48 posts · 35,789 views
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.
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
One of the most valuable ponds in Alabama, if you ask me
was a drive from Auburn University to a conference in the Florida panhandle
that allowed us a short detour to visit one of the most storied wetlands in
Alabama herpetological history. But, I didn’t realize that at the time.
wouldn’t know it by looking at them now, but there are a... Read more »
Willson, J., Winne, C., Dorcas, M., & Gibbons, J. (2006) Post-drought responses of semi-aquatic snakes inhabiting an isolated wetland: Insights on different strategies for persistence in a dynamic habitat. Wetlands, 26(4), 1071-1078. DOI: 10.1672/0277-5212(2006)26[1071:PROSSI]2.0.CO;2
Winne, C., Dorcas, M., & Poppy, S. (2005) Population Structure, Body Size, and Seasonal Activity of Black Swamp Snakes (Seminatrix pygaea). Southeastern Naturalist, 4(1), 1-14. DOI: 10.1656/1528-7092(2005)004[0001:PSBSAS]2.0.CO;2
Dodd Jr., C.K. (1993) Population structure, body mass, activity, and orientation of an aquatic snake during a drought. . Canadian Journal of Zoology, 71(7), 1281-1288. DOI: 10.1139/z93-177
The following article is a guest post by David Jachowski. Dr. Jachowski is an instructor at Virginia Tech and conducts research in the United States, Africa and southeast Asia on the conservation and restoration of wildlife. You can find more information about his research on his website:
So maybe genetically recreating the Woolly Mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) is a bad
idea. Long ... Read more »
Hansen, D., Donlan, C., Griffiths, C., & Campbell, K. (2010) Ecological history and latent conservation potential: large and giant tortoises as a model for taxon substitutions. Ecography. DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2010.06305.x
Josh Donlan C, Berger J, Bock CE, Bock JH, Burney DA, Estes JA, Foreman D, Martin PS, Roemer GW, Smith FA.... (2006) Pleistocene rewilding: an optimistic agenda for twenty-first century conservation. The American Naturalist, 168(5), 660-81. PMID: 17080364
A wildlife population can sustain itself when at least one animal is born for every animal that dies. Conservation biologists generally have a rule of thumb regarding how many individual animals need to be in a population to make sure that population has a high chance of sticking around for over 100 years or so; conservation plans often try to boost troubled populations up to that magic number. ... Read more »
Shoemaker KT, Breisch AR, Jaycox JW, & Gibbs JP. (2013) Reexamining the Minimum Viable Population Concept for Long-Lived Species. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology. PMID: 23458501
few years ago I was walking alongside the edge of pond in the Florida panhandle
when I was startled by some splashing noises in the water. I had accidentally
gotten too close to a Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon
piscivorus) and the snake was warning me away by vibrating its tail in the
water and flashing its white mouth. It was obvious to me that the snake thought... Read more »
Gibbons, J., & Dorcas, M. (2002) Defensive Behavior of Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) toward Humans. Copeia, 2002(1), 195-198. DOI: 10.1643/0045-8511(2002)002[0195:DBOCAP]2.0.CO;2
D. B. Means. (2010) Blocked-flight aggressive behavior in snakes. IRCF Reptiles and Amphibians, 17(2), 76. info:/
Echidnas are unusual mammals. For one, they lay eggs. Scientists recently found out something else: apparently this species may not have gone extinct in Australia during the last ice age.
Wildlife photographer distracts hungry Polar Bears, takes self-portaits with said Polar Bear.
Now this would be an expensive roll of sushi (make sure to read the updates).
The State of Florida recently ... Read more »
HARTMANN, T., GEISSLER, P., POYARKOV, N., IHLOW, F., GALOYAN, E., RÖDDER, D., & BÖHME, W. (2013) A new species of the genus Calotes Cuvier, 1817 (Squamata: Agamidae) from southern Vietnam. Zootaxa, 3599(3). DOI: 10.11646/zootaxa.3599.3.3
Not a cheery subject to ponder as we begin 2013 but perhaps it will inspire us to do what we can to ensure next year's list is shorter. If our way of life is incompatible with the persistence of wild animal species, we should reevaluate our way of life...not only for the benefit of wildlife but for our own well-being.
This is not a complete list, I'm sure. I was surprised that there doesn't ... Read more »
Fisher, R., & Ineich, I. (2012) Cryptic extinction of a common Pacific lizard Emoia impar (Squamata, Scincidae) from the Hawaiian Islands. Oryx, 46(02), 187-195. DOI: 10.1017/S0030605310001778
Edwards, D., Benavides, E., Garrick, R., Gibbs, J., Russello, M., Dion, K., Hyseni, C., Flanagan, J., Tapia, W., & Caccone, A. (2013) The genetic legacy of Lonesome George survives: Giant tortoises with Pinta Island ancestry identified in Galápagos. Biological Conservation, 225-228. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2012.10.014
Gotelli NJ, Chao A, Colwell RK, Hwang WH, & Graves GR. (2012) Specimen-based modeling, stopping rules, and the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, 26(1), 47-56. PMID: 21797923
Solow A, Smith W, Burgman M, Rout T, Wintle B, & Roberts D. (2012) Uncertain sightings and the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Conservation biology : the journal of the Society for Conservation Biology, 26(1), 180-4. PMID: 21967229
New research documents giant catfish beaching themselves to grab and eat pigeons (awesome video of attacks above). I don't really get why people are calling them "freshwater killer whales", they seem more like freshwater catfish. Maybe killer whales are saltwater catfish.
Wildlife research doesn't have to happen in the wild. Here's a turtle study occurring in the Bronx River, New York City.
... Read more »
Cucherousset J, Boulêtreau S, Azémar F, Compin A, Guillaume M,, & et al. (2012) Freshwater Killer Whales”: Beaching Behavior of an Alien Fish to Hunt Land Birds. PLos ONE. info:/
The following article is a guest post by Brian Folt. Brian is a Ph.D. student at Auburn University, where he studies the community ecology of amphibians and reptiles. He grew up in the Midwest and received a B.S. from Ohio University in 2011. Brian conducts field research in the southeastern United States and Central America. Brian is an avid outdoorsman and a die-hard Cleveland sports fan. You... Read more »
Buhlmann, K., Akre, T., Iverson, J., Karapatakis, D., Mittermeier, R., Georges, A., Rhodin, A., van Dijk, P., & Gibbons, J. (2009) A Global Analysis of Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Distributions with Identification of Priority Conservation Areas. Chelonian Conservation and Biology, 8(2), 116-149. DOI: 10.2744/CCB-0774.1
For many people, finding a rattlesnake in the yard does not
present much of a dilemma. They just kill it. But, for those people that
appreciate rattlesnakes and don’t want to kill them all, encountering one of
these venomous animals near the house raises an important question: What now?
rattlesnake around the house is a risk that most people ... Read more »
M. L. Walker, J. A. Dorr, R. J. Benjamin, & G. R. Pisani. (2009) Successful relocation of a threatened suburban population of timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus): combining snake ecology, politics, and education. IRCF Reptiles and Amphibians, 16(4), 210-221. info:/
Reinert, H., & Rupert, R. (1999) Impacts of Translocation on Behavior and Survival of Timber Rattlesnakes, Crotalus horridus. Journal of Herpetology, 33(1), 45. DOI: 10.2307/1565542
Grand Cayman Island Blue Iguanas Are Now Endangered...And That's Good News: A huge, bulky, and blue iguana that reaches up to five feet long can be found the Grand Cayman Islands but, for a while there it looked like it was on its way out. Because of hunting by humans, interactions with species introduced by people, roadkill, and habitat destruction, the Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) almost ... Read more »
G. M. Kay, & J. Scott Keogh. (2012) Molecular phylogeny and morphological revision of the Ctenotus labillardieri (Reptilia: Squamata: Scincidae) species group and a new species of immediate conservation concern in the southwestern Australian biodiversity hotspot. Zootaxa, 1-18. info:/
"Dr Steen: I have often heard (and read) that Black Racers keep all venomous species away. My amateur Herpist friend pointed out that Elapidae (for readers, this is the family of snakes that includes coral snakes and cobras) eat other snakes.
Question: If an Eastern Coral and a Black Racer came together, what would happen? Would the Racer bully the Coral away? Or would the Coral eat the... Read more »
DR Jackson, & R Franz. (1981) Ecology of the eastern coral snake (Micrurus fulvius) in northern peninsular Florida. Journal of Herpetology, 213-228. info:/
Can Crocodiles Predict Earthquakes? Over at the Croc Blog, Adam Britton takes on a recent report suggesting that a captive (actually the largest crocodile in captivity) crocodile in the Philippines may have predicted an earthquake seconds before it occurred. Crocodilians are very good at detecting subtle and low frequency vibrations. This is because they use these vibrations to communicate and ... Read more »
Carter NH, Shrestha BK, Karki JB, Pradhan NM, & Liu J. (2012) Coexistence between wildlife and humans at fine spatial scales. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(38), 15360-5. PMID: 22949642
Last spring, as I stood in a dry marsh on the border of Everglades
National Park, I paused to study the vast landscape. I squinted my eyes to make
out any movement in the endless sea of green before me, straining to see my
quarry as the morning Florida sun rose and drew sweat on my forehead while
simultaneously baking the dirt into my skin. I was looking so intently because
I knew there ... Read more »
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
Pyron RA, Burbrink FT, & Guiher TJ. (2008) Claims of potential expansion throughout the U.S. by invasive python species are contradicted by ecological niche models. PloS one, 3(8). PMID: 18698351
Rodda GH, Jarnevich CS, & Reed RN. (2011) Challenges in identifying sites climatically matched to the native ranges of animal invaders. PloS one, 6(2). PMID: 21347411
M.E. Dorcas, J. D. Willson, & J. W. Gibbons. (2011) Can invasive Burmese pythons inhabit temperate regions of the southeastern United States?. Biological Invasions, 793-802. DOI: 10.1007/s10530-010-9869-6
J. D. Willson, M. E. Dorcas, & R. W. Snow. (2011) Identifying plausible scenarios for the establishment of invasive Burmese pythons (Python molurus) in Southern Florida. Biological Invasions, 1493-1504. DOI: 10.1007/s10530-010-9908-3
The following article is a guest post by Kyle Barrett. Kyle is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the
University of Georgia. His research addresses how large-scale environmental
stressors such as urbanization and climate change influence the abundance and
distribution of vertebrates. His current projects range from habitat
conservation planning in the northeastern US to an assessment of sea ... Read more »
B. Czech, & P. R. Krausman. (1999) Research Notes Public Opinion on Endangered Species Conservation and Policy. Society , 12(5), 469-479. DOI: 10.1080/089419299279542
C. Langpap, & J. Kerkvliet. (2012) Endangered species conservation on private land: Assessing the effectiveness of habitat conservation plans. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 1-15. DOI: 10.1016/j.jeem.2012.02.002
This e-mail (and picture) arrived in my inbox a couple weeks ago:
I recently happened to accidentally disturb a Ratsnake that was constricting a baby rabbit. When I touched the snake's tail, he uncoiled but began to start swallowing the rabbit. Because I interrupted the constriction, the baby rabbit was still alive but the snake continued to engulf it anyway. Is it unusual for a snake to... Read more »
A. Mori. (1991) Effects of prey size and type on prey-handling behavior in Elaphe quadrivirgata. Journal of Herpetology, 25(2), 160. DOI: 10.2307/1564643
A. de Queiroz. (1984) Effects of prey type on the prey-handling behavior of the bullsnake, Pituophis melanoleucus. Journal of Herpetology, 18(3), 333-336. DOI: 10.2307/1564088
article is a guest post by Brian Folt. Brian is a Ph.D. student at Auburn University, where he studies the community
ecology of amphibians and reptiles. He grew up in the Midwest and received a B.S. from Ohio University in 2011. Brian conducted field work in Costa Rica
for his undergraduate thesis and is interested in future tropical ecology work.
Brian is an avid hiker and a... Read more »
Lazell, J. (1998) New Salamander of the Genus Plethodon from Mississippi. Copeia, 1998(4), 967. DOI: 10.2307/1447343
Graham, S., Steen, D., Nelson, K., Durso, A., & Maerz, J. (2010) An Overlooked Hotspot? Rapid Biodiversity Assessment Reveals a Region of Exceptional Herpetofaunal Richness in the Southeastern United States. Southeastern Naturalist, 9(1), 19-34. DOI: 10.1656/058.009.0102
The following article is a guest post by Michael P. Wines. Michael is a
graduate student at Auburn University studying the Eastern Indigo Snake, Drymarchon couperi and the Red Hills Salamander,
Phaeognathus hubrichti. He was a zookeeper at the Memphis Zoo
for several years after graduating from the University of Memphis. When not being made a fool by study organisms ... Read more »
Breininger, D., Mazerolle, M., Bolt, M., Legare, M., Drese, J., & Hines, J. (2012) Habitat fragmentation effects on annual survival of the federally protected eastern indigo snake. Animal Conservation. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-1795.2012.00524.x
Hellbenders re-discovered in northwestern Georgia. A few years ago, I wrote about an unsuccessful trip to northern Alabama to look for Hellbenders, Cryptobranchus alleghaniensis. For a population of these large salamanders to survive over long periods of time, they need clean and undisturbed streams with lots of large rocks. Because of pollution, agriculture, and siltation, there are few of these... Read more »
S. P. Graham, & et al. (2011) Conservation Status of Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleghaniensis) in Alabama, USA. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 6(2), 242-249. info:/
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