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Archive for July, 2008

Lawsuit filed against army project killing desert tortoises


Lawsuit Filed to Stop Army Relocation Project From Killing More Desert Tortoises

July 3, 2008 11:52 AM - Center for Biological Diversity

The Center for Biological Diversity and Desert Survivors filed suit Wednesday in federal court against two government agencies over the relocation of hundreds of desert tortoises and transfer of land-management authority from the Army to the Bureau of Land Management without required environmental review.

Posted by Frank - July 28, 2008

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Dozens of Dead Sea Turtles Found in Mexico



Mexico finds dozens of dead sea turtles


Sat Jul 26, 6:55 PM ET

Environmental officials in Mexico say dozens of dead sea turtles apparently killed in fishing nets have washed up on beaches in recent days.

Authorities say 59 Olive Ridley turtles have been found on beaches in and around the resort of Acapulco.

Environmental protection officer Manuel de Jesus Solis says his agency found 12 dead turtles bearing marks apparently caused by fishing nets. It was unclear which fishing boats were involved.

Victor Berdejo says another 47 dead turtles were found by personnel at a turtle-protection area he supervises.

The sea turtles, once hunted in Mexico for their meat and eggs, were declared a protected species in 1990. Fishermen are required to include turtle escape devices in their nets.


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Greenhouse bees spread disease to wild bees


Note from Frank - This article reminds us again of our need to realize how all of our actions with nature are interrelated and how all of the ramifications of any action affecting the natural world must be considered:


Disease spread to wild bumblebees from commercially bred bumblebees used
for pollination in agriculture greenhouses may be playing a role in the
mysterious decline in North American bee populations, researchers said
on Tuesday [22 Jul 2008].

Bees pollinate numerous crops, and scientists have been expressing
alarm over their falling numbers in recent years in North America.
Experts warn the bee disappearance eventually could harm agriculture
and the food supply.

Scientists have been struggling to understand the recent decline in
various bee populations in North America. For example, a virus,
Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus, brought from Australia has been
implicated in massive honeybee deaths last year [2007] — see ProMED
archives below.

Canadian researchers studied another type of bee, the bumblebee, near
2 large greenhouse operations in southern Ontario where commercially
reared pollination bees are used in the growing of crops such as
tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers.

The researchers first observed that the commercial bumblebees
regularly flew in and out of vents in the sides of the greenhouses,
escaping from the facilities.

The researchers then devised a mathematical model to predict how
disease might spread from this “spillover” of runaway commercial bees
to their wild cousins. The model predicted a relatively slow build-up
of infection in nearby wild bumblebee populations over weeks or months
culminating in a burst of transmission generating an epidemic wave
that could affect nearly all wild bees exposed. The model also
predicted a drop-off in infection rates as you get further from the

The researchers then sampled wild bumblebee populations around the
greenhouses, catching bees in butterfly nets, holding them in vials,
and taking them back to a laboratory to screen for pathogens,
including testing their feces.

The patterns that had been predicted by their mathematical model were
borne out by studying the wild bees, they said. Most of the parasites
in the wild bumblebees were found to be at normal levels except for
one intestinal parasite known as _Crithidia bombi_ that is common in
commercial bee colonies but typically absent in wild bumblebees.

The researchers found that up to half of wild bumblebees near the
greenhouses were infected with this parasite. “All of the different
species of bumblebees that we sampled around greenhouses showed the
same pattern: really high levels of infection near greenhouses and
then declining levels of infection as you moved out,” said Michael
Otterstatter of the University of Toronto, one of the researchers.
“It was quite obvious that this was coming from the greenhouses and
it was a general adverse effect on the bumblebees,” Otterstatter
added in a telephone interview.

He said the parasite weakens and often kills bees. The “spillover” of
disease from commercial colonies may be a factor in the decline of
bee populations in North America, he added.

The study, published in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS
ONE, is available at

[Byline: Will Dunham]

Posted by Frank - July 28, 2008

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Political frog…


Today’s frog (July 18, 2008), originally uploaded by EcoSnake.

is thinking about whether or not to do something and will tell us about her decision soon…And she’s finally made the decision. She hopes her friends who do not live in Idaho will forgive her for a political post, but she really is embarrassed that Idaho’s senior senator still is Idaho’s senior senator as witnessed by his remarks yesterday in the U.S. Senate:

YouTube - Larry Craig: Don’t Jerk Us Around by the Gas Nozzle

Photo by Frank

Posted by Frank - July 18, 2008

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Royal (ball) python (Python regius


"Princess", originally uploaded by EcoSnake.

native of sub-Sahara Africa. One of the most docile snakes in the world.

Posted by Frank - July 17, 2008

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The Surprising Beauty of Snakes


The Surprising Beauty of Snakes by Christie Keith, SF Gate, July 8, 2008

When you were young, did you ever lie on your belly in a field, watching a bug crawling up a blade of grass? Did you stand perfectly still in a creek, hoping to catch a frog? Did a garter snake ever slither across your bare foot in the backyard, only to be caught in your curious hands?For many of us, our childhoods were filled with wonder at the world of nature, and free of prejudice against things that slither or crawl. But as we grew up, we frequently got the message that while puppies, kittens, and baby bunnies are adorable, cold-blooded critters are something else entirely. I know that happened to me.

But all that changed eight years ago. I started doing some editorial work for, the oldest and largest reptile and amphibian Web site in the world, and had my eyes opened to the beauty of snakes and the motivations of the people who keep them as pets.

Many of the people I met never lost that childhood wonder at the natural world. They would devote endless hours to creating habitats for animals that evolved in environments ranging from the driest deserts to tropical rainforests, sometimes having to learn by trial and error what even the experts didn’t know about their snakes. They became obsessive observers of their animals, noting the slightest deviation in activity levels or appetites, their interest and their patience apparently endless.

I also became aware of how much prejudice exists against snakes and the people who keep them. Snakes in our culture have often been relegated to roles as scary monsters in horror flicks and the “ewww gross” segment on nature shows.

I wanted to challenge that view, so I asked some of the Bay Area users of if they’d be willing to talk to me for a column. One of the first to volunteer was Rolf, who keeps a wide variety of pythons and boas and maintains a Web site about their care at

While there’s a stereotype of snake owners as anti-social and a little strange, Rolf defies it. When he showed up at San Francisco’s Java Beach to meet with me, he was open, friendly, and happy to talk about his animals, even though he asked me to keep his last name and the city where he lives private.

Rolf told me that he grew up all over the Northern California coast, mostly in rural areas, where, from the time he was four or five years old, he remembers always being in the middle of a forest, field, or a stream or a creek. “All children look and see things that are interesting, and I always had been involved with these little animals,” he said, “You see them. They see you. They go and hide. I can see the rocks and the trees and the water, but I can’t see these little bits of life that I know are there. Where are they going? What are they doing?”

Rolf’s parents tolerated his obsession with snakes and even let him keep a captured garter snake in an aquarium for a while. When the snake failed to thrive in his care, however, the boy let it go. Today, he’s gotten a lot better at figuring out what his snakes need to be happy and healthy, but he’s no less passionate about them.

“I think they’re beautiful. I really love just seeing them. But there’s also kind of this science-y observation,” he said. “I feel like I have a living, breathing part of the rainforest in my apartment. This world that I don’t get to see and that most people don’t get to see, and it’s in my living room.”

Marin County’s Natalie McNear fits the snake-owner stereotype a bit more. In a phone interview, she described herself as a loner, happiest when by herself in the fields and forests. But simply by being a woman who loves snakes she challenges stereotypes, too.

“I’ve been going outside and looking for snakes ever since I was a little kid,” said the twenty-year-old, who worked at a North Bay reptile store during high school. “I would catch bugs and snakes and everything else that other girls thought were gross.”

Her snakes are mostly small natives, including a California kingsnake and a sand boa that she collected herself in the hills around Marin.

Although McNear was at first shy and not given to lengthy responses, that changed when she mentioned something that happened the week before. “I picked up one of my rubber boas, and I thought she had a respiratory tract infection,” she told me. “She sounded almost foamy in her lungs.”

Her veterinarian examined the snake and said the symptoms were caused by irritation from smoke from the forest fires that broke out all over Northern California this summer. The snake has since fully recovered, but McNear detailed hours spent simply observing the animal.

“A snake that’s healthy will look around and flick its tongue really often, whereas a snake that’s not doing so well will tend not to do that,” she said. “They won’t look around. If you hold them they’ll be limp and weak.”

McNear’s quiet observations haven’t just been of her snakes; she’s noticed a thing or two about how people feel about the animals as well. “(Snakes are) probably one of the most misunderstood animals that people keep as pets,” she said “A lot of people are afraid of them.”

Fear is behind a lot of prejudice against both snakes and their owners. “People have a slight biological predisposition to be afraid of animals,” Rolf said. “I mean, if you step on the wrong one, it can bite you and kill you. So that’s in a way a very reasonable fear to have, even though I’ve never had it. But over the years through media, entertainment, whatnot, there’s this kind of mythology built up around these animals, that there are these monstrous constrictors that will kill you and eat you, or get on the school bus and eat your kids.”

“Humans have always regarded snakes with a mixture of inquisitiveness and fear, of awe and revulsion,” wrote Harry W. Greene, a Cornell University professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, in “Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature.” They “represented healing to the ancient Greeks and knowledge to the Incas; a serpent tempted Eve in the biblical garden of Eden, and a giant cobra shaded Buddha. Snakes run the metaphorical gamut in aboriginal and modern lore, and in the past two decades these limbless creatures have even come into their own as subjects of scientific study.”

It’s in that last mention that we find the answer to the question of just why we might want to try a little harder not to judge snake lovers, nor discourage our children from an interest in them. Snakes are a vital part of ecosystems on land and in water. They are predator and prey, and have an ancient and still largely unexplored genetic heritage that far predates human history.

Much of what we know about snakes and other small and elusive species comes from the hard work of field biologists like Kate Jackson, the author of “Mean and Lowly Things: Snakes, Science, and Survival in the Congo.” Jackson, just like Natalie McNear, was once a little girl lying on her belly in the grass, looking for snakes. Today, she’s a biology professor and one of the first herpetologists to slog through the swampy forests of the Northern Congo, studying and cataloguing the reptiles and amphibians she found there.

In her book, a memoir of a year spent running afoul of local customs, language, government and weather in the service of science, Jackson recalls the day she first wondered just why herpetology mattered.

“To a girl mad about reptiles,” she wrote, “a herpetology collection needed no more purpose to justify its existence than, say, an art gallery.” But why did a large institution like the Smithsonian, where she interned, spend so much time and money on its herpetological collection?

The answer her fellow scientists gave her was that they did it to document and protect biodiversity. The importance of that goal seemed obvious to them, and to Jackson. “We loved amphibians and reptiles, and all other animals and plants,” she wrote. “We delighted in the thousands of species of each, and agreed that the world would be a sadder place of any were driven to extinction. But that explanation alone made me uneasy. It made species sound like luxury items, to be protected only for aesthetic reasons. I wanted an explanation that would convince a nonscientist - even someone who did not consider snakes irresistibly attractive.”

That explanation isn’t simple, but it’s at the heart of the allure of snake keeping even for people who have never set foot in the jungle or a biology lab - people like Rolf, with his piece of the rainforest.

Nature isn’t a simple system, nor is it a single system. It’s a universe of interlocking relationships, occupied by so many different species that we humans have described only around 1 percent of them. Remove too many species, or remove a keystone species, and the entire system might collapse, or suffer irreparable harm.

How can we know which those species are, or where the critical mass might be reached, or how those collapsing systems might affect our species? Without the careful, obsessive study of the natural world, we can’t. Without encouraging herpetology-crazy little boys and girls who might grow up to be the next Kate Jackson, we never will.

That’s because every year, pressured by pollution, development, and other social and political forces, thousands of species cross the threshold of extinction, many without ever having been identified or described at all. Unless we’re motivated by a passion to preserve and save them, how can we ever turn that process around, or even slow it?

Harry Greene opens the final section of “Snakes” with this quotation from Sengalese conservationist Baba Dioum:

In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.

My purpose here is not to convince you to love snakes. I still don’t, and even Rolf and McNear say what they feel for their snakes is more respect and fascination than love. But I think Dioum is right, that we only save what we care about, and we only care about what we learn to understand.

Every day, hundreds of parents, older sisters and babysitters respond with a shudder and “get that thing out of this house!” when a child shows up with a harmless garden snake in his or her hands. What if instead we taught ourselves to understand and respect people’s interest in snakes and those other “mean and lowly” creatures? Wouldn’t doing that not only help kids to retain, but us to reclaim, some of that sense of wonder at the natural world and the desire to preserve it for the future?

Christie Keith is a contributing editor for Universal Press Syndicate’s Pet Connection and past director of the Pet Care Forum on America Online. She lives in San Francisco.

Posted by Frank, July 8, 2008



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More snake news from Idaho


From the Idaho Falls, Idaho Post Register, July 3, 2008:

Idaho Falls officials on the lookout for poisonous snake

Post Register  
An Idaho Falls man told city officials that his highly poisonous pet coral snake escaped from his Wabash Avenue home 3 weeks ago.

If you see a bright yellow-, red- and black-ringed snake curled in some rocks, stay away. Then call Idaho Falls Animal Control or police.

City officials are warning people about a coral snake that escaped from its owner’s house on the 600 block of Wabash Avenue about three weeks ago. It is no ordinary pet.

The snake is one of the most venomous in the United States.

And that’s why city officials are trying to educate people about the snake, which is native to Texas and whose bright colors tend to attract curious children.

“Children aren’t used to poisonous snakes in the area except for rattlesnakes,” said Irene Brown, director of Idaho Falls Animal Control.

Her department and Idaho Falls police were notified about the escape Wednesday by Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center personnel.

Brown said the family that owned the snake brought their son to the hospital Tuesday night because the parents were afraid it had bitten him. (It hadn’t.)

Since being notified, animal control personnel have been searching for the snake, mostly around the Wabash Avenue area.

But Brown is not optimistic. Coral snakes are very reclusive and are not aggressive unless they are picked up, but they are drawn to secluded, dark areas such as wood piles, under rocks and thick vegetation, which makes them hard to find.

“I talked to some experts from Reptile Gardens in South Dakota, and they said it’s like finding a needle in a haystack,” she said.

Brown believes the 18-inch snake is probably outside, but that it won’t last long or will die with the first freeze. The snake, which she said the owner got in Texas, can go without food for several months but needs a readily available source of water.

Owning a venomous snake within the city of Idaho Falls is a misdemeanor offense and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Lt. Joe Cawley of the Idaho Falls Police Department said police are investigating, but so far, the owners haven’t been cited.

“It’s hard to give a citation if we haven’t even seen the thing yet,” he said.

Posted by Frank - July 3, 2008 - Thanks to John for the referral.  

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Almost a Darwin Award!


From the Lewiston Tribune, Lewiston, Idaho, July 3,2008:

Close snake encounter ends with self-inflicted injuries

Asotin man recovers from wounds after snake-shot pellet gunfire hits his face

ASOTIN - Frank Jeffreys is wearing protective guards over his injured eyes to help keep them closed.

The 24-year-old Asotin man’s face was peppered with snake-shot pellets last week during a fishing outing on Joseph Creek, near the Oregon border. Jeffreys was hit after he fired a shot at a rattlesnake and dropped the gun.

“I can’t see anything out of my right eye,” he said Wednesday at his home in Asotin. “I can see shadows and silhouettes out of my left eye, but I am supposed to keep them closed so I don’t put any stress on them.”

Jeffreys was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle last Thursday after he was taken to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center. He was released Monday night, but there will be future surgeries to help repair the damage, he said.

“They are going to see what they can do to reconstruct my eye, but they couldn’t guarantee anything.”

Surrounded by several family members, Jeffreys described the painful ordeal, saying it was a life-changing event.

“I was up at my friend’s house and I had just walked over the bank toward the creek to go fishing when I heard something. I turned around and a rattlesnake was at eye level on the bank. I shot once and the snake lunged. A rock rolled out and I dropped my gun. When it hit the ground, it went off.”

He said being hit in the eyes and face with a round of snake shot was excruciating.

“It was horrible,” said Amanda Taylor, who was with Jeffreys when it happened. “I thought he got bit by the snake at first. When he moved his hands from his face, blood was everywhere. It was very scary.”

After calling 911, they started driving toward town and met the ambulance en route.

Jeffreys said it was the second rattler he’d encountered on the fishing trip. He was carrying a .22-caliber pistol to ward them off.

“The snakes are obviously pretty thick this year,” he said.

“I usually take a gun with me. I grew up here, and when I’m in snake country, I carry one.”

The snake-shot pellets still lodged in his head are expected to eventually work to the surface, he said. “I still have pellets scattered throughout my face.”

He’s going to Spokane Tuesday for more treatment. He said he’s focusing on the future and his recovery instead of worrying about what he could have done or should have done differently last week.

Jeffreys said he’s been off work for a while dealing with other health issues. “I work on cars. I’m a self-proclaimed mechanic.”

He lives with Taylor and their 3-month-old baby, Lainey. His mother and sister drove here from Fort Worth, Texas, following the accident, and a brother is coming home from Iraq after being granted emergency family leave.

He has Medicaid, but the family is struggling with expenses, said Amanda’s mother, Tonia Taylor of Sweetwater.

“This is a real tough situation,” she said.

A bank account has been set up at Clearwater Credit Union in Tonia Taylor’s name, and a yard sale will be conducted Friday and Saturday at 734 Stewart Ave., in Lewiston to raise money for the family.

Posted by Frank - July 3, 2008 - Thanks to John for the referral.

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Snake eats fish…


From New

Photo: Snake Eats Fish

A lot to swallow

Photo: Snake Eats Fish

In Montana’s Blackfoot Valley, a snake has a late, and very big lunch this week. Click the photo for a larger image.
By Courtney Lowery, 7-03-08

Allan, one of our favorite guys at Worden’s Market in Missoula, was fishing this week on Monture Creek near the Blackfoot River when he spotted this snake having a (big) bite to eat and snapped the photo.

Allan says when he arrived a the scene, the snake must have just caught the sculpin and the fish was still alive (but looking very sad). The snake swallowed the fish a “short while later.”

Posted by Frank - July 3, 2008


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Tuatara may be extinct by 2085


From Environmental News Network:

Condemned to single-sex life by climate change

July 2, 2008 10:54 AM - Nature News



Posted by Frank July 2, 2008

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