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