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.

Happy World Snake Day!

July 16, 2020 • 1:15 pm

by Greg Mayer

Jerry noted this morning that it’s World Snake Day, but I thought I’d add to the festivities by sharing a couple of photos of my Ball Python (Python regius), Vivian.

Vivian, a Ball Python, Python regius, 16 July 2020.

I lifted Vivian’s hide box to take the photo, and she was mildly perturbed, so she defensively hid her head in her coils.

Vivian, a Ball Python, Python regius, hiding her head, 16 July 2020. Note the tiny  hind leg (“spur”) visible at the base of her tail.

The Department of Defense Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation has sent out a great set of links for World Snake Day, put together by my friend and colleague Rob Lovich. There’s loads of stuff in these links– look around. I’ve brought to the top of the list a shutterfly album of a great diversity of snakes. If you don’t have time for more, open up that album click on the slideshow, and enjoy! (It works best if you have dual monitors, one to work one, and one for snake pix.)

Here’s the album: Shutterfly Snake Pictures (over 800 pictures). From DoD Parc:

Tomorrow [i.e. today] (July 16th) is World Snake Day! In celebration of this event and the important ecological value snakes play in the ecosystems of military lands, we would like to highlight some snake-focused DoD Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (DoD PARC) products below.

We hope you enjoy learning about snakes through the various DoD PARC products below.

Snake Pictures, ID cards and Podcast:

YouTube Videos


Fact Sheets


Snake Guides


The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) was chosen on our logo to reflect the long-standing relationship DoD and the Military Services have with protecting both our nation and its resources, including snakes. Ultimately, the use of this species is meant to represent how DoD protects the natural resources with which it has been entrusted, and how those resources in turn provide for and protect the military’s ability to prepare for its war-fighting and peace-keeping duties.

If you’re wondering why the military has a unit devoted to amphibians and reptiles, the military must follow environmental and conservation laws (unless specifically exempted); there are practical issues for the military involving venomous reptiles; and recall that Darwin traveled around the world largely by courtesy of the Royal Navy. The U.S. Navy published, with the assistance of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, the classic Poisonous Snakes of the World:

If you want to learn more about snakes, I recommend, as I have before, Harry Greene‘s Snakes: the Evolution of Mystery in Nature as a good, well-illustrated, introduction to their natural history and diversity

Greene, H.W. 1997. Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Minton, S.A., H.G. Dowling & F.E. Russell. 1965. Poisonous Snakes of the World: A Manual for Use by U.S. Amphibious Forces. NAVMED P-5099. Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Department of the Navy, Washington, D.C.

h/t: Caroline

Is Edward Drinker Cope beyond the pale?

July 6, 2020 • 8:45 am

Note from Professor Ceiling Cat:  Be aware that this post is not by me, but by Greg. Not that I disagree with it, because I don’t, but people are always giving me credit for Greg’s posts, and he deserves any encomiums or opprobrium. So note the title line below. The story is a familiar one with a twist: the erasure of someone for views that we no longer find acceptable, but in this case it’s a scientist.

There will be a second installment of l’affaire Cope this week, hinted at in Greg’s last line.

by Greg Mayer

The answer to the question in the title of this post is, “Yes.” But first, some background on Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897).

Edward Drinker Cope, 1840-1897.

Cope was a Philadelphia Quaker who was one of the most prolific vertebrate zoologists of the 19th century. He began publishing as a teenager, and published about 1400 papers in his relatively short life. The herpetologist Kraig Adler (1989:46-47) called him “America’s greatest herpetologist,” and added that his “most epochal contributions were to vertebrate paleontology.” Paleontologist Kevin Padian (1998) wrote, “The most versatile American vertebrate zoologist of the 19th Century, and perhaps the 20th, E.D. Cope has touched the lives of every one of his professional successors through his astonishing record of collection and publication.” I have read and used his work in my own research, and I own copies of his two great monographs on the North American herpetofauna, “The Batrachia of North America” (1889) and the posthumous “The crocodilians, lizards and snakes of North America” (1900). (We’ve encountered Cope before here at WEIT, with regard to the false claim that he is the type specimen of Homo sapiens.)

Although still well known among vertebrate zoologists and paleontologists for his anatomical, systematic, and faunistic contributions, Cope’s general evolutionary views, usually called “Neo-Lamarckian”, are today little known or discussed; his Origin of the Fittest (1886) and Primary Factors of Organic Evolution (1896) are not high on modern reading lists. The founders of modern evolutionary biology (Th. Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, and even the paleontologist G.G. Simpson) had little to say about him, and if he’s mentioned in a modern textbook at all, it’s for Cope’s Rule (the general tendency for  evolutionary lineages to increase in average size). Broad histories of evolutionary biology have a bit more to say (Bowler, 2003), and specific histories even more (Bowler, 1996).

To the general public, Cope is best remembered (if at all) for the “Bone Wars“, his intense rivalry with O.C. Marsh of Yale to discover, collect, and describe the great vertebrates of the American West, a feud that was the subject of several popular books (e.g., Wallace, 1999).

When John Treadwell Nichols at the American Museum of Natural History founded a journal of cold-blooded vertebrates in 1913, he named it Copeia, after Cope.  (Naming journals after a prominent figure in this manner is not uncommon; two others that pop to mind are Treubia and Brenesia.)

A few years later, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) was formed, and after a few more years, in 1924, the Society took over publishing of the journal. An editorial note in January, 1924 (an issue published during the transition to the ASIH as publisher), stated the journal’s scope:

Due to exigencies of space, articles for publication in Copeia must be brief and restricted to observations on taxonomy, distribution, structure and habits. Controversy and opinion will rarely be printed.

On Friday, the Board of Governors of ASIH renamed the journal Ichthyology & Herpetology; Cope is now officially beyond the pale.

The process by which Cope’s name was to be removed became known to the membership on June 18, when members—I’ve been one since I was in high school—received an email from the President and Editor. The letter to members succinctly stated the problem, the proposed remedy, and the process:

Our journal’s namesake, E.D. Cope, held and published racist and misogynist views that our current membership finds abhorrent. The ASIH will begin addressing this matter. The Executive Committee of the ASIH is in favor of changing our journal’s name and is taking step to begin this process. We will bring this matter to our Board of Governors, to the appropriate ASIH committees, and to the ASIH membership for consideration.

The letter mentions repeatedly that the membership is likely unaware of Cope’s views:

Our goal is not in seeking the demonization of Cope. Rather we wish to honestly address one of our own blemishes. We have long ignored this particular blemish; much of our membership is not even aware of Cope’s racist perspectives.

History can be taken out of context. Indeed, Cope’s views were held by many (perhaps most) of his contemporary 19th Century scientists. However, his views on race, society, and eugenics were very prominent. Because he has been a titan of both ichthyology and herpetology (and perhaps because few modern members know his views), for a century we have looked past the bad to focus on his accomplishments. But his views on race and society were very public and, unfortunately, published as purportedly scientific articles. In a few instances, these views were part of policies agreed to by the ASIH.

Many ASIH members may not know that we have been having these conversations for years, even decades. From our perspective, it is time to think hard about the messages behind whom we honor and hurt with our statues and monuments, and with our building and journal namesakes. We have an opportunity.

From such a letter, I think it fair to assume that the membership would be informed about Cope, and then asked to consider the action proposed by the Executive Committee. The members were neither informed nor consulted. On Saturday, June 27, it was announced that the Board of Governors was voting to change the name, and it would be over within a week. I wrote to the Executive Committee and Board of Governors on June 30 as follows (in part):

I had expected that there would be a broader consultation. Although the constitution may allow the Board of Governors to take action on its own, I don’t see how doing so in the time frame contemplated can be construed as bringing the matter “to the ASIH membership” in any sense whatsoever.
In your message of the 18th, you acknowledge that few members of the ASIH are aware of the views which Cope held which are to be censured. That is certainly the case for myself. While I have read and used Cope’s herpetological works, I must admit that my knowledge of his life is limited to about the contents of Kraig Adler’s biographical sketch of him in Contributions to the History of Herpetology, and to the fact that he engaged in a sometimes unsavory paleontological ‘war’ with Marsh. I have never had any reason to seek out or consult his social views.
I urge you to begin the process of bringing the matter to the members’ attention by informing us of what it is that Cope did that merits censure. Once the ASIH’s members are well informed, then it will be possible for the Society to take actions that will have the “buy-in” of the membership.

Having seen arguments that it is justified (and not merely misdirected) to take down statues of Ulysses Grant, I wanted to learn myself more about Cope. There are two biographies of him: Henry Fairfield Osborn’s Cope: Master Naturalist (1931), and Jane Pierce Davidson’s The Bone Sharp: The Life of Edward Drinker Cope (1997), but with no access to libraries possible (and of course no time to read the books, given the one week time frame), the best thing I could find to inform myself was Kevin Padian’s (1998) long, thoughtful, review of Davidson. Padian finds the book useful, but laments that Davidson has written a purely “personal biography”, which does not engage with Cope’s science or the culture in which he was brought up. Here’s the part of his review that addresses Cope’s views on human races:

Davidson’s principal interests in Cope’s theoretical ideas run more to how his views of human differences were used by others, scientists and social commentators alike, in some particularly repugnant campaigns against blacks. Cope was a thoroughgoing racist, though like many such, he liked and respected individuals among those groups whose ethnicity he generally disdained. Cope’s views went beyond the benign sectarian xenophobia of most Quakers (including his father), who had a long tradition of working for emancipation and amelioration of the American Negro. Cope congenially disparaged blacks, Asians, Irish, Jews, Mexicans, New Mexicans, and various European groups, though he generally respected the Indians whom he met out West. He regarded whites as most advanced among human races and looked for “apelike” characters in other races as evidence of arrested development from more primitive Quadrumana (Primates). Negroes were to him the most ape- like, with poorly developed social and intellectual abilities that would only atrophy apart from association with whites. He opposed slavery and racist violence such as lynchings, though his Quaker heritage gave him the opportunity to avoid serving in any capacity in the Civil War. He advocated shipping freed slaves to Africa, not so much to deny them whatever benefits of freedom might await them in America as to return them to a milieu in which it might not be so difficult for them to succeed, intellectually and socially. In his view, this position (shared by other strange bedfellows at the time, including many Northern and Southern politicians) was scientifically justified: his researches indicated that the skull sutures of Negroes closed earlier in ontogeny than in whites, indicating limited development of the brain. Davidson presents a spectrum of social commentators who used Cope’s findings and went farther beyond them than Cope, she thinks, ever would have done, and what she presents is truly disturbing. Weaving the relatively dispassionate scientific inquiries of Haeckel and Herbert Spencer about Cope’s views on racial differences with the frightening use of them made by the anatomist Robert W. Shufeldt, Davidson masterfully shows how thin was the line dividing science and social engineering. Shufeldt, whose Myology of the Raven and other works are still well known, was particularly over the edge in both his social views and his sanity. Davidson is probably correct in concluding that Cope would never have condoned the social engineering of the Negro that Shufeldt and others suggested, but it is difficult to deny that Cope’s “scientific” studies lent a veneer of authority to the polemics.

Trying to inform myself was only for my own edification, because the Board of Governors did indeed act in less than a week, without consideration by the membership. After the vote was concluded, the information sent to the Board of Governors was shared with the membership, including a link to an article from 1890, documenting some of the views alluded to by Padian. (I still don’t know anything about the objectionable “policies agreed to by the ASIH.” What are they? Are they still in effect? Have they been changed? Cope, of course, being long dead at the time, had no hand in establishing ASIH policies.)

So, it’s clear that Cope held and published views that are reprehensible. We all need to consider, what is to be done in such cases?

[JAC: Stay tuned for Greg’s next installment.]

Adler, K., ed. 1989. Contributions to the History of Herpetology. Contributions to Herpetology, No. 5. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Oxford, Ohio.

Bowler, P.J. 1996. Life’s Splendid Drama: Evolutionary Biology and the Reconstruction of Life’s Ancestry, 1860-1940. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Bowler, P.J. 2003. Evolution: The History of an Idea. 3rd ed. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Cope, E.D. 1886. Origin of the Fittest. Appleton, New York. BHL

Cope, E.D. 1889. The Batrachia of North America. United States National Museum Bulletin 34:1-525. Reprint, 1963, Eric Lundberg, Ashton, Maryland. BHL

Cope, E. D. 1890. Two perils of the Indo-European. The Open Court 3:2052–2054.

Cope, E.D. 1896. Primary Factors of Organic Evolution. Open Court, Chicago. BHL

Cope, E.D. 1900. The crocodilians, lizards and snakes of North America. Report of the U.S. National Museum for 1898:153-1270. BHL

Davidson J.P. 1997. The Bone Sharp: The Life of Edward Drinker Cope. Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia. (Not seen.)

Osborn, H.F. 1931. Cope: Master Naturalist. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J. (Not seen.)

Padian, K. 1998. (Review of) The Bone Sharp: The Life of Edward Drinker Cope, by Jane Pierce Davidson. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 18:243-246.

Wallace, D.R. 1999. The Bonehunter’s Revenge: Dinosaurs, Greed and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Gilded Age. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 15, 2019 • 7:45 am

Although I have a few more batches of wildlife photos to post, I’m running low, and may have to put up photos more sporadically. If you have good photos to send, by all means submit them.

Today we have some diverse photos by regular Mark Sturtevant, whose flickr photo site is here. Mark’s notes are indented.

Here are some photos from about a year ago. Enjoy!

The first picture features a male Phalangid (aka ‘harvest-person’), possibly belonging to the genus Leiobunum. A feature of males is their rather elaborate pedipalps that are used in a precise way to hold on to females during mating. I have pictures of that to show later.

Next are several ‘candy-striped’ leafhoppers (Graphocephala coccinea) that were in my back yard. People are sometimes surprised when seeing pictures of them, but actually these diminutive insects are quite common. Most are red and blue, but some are red and green.

The butterfly in the next two pictures is the red-spotted purple (Limenitis arthemis). This one was missing most of one of its wings, so I had fun digitally replacing it with the ‘good’ wing. Hard to tell which one it is now.

I had long been curious about these tall, thistle-like weeds that are also shown, so I showed them to my Botanist-wife and she told me the plant is called teasel. This is an invasive species, and now I see it everywhere. I feel conflicted about that since it is interesting in its own right while also being a magnet for insects.

At the shore of a lake I came across a giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) that was ‘puddling’ on the wet sand to get nutrients like salt and amino acids. This was a nice surprise since these very large butterflies (the largest in North America) seem to always be flying non-stop. ALL of my other pictures of them are rather blurry as I have never quite figured out how to freeze motion with shutter speed and/or flash.

Next is an odd little moth that I always called an ‘airplane moth’. But the internet does not seem to recognize that name and there it is a plume moth. It looks to be the grape plume mothGeina periscelidactylus.

We seem to be having a ‘run’ on Lepidopterans. The lovely Saturniid moth in the next picture is the tulip-tree silkmoth (Callosamia angulifera). I do recommend that readers double click on this, for she is spectacular. Tulip tree silk moth larvae are almost exclusively found on tulip trees.

The story here is that I had come across a dead and leafless tree that someone had dumped in a local park (no idea why), and it had several pendulous cocoons on it. Most were empty, but two were still occupied. These were brought home to see what might emerge. The first that emerged revealed the identity of the mystery cocoons, but the moth had badly deformed wings. Fortunately, the second was this perfect female! Before she was completely hardened and so unlikely to fly, I managed to get this picture by hanging her in the opening of our garage. From there I could sit back in a chair, with the camera on a tripod, and poke her (gently) with a thin stick to get her to raise her wings before I snapped a picture. She was of course released that evening.

Next are some lace bugs, and the reason for their name is obvious with the winged adult. Different species of these plant-sucking insects are found to favor different host plants. I can get a couple pg different species when sweeping with a net, but without host plant information it would be difficult to identify them to species. Not so for this one, which is found on the leaves of linden trees. This is the ‘linden lacebug’ (Gargaphia tiliae).

In the final picture we have a very young gray tree frogHyla versicolor. Youngsters are green, and many are gray when mature. This little cutie would barely cover a nickel.

Readers’ wildlife photos

May 26, 2019 • 7:30 am

Kiwi reader Keith sent a batch of photos which he’ll leave to you to identify. His notes are below:

Here is a collection all taken with my cellphone, I’m going to leave them “silent”. I have no idea what some species are, while others speak for themselves.

They’re all taken around or from my home with my cellphone. Laingholm, Auckland is where i live—in New Zealand. They are spread over time: the large moth on my hand has been passed down through a few phones…

Put your identifications in the comments.

And another NZ photo taken by reader Gary Radice:

This is from a recent trip to New Zealand. We got all excited when we saw this tame little fellow (gal?) in our camp site, thinking it was a kiwi. We were only a little disappointed to find out it was a weka [Gallirallus australis]. But since we had never heard of wekas, that turned out be fun, too.


A lizard that breathes underwater

April 5, 2019 • 3:38 pm

by Greg Mayer

This beats eating and swimming underwater: Lindsey Swierk, of SUNY Binghamton, reports, in the latest issue of Herpetological Review, that Anolis aquaticus can breathe underwater! Here’s a video she posted at Anole Annals:

The lizard, of course, is not breathing water; rather, it is breathing air that is trapped around it’s body, which it then visibly exhales in a bubble, and then “rebreathes”. I could not tell from how far around the body air was being drawn to the nostrils, but it seems to include at least the head. The longest she has seen them stay down is 16 minutes. It has long been noticed that air can be trapped around an anole’s body when it’s placed in water, and I’ve wondered whether that air might enable an anole to float longer or higher in the water (perhaps aiding “occasional transport”). But Lindsey has placed these casual observations on a much firmer basis, and recorded, for the first time to my knowledge, that the lizards are breathing; that’s something I never suspected. She proposes a “scuba tank” explanation for the behavior– that the lizard is getting oxygen from the recycled air.

Many species of anoles, both on the main and on the islands, are semiaquatic; aquaticus occurs in Costa Rica and Panama, and the ones filmed were in southern Costa Rica. These semiaquatic anoles inhabit the vegetation alongside streams, and jump into the water when approached. As Lindsey notes, it is an effective anti-predator behavior. Many times I have seen anoles of these species flee from my approach into the water; I think I may once have seen aquaticus myself, in southern Costa Rica.

h/t: Matthew, Thom Sanger

Swierk, L. 2019. Anolis  aquaticus (= Norops aquaticus)  (Water Anole). Underwater breathing. Herpetological Review 50:134-135. pdf; jump to p. 27

The occasionally marine iguana

April 3, 2019 • 9:31 am

by Greg Mayer

Matthew sent me and Jerry this Tweet from PADI, of a wonderful video clip by Turtle & Ray Productions in Curaçao. It reminded Matthew of mosasaurs, an extinct group of giant marine lizards from the Mesozoic.

The common green iguana (Iguana iguana iguana) is widespread in Central and South America, and has also been introduced to a number of other places, including South Florida, where it is flourishing. It’s long been known that they readily take to water, both fresh and salt. I saw and photographed one in the harbor at Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, but I’ve never gotten to see one from an underwater perspective! My friend and colleague James D. “Skip” Lazell, Jr., published this field sketch he made of a swimming iguana in his monograph on the genus Iguana in the West Indies. (This is Iguana delicatissima, a species endemic to the northern Lesser Antilles).

Field sketch by Skip Lazell of Iguana delicatissima swimming, Woodford Hill, Dominica (Lazell, 1973).

I immediately thought of the marine iguana, Amblyrhynchus cristatus, endemic to the Galapagos, where it lives along the coasts, and feeds on algae in the sea. Like the green iguana, in person I have only seen them from above the water. The following video, from Scuba Hank NYC, shows them underwater, both swimming and feeding. Upon seeing these lovely beasts lining the shores of the Galapagos, Darwin is said to have leaned over the the bow rail of the Beagle and exclaimed, “Wow, lizard city!

In looking for an appropriate marine iguana video, I came across this intriguing video, of a kayaker rescuing a green iguana four miles at sea off the Florida Keys. Besides being a wonderful story, and a testament to the kayaker’s humanity and, the iguana’s tenacity and ingenuity in figuring out that staying with the boat and jumping on, despite the presence of a man, was a good move, it helps to show how iguanas may have gotten to the Galapagos: they readily enter into, and can survive for some time, in the sea. Though not capable of directed swimming over great distances, this would make it more likely than landlubbing lizards that they could be carried off to a distant landfall, by what Darwin called “occasional means of transport.

Lazell, J.D. 1973. The lizard genus Iguana in the Lesser Antilles. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 145:1-28. BHL

Neill, W.T. 1958. The occurrence of amphibians and reptiles in saltwater areas, and a bibliography. Bulletin of Marine Science of the Gulf and Caribbean 8:1-97. pdf

That was not a 15-meter anaconda!

March 15, 2019 • 11:15 am

by Greg Mayer

So here’s the wrap-up on anacondas. First, as I mentioned in the previous anaconda post, alert readers went digging and found out the true story. Reader Roger first suggested it was stretched, and, following a suggestion by infiniteimprobablit, determined it was changed from an aspect ratio of .550 (typical, I think of cellphones) to 16:9; Michael Fisher located the original video. Here’s the original video:

There was also a discussion of the stretched video on reddit. The snake now looks like a typical anaconda: the stretched one made its color pattern look a bit odd, and appear to be very wide (which added to the impression of great size). After watching the original video, I sent the following message to Jerry:

It’s not fake, but it’s been stretched from a vertical cell phone video to fit a 16:9 format. I’ve now seen the original video. It’s crossing a road (not a stream), it’s not swimming, the guy filming is walking (not in a boat). It’s a big snake, but on the order of 5-7 m, not 15. Readers found this, and I’ll put it together into a post for tomorrow afternoon.

My guess on the conversion ratio was right, or close to it (see the detailed discussion by Michael Fisher and Roger on figuring out the exact method of aspect ratio conversion/stretching). The video was posted by the Youtube account of Dumato, a Swiss company with Brazilian roots. They said this about it in the video description:

Many thanks to Dinda from Manaus who took this video and sent to DUMATO, showing how Amazonia is alive and free

davelenny, judging by the ruts in the road, figured the snake to be less than 3 car widths long (which would be less than 18 ft. for a 6 ft. wide vehicle such as a Jeep or Land Rover. Michael Fisher, noting that the ruts are likely to be 60 inches apart, so that the road would have a width of 10 ft., suggests a total length of 12-15 ft. (ca. 4-5 m) for the snake. Jeeps/trucks have wider axles (65″ for a Toyota Land Cruiser), and the flooded section of the road where the snake is is a bit wider than the rest of the road, so I’d go a bit larger than Michael. My initial guess of 5-7 m is probably not way off, but I would lean more toward the lower end of that range.

Next, there’s the size of the anaconda on display at the San Diego Natural History Museum. It is about 22 feet, which I figured out by measuring the floor tile length using my feet (my feet, shod, are one foot long, as I’ve verified on many floor tiles and soccer fields), and then counting the number of floor tiles from one end of the snake to the other.

Anaconda on display at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

My hat, which placed in the picture for scale, is 7-8 inches across. Michael Fisher, using the hat, came up with 20 feet, which was the closest of any reader, and given the angle, a pretty good estimate. So, with a 20% stretch, the live length would be 18.3 feet, which is spuriously precise, so let’s say 18 feet.

And finally, as an extra added bonus, I need to point out that that’s not a shed skin; this is a shed skin:

Shed skin of ball python (Python regius), ca. 1.2 m total length.

Note that the shed skin is translucent and nearly patternless; it is also much lighter (in weight) than an actual skin, which is what is on display in San Diego. Shed skins are only rarely taken as specimens for museums, usually only to document very uncommon species or occurrences. The above is a shed from my ball python, Vyvyan. Below, you can see the skin between the scales. The scales are nearly transparent, but the skin between is more opaque; it is this opaque skin that gives a skin its “stretch”.

Shed skin of ball python (Python regius), ca. 1.2 m total length.

How big is this anaconda?

March 13, 2019 • 5:00 pm

by Greg Mayer

The anaconda in the video posted this morning is real, but it is certainly not 15 m long. Alert readers went digging, and found clues (posted in the comments) as to what the story is. I’ll post on that later, but for now, here’s another anaconda, this one a specimen I saw on display at the San Diego Natural History Museum. How big do you think it is?

Anaconda on display at the San Diego Natural History Museum, 16 January 2019.

This illustrates at least two phenomena, both of which have been problems in determining how big giant snakes can get: the difficulty of estimating size, and the effects of skin stretching. I’ll post my measurement of this snake along with the reveal on the “15 m” one later.