Happy Amphibian Week!

May 6, 2022 • 1:45 pm

by Greg Mayer

May 1-7, 2022, is Amphibian Week, which is being celebrated by anurophiles, salamander lovers, and caecilianists all over the country, including Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Zoo. We’re late to the party here at WEIT, but better late than never!

A bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) on the shore of Greenquist Pond, Somers, WI, 5 May 2021.

And speaking of late, it’s been a very late season for amphibians here in southeastern Wisconsin. The picture above is from May, 2021, because it’s been a very cold spring, and there’s been hardly any amphibian activity. Normally, chorus frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) begin calling in mid-March; this year I first heard them on April 7, and, since then, calling has been only sporadic. A year ago, American toads (Bufo americanus) began trilling the first week of May; I haven’t heard any yet. I have seen one adult bullfrog, in the last week of April. It was actually quite large– I spotted it with my naked eye across the Pond while scanning for turtles. (Turtles are out, but not in large numbers or consistently.)

Among the participating organizations is the Department of Defense PARC, which is charged with protecting and managing amphibians and reptiles on military lands, and they have been sending interesting items all week. One of the most fun ones for me was an amphibian identification quiz. It was done as a Powerpoint file, but I can’t figure how to set it up here in WordPress, so you’ll have to take my word for it ūüôĀ . They sent a nice guide to modern amphibian origins:

And this set of links:

  • When folks think of migration, usually, people think of birds and whales carrying out this process. However, did you know that some of our amphibians migrate, too? When the night is right, thousands of spotted salamanders will make their way to temporary wetlands known as vernal pools to breed in the spring. Checkout this great video by the Tennessee Aquarium: https://youtu.be/8xGZ8SLqVa8
  • If you find an amphibian in need, check out this video on how to safely assist: https://youtu.be/wBZ00p85IUE
  • Looking for some educational inspiration to teach about salamander migration and vernal pools? If so, check out this resource list put together by Of Pools and People: https://www.vernalpools.me/ecology-2/
  • Check out how the Boreal Toad was brought back to Colorado by biologists working to reintroduce the species and how they‚Äôve been affected by a decimating fungus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9RQVA_d1DU
  • Gifford Pinchot National Forest biologists created breeding habitat for the threatened Oregon Spotted Frog through an innovative interagency conservation project in this video: https://vimeo.com/278211745
  • Scientists at Olympic National Forest are using environmental DNA (eDNA) to look for the presence of amphibians through samples taken from water bodies. This helps them find those amphibians on the move, even if they cannot see them!: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/olympic/learning/?cid=fseprd902658&width=full

We’ll finish up with DOD PARC herpetologists in the field and lab (yes, some of these feature reptiles, not amphibians).

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 26, 2022 • 8:45 am

Today we have a panoply of taxa from reader Scott Goeppner. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

These photos were all taken around Stillwater, Oklahoma:
Physa acuta at Sanborn Lake in Stillwater OK. These freshwater snails are common at pretty much any location in Oklahoma with water, along with other species of Physa.

Planorbella (Helisoma) sp., most likely Planorbella trivolvis from Sanborn Lake. Another very common freshwater snail in Oklahoma.

Spined micrathena (Micrathena gracilis) near Sanborn Lake:

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) next to Sanborn Lake:

Pearl Crescent butterflies (Phyciodes tharos) on the edge of Boomer Lake in Stillwater OK.:

Green-striped grasshopper (Chortophaga viridifasciata) – Teal Ridge wetland in Stillwater OK:

Obscure bird grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura) – Teal Ridge wetland:

Southern Leopard frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) at the Teal Ridge wetland:

Hackberry emperor butterfly (Asterocampa celtis) at the Teal Ridge wetland:

Here’s another one from Boomer Lake with its wings open:

Common Green June beetle (Cotinis nitida) at Teal Ridge:

Widow Skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) near the Teal Ridge Wetland in Stillwater OK:

Sachem (Atalopedes campestris) from Teal Ridge:

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 11, 2021 • 8:00 am

Send in your photos, please; the holidays will soon be on, and nobody will be reading or sending. Thanks!

Today’s photos, a great batch, come from regular Tony Eales from Queensland. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

A grab bag of rainforest finds.¬† I’ve been getting seriously addicted to doing night walks in the local rainforest. There’s a lot of different species out compared with the day, and different activities are going on.
Like cicadas emerging from their pupal shells, this one is a Green Grocer (Cyclochila australasiae). One of the favourite photos I’ve ever taken.

I encountered this mantidfly (Ditaxis biseriata) wandering about on a huge tree fallen limb. The ones I’ve found in the rainforest in the day have flown off quickly but this one seemed very interested in my lights.

A lot of sex seems to happen at night as well. Who would have thought that cockroach sex would be so weirdly beautiful? These are in the family Ectobiidae, but more than that I do not know.

There’s a few species I only ever see at night, like this huntsman (Heteropoda hillerae):

And these harvestmen, probably an undescribed Neopantopsalis species:

. . . and these weird crickets in the ‘Cave Weta’ family Macropathinae:

During the day these spiders (Genus Namandia in the family Desidae) stay deep in their messy cobweb retreats in the hollows and forks of trees. But at night they run out and grab anything walking around on the trunk of the trees. This hairy caterpillar’s spines were apparently no defence.

The lower trunks of the trees are full of these prehistoric looking pygmy grasshoppers (Tetrigidae). They are both armoured and camouflaged and difficult to photograph well, but worth the effort. This one is  Vingselina crassa. [JAC: Look at those hoppers!]

Not just invertebrates come out at night but also vertebrates and normally shy frogs are rather easy to approach and photograph at night time. This one is the Dainty Tree Frog, Ranoidea gracilenta, a fairly common frog but one I never tire of photographing.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 26, 2021 • 8:00 am

Here’s the first installment of rainforest photos from reader Athayde Tonhasca J√ļnior.¬† Click on the photos to enlarge them, and his notes and IDs are indented:

You asked for readers’ photos, so here’s a tour through the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.

Moth:

Access road:

Bad-tempered toad:

Black-faced hawk (Leucopternis melanops):

Bothrops sp. (fer-de-lance). Keep your distance!

Bromeliad:

Another bromeliad:

Cheeky lizard:

Forest:

Forest:

Fungus 1:

Fungus 2:

Fungus 3:

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 12, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today’s selection comes from Ivar Husa from Washington State, but the photos are from Arizona. Ivar’s captions and ID’s are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

These photos were taken near Buenos Aires NWR southwest of Tucson. I might add  near our southern  border.

Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus) are birds of prey that often fly stealthily by staying below treetops, rising above only when they get close to their nest. This one bears a rodent for the chicks.

These chicks fledged within a few weeks of these photos being taken.

It was jarring to see for myself  a new section of border wall slashing through wildlands southwest of Tucson.  Animal movements are restricted, causing ecological damage.

Here are images taken south of Tucson AZ

American Snout, Libytheana carinenta  These were present in prodigious numbers at lower levels of the Santa Rita Mountains. I crudely estimate that along an 8 mile stretch of Box Canyon Road that perhaps 100,000 American Snout could be seen.

Here is a look at them along the road. Every black spot on the road, every one, is an American Snout. They had record rains this year which perhaps explains their spectacular abundance here.  Sulphurs were nearly as abundant in other locations.

Checkered White, Pyrgus albescens:

Dainty Sulphur,¬†Nathalis iole. Did they say ‚Äėdainty‚Äô? This butterfly has about a 2.5cm wingspan: about an inch.

Variegated Fritillary, Euptoieta Claudia:

Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus:

Tiny Checkerspot,¬†Dymasia dymas.¬† Did they say ‚Äėtiny‚Äô? These have wingspans in the range of 2.3 to 3.5 cm.‚ÄĒaround an inch.

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui:   

Finally, this cutie. I showed a picture to a local birder (as one does, herpetologists being less abundant in the field)  and asked “What do you call this red-spotted toad? “:  

To my surprise and amusement he replied ‚ÄúRed-spotted Toad.‚Ä̬†¬†Anaxyrus punctatus. This one is yet only about 3.5mm (1.5‚ÄĚ) long and will grow much larger.

Photos taken with Canon 5D SR with 100-400 Mark II and 1.4X multiplier.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 11, 2021 • 8:00 am

Bring out your photos, please!

Today’s contribution is from Tony Eales from Brisbane. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them. I was unable to get rid of the double-spacing and smaller fonts in the text. Be sure to see the Bumpy Rocket Frog!

I’ve been back out west in Bladensburg National Park, Diamantina National Park and areas around Mt Isa and Cloncurry. The land has some awe-inspiring scenery as well as mind numbing emptiness.

It’s also a place where European interference has led to the extinction and near extinction of many vertebrate species. I was privileged to visit the newly purchased recovery area for the (once believed extinct) Night Parrot and talk to the manager there about the problems and pressures they are facing.

Recent rain brought out frogs and insects at night but many of the billboard species are too rare and secretive for me to have photographed. Here’s a few highlights of animals and scenery.

The landscape around the town of Cloncurry is grassy and dotted with termite mounds:

This dry grass has a selective pressure on the arthropod life that lives in it, with many of the spiders and insects being a similar pale yellow or white.

For example, Neosparassus macilentus, Slender Badge Huntsman:

An as yet unidentified member of family Morabidae, AKA Australian Monkey Grasshoppers:

And this Oxyopes attenuatus, Attenuated Lynx Spider:

As I mentioned, recent rain had brought a lot of the area to life. There was abundant bird life at the dam outside Cloncurry.  Ardea intermedia, Intermediate Egret:

Psitteuteles versicolor, Varied Lorikeet:

Crinia deserticola, Desert Froglet:

Limnodynastes tasmaniensis, Spotted Grass Frog:

Litoria inermis, Bumpy Rocket Frog:

One of the big highlights for me was to see my first Great Artesian Basin mound springs. See here for info on these highly endangered and critical habitats

We visited Elizabeth Springs, one of the few in the region that is not extinct. It is home (as are many of these springs) to a handful of unique species and sub-species that are entirely restricted to and dependant on the springs including a species of desert goby found nowhere else Chlamydogobius micropterus.

The habitat itself is under threat from pumping for agriculture and intrusion by feral species such as pigs (which we observed about ten of as we arrived). Nevertheless, as a biodiversity fanboy, it was a great experience to get to visit this remote place in person.

The aquatic weed you see in the foreground is a species of macroalgae, known collectively as Stoneworts, called Nitella tumida. This species is associated with saline groundwater from Great Artesian Basin springs.

The greatest privilege and highlight of the trip was the visit to the (semi-)secret location of the Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis) recovery reserve purchased by Bush Heritage Australia. They have done a remarkable job of setting up and managing a low-impact conservation research facility (and could always use more donations) on a remote mesa next to the Diamantina National Park.

The threats to the parrot are many, predation from cats and foxes, poaching of eggs and birds by collectors, habitat destruction from stock and an extreme crypticness and remoteness that makes them difficult to study and get a baseline on numbers from which recovery plans can be assessed. There had been no well authenticated sightings between 1912 and 2013, and the bird achieved legendary status among Australian birders with all the big names in birding having their own near-miss sightings.

Between 1990 and 2013 two dead birds (one on the grill of a truck and one that flew into a barbed wire fence at Diamantina National Park) had turned up proving that the bird still existed. The person who produced the first video evidence was the absolute rogue and reputed bird hoaxer John Young. Since then, ornithologists have captured, tagged, filmed and recorded birds in several dispersed locations across the desert areas of Australia.

Pullen Pullen Reserve:

Night Parrot habitat:

JAC: Here’s a photo of a night parrot:

The fence between the reserve and the cattle property from which it was purchased. Recent rain shows both sides as green but the reserve side is all grass and the cattle side is all Australian tumbleweed (Salsola australis) seedlings:

And finally the ubiquitous Horner’s Two-lined Dragon, Lophognathus horneri, a lizard that was in every reserve and motel garden in this part of the outback.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 2, 2021 • 8:00 am

Since I noted that this may become a sporadic feature because of a lack of submissions, I’ve gotten many of them. Thanks!

Today we have a new photographer prompted by my plea. Here are photos from Florida by reader Quentin Tuckett. His notes are indented, though I’ve left out the Latin binomials. Click on the photos to enlarge them. Be sure to check out the amazing snack-mimicking caterpillars at the bottom.

Some photos attached (and captions) from my travels in and around Tampa, FL. I am not a photographer, even an amateur one; thus, most of the photographs were taken with various phone cameras. Ultimately, I am sending these along because I enjoy the wildlife photographs and would love to see them continue,

Green tree frog in the morning light:

Some type of skink; perhaps the readers will know. Photographed near Tampa:

Gopher tortoise in Little Manatee State Park; the disturbed earth is due to rooting wild hogs:

Gopher tortoise in the backyard; this species (and its burrow) is protected under Florida law:

Turtle with shell damage, presumably due to a car strike:

Green swordtails captured in Hillsborough County; feral populations exhibit extensive color variation:

Juvenile bowfin; they are really cute when small. Students of comparative zoology will be familiar with this fish:

Blackchin tilapia, a non-native species in Florida. Captured in estuarine waters of Tampa Bay:

Tilapia (probably blue tilapia) bower, the light patches; the tilapia are the dark shapes; many tilapia are moothbrooders so it’s not a nest:

Parakeet, likely escaped from a pet owner; I suspect it didn’t last long due to its bright color and the presence of raptors:

Sandhill crane; these birds are lawn ornaments in my area of Florida:

Turkey in scrub habitat:

Yellow-crowned night heron in a red mangrove along the coast of Tampa Bay:

Three pictures of a snake mimic; we’ll see if the readers can identify it; Hillsborough County, FL:

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

If you have some good wildlife photos, by all means send them in stat.  The tank grows ever lower. . .

Today’s photos are from reader Bob Placier. His narrative and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

In response to your request for photos, thought I would change it up a bit with my submissions. Before becoming a bander, I would have described my field as being a forest ecologist and especially a dendrologist‚ÄĒstill perhaps my strongest area. I still spend lots of time in the woods. so here are some non-avian photos I hope will be of use and interest to readers.

While still teaching Dendrology РI retired in 2015 РI took my lab to a nearby Ohio state forest to introduce them to our native American Chestnut (Castanea dentata). All trees of any size have been gone for many years, but the root systems keep on sending up sprouts in our highly acidic sandstone derived soils. When we reached the sapling I had in mind, we encountered this Gray Treefrog trying to remain inconspicuous. This is one of the two cryptic species (Hyla versicolor or H. chrysocelis, which are impossible to separate in the field, except by voice. And this one remained mute.

American Chestnut foliage. These are native. Efforts have been made to breed blight resistance by crossing with the Chinese Chestnut (C. mollissima), eventually producing 15/16 American individuals possessing the Chinese genes for resistance. Out-planting has begun in recent years.

Same forest, but in very early spring. Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) is a member of the Ericaceae family, mostly found in highly acidic soils. It’s easily overlooked since the flowers are often hidden under the leathery evergreen leaves. And they bloom before most wildflower lovers have ventured into the woods.

Another acid soil denizen, called Teaberry, Wintergreen, or Mountain-tea (Gaultheria procumbens). Its leaves taste just like Teaberry gum. Both this species and Trailing Arbutus are woody plants, so I got to cover them in Dendrology.

A bit later in the season, and not confined to acidic soils. Showy Orchis (Orchis spectabilis). Happily common in my woods.

My lips are sealed about the location of these beauties, within easy walking distance of my home. Pink Lady’s Slipper or Moccasin Flower (Is that cultural appropriation?) (Cypripedium acaule). It’s in a very acidic oak forest.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 8, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your wildlife photos AND PHOTOS OF YOUR POLYDACTYLOUS CAT, if you have one (two photos please: cat and its paw, and please give name of cat and a few details). Thank you. The cats will be featured tomorrow.

Today’s wildlife photos come from Mark Sturtevant, whose ID’s and links are indented. You can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Here are pictures taken early in the 2020 bug season.

A friend down the street called to say their dog had a large tick on them, and would I like to have it? Yes I would! So off I went to collect it. As expected, this is the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), well engorged with its last blood meal.

I kept her around for a couple weeks, and sure enough she eventually produced an egg mass, as shown next. The eggs are crowded around the head because her reproductive opening is immediately underneath. By honored tradition, of course the entire family went down the loo afterwards.

The tiny insects shown in the next two pictures are minnow mayflies (Callibaetis sp.). The female looks pretty ordinary, but the males sport weird compound eyes that are thought to have evolved to look for females. 

A hike in the spring woods produced this lovely male jumping spider,¬†Phidippus whitmani. The little guy was pretty restless, so a lot of pictures had to be taken‚ÄĒbut it was worth it.¬†

The unpleasant looking critter shown next is a focus-stacked picture of an antlion larva (possibly Brachynemurus abdominalis). These are famous for digging a conical pit in sandy soil, and lying in wait at the bottom to trap passing ants and other small insects.

A detail worth noting here is that the reflective plastic lets you see a nice detail about their mandibles. Do you see the dark stripe on the underside of the mandibles? Those are the maxillae, which are the next set of mouthparts for insects. In antlions the maxillae are nestled into a groove under the mandible, and together the mandibles and maxillae form a hollow tube which is used to inject digestive enzymes into their prey, and to then drain them dry. 

The next picture shows an adult antlion, most likely the same species as the larva. One can well appreciate that these are commonly called long-tailed antlions! 

Back to the woods. The lovely caterpillar shown next is the larva of the copper underwing moth (Amphipyra pyramidoides). I flush out a lot of the adult moths of this species when doing yard work, although I’ve never gotten around to photographing one.

Rounding up the invertebrates is an early-season stonefly (Acroneuria sp.). These strange insects have an aquatic larval stage, and one can find large numbers of them along rivers over a brief interval in the spring.  

I rarely photograph vertebrates, but here is a very ill-tempered snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) that was wandering the woods. S(he) would repeatedly turn to follow me, lunging and snapping its jaws with a definite ‚Äúclomp‚ÄĚ!¬†¬†

And finally, here is a very kindly toad, possibly the eastern American toad (Anaxyrus americanus). But getting staged pictures of this little one was a lesson in what Hobbes said in the¬†Calvin and Hobbes comic strip: ‚ÄúThey drink water all day just waiting for someone to pick them up‚ÄĚ.¬†¬†

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 21, 2021 • 8:00 am

PLEASE send in your wildlife photos, as I have only a few days’ worth before I run out. You wouldn’t want that to happen, do you? Please make sure they’re good pics, of the quality that we see on this feature.

Today we have a melange of photos from several readers. Their captions are indented and you can enlarge their photos by clicking on them.

First, a yellow garden spider from Killian Sharp:

Argiope aurantia was just relaxing in its web amongst my friend’s tomato plants in SW Ontario.

From Julia Sculthorpe:

I have been taking pictures of wildlife in the various wildlife refuges in the Denver metro area. These were taken in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

The dragonfly and toad blend into their surroundings. The toad was very hard to photograph as he jumped at  almost any moment I made.

 

Can you spot the toad and dragonfly (the insect is easier)?

From Laurie Berg:

Immature eagle with former mouse

From Rachel Sperling:

I was saving this photo for when I had more to share, but I saw your request this morning. I’m pretty sure this is a dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus). I encountered it on the New York section of the Appalachian Trail earlier this month. In addition to insects (not sure what type of beetle this one has caught) larger ones are able to catch fish. According to Wikipedia, their bodies are covered with hydrophobic hairs that allow them to run on water (suck it, Jesus). When they submerge, the air trapped in these hairs becomes a thin film, allowing them to breathe underwater; the air makes them quite buoyant, so they have to hold onto a twig or a rock in order to stay submerged. I think they’re really cool.

Also sharing a photo I took last night of the ALMOST full strawberry moon. This is from a park in Meriden, Connecticut, which has a lovely ridge that offers views to the east and west. This was taken around 8:30.