Amphibian Week Day 5

May 7, 2021 • 9:02 pm

by Greg Mayer

For the end of Amphibian Week, we have a photo gallery, starting with my late, lamented, Toady, who was collected by David Wingate, Bermuda’s foremost naturalist, in 1999, and who died in 2019, at the age of 20+ years. The Giant Toad, Bufo marinus, (also known as the Marine Toad or Cane Toad) is native to the continental American tropics and subtropics, and was introduced to Bermuda.

Giant Toad, Bufo marinus, Bermuda (collected in 1999; photo taken in 2012).

Note the enormous parotoid gland behind the eye, which secretes poisons that can protect the toad from predators.

Giant Toad, Bufo marinus, Bermuda (collected in 1999; photo taken in 2012).

Next, from Chis Petersen of DoD PARC, a gallery of amphibians that are found on U.S, military bases, and this report summarizing the status of threatened and endangered species on these bases (it includes both amphibians and reptiles).

My thanks to Chris, who has been distributing amphibian images, documents, and links throughout Amphibian Week. (If you’re wondering why the Department of Defense is involved in conservation, we’ve dealt with that before at WEIT. The short answer is that 1) the military must obey applicable environmental and conservation laws on military lands, and 2) certain animals pose practical issues for the military (e.g., venomous snakes). The Navy, which I know best, employs a number of professional herpetologists. Recall as well that the military has often enabled scientific exploration (the Beagle, for example, was a Royal Navy ship), and military reservations have sometimes had the best preserved habitats (e.g., much of the Patuxent National Wildlife Refuge was annexed from Fort Meade.)

Department of Defense Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. 2019. Department of Defense Herpetofauna Conservation Status Summary. Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program. pdf

Amphibian Week Day 4

May 6, 2021 • 2:15 pm

by Greg Mayer

The theme of today’s post is threats to amphibians.

In the above graphic, “41%” of amphibians are threatened”, may seem improbably precise, since threatened species are usually identified by the realization that some species is under threat, which then gets the species added to the IUCN’s Red List, an authoritative compilation. But the Zoological Society of London‘s Institute of Zoology has for a decade been implementing a “Sampled Red List Index“, which, instead of seeking out threatened species, assesses a large, random, sample of an entire higher taxon, thus giving a valid estimate of the proportion threatened. (I worked on the reptile SRLI, which assessed 1500 species).

One major threat to amphibians has been the global spread of the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, which infects amphibians and can wipe out whole populations and species. Chris Petersen, of Department of Defense Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, sent me links to the following reports on surveys and assessments that have been conducted concerning the chytrid threat to amphibians inhabiting military lands.

Report 1: Do Frogs Get Their Kicks on Route 66?

Report 2: From the Mountains to the Prairies Seasonal Bd Responses Differ by Latitude and Longitude at a Continental Scale

Report 3: Salamander Chytrid Fungus Risk Assessment on Department of Defense Installations

I especially liked the first survey, a transcontinental transect study from California to Virginia; it found chytrid at all but one location.

Figure 1 from Petersen et al. (2011).

This and the second study were coauthored by, among others, my colleagues Rob Lovich and Mike Lannoo; Rob has previously treated WEIT readers to World Snake Day, and Mike has authored or coauthored several major works on amphibian conservation, including the monumental Amphibian Declines: The Conservation of United States Species. (The titles of these two reports also show the authors’ knowledge of song lyrics!)

We’ll finish off today’s installment with the non threatened Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica), which is widespread in North America. A northern species, a number of relict populations have survived in mountains south of the main range, left behind as the species followed the retreating glaciers north. This fellow’s from the main range in northern Minnesota, near Lake Superior.

Wood frog, Lutsen, near Lake Superior, Minnesota, 6 June 2014.

h/t C. Petersen, G. Wood

Böhm, M., B. Collen, … G.C. Mayer… et al. 2013. The conservation status of the world’s reptiles. Biological Conservation 157:372-385. pdf(MS)

Lannoo, M.J., ed. 2005. Amphibian Declines: The Conservation of United States Species. University of California Press, Berkeley. publisher

Petersen, C., R.E. Lovich, M.J. Lannoo, and P. Nanjappa. 2011. Do Frogs Still Get Their Kicks on Route 66? A Transcontinental Transect for Amphibian Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) Infection on U.S. Department of Defense Installations. Proj. No. 09-246, Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program. pdf

Petersen, C., R.E. Lovich, C. Philips, M. Dreslik, P. Nanjappa, and M.J. Lannoo. 2013. From the Mountains to the Prairies—Seasonal Bd Responses Differ by Latitude and Longitude at a Continental Scale. Proj. No. 10-426, Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program. pdf

Petersen, C., K.L.D. Richgels, G. Lockhart, and R.E. Lovich. 2019. Salamander Chytrid Fungus Risk Assessment on Department of Defense Installations. Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program. pdf

Amphibian Week Day 3

May 5, 2021 • 3:00 pm

by Greg Mayer

For the midpoint of Amphibian Week, Chris Petersen of Department of Defense Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation sent me these amphibian facts.

Characteristics of Amphibians:

· Include frogs and toads, salamanders and caecilians (approximately 8,300 species worldwide)
· All are vertebrates (have a backbone)
· Are ectothermic (meaning they rely on external sources from the surrounding environment to maintain their body temperature)
· Most live part of their life in water and part on land (although there are many exceptions)
· Most have moist glandular skin through which they can respire (breathe) to various extents (some exclusively so, but most also through lungs or gills)
· Lay unshelled (jelly-like) eggs in moist to wet environments
· Most go through a process called metamorphosis to develop from a water-living life stage to a land-living stage

I then headed out to Greenquist Pond here at UW-Parkside to see what amphibians were about. You’ll recall that Chorus Frogs and American Toads have been calling on campus, but I hadn’t seen them at this pond. Here’s what I found.

Bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana, Greenquist Pond, Somers, Wisconsin, 5 May 2021.

I walked around three sides of the pond, and heard or briefly saw several Rana jump into the water, many emitting a little “yelp” as they dove in. I think both Green Frogs (Rana clamitans) and Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana) make that noise, so I wasn’t sure of the species. All were smallish, except for one that was bigger, but could have been either a large Green or a medium Bullfrog in size. I was heading back, reconciled to failure, when I spotted this medium-sized Bullfrog on the bank, which didn’t spook. I was able to get pretty close to get this shot, and even was using sticks to bend shadowing leaves out of the way, but it stayed put.

The Green Frogs and American Toads I showed in earlier Amphibian Week 2021 posts were also from this pond, but I’ve not seen them at the pond yet this year. (Some of the frogs today may have been Green Frogs.)

There were also turtles, so I’ll cheat a bit (they are reptiles, of course) and throw them in here. There were four five Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta),

Painted Turtle, Chrysemys picta, Greenquist Pond, Somers, WI, 5 May 2021.

plus this Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), with another two Painted Turtles behind.

Red-eared Slider, Trachemys scripta elegans, and , in back, two Painted Turtles, Chrysemys picta, Greenquist Pond, Somers, WI, 5 May

There were a total of four five Painted Turtles, all with the slider in this corner of the pond. The slider is the most popular turtle in the pet trade, and is not native to Wisconsin. Although we find them not infrequently, they all seem to be released or escaped– they don’t seem to breed up here, even though they can survive the winters. (I had my own “Spot the …” moment– I didn’t see the further back Painted Turtle in the above photo until I’d posted it here!)

Amphibian Week– day 2

May 4, 2021 • 2:45 pm

by Greg Mayer

I’ve received another batch of amphibian goodies for Amphibian Week. Department of Defense Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation suggests having a look at this video about the Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), a giant permanently aquatic salamander, and the largest (heaviest) amphibian in the Western Hemisphere. When I took herpetology as a summer course at Cornell University in upstate New York, there was a thrill when visiting a drainage in which hellbenders could occur; the mere possibility was enticing. Alas, we didn’t find any.

The Eastern Newt (Notopthalmus viridescens) and the Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) are common through much of the eastern US (the latter is also widely introduced in the west), and DoD PARC has produced fact sheets on both of them. This website explains, for kids, some of the differences between frogs and toads, but the problem with trying to distinguish frogs from toads is that there are many more kinds of members of the amphibian order Anura than just frogs and toads. “True toads” (Bufonidae) and “true frogs” (Ranidae) are only two of the dozens of families of anurans. We have two words in English, which correspond to the two genera (Bufo, toads, and Rana, frogs)  which occur in England, but these aren’t enough; we tend to shoehorn that diversity them into either ‘frog’ or ‘toad’

We’ll finish off today with a species common in SE Wisconsin, the Green Frog (Rana clamitans). The relatively small eardrum would suggest this is a female, but it’s fairly small, and might just not have developed sexually dimorphic features yet.

Green Frog, Rana clamitans, UW-Parkside, Kenosha, WI, 20.ix.2015.

And here’s a bunch more. These were all rescued from a deep (ca. 20 foot) window well, and then released into nearby Greenquist Pond.

Green Frogs, Rana clamitans, UW-Parkside, Kenosha, WI, 20.ix.2015.

Happy National Amphibian Week!

May 3, 2021 • 11:00 am

by Greg Mayer

May 2-8 is National Amphibian Week, and Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) wants everyone to participate. Here are the themes for each day:

Sunday, May 2: What are Amphibians?
Monday, May 3: The Secret Lives of Amphibians
Tuesday, May 4: Amazing Amphibian Facts
Wednesday, May 5: Threats to Amphibians
Thursday, May 6: Amphibian Tweets from the Field
Friday, May 7: Partnering for Amphibian Conservation
Saturday, May 8: Actions for Amphibians

I began my Amphibian Week by hearing for the first time this year the trilling call of American Toads (Bufo americanus) yesterday afternoon, and I heard them again this morning. They were on my campus at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, but not at the pond I was visiting, but I didn’t try to find out exactly where they were (I was tracking a family of Canada Geese both days). Here’s a calling toad from Pennsylvania, so you know what they sound like.

These were the first toads I’ve heard this season; Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) have been calling since March 21 (a late start for them). I’ve featured our local American Toads a few times here at WEIT; here are a couple of featured WEIT toads from 2015.

American toads, Greenquist Woods, UW-Parkside, Kenosha, WI.

I was sent a few amphibian related items for Amphibian Week from PARC affiliates. A salamander coloring page and a scavenger hunt for kids from Southeast PARC (other SEPARC herp education resources here), and a nice color fact sheet about amphibians on military bases from Department of Defense PARC.

Many states and other places do aural surveys as “citizen science” projects, and there are compilations of call recordings for many places. As examples of both, here’s Wisconsin’s state aural survey, and here’s a very nice collection of the frog calls of California.

Readers’ wildlife photos

April 6, 2021 • 8:30 am

by Greg Mayer

For today’s post we return to the New York City Subway 8th Avenue local (B and C trains) station at 81st-Museum of Natural History,this time for the amphibians.

81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

My favorite of the amphibians is this brooding caecilian, curled round its eggs. These legless, short-tailed amphibians are found only in the tropics, and there is no real English vernacular name for them. (You can find a Sicilian in the subway, but I prefer Neapolitan.)

Brooding caecilian. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

What appears to me to be a reed frog (Hyperolius sp.), an African tree frog of sorts, hangs on the wall next to a station identifying sign.

Reed frog. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

This looks like a ranid frog to me– a member of the family Ranidae, perhaps intended to be a Rana proper. Many species in this and related genera look much alike the world over. Note the nicely delineated tympanic membrane.

Frog. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

This generic frog (I won’t even try to name a family for it) is leaping out of the Signal Room. Interestingly, the subway workers here believe in free will, apparently of the libertarian sort. A scratched note on the door reads, “Use other door→ | or this one– up to you”.

Frog. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

These well-rendered salamanders provide detail enabling specific identification. On the left we have a Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum), a species of eastern North America (including the New York area), and on the right we have a Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra), a species widely distributed in Europe. The American Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum; found in the New York area) is also black with yellow markings, but the yellow markings (quite variable in both species) look more like Salamandra to me, and the evident parotoid glands at the back of the head (making it look wide) are conclusive. Ambystoma and Salamandra are similar in size and body shape, and are sort of continental ecological analogues.

Salamanders. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

The Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) is one of the few surviving lobe-finned fishes, and as such is one of the tetrapods closest living relatives, and so is included here as an honorary amphibian. I don’t know why there is a question mark on its tail; in fact I never noticed it there before till just now.

Coelacanth. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

Finally, we have a group of patently Paleozoic fish. The artist has rendered them neither strictly from above (as though we were looking down on them in the ‘water’ of the paving tile) nor from the side, but in a sort of twisted view, allowing us to see various aspects. The bottom four may be intended to be the same type of fish (I’m not sure what kind), but the top one (which seems to be more of an exclusively side view– see the partly opened mouth) looks like one of those strange Paleozoic sharks, with a spiny first dorsal fin, and a heterocercal tail. You can also see more clearly in this photo how the lighter brown granite-like stone is integrated with the darker paving tile.

Fish on the floor. 81st St.-Museum of Natural History station, New York subway, July 17, 2019.

There are other taxa represented in the tiles (e.g., ants), and other forms of art, including larger tiled murals, and casts of in-situ fossils projecting from the wall. Many of these works are depicted in a gallery at, a subway fan/history site. Some of those depicted I’ve never seen in person, because I always exit the station at the south (Museum) end, not at the north (81st Street) end.

(Looking at one of the pictures in the gallery now, I see the undersea mosaic mural has  a coelacanth-shaped gray silhouette in the otherwise colorful tiles; could the question mark noted above be related to the coealcanth’s absence here?)

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 6, 2021 • 8:00 am

I’m running low, folks, and once again implore you to send me your good wildlife (or street or landscape) photos.

We have two contributions today. The first are footprints photographed by Coel Heller. His captions are indented, and he asks for IDs of the animals who made them:

I was out walking on the snowy moorland of Kinder Scout when I saw what seems to be the imprint of a bird (raptor?) perhaps taking off:

There were also tracks leading up to this imprint; note boot print for scale:

At the other end of the tracks, around 2 m away, was what could be the impression of tail feathers.  So perhaps a raptor swooped on a mammal, which then made the tracks leading to the take-off?  Perhaps WEIT readers could say better, or perhaps identify the bird?   The photos were taken with an iPhone in cloudy conditions, so are not high quality.

And from Bryan Lepore:

I could hear a chirping sound during the summer. Eventually, I narrowed the source to a rain gutter on the building I live in. I kept looking for a bird or a nest poking up above the rim. Later, I was confused – but soon realized there were two sources of chirping – one from two different independent sections of gutter. Dutifully, I typed in the scraps of evidence into a search engine : “frog gutter chirp/sound”, and found that the frogs use drains as megaphones to amplify their mating calls!

Eventually, I got up within arms reach of the gutter, and got the ol’ iPhone ready to capture the image of what was underneath the leaf guard thing in the gutter, and for a brief moment, this type of frog was observed before escaping down the downspout. Sorry but the video is buried somewhere. The frog was probably unharmed, being of low mass. I think these are gray treefrogs (Dryophytes versicolor).

One time, one of these frogs found a cozy nook in the car door jamb, and rode around on drives unharmed before it found another place to hang out.

Friday: Hili dialogue (and a Kulka Christmas monologue)

December 25, 2020 • 6:30 am

Merry Christmas and Joyous First Day of Coynezaa!  It’s Friday, December 25, 2020, and National Pumpkin Pie Day. You can get a huge one at Costco (3 lb 10 ounces) for about six bucks, and they are mighty tasty. This is one of the best food bargains going. Sadly, Costco is closed today, and you have to be a member anyway. But if you are, don’t miss out on this behemoth pie during the holiday season (and you can freeze the leftovers).

News of the Day:

Do you really want bad news on Christmas? Well, there’s plenty. First, though, the good news: the U.S. military, charged with the annual tracking of Santa, has confirmed that the pandemic will not throw off St. Nick: presents will be delivered on schedule. That’s something that even the U.S. Postal Service can’t do.

As we speak, 85 million Americans are carrying viruses across the country in cars and planes, or are heading towards a place to get them. All health officials have advised against travel. But they’ve got a ticket to ride, and they don’t care. We’ll see the result in a couple of weeks.

But if you’re coming from Britain, you’d better have a negative Covid-19 test, as the U.S. has just required all passengers from Old Blighty to have tested negative within 72 hours before their departure. If you don’t have a documented negative test result, you can’t board the plane. And it better be the PCR test too, as that’s the one required (it’s the most accurate). This is a response to reports that the new mutant virus that supposedly is more infectious than the old ones. (We still don’t have real evidence for that.)

And, of course, Congress is in turmoil, with the Democrats pretending that they acceded to Trump’s request for an increase in per-American pandemic payments fro $600 to $2000, trying to force Republicans to look like they’re falling in line with Trump’s wishes (he said he’d veto the stimulus bill unless Congress folds). The Republicans didn’t fold, and so right now the whole thing is stalemated. The losers are the American people—the people who need money for rent or loans to keep their businesses going.  I hate to say this, but it looks like the Democrats are trying to make political capital at the expense of hard-up Americans. As the NYT says:

The Democrats’ Christmas Eve gambit on the House floor was never meant to pass, but the party’s leaders hoped to put Republicans in a bind — choosing between the president’s wishes for far more largess and their own inclinations for modest spending.

Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 329,237, a substantial increase of about 2,800 from yesterday’s figure—roughly two deaths a minute. The world death toll is 1,751,191, a big increase of about 11,300 over yesterday’s report and the equivalent of about 7.8 deaths per minute.

Stuff that happened on December 25 include:

  • 336 – First documentary sign of Christmas celebration in Rome.

This is from the Chronograph of 354, and you know, doesn’t that just prove that Jesus wasn’t only real, but divine?

  • 800 – The coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor, in Rome.
  • 1013- Sweyn Forkbeard takes control of the Danelaw and is proclaimed king of England.The first Danish king of England, he ruled for only five weeks before he croaked. Here he is at his dad’s funeral, which looks like a gluttonous affair. His beard doesn’t look forked, either.

    Sweyn and the Jomsvikings at the funeral ale of his father Harald Bluetooth. Painting by Lorenz Frølich, c. 1883–86, Frederiksborg Castle.
  • 1066 – William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy is crowned king of England, at Westminster Abbey, London.
  • 1492 – The carrack Santa María, commanded by Christopher Columbus, runs onto a reef off Haiti due to an improper watch.
  • 1758 – Halley’s Comet is sighted by Johann Georg Palitzsch, confirming Edmund Halley’s prediction of its passage. This was the first passage of a comet predicted ahead of time.
  • 1776 – George Washington and the Continental Army cross the Delaware River at night to attack Hessian forces serving Great Britain at Trenton, New Jersey, the next day.

The Continental Army won in a decisive and morale-boosting victory. Here’s the famous painting by Emanuel Leutze. From Wikipedia:

The painting is notable for its artistic composition. General Washington is emphasized by an unnaturally bright sky, while his face catches the upcoming sun. The colors consist of mostly dark tones, as is to be expected at dawn, but there are red highlights repeated throughout the painting. Foreshortening, perspective and the distant boats all lend depth to the painting and emphasize the boat carrying Washington.

The people in the boat represent a cross-section of the American colonies, including a man in a Scottish bonnet and a man of African descent facing backward next to each other in the front, western riflemen at the bow and stern, two farmers in broad-brimmed hats near the back (one with bandaged head), and an androgynous rower in a red shirt, possibly meant to be a woman in man’s clothing. There is also a man at the back of the boat wearing what appears to be Native American garb to represent the idea that all people in the new United States of America were represented as present in the boat along with Washington on his way to victory and success.

Did you read that? A woman (or person of indeterminate gender), an African-American, and a Native American (probably case of cultural appropriation)? This painting was way ahead of its time.

  • 1809 – Dr. Ephraim McDowell performs the first ovariotomy, removing a 22-pound tumor.
  • 1826 – The Eggnog Riot at the United States Military Academy concludes after beginning the previous evening.
  • 1831 – The Great Jamaican Slave Revolt begins; up to 20% of Jamaica’s slaves mobilize in an ultimately unsuccessful fight for freedom.
  • 1868 – Pardons for ex-Confederates: United States President Andrew Johnson grants an unconditional pardon to all Confederate veterans.
  • 1950 – The Stone of Scone, traditional coronation stone of British monarchs, is taken from Westminster Abbey by Scottish nationalist students. It later turns up in Scotland on April 11, 1951.

Here’s the real Stone of Scone, which is now scheduled to be moved to Perth City Hall (?) in 2024:

Here’s its return to Scotland in 1996, where it will stay except when a new British monarch is crowned in Westminster Abbey:

  • 1968 – Apollo program: Apollo 8 performs the first successful Trans-Earth injection (TEI) maneuver, sending the crew and spacecraft on a trajectory back to Earth from Lunar orbit.
  • 1991 – Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as President of the Soviet Union (the union itself is dissolved the next day). Ukraine’s referendum is finalized and Ukraine officially leaves the Soviet Union.

Notables born on this day include:

Here’s an “forensic anthropological” reconstruction of what Jesus looked like, but the methodology is pretty bogus (check the link). And of course I’m still not convinced that a Jesus person ever existed.

  • 1642 (OS) – Isaac Newton, English physicist and mathematician (d. 1726/1727)
  • 1821 – Clara Barton, American nurse and humanitarian, founder of the American Red Cross (d. 1912)
  • 1884 – Evelyn Nesbit, American model and actress (d. 1967)
  • 1899 – Humphrey Bogart, American actor (d. 1957)
  • 1907 – Cab Calloway, American singer-songwriter and bandleader (d. 1994)

Here’s Cab in his heyday doing his most famous song, “Minnie the Moocher“:

Sissy Spacek is only five days older than I am, so I keep an eye on her to see how I am aging—comparatively.  Here she is in 2018 with Robert Redford in the movie “The Old Man and the Gun“. We’re all getting older, but she still looks pretty good:

  • 1971 – Justin Trudeau, Canadian educator and politician, 23rd Prime Minister of Canada

Those whose metabolic processes became history on December 25 include:

  • 1946 – W. C. Fields, American actor, comedian, juggler, and screenwriter (b. 1880)
  • 1977 – Charlie Chaplin, English actor and director (b. 1889)
  • 1983 – Joan Miró, Spanish painter and sculptor (b. 1893)

Here’s Miro’s “The Farmer’s Wife, Kitchen, Cat, Rabbit”, with a cat detail:

  • 2005 – Birgit Nilsson, Swedish operatic soprano (b. 1918)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, we have a Christmas photo of Hili wryly contemplating the Scriptures:

Hili: How many times are cats mentioned in this book?
A: I don’t know, I have the impression that they are not mentioned at all.
Hili: You see? And cats exist.
In Polish:
Hili: Ile razy w tej książce piszą o kotach?
Ja: Nie wiem, mam wrażenie, że wcale.
Hili: No popatrz, a koty istnieją.

And little Kulka, now freed from ths post-spaying jacket, posed beside the Christmas tree. Malgorzata notes, “This will be a bit of a clumsy translation because Andrzej uses Polish words with double meaning. All his ironic hints are immediately understandable in Polish but I have no idea how to retain them in English”. (Photo by Paulina; the Polish is below the picture.):

Kulka: I wish everybody who celebrates everything they wish themselves.

In Polish: Wszystkim, którzy obchodzą życzę wszystkiego, czego sobie sami życzą. Kulka (Foto: Paulina Raniszewska)

From Mark, a short history of canid domestication.

From Nicole (be sure to see our own Cat Confessions Contest from 2014):

Here’s a purple frog from Donna. Yes, it’s a real species, and you can read about it here and here (the second link has a video of the frog calling).

Another photo:

From Titania, who always finds these things:

Another tweet that I got from Matthew and retweeted. Be sure to watch the whole video so you can see it open that huge maw!

Now here’s a lovely fish, and I’m glad they threw it back:

Christmas tweets from Matthew, with an awesome Gary Larson cartoon:

I wonder if Baby Jesus tasted of wine and wafers:

One of the 25 Days of Crustmas: a mutualism!



In search of lost time

December 18, 2020 • 1:15 pm

Truth be told, it’s a cold and lazy day, with one lone hen (named Soft-Serve) swimming in a half-frozen pond, and a tired PCC(E) trying to stay awake. Braining just isn’t on today, so let’s revisit some of the past—without the help of madeleines or tilleul. That is, here are a some old photos for your delectation. Click to enlarge them.

First, here’s a photo that warms my heart: Honey overseeing her 17 offspring, half of which weren’t hers but were kidnapped from Dorothy. It was a great joy for me to see Dorothy re-nest and produce a brood of her own, which she raised to fledging.  This photo was taken on June 12 of this year. Yes, Honey stole another hen’s brood, but she took good care of them, and all flew away. She’s now produced 29 ducklings on my watch.

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, where I spent two glorious days in July, 2011, surrounded by palatial architecture and fantastic paintings. It’s still the nicest art museum I’ve ever visited in regards to architecture and paintings (the Louvre comes second):

Throne room, with lovely inlaid floors:

You’re allowed to take photos so long as you don’t use a flash. Here’s a gorgeous Rembrandt: “The Descent from the Cross” (1634):

And what may be one of the few Leonardos in the world: it’s not absolutely certain this is by his hand: “Madonna Litta” (ca. 1495, sadly with a glass reflection). The Hermitage labels this as a genuine Leonardo. (It’s my goal to see every Leonardo painting in existence, though I can’t be arsed now to look up how many there are.)

October, 2011: Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut. During the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s annual meeting, where I spoke that year, the FFRF ran a field trip to the house. (Twain was, of course, an atheist.) You can see he made enough dosh to have a big place to live! Some say it was designed to partly resemble a riverboat, which of course Twain had piloted (that’s where he got his pseudonym):

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the FFRF raffling “clean money”, i.e., currency printed before 1957, and thus lacking the “In God We Trust” motto added by Congressional declaration that year:

I traveled a lot that year. In October I spoke in Valencia, and my friends took me to the market. Such delicious raw hams for sale!

The Spanish love their ham, as do I:

Local mushrooms:

And local people waiting to cross the street:

Olives of all sorts!


After Madrid I met a friend in Switzerland, near Geneva. Two trees on a walk:

Richard Burton’s house in Céligny, Switzerland, where he died in 1984. He was 58. Note the ducks on the gate.

January, 2012: After the Evolution Society’s mid-year officers’ meeting in Costa Rica, I traveled around a bit. This is the humble abode of Alexander Skutch, (1904-2004; a near centenarian), the great ornithologist who lived here for many years. It’s now a museum, but preserves the house as it was when he lived there:

The house is just as he left it, including his clothes, office, and books. As you see below, he was well read:

The Skutches had a beautiful garden with local and imported plants.

And of course there was a bird feeder, replenished with fruit. Can you identify these two birds?

Finally, a few photos of the famous field station La Selva, where I spent two weeks in 1974 as a grad student in the OTS Tropical Ecology Course. Here I was, back again nearly 38 years later.

Some birds (you identify them; I can’t):

Sexual dimorphism:

Some bats on the ceiling of the field station; the dots are marks put on by researchers:

And my favorite frog (besides Atelopus coynei, of course), Oophaga pumilio (I knew it as Dendrobates pumilio). There are several color morphs, and this one gives it the name “blue jeans frog”. It’s a poison-arrow frog, very toxic—as you might guess from its coloration:

I love making these posts. In a time of no travel or adventure, they bring back good memories.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 16, 2020 • 8:00 am

Please keep sending in your good wildlife photos, as I depend on the goodwill of readers to keep the feature going.

Today we have a rarity: photos of amphibians, and they’re lovely. The photographer is evolutionary biologist Iñigo Martinez-Solano, who introduces himself at the beginning (his captions are indented). As always, click on the photos to enlarge them.

I am sending some amphibian pictures in case you want to use them for your website. I am an evolutionary biologist based at Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, and I’ve specialized in the study of the evolutionary history, biology and conservation of amphibians. Below I’m providing more details about the different species featured in the pictures:

Alytes cisternasii (Iberian midwife toad): midwife toads (genus Alytes) are the only extant representatives an old frog lineage (their closest living relatives are painted frogs (see below), with an estimated divergence time >130 million years ago according to TimeTree. They have evolved parental care; the mating takes place on land and males carry the eggs for several weeks until larvae are ready to swim and actively feed.

Discoglossus galganoi (Iberian painted frog): painted frogs (genus Discoglossus) are representatives of another independent old frog lineage. This species is endemic to the Iberian peninsula; they breed in small ephemeral ponds, completing their larval development in just about a month.

Pelobates cultripes (Iberian spadefoot): these toads have specialized metatarsal tubercles they use to bury themselves >0.5 meters below the ground, similarly to New World spadefoot toads (genera Spea and Scaphiopus).

Chioglossa lusitanica (gold-striped salamander): this is the only extant representative of the genus. It is a member of family Salamandridae but shows many morphological and behavioral convergences with Plethodontids (lungless salamanders).

Salamandra salamandra (fire salamander): these spectacular animals are incredibly diverse in color, but also in other features like reproductive modes. The species is larviparous (larvae develop for some weeks in the uterus of the female and are then released in ponds or streams), but some populations in northern Iberia are viviparous, giving birth to fully developed terrestrial metamorphs.

Triturus marmoratus (marbled newt): what can I say? Beautiful animals, aren’t they?

Pleurodeles walti (Iberian ribbed newt): the largest salamander in Europe, reaching up to 30 cm. As a defensive mechanism, they can project their ribs through the skin (see picture).