March 2016 Newsletter

                                                 

                                                                                   Jeff Littlejohn                    
               OKLAHOMA CITY HERPETOLOGICAL AND
                INVERTEBRATE   SOCIETY NEWSLETTER 
                                                                                  March, 2016                                                        

               

       

Website: http://www.okcherpsociety.com/

 
 
Twitter Account:  OCHIS, @OCHIS_Education
Instagram:  #okcherp                                                                                                                                                                        
 
                                                                                                                                                      
NEWS
EXTREMELY RARE BABY ALBINO TURTLE SPOTTED IN AUSTRALIA
By: Shreya Dasgupta
In Australia, a group of volunteers have spotted a rare albino green turtle hatchling.
Volunteers from the Coolum and North Shore Coast Care group were at Castaway beach on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast monitoring turtle nests, when some of them spotted an albino hatchling, still sitting on his nest.
Normally, green turtle hatchlings are shiny black above with a whitish underside, and have white margins around the shells.
The albino hatchling however, had a white shell and pink flippers.
The volunteers nicknamed the turtle baby “Alby”.
“We were just in the process of collecting our data and we removed the top of the surface of the sand, and there was little Alby,” Sherida Holford told Brisbane Times.
“In our nine years of monitoring the marine turtle nests on the Sunshine Coast, we’ve never seen anything like this, and we may never see it again.
So we were all very surprised and thrilled.”
The volunteers measured Alby, took his photos, and let him walk into the ocean and swim away, Holford said.
Albino hatchlings such as Alby are extremely rare, according to Dr Col Limpus, chief scientist of Queensland Government’s Threatened Species Unit.
They probably occur at the rate of one in many hundreds of thousands of eggs that are laid, he told ABC news.
During summer months, Queensland’s coast is home to Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) and Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) that come to lay eggs.
Green turtles can migrate long distances, shuttling between nesting and feeding grounds located in Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Fiji and other places.
The green turtle is listed as Endangered under the IUCN Red List.
Albino hatchlings such as Alby are extremely rare. Photo courtesy of Coolum District Coast Care Group.Photo courtesy of Coolum District Coast Care Group.
THE CASTAWAY: NEW MONITOR LIZARD FILLS TOP-ORDER PREDATOR ROLE ON REMOTE PACIFIC ISLAND
ScienceDaily
Source: Pensoft Publishers
An adult Varanus semotus in its habitat at the outskirts of the village of Nai. Photo by Valter Weijola
An adult Varanus semotus in its habitat at the outskirts
of the village of Nai.
Photo by Valter Weijola
Separated by several hundred kilometres from its next of kin, a new species of blue-tailed monitor lizard unique to the remote Mussau Island has been described.
Unknown to science until recently and formally termed the “isolated,” it is the only large-sized land-living predator and scavenger native to the island.
Dubbed a “biogeographical oddity” by its discoverers, led by Valter Weijola, a graduate student from the University of Turku, Finland, the lizard species is also the first new monitor lizard to be described from the country of Papua New Guinea in over twenty years.
The finding was published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
Monitors play an important ecological role in many island ecosystems in the southwest Pacific.
Predatory mammals have never colonized the region due to the isolation of these islands.
Instead, these large, active and intelligent lizards fill the role of top-predators and scavengers.
The Pacific monitor lineage to which the new species belongs have been so successful at oversea dispersal that a number of different species now occupy almost every island from the Moluccas in Indonesia to the eastern Solomon Islands and even Micronesia.
The new endemic species was observed and studied during fieldwork by Weijola and local assistants in the relatively dry coastal vegetation of Mussau, but it is likely that it also persist in the remnants of intact forest in the interior of the island.
The formally described female lizard, or holotype, measures 1 m with the tail being one and and a half times the length of the dominantly black-coloured body covered with yellow and orange markings.
The tail of the adults shows varying degrees of turquoise to bluish pigmentation.
Another distinctive feature for the species is the pale yellow tongue, which is a trait shared only by three other species of Pacific monitors.
The new species is known to eat crabs, other reptiles and their eggs, and small birds.
“Usually monitors like these will eat just about anything they can catch and kill, as well as carcass and turtle eggs when available,” explains Weijola.
“While young, Pacific monitor lizards are highly secretive and subsist mainly on insects and other small animals.”
The new species, which can grow to well over a meter in length, was named Varanus semotus, a Latin reference to the remoteness and isolation of the relatively small and partly volcanic island where the lizard was found.
Close examination revealed the reptile to be distinct from its relatives from New Guinea and New Britain. Genetic studies, conducted by co-authors Stephen Donnellan, South-Australian Museum, and Christer Lindqvist, Åbo Akademi University, showed that the species has been isolated for a long time, estimatedly 1-2 million years, or even longer.
“Isolation is the keyword here,” says Weijola.
“It is what has driven speciation and made the South-Pacific region one of the World’s biodiversity hotspots.”
For anything to arrive on Mussau (from New Guinea or New Britain) it would need to cross 250-350 kilometers of open sea, and this doesn’t happen frequently.
So, once the ancestor arrived, perhaps in the form of a gravid female, the population must have been completely isolated.”
“These islands are full of unique creatures often restricted in distribution to just one island or island group,” explains the researcher.
“Yet, we know relatively little about them.
Even large species of reptiles and mammals are regularly being discovered, not to mention amphibians and invertebrates.
This is what makes it such a biologically valuable and fascinating region.”

NEW TARANTULA NAMED AFTER JOHNNY CASH AMONG 14 SPIDER SPECIES FOUND IN THE UNITED STATES

ScienceDaily
Source: Pensoft Publishers
This is an adult male of Aphonopelma johnnycashi from California.
Credit: Dr. Chris A. Hamilton; CC-BY 4.0
A new species of tarantula named after the famous singer-songwriter Johnny Cash is one of fourteen new spiders discovered in the southwestern United States.
While these charismatic spiders have captured the attention of people around the world, and have been made famous by Hollywood, little was actually known about them.
The new descriptions nearly double the number of species known from the region.
Biologists at Auburn University and Millsaps College have described these hairy, large-bodied spiders in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
“We often hear about how new species are being discovered from remote corners of the Earth, but what is remarkable is that these spiders are in our own backyard,” says Dr. Chris Hamilton, lead author of the study.
“With the Earth in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, it is astonishing how little we know about our planet’s biodiversity, even for charismatic groups such as tarantulas.”
Tarantulas within the genus Aphonopelma are among the most unique species of spider in the United States.
One aspect of this distinctiveness that is particularly intriguing is the extreme size differences that can be found between species.
Some species are quite impressive, reaching six inches (15 centimeters) or more in leg span, while others can fit on the face of an American quarter-dollar coin.
Within the United States, Aphonopelma are found in twelve states across the southern third of the country, ranging west of the Mississippi River to California.
These spiders are conspicuous during the warmer months when adult males abandon their burrows in search of mates, yet very little was known about these spiders prior to the study.
Dr. Hamilton notes that more than fifty different species of tarantulas had been previously reported from the United States, but that many of them were poorly defined and actually belonged to the same species.
To gain a better understanding of the diversity and distributions of these spiders, the research team spent more than a decade searching for tarantulas throughout scorching deserts, frigid mountains, and other locations in the American Southwest, sometimes literally in someone’s backyard.
They studied nearly 3,000 specimens, undertaking the most comprehensive taxonomic study ever performed on a group of tarantulas.
Because most species of tarantula in the United States are very similar in appearance and cannot be distinguished from each other using anatomical features alone, the research team implemented a modern and “integrative” approach to taxonomy by employing anatomical, behavioural, distributional, and genetic data.
Their results indicate there are 29 species in the United States, 14 of which are new to science.
Of the new species, one has been named Aphonopelma johnnycashi after the influential American singer-songwriter Johnny Cash.
Dr. Hamilton coined the name because the species is found in California near Folsom Prison (famous for Cash’s song “Folsom Prison Blues”) and because mature males are generally solid black in coloration (paying homage to Cash’s distinctive style of dress where he has been referred to as the “Man in black”.
While the researchers found that most species are abundant and have relatively large distributions, they also noted that some have highly restricted distributions and may require conservation efforts in the not-so-distant future, as they lose their habitats due to climate change and human encroachment.
“Two of the new species are confined to single mountain ranges in southeastern Arizona, one of the United States’ biodiversity hotspots,” says Brent Hendrixson, a co-author of the study.
“These fragile habitats are threatened by increased urbanization, recreation, and climate change.
There is also some concern that these spiders will become popular in the pet trade due to their rarity, so we need to consider the impact that collectors may have on populations as well.”
In addition to spider specimens collected by the research team, the study used a tremendous number of specimens gathered from museum collections across the United States, including the Auburn University Museum of Natural History (AUMNH).
Project senior author Dr. Jason Bond, director of the AUMNH, notes that studies like these highlight the critical role that museum collections play in understanding our planet’s biodiversity.
The AUMNH, located in Auburn, Alabama, possesses the second largest collection of Aphonopelma in the world, behind the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Tarantulas have gained notoriety for their imposing appearance and perceived threat to humans, but Dr. Hamilton notes that the fear is largely unfounded and that the species in the United States do not readily bite, are not dangerous, and are really just “teddy bears with eight legs.”

RED MILK SNAKE

By Will Bird

We are fortunate to have a nice population of Red Milk Snakes (Lampropeltis triangulum syspila) in several western Kentucky counties. In our region it is possible to cruise roads and find these snakes from the time when it gets dark to the very wee hours of the morning prior to dawn.

While we try to cruise under conditions that we believe are prime, often even then it is possible to not find any of these snakes…even when other snakes are being found.

The random offerings turned up by road cruising is something that’s problematic and usually we prefer to have a little more control over the hunt when possible.

So we also deploy artificial cover to help in locating these snakes.
We have found that these snakes are attracted to layered sheets of metal, so if you are having trouble finding them, try stacking your metal up.
Red Milks in our area live in forested habitat, but like all reptiles they utilize open areas where the rays of the sun reach the surface.
We have found layered metal set out where the canopy is open works very well.
It is a sight to behold when you peel back a sheet of metal and see such a beautiful high-contrast snake sitting on dull colored metal of the earth tones of the soil underneath.
Locating a Red Milk Snake in Kentucky makes any good day better and turns even the worst of days into a nice day for guys like myself.

MARBLED NEWTS

By Richard Bartlett
 
The green and black color of this beautiful newt blend well with the aquatic vegetation.

Newts, a subset of salamanders in the family Salamandridae, may be found in both the New and Old Worlds.

The males of many of the Old World taxa develop nuptial finery (seasonally present and often exaggerated caudal, nuchal, and vertebral finnage) that, no matter the season, no New World species ever has.

And of these Old World salamandrid dandies, IMO one of the most beautiful is the black on forest green (more rarely the black may predominate) marbled newt, Triturus marmoratus, of Spain, Portugal, and France.

Black on green may sound flamboyant, and indeed it is when seen in a home terrarium or aquarium.

But when at home in the dappled sunlight and submerged vegetation of a woodland pond, the color combination is a surprisingly effective camouflage.
Although high and very noticeable the even-edged black and green banded vertebral and caudal finnage of this large (it attains a stocky 4 ½ – 6”) newt is less ornate that that of several of its cousins.
The nuptial fins of these latter are prettily scalloped.
But what the marbled newt lacks in fin appearance is more than compensated for by beauty of color.
And as just a bit of added splendor, when, following the breeding season the fins of the marbled newt are resorbed, they remain represented by an orange middorsal ridge.
Can you say “pretty?”
Fortunately marbled newts are captive bred for wild examples are difficult to acquire.
Although highly aquatic, land areas should also be provided for this newt.

 
HERPETOCULTURE

CUNNINGHAM’S SKINK

Australian Museum
The Cunningham’s Skink (Egernia cunninghami) is a sun-loving variety of spiny-tailed skink. The species is named in honor of Alan Cunningham; explorer and botanist, who collected the first specimen in the Blue Mountains.                    

Identification

This large skink has a long tail with keeled scales along its dorsal surface from the back of the neck down to the tip of the pointed tail. The legs are quite short, requiring the lizard to slide on its belly when it moves around.
Its colour can vary from dark brown and reddish to a jet black with distinctive with scattered patches of paler scales.

Size range

Snout to vent length is 250mm

Distribution

The species occurs within temperate climatic zone along both western and eastern sides of the Great Dividing Range from south-east Queensland down through New South Wales the Australian and into central Victoria.
The species is also found in South Australia where it is restricted to the cool climate of the Mount Lofty Ranges and Fleurieu Peninsula. Individuals in the north of the range tend to be slightly smaller and are brown or reddish, while southern populations are darker and strongly patterned.

Habitat

Forests and woodlands with rock outcrops.
The species occurs within forests and open woodland which feature rock outcrops.
Groups of Cunningham’s Skinks bask on top of rocks and will scurry in between rock ledges to shelter.

Feeding and Diet

These omnivorous lizards feed on a variety of invertebrates such as insects, snails and slugs as well as vegetation such as fruit and leaves.
The captive diet for this species at the Australian Museum is provided in three feeds within a period of a week.
These consist of a small feed of chopped vegetables on one day, a small serving of kangaroo mince on another day as well five crickets or a snail for the third feeding.
The timing and order of the diet is changed around to simulate natural conditions and prevent stereotypical behaviour (where an animal will have predicable activity patterns and essentially be waiting to be fed).
This food is supplemented with calcium and vitamin powder to ensure that a nutritionally balanced diet is provided.

Other behaviours and adaptations

Like other spiny species of the Egernia genus, Cunningham’s Skinks live in large social groups makes it easier to spot danger.
When threatened this lizard will take cover in a hollow log, under bark or between rocks.
If harassed further it will inhale air, making its body swell up – this increased size, combined with the spiky keeled scales, makes it difficult for a predator to dislodge the lizard from its hiding place.

Life history mode     

Diurnal

Life cycle

This species is viviparous with females producing litters of live young.

Mating and reproduction

This species is highly monogamous with most males fathering only one litter.
Dispite remaining within the same range and not often dispersing, genetic studies have shown that Cunningham Skinks can identify close relatives and always choose unrelated partners.
Litter size ranges from 1-11 young.

Conservation Status

Protected in all states. Listed as endangered in South Australia.

Management

This species is protected in Australia and cannot be collected from the wild and a permit is required in most states and territories to keep this species in captivity.
INVERTEBRATES

QLD BIRD EATING SPIDER (Australian Tarantula)

By: Amazing  Amazon
Photo courtesy of Amazing Amazon
The Queensland bird eating spider is also commonly referred to as the Australian Tarantula.
This is one of several species of large, aggressive spiders, which are found in the warmer and more arid regions of Australia.
The largest species may attain a body length of 60mm and a leg span of 160mm, with powerful fangs 10mm long.
This is the largest species of spider in Australia, and is part of the tarantula family, which comprises of the largest spiders in the world.
Housing
There are many different types of enclosures that can be used for this species but terrarium style enclosures work best as they have a mesh lid to allow for good ventilation and are escape proof.
Between 30-60cm long is recommended and as they are a burrowing spider your tank will not need to be too high.
Kritter Crumble is recommended for substrate use as this spider is a tropical species and likes moisture in its cage.
Kritter Crumble is a coco type substrate that allows for good water retention.
About 10cm depth is sufficient and will allow them to build their burrows.
Regular misting of enclosure will need needed to keep the substrate moist.
Heating
As AustralianTarantulas come from Far North Queensland some form of heating will be required.
A heat mat covering no more than 1/3 of the base of the tank is ideal.
This will allow them to move in and out of the warm area as they require.
Temperatures should ideally be kept around 20-25 Celsius.
Make sure you check your temperatures as over heating will kill your spider.
Feeding
Your Tarantula should be fed 1-2 times per week and live crickets are their main food source.
Mealworms, Silkworms and even small pinkie mice can be offered to your spider as an additional food source.
Handling
QLD bird eating spiders do not respond well to being handled.
We would advise against handling as they can inflict a nasty bite.
There are no recorded fatalities from a bite from this spider but swelling and vomiting can occur.
OCHIS PROGRAM CALENDAR
By: Russ Gurley

Tuesday, January 26th. “Custodian of Eden Or a Preposterous Pipedream” – Carl Franklin

Tuesday, February 23rd.  Raffle & “Keeping and Breeding Boa Constrictors” – Mike Roberts

Tuesday, March 22nd.

Thursday, April 28th.

Thursday, May 26th.  Raffle

Thursday, June 30th.

Tuesday, July 26th.

Tuesday, August 23rd.  Raffle

Tuesday, September 27th.

Thursday, October 27th.  “On the Trail of Blonde Trans-Pecos Ratsnakes” – Dusty Rhoads/”Fall Festival”

Thursday, November 24th.  Raffle

Thursday, December 22nd. “Christmas Supper”

OCHIS HERP HUNT CALENDAR
By: Lauren Pinaroc                                                     

Sat March 19 8am and 8pm Sutton Wilderness

Sat May 28 8am Meet at church Sandy Sanders WMA

Thurs June 16 8am Meet at church Blue River

Sat June 18 8am Meet at church Blue River

Sat July 16 8am Meet at church Camp Buster

Sat August 6 8am Meet at church Tishomingo

Thurs Sept 1 8am and 8pm Sutton Wilderness – Collecting for Expo

Friday Sept 9 TBA – Collecting for Expo

Friday Sept 16 Sequoyah Park – Collecting for Expo

Sat Sept 17 Beaver’s Bend – Collecting for Expo

OCHIS ACTIVITIES CALENDAR                                                    
By: Lauren Pinaroc

May 25 2pm Planning Meeting at and for MWC Library

June 22 10-3pm NW Library Day

July 20 10-2pm Guthrie Library Day

July 27 10-2pm MWC Library Day

Sept 23-25 Wildlife Expo

Sept30-Oct 2 BioBlitz

February 2016 Newsletter

                             

                                                                                   Jeff Littlejohn                    
               OKLAHOMA CITY HERPETOLOGICAL AND
                INVERTEBRATE   SOCIETY NEWSLETTER 
                                                                                February, 2016                                                        
               

       
Website: http://www.okcherpsociety.com/

 
 
Twitter Account:  OCHIS, @OCHIS_Education                         
 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
OKLAHOMA HERP SPECIES INDEX
Courtesy of Richard Butler  rdbutler@okherp.com
http://www.okherp.com/herpindex.html                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
NEWS
VENOM AND THE GOOD LIFE IN TARANTULA HAWK WASPS
No Access
Justin O. Schmidt – Southwestern Biological Institute
 
Photo courtesy of blogs.sandiegozoo.org
Tarantula hawk wasps in the genera Pepsis and Hemipepsis are conspicuous elements of Southwestern U. S. and the Neotropics where they often appear oblivious to potential predators while they actively forage for nectar or search for prey.
Tarantula hawks produce large quantities of venom and their stings produce immediate, intense, excruciating short term pain in envenomed humans.
Although the instantaneous pain of a tarantula hawk sting is the greatest recorded for any stinging insect, the venom itself lacks meaningful vertebrate toxicity.
The respective lethalities of 65 and 120 mg/kg in mice for the venoms of Pepsis formosa pattoni and P. thisbe reveal that the defensive value of stings and venom of these species is based entirely upon pain.
This pain confers near absolute protection from vertebrate predators.
The pain also forms an enabling basis for the evolution of aposematic coloration, aposematic odor, and a huge mimicry complex involving most species of tarantula hawks and numerous flies, beetles, moths, acridid grasshoppers, and other Hymenoptera.
Tarantula hawks form mixed-species, both-sex aggregations that appear defensive in nature and likely aid in the location of resources and mating opportunities for some species.
Because tarantula hawks have no meaningful predators, selection pressure appears to have favored long life spans.
Long-lived individuals may then function as aposematic models; thereby decreasing predatory attacks by vertebrate predators directed toward wasp kin and future offspring.
This suite of defensive adaptations has enabled tarantula hawks to forage and behave with near impunity and to maximize their food and reproduction while having long adult lives virtually free from predation.

RARE SEA SNAKES FEARED EXTINCT DISCOVERED OFF THE COAST OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA

By: Shreya Dasgupta

Scientists claim to have found the “first unequivocal records” of live individuals of the critically endangered leaf-scaled and short-nosed sea snakes at Shark Bay and Ningaloo Reef, off the coast of Western Australia.

Rare sea snakes feared extinct discovered off the coast of Western Australia
Courting Short-nosed Sea Snakes     Photo courtesy of Grant Griffin, W.A. Dept. Parks and Wildlife
  • Scientists have discovered several live leaf-scaled and short-nosed sea snakes on reefs off the coast of Western Australia, according to a study.
  • The team even identified a pair of courting short-nosed sea snakes on Ningaloo Reef, which suggests that they are members of a breeding population, scientists say.
  • This study provides the “first unequivocal records” of the leaf-scaled and short-nosed sea snake in coastal waters of Western Australia, scientists say.
Between 1998 and 2002, two critically endangered species of sea snakes — the leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama) and the short-nosed sea snake (Aipysurus apraefrontalis) — disappeared from their only known habitat in the Ashmore and Hibernia Reefs in Timor Sea, off the coast of north-western Australia.
Not having spotted the sea snakes for more than 15 years on these reefs, many conservationists feared that the snakes were probably extinct.
Now, scientists from James Cook University (JCU) and Curtin University in Australia have discovered several live leaf-scaled and short-nosed sea snakes on reefs off the coast of Western Australia, according to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation.
“This discovery is really exciting, we get another chance to protect these two endemic Western Australian sea snake species,” lead author Blanche D’Anastasi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU, said in a statement.
Critically endangered leaf scaled sea snake. Photo by Blanche D’Anastasi
Critically endangered leaf scaled sea snake.  Photo by Blanche D’Anastasi
Inspired by anecdotal reports of the two sea snake species in coastal waters of Western Australia, the team launched surveys to look for the elusive sea snakes.
Soon, they found some individuals that were “alive and healthy”.
The team discovered several live individuals of the rare leaf-scaled sea snakes in Shark Bay, 1,700 kilometers (~1,056 miles) south of their previously known natural habitat on Ashmore Reef.
“We had thought that this species of sea snake was only found on tropical coral reefs,” Ms D’Anastasi said.
“Finding them in seagrass beds at Shark Bay was a real surprise.”
The team also found five individuals of the short-nosed sea snake that had been captured live during trawl by-catch surveys.
They even confirmed the record of a pair of courting short-nosed sea snakes on Ningaloo Reef. Grant Griggin, a Western Australia Parks and Wildlife Officer, had captured the snakes in a photograph and sent it to D’Anastasi for identification.
“We were blown away, these potentially extinct snakes were there in plain sight, living on one of Australia’s natural icons, Ningaloo Reef,” lead author Blanche D’Anastasi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU, said.
“What is even more exciting is that they were courting, suggesting that they are members of a breeding population.”
According to the team, this study provides the “first unequivocal records of live animals for A. foliosquama and A. apraefrontalis in coastal waters of WA and is the first to document that A. foliosquama occurs as far south as subtropical Shark Bay.”
While the discovery of the sea snakes is a win, scientists say that there are a number of unanswered questions.
For example, over the last two decades, there have been several unexplained declines of sea snakes at several locations, including Ashmore Reef which was declared a National Nature Reserve in 1983, the authors write.
The researchers speculate that a number of threats — such as trawling, loss of habitats and prey, disease, and offshore developmental activities — could be driving the snakes’ decline.
“However, until we identify the causes of previous extirpations of Aipysurus group species, it will be challenging to implement effective conservation strategies,” the authors write.
“Thus, in addition to the need for further field surveys to accurately document the true range extents and population sizes of species, it also is critically important that targeted research be conducted to further our understanding of the biology and ecology of sea snakes, and address knowledge gaps about the key threatening processes,” they add.
A) Map showing key locations throughout the study region. Specific locations (purple dots) of survey sites are shown at B) Scott Reef; C) Ningaloo Reef and Exmouth Gulf; and D) Shark Bay. Locations of previously published records (stars) and new records from this study (filled circles) for E) Aipysurus foliosquama (green) and F) Aipysurus apraefrontalis (pink), including two WAM samples initially identified as A. pooleorum, but reassigned to A. foliosquama (circled star).  From D'Anastasi et al 2015.
A) Map showing key locations throughout the study region.
Specific locations (purple dots) of survey sites are shown at B) Scott Reef; C) Ningaloo Reef and Exmouth Gulf; and D) Shark Bay. Locations of previously published records (stars) and new records from this study (filled circles) for E) Aipysurus foliosquama (green)
and F) Aipysurus apraefrontalis (pink), including two WAM samples initially identified as A. pooleorum, but reassigned to A. foliosquama (circled star).
From D’Anastasi et al 2015.

KOMODO DRAGON: ONE OF INDONESIA’S RARE CONSERVATION SUCCESS STORIES

Jeremy Hance – Mongabay
The Komodo dragon–that giant monitor lizard inhabiting a few islands in Eastern Indonesia–is an exception.
Biologically-speaking, of course, it is the world’s largest lizard, and a last survivor of monster lizards (bigger even than the Komodo) that once roamed a good portion of both Indonesia and Australia.
But the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis), is also an exception in conservation, both locally and globally.
This became especially clear to me when I visited the islands of Flores and Komodo last spring.
On arriving at the new airport in Labuan Bajo, I couldn’t help but marvel over the giant dragon replica sitting proudly for all arrivals to see. Clearly, the local government and developers were announcing the importance of dragons to the region.
Many of the world’s top predators are gravely endangered and in decline.
In addition, most of Indonesia’s large-bodied animals (including orangutans, elephants, rhinos and tigers) seem to be falling closer to extinction with every year that passes.
But, the Komodo dragon is not.
It is largely a conservation success story in a country where such examples are practically non-existent right now, and in a world where such tales for top predators are rare.
So what makes the Komodo dragon different?
And why have conservationists largely succeeded here when they are struggling to protect other big animals across the country?
A world-class park devoted to a dragon.
For a long time, the Komodo dragon existed only in rumor to the wider world.
Then in 1912 an intrepid Dutch army man, Lieutenant van Steyn van Hensbroek, visited Komodo Island, shot a dragon dead and sent the skin to naturalist, Peter Ouwens, who wrote the first-ever scientific paper on the massive predator.
A large Komodo dragon rests by a waterhole on Komodo Island. Photo by Jeremy Hance.
A large Komodo dragon rests by a waterhole on Komodo Island.  Photo by Jeremy Hance.
Just fourteen years later, an expedition led by Americans W. Douglas Burden brought the first living dragons out of Indonesia.
The dragons died quickly after arriving at the Bronx Zoo, but Burden’s wild expedition–and his even more colorful writing–became the inspiration for “King Kong.”
Fifty-some years later, experts began to fear for the dragon’s long-term survival.
This concern led to the establishment of Komodo National Park in 1980 and its listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.
Indonesian-expert on the species, Achmad Ariefiandy, with the Komodo Dragon Survivor Program agrees that his subject is mostly a conservation success story.
“Especially in Komodo National Park,” he noted.
The park covers not just the famous–or infamous–Komodo Island, but 28 other islands including several more where dragons live, such as Rinca.
Experts believe that around 2,500 of the giant monitors live inside the park.
Komodo Island and Rinca house over 1,100 each while two other islands – Montang and Kode – are home to about 50 each.
“The government authority has been successfully protecting not only [the Komodo dragon] but also…the habitat and their prey.
They also educated the people living around the park,” Ariefiandy said, adding that “researchers are contributing scientific information.”
Most Komodo dragons live on the islands of Komodo and Rinca.Most Komodo dragons live on the islands of Komodo and Rinca.
The mountains of remote and wild Komodo Island.  Photo by Jeremy Hance.
The mountains of remote and wild Komodo Island.  Photo by Jeremy Hance.
Decades of successful management in the park (as opposed to many other so-called “paper parks” in Southeast Asia), has secured a good portion of the species’ small but stable population, and the bulk of its current habitat.
Ariefiandy says currently the only real threat to the dragon in Komodo National Park is deer poaching (a primary prey species), but he adds that wildlife officials have done a good job at keeping even this threat to a minimum.
Although tourism is a heavy presence on the island–on the day I visited a monster cruise ship unloaded its passengers for day trips–Ariefiandy says this doesn’t threaten the wildlife, largely because less than 10 percent of the park is open to visitors.
Pride and tourism
If you want to see Komodo dragons, you start out in Labuan Bajo in western Flores.
Here, you most likely take a boat either to Komodo or Rinca.
But you’ll know you’re in dragon country the minute you enter town.
You see dragons everywhere: wooden carved dragons, dragons on signs, dragons on shirts.
People here love their dragons, in part because the massive man-eater has become a major tourism draw.
“Tourism is developed now,” Arman Rikardus, my freelance guide in the region and a native of Labuan Bajo, wrote to me later.
“Many hotels [have been] built and many travel agents also opened…Tourism industry has created job opportunities.
Previously, many of our talented people looked for jobs in Bali.”
Rikardus noted that while work opportunities in Flores were still “very limited,” the rise in dragon tourism has certainly helped the island economy.
Moreover, he said that tourists who come to visit the dragons also engage in other activities, such as visiting local villages, creating a further economic boon for Flores.
But for Rikardus, the conservation of the Komodo dragon is not just about his own livelihood, but something deeper.
“Honestly, I’m grateful that the dragons still survive…otherwise I [would] just hear the story about that animal,” he wrote.
Ariefiandy, who also lives in Labuan Bajo but is not from there, agreed that locals view the dragon as an “asset.”
Still, he added that there are downsides to a sudden boom in tourism.
“The inflation rate is very high [in Labuan Bajo] and the living cost is very expensive nowadays, especially if I compare with some 10 years ago, when I first arrived,” he said.
Still, even though living with Komodo dragons isn’t easy–on average there is usually one attack a year from dragons–locals appear largely to support conservation efforts.
“[The locals have worked] hard to keep the dragons,” said Rikardus who added that local islanders tell an origin myth that says Komodo dragons and humans have the same mother.
“They were twins. I think this helps [with] conservation.”
A Komodo dragon visits a waterhole on Komodo Island. Photo by Jeremy Hance.
A Komodo dragon visits a waterhole on Komodo Island.  Photo by Jeremy Hance.
Dragon madness is perhaps most apparent on Komodo Island.
Before you can hike into the interior you first have to make your way through a barrage of Komodo dragon souvenirs.
The island’s inhabitants–around 2,000 people–make their living in part from selling dragon souvenirs to the swarm of tourists eager to see the world’s biggest lizard.
Still, challenges
The IUCN Red List currently categorizes the Komodo dragon as Vulnerable.
However, the listing is nearly two decades old and probably needs updating.
That said, it’s likely the dragon will always face some level of threat, given the fact that it only survives in a small area, making it what scientists call a range-restricted species.
In this case, though, it’s restrictedness could be seen as a both a minus and a plus.
On the minus side, it means Komodo dragons will probably never be very numerous.
But on the plus side, it’s simpler to provide habitat protection for a species found only on a few islands.
Its tiny range also gives the species an aura of mystique: there’s only one place in the world you can see a wild Komodo dragon, making it a global emblem of the Lesser Sunda Islands.
But just because the dragon is thriving in parts of its range, doesn’t mean it’s doing well everywhere.
Ariefiandy said that conservation efforts today have moved from Komodo and Rinca to the lesser-known population on mainland Flores. Researchers believe that Komodo dragons once roamed most of Flores, an island just a little smaller than Connecticut, but over thousands of years, people have pushed the dragons into ever-smaller pockets on the island’s north and west.
This population, genetically-distinct from the others, remains threatened.
“Most of the Komodo dragon distribution areas in Flores are not [in] protected areas like nature reserve or National Parks,” explained Ariefiandy.
Flores does have two parks devoted to protecting dragons: Wae Wuul Reserve and Wolo Tado Reserve, but they fail to cover a majority of the dragon’s range on Flores.
“Mostly the dragons live side-by-side with humans [on Flores],” said Ariefiandy, adding that “competition is inevitable.”
Competition comes in many different forms.
Villagers sometimes poach deer, the main food of the dragons, or cut and burn down dragon habitat.
Locals also sometimes target dragons directly, blaming them for eating precious livestock such as goats.
But the violence can go both ways.
Komodo dragons are highly dangerous and have been known to attack, and sometimes even kill, people.
“Understanding their behavior makes me even more and careful when working with this animal, because the more you understand the danger the more you want to work safely,” said Ariefiandy.
“There is no point to became an expert and [then] behave like a T.V, star…you will end up getting bit by a dragon.”
Given that the dragon appears largely secure on the off-shore islands, Ariefiandy said that Flores needs “more attention from the authorities.”
Lessons
Even with ongoing challenges, the story of Komodo dragon conservation is starkly different from other megafauna on Indonesia (orangutans, tigers, elephants, Sumatran rhinos), most of which have seen their populations plunge in the last couple decades.
What can be learned from the dragons’ success?
On the one hand, conservation of the Komodo dragon may be as unique as the species itself.
Given its small range and notoriety, the dragon has proved, arguably, easier to save than other species in the region.
But such an explanation may ignore possible lessons.
After all, elephants and orangutans are arguably just as famous–or more famous–than Komodo dragons.
And tigers can be as problematic to local communities when it comes to human-wildlife conflict.
One lesson from the Komodo dragon may be that to save a top predator–and megafauna in general–one must do just a few things: protect a good portion of its habitat, safeguard its prey, and have buy-in from local people that live near it.
“Being close with this animal is an amazing life-time experience,” said Ariefiandy, who noted that when he was offered the chance to study the dragon a decade ago, he “never [thought] twice.”
Perhaps if the dragon’s lessons were more widely applied to other species throughout Indonesia’s vast archipelago, the nation’s wildlife wouldn’t be in such dire straits—and eco-tourism could get a boost.
There is no question the Komodo dragon is an exceptional creature, but that doesn’t mean the general success of its conservation has to be equally exceptional.
A female Komodo dragon walks along the trail on Komodo Island. Photo by Jeremy Hance.
A female Komodo dragon walks along the trail on Komodo Island.  Photo by Jeremy Hance.

SATELLITES SHOW FLORIDA BEACHES BECOMING DARKER, AND THAT’S GOOD FOR SEA TURTLES

ScienceDaily
 
Source: University of Central Florida
The 368 one-kilometer sections of Florida beach studied by researchers are shown
in red.
Credit: University of Central Florida
Newly published research that started as a high school science project confirms that the density of sea turtle nests on Florida beaches is reduced where artificial lights along the coast deter nesting females.
But the data also show that the network of sea turtle-friendly lighting ordinances along Florida’s coast seems to be working.
“It’s a success story.
Florida’s coastlines are getting darker, and that’s a good thing not just for sea turtles but for other organisms,” said UCF biology professor John Weishampel, co-author of the study published last week in the journal Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.
“It shows we affect turtles’ nesting, but at the same time we’ve been successful at reducing that effect.”
The research started last year with Weishampel’s son Zachary.
The high school student had experience analyzing satellite imagery from an earlier project.
He was looking for an idea for the science fair that would let him use that skill when his father suggested exploring how sea turtle nests have fared since cities began adopting restrictions on coastal lighting that can disorient nesting mothers.
First, they gathered data on the intensity of artificial light at night that was collected by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program from 1992 to 2012.
Then they compared it to the extensive data on nesting sea turtles collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for the same period.
Because Florida’s human population increased by more than 40 percent during that period – adding about 5.5 million people – researchers expected to find that artificial light levels had increased, too.
But, assisted by UCF graduate student Wan-Hwa Cheng, they found that nighttime light levels had decreased for more than two-thirds of the 368 one-kilometer (.62-mile) sections of Florida beach that were examined.
Some 14 percent had increased, and the rest hadn’t changed.
“Sea turtle populations are doing pretty well in Florida, and it may be due in part to our coastal management,” Weishampel said.
“The satellite serves as a kind of policeman in the sky to see what’s going on with these lighting ordinances.”
About 90 percent of sea turtle nesting in the continental United States occurs in Florida, led by three main species: loggerheads, green turtles and leatherbacks.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies green turtles and leatherbacks as endangered, and loggerheads as threatened.
Previous research has shown that sea turtles are impacted by artificial light.
And because sea turtles are so long-lived and spend only a fraction of their lives ashore, they had little time to adapt to manmade lights. That’s prompted regulations meant to reduce the amount of light near nesting beaches by mandating the type of bulbs used and requiring fixtures to be shielded and directed downward.
In some areas – such as around Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island and Sanibel Island – the researchers found that light levels had decreased dramatically since 1992.
Others, including Wabasso Beach and Jupiter Island, had increased.
The density of turtle nests is reduced where artificial light is brightest, and higher where it’s dark, researchers found.
They also concluded that turtles aren’t impacted by beach lighting alone.
Data showed that light from distant urban areas, known as “skyglow” – even from cities as far as 60 miles away – can influence a female turtle’s nesting location.
An earlier study in Israel used satellite data to gauge artificial light’s impact on loggerhead and green turtle nesting in the Mediterranean Sea.
But the data on which it relied were not as robust as Florida’s vast nesting database.
At most, the density of nests in the Israeli study was fewer than 10 per kilometer of beach.
By comparison, several monitored Florida beaches have more than 700 loggerhead, 100 green and 10 leatherback nests per kilometer.
In Florida, sea turtle nesting has been increasing for all three species.
The UCF research suggests that artificial lighting may not be critically impairing those turtle populations, and light mitigation policies are working.
At the same time, the adult females are only half the equation.
Turtle hatchlings are lured away from the sea by artificial light, and that impact on nesting may not be felt for decades.
Even so, Weishampel said the research shows satellite-derived data can be used to determine what areas need more effective management of artificial light.
It’s also a useful tool to monitor more remote areas for conservation purposes.

HOW TEMPERATURE DETERMINES SEX IN ALLIGATORS

ScienceDaily
 
Source: National Institutes of Natural Sciences
 
Eggs and a newborn baby American alligator are shown.
Credit: NIBB
Some reptiles such as crocodilians and some turtles are known to display temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), where the ambient temperature of the developing eggs determines the individual’s sex.
For example in the American alligator’s eggs, incubation at 33 ºC produces mostly males, while incubation at 30 ºC produces mostly females.
An international joint research team between Japan and the US have determined that the thermosensor protein TRPV4 is associated with TSD in the American alligator.
The research has been published in Scientific Reports.
The research team headed by Professor Taisen Iguchi of the National Institute for Basic Biology (Okazaki Institute for Integrative Bioscience) and PhD student Ryohei Yatsu of SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies), in collaboration with Professor Makoto Tominaga of the National Institute for Physiological Sciences (Okazaki Institute for Integrative Bioscience) and Professor Louis J. Guillette Jr. and assistant professor Satomi Kohno of the Medical University of South Carolina, have investigated the molecular mechanism of how temperature determines sex.
In their research using American alligators, they found that a thermosensitive protein called TRPV4 is present within the developing alligator gonad inside the egg.
Alligator TRPV4 is responsive to warm temperatures near mid-30s, and can activate cell signaling by inducing calcium ion influx.
The current study also demonstrates that by specific pharmacological inhibition of TPRV4 protein function in the developing egg, genes important for male development (for example, genes encoding anti-Müllerian hormone and SOX9) are influenced, and partial feminization at male producing temperatures have been observed.
From these results the authors demonstrate that TRPV4 may significantly influence the male gonadal sex determination pathway at a molecular level during TSD in the alligator.
This is the first demonstrated report of a biomolecule associated with regulation of the very unique temperature-dependent sex determination mechanism.
PhD student Ryohei Yatsu said, “Reptiles can be difficult to study at times, but we were delighted to obtain such an interesting result and elucidate part of the alligator TSD mechanism.
We still have much to research, but we are interested in how our results relate with other TSD species diversity and evolution.”
Professor Taisen Iguchi said, “Organisms that have adopted TSD systems may be more susceptible to the risks of environmental change, such as global warming.
In future, we would like to know how an unstable environmental factor such as incubation temperature was able to establish itself as a sex determination factor.”
US FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE LISTS 201 SALAMANDERS AS INJURIOUS, BARS IMPORTATION, INTERSTATE TRANSPORT

Fire Salamander – Gallery Photo by firereptiles

To help prevent a deadly fungus from killing native salamanders, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is publishing an interim rule to list 201 salamander species as injurious wildlife and barring their importation into the United States and interstate trade of those already in the country.

The fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans also known as Bsal or salamander chytrid, has wreaked havoc on salamander species overseas and poses an imminent threat to native salamander populations.

The fungus is not yet known to be found in the United States, and to help ensure it remains that way, the Service is publishing an interim rule that took effect on January 28, 2016.
The rule also opens a 60-day public comment period (please see the rule in the Federal Register for instructions on how to submit a public comment).

A species can be listed under the Lacey Act because it is injurious to the health and welfare of humans; the interests of forestry, agriculture, or horticulture; or the welfare and survival of wildlife or the resources that wildlife depend upon.

In listing these species, the Service is responding to science that shows that Bsal is an imminent threat to U.S. wildlife.

For more information please visit this link http://www.fws.gov/injuriouswildlife/salamanders.html

SNAKES SHOW THAT EATING CAN BE BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH

ScienceDaily
 
Source: Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB)
A corn snake eating a meal.
Though it looks bad for the mouse, this snake will also pay a price in oxidative damage.
Credit: Dr. Zach Stahlschmidt
Eating is essential for life.
Animals must eat to live, grow, and reproduce.
But like most things, eating comes with tradeoffs.
Dr. Zach Stahlschmidt of the University of the Pacific and his colleagues have found that along with the benefits of eating, there’s a price to pay.
This price is oxidative damage — damage caused by an increase in chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen that result in harm to cells and DNA.
This harm is severe enough that it’s believed that its accumulation over time contributes to aging.
Surprisingly, says Stahlschmidt, this cost of eating has been gravely overlooked.
“It seemed like this is a hidden piece of the puzzle that no one had investigated that might be really important, for lots of reasons” Stahlschmidt says.
But in order to look for oxidative damage during eating, Stahlschmidt and his collaborators had to compare the amount of reactive oxygen molecules in an organism during digestion and well after the animal was done absorbing a meal.
Otherwise, it would be difficult to tell what the ‘normal’ amount of circulating reactive oxygen molecules in the animal’s body was.
So they had to work with an organism that didn’t feed continuously.
Snakes, which eat several times a week or up to months apart, turned out to be ideal.
The team worked with the corn snake Pantherophis guttatus, a commonly studied snake that can be fed one mouse every two weeks. Because the corn snake’s digestion and metabolism has been well-studied, the team knew exactly when to draw blood at peak digestion and post-absorption times.
This enabled them to discover how the amount of oxidative damage was changing over time.
What Stahlschmidt and his collaborators found was unexpected.
In the corn snakes, oxidative damage increased by almost 180% during digestion.
However, antioxidant capacity, the ability of the body to fight the damaging effects of the oxidizing molecules, only increased by 6%.
So every time these animals ate, they were accruing damage.
What was surprising was that even though feeding was something the snakes were doing regularly, their bodies were not balancing the oxidative damage with an equal amount of protective support.
“The levels of damage we saw were really similar to or exceeded — by quite a bit — things as stressful as flying 200 kilometers in a bird, or mounting an immune response.
Both of these things seem really stressful and may induce oxidative damage, and they do, but much less than actually eating a meal,” Stahlschmidt says.
Stahlschmidt and his team think that what might be causing the damage is the immune system.
The immune system may kick in when animals eat, releasing reactive oxygen molecules to kill microbes on food, helping to protect from disease.
But the molecules also affect the cells of the animal ingesting the food, by damaging the DNA, proteins, and other critical parts of the cells in their body.
Stahlschmidt says the increased immune response during feeding makes sense, “You’re ingesting something with microbes all over it and inside it.”
So the immune system, which is normally considered to be working to protect us, is causing both help and harm, a tradeoff that could be affecting more animals than just snakes.
All animals eat, and oxidative damage during eating could play a larger role in evolution than previously thought.
Stahlschmidt believes that this larger role may be in shaping the life history evolution of species.
Life history traits are the things in an animal’s life that affect life expectancy — critical issues like reproduction, growth, and survival.
Stahlschmidt says that many life history traits are associated with oxidative damage.
And life history evolution involves strategic tradeoffs in terms of how an animal is using resources across these traits.
If an animal uses most of its resources for reproduction, it can’t use them to grow.
If oxidative damage is more or less of a cost of any or all of these traits, that may affect the life history evolution of the animal.
“Lots of these major tradeoffs or shifts that we are seeing between traits are underlied by oxidative stress or antioxidant capacity — some kind balancing act,” Stahlschmidt says.
Stahlschmidt and his collaborators suggest that their results from one species of snake could have ramifications for different animals and other types of studies examining the role of oxidative damage during other activities, such as flying and immune response.
Unless the digestive status of the animal in the study is known, it’s possible that oxidative damage from digestion could provide misleading data.
The question brought up by this research is how prevalent this trend is across other types of animals — whether all species deal with such high levels of oxidative damage when they eat is an open question.
Eating is necessary for all animals, but perhaps there is cost to every benefit.
Stahlschmidt presented his team’s research results at the 2016 annual conference of the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology in Portland, Oregon.

THE LIZARD OF CONSISTENCY: NEW IGUANA SPECIES WHICH STICKS TO ITS COLORS FOUND IN CHILE

ScienceDaily
 
Source: Pensoft Publishers      
The new iguanian lizard species Liolaemus uniformis.
Credit: Jaime Troncoso-Palacios; CC-BY 4.0
During a field trip at 3000 metres above sea level, a group of scientists, led by Jaime Troncoso-Palacios, Universidad de Chile, discovered a new endemic iguana species, in the mountains of central Chile.
Noticeably different in size and scalation, compared to the rest of the local lizards, what initially grabbed the biologists’ attention was its colouration.
Not only was it unlike the already described ones, but also appeared surprisingly consistent within the collected individuals, even regardless of their sex.
Eventually, it was this peculiar uniformity that determined the lizard’s name L. uniformis.
The study is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.
The researchers found the lizards quite abundant in the area, which facilitated their observations and estimations.
Apart from a thorough description of the new iguana along with its comparisons to its related species, the present paper also provides an in-depth discussion about the placement of the new taxon, which had been confused with other species in the past.
While most of the other lizards from the area and its surroundings often vary greatly in colouration and pattern between populations and sexes, such thing is not present in the new species.
Both males and females from the observed collection have their bodies’ upper side in brown, varying from dark on the head, through coppery on the back and light brown on the tail.
The down side of the body is mainly yellowish, while the belly — whitish.
The only variables the scientists have noticed in their specimens are slight differences in the shade with two females demonstrating unusual olive hues on their snouts.
These differences in morphology were also strongly supported by the molecular phylogeny through the analysis of mitochondrial DNA, which was performed by Dr. Alvaro A. Elorza, from Universidad Andres Bello.
Accustomed to life in highland rocky habitats with scarce greenery, these lizards spend their active hours, estimated to take place between 09:00 h and 18:00 h hidden under stones.
However, they might not be too hard to find due to their

Oklahoma City Herpetological and Invertebrate Society