Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Authorities Looking for Home for Seized Animals Owned by Columbine Killer Wannabe

Article from The Times
Animal control officials want a reptile rescue group to help find a home for seven snakes, a baboon spider and a Pac-Man frog seized from the home of a 16-year-old boy being detained after allegedly planning a Columbine-style attack at Penn High School.

The animals were seized last week after a search of the boy's home in South Bend, where he lives with his uncle. Except for a toad, which had a broken leg and has since died, the animals appeared to be well-cared for and healthy, said Gary Libbey, manager of South Bend Animal Care and Control.

The animals were seized because city code prohibits keeping wild animals in general, and venomous snakes in particular. Two of the snakes are timber rattlesnakes, which are venomous. They also are an endangered species. The other animals include two corn snakes, a king snake and a red-tailed boa constrictor. The Potawatomi Zoo's reptile expert, called in to help, has been unable to identify one snake, Libbey said.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Colossal Squid Thaw to Be Webcast Live

Article from
Marine scientists in New Zealand on Tuesday were thawing the corpse of the largest squid ever caught to try to unlock the secrets of one of the ocean's most mysterious beasts. No one has ever seen a living, grown colossal squid in its natural deep ocean habitat, and scientists hope their examination of the 1,089-pound, 26-foot long colossal squid, set to begin Wednesday, will help determine how the creatures live. The thawing and examination are being broadcast live on the Internet.

The squid, which was caught accidentally by fishermen last year, was removed from its freezer Monday and put into a tank filled with saline solution. Ice was added to the tank Tuesday to slow the thawing process so the outer flesh wouldn't rot, said Carol Diebel, director of natural environment at New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa. The Discovery Channel is producing a new documentary about the squid, in cooperation with the museum.

After it is thawed, scientists will examine the squid's anatomical features, remove the stomach, beak and other mouth parts, take tissue samples for DNA analysis and determine its sex, Diebel said. "If we get ourselves a male it will be the first reported (scientific) description of the male of the species," Steve O'Shea, a squid expert at Auckland's University of Technology, told National Radio. He is one of the scientists conducting the examination.

The squid is believed to be the largest specimen of the rare deep-water species Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, or colossal squid, ever caught, O'Shea has said. Colossal squid, which have long been one of the most mysterious denizens of the deep ocean, can grow up to 46 feet long, descend to 6,500 feet into the ocean and are considered aggressive hunters.

At the time it was caught, O'Shea said it would make calamari rings the size of tractor tires if cut up -- but they would taste like ammonia, a compound found in the animals' flesh. Fishermen off the coast of Antarctica accidentally netted the squid in February, 2007 while catching Patagonian toothfish, which are sold under the name Chilean sea bass.

The previous largest colossal squid ever found was a 660 pound female squid discovered in 2003, the first ever landed. Researchers plan to eventually put the squid on display in a 1,800 gallon tank of formaldehyde at the museum in the capital, Wellington. Colossal squid are found in Antarctic waters and are not related to giant squid found round the coast of New Zealand. Giant squid grow up to 39 feet long, and are not as heavy as colossal squid.

Monday, April 28, 2008

La Gomera Gets New Reptile Species

Article from Tenerife News
Skinks, those small(ish), slithery reptiles halfway between a lizard and a snake, are in the news after a study carried out by Spanish, British and French geneticists decided that the Gomera variety is a species in its own right rather than the sub-species it was previously taken for.

DNA testing has proved conclusively that the Gomeran skink (Chalcides viridanus) is an endemic one-off and it already has a new unscientific name: the Lisa de Salvador, in honour of Alfredo Salvador, investigator in evolutionary ecology at Madrid’s Natural Science Museum, who first noticed their difference and got them categorized as a sub-species back in 1975.

Skinks, or lisas as they are known here, are found in abundance in Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Gomera and El Hierro and their survival is not under any threat. They are thought to have arrived in Gran Canaria, probably in a floating log or other botanical debris. From Gran Canaria they somehow got to Tenerife, probably by the same method. Then came La Gomera. Their colonization of El Hierro must have been later given that that island is geologically the youngest of the islands in the archipelago.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rare Reptiles Seized at Sana'a Airport

Article from
Yemeni authorities have seized 3000 chameleons and 350 lizards at the Sana'a airport planned to be smuggled to abroad, the al-Thawra Daily has said. The rare reptiles that only live in Yemen, were put within banana products that would have been exported via the airport.

The paper said an Arab citizen along with a Yemeni collected the chameleons and lizards from three provinces in Yemen to smuggle them and sell them in other countries. The two persons were arrested and referred to prosecution and the reptiles were handed over to the Authority for Environment Protection and the Sana'a Zoo.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Alligator Wants to Become a Pet

Article by Ted Moore /
Apparently cats, dogs and parrots are not the only ones who have the right to benefit from a cozy home. Who says that alligators must not walk around a house? Maybe that’s what the 8-foot, 8-inch alligator weighing about 230 pounds was thinking when it entered Sandie Frosti’s house near Oldsmar.

The reptile was seen by Frosti walking around her kitchen. At first, she thought she was hallucinating, but after taking a second look she realized that her house was invaded by an enormous alligator. She immediately locked herself in her bedroom and called 911. As it was obvious, the operator also thought that this couldn’t be true and asked Frosti whether she was sure that the reptile was not an iguana.

"The lady thought I was crazy," Frosti said. Twenty minutes later, the sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene and saw the dark green alligator. It was only after about one hour that the animal trapper from Animal Capture came. It was quite hard to catch the alligator that had knocked over a few things in the 12-by-8-foot kitchen, including the cover to the garbage compactor and a heavy plate that fell from a counter and apparently left the creature injured and bleeding. Fortunately, nobody was injured.

Sandie realized that something was fishy after hearing some scratches from somewhere near the kitchen. "I thought that scratching sound was much too loud to be my cat," Frosti said. When she went in the kitchen she saw the alligator’s head. Apparently, the reptile broke through a porch screen, crossed about 10 feet to the open door and entered the house. It traipsed across the living room, through the dining room and into the kitchen. "The police told me it may have been interested in my cat," Frosti said. For a while Sandie didn’t even know whether her cat, Poe was all right or not. Finally, while waiting outside for the trapper to arrive, Frosti saw Poe hop on a piece of furniture in the living room.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

OR Tambo Reptiles to go Home

Article from
Surviving reptiles from Madagascar that were found in three crates at OR Tambo airport in March, will be released back into the wild on the island, the NSPCA said on Tuesday. National Inspector Alistair Sinclair said the NSPCA, Johannesburg Zoo and the Madagascar Embassy had met to plan the release of about 450 reptiles.

The animals were still being tested for diseases, in order not to endanger the island's indigenous fauna and flora. Once all arrangements were made, the reptiles would be transported back to the island under supervision of a Joburg Zoo veterinarian and a NSPCA representative, said Sinclair. He hoped the transport would take place within a month. "The care for the animals costs us about R5000 a week. It is straining our funds," he said, adding that "every lizard is our responsibility".

Charges against the owners of the crates in which the animals were found have been laid by the Madagascar Embassy. The NSPCA has laid charges against the warehousing agency where the crates, destined for the Czech Republic, stood.

The crates were left unattended for five to six days before the NSPCA was informed of their existence and the animals were transported to Joburg Zoo. Two other crates containing reptiles had been in the warehouse for 12 to 14 days before they were returned to Madagascar - because the transporting agent had not paid the duties.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Road Kill Losses Add Up, Taxing Amphibians And Other Animals

When frogs hit the road, many croak. Researchers found more than 65 animal species killed along a short stretch of roads in a Midwestern county. Nearly 95 percent of the total dead were frogs and other amphibians, suggesting that road-related death, or road-kill, possibly contributes to their worldwide decline, a trend that has concerned and puzzled scientists for decades.

The Purdue University study found that habitat along roadsides heavily influences road-kill. More than 75 percent of the carcasses originated alongside a one-mile stretch of road that traverses a wildlife-friendly wetland known as Celery Bog in West Lafayette, Indiana. "On hot summer nights when it rains, there are literally thousands of frogs out there," said Andrew DeWoody, a Purdue researcher who led the study in Tippecanoe County, home to the university.

During the 17-month study, researchers found 10,500 dead animals along 11 miles of roads. Of those, 7,600 were frogs of unidentifiable species and another 1,700 were bullfrogs, said DeWoody, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources. "In addition to indirect costs of habitat fragmentation, roads have direct costs in terms of animals' lives," he said. Several steps can be taken to help reduce road-kill, said Dave Glista, study co-author and a Purdue master's graduate who began the study as part of his since-completed thesis measuring roads' environmental impact. For one, development planning should take into account an area's wildlife value. Second, structures to mitigate, limit and prevent road-kill should be explored whenever possible, he said. Options include underpasses, viaducts and overpasses to allow wildlife safe passage, and special fences to keep animals off roads.

"We need to avoid, minimize and mitigate," said Glista, now a scientist with the Indiana Department of Transportation. "As a biologist, I do think we should avoid building roads in wetlands and other wildlife-rich areas. Mitigation structures are worth the cost, as is any measure we can take to minimize our impact on the overall environment." Scientists estimate that one-third of amphibian species are threatened, and hundreds of species have gone extinct in the past two decades alone.

Road-kill adds to numerous factors already implicated in amphibian declines, DeWoody said. These include habitat loss and degradation, disease, pollution, competition from introduced exotic species, and threats posed by climate change. Frogs, toads and salamanders are all amphibians, a class of four-legged animals known for their moist, scale-free skin. Most species begin life as gilled, water-dwelling creatures before undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis to become four-legged, air-breathing adults, walking or hopping about on land. They serve vital roles in many ecosystems, as consumers of various animals like insects and as a food source for carnivores. To maintain healthy ecosystems, it is vital to limit amphibian losses, DeWoody said.

The study, published online in the latest issue of the journal Herpetological Conservation and Biology, significantly underestimated the number of animals killed because many specimens were scavenged, degraded beyond recognition or moved, DeWoody said. About five times more animals died than could be recorded, he estimated. The dead included 142 road-killed eastern tiger salamanders, a finding DeWoody said was troubling. "The absolute number might not look that large, but most of these individuals were mature, up to 10 years old," DeWoody said. "Many of them were gravid, or females bearing eggs on an annual trip to breeding grounds where they often lay 500 to 1,000 eggs. This could make a potentially big difference for the population." Researchers also found 74 dead northern leopard frogs, a species of special conservation concern in Indiana.

To survive, most amphibians require habitats with running or standing fresh water, in which they lay eggs and begin life. This makes them vulnerable to water pollution and land-use changes like drainage or waterway disruption. Habitats like wetlands and rainforests are in decline worldwide, DeWoody said.

Adapted from materials provided by Purdue University.
Purdue University (2008, April 21). Road Kill Losses Add Up, Taxing Amphibians And Other Animals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from­ /releases/2008/04/080416151943.htm

Friday, April 18, 2008

Apologies to Reptile Related News Readers

It is with profound guilt for neglecting this important and well-known blog that I offer my humble apologies to readers of the Reptile Related News. I hereby commit to updating the blog at least four days each week. (some days there is no news -- and I don't want to stuff the blog with filler)

I sincerely appreciate the readers of Reptile Related News and hope to gain continued readership and trust.

As part of this commitment, I plan to fill in some past days and weeks with good articles, links and pictures of topical information. This is NOT an effort to fool anyone, but to offer loyal readers proof that the Reptile Related News blog is as important to me as it is the reptile loving community.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Elephants Once Thought Extinct Likely Survived

Article from Vijay Joshi, AP via
Photo by Vincent Thian
Borneo's pygmy elephants may be descendants of an extinct Javan elephant race, saved by chance by an 18th century ruler, according to a new study released Thursday. The study suggests that a small number of opposite-sex elephants can produce a thriving progeny of thousands if left undisturbed on an island, giving fresh hope to conservationists trying to protect nearly extinct species of large mammals.

"If proven, this fascinating story would demonstrate that very small populations of large mammals can be saved from the brink of extinction (simply by) moving a few individuals, from a seemingly doomed population, to a different and safer habitat," the study published in the Sarawak Museum Journal says. Study co-author Junaidi Payne said the Sultan of Java in Indonesia in the 18th century likely sent some pygmy elephants as gifts to the Sultan of Sulu in the Philippines. The Sultan of Sulu at some point apparently shipped them to Borneo and abandoned them there for unknown reasons.

"There are a number of historical records of elephants shipped between various places in Asia by rulers as gifts to impress others," Payne said. Borneo pygmy elephants, which are genetically distinct from other subspecies, grow less than about 8 feet compared to about 10 feet in height of Asian ale elephants. They also have babyish faces, large ears and longer tails. They are more rotund and less aggressive.

The pygmy elephants in Java were extinct by the end of the 18th century, but the few that were brought to Borneo thrived, the study found. Historically, Borneo never had any elephants and the origins of pygmy elephants -- a distinct subspecies of its mainland Asian cousin -- remained shrouded in mystery until now.

Borneo is a large island shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and the sultanate of Brunei. It is separated by at least 250 miles of sea from Java, the main island in Indonesia. Sulu is much farther to the east. Payne said just one fertile female and one fertile male elephant, if left undisturbed in enough good habitat, could in theory end up as a population of 2,000 elephants within less than 300 years. "And that may be what happened in practice here," said Payne, who works for the global conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

There are about 1,000 pygmy elephants in the wild in Borneo today, mostly in the Malaysian state of Sabah. "If they came from Java, this fascinating story demonstrates the value of efforts to save even small populations of certain species, often thought to be doomed," said Christy Williams, coordinator of WWF's Asian elephant and rhino program. Augustine Tuuga, assistant director of the Sabah Wildlife Department, said the study confirms what many conservationists have long believed -- that a small number of animals can flourish into large herds even though they may have multiplied by inbreeding. "My own feeling is that as long as there is no continous hunting and there is no problem about diseases their numbers will multiply," he said.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Zoo Keeper Survives Gila Monster Bite

A New Mexico zoo keeper said he is ready to go back to working with reptiles after being hospitalized for nearly a week with a Gila monster bite. Cody Machen has been hospitalized since Thursday after being bit by the venomous lizard while he was holding it, KRQE-KBIM TV, Albuquerque, reported. "It's the most painful thing. It's more painful then a rattlesnake bite. I knew it was bad.", Machen told reporters.

Machen's arm reportedly ballooned to three times the girth it was before the bite. Doctors will be required to perform surgery on Machen's arm if the swelling doesn't subside, KRQE-KBIM reported. Gila monsters, native to numerous deserts in the southwest, can be 2 feet long and have rigid teeth that release venom while biting into their victims. The lizard's bite is usually not fatal to humans.
Story from UPI
Photo from

Monday, April 14, 2008

Antibiotic Alligator: Promising Proteins Lurk in Reptile Blood

Article by Rachel Ehrenberg /
Researchers hunting for new antibiotics might get some aid from gator blood. Scientists are zeroing in on snippets of proteins found in American alligator blood that kill a wide range of disease-causing microbes and bacteria, including the formidable MRSA or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Previous experiments have revealed that gator blood extract cripples many human pathogens, including E. coli, the herpes simplex virus and some strains of the yeast Candida albicans. The serum's antimicrobial power probably derives from protein bits called peptides. Widespread among reptiles and amphibians, several such germ-fighting peptides have been isolated from the skin of frogs in recent years. Many of these critters live in "sort of nasty places" that are polluted, and gators probably eat all kinds of sick animals, comments Paul Klein, a reptile infectious disease specialist at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville.

Fierce battles with prey and other gators can leave gaping flesh wounds—but the animals are fairly hardy. These peptides provide a first line of defense—important in the lower vertebrates, who have a slower antibody response than humans, says Klein. "It seems Mother Nature has built in a circulating system of antimicrobial factories that protect the animals while they are waiting to develop the cell-mediated response that we would develop quickly," he says.

Fishing around in the reptile's blood, the scientists identified four or five super-active peptides, reports chemistry doctoral student Lancia Darville of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. She collaborated with LSU chemist Kermit Murray and with Mark Merchant of McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., and presented the work in New Orleans April 6th at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Two-man Venture Educates, Entertains with Creepy Critters

Creepy crawlies, slithering critters, bugs that can bite – these aren't most people's idea of the perfect job environment. But that doesn't matter to the guys behind Radical Reptiles and Friends.

SEAN M. HAFFEY / Union-Tribune
Radical Reptiles and Friends employee John Taibee (above) held a tegu lizard rescued in Poway. Ben Hian (below) held Vince, a reticulated python that hails from Asia. The snake will grow to be about 25 feet long. Hian's business, Radical Reptiles and Friends, shows off exotic animals in after-school programs, summer camps and birthday parties.

Radical Reptiles and Friends' Ben Hian
SEAN M. HAFFEY / Union-Tribune
Founded by Ben Hian nearly 12 years ago, the Carlsbad-based venture features an array of snakes, insects, lizards, spiders, turtles and cockroaches that are presented as an entertaining educational tool in after-school programs, school assemblies, birthday parties and summer camps throughout the county.

The business began as one boy's desire to have a snake. “I told my mom I wanted a snake,” Hian said. “She said I could have one the day I moved out of the house.” Hian made good on that promise. The day before he moved out of his parent's home at age 18, he bought his first corn snake, named Rufus, and took it to his new place. Soon enough, Hian acquired a tortoise named Esiotrot – tortoise spelled backward. Then came Baby Boris, a Burmese python, then 6 feet long. Now full-grown, Boris is 21 feet long and weighs 307 pounds.

While Hian was slowly collecting a menagerie of reptilian creatures, he was making a living teaching at a private preschool. Once in a while, he would take an animal to class, fascinating the children. Soon he was getting calls from parents asking if he would bring his creatures to children's birthday parties.

For a few years, Hian was teaching and doing birthday parties part-time. Then, he had an epiphany. “I woke up at 2 a.m. one night and shot out of bed. 'I'm going to quit my job,'” Hian said he remembers thinking. “I emptied out my bank account to pay for fliers I could hand out at schools.

The first few years of building his business, Radical Reptiles and Friends, were difficult. “I ate a lot of oatmeal and Top Ramen,” Hian said. But his reputation grew through word of mouth. Now he can have as many as 15 after-school programs and school-assembly presentations per week, and as many as four or five birthday parties on the weekends. His collection has grown to more than 100 reptiles, which he keeps in his home. Because they are categorized as pets, Hian said he doesn't need any special permits to own them.

A few years ago, he met John Taibe, a recreation coordinator at the Rancho Santa Fe Community Center, where Hian had an after-school program. Taibe also was a reptile enthusiast, and pretty soon they were talking shop. “One day, Ben asked me if I'd like to have a full-time job where I could work with animals and children,” Taibe said. “I jumped at the opportunity.

I really liked John's energy,” Hian said. “He was great working with the kids and with the animals.” That was two years ago, and the business is going strong. Because Radical Reptiles and Friends is now a two-man operation, they have been able to expand a rattlesnake and reptile rescue service, removing reptiles found in homes and relocating them to remote, safe environments. “This is better than just killing the animal,” Hian said.

Snakes don't want to interact with humans, he said, but development and wildfires can force them to find shelter in populated locations. Education is an important component of what Hian and Taibe bring to the business. “We like to generate interest and educate the children on animals that, in general, people think are scary or gross,” Hian said. “We help to get an interest started and hopefully a desire in the future to help out with conservation.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Review: A Guide To The Reptiles Of Southern Africa

A Guide To The Reptiles Of Southern Africa - Graham Alexander and Johan Marais
Review by Peter Sullivan
This splendidly illustrated book is about the 151 snakes, 338 lizards, 27 tortoises and one crocodile of our subregion. It is easy to use to identify a snake or lizard, yet detailed enough to tell you a bit about the creature … like which antidote won't work.

It contains creatures I'd certainly never heard of: the very first item was a Beaked Blind Snake followed by Flowerpot Snake, Stiletto Snake and then two quaintly labelled Jan's Shovel-snout and Visser's Shovel-snout. Not to mention the weird lizards.

It's loaded with information (To do and Not to Do when bitten) and education (only 16 of our snake species have a lethal bite, only 1% of people bitten by them actually die). If anybody in your family has an interest in herpetology, slither this on to your bookshelf.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

It's Spring: Reptiles are Frisky

Article from
About 2 1/2 million alligators inhabit more than 90 percent of the lakes and streams in Florida. And, with warmer weather, all those reptiles are beginning to rouse from their winter slumber with two things on their peanut-sized brains -- finding another alligator to breed with and catching up on a few missed meals.

Those two factors, coupled with the huge influx of humans into the state, make encounters more prevalent, said Nick Clark, the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Garden's senior reptile keeper. "We're coming up on the breeding season that's getting ready to start, so alligators will be moving around, a little bit more active and maybe a little bit more in the public eye right now," Clark said. "So, we want to try to help people understand what to do and what not to do to avoid negative encounters with the animals."

To educate residents on how to handle encounters with the reptiles, as well as how to avoid them, the zoo offers alligator-awareness classes. Its first of the season was March 25, and another will be June 3. On a recent Tuesday night, about 15 people showed up to listen and learn from Clark, who spent about two hours dispelling myths, relaying stories and offering advice.

"What we're trying to help people do is coexist with some of the wildlife we have here in Florida," Clark said. "We do have a lot of people that move into the state of Florida every day, and a lot of time all they hear is the horror stories."

The class is the zoo's way of making sure people are aware -- not afraid -- of the big reptiles.