Tagged: Amphibian

Samalanders!

Salamanders are probably my favorite organisms on the planet. I know that I posted something this summer about how bombardier beetles are the best organisms on the planet, but I can pick favorites based on other qualities, and salamanders have plenty of those. For example, some mole salamanders (in the Ambystoma jeffersonianum complex) reproduce through a process known as gynogenesis. These entirely female lineages clone themselves in order to produce offspring — but they cannot reproduce without mating. Instead, they mate with males from closely related species, essentially stealing their sperm, without passing on paternal genes. (If anyone wants me to talk about this at length, I totally can, because it’s awesome.) Other salamanders are known for their remarkable ability to completely regenerate limbs that they have lost (axolotls, Ambystoma mexicanum are the model organism in which this has been most extensively studied, but the phenomenon of limb regeneration is well known from many, many salamander species) and their incredible longevity (olms in the genus Proteus can live to well over seventy years). The largest amphibian in the world is a salamander —Andrias davidianus can reach over four feet in length and weigh sixty pounds.

Basically, frogs are boring?

Anyway, the reason that I’ve been thinking about salamanders is that I’m in North Carolina for the annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting, and because this state has the world’s greatest diversity of salamander species, I took a few days before the conference to go herping with friends. The salamander catch wasn’t great — it’s a little late and a little dry — but poor salamandering in North Carolina is better than excellent salamandering almost anywhere else in the world, so I’m not really complaining.

Red-Cheeked Salamander, Plethodon jordani
Red-Cheeked Salamander, Plethodon jordani

Most people probably go to the Great Smoky Mountains to look at things like bears and foliage, but they are wrong — bears are everywhere, as are trees. If you take the time to flip over a few logs, though, you will almost certainly find one of these guys — and they occur nowhere else in the world. Red-cheeked salamanders are mildly toxic; they secrete a nasty mucus when disturbed, and the red color on their cheeks is generally thought to be warning coloration deterring potential predators.

Imitator Salamander, Desmognathus imitator
Imitator Salamander, Desmognathus imitator

The imitator salamander, Desmognathus imitator shares its range with the red-cheek, and takes advantage of the other salamander’s chemical defenses by mimicking its coloration in order to deter potential predators. This is a biological strategy known as Batesian mimicry, in which a harmless species mimics a toxic or otherwise dangerous one in order to improve its own odds of survival.

Herpetology Class Trips

This semester, I’m taking a herpetology class. It’s a lot of fun — I get to actually learn about amphibians, and the class has a lab and field component that I’m really enjoying. Part of my final grade will be based on how well I keep a field notebook — and while writing down substrate temperatures quickly gets boring (there’s a reason I’m not an ecologist, dammit), the plus side is that occasionally, there are things like snakes and frogs in my life.

For example, on Labor Day, I wandered down to the southeastern corner of the state with my lab mates, and while the herping wasn’t great, we did manage to find this wonderful Great Plains Ratsnake (Pantherophis emoryi) hiding under a rock near the side of the road.

Great Plains Ratsnake
Great Plains Ratsnake

Yesterday, our whole class piled into a couple of vans, and we hit Schramm State Recreation Area. With thirty eyes fixed on the ground, we managed to find some pretty cool stuff — including a young Eastern Racer (Coluber constrictor) caught in the act of eating a neonate Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis).

Racer eating a Garter Snake
Racer eating a Garter Snake

I admit it’s not my best photo ever (super natural background, eh?) but that’s just cool.

Other finds included large numbers of Blanchard’s Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi), a juvenile male Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon), adult Common Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), Plains Leopard Frogs (Lithobates blairi), a young Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) — an invasive species in Nebraska, and, finally, a pair of young Cope’s Grey Tree Frogs (Hyla chrysoscelis), who were hanging out in the park restrooms (cool, damp, and full of insects!) — here’s a portrait of one on a slightly more natural background.

Cope's Grey Tree Frog
Cope’s Grey Tree Frog

Gulf Coast Toad

Toads are pretty great animals., and I am very fond of them. There are lots of good, herpetologically sound reasons to be fond of toads, but in my case, they all kind-of boil down to one thing.

Gulf Coast Toad
Gulf Coast Toad

Look at that face! It’s so adorable and grumpy and perfect!

This was an adult female. Adult toads can be sexed fairly reliably based on the presence or absence of a nuptial pad on the forelimb and hand; in adult males, this large, prominent structure is used to hold on to adult females during amplexus (the fancy word for frog sex), while females lack these structures. This photo also shows off one of the key identifying characteristics of this species: tall, thin cranial crests (the bony ridges inside of the eye) that give the skull and face a very angular shape.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/16, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Some Nebraska Natives

I’m moving to Nebraska in August, which means that I should be spending my last months in Texas herping, because the pickings are a lot slimmer up north. But, instead, one of my friends invited me to come up to his Permian paleontological field site in Nebraska this weekend. And since I’ll be doing a Ph.D. in a vertebrate paleontology lab starting in the Fall, I figured that it was probably a good idea to start to familiarize myself with some of the fossil sites in the state. I was spectacularly useless at quarrying things, but I had a good time, and killed a lot of ticks that were trying to suck my blood, so it was overall a productive weekend.

And I took pictures of things! Because that’s who I am, or something.

Lined Snake
Lined Snake

This is a lined snake, Tripidoclonion lineatum. It was a lifer for me, which is pretty awesome (especially from Nebraska, geeze).

Cope's Gray Tree Frog
Cope’s Gray Tree Frog

I am also pretty excited by the fact that this is the first gray tree frog that I’ve been able to narrow down to species. Hyla chrysoscelis and H. versicolor are basically distinguishable only from their calls, which can make IDing them pretty tough. However, since we found this little guy while he was calling, I can tell you that he is, in fact chrysoscelis, and not versicolor. And then the internet informed me that versicolor doesn’t even make it in to Nebraska, but I nonetheless felt all herpetologically talented for IDing a frog based on a call.

Dogbane Beetle
Dogbane Beetle

And here’s something with an exoskeleton, to keep you entomophiles quiet. This was probably one of the most annoying things that I have ever photographed — I was dealing with the fact that this beetle was both extraordinarily iridescent, and extraordinarily filthy, which meant that my flash was basically useless. I ended up relying primarily on natural light for this shot, although I did use a little bit of off-camera flash to brighten things up. Not a fun picture. But I did bring the beetle back with me, so I may try to clean him up and white box him later.

Photo Details

Lined Snake
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/10, 1/160 sec
Diffuse flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Cope’s Gray Tree Frog
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/13, 1/160 sec
Diffuse flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Dogbane Beetle
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 400 at f/10, 1/160 sec
Off-camera diffuse flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Sketchdump

So I have finally bowed to consumer pressure, and bought an iPad. I figured that it would be a useful tool for, uh, reading PDFs and taking notes, and that sort of useful graduate student stuff.

Less than forty eight hours after buying it, its memory is half full of X-Men comics and music… So that worked out well.

My favorite thing on the iPad so far, is probably the Paper app from 53. It’s a very neat little sketchbook tool, with really elegant, responsive brushes. Playing with it feels like very fancy fingerpainting. It’s a ton of fun. Plus you get to see my terrible handwriting.

African Wild Dog
African Wild Dog

The next one was done from vague memories of what ranids are supposed to look like, so it’s probably awful…

Frog
Frog

So, does anyone have any recommendations for apps that will turn my iPad from a really expensive sketchbook / comic book reader / mp3 player into something that might actually be good to do science with?