A letter to Bob Dylan from the President of Ireland

May 24, 2021 • 2:00 pm

As I’ve tweeted and also indicated in today’s Hili Dialogue, Bob Dylan turns 80 today.  Reader Joe McClain called my attention to a letter that the President of Ireland wrote Dylan in honor of the occasion. It speaks for itself, though I didn’t know that the Irish President was a poet. Here it is (click to enlarge):


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.

Two anniversaries today, both marking the end of wars, one against people, the other against a virus

May 8, 2020 • 9:45 am

I missed this because I left out today’s anniversaries in the Hili dialogue. There are two big ones today, both pointed out by Fiona Fox, director of the Science Media Centre in Britain. Dr. Fox quotes remembrances from two of her experts (h/t Steve Jones):

From Professor Geoffrey L Smith FRS, Head, Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge

Today is VE-Day. [JAC: the 75th anniversary.] It is also the 40th anniversary of the WHO declaration of the eradication of smallpox, which in the 20th century alone killed an estimated 400 million people, many more people than in both world wars. Whilst in the midst of another viral pandemic, we should remember the magnificent role that WHO played in ridding the world of smallpox and the power of vaccination. WHO should be encouraged, supported and funded in its efforts to control and eliminate COVID-19.

Quoting Macaulay, History of England 5, 2468-70, (1914)

“Smallpox, the most terrible of all the ministers of death: The smallpox was always present, filling the churchyard with corpses, tormenting with constant fears all whom it had not yet stricken, leaving on those whose lives it spared the hideous traces of its power, turning the babe into a changeling at which the mother shuddered, and making the eyes and cheeks of the betrothed maidens objects of horror to the lover”

Edward Jenner predicted the global eradication of smallpox in 1801 when he said

“it now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy that the annihilation of the smallpox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice”

Now let us do this to COVID-19.

JAC: Here’s what smallpox does even when it spares a life. This child will be irreparably scarred:

From Wikipedia: A child with smallpox in Bangladesh in 1973. The bumps filled with thick fluid and a depression or dimple in the center are characteristic.

And here’s the resolution: short, sweet, and succinct:

From Michael A. Skinner, PhD FRSB, Reader in Virology, Imperial College London

With attention focused on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, an important anniversary may pass us by, with some relevance to our present situation.

On 8 May 1980, the 33rd  Assembly of the World Health Organisation officially endorsed the successful eradication of smallpox in October 1979.

Several points are noteworthy:

Smallpox (with a mortality rate of about 30%) killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone (three times the death toll of both World Wars), and 500 million in its final hundred years).

– Smallpox is believed (informed by virus genome sequence data)  to have “jumped” from an animal source millennia ago (there is good evidence it was present in ancient Egypt)

– No one can therefore seriously suggest that the variola virus that causes it arose from anything other than a natural source.

– Infections were controlled and reduced by vaccination; the disease was finally eradicated by a massive global campaign spearheaded by WHO.

– That campaign relied on rigorous and extensive field epidemiology, using a “track, trace and [ring] vaccinate” approach (with no rapid molecular diagnostics available at the time, diagnosis relied on recognition of the distinctive lesions and other symptoms)

– The final battlegrounds for the eradication were Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where the last natural case was identified.


WHO commemoration of the 40th anniversary of smallpox. 

Message below about celebratory press conference (including link) described on this page

And here’s a quiz for you. Another deadly viral disease, but in animals, has also been completely eliminated by a combination of monitoring and vaccination. This one was declared eliminated in 2011. Do you know the disease? Look here for the answer.



Photos of readers

April 8, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today is the 60th birthday of reader Hugh Dominic Stiles, who posts under “Dominic” and is known to his friends as “Dom.” (See the birthday section of today’s HIli Dialogue.) Dom’s contributed a lot to this site over the years, both through commenting and sending me tons of interesting items, and I thought I’d give him a shout-out. He works for the medical library at University College London, but, like all UCL employees, can’t go back to work for a while. Dom’s friend Jeremy sent me the notice of his birthday and a photo of Dom, as well as a short narrative of his life (indented below).

I first met Dom when he was a stonemason at Chichester Cathedral in the early 1980s. He subsequently moved to St Paul’s Cathedral in London, where he concealed his underwear, together with runic curses that he had etched into lead, in places where they might not be discovered for several centuries to come. While at St Paul’s, Dom was able to give those of us lucky enough to be his friends tours in which he had access to areas the general public could never dream of visiting.

Dom loves cold, wet, and generally disagreeable weather. This was possibly a factor in his choice to study in Norway, where he obtained his bachelors degree. He is extremely modest, despite being the cleverest person I know. Whether the subject is history, geography, biology, or something else, Dom always has a knowledgeable and interesting perspective.

I’m including a photo of Dom taken by one of my kids about five years ago. It’s a perfect example both of his silliness and the fact that he always has his head in a book!

Happy 60th, Dom!

On another note, I’d like to revive the “photos of reader” feature during quarantine, so if you’d like to be featured, send me a photo of yourself doing whatever you do while locked down (2 photos max) and a very short explanation or narrative. Thanks!

Ripped from the pages of Der Stürmer: UN Heritage parade in Beligum features nasty anti-Semitic tropes

March 6, 2019 • 12:30 pm

UPDATE: For more defense of the float, and a wave of antisemitic comments defending it, see here.


Nobody can argue that the float shown below (and past actions of participants in this parade) are simply disagreeing with the policies of Israel. No, this is undiluted and classic anti-Semitism—though the perpetrators, in the fashion of Ilhan Omar, deny it. And it took place recently in Belgium, for crying out loud, a country where I’m supposed to be lecturing in a month—a country that’s supposed to be sensible, liberal and (so I thought) not infected with anti-Semitism.

Worse, the Carnival at Aalst parade, as always, is sponsored and promoted by the United Nations. And as far as I can determine, it’s funded by the UN through UNESCO, though I’d be glad to hear otherwise. Its UNESCO sponsorship, though, is not in doubt.

What happened is that this year the parade harbored about as anti-Semitic a float as you can construct, a float depicting hook-nosed Orthodox Jews with rats on their shoulders, gloating over bags of money and gold coins. And this kind of trope, which could have appeared in Der Stürmer 80 years ago, isn’t the first one to appear in this parade (see below).

There are three articles about the incident lest you’re the kind of person who questions the credibility of the first one because it’s from a Jewish source. 

Here’s the same report from the Brussels Times:

What about the BBC? Here:

The float:

(from the Brussels Times): The antisemitic float was paraded through the annual carnival parade in Aalst. The orthodox Jews stand amongst money bags, coins and gold bars. On the shoulder a rat can be seen.

Here’s a video (another one is here):

But no, it’s not anti-Semitic, not at all! Here’s the perfectly innocuous explanation:

Belgian media report that the group behind the controversial float, De Vismooil’n, went to the police after it received death threats over the float.

The group were economising on a so-called “sabbatical year” – saving money on their float in this year’s parade to invest more heavily in the following year, members told Belgian news outlet HLN.

“We came up with the idea to put Jews on our float. Not to make the faith ridiculous – carnival is simply a festival of caricature,” they said.

“We found it comical to have pink Jews in the procession with a safe to keep the money we saved. You can have a laugh with other religions too,” they told HLN.

The newspaper also quoted the town’s mayor, Christoph D’Haese, as saying the group “had no offensive intentions”.

Really comical, those pink Jews with their rats and money! How comical would it be in the U.S. to have a float with blacks with big lips, eating watermelon and fried chicken? Answer: NOT COMICAL! And to have the town’s mayor defending this travesty is beyond belief.

More excuses reported by WIN:

“In [our city], it should be allowed,” declared Christoph D’Haese, the mayor of Aalst, a Belgian city thrust into the spotlight after a recent parade included bulbous-nosed Jewish puppets standing on money bags, marchers dressed in Klu Klux Klan costumes, and young Europeans donning blackface makeup.

JTA reported that a carnival spokesperson claimed the float represented commentary on how “everything has become so expensive.”

What a clever way to comment on inflation!

Now the Carnival at  AAlst has been declared by UNESCO, a branch of the UN, as an “Intangible cultural heritage”. One Israeli news source says it’s even “funded by UNESCO”, but I’ll seek further confirmation. The UN has historically treated Israel much worse than any other country, passing resolution after resolution against it while ignoring countries, like North Korea, who are far worse in repressing their people and committing war crimes. I wouldn’t want to think that the UN is turning a blind eye to this kind of bigoted nonsense.

The sad thing is that this isn’t first time that the parade has featured horrific anti-Semitic floats. As the Wikipedia article notes, there was a previous incident, and although UNESCO protested, it didn’t stop a recurrence.

In recent years, the parade has been marked by several floats and puppets with stereotypically antisemitic and racist imagery. In 2013, a group had members who dressed up in SS-uniforms and paraded around with cans marked Zyklon B, which led to a furious protest by UNESCO. In 2019, one float featured two huge puppets resembling orthodox Jews, one with a rat on his shoulder, sitting on bags of money and gold coins.

From another source:

Past entrants in the parade have included a float modeled after a Nazi train car used to deliver Jews to death camps, which was surrounded by members of the float’s sponsor dressed as both Nazi SS officers and ultra-Orthodox Jews, according to JTA. Other imagery on the float included canisters labeled “Zyklon B,” the gas Nazis used to murder Jews during the Holocaust.

Really cute!

When will this stop? When politicians, supported by the Western Left, take a serious stand against anti-Semitism—as serious a stand as they take against “Islamophobic” bigotry against Muslims. In the meantime, European countries like England and France become more and more anti-Semitic, to the extent that Jews are starting to flee from them. Are Belgian Jews about to join this exodus? My friends in Belgium, old and soon to be made, please protest this bigotry.


Jacinda has a duckling

June 21, 2018 • 8:00 am

. . . . or rather, a Kiwi. And as an honorary Kiwi, I’m delighted to announce that New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave birth to a baby girl yesterday. The father is her parter Clarke Gayford.

The happy couple with their first child:

As the Guardian reported:

Ardern posted the news to her Facebook page, saying her daughter was born at 4.45pm.

“Welcome to our village wee one,” she wrote, next to a picture of her and partner Clarke Gayford cuddling the newborn.

“Feeling very lucky to have a healthy baby girl that arrived at 4.45pm weighing 3.31kg (7.3lb). Thank you so much for your best wishes and your kindness. We’re all doing really well thanks to the wonderful team at Auckland City hospital.”

. . . The former prime minister Helen Clark told Radio NZ that the birth was a fine example to young people in New Zealand.

“Jacinda’s done it her way, what a remarkable story.

“She’s taken it in her stride, New Zealanders have taken it in their stride … all round I think we’re showing huge maturity as a country with this.”

Ardern is taking only six weeks of maternity leave although she’s entitled to 26 weeks of paid leave. She has a country to run!

I add my congratulations to that of the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, though I don’t understand the Maori words (readers can help):

Gayford, a television presenter, announced that he will become the “First Bloke,” a stay-at-home dad. What a great country!

Oh, and the 37-year-old Ardern is only the second world leader in modern times to give birth while in office. (The first was Benazir Bhutto in 1990.)