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When I created this blog I had two primary goals. The first of which was to encourage an appreciation for wildlife that tend to have a bad reputation, primarily amphibians and reptiles. The second goal was to make my research accessible to a general audience. Over time, a third goal manifested itself. Many are generally unfamiliar with the natural history of reptiles; as a result there are a plethora of e-mail forwards containing outlandish stories and photos of these animals. All too often, these e-mails are circulated and accepted as fact. For animals that are already maligned, scary and fabricated stories only serve to perpetuate the myth they are dangerous and malevolent. Perhaps this is no more true than in the case of the giant dead rattlesnakes, wherein a dead rattlesnake is shoved towards the camera and a bogus story is made up about how various townsfolk were saved in the nick of time by the marauding monster. I use this blog to discuss these e-mail forwards, which I'm often able to debunk based solely on the biology of the organism in question.
Some observations come before you realize how important they are. Only later do you slap your forehead and realize that you should have taken more detailed notes, because the likelihood of you seeing such a thing again is slim. This is why I encourage everybody interested in wildlife to take down field notes.
When I was in high school, every afternoon when I got home I would take a ... Read more »
S. P. Graham. (2013) How frequently do Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) bask in trees?. Journal of Herpetology, 428-431. DOI: 10.1670/12-082
Plastic Dinner. Photo by Alex Bond.
Imagine carrying around several kilos (or
pounds) of plastic in your stomach, unable to rid yourself of it, and gradually
adding pieces day by day. This is
what many marine animals go through every day. Millions of pieces of plastic enter the world’s oceans each
day, and once it’s there, it doesn’t go away. Instead, it breaks into smaller and ... Read more »
Bond, A.L., J.F. Provencher, R.D. Elliot, P.C. Ryan, S. Rowe, I.L. Jones, & G.J. Robertson S.I. Wilhelm. (2013) Ingestion of plastic marine debris by Common and Thick-billed Murres in the northwestern Atlantic from 1985 to 2012. Marine Pollution Bulletin. DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.10.005
Bond AL, & Lavers JL. (2013) Effectiveness of emetics to study plastic ingestion by Leach's Storm-petrels (Oceanodroma leucorhoa). Marine pollution bulletin, 70(1-2), 171-5. PMID: 23507234
Avery-Gomm S, O'Hara PD, Kleine L, Bowes V, Wilson LK, & Barry KL. (2012) Northern fulmars as biological monitors of trends of plastic pollution in the eastern North Pacific. Marine pollution bulletin, 64(9), 1776-81. PMID: 22738464
Like many other people these days I finally succumbed to the allure of social media and created a personal Facebook page; the main benefit for me is that it has allowed me to hear from lots of old friends. Another benefit is getting tagged in those, "Hey what is this critter?" posts I'm sure all other biologists probably get. Usually, the critter ends up being some spider in a garage or a ... Read more »
K.M. Enge, D. J. Stevenson, M. J. Elliot, & J. M. Bauder. (2013) The historical and current distribution of the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi). Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 8(2), 288-307. info:/
Photo By Dave Lonsdale, Wikimedia
Last week Slate ran a piece in their Wild Things blog
entitled, “Green Anacondas in the Everglades: The Largest Snake in the World has Invaded the United States.” Obviously the sensational headline caught my attention as did the subtitle, which refers to this invasion as "unstoppable." However, after reading the actual article I realized that it was ... Read more »
Diffie, S., Miller, J, & Murray, K. (2010) Laboratory Observations of Red Imported Fire Ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) Predation on Reptilian and Avian Eggs. Journal of Herpetology, 294-296. DOI: 10.1670/08-282.1
Dorcas ME, Willson JD, Reed RN, Snow RW, Rochford MR, Miller MA, Meshaka WE Jr, Andreadis PT, Mazzotti FJ, Romagosa CM.... (2012) Severe mammal declines coincide with proliferation of invasive Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(7), 2418-22. PMID: 22308381
Rhoades RB, Stafford CT, & James FK Jr. (1989) Survey of fatal anaphylactic reactions to imported fire ant stings. J Allergy Clin Immunol., 159-162. DOI: 10.1016/0091-6749(88)90373-9
By Brian Folt
The skies were blue, the water was beige, and the sun was basically white on a September Monday in Macon County, Alabama. Turkey Vultures soared above and Cricket Frogs skipped below as I made my way down a dried-up dirt road, heading down to the river. I was leading the Auburn University Vertebrate Biodiversity class to catch stream fishes, and I was mighty content.
... Read more »
Agkistrodon piscivorus, and
Copperheads, Agkistrodon contortrix,
are venomous snakes that are closely related and frequently encountered in the United States.
Because these two species may seem similar at first glance, they are often
confused for one another. I first noticed this trend on Twitter; if you follow me there then you already know that I am ... Read more »
X. Glaudus, K.M. Andrews, J.D. Willson, & J.W. Gibbons. (2007) Migration patterns in a population of cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) inhabiting an isolated wetland. Journal of Zoology, 119-124. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2006.00232.x
E.A. Eskew, J.D. Willson, & C.T. Winne. (2009) Ambush site selection and ontogenetic shifts in foraging strategy in a semi‐aquatic pit viper, the Eastern cottonmouth. Journal of Zoology, 179-186. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2008.00527.x
When I lived in Wisconsin's North Woods, my favorite walk was a path that skirted the shore of one of the area's many kettle lakes. I walked it in all kinds of weather, at all times of year, and saw all sorts of interesting things as a result. One of my favorite memories of that lake is the time I got to observe a beaver hard at work doing beaver things: the sound of bubbling and splashing ... Read more »
E. Wohl. (2013) Landscape-scale carbon storage associated with beaver dams . Geophysical Research Letters, 40(14), 3631. DOI: 10.1002/grl.50710
H.A. Cooke, & S. Zack. (2008) Influence of beaver dam density on riparian areas and riparian birds in shrubsteppe of Wyoming. Western North American Naturalist, 68(3), 365-373. DOI: 10.3398/1527-0904(2008)68[365:IOBDDO]2.0.CO;2
C.E. Stevens, C.A. Paszkowski, & A. L. Foote. (2007) Beaver (Castor canadensis) as a surrogate species for conserving anuran amphibians on boreal streams in Alberta, Canada. Biological Conservation, 1-13. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2006.07.017
We have often discussed here on this blog how and why killing snakes whenever and wherever you see one is a questionable land ethic. But, in the past I conceded that I understand why people would kill venomous snakes when they are found in their backyards because of the perceived threat to their families. Prompted by some comments left on a recent blog post, I’ve reflected on this a bit ... Read more »
N. Morandi, & J. Williams. (1997) Snakebite injuries: contributing factors and intentionality of exposure. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 152-155. DOI: 10.1580/1080-6032(1997)008[0152:SICFAI]2.3.CO;2
O'Neil ME, Mack KA, Gilchrist J, & Wozniak EJ. (2007) Snakebite injuries treated in United States emergency departments, 2001-2004. Wilderness , 18(4), 281-7. PMID: 18076294
H. M. Parrish. (1966) Incidence of Treated Snakebites in the United States. Public Health Rep, 81(3), 269-276. DOI: 10.2307/4592691
In my first post to this blog, I made the ecological case for returning the top predators, wolves and cougars, to the eastern United States. I argued that the eastern ecosystem needed their star actors to make it all work. In ending, I posed several questions that needed to be addressed beyond the ecological necessity of bringing back cougars and wolves. The first of these was: Can wolves ... Read more »
John Laundre. (2013) The feasibility of the north-eastern USA supporting the return of the cougar Puma concolor. Oryx, 47(1), 96-104. DOI: 10.1017/S0030605311001475
By Jim Godwin
It’s the end of another season of monitoring of the Eastern Indigo Snake reintroduction project in Conecuh National Forest. During the winter months biologists and experienced volunteers have been systematically scouring the sandhills and longleaf forest for indigo snakes, using Gopher Tortoise burrows as cues in their searches. With the close of this round of ... Read more »
By Brian Folt
Growing up, a summer-time ritual in our family was to visit the zoo. Most of my younger years were spent growing up in the greater Detroit, Michigan area, and the Detroit Zoo was a staple in our summer circuit of activities. While visiting the zoo during the dog days of summer, my favorite exhibit to see, without a doubt, was the Penguin House. These strange little birds had... Read more »
Chazdon R.L., C.A. Harvey, O. Komar, D.M. Griffith, B.G. Ferguson, M. Martínez-Ramos, H. Morales, R. Nigh, L. Soto-Pinto, M. van Breugel.... (2009) Beyond reserves: A research agenda for conserving biodiversity in human-modified tropical landscapes. Biotropica, 142-153. DOI: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2008.00471.x
Bradshaw, C.J.A., N.S. Sodhi, & B.W. Brook. (2009) Tropical turmoil: A biodiversity tragedy in progress. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 261-267. DOI: 10.1890/070193
Folt, B., & K.E. Reider. (2013) Leaf-litter herpetofaunal richness, abundance, and community assembly in mono-dominant plantations and primary forest of northeastern Costa Rica. Biodiversity and Conservation, 2057-2070. DOI: 10.1007/s10531-013-0526-0
We know that some reptiles love the water. Alligators,
turtles, snakes, the swamps are crawling with them. But what about the ocean?
Are there any reptiles that use saltwater habitats?
Of course. Sea turtles are well-known for spending their lives in the ocean (aside
from their brief trips to the beach to lay eggs). Not technically a sea turtle
... Read more »
H.B. Lillywhite, C.M. Sheehy III, & F. Zaidan III. (2008) Pitviper scavenging at the intertidal zone: an evolutionary scenario for invasion of the sea. BioScience, 58(10), 947-955. DOI: 10.1641/B581008
By David Jachowski
Who would marry a Hellbender? The name itself sounds unreputable at best, like a biker gang turned rock band. The reality is perhaps worse, an oversized soft and slimy salamander, with a nickname of “old lasagna sides.” But to be married to a Hellbender, or better yet one of the world’s leading experts on Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), means you spend lots ... Read more »
Jachowski, C. M. Bodinof, & Hopkins, W. A. (2013) Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis (Eastern Hellbender). Aggregate Behavior. Herpetological Review, 44(2), 292. info:/
Bodinof, C.M., J. T. Briggler, R. E. Junge, T. Mong, J. Beringer, M. D. Wanner, C. D. Schuette, J. Ettling, & J. J. Millspaugh. (2012) Survival and body condition of captive-reared juvenile Ozark Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) following translocation. Copeia, 2012(1), 150-159. DOI: 10.1643/CH-11-024
I have recently heard from two independent sources that a cottonmouth and a water moccasin are "in fact" two different snakes. Both stated that coloration, body size/shape, habitat, and swimming behavior were the differentiating traits. I was taken aback by both accounts, never before hearing this in any of my herpetology classes or seeing this for myself in the field. Afterwards, my first ... Read more »
Guiher TJ, & Burbrink FT. (2008) Demographic and phylogeographic histories of two venomous North American snakes of the genus Agkistrodon. Molecular phylogenetics and evolution, 48(2), 543-53. PMID: 18539486
By Brian Folt
One of the perks of being a graduate student is that I have a somewhat flexible schedule (or so I like to think). For example, a few weeks ago, I was hanging out at home on a Tuesday night when my neighbor, another Auburn graduate student, asked me if wanted to join him on an impromptu trip to south Alabama the following day for some field research. At first, I was a bit ... Read more »
Means, D. B. (2006) Vertebrate faunal diversity of longleaf pine ecosystems. The longleaf pine ecosystem: ecology, silviculture, and restoration, 157-213. DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-30687-2_6
Strong, Jr., D. (1983) Natural Variability and the Manifold Mechanisms of Ecological Communities. The American Naturalist, 122(5), 636. DOI: 10.1086/284164
By David Jachowski
Photo by biotour13 via Flicker and a Creative Commons License
What if the future of biodiversity conservation isn't in National Parks and protected areas, but in abandoned places? The played-out farm fields or remains after mountaintop removal for a seam of coal. Those overused and now typically overlooked parcels of land that saw a brief boom in... Read more »
Wood, P., & Williams, J. (2013) Impact of Valley Fills on Streamside Salamanders in Southern West Virginia. Journal of Herpetology, 47(1), 119-125. DOI: 10.1670/11-187
Larkin, J., Maehr, D., Cox, J., Bolin, D., & Wichrowski, M. (2003) Demographic Characteristics of a Reintroduced Elk Population in Kentucky. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 67(3), 467. DOI: 10.2307/3802704
When we pass through the Appalachian Mountains along its vast extent
from the humid southeast of Alabama and Georgia to the cold and barren of Nova
Scotia and Newfoundland, we cannot help but marvel of its beauty and
extensiveness. Unlike its western cousin, the Rocky Mountains, which is a mixture of forested ranges imbedded in
a matrix of lowland shrub and grass ... Read more »
Laundré JW. (2010) Behavioral response races, predator-prey shell games, ecology of fear, and patch use of pumas and their ungulate prey. Ecology, 91(10), 2995-3007. PMID: 21058559
RIPPLE, W., & BESCHTA, R. (2004) Wolves and the Ecology of Fear: Can Predation Risk Structure Ecosystems?. BioScience, 54(8), 755. DOI: 10.1641/0006-3568(2004)054[0755:WATEOF]2.0.CO;2
the myth that Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus, on right) bask in trees along waterways and plop into boats and the unfounded legend that Cottonmouths are aggressive and attack people, the next most common misconception about the Cottonmouth is that
they try to “get into” boats. At first glance this may appear to be a variant
of the “falling into boats” ... Read more »
S.P. Graham. (2013) How frequently do Cottonmouths bask in Trees?. Journal of Herpetology. info:/
Erin on the side of a river somewhere in western NC, hard at work study obviously.
Erin Abernethy is a Master’s student in the Odum
School of Ecology at the University of Georgia, where she is studying
scavenging ecology in Hawaii. Before coming to Athens, Erin lived in North
Carolina earning her BS in Biology at Appalachian State. For that degree,... Read more »
Guillette Jr., L., Pickford, D., Crain, D., Rooney, A., & Percival, H. (1996) Reduction in Penis Size and Plasma Testosterone Concentrations in Juvenile Alligators Living in a Contaminated Environment. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 101(1), 32-42. DOI: 10.1006/gcen.1996.0005
This article could use a little more reflection about working alongside potentially dangerous animals and a little less sensationalism. But, it's still an incredible story: I was swallowed by a hippo.
Who knew? Snakes like hot springs too.
The Roundup from a couple weeks ago featured amazing pictures of a pod of Orcas attacking a group of Sperm Whales. This week's unlucky victim is a dolphin.
... Read more »
Wenger SJ, Isaak DJ, Luce CH, Neville HM, Fausch KD, Dunham JB, Dauwalter DC, Young MK, Elsner MM, Rieman BE.... (2011) Flow regime, temperature, and biotic interactions drive differential declines of trout species under climate change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(34), 14175-80. PMID: 21844354
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