Posts Tagged 'reptiles'



Snake Book

Snakes of the Eastern United States by Whit Gibbons is an excellent addition to the natural history bookshelf. It’s sumptuously well-illustrated by many photographers.

Here’s the skinny on our snakes: there are 63 species of snakes native in the eastern US. There’s a serious north-south gradient: Maine has 10 native species (one of which, the timber rattlesnake, may be extirpated from the state) and Florida has 45 native species.* About 20 of the 63 species are endemic to the US east of the Mississippi (and Louisiana). There are subspecies and color variations for more than a few of all these.

Only 7 of the 63 species are venomous. They get way too much not just bad press but wrong press. These snakes are very reluctant to bite humans. And if you do get bit, we have a medical system of sorts that functions pretty well for this kind of thing (the cost is another issue, which we should be able to solve with Medicare for all were it not for our masters wanting us to worry ourselves and bankrupt ourselves to death). You have a better chance of being killed by lightning than being killed by a venomous snake. Bites from dogs are three times more fatal. Sure, the Venomous Seven can be dangerous, but use common sense, know what to look out for, watch where you’re going, wear boots when hiking, leash your dog, et cetera.

I’ve seen too few of these critters: Rat, Garter, Ribbon, Northern Water (pictured below). This year, I’m aiming to spot a Brown.

*There are some 3000 described species in the world. More than 140 of these are native to the entire U.S. This book also touches upon four introduced species, including the nightmare pet trade African python currently eating up Florida.

Northern Water Snake:

These nature goals were written for NYC, but are apropos everywhere.

Autotomy

Lizards can shed their tails to escape predators, including the two-legged kind. This is called autotomy (“self-severing” or self amputation): reptiles, amphibians, spiders, mollusks, even some mammals have various forms of it. The lizard tail situation is probably the best known manifestation of this adaption.

There will be some regeneration, as you can see here, but not quite as perfect as the original.

When I was ten-ish, we lived north of Naples, Italy. The place, a Sixth Fleet suburb called Parco Azzuro, was terraced up a hillside. There was a tufa retaining wall on one side of the property dropping down to the road. This is where we saw most of the local lizards. Something about a wall doth a lizard love. (In fact, the NYC lizards pictured here, Podarcis sicula are also known as Italian Wall Lizards and originated in the Mediterranean region.) Trying to catch them meant I came away with still-twitching tails several times. One lives and learns. I suppose that is what is so wonderful about us a species. The countervailing tendency is to hunker down and endlessly repeat initial errors. That’s another human characteristic, rather less laudatory. And a good description of the bunkered politics of roughly a quarter of the population. Low-information partisans fortified by the conspiracies and bigotries of Fox and it’s even more grotesque familiars InfoWars, Limbaugh, and the like, are unquestionably the enemies of democracy.  These crazies have never been more powerful.

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Someone asked if this blog’s fundraiser was still open: it is.

Whose Woods?

In Sweden, the woods belong to the red wood ants (Formica). They build large mounds, are essential forest managers, and aren’t afraid of taking on bigger critters.A young Kopparödla or Slowworm (Anguis fragilis) is being taken down. (Movie)
Duncan takes a closer look at one of the mounds. This was the last we saw of him…

Pond Life and Death

The Snappers Are Restless

One of the gigantic Chelydra serpentina of Brooklyn.Another? There were at least two big ones in this pond. But note the difference in leech positions.

By the way, just look at all the parasitic life-forms latched onto this one’s head and neck! Crowd-sourcing these pictures to Twitter, I found some suggestions that these were Placobdella parasitica and P. ornata, a.k.a. the turtle leech.

Garters

Does this snake have a head at both ends?Eastern Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis).And another. Great Swamp NWR. I wanted to turn these into Ribbon Snakes. They were, after all, on tiny islands in the swamp. But look at the black marks on the sides of their faces. Ribbon Snakes, which are in the same genus, don’t have those. Compare my examples with this image of a Ribbon from the VA Herpetological Society.

Yellowbelly

On a 40F day, a single turtle is observed on the edge of the Sylvan Water. What’s this, though? Not a Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), by far the most common turtle across the city. I once counted 70 basking along the Lullwater in Prospect Park.

This is a Yellow-bellied Slider (Trachemys scripta scripta). As their binomials, which are actually trinomials, suggest, they’re the same species. Both sliders are native to the southeast. The pet trade has spread them all over.

Please don’t get a turtle for a pet. It’s a wild animal. It shouldn’t be captive. I don’t think it matters that they’re bred for the trade: nobody should be making a profit off of them. Also, those shitballs on the sidewalk who sell them when they’re under 4″ are illegal animal traders, so report them.

So many of these impulse buys are then disposed of, if the turtles are lucky, in local fresh water far from their native region by irresponsible fools. It’s a great way to spread disease and screws the turtles who are supposed to be here. What the fuck is wrong with people who do this kind of thing?

Make Your Own Metaphors

Turtle with a leech latched onto its…brain? Some people say the Senator from Oligarchy, Mitch McConnell, whose career is based on an infusion of foreign cash, looks like a turtle. I wouldn’t want to insult a turtle with that comparison. But the miserable old cynic sure acts like a leech on democracy… so there’s that.

November Slider

Recently on Valley Water… a lone Red-eared slider was enjoying the freakish day.

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I no more enjoy writing about the human excrement that is Donald Trump than you do reading about it. When he tweeted the disgusting Britain First tweets yesterday, giving aid and comfort to yet more fascists — the murderer of MP Jo Cox was poisoned by that BF filth — he showed once again that there is absolutely no bottom to his depravity in playing to his “base” of racist/nationalist yahoo-dumbfucks. He feeds these vicious dolts tweets to eat while he and the monstrous Republican Party work hard to immiserate them (and the rest of us) for the gangster-oligarchic authoritarian/corporatist state of their dreams. They’re cannibals set on dismembering the nation. And damn few of us seem to realize that a mass movement is the only way to stop them.

Any syllabus of this forgotten idea should start with Jonathan Schell‘s history of noncooperation, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People.

Ssss

Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), the only species of snake I’ve ever run into in New York City. And that hasn’t been all that frequently. But they’re out there. And this lovely specimen was in the Bronx.

*
It’s tremendously unfair to animals to compare them to people. Pig, snake, rat, insect, etc. Yesterday, Orange Spray-on-Tan endorsed police brutality before a crowd of cheering cops betraying their public trust and duty. This followed his Drumpfjugend rally with the Boy Scouts earlier in the week. The Anti-Midas, everything he touches turns to shit. The man is defecating on America and wiping himself with the Constitution. And the Republicans are helping him.


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