Readers’ wildlife photos

January 21, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today’s photos are from Athayde Tonhasca Júnior, and the topic is biological nomenclature: how these creatures were named. Do read all the captions. The descriptions are of course from Athayde, and are indented. You can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

This beetle had the bad luck of being described in 1937 by Oskar Scheibel, an Austrian amateur entomologist. Scheibel, supposedly an admirer of a powerful compatriot of sinister reputation, named the new species Anophthalmus hitleri. The elusive, eyeless cave beetle was already rare at the time of its description, but since then its numbers have plunged because of collectors and wackos obsessed by Nazi memorabilia: specimens have even been stolen from museums and sold on the black market for hundreds of pounds. Because of poaching, A. hitleri is now endangered and restricted to a few Slovenian caves. This beetle has been a flagbearer for the Woke Brotherhood’s Zoologist Chapter, which is on a mission to change names inspired by disreputable people. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature has resisted these demands, with good reason. Once a precedent is set, the Latter-day Puritans will demand the renaming of all creatures baptised after shady types such as Darwin, Huxley, John Muir and J.K. Rowling (more than ten species were named after Harry Potter characters); the moth Neopalpa donaldtrumpi and the beetle Agathidium rumsfeldi would have to go, although the spider Aptostichus barackobamai is probably safe. Moralistic renaming would be foolish and cause immense confusion. Also, the Righteous Mob should consider that species naming is not necessarily laudatory: among other taxonomic stabs, Linnaeus made good use of the seed bug genus Aphanus (from the Greek for ‘obscure’) to name a species after his estranged student Daniel Rolander: Aphanus rolandri.  Indeed, naming a blind, cave-dwelling beetle after the Führer could be seen as a less than flattering move.

When a team of herpetologists examined a snake stored in a collection for 42 years, they discovered it had eaten another snake. Such findings are not particularly rare, but that semi-digested dinner turned out to be a hitherto unknown species – in fact, a new genus altogether. The image is an artist’s rendition of the meal before its consumption. The newcomer to science was christened Cenaspis aenigma: the enigmatic dinner snake, a name derived from the Latin cena(dinner) and aspis (snake) (Campbell et al., 2018. J. of Herpetology 52: 458-471). The snake, from Mexico’s Chiapas highlands, has never been seen in the wild, probably because it’s rare, elusive and nocturnal. Or it has gone extinct. This case was not unique:  the ant Lenomyrmex hoelldobleri was discovered in a barf sample collected from an Ecuadorian frog, and named after distinguished myrmecologist and E.O. Wilson’s collaborator, Bert Hölldobler.

It took 42 years for Darwinilus sedarisi to come to light, which is understandable because the creature was hidden in the belly of another snake. One rover beetle on the other hand remained unknown for over 180 years despite being in plain sight, so to speak: the specimen was catching dust in the Natural History Museum (London). American entomologist Stylianos Chatzimanolis borrowed it to discover that the beetle belonged to an undescribed genus. As it had been collected in Argentina by Charles Darwin during a HMS Beagle stopover, Chatzimanolis deservedly named the genus Darwinilus. For the species epithet, he chose sedarisi to honour raconteur David Sedaris, who is famous here in Britain for his books, BBC Radio 4 monologues and litter-picking activism (Chatzimanolis, 2014. Zookeys 379: 29–41).

Every name has a story, even if it’s a sketchy one. Paul Williams, a bumblebee specialist at the Natural History Museum (London), painstakingly tracked down scraps of information about a shabby, mislabelled specimen collected about 200 years ago and sitting in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Paul concluded it belonged to Bombus rubriventris, an extinct bumble bee from the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, one of the world’s richest and most threatened biomes (Williams, 2014. J. of Natural History 10.1080/00222933.2014.954022). We know nothing else about this bee; that pinned specimen lying inside a dark drawer is the only evidence left of a species that once buzzed from flower to flower, probably pollinating some lucky plants. Considering the greatest environmental disaster ever to befall Brazil, that is, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president, certainly there will be more sad stories about extinct Brazilian species.

Ytu,the word for ‘waterfall’ in Tupi-Guarani (a group of native languages spoken in Brazil and Paraguay), is a suitable name for a genus of water beetles. So when entomologist Paul Spangler discovered a new species, how could he not name it Ytu brutus? (Spangler, 1980. The Coleopterists Bulletin 34: 145-158).

Entomologist Terry Erwin probably was one of the most prolific taxonomic punsters, and he had great fun with the ground beetle genus Agra. Erwin named more than a hundred Agra species, including Agra nola, Agra vate, Agra vation, Agra cadabra and Agra memnon. He also named Agra schwarzeneggeri, a beetle with unusually thick ‘arms’, and Agra eowilsoni, after E.O. Wilson. Erwin was witty, but also a great entomologist. His short, unpretentious paper where he hypothesized the existence of around 30 million species of insect on the planet has been cited hundreds of times (Erwin, 1982. The Coleopterists Bulletin 36: 74–75). One subfamily, 2 genera and 47 species are named after him. Here is Agra vation:

John Epler, an expert on Chironomidae (non-biting midges) and other aquatic insects, made good use of his Classics education to honour his favourite band with a new species: Dicrotendipes thanatogratus, from the Greek thanatos (dead) and Latin gratus (grateful) (Epler, 1987. Evolutionary Monographs 9: 102).

A short explanation for those unfamiliar with the art of biological nomenclature: in scholarly texts, the first citation of a plant or fungus’ scientific name (rules for animals are slightly different) is followed by the name of the person who described the species, e.g., Amaranthus retroflexus L. (L. is a standard abbreviation for Linnaeus). When a name is changed, for example moved to another genus, the original authority goes in parenthesis, followed by the name of the person who made the change, e.g. Hyacinthoides italica (L.) Rothm. So when German mycologist Karl Wilhelm Gottlieb Leopold Fuckel discovered a new species of wood-rotting fungus, it was named Nectria applanata Fuckel. But some years later his compatriot Carl Ernst Otto Kuntze moved the species to another genus, resulting in the delightful Cucurbitaria applanata (Fuckel) Kuntze (Gräfenhan et al., 2011. Studies in Mycology 68: 79-113).

The people of Guadeloupe have a soft spot for their only large wild mammal: the raccoon. The masked creature is pictured on stamps, toys, and in a national park logo. Raccoons are notorious for raiding crops and wrecking nests of wild bird and sea turtles, but these shenanigans do not dent their popularity: islanders have long treated the Guadeloupe raccoon (Procyon minor) as a protected species. Then in 2003, the celebrity status of the Guadeloupe raccoon suffered a serious blow. By examining museum specimens, taxonomists discovered that Procyon minoris in fact a subspecies of the common raccoon, Procyon lotor. (Helgen et al., 2008. J. Mammalogy 89: 282–291). This seemingly finicky academic study led to all hell breaking loose: the common raccoon is an alien species in the Caribbean islands. Even worse as PR goes, Guadeloupe is an overseas department of France, so legally speaking, the archipelago is part of the European Union. As the common raccoon is listed as a European invasive species, France has the obligation to eradicate or control it. The people of Guadeloupe were not having any of it: there have been strong words between locals and authorities.

Nessiteras rhombopteryx– The scientific name given to the Loch Ness monster by Sir Peter Scott, renowned ornithologist, conservationist, naval officer and Olympics medallist, and Robert Rines, American lawyer and composer (Scott & Rines, 1975. Nature 258: 466-468). Many were bewildered by Scott’s action – Rines on the other hand was well known in the woo-woo field of cryptozoology. That Nature went along with it was equally puzzling – one can imagine that Scott’s reputation helped the publication. Scott reasoned that a scientific name would give legal protection to the beast, in case it was real. But Scott was lambasted for promoting pseudo-science. Later, a British politician and newspaper – perhaps in an effort to protect the reputation of a British icon – claimed that the name was an anagram for ‘Monster hoax by Sir Peter S’. Rines denied it, pointing out that ‘Yes, both pix [a reference to the paper’s pictures] are monsters – R‘ was an alternative letter arrangement. In other words, the confession anagram was a coincidence. The paper was unlikely to have been a hoax, considering the time and effort Scott dedicated to this fantasy. He created the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau, goaded colleagues into reviewing evidence, and even pulled strings with the Royal Navy to obtain military searchlights to sweep Loch Ness. Incidentally, Scott & Rines taxonomic foray was in vain: the scientific name (which was drawn from the Greek for ‘Ness inhabitant with diamond-shaped fin’) was not valid because it lacked a type specimen (a specimen on which the description and name of a new species is based). The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, which rules on these things, would recognise a description based on photos. But certainly not the paper’s blurred images, which in all likelihood were doctored (but not taken by the authors). Scott may have gone momentarily wobbly, which happens to the best: Newton was an alchemist, Nobel Prize double winner Linus Pauling promoted vitamin C to cure cancer, and Alfred Russel Wallace believed in communicating with spirits.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 17, 2022 • 8:30 am

Our contributor today is Christopher Starr, a retired Professor of Entomology at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.  His photos span a range of taxa. Christopher’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them. (See his first contribution here.) His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

In the early morning, before the sun got hot, I consistently saw bright red velvet mites (Trombiculiidae) walking in the open on a sandy surface.  They were large (about the size of a raisin), soft-bodied and very conspicuous, yet the abundant agamid lizards were not eating them.  Wondering if they were protected by defensive chemicals, I tasted one, and sure enough.  It was so dreadfully bitter that I couldn’t bring myself to try another, so my sample size remains at one.  Ghana.

We are all familiar with mimicry, in which the mimic gains an advantage when the predator mistakes it for something else: a type-1 error.  Those of us with an eye for mimicry sometimes make a type-2 error by mistakenly seeing a deception where there is none.  Coming upon this dried, twisted vine, my reaction was “Aha, a snake camouflaged as a vine.”   Georgia.

The pachyrhychine weevils are a distinctive, extremely hard-bodied group almost entirely restricted to the Philippines and the Pacific islands fringing Taiwan. Pachyrhynchus tobafolius (first photo) is sympatric with an unidentified otiorhychine weevil (second photo), which has the appearance of being one of its mimics.

Although it is highly venomous, the fer-de-lance, Bothrops asper, avoids contact with humans and other large animals.  Note the effective camouflage of this one, which was lying immobile against a backdrop of vegetation. Trinidad.

This male Anolis lizard in the process of shedding his skin ate the old skin as it came loose.  Costa Rica.

Trinidad’s Pitch Lake is analogous to the La Brea Tar Pits in California.  Unlike La Brea, the Pitch Lake has not been mined for fossils, which it very likely contains.  This caiman was trapped in the surface tar and gradually sinking into it, possibly on its way to becoming a fossil.  Trinidad.

JAC: I’ve inserted a 2016 photo of Pitch Lake taken from Wikipedia:

A primary defensive feature is one that operates all the time, while a secondary defensive feature comes into play only when a threat is perceived.  Tortoises present my favorite example of a primary defense enhanced by a secondary defense.  The hard shell is always present, but when the tortoise is threatened it withdraws its head and feet tightly inside the shell. Mexico.

This newly-hatched Gonnatodes gecko was fully active from the moment it broke out of its shell.  Trinidad.

In studying the responses of various orb-weaving spiders to a simulated predatory disturbance, I found that common cross spiderAraneus diadematus, has one that I have not seen in any other. In the early stages of the disturbance, the spider raises its forelegs as if to parry the intruder.  Italy.

In some parts of its range, the large pink-toed tarantula, Avicularia avicularia, is common in rural buildings, including in my house.  I have often seen visitors startled and even fearful when encountering one fo these, but I like having them around. Trinidad.

I have usually found this Hersilia sp. building its web on the surface of tree trunks and sitting in the middle of it, flattened and well camouflaged.  Philippines.

Cnidoscolus urensl is commonly known as “burn bush” or “mala mujer” on account of the highly urticating needles on its leaves, stems and fruits.  Where this plant is very abundant, we found the orb-weaving spider Argiope argentata preferentially basing its web on this plan. St Vincent & the Grenadines.

This Myrmarachne sp. [JAC: note that this is a spider] has the appearance of a specific Batesian mimic of a Crematogaster ant that is abundant in its habitat. Taiwan.

Tortoise eats bird (by Greg Mayer)

January 12, 2022 • 1:15 pm

by Greg Mayer

Last month Matthew asked me about herbivory in reptiles, and part of my reply was that there are few or no reptiles that are exclusively herbivorous. The ones that came closest that I could think of were the true land tortoises (family Testudinidae, sensu stricto). I wrote, “some true tortoises are pretty close to vegetarian, but I’d still say they are at least facultatively omnivorous.” And sure enough, shortly after I ran into the following:

The video, of a giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys giganteus) on the island of Fregate in the Seychelles eating a noddy (Anous tenuirostris, a member of a genus of common tropical terns), accompanied a paper on the incident published last August by Anna Zora and Justin Gerlach in Current Biology. Wikipedia makes an amusing observation about noddies:

Anous is Ancient Greek for “stupid” or “foolish”. Noddies are often unwary and were well known to sailors for their apparent indifference to hunters or predators.

The sailors were right– the noddy, it seemed to me, though not fledged, could have gotten away. Perhaps it had a strong aversion to moving away from the immediate vicinity of its nest.

We’ve encountered island biologist Justin Gerlach before here at WEIT, where I noted his paper on an Aldabran tortoise’s ocean journey.

The Aldabra tortoise at Kimbiji, shortly after its discovery in December 2004. Photograph: C. Muir. Figure 1 of Gerlach et al. (2006).
An Aldabra tortoise that came ashore at Kimbiji, Tanzania, in December 2004. Note the barnacles acquired during its adventure at sea. Photograph: C. Muir. Figure 1 of Gerlach et al. (2006)

We’ve encountered Justin Gerlach before here at WEIT, where I noted his paper on an Aldabran tortoise’s ocean journey (picture just above). The Fregate tortoises are probably introduced from Aldabra, but the systematics of Indian Ocean tortoises is not entirely settled, and there have been a number of claims of tortoises surviving from the Seychelles populations that are usually thought extinct.

As far as reptile feeding in general goes, snakes, crocodilians, and the tuatara are exclusively carnivorous (in the broad sense of feeding on any kind of animals, including carrion), lizards range from carnivorous to omnivorous with a large herbivorous component (e.g. iguanas), and turtles are omnivorous, ranging from mostly carnivorous (e.g. snapping turtles) to mostly herbivorous (e.g. true tortoises).

Gerlach, J., C. Muir and M.D. Richmond. 2006. The first substantiated case of trans-oceanic tortoise dispersal. Journal of Natural History 40(41–43): 2403–2408.

Zora, A. and J. Gerlach. 2021. Giant tortoises hunt and consume birds. Current Biology 31: R989-R990.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 10, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today’s photos, a mixed bag of taxa, come from reader Chris Taylor in Australia (that almost rhymes!).  His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Another set of photos:  all were taken at home on my property outside Canberra.

Black Fronted DotterelElseyornis melanops, at the edge of the dam next to the house.  These are quite common visitors, and have even tried to breed here. Unfortunately, their nest attempts have not met with success.

An Eastern Grey KangarooMacropus giganteus, on the dam above the house just before dawn.  Very common here; there are mobs of up to 50 that move between the forest reserves up above our house and the paddocks in the valley.

An Echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus, ambling across one of the paddocks.

Eastern Long-necked TurtleChelodina longicollis. These are quite common in the farm dams and waterways around here.  Unfortunately, many fall victim to cars as they try to cross the roads – they just stop walking and retreat into their shell as a car approaches, with the inevitable result.

We quite often see snakes here.  The most venomous are the Brown snake, and the Red-bellied Black Snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus, pictured here. The Brown is reputed to have the third or fourth most potent venom of any snake, while the Red-belly comes in rather further down.  It is said that the red-belly will eat brown snakes, and so when they are around, brown snakes will not be a problem.  Just how truthful that is I can’t say, but the years when the red-belly was here we didn’t see a single brown.

A Jewel Beetle, Scutiphora pedicellata:

Welcome Swallows, Hirundo neoxena. The first photo is of a swallow nest and fledgeling in the roof of one of the sheds above where we parked our vehicles. So during the time when the young birds were still in the nest, we had to clean the car windows every time we wanted to drive out!

The second photo is of the swallows bathing in the dam below the house.  They would fly around, then almost hover for a moment, before dipping their breasts into the water.

Two photos of Willie Wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys). A very common bird, and here all year.  First we see a bird coming in to land on a fence post.  The second is one of a nest.  This is constructed from spider web, and this nest was particularly cozy as it was luxuriously lined with Alpaca fleece that the birds had been able to gather from bits left in the paddock after we had shorn our animals!

Wonderful fossil dinosaur embryo shows birdlike “tucked” posture before hatching

December 24, 2021 • 11:00 am

This is one the most stunning fossils I’ve seen in a long time. It’s an almost perfectly preserved dinosaur embryo that somehow died in the egg during the Late Cretaceous (100 mya-66mya). It’s not just amazing for its preservation, but also for the posture of the unhatched embryo, which resembles the posture that modern bird embryos (an also early birds themselves) assume soon before hatching. The inference is that the behaviors that precede hatching in birds, and help them through the tough process of getting out of the egg, actually evolved from their reptilian ancestors—the theropod dinosaurs, of which this specimen is one.

The paper appears in iScience and is free; click on the screenshot below or get the pdf here.

I’ve really conveyed the gist of the paper in the first paragraph above, but you need to see this embryo! Click to enlarge; all the photos are high-resolution

(from paper): Figure 1. Oviraptorid embryo inside an elongatoolithid egg (YLSNHM01266) Abbreviations: cev, cervical vertebra; cv, caudal vertebra; dv, dorsal vertebra; f, femur; fi, fibula; II-1, pedal phalanx II-1; il, ilium; is, ischium; m, mandible; mt-I, metatarsal I; mt-III, metatarsal III; mx, maxilla; p, pubis; pm, premaxilla; r, radius; s, scapula; t, tibia; ul, ulna. Scale is 1 cm.


The specimen is given the number YLSNHM01266, and is described as a “new non-avian theropod dinosaur embryo. . . from the Late Cretaceous Hekou Formation of southern China.” No species name is given because without a fossil of an adult in the vicinity, we have no idea. We can tell, however, that it is a theropod dinosaur, and an “oviraptorid oviraptorosaur“.

Oviraptors constitute is a group of theropod dinosaurs of varying sizes, which lived in what is now North America and Asia. Fossils show that they had feathers, parrot-like beak mandibles, sometimes bony crests on the head, and walked on their hind legs. Paleontological analysis combined with phylogeny shows, as Wikipedia notes, that they are “close to the ancestry of birds.” (The ancestor of birds is thought by most but not all paleontologists to be theropod dinosaurs.)

Here’s a group of diverse ovoraptors from Wikipedia. You can see that their skeletons are more birdlike than those of other dinosaurs. Some scientists, indeed, group them with birds! Four species have been found with feather impressions, so it’s likely that the group (including the baby above) had feathers, but couldn’t fly. Maybe one of the species below is the adult that would have developed from the juvenile above!

Back to the fossil.  Here’s part of a later figure that helps you make sense of what’s what in the photos above. The air cell, also present in modern bird eggs, is to the right between the embryo and the shell.

If you want the technical description of the posture, here it is from the paper. I’ve bolded the important parts.

The articulated embryonic skeleton is preserved curled inside its egg (YLSNHM01266), with the skull positioned ventral to the body (Figure 1). The egg is elongate ovoid in shape with dimensions of 16.7 cm long by 7.6 cm wide, and has characteristics typical of the egg family Elongatoolithidae (see STAR Methods for eggshell analysis). The skeleton is almost complete, without much apparent postmortem disruption. The anterior surface of the skull faces toward the pointed pole and is situated about egg mid-length at the level of the ilium in-between the flexed hindlimbs, with a pes [foot] on either side. The anterior cervical vertebrae are in line with the long axis of the skull. The presacral vertebral column is strongly bent in an angular manner, so that the upper back of the embryo faces the blunt pole of the egg (similar flexion of the vertebral column is found in modern in ovo skeletons, e.g. Balanoff and Rowe, 2007: Figure 4, Day 18, and is not likely to be a taphonomic artifact). The skeleton is ∼23.5 cm in total length, measured from the anterior tip of the skull to the last preserved caudal vertebra, and occupies nearly the entire width of the egg and most of the length, with the exception of a ∼1.9 cm space between the dorsal vertebrae and the blunt pole of the egg. This space may represent the air cell, a space usually found between the back of the embryo and the blunt pole of bird eggs (e.g., Rahn et al., 1979). However, this inference is tentative and awaits further evidence. The posterodorsal, sacral and caudal vertebrae almost form a straight line along the long axis of the egg. Although the precise developmental stage of the embryo is unclear, it is likely to represent a late-stage embryo because the skeleton is well ossified and is large in size relative to the space inside the egg, as inferred in MPC 100/971 (Norell et al., 2001).

Note that the specimen is 23.5 cm, or a bit more than nine inches long: as long as a dollar bill and half of another one (American dollar bills are almost exactly 6 inches long, and can be used for emergency measurements).

When modern birds hatch, they assume this position as the first of three stages prior to hatching: “pre-tucking”, “tucking” and “posttucking” (we know this clearly because, sadly, many pre-hatched birds have been dissected from the egg). I won’t go through the complicated description of the changes in posture, but here’s how it happens in a chicken, with the fetal dinosaur placed between “pretucking” and “tucking”. “Membrane penetration” is when the bird uses its bill to get out of the membrane in which the embryo is enclosed, and “pipping” is when it begins to peck through the shell (often a long process).

Apparently birds always tuck their heads below their right wing, not their left, before pipping. How they know left from right (genetically) is beyond me; but somehow this asymmetry is coded in the DNA:

And here are three examples of embryonic oviraptors compared to a modern bird (chicken) at the assumed similar stages:

(from paper): Figure 3. In-ovo late-stage embryos of non-avian and avian dinosaurs (A) Oviraptorid specimens (MPC 100/971, YLSNHM01266 & IVPP V20183), which potentially correspond to various tucking stages. (B) Domestic fowl Gallus ontogenetic series (day 16-20) (modified from Rowe (2003)). Not to scale. Silhouettes modified from PhyloPic.

Now the authors are very careful not to overinterpret a single fossil, but I do think it’s likely that the oviraptor fossils show that their pre-hatching positions and behavior was passed on to birds, as oviraptors are phylogenetically close to the ancestor of birds (though we don’t know whether the ancestor of birds was an oviraptor).

The only question remaining is: do all dinosaur embryos—not just those closely related to the ancestor of modern birds—show similar embryonic behavior? The answer is, as usual, we just don’t know. There’s a severe shortage of well-preserved dinosaur embryos, as you might imagine One specimen of a sauropod, a distant relative, seems to show a different fetal posture than the ones above.

I hope we can find more fossil embryos, because, although behavior doesn’t fossilize, the correlates of behavior—represented by the posture of embryos—do. In that sense the way modern birds hatch might what some systematists call a synapomorphy: a character shared by two species (or groups) because it was present in an ancestor—in this case the common ancestor of the ovoraptors and modern birds. And it’s surely an adaptive synapomorphy, because birds that can’t get out of the shell don’t leave any genes behind.


Xing, L. et al. 2021.  An exquisitely preserved in-ovo theropod dinosaur embryo sheds light on avian-like prehatching posturesiScience, in press.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 24, 2021 • 8:30 am

Today’s photos are from Matt Young, who often posts both prose and photos at The Panda’s Thumb. Matt’s notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

I was in the Galápagos Islands during the end of December 2005, and the beginning of January 2006, bearing my trusty Canon PowerShot S30, with 3 megapixels and a 3X zoom. I took one or two pictures through an 8X monocular, but other than that I was on my own.

The first thing I saw when I got off the airplane were these flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber):

So let’s look first at some of the birds I managed to photograph. Here, first, a nestling Magnificent Frigatebird, Fregata magnificens,

A juvenile:

And an adult male (the only pictures in this batch taken through the monocular):

Blue-footed booby, Sula nebouxii:

Galápagos penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus:

Reptiles. First, a couple of marine iguanas, Amblyrhynchus cristatus. I think they are males having a disagreement:

Another, more colorful one:

A Floreana Giant Tortoise, Chelonoidis niger. They differ from island to island. This species has a long neck and kind of an open collar so they can reach higher up to forage:

While I was photographing something or other with the S30, someone dashed out of a building, very excited, and asked me for the serial number of the battery in the camera. Evidently his was dead, and he would have to order a new one from Japan. I happen to have had a nearly dead battery for backup, good for 6 shots or so, so I gave it to him. He reappeared, twice, with the following turtle:

And then:

Finally, here is the last reptile I encountered, a Lava Lizard, Microlophus albemarlensis.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 7, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have part 2 of Athayde Tonhasca Júnior’s photos of the rainforest of Brazil (part 1 is here). The captions (indented) are his, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. Most of the species were unidentified, so if you know them please post the IDs below. Thanks.

Horned toad:

Jaguar footprint (Panthera onca):

Leaves trapped in a spider web:

White-necked hawk, Leucopternis lacernulatus:

These photos were taken at the Reserva Natural do Cachoeira, Paraná State, Brazil (I included a map):

The city of Morretes, photo 1:

Wikipedia notes that Morretes “is famous for its restaurants, especially a traditional dish called barreado.” So of course I looked it up, and here’s what it is:

Simply stated, barreado is a delicious mixture of stewed beef, cooked in a clay pot for over 12 hours with bacon, bay leaves, and spices, served with manioc gravy, rice, and sliced bananas. Barreado’s genesis was as a dish that could be prepared easily and cooked slowly while people attended Carnival festivities. Like all good stews, barreado tastes just as good when reheated a few days after it’s prepared — just the food to maintain a long weekend of celebration.

Barreado literally means “covered in mud” in Portuguese, and the name references the way that the lid of a clay barreado pot was traditionally sealed with a mixture of manioc dough and ash before its cooked over a fire. The dough-sealed clay pot acts as a rustic slow cooker, trapping the meat’s succulent juices inside the pot as it stews over a low flame.

JAC: I found a photo and video. I want this!:

How to make it:


The city of Morretes, photo 2:

Phobetron hipparchia, the monkey slug caterpillar:

Puma (Puma concolor) caught by wildlife camera:

Puma scratchings:

Pyrrhura species:

Saffron finch, Sicalis flaveola:



Trogon species:

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 26, 2021 • 8:00 am

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

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


Access road:

Bad-tempered toad:

Black-faced hawk (Leucopternis melanops):

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


Another bromeliad:

Cheeky lizard:



Fungus 1:

Fungus 2:

Fungus 3:

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 25, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today I’ll show my own “wildlife” photos just for fun, but keep sending yours in.  Click the pictures below to enlarge them.

Feeding wild cats at a nunnery in Mystras, Greece, 2002. I always carry a box of dry cat food in my backpack in places like this.

A rare bloom in Death Valley, California, 2005. I don’t know what the moth is, and I’m baffled about where the many pollinating insects come from in those very occasional wet years. They just appear from out of nowhere.

Me feeding a grape (with permission) to a ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) at the Duke Lemur Center, 2006. Note the baby clinging to its belly.

Another ringtail with child:

Sifakas (lemurs, Propithecus sp.):

Cepea nemoralis snails on a fencepost, Dorset, England, 2006. The riot of colors and banding in this species was subject to a lot of investigation when I was in college, but evolutionary geneticists still don’t have an explanation for why the variation persists:

A butterfly (I don’t know the species) in the garden at Thomas Hardy’s boyhood home, 2006:

Snail and fly near Clouds Hill (T. E. Lawrence’s cottage), Wareham, Dorset, 2006:

Gooseneck barnacle, a rare and expensive delicacy. Galicia, Spain, 2006:

The one above was found on the rocks at low tide. Here are some for sale in the market. You eat the meat underneath the leather skin. It’s very good.

Me feeding a Texas longhorn on David Hillis’s and Jim Bull’s Double Helix ranch outside Austin, 2007:

Groundhog (Marmota monax), Capitol grounds, Ottawa, Canada, 2007:

Greg Mayer’s pet common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina); I believe its name was “Snappy”), Kenosha, Wisconsin, 2008:

Butterfly and orchids (species unknown), Guatemala, 2009:

Statue dedicated to all the lab cats “sacrificed” in medical research. St. Petersburg, 2011:

Gulls, Lake Geneva, Switzerland, 2011

Trees in autumn, Switzerland 2011:

I have many more, and perhaps I’ll post some of them on another holiday (Chanukah, Christmas, and Coynezaa are coming up).

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 11, 2021 • 8:00 am

Bring out your photos, please!

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, Neosparassus macilentus, Slender Badge Huntsman:

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

And this Oxyopes attenuatus, Attenuated Lynx Spider:

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

Psitteuteles versicolor, Varied Lorikeet:

Crinia deserticola, Desert Froglet:

Limnodynastes tasmaniensis, Spotted Grass Frog:

Litoria inermis, Bumpy Rocket Frog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pullen Pullen Reserve:

Night Parrot habitat:

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

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

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