

"Now, their densities are going through the roof."

Fisher is among three U.S. experts heading to the Canary Islands in May to advise scientists and government officials on the behavior and potential vulnerabilities of the snakes that first raised alarms in 2007.

Since then, their populations have swelled to thousands per square mile in the eastern and northwestern portions of the 602-square-mile volcanic island of Gran Canaria — a kingsnake haven because of its mild temperatures, moist ocean air and lush terrain teeming with prey that never learned to fear snakes.
Dogs and hawks have been used in organized assaults against the snakes. So far, fewer than 2,000 have been snared, most of them discovered slithering over the ground.

"The trouble is, these snakes spend much of their lives beneath the ground," said Robert Reed, an invasive species specialist with the USGS. "So my message to people in the Canaries will be this: The fact that you're removing hundreds of visible snakes means, unfortunately, that it is likely that there are many, many thousands more out there you can't see."

Brian Hinds, president of the California chapter of the North American Field Herping Assn., will arrive in Gran Canaria with proposals for dealing with what he described as a "monumental task." Among them: plowing up infested areas with earth movers.

"They need to strike back hard and fast," said Hinds, who says he has personally captured more than 3,000 California kingsnakes. "They're not called kingsnakes for nothing."

The Canary Islands are another example of what can happen when an invasive snake gets a foothold in an otherwise balanced ecosystem. Brown tree snakes have established themselves as a breeding species in the Pacific island of Guam. The Florida Everglades have been invaded by Burmese pythons. The venomous wolf snake was introduced to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

In the Canary Islands, albino and striped varieties of California kingsnake, known in scientific texts as Lampropeltis getula californiae, are roughly 30% larger than their wild counterparts in Southern California.
"They are a heck of a generalist predator, so they'll be eating any lizard they can fit in their mouths," Reed said.

Canary Island biologists fear that the snakes may be nibbling three native species of gecko, skink and giant lizard into extinction.

"The data obtained show that the California kingsnake has a high ability to adapt and its spread to all of the islands is more than likely," said a 2012 study funded by the European Union and published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. "This snake will quite possibly impact the local reptilian population to the point where we see their total disappearance."

Canary Island officials hope to eventually reduce their numbers by half, if possible.

"Most control programs for invasive reptiles are initiated long after the problem has gotten out of hand," Reed said. "Unfortunately, this sort of thing will probably become more common as international borders fall, incomes rise and more people get interested in owning exotic pets."

Butler's garter snake postpones building a firehouse

Thamnophis butleri,(Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources)
The following story is being carried by the CBC News

A tender to build a new Windsor (Ontario, Canada) fire station has been cancelled.

A species at risk will delay the construction of the new Fire Station No. 5, proposed on the northeast corner of Daytona Avenue and Northwood Street, one block east of Huron Church Road.

City engineer Mario Sonego said the Butler's garter snake could live in the area and further environmental assessment must be completed before the project can move forward.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources indicated there is a species at risk issue we have to study and take care of. That’s going to delay us a few months,” Sonego told CBC Windsor's Lisa Xing on Tuesday.

According to Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources, the only place in the world where Butler’s garter snake is found is in the lower Great Lakes region.

The snake is concentrated in two areas: within 10 kilometers of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair, the St. Clair River, and Lake Huron from Amherst Point to Errol, in Essex and Lambton counties; and in Luther Marsh, Dufferin and Wellington counties.
The City of Windsor had planned to decommission three fire stations and build two new ones by Dec. 31 for $9 million.

A new Station No. 5 is planned at Northwood Street and Daytona Avenue and a new Station No. 2 is to be built at Milloy Street and Chandler Road. They are part of a restructuring plan designed to offset the cost of an arbitrator’s ruling that awarded Windsor firefighters a 15-per-cent wage increase and reduced their weekly hours of work from 48 to 42.

Sonego said the possibility of Butler’s garter snakes in the area came as a surprise.

“We didn’t think it was going to be an issue of species at risk. But the MNR says we need to deal with it,” he said. “We wouldn’t have put a tender out if we knew we’d have to cancel it.”

The fire hall site is near a portion of the new Herb Gray Parkway, which also had to deal with Butler’s Garter Snakes.

In 2010, a colony of Butler’s garter snakes was found less than one kilometer away from the site of the proposed fire station. The snakes were found southwest of where E.C. Row meets Huron Church Road and the Herb Gray Parkway veers off to the west.

According to the Herb Gray Parkway’s website, constructors relocated more than 400 Eastern Fox snakes and Butler’s Garter snakes to protected Tallgrass Prairie sites away from the parkway site.

Parkway constructors also relocated approximately 3,804 square meters of Tallgrass Prairie vegetation, which the Butler’s Garter Snake calls home.

Sonego remains confident the fire hall will get done.

“The fire hall is still going to go there. Some people think it’s cancelling the whole project, but that’s not the case,” he said. “There are very few things that can cancel a whole project. We just have to make the proper compensation and the project will move forward.

“Certainly, regulations are getting more complicated and certainly species at risk are very complicated and cumbersome. But it’s not going to stop the project.”

Sonego said the project just has “to be done responsibly.”

He said “a qualified, certified biologist will do the work” to determine if the snake is in the area.

Sonego said a new timeline for completion is being worked on.

Cathy Beaten lives near the Fire Station No. 5 on Cabana Road. Her mom lives next door to the hall. Beaten wants it to stay put.

Beaten said she's "praying" the Ministry of Natural Resources finds Butler's garter snakes.

"I want them to stay. I’m praying they stay. I don’t want them to leave," Beaten said. "It’s such an asset to our community."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Suizo Report -- CM16, Magellan

Howdy Herpers,                                               04/24/14

On the evening of 4 September, 2013, Typing Boy here was being led around the plot by Dr. Wolfgang Wuster’s students, who were visiting us from the UK. In what was one of many unwise decisions on my part, I handed the receiver off to them without full and proper personal preparation beforehand. Per a hastily-conceived battle plan, KIDS were allowed to do the tracking, whilst the pro followed, gutturally and mindlessly uttering the frequency of each animal to the would-be semi pros.  Each semi pro was to track his or her snake, and at the completion of each tracking cycle, the receiver was to be handed to the next person for their turn at it all. My biggest mistake that night was that I did not take the high ground for mass signaling, in order to establish an orderly route.

Hence, we plunged from the top of Little Hill--a good parking spot well to the east of Iron Mine Hill, to the valley below.  Thanks to the ineptness of the pro, we walked right past an easy target. We then proceeded to zoom (these youngsters move fast) to the top of Iron Mine Hill, where we eventually came upon a large boulder that hid our male tiger CT11. The receiver was then switched, and the easy target that we had earlier almost stepped on, female CM15, was dialed in. We plunged back down from Iron Mine Hill, all the way into the valley below, and found her up basking. The receiver, antenna, and various other accessories were then switched, and we dialed in female tiger CT13. Once again, we zoomed to the top of Iron Mine Hill, and wound up in front of the exact same boulder that CT11 resided under. This indicated that we had a pairing, which is good, but the discovery was made the hard way.

Now it was a young woman named Alex who got the receiver. On impulse, I instructed her to dial in 921 on the receiver.  She did so, and I was delighted to hear a sharp series of blips coming from the box. The snake that belonged to signal was a young male Black-tailed Rattlesnake, CM16. He was noticed missing in action on 1 September. This author blundered about the entire Suizo Range on this day, and could not get his signal from anywhere. On the UK night, he seemed like he was directly below us. Down the hill we plunged again.

As mentioned earlier, these kids moved fast, and worked well together. In no time flat, I could see from a great distance that the group had stopped, and were huddled around the receiver. Eventually, their elderly guide was able to huff and puff his way down to them. When I arrived, Alex gave me the news that the signal had died out on her. Sure enough, even though we twisted that dial all around 921, the signal was not to be found.

Hence, back to the top of Iron Mine Hill we went, back to the boulder that contained CT11 and CT13. The signal was extinct. Poof--gone! In desperation, the guide instructed Alex to dial in female tiger CT12. She came loud and clear, and the compliant group then plunged back down the hill, and walked to the edge of the planet to eventually find her up and basking.

I halfheartedly suggested that we next track female CM17, but thankfully, there was mutiny in the ranks. Fortunately, their Captain was also quite ready to throw up the white flag, and the coup was bloodless. We spent the rest of the evening barreling around the plot with seven students cramped into the bed of my pickup truck. This they seemed to embrace with much more relish than any thrill that radio tracking rattlesnakes might bring them. (These students loved the back of the pickup truck so much that they remained there for hours after we stopped cruising. They ignored the discomfort of being jammed together in favor of their beloved perch in the back of Great White).

On 7 September, Marty Feldner and John Slone teamed up to work the side of the hill that I had led the students 3 days previous. They were instructed that if they picked up the signal for CM16, to hone in on the general direction of said blips and stay with it--all the way to the big road if necessary. They got the signal, and like three nights previous, it died as soon as they got to the bottom of the hill. Per instructions, they walked in the direction of the big road, and never picked it up again. No doubt knowing that a severe tongue-lashing would meet them were they to fail in their endeavors, they even drove to the other side of the big road and continued the effort. It was all for naught. This was indicative of one of two things. It was either a quirky transmitter, or that snake had crawled well beyond the big road.

Finally, on 15 September, Marty Feldner found the lost sheep. He continued to head south of the big road, continuing the course that had been set eight days previous. CM16 was now 3,922 meters, or 2.44 miles, away from his previous tracking of 25 August. In 3 weeks time, he had boogied all the way to the base of Owl Head Buttes! But he wasn’t done yet……….

CM16, now also known as “Magellan,” came into our study on the evening of 28 September, 2012. He was a young snake, 663mm in length, (26 inches), 155 grams in mass, his rattle consisted of a basal, three segments, and a button. As he came into the study late in the year, we were only able to track him to three sites before he entered site 4, his hibernaculum. He entered this site on 4 November, 2012, and did not pop back out until 30 March, 2013. Site 4 was on the lower west side of Iron Mine Hill.

On 29 May, we captured him on the lower south side of Iron Mine Hill. He was now 707mm in length, (27.83 inches), his mass was 195 grams, and his rattle was basal plus four segments and a button. In short, he was a growing boy. We changed out his 5 gram transmitter in favor of a 9 gram transmitter (which gives us longer transmitter life), and set him loose at his second capture spot. At first, he seemed like he was going to establish his home range around the perimeter of Iron Mine Hill. And then he took off! By 20 September, he had moved an astounding 5,238 meters, or 3.25 miles, from his overwintering site. He then doubled back ever-so-slightly, but gained considerable elevation in the process.

Magellan never actually settled into one place for the winter. It is interesting to note that from 5 October to 18 April, he used 12 different sites. This was not nearly the case with the other five molossus under watch. Magellan seemed intent on seeking new hangouts. On several occasions, he utilized some rather cavernous openings in the sheer cliff face on the east flank of the Main Butte to go vertical on us. He would have been impossible to pinpoint exactly without rock climbing gear. Typing Boy here does not relish the notion of driving stakes and hanging ropes while carrying an antenna! Nothing but birdshit and fools fall from the sky, and I am neither. Meow…

At the point of this narrative, he has wrapped around the base of the massive cliff that Main Butte is composed of, and appears to be traveling southward, or away from, his previous home on Iron Mine Hill. His last tracking was on 18 April, and he was 4,928 meters, or 3.06 miles from home. The questions now are: How far will he go? Will he ever settle in to a normal home range? And of even more significance, how many animals make moves like this, and for what reason? And the final questions appear after the last image.

The dates of each attached image appear on the file extension. For our friends from other parts of the world, this hacker uses the standard USA designation of month/day/year. If that confuses you, no worries. You foreigners often do the day/month/year when writing me--and I figure it out.

Image 01: (By Marty Feldner) CM16 in situ, just prior to capture.

Image 02: Post capture. Note the tapered and complete rattle. CM16 is just about to enter his prime.

Image 03: (By Marty Feldner) Just out of his overwintering site.

Image 04: Going arboreal. At this point, he is midway up the south side of Iron Mine Hill.

Image 05: Looking south from the Southwest corner of the Suizo Mountains. Iron Mine Hill is in the foreground, the Owl Head Buttes are in the distance. Magellan is currently on the north-most, or closest, butte.

Image 06: This image is of “The Main Butte.”It was previously named by the DeNardo lab, who worked this miserably steep, treacherous and God-forsaken patch of ground for over ten years. Magellan overwintered on the east side of this scree-infested vertical hell hole, which is not visible in this image. He was last tracked on the west side, closest to the photographer.

Image 07: 26 October 2013. This is one of several places that Magellan occupied while bopping around on the east side of The Main Butte.upper north slope of North Butte.

Image 08: Zeroing in on the snake in image 07. This is the last image we have of him prior to the winter of 2013-2014. He’s a growing boy!

Image 09: Magellan coiled high and tight in an “I’m cold” posture. He was on the Image 08: Zeroing in on the snake in image 07. This is the last image we have of him prior to the winter of 2013-2014. He’s a growing boy!

Image 10: Looking across the expanse that Magellan has crossed. Note the absence of human habitation across the entire span of his travels. Imagine covering that distance, over three miles, on your belly!

Far too often, the most exciting events to occur with any given radio telemetry project seldom see the light of publication. When publishing or presenting data, we tend to focus on the bigger picture, the almighty “N,” while the truly incredible feats of individuals under our watch  wind up buried in charts, text, or other forms of overwhelming and indigestible gluts of information. We might recall some of these events while telling golly-gee stories to our peers, be that while sitting around a campfire or perched on a bar stool, but that is far as the best of the best of these observations ever get. And these observations are usually forgotten as soon as they are relayed.

Much is lost in our efforts to ignore highlighting the outlier animals in favor of the bulky body of information gathered on those that behave in what we perceive as “normal.” This is tragic, as the conservation-related aspects of telemetry studies might hinge on what is not normal. If 30 different studies each have one animal that travels great distances beyond what is perceived as normal, that would indicate that 30 different animals have clearly demonstrated the importance of wildlife corridors. But there is no way that any participants of such studies will ever know that others are seeing something similar--because we simply don’t know about them!

The author invites the reader to look at that last image again. In order to survive his travels, Magellan has had to elude hawks, badgers, bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions. Visualize an urban center between the Suizo Mountains and the Owl Head Buttes. Add dogs, cats, people and traffic as possible hindrances to his incredible journey. Would such a move be possible against these increased odds?

We can thank the housing crash of 2008 for putting an abrupt halt to the otherwise inevitable urban growth that the area surrounding the Suizo Mountains was about to experience. Sadly, said housing crash is behind us now. As these words are written, “Land for Sale” signs have popped up more prolifically than flies on a mangy skunk around the vicinity.  The juncture of Park Link Drive and Route 79 is about to fall to a stoplight, and the locals fear a shopping mall or worse will follow shortly after. Even Typing Boy here is thinking of investing his retirement funds in the vicinity, so that he too can reap the pecuniary benefits of a landscape being raped by progress. With Phoenix moving southward, and Tucson moving northward, such an investment is a sure bet.

Right here, right now, one can stand atop Iron Mine Hill and see nothing but reasonably pure (there is still cattle grazing, hunting, ATV traffic and wildcat shooting going on here) Sonoran Desert for over five miles in any direction. There is no unprotected place else like it left in Southern Arizona. It is all about to fall, and I don’t know what to do about it. While it’s not too late to stop the madness, the madness will triumph nonetheless.

A wise friend told me just today, “Don’t worry about it, Roger. Just enjoy what is there while you can. You’ll be dead by the time it’s over.” While truer words were never spoken, they still sting a bit.

This here is Roger Repp, signing off from Southern Arizona, where the turtles are still strong, the snakes are still handsome, and the lizards are still all above average. We should all enjoy that notion for as long as it lasts.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The black horned leaf frog is composed of multiple cryptic species

There are 31 horned leaf frogs in genus Proceratophrys which is distributed in Brazil, northeastern Argentina, and Paraguay. The Black Horned Frog, Proceratophrys melanopogon was described based on one adult female from Alto da Serra, Municipality of Paranapiacaba, São Paulo, Brazil in 1926. The species was not accepted as valid by some, but the species was revalidated in 1990 and data on morphology, and natural history became available. Proceratophrys melanopogon is restricted high elevations of the Atlantic rainforest of southeastern Brazil on the south, central, and northern portions of the State of Rio de Janeiro.
Mângia and colleagues (2014) recently reviewed of Proceratophrys melanopogon taxonomy based on morphological, morphometric, and bioacoustic data from across the species distribution. The results revealed four populations have sufficient differences in call and morphology to be considered as new species allied to Proceratophrys melanopogon.
The authors found P. gladius sp. nova and P. melanopogon living in sympatry in the Serra da Bocaina. The cryptic Proceratophrys melanopogon and P. mantiqueira sp nova share morphological characteristics, but they have differences in external morphology and advertisement calls that promptly distinguish them as distinct species. The geographic distributions of P. melanopogon and P. mantiqueira reflect the mountain ranges of the Atlantic Forest from southeastern Brazil.

Mângia S, Santana DJ, Gonçalves Cruz, CA,  Feio, RN. 2014. Taxonomic review of Proceratophrys melanopogon (Mirandaribeiro, 1926) with description of four new species (Amphibia, Anura, Odontophrynidae). Boletim Do Museu Nacional Zoology (531): 1-36.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Declining Central American Green Turtles

A 20-year assessment of Nicaragua's legal, artisanal green sea turtle fishery has uncovered a stark reality: greatly reduced overall catch rates of turtles in what may have become an unsustainable take, according to conservation scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Florida.

During the research period, conservation scientists estimated that more than 170,000 green turtles were killed between 1991 and 2011, with catch rates peaking in 1997 and 2002 and declining steeply after 2008, likely resulting from over-fishing. The trend in catch rates, the authors of the assessment results maintain, indicates the need for take limits on this legal fishery.

The study now appears in the online journal PLOS ONE. The authors are: Cynthia J. Lagueux and Cathi L. Campbell of the University of Florida (formerly of the Wildlife Conservation Society), and Samantha Strindberg of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"The significant decrease in the catch rates of green turtles represents a concern for both conservationists and local, coastal communities who depend on this resource," said Dr. Lagueux, lead author of the study. "We hope this study serves as a foundation for implementing scientifically based limits on future green turtle take."

Caribbean coastal waters of Nicaragua contain extensive areas of sea grass, principal food source for green turtles, the only herbivorous sea turtle species. Green turtles in turn support a number of indigenous Miskitu and Afro-descendant communities that rely on the marine reptiles for income (by selling the meat) and as a source of protein.

The catch data used by the researchers to estimate trends was gathered by community members at 14 different sites located in two geographically political regions of the Nicaraguan coast. The research team analyzed the long-term data set to examine catch rates for the entire fishery, each region, and for individual turtle fishing communities using temporal trend models.

Over the duration of the assessment, the scientists recorded that at least 155,762 green turtles were caught; the overall estimated catch (factoring in estimated take during periods when data were not recorded) was 171,556 turtles. The average catch rate per fishing trip (assuming average fishing effort in terms of nets used and trip length) revealed an overall decline from 6.5 turtles to 2.8 turtles caught, representing a 56 percent decline over two decades.

In individual communities, catch rate declines ranged between 21 percent and 90 percent in green turtles caught over the 20-year period.

"These declining catch rates align with our survival rate estimates of green turtles exposed to the Nicaragua turtle fishery and population modelling, which suggested the fishery was not sustainable at high take levels reported in the 1990s," said Dr. Cathi Campbell.

The steep declines in green turtle catch rates, the researchers maintain, indicate a potential decline of green turtle populations that use Nicaragua's foraging grounds, particularly smaller rookeries in the Caribbean. The scientists note that the study results highlight the need for not only close monitoring of rookeries in the region, but also in-water aggregations of green turtles. Further, future research efforts should include the use of molecular technology to better refine Caribbean green turtle genetic stocks, specifically to identify populations most at risk from turtle fisheries.

"Given the importance of green turtles to Nicaragua's past, present and future, we encourage the communities, governmental agencies, and conservation groups to take measures that conserve and sustain these globally threatened populations, and to work together to ensure that the communities have alternative sources of protein and income into the future," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of WCS's Marine Program.

Growing up to 400 pounds in weight, the green turtle is the second largest sea turtle species next to the leatherback turtle. The reptile inhabits the tropical and subtropical waters of the world. The species is listed as Endangered on the IUCN's Red List and on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) as an Appendix I species, a designation which prohibits all international commercial trade by member countries. In addition to the threat from overfishing (intentional take), the green turtle is at risk from bycatch in various fisheries (unintended take), poaching of eggs at nesting beaches, habitat deterioration and loss due to coastal development and climate change effects, and pollution.

Cynthia J. Lagueux, Cathi L. Campbell, Samantha Strindberg. Artisanal Green Turtle, Chelonia mydas, Fishery of Caribbean Nicaragua: I. Catch Rates and Trends, 1991–2011. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (4): e94667 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0094667

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On the importance of natural history

Support in developed countries for natural history -- the study of the fundamental nature of organisms and how and where they live and interact with their environment -- appears to be in steep decline. Yet natural history provides essential knowledge for fields as varied as human health, food security, conservation, land management, and recreation. In the April issue of BioScience, a group of scientists from institutions across North America details examples supporting their conviction that a revitalization of the practice of natural history will provide important benefits for science and society.

The 17-member group of authors, convened by Joshua J. Tewksbury of the University of Washington and the World Wide Fund for Nature's International office, notes that 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases of humans, including avian influenza, Lyme disease, cholera, and rabies, are linked to other animals at some point in their life cycle. Control strategies rely on knowledge of these hosts' natural history.

Sustainable agricultural practices, such as companion planting, crop rotation, and pest control, likewise rely on knowledge of natural history, much of which was, however, discarded with the Green Revolution. Effective fisheries management relies on natural history -- disasters such as the collapse of the Bering Sea walleye pollock fishery might have been avoided had it been used sooner. Rigorous forest fire suppression in the western United States during much of the twentieth century was another costly mistake that might have ended sooner if natural history knowledge had been used earlier. And recreational hunting and fishing have often benefited when interest groups applied knowledge of natural history and suffered when it was ignored.
Despite this, natural history collections are not expanding, and the number of active herbaria has declined since 1990 in Europe and North America. The majority of US schools now have no natural history requirements for a biology degree, a trend that has coincided with the rise of molecular, experimental, theoretical, and other forms of biology. These types of biology may be less expensive or be more likely to attract large grants and public recognition. The stagnation could also reflect more general public disengagement with nature in developed countries.

Although biological modeling has become more sophisticated, Tewksbury and his coauthors note that models must be built on field observations to usefully represent the real world. The important influence of microbes on human health and plants is a key new frontier in natural history research, the authors believe. And they see hope for the discipline, both within and outside of traditional natural history collections, in the rise of Internet- and smart phone-based technologies that allow the growth of broad partnerships, including citizen-science initiatives. Such linkages are starting to develop, but will need established professionals to self-identify as natural historians to provide the leadership needed for natural history to reclaim its necessary role, the authors assert

J. j. Tewksbury, J. G. T. Anderson, J. D. Bakker, T. J. Billo, P. W. Dunwiddie, M. J. Groom, S. E. Hampton, S. G. Herman, D. J. Levey, N. J. Machnicki, C. M. del Rio, M. E. Power, K. Rowell, A. K. Salomon, L. Stacey, S. C. Trombulak, T. A. Wheeler. Natural History's Place in Science and Society. BioScience, 2014; DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biu032.

Suizo Report -- Plot Biscuits

Howdy Herpers,                                     04/14/14

We trust that your inbox has been devoid of Suizo Reports lately? The president of the THS can’t imagine what he has been doing with all of his free time………..

We should take a moment to explain the numbers that appear in parenthesis after the snake numbers for any of the people on this list who don’t live, breathe, and die herps. No, we don’t have 3.6 Tiger Rattlesnakes---although tracking 6 tenths of a tiger might be as exciting as tracking a whole one. No, the first number is always a male--until somebody changes that. Just as sure as shootin, some idiot is going to come along and mess with that someday soon. But for now, the numerical logic stands thusly. Males first! (Dammit).  

By early March, all 2.4 of the molossus were jacked up and on the move. At the date of this writing, only two tigers, 1.1, have made any movements to speak of. But those 2 are off and running now.

We’ve already had two major feeding events. On 29 March, Marty and I tracked our big male molossus CM12 “Jerry” to a hackberry thicket in Suizo Wash. (That’s right, he is already off Iron Mine Hill and heading for his summer range--which goes as far as 2 miles west of his overwintering site). As pictures 1 and 2 clearly demonstrate, he has choked down something big. Our first guess is a rock squirrel, but it could also be a big packrat. Picture 3 shows him, still at the same location, on 12 April. That is by far the oddest basking posture I’ve seen to date with any species of rattlesnake.

Also on 29 March, our sweet young female tiger CT13, “Katey” was carrying an enormous food bolus. Were I to venture a guess, it would be a large adult K-rat. In any case, I’m sure that most would agree the bolus is mammalian in shape. Picture #4 in this report is the first in a series of the digestive process, and was taken on 29 March. Picture #5 was taken on 5 April, and picture #6 on 12 April. Note that the bolus has shifted toward her cloaca in this last image of her.

There is much more to report, but in the spirit of getting this sent off today, we stop here.  

This here is Roger Repp, signing off from paradise, where the turtles are strong, the snakes are handsome, and the lizards are all above average. I hope to see a bunch of you tomorrow night!

We currently have 16 rattlesnakes carrying transmitters. One of these is a young male Western-Diamond-backed Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox). This snake has been a crashing bore, a veritable dud-in-the-mud. Watching wet paint dry would be more exciting. Hence, we are done talking about his sorryass. We have a total of six (2.4) Black-tailed Rattlesnakes (Crotalus molossus), and nine (3.6) Tiger Rattlesnakes (Crotalus tigris).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Saint-Girons' Sea Krait uses nurseries

Sea kraits (Laticauda) are amphibious snakes widely distributed in the coral reefs of the East Indian and West Pacific Ocean. They forage in the ocean but return to land, usually coralline islets, for resting, shedding skin, an
d digesting prey. Their dependence on coastal terrestrial habitats puts them at risk because of  increasing human populations and rapid industrial and mining developments that threaten coastlines. Human activities also contaminate the prey consumed by sea snakes. Many populations of sea kraits collapsed during the last three decades, due to habitat loss and massive harvesting for the leather industry.

Sea kraits are oviparous, and they lay their eggs on land. Communal nesting in tidal caves has been observed in two species (L. semifasciata and L. schistorhyncha) in Philippines, Taiwan and Niue islands. This information is anecdotal and the oviposition sites remain unknown for the six other species of  Laticauda. Additionally there are no data concerning the ecology of neonates or juveniles.

In a new study Bonnet and colleagues provide the first ecological data available on juveniles and coastal nurseries and propose simple practical conservation actions.

The study revealed that in New Caledonia, the maintenance of most yellow sea krait populations depends on few coastal nurseries. The populations contains a very small number of neonates or juveniles, thus local recruitment is extremely low. Careful long-term surveys of tens of islets in the southwestern-lagoon enabled us to find only two important and highly localized nurseries, respectively situated on two islands separated by 161 km: Verte Islet in the North and Ouen Island in the South. Ouen Island was remarkable, however, for two reasons: first the very high number of neonates and juveniles associated with very small number of adults was very unusual; second, this island is surrounded by many very different colonies. Ouen Island is indeed situated in a very large part of the lagoon; the barrier reef is more than 60 km offshore. This region of the lagoon contains many islets, essentially or exclusively populated by adults, spread from the line-coast to the barrier reef. This pattern suggests that likely hundreds of females converge every year to Ouen Island to lay their eggs.

Sea kraits are characterized by a low fecundity. In L. saintgironsi, the mean clutch size is 3.3 and females breed every two years on average. Considering the crude neonate number we estimated (~1,700), more than 500 females laid their eggs in the nursery during the winter 2010. There is no colony that shelters such a corresponding high number of reproductive females. Adult sea kraits display a very high fidelity to their colony, but very few adult females have been observed in Ouen Island. Thus, most of the females traveled from distant sites (sometimes more than 50 km) toward Ouen Island, and later returned home after having laid their three eggs. Ouen Island and possibly other similar nursery locations (yet undiscovered) likely supply a large proportion of juveniles for most populations of yellow sea kraits.

The authors did not find the nests (probably deeply hidden into crevices) and hence could not measure the specific environmental conditions in the laying sites, peculiar environmental conditions that prevail in coastal versus offshore sites might explain why many gravid females converged to the nurseries. In oviparous reptiles, incubation requires well-buffered thermal and hydric conditions. Ouen Island is a large basaltic island, physically extremely different from the flat sandy coralline islets that shelter most colonies. Coastal sites catch greater amount of rain and ambient temperature is more stable compared to remote islets. Thus, rocky coastal shores may provide thermally buffered and relatively humid microhabitats that are suitable for incubation. Interestingly, in the Ouen Island nursery, during the egg-laying period in late November, the authors found seven adult sea kraits sheltered in crevices under large rocks situated 50 m inshore, six were females and five were gravid. In strong contrast, in offshore sandy islets, large protective rocky structures and neonates are absent.

The Ouen Island nursery plays another essential role. The clearly multimodal distribution of body sizes shifted over seasons and  recapture data suggests the existence of successive cohorts of young snakes. Many juveniles belonging to each cohort remained in the nursery over prolonged periods (several months). During this time they do feed and grow. This suggests that many juveniles utilize the nursery before dispersal across the lagoon. Although mortality accounted for an unknown proportion of the progressive decrease in the size of each cohort, dispersal was important in this process as revealed by the very low local recruitment rate and the very small number of adults. Ouen Island nursery functions as dispersal springboard for juveniles. In 2012, we recaptured an adult yellow sea krait marked as a neonate in Ouen Island in 2010 on an islet situated 18 km away.  This information is anecdotal, but this nonetheless demonstrates the great dispersal ability of very small sea kraits, and the fast growth rate of juveniles.

Protecting nurseries should be a conservation priority to protect laying females, nesting sites, neonates, and  juveniles during a prolonged pre-dispersal phase. In addition, building artificial laying sites in coralline islets may represent an option to promote recruitment in threatened populations; such constructions also offer appropriate shelters to adult snakes.

Bonnet X, Brischoux F, Bonnet C, Plichon P, Fauvel T (2014) Coastal Nurseries and Their Importance for Conservation of Sea Kraits. PLoS ONE 9(3): e90246. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090246

Climate change impacts reptiles and birds in the southwest

Arizona Black Rattlesnake, Crotalus cerberus
Awareness and acceptance of climate change is slowly spreading  in American society. In a report released by the USGS' Department of the Interior reports the results of modeling current and  future breeding ranges of seven bird and five reptile species in the Southwestern United States with sets of landscape, biotic (plant), and climatic global circulation model (GCM) variables. Charles van Ripper and colleagues (2014) considered climatic, landscape, and plant variables to developing and testing probabilistic models. Climatic variables included the maximum and minimum mean monthly and seasonal temperature as well as precipitation for three time periods. Landscape features included terrain ruggedness and insolation. They also considered plant species distributions as candidate explanatory variables where prior ecological knowledge implicated a strong association between a plant and animal species.

Projected changes in range varied widely among species, from major losses to major gains. Breeding bird ranges exhibited greater expansions and contractions than did reptile species. The authors projected range losses for Williamson’s sapsucker and pygmy nuthatch of a magnitude that could move these two species close to extinction within the next century. Although both species currently have a relatively limited distribution, they can be locally common, and neither are presently considered candidates for prospective endangerment. Breeding bird ranges exhibited greater expansions and contractions than did reptile species.

The authors also project range losses of over 40 percent, from its current extent of occurrence, for the plateau striped whiptail, Arizona black rattlesnake, and common lesser earless lizard. Currently, these reptile species are thought to be common or at least locally abundant throughout their ranges.  The total contribution of plants in each distribution model was very small, but models that contained at least one plant always outperformed models with only physical variables (climatic or landscape). The magnitude of change in projected range increased further into the future, especially when a plant was in the model.

Bird species with the strongest association to a landscape feature during the breeding season, such as terrain ruggedness and insolation, exhibited the smallest contractions in projected breeding range in the future. In contrast, bird species that had weak associations with landscape features, but strong climatic associations, suffered the greatest breeding range contractions. Thus, landscape effects appeared to buffer some of the negative effects of climate change for some species.

The magnitude of change in projected bird  breeding range was positively related to the annual average temperature of their baseline distribution, thus species with the warmest breeding ranges exhibited the greatest changes in future breeding ranges. This pattern was not evident for reptiles, but might exist if additional species were included in the model.

The results provide managers with a series of projected range maps that will enable scientists, concerned citizens, and wildlife managers to identify what the potential effects of climate change will be on bird and reptile distributions in the Western United States. The authors  hope that the results can be used in proactive ways to mitigate some of the potential effects of climate change on selected species.

The entire document is available on-line.

Charles van Riper III, James R. Hatten, J. Tom Giermakowski, David Mattson, Jennifer A. Holmes, Matthew J. Johnson, Erika M. Nowak, Kirsten Ironside, Michael Peters, Paul Heinrich, K. L. Cole, C. Truettner, and Cecil R. Schwalbe 2014. Projecting Climate Effects on Birds and Reptiles of the Southwestern United States. Open-File Report 2014-1050, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. 100 pp

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The monotypic Alligator Snapping Turtle is now three species

The Alligator Snapping Turtle, Macrochelys temminckii, has gone from being a monotypic species of southeastern North American rivers and the main ingredient in turtle soup to an endangered species that is now three distinct species. This transformation took less than 50 years. Thomas et al. (2014) note previous molecular analyses using mitochondrial and nuclear DNA suggested Macrochelys exhibited significant genetic variation across its range and includes three distinct genetic assemblages (western, central, and eastern = Suwannee).

However, no taxonomic revision or morphological analyses have been conducted previously. Thomas et al.  tested previous hypotheses of geographic assemblages by examining morphology, reanalyzing phylogeographic genetic structure, and estimating divergence dating among lineages. They reviewed the fossil record and discuss phylogeographic and taxonomic implications of the existence of three distinct evolutionary lineages. They found morphological and molecular data suggest significant geographical variation and suggest three species-level breaks among genetic lineages that correspond to previously hypothesized genetic assemblages. The holotype of Macrochelys temminckii is from the western lineage. They describe two new species: Macrochelys apalachicolae sp. nov. from the central lineage and Macrochelys suwanniensis sp. nov. from the eastern lineage (Suwannee River drainage). Their estimates of divergence times suggest that the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of M. temminckii (western) and M. apalachicolae (central) existed 3.2–8.9 Ma during the late Miocene to late Pliocene, whereas M. temminckii-M. apalachicolae and M. suwanniensis last shared a MRCA 5.5–13.4 Ma during the mid-Miocene to early Pliocene. Examination of fossil material revealed that the fossil taxon Macrochelys floridana is actually a large Chelydra. 


Thomas, TM, Granatosky, MC, Bourque JR, Krysko, KL, Moler, PE, Gambel, T, Suarez, E., Enge, KM, and Roman, J. 2014.  Taxonomic assessment of Alligator Snapping Turtles (Chelydridae: Macrochelys), with the description of two new species from the southeastern United States. Zootaxa 3786 (2): 141–165  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Indigo Snake and the Mine

The Eastern Indigo Snake. Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service
By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
April 6, 2014

The expansion of a rock mine in southwestern Palm Beach County could kill up to a dozen federally protected eastern indigo snakes, the longest native snake in North America, according to a wildlife agency report.

The Star Ranch is seeking permission from the Army Corps of Engineers to expand its limestone mine by 1.4 square miles to produce construction materials for roads, Everglades restoration and other projects. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the work could "crush indigo snakes, their nests and eggs," killing up to 12 of the 23 that may live there.

None of the snakes, which can reach a length of up to eight and a half feet, have been seen on the property, the wildlife service said. But the service said the site is the type of land they use, they have been seen around it and they're difficult to find because they live primarily underground.

Noel Shapiro, a sugar cane farmer who owns the property, could not be reached for comment, despite a phone call to his office. Broward contractor Ron Bergeron, whose company has long had an agreement to mine the land, said he hadn't seen the report. He noted the service admits not finding any snakes on the site.

"They're just making an assumption that there's 23, but nobody's seen one," said Bergeron, who is one of seven volunteer commissioners who run the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Bergeron said 90 percent of the mine's materials will go toward public road-building and Everglades restoration projects - the reservoirs, levees and other structures that will conserve and clean water for the Everglades. Without a nearby mine, he said, the rock would have to be brought at much higher cost from western Miami-Dade County.

Indigo snakes, which have the rich black color of a grand piano, live in parts of Georgia and Florida, mostly from Central Florida down through the Keys. Non-venomous – and popular for that reason for wildlife shows – the snakes eat fish, snakes, frogs, young gopher tortoises, small mammals and small alligators.

Protected as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, the snakes have declined mainly from loss of habitat to development, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Other causes include capture for the pet trade and rattlesnake roundups, in which participants spray gasoline into gopher tortoise burrows, where indigo snakes and other animals live, to flush out rattlesnakes.

Environmentalists have long opposed the expansion of mining in western Palm Beach County, saying it ruins the landscape and leaves behind deep holes that drain water that should flow through the Everglades.

Drew Martin, conservation chair of the Sierra Club Loxahatchee Group, said other projects, such as the proposed development of the Briger tract in northern Palm Beach County, would kill indigo snakes.

"We have the snakes being threatened in a lot of places," he said. "The more we reduce the number of indigo snakes, the more we run the risk that the snake could become extinct."

The opinion letter from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not say the work should not go forward. Although it said the work would "adversely affect" the species, the letter said the mine would not "jeopardize" its existence, the trigger that could hold up a project. The letter said the mining work would have to comply with standard procedures published by the

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Boa & Python Specialist Group report on captive breeding

31 March 2014 | International news release
Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam are the main source of 
python skins, with China, Thailand and Viet Nam all 
producing python skins through farming. Photo credit: 
Daniel Natusch / IUCN

The first report under the ‘Python Conservation Partnership’, a collaboration between Kering, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Boa and Python Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has been presented today.

The “Assessment of Python Breeding Farms Supplying the International High-end Leather Industry” is a study evaluating the economic feasibility and viability of captive breeding of pythons as a possible element of sustainable use and conservation of the species. Its aim is to provide guidance to those involved in the python trade to adopt sustainable practices when sourcing skins.

According to the report, python farming could help reduce pressure on wild python populations in Asia. The practice, however, should be viewed only as part of a holistic approach to python conservation and additional research on python farming and trade is required to determine its conservation benefits and impacts on livelihoods. The report also found that greater emphasis on the conservation of python species in the wild is needed.

“It is encouraging to finally have some concrete information about the feasibility and role of farming pythons for skins, particularly given the previous concerns raised about whether it was possible or not,” said Daniel Natusch, one of the authors of the report and member of the IUCN SSC Boa and Python Specialist Group. “Captive breeding is only part of a possible solution for a sustainable python skin trade. We shouldn't lose sight of overall conservation goals and the greater potential of wild harvest systems to encourage conservation of wild pythons and their habitats.”

Key recommendations from the report include putting in place systems to ensure that python farming is well documented and that any trade is sustainable, legal and does not encourage trafficking from the wild under the guise of farmed animals. The study also highlights the urgent need to develop techniques to differentiate between captive-bred and wild-caught skins. The Python Conservation Partnership is currently addressing this issue by working with Viet Nam to research innovative ways to determine whether skins are derived from captive-bred or wild sources.

“Our drive and commitment to sustainable business includes going deep into sustainability across our supply chains, right to our sources,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of international institutional affairs of Kering. “This first report and the continued work we are doing in the Python Conservation Partnership to enhance traceable, sustainable sourcing and the conservation of pythons will assist our sector and move the industry towards more informed decisions in python sourcing. We will be proactive in addressing these recommendations, and in particular developing best practice guidelines in the PCP for captive breeding farms and training the suppliers we work with."

Python skins are traded primarily to meet demands from the fashion industry to make luxury leather products, with Italy, Germany and France being the biggest importers. Skins are also used for traditional Chinese musical instruments. Indonesia, Malaysia and Viet Nam are the main source of python skins, with China, Thailand and Viet Nam all producing python skins through farming.

Southeast Asia’s pythons, the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) and the Burmese Python (Python molurus bivittatus) - which are two of the world’s largest snakes - have been harvested from the wild for their skins for almost eight decades. Within the last 20 years, the scale of trade in python skins has increased significantly with nearly 500,000 skins exported from Southeast Asian countries per year. Continued increase in demand is likely to put significant pressure on wild stocks, according to the study.

“This report offers a possible alternative solution to the sourcing of python skins for which demand is escalating. However, there is still some way to go towards more transparent, better managed python farming,” said Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of IUCN’s Global Species Programme. “We must make sure that attention is not diverted from the urgent need to preserve wild pythons and their habitats through direct site conservation and action against illegal trade.”

The report will be presented at the Animals Committee of the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in May 2014 to contribute to the discussion on international snake trade.

"CITES is seeking to improve the legality, sustainability and traceability of international trade in pythons. It has called for further research to help the CITES Animals and Standing Committees determine what guidance should be provided and additional steps taken to ensure the ongoing sustainability and legality of this trade,” said John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “This effort is bringing the relevant players together across all sectors to find pragmatic and innovative solutions. The “Assessment of Python Breeding Farms Supplying the High-end Leather Industry”, delivered under the Python Conservation Partnership, is making a highly valuable contribution towards this collective undertaking.”