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Re: Newsletter

Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2017 3:18 pm
by Philsuma
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Just in - Brand new - “The Tortoise” Vol. 2 Issue # 1

1. 1) Rambo the pet alligator can stay, Florida officials say (The alligator has been with Thorn for more than 11 years and wears clothes
2. 2) Woman Bitten By Crocodile White Trying to Take Selfie with it
3. 3) A Couples 40 Year “Sacrifice” To Save Loggerhead Turtles (Australia, Great Barrier Reef) (I’d Call it Dedication Not Sacrifice)
4. 4) Saving snakes: Students relocate snakes from Loveland solar site

1) Rambo the pet alligator can stay, Florida officials say (The alligator has been with Thorn for more than 11 years and wears clothes)

LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) 1/2/17— A Florida woman is being allowed to keep her 6-foot-long pet alligator at home following a fight with state wildlife officials over the growing size of the reptile.

A spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Thursday that the agency had reached an agreement with Mary Thorn, allowing her to keep her 125-pound reptile named Rambo at home.

Wildlife officials say alligators that measure more than 6 feet must have 2.5 acres of land.

Rambo has earned local celebrity status in Lakeland, which is located between Tampa and Orlando. The alligator has been with Thorn for more than 11 years and wears clothes. Rambo was recently captured wearing a Santa hat.
2) Woman bitten by crocodile while trying to take selfie with it

By Jared Leone 1/2/17 - Cox Media Group

A crocodile bit a woman on the thigh after she fell trying to take a selfie with the carnivorous reptile at a national park in Thailand.

Benetulier Lesuffleur, 41, was with her husband visiting Khao Yai National Park when they ignored warning signs and walked off a designated path to take a photo with the sunbathing crocodile, Metro reported.
3) A Couples 40 Year “Sacrifice” To Save Loggerhead Turtles (Australia, Great Barrier Reef) (I’d Call it Dedication Not Sacrifice)

Melissa Davey, The Hindu, JANUARY 01, 2017

It’s about 7 p.m. at the remote Wreck Rock beach within Deepwater national park in Queensland and Nev and Bev McLachlan are starting the night watch.

For the past 40 years, the husband and wife have been travelling from their home on the Sunshine Coast to a tiny campsite about 140km north of Bundaberg, their enormous caravan full of camp supplies as well as turtle tagging and monitoring gear.

As the sun goes down, Nev (64) and Bev (61) pull on their bright orange turtle patrol shirts, grab their helmets with headlamps and their walkie-talkies, and jump on to separate quad bikes. They drive on to the 22 km stretch of beach, alongside the southern Great Barrier Reef, and start their patrol up and down the sand. Their watch sometimes continues until the crack of dawn, until the endangered female loggerhead turtles they are there to monitor stop emerging from the water to lay their eggs.

Their meticulous and entirely voluntary work over four decades measuring, tagging and making observations about the turtles, which is fed back into a central turtle monitoring database, means researchers have been able to better understand turtle numbers and put measures in place to protect them.

Wreck Rock is one of a handful of sites around Australia where loggerhead turtles come to lay their eggs.

The turtles have faced many challenges to their numbers over the years, Bev says. The data they collect will eventually be analysed by the chief scientist for Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Dr Col Limpus, himself a world-famous turtle researcher. — Original Source The Guardian
4) Saving snakes: Students relocate snakes from Loveland solar site
By Pamela Johnson-Reporter-Herald Staff Writer- 01/01/2017

Loveland, CO, 1/1/17- A solar farm under construction in west Loveland has offered more than the promise of renewable energy. Researchers also got a glimpse of how snake populations are faring near human development.

"It's encouraging in trying to maintain biodiversity in an urban-suburban setting," said Stephen Mackassy, a professor at the University of Northern Colorado.

Mackassy and a team of student researchers spent many hours last spring and summer looking for snakes at the site near Mehaffey Park (west of Wilson Avenue between 29th and 22nd Streets) where the city of Loveland is building a solar farm.

Their purpose was threefold — they wanted to save the snakes from being killed and disrupted during construction, to study snake patterns and to assist the city with environmental regulations.

The students found 119 different snakes, mostly three species that are nonvenomous and harmless — bull snakes, milk snakes and racer snakes. With these, they captured them, tagged them with chips to follow their future movements, and then released them nearby but away from neighborhoods.

They couldn't take the snakes too far, less than a mile, from where they were found so they would be in their native terrain.

"We wanted to help them, get them away from where the construction was going on so they could survive the season," said Graham Dawson, one of four students who worked on the project.

The team also found three rattlesnakes, which they did not release back into the wild.

Instead, those snakes are now living, with many other reptiles, in Mackassy's laboratory area at the Greeley campus, where students and professors study snakes and uses for venom.

During their field research, the students were surprised at how curious people were about snakes and how supportive the public was of their efforts when they explained their purpose.

"That was a nice surprise," said Mackassy. "Snakes get a bad rap because some are venomous and can cause problems for us ... People are fearful of them.”

And Mackassy said he also was surprised at the number of snakes they found at the site because it is very near neighborhoods as well as the popular Mehaffey Park.

"We have a moderate diversity and abundance of these harmless and useful parts of the ecosystem in an area that's very close to human development," said Mackassy.

"I wasn't convinced at the start that we'd find as many or the total number of species ... They have a very important role in regulating populations of small mammals and that means rats and mice primarily.”

The city of Loveland contacted Mackassy to help with snakes at the construction site for more than one reason.

Officials wanted to make sure the snakes and workers were safe, that the snakes did not exit the site en masse to nearby neighborhoods and to comply with federal environmental standards, explained Tracy Turner-Naranjo, environmental compliance administrator for the city.

The solar farm is being built with money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a renewable energy source to replace a hydroelectric plant that was destroyed in the 2013 floods.

"There's a lot of snake activity there," said Turner-Naranjo. "That particular area is very nice habitat for snakes.”

So, the city staff decided to work with snake experts to balance environmental needs with safety of the workers, the neighborhood and the snakes. They created a snake training video for the contractors and employees on site to teach them of habitats, species and signs of snakes.

They also called in Mackassy and his students, who worked to relocate the snakes on city-owned property.

The project, Mackassy and Dawson said, allowed them to talk about how important snakes are to the ecosystem and to preventing rodent-borne diseases such as hantavirus and how to avoid conflict with snakes.

It also provided a baseline population for future study.

"That we're in an urban-suburban area and we still have reasonable diversity of these small animals is impressive and is a good indication that we can maintain this diversity along the Front Range if we consider some simple needs these animals have," said Mackassy.

"The whole project was designed to provide an inventory on what was there but also to develop best practices for the animals."

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Re: Newsletter

Posted: Thu Mar 09, 2017 3:59 pm
by Philsuma
HERPDIGEST IS A NON-PROFIT 501 C 3 CORPORATION- Supported by your donations and sales of herpetology books & magazines
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1. Plight of Chinese turtles shows lax protection in nation’s nature reserves

2) Crocodiles and dolphins evolved similar skulls to catch the same prey

3) State Senator Artiles wants to hunt invasive snakes and lizards in Florida

4) New Frog Species Named After Naturalist David Attenborough

5) Clown tree frogs—newly discovered and already threatened?
1) Plight of Chinese turtles shows lax protection in nation’s nature reserves

By Kathleen McLaughlin, 3/7/17,

Beijing—China’s nature reserves are woefully inadequate at protecting biodiversity, a 12-year study of turtle poaching in dozens of conservation areas has found.

The research results, published 6 March in Current Biology, focus on turtles but draw larger conclusions about the state of wildlife conservation in China. The authors note that China has 2700 nature reserves covering 1.46 million square kilometers, or about 15% of the country’s total territory, a higher percentage than many other countries. And though China ranks first in flora and fauna richness in the Northern Hemisphere, 43% of those species are threatened.

“We discovered that poaching occurred in all of the 56 reserves surveyed, resulting in dramatically reduced turtle populations,” the authors wrote. “In a majority of the reserves, the reserve staff themselves were generally involved in poaching.”
“Although nature reserves were created to protect plants and animals, they have become part of the problem due to weak enforcement of rules,” the authors wrote.

The scientists relied on field studies, surveys of exotic animal markets, and interviews to document the declining turtle population trends in protected areas across three provinces.

“Hunting is strictly forbidden in all nature reserves in China,” they wrote. “From field surveys, however, we found over 1400 poaching devices (i.e. cage traps, hooks, pitfall traps) and encountered 69 hunters in 11 nature reserves. This unexpected finding reflected the managers’ inaction. Although historical records identified 15 species present in these areas, we just found nine species in the field.”

The study asserts that this lack of protection for turtles almost certainly extends to all species in China’s wildlife conservation areas.

“This situation is not unique to turtles, as we saw signs of poaching for all species valuable for food and trade. Currently in China, endangered species are facing a serious threat of extirpation due to poaching, and we identify nature reserves as contributing to the problem due to poor management practices and lack of effective supervision,” they wrote. “In order to improve the conservation of China’s rich biodiversity, it is imperative for China’s nature reserve system to make meaningful changes to its policies and procedures.”

The authors recommend that China’s natural reserves cease all commercial activities and focus on species and habitat conservation.

Recognizing the problem, China’s central government is rolling out plans for a series of national parks around the country that will focus on protecting critically endangered species. A massive national park in northeastern China will preserve habitat for Siberian tigers and leopards, and other parks will focus on endangered antelopes, pandas, elephants, and other large animals.

The national park plan will take control of protected areas away from local and provincial officials, who face funding shortfalls and often engage in profit-making schemes—like turtle poaching—that harm habitat and wildlife, environmental groups contend. The central government will provide the funding and direct the management of the national parks.
2) Crocodiles and dolphins evolved similar skulls to catch the same prey

Date: March 8, 2017
Source: Monash University

A new study involving biologists from Monash University Australia has found that despite their very different ancestors, dolphins and crocodiles evolved similarly-shaped skulls to feed on similar prey.

Dolphins and crocodiles now live in rivers and oceans, but each evolved from land-based animals. Feeding in water has many new challenges. This new study shows that despite being separated by 300 million years, dolphins and crocodiles found comparable solutions to these problems, and evolved skull shapes that are remarkably similar.

"Our results suggest the remarkable similarity between some crocodilians and toothed whales is driven by what they eat rather than where they live," said lead author Mr Matthew McCurry from the Monash School of Biological Sciences.

Previously no rigorous attempt had been made to show how similar the head shapes of dolphins and crocodiles really are. It had been thought that aspects such shallow seas or rivers contributed to the similarity of the skulls of crocodilians (crocodiles and alligators) and toothed whales (dolphins, orca and relatives). But a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences has debunked this long-held view.
Having a long, thin snout must have great advantages when trying to catch small fish, both for crocodilians and toothed whales.

"What is really important about this study is that it will help us predict the diet of extinct aquatic mammals and reptiles just from the shape of their skulls," said Mr McCurry.

The authors used medical CT and laser 3D scanning to digitally capture the skulls of museum specimens from around the world. Once digitised, the authors could examine the shape of the skulls in detail without having them in one location. Using sophisticated mathematical techniques to analyse 3D shape, the researchers could show how diet, habitat and prey size correlated with skull shape.

"Crocodiles and dolphins seem so different to us, but our study shows that many of them are in fact remarkably similar, and this is really down to how they catch their food," said study co-author Associate Professor Alistair Evans, also from the Monash School of Biological Sciences.
Future research will aim to uncover why specific skull shapes are better at catching certain prey using bioengineering computer simulations.

Story Source:
Materials provided by Monash University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
3) State Senator Artiles wants to hunt invasive snakes and lizards in Florida

James Call , Tallahasse Democrat Capitol Reporter March 8, 2017 |

Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami-Dade, wants to hunt down foreign reptiles that are wreaking havoc in South Florida. Artiles called reporters to a brief news conference Wednesday to discuss his plan of having the state pay skilled hunters to trap and kill seven different reptiles, two species of fish and any other prohibited species designated by state wildlife officials.

In the past, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has offered prizes and other rewards for hunters tracking down invasive species and lionfish. Studies indicate that pythons from Asia, lizards from South America and other non-native species have destroyed Roseate Spoonbill nests, consumed more than 90-percent of the Everglades’ raccoons and possums and also threaten native alligators.

Standing outside the Senate chamber, Artiles asked why spend billions on saving the Everglades if it will be without any native Florida wildlife?
“We have a major problem in the Everglades with the major predators being pythons and tegu (an Argentine lizard) – a 6-foot python can eat a 5-foot alligator this is what is happening,” said Artiles. “We’re seeing a drop in little furry animals too, possums, raccoons we’re not seeing them in the Everglades because non-native species are decimating our back yard.”
Artiles’ SB 230 is waiting to be scheduled in the Natural Resources Subcommittee. It would spend $600,000 over two years on pilot programs involving hunters rounding up the invasive lizards, snakes, and fish.
Artiles wants to target these critters:

• Burmese or Indian python;
• Reticulated python;
• Southern African python
• Scrub python;
• Green Anaconda
• Nile Monitor
• Any reptile FWC designates
• Red Lionfish
4) New Frog Species Named After Naturalist David Attenborough
Press Trust of India March 09, 2017

W ASHINGTON: A new frog species, which measures just about two centimeters and was discovered in the Peruvian Andes, has been named after the famous British broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

While there are already a number of species named after including mammals, reptiles, invertebrates and plants, both extinct and extant, not until now has the host of the BBC Natural History's Life series been honored with an amphibian.

The frog is formally described as Pristimantis attenboroughi, while commonly it is to be referred to as the Attenborough's Rubber Frog.

Scientists from Illinois Wesleyan University and University of Michigan in the US, spent two years surveying montane forests in central Peru, in order to document the local amphibians and reptiles and evaluate their conservation statuses.

Their efforts have been rewarded with several new species
of frogs and a new spectacled lizard.

Each of these discoveries, including the Attenborough's Rubber Frog, prove how beneficial it is to take into account both morphological and the genetic data, while looking for species new to science.

The Attenborough's rubber frog is known to inhabit several localities across the Pui Pui Protected Forest, a nature reserve located at elevations between 3,400 and 3,936 meters above sea level in central Peru.

The adult males reach size of 14.6-19.2 millimeters in length, while the females are larger measuring between 19.2 and 23.0 millimeters.

The ground color ranges from pale to dark grey or reddish brown to brownish olive with dark grey scattered flecks.Juveniles are paler (yellowish to reddish brown) with contrasting dark brown flecks and distinct stripes.

Due to the amphibian being known from fewer than ten localities, spread across less than 20,000 square metres, the species should be deemed either Vulnerable or Endangered, according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.

However, researchers suggest that the Attenborough's Rubber frog should be listed as Near Threatened instead, since the Piu Piu forest is formally protected and still largely unknown, so it is likely that there are more additional populations of the new species.

On the other hand, factors such as fungal infections, climate change, pollution and man-made fires continue to be threats for many Andean amphibians even inside protected areas.

"We dedicate this species to Sir David Frederick Attenborough in honour for his educational documentaries on wildlife, especially on amphibians (eg Life in Cold Blood,Fabulous Frogs), and for raising awareness about the importance of wildlife conservation," researchers said.

Among the numerous namesakes of Sir David Attenborough to date, there are a rare genus of beautiful flowering plants, a rare butterfly species, commonly known as the Attenborough's
black-eyed satyr, a flightless weevil species, as well as a number of extinct species.

The study was published in the journal ZooKeys.
5) Clown tree frogs—newly discovered and already threatened?, March 8, 2017

An international team of scientists discovered two new species of clown tree frogs in the Amazon region. Until recently, these colorful amphibians had erroneously been considered part of another species. Now, DNA studies and an analysis of the calls of the examined populations revealed a much higher diversity within this group of frogs. Due to their small distribution areas, it is likely that the newly discovered species are threatened, but the determination of their protection status is currently still pending. In their study, published today in the scientific journal PloS ONE, the scientists from six countries clearly show that a complete species inventory is only possible by means of international cooperation.

In the past decades, more than 810,000 square kilometers of rainforest have been destroyed in the Amazon region, and every day, species from all animal phyla disappear from this area. "Our new study shows once again that we are not even close to knowing the actual species diversity of South American frogs and that even supposedly widespread species may be endangered," explains Marcel Caminer, the study's lead author from the Universidad Católica del Ecuador and he continues, "During expeditions to six Amazonian countries, we examined the two clown tree frog species Dendropsophus leucophyllatus and Dendropsophus triangulum, which were hitherto considered 'universal' species, in greater detail and were able to show that they do not constitute two, but at least five and perhaps as many as seven different species – two of which we were able to describe for the first time.”

Clown tree frogs are a widespread group of frogs primarily found in the Amazon basis, but also in adjacent savannas. They owe their popular name to their remarkably bright colors. The newly discovered species occur in Bolivia and Peru and could only be revealed as separate species with the aid of "integrative taxonomy." "We compared morphological and genetic information as well as the frogs' calls with each other – and through a combination of the different methods we were then able to delimit the new species and show that the two previous species actually comprise an entire species complex", explains Dr. Martin Jansen of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt. He is particularly thrilled by the discovery of a new species on the grounds of the "Chiquitos" research station, which is co-run by Senckenberg. "This beautiful frog serves as a "flag ship" that underlines the importance of biological field stations and the benefits of observing a region's nature over a period of many years, especially in the unexplored areas of mega-diversity countries."

The study, published on today's date, shows that the number of frog species is still greatly underestimated, particularly in the Neotropics. The reasons for this are the vast size of the Amazon basin and the lack of an area-wide, comprehensive scientific collection. Marcel Caminer comments as follows: "Amazonia is threatened by numerous influences. On the one hand, there is deforestation, mining and oil production; on the other hand, the global climate change. Therefore, it is important to achieve a complete species inventory in order to undertake the subsequent steps toward the protection of this biodiversity."

Even the two newly discovered clown tree frog species are likely threatened already: their distributions areas have a very limited extent and are endangered by habitat destruction. Jansen adds, "Only once we truly know all species and their distribution areas, will we be able to make well-founded statements regarding the effects of such factors as climate change, for example. However, the largest threat to amphibians worldwide continues to be the destruction of their habitats. Our study shows that effective protection measures require prior knowledge of the actual diversity of species and the study of their actual spatial distribution. To achieve this, we need a larger number of experts – taxonomic research is in higher demand today than ever before."

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Re: Newsletter

Posted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 4:20 pm
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1. Northeast Herpetology Workshop 2017

2) Help "Spring Forward" for Amphibians with FrogWatch USA™ Volunteers are needed to assist with amphibian conservation in local communities

3) 15 endangered turtles found smuggled in shoes: Taiwan Customs

4) Mate availability affects the trade-off between producing one or multiple annual clutches in Zootoca vivipara,

5) Sea snakes of the Gulf are focus of new research

6) Meet Diego, the Centenarian Whose Sex Drive Saved His Species By fathering hundreds.

1) Northeast Herpetology Workshop 2017

Dates: June 12-23, 2017 (weekend attendance is optional)

Location: New Jersey School of Conservation (NJSOC) in Stokes State Forest, Sussex County, New Jersey

Description: This workshop is an introduction to the reptiles and amphibians of the Northeast United States and the techniques that are used to conserve and study them in the field. Through numerous field activities, participants will acquire vital research skills and hands-on experience with the salamanders, frogs, toads, turtles, lizards, and snakes that call the Northeast home. A small number of classroom lectures and active learning discussions will also contribute to the learning experience.

The workshop includes:
• Discussions of reptile and amphibian natural history: their basic biology, life histories, and habitats
• Discussions on the conservation and management of reptiles and amphibians
• Discussions concerning study design
• Reptile and amphibian identification and taxonomy
• Identification of calling amphibians by ear
• Habitat, plant, and non-herp animal identification
• Reptile and amphibian sampling, trapping, and marking/tagging techniques
• Radiotelemetry
• Reptile and amphibian tissue sampling for DNA analysis
• Collection of occupancy, relative abundance, mark-recapture, physical, environmental, and geographic data
• Field note recordation and organization
• A primer in nature photography
• Day and night surveys for reptiles and amphibians
• Hikes through several diverse northeastern habitats
• Off-site field trips to the New Jersey Pine Barrens and urban habitats near NYC
• Participation in ongoing herpetological studies at the NJSOC and elsewhere
• Meals and lodging at the NJSOC

Qualifications: No experience is necessary but participants should be capable of college-level work and have strong interests in field biology, ecology, natural history, etc. Participants should also be in relatively good health and capable of hiking several miles in a range of conditions over moderate-difficult terrain.

Cost: The workshop will be divided into two one-week sessions, with each week-long session involving different schedules, activities, and learning experiences. Participants will have the option of taking the workshop for either one week (5 days) or two weeks (10 days). Cost is $750.00 per person for one week and $1000.00 per person for two weeks (discounts are available for early registrants; see registration below). These fees include instruction, meals, and lodging at the NJSOC.

Credit: Visiting undergraduate students who complete the workshop can obtain 1-3 transferable credits from Montclair State University or they can obtain credit from their home institution by completing the workshop as an independent study or special project (if their home institution approves). Non-credit options and course completion certificates are also available upon request. For all inquiries regarding academic credit, please contact Dr. Randall Fitzgerald at:
Registration: Class space is limited and participants will be admitted on a first come, first served basis. To reserve a seat, each participant must pay a non-refundable $250 deposit by May 1st 2017. Participants who pay in full by May 1st will receive a 10% discount on their registration. Late registrations will be welcome after May 1st if space is still available (please inquire). Full registration must be paid by June 1st 2017. Refunds will not be issued after June 1st.


More Information: ... rpetology/
2) Help "Spring Forward" for Amphibians with FrogWatch USA™ Volunteers are needed to assist with amphibian conservation in local communities

Media Contat Information-Rob Vernon, AZA-301-244-3352-

Press Release, Association of Zoos & Aquariums SILVER SPRING, MD--Marketwired - (March 10, 2017) -

Take advantage of Daylight Saving Time, and "Spring Forward" for amphibians by becoming a volunteer in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) FrogWatch USA™ citizen science program! There's no better way to celebrate the season than by taking action and engaging in conservation in your community.

FrogWatch USA is dedicated to collecting information about frog and toad populations, raising awareness about amphibians and wetlands, and engaging the public in science. Since 1998, FrogWatch USA volunteers have collected data on the frogs and toads heard calling in their local wetlands during evenings from February through August. Together, these volunteers contribute to a long-term, nationwide effort to gather information on species presence, habitat use, and changes over time.
Why frogs? Frogs and other amphibians play an important role in the health of ecosystems, but more than a third of the world's amphibian species are currently facing the largest mass extinction event since the dinosaurs. Even in the United States, previously abundant amphibian populations have experienced dramatic declines.

"The data collected by FrogWatch USA volunteers can be used to help understand how amphibian populations are changing over time and can inform conservation and management efforts," said Shelly Grow, AZA's Director of Conservation Programs. "Furthermore, learning to recognize and identify the frogs and toads calling at night is rewarding in itself and lets you appreciate your community and local wetlands in a whole new way.”

Want to get in on the fun while making a difference? Volunteers participating in FrogWatch USA do not have to be frog or toad experts to make important contributions. 145 FrogWatch USA chapters -- many of which are hosted by AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums -- are available across the nation to train and support people interested in becoming involved. Find a chapter near you and learn how to identify frogs and toads by their unique breeding calls, select a wetland monitoring site, and collect and submit the observations. Online courses are available to help people who do not live near a chapter or want a bit of a refresher. By participating in FrogWatch USA, volunteers can lend an ear for Wood Frogs, members of the Pacific Treefrog complex, and other early season breeders like the Spring Peepers, Upland Chorus Frogs, and Southern Leopard Frogs that can be heard in this audio recording.

FrogWatch USA data is accessible online by anyone with an interest in frogs and toads. Visit the website, managed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, to register new monitoring sites, record observations, and use maps and graphs to examine observations alongside those of other volunteers throughout the country. "Leap" into FrogWatch USA's online communities on Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and SoundCloud.
Learn more about FrogWatch USA and how you can participate by visiting
About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

3) 15 endangered turtles found smuggled in shoes: Taiwan Customs
The turtles were turned over to a wildlife center in northern Taiwan

By Matthew Lubin,Taiwan News, Staff Writer 3/13/17

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- The Forestry Bureau said on March 13 that the Customs Administration confiscated 15 endangered turtles on flight FX5142 from Malaysia being smuggled inside sports shoes in parcels.

All of the turtles were alive when discovered by customs when the parcels were checked, and the Forestry Bureau has sent them to a wildlife center in northern Taiwan. The wildlife center works with academic institutions and the Taipei Zoo to ensure proper care of its animals.

The wildlife center has options for the endangered turtles, including returning them to their native habitats. No specific plan has been made at this time.

The Forestry Bureau plans to prosecute the smugglers. Relevant laws indicate offenders are subject to six months to five years in prison and a fine of NT$300,000 (US$9,700) to NT$1.5 million.
Among the turtles confiscated were one angonoka tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora) and 14 painted terrapins, or saw-jawed turtle (Batagur borneoensis). The angonoka tortoise is native to Madagascar and is one of the rarest land tortoises in the world with an estimated wild population of just 600. The painted terrapin is native to rainforests of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and is a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II critically endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

4) Mate availability affects the trade-off between producing one or multiple annual clutches in Zootoca vivipara,
Animal Behaviour, Volume 123, January 2017 Pages 43-51
Merel C. Breedvelda, b, c, , ,

Luis M. San-Josea, b, d, Cristina Romero-Diaza, b, Eduardo R.S. Roldane, Patrick S. Fitzea, b, d,


Breeding frequency is mediated by mate availability.

Mate availability affects the reproductive success of multiple broods.

The duration of mate exposure affected the date of reproduction.

The duration of mate exposure affected the degree of intersexual competition.

Long exposure to males leads to above optimal mating frequencies for females.

Females of many iteroparous species face trade-offs between producing one or multiple broods per reproductive season, and over fertilizing broods with sperm from the same or different mates. Both trade-offs might be affected by the availability of males (i.e. absence/presence of males) and the timing and duration of male encounters. Here, we experimentally manipulated the duration of mate availability at the first brood and mate availability per se (i.e. absence/presence of mates) at the second brood, and tested their effects on female and male reproductive success, using the common lizard, Zootoca vivipara, as a model species. Females were either exposed to males for a long period before their first annual reproduction and they could remate before their second annual reproduction (unrestricted treatment), or they were exposed to males for a short period before their first annual reproduction and were not allowed to remate (restricted treatment). Reproductive success of first clutches was not directly affected by the duration of access to males. Remating positively affected the probability of producing a second clutch, and the proportion of viable offspring. Remating by females also affected the reproductive success of males: fewer second clutch eggs were fertilized with stored sperm in unrestricted than restricted females. Sperm presence in males was high until the end of the remating period. Our results suggest a close coevolution between male and female reproductive strategies and point to facultative skipping of second broods when fitness benefits are small. This shows that behavioural strategies are at least partially responsible for multiple annual broods. These behavioural strategies are likely to be widespread, given the multitude of taxa raising multiple broods in some but not all years, and given that in most taxa some but not all individuals produce multiple annual broods.
5) Sea snakes of the Gulf are focus of new research

The National/UAE-Daniel Bardsley, 3/11/17

For many UAE residents, the only time they hear about sea snakes is when occasional warnings are made to beachgoers to steer clear of the creatures if they are found on the sand.

Although they are sometimes found washed up on beaches – they have difficulty moving on land, so can appear to be dead when they are alive – and are occasionally spotted in the water, sightings are not common for most of us.

Similarly, sea snakes in the Gulf have tended not to attract the attention of scientists.

Much of what is known about them is locally based on research from the first half of the 20th century. Such studies indicated that there were nine species of the subfamily Hydrophiinae, which includes sea snakes, in Gulf waters.

But researchers have now comprehensively updated their knowledge of local sea snakes by carrying out a detailed survey of their distribution in Gulf waters, work that has been published in the journal ZooKeys.

The study mostly looked at sea snakes found in fishing nets in Iranian waters as "bycatch", meaning they were not the vessels’ target species.
One of the researchers carrying out the fieldwork, and the senior author of the recent paper, was Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour, of the environmental management office of Qeshm Free Area Organisation.

During 2013 and 2014 he and his colleagues spent time on trawlers at several locations in Iranian waters, including in the Gulf of Oman, collecting sea snakes that had been caught in the nets. Fieldwork was also carried out in mangrove swamps.

In the two years that followed, the scientists, helped by a French-based researcher, Dr Nicolas Vidal, carried out a detailed analysis of the specimens to identify which species they came from.

They found that there were 10 species present from the Hydrophiinae family, which includes sea snakes. One of them, Microcephalophis cantoris, which was found in the Gulf of Oman, had not been definitively recorded in the area by scientists.

Until this study, the nearest confirmed findings of M cantoris had been made off Pakistan.

"It’s the first time it’s been found in this area and its range is extended for more than 400km," says Dr Vidal.

This species is, says Mr Rezaie-Atagholipour, very rare in the area, which could account for no previous scientific study having definitively identified it in the region.

"We reviewed all assessable literature but, except our record, there is no historical confirmed record of the species in both gulfs," says Mr Rezaie-Atagholipour.

"It, however, seems likely that the species is not abundant even in other parts of its geographical distribution range as we have few information about this species.”

As the scientists note in their paper, sea snakes of the Hydrophiinae family have a common ancestor dating back about 6 million years, although it is in the last 3.5 million years that most of the types that now exist evolved.
There are more than 60 species of hydrophiines in total, with the creatures being found off the east coast of Africa, off South Asia and around Australia and many other parts of Asia-Pacific. They evolved from Australia’s highly venomous land snakes, which helps to explain why they are venomous.

Typically growing 120 to 150 centimetres long, sea snakes have much reduced scales on their underside, meaning they are largely helpless on land. They have shorter tongues than land snakes, because detecting scents is easier in the water than on land. They have valves over their nostrils to keep out water and, as well as breathing through these nostrils, they can also exchange gases through their skin.

Catching prey is largely done through detecting vibrations or sounds and through smell; vision is less important.

They mostly eat fish and other sea life, such as crustaceans. Fortunately, they are not a major danger to people as they tend not to attack unless provoked and even when they do bite people, in most cases no venom is released.

The fact that sea snakes are often found in nets as bycatch raises the question of whether human activity is affecting their numbers. All species found locally, except M cantoris, are classified as "least concern" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

But there could still be issues over abundance locally, says Mr Rezaie-Atagholipour, because the union classification is based on the species’ abundance across its geographical range.

It does not mean that numbers in a specific habitat, such as the Gulf, are not falling.

He indicated that bycatch is probably the greatest anthropogenic threat to sea snakes in the area.

"Some people may think that fishing nets are not a threat for sea snakes because the body diameter of these tube-like creatures is smaller than the mesh size of most fishing nets. This is absolutely wrong," Mr Rezaie-Atagholipour says.

"Sea snakes can easily become entangled in fishing nets due to their long body. Most sea snakes I’ve collected from fishing nets were dead or badly injured, mostly because of pressure by other bycatch or drowning."
Sea snakes found locally are noteworthy, Mr Rezaie-Atagholipour says, because they had adapted to live in the harsh Gulf environment, where temperatures are high, there is little rainfall and the water is highly saline.

"Therefore, sea snake populations in the Gulf are important if we want to know what will be the effects of climate change and global warming on these highly venomous marine reptiles," he says.
"Nonetheless, our information about the biology and conservation status of sea snakes living in the Gulf is scarce. Unlike the Western Indo-Pacific region, known as a biodiversity hotspot for sea snakes, they are not diverse nor abundant in the Gulf.

"I always ask myself, do we have enough information about sea snakes living in the Gulf to know if we are losing them in our area? I feel disappointed when I see the answer is still ‘no’.”

A little more should be known about sea snakes locally when the scientists publish a further study that will look in more detail at the morphology (structure and appearance) and the genetics of the creatures. Fascinating but not well studied, the Gulf’s sea snakes should be yielding up a few more secrets in the years to come.

6) Meet Diego, the Centenarian Whose Sex Drive Saved His Species By fathering hundreds.

New York Times, 3/11/17 by Nicholas Caseymarch, Charles Darwin Research Station, Galápagos — Of all the giant tortoises on these islands, where the theory of evolution was born, only a few have received names that stuck.

There was Popeye, adopted by sailors at an Ecuadorean naval base. There was Lonesome George, last of his line, who spent years shunning the females with whom he shared a pen.
And there is Diego, an ancient male who is quite the opposite of George.

Diego has fathered hundreds of progeny — 350 by conservative counts, some 800 by more imaginative estimates. Whatever the figure, it is welcome news for his species, Chelonoidis hoodensis, which was stumbling toward extinction in the 1970s. Barely more than a dozen of his kin were left then, most of them female.

Then came Diego, returned to the Galápagos in 1977 from the San Diego Zoo.

“He’ll keep reproducing until death,” said Freddy Villalva, who watches over Diego and many of his descendants at a breeding center at this research facility, situated on a rocky volcanic shoreline. The tortoises typically live more than 100 years.

The tales of Diego and George demonstrate just how much the Galápagos — a province of Ecuador — have served as the world’s laboratory of evolution. So often here, the fate of an entire species, evolved over millions of years, can hinge on whether just one or two individual animals survive from one day to the next.

Diego, and his offspring, are part of one of the most high-profile efforts to keep Galápagos tortoise populations thriving. The tortoise, estimated to be perhaps a century old, is one of the main drivers of a remarkable recovery of the hoodensis species — now more than 1,000 strong on their native island of Española, one of the dozen Galápagos islands.

His story stands in contrast to Lonesome George, who was perhaps the most famous Galápagos resident when he died in 2012, at about 100 years old. His species, Chelonoidis abingdonii, now lives only on T-shirts and postcards because George, found in 1971 by a snail biologist on the island of Pinta, never produced any offspring in captivity.

An estimated 11 of about 115 known animal species have gone extinct since scientists began keeping records on the Galápagos. But the establishment of a national park, and the efforts of scientists, mean that extinctions are now a rarity. Which is why the death of George was such a blow.

Scientists did all they could to coax more abingdonii out of George and his mates. Only when George had died did an autopsy reveal it wasn’t lack of potency that impeded his reproduction, but a more anatomical ailment affecting his reproductive organ.

“We don’t like to talk about it,” said James P. Gibbs, a professor of vertebrate conservation biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, and one of the world’s experts on the tortoises, only half joking.

Dr. Gibbs had returned to the Galápagos that week from upstate New York to bring the stuffed remains of George and several expensive air-conditioning units and UV filters that would preserve the reptile in perpetuity in a mausoleum of sorts on one of the islands.

Both George and Diego had shells much smaller than many other species, and long necks to reach the few cactuses growing on their wind-swept island. In a way, those small shells were a curse on both their houses: Abingdonii and hoodensis were easy prey for the buccaneers and whalers who poured onto their islands in previous centuries and saw only defenseless, slow-moving meals that could easily be carted away.

Nor did it help that the giant tortoises of the Galápagos can survive for up to a year in the hull of a ship, meaning they provided a near-endless supply of fresh meat as they were stacked below decks by the hundreds. They were even tossed overboard when a ship needed to lose ballast for a quick getaway.

Among those who dined on giant tortoise flesh: Charles Darwin.

“We lived entirely on tortoise meat, the breastplate roasted … with flesh on it, is very good; and the young tortoises make excellent soup,” Darwin wrote in 1839, near the peak of the tortoise plunder in which some 200,000 were killed or carried away from the islands.

In the end, finches led him to the theory of evolution, not tortoises.

“He may have eaten his best specimens,” Dr. Gibbs said.

The recovery of Diego’s hoodensis species also brings up a quandary, one that perplexed Darwin during his adventures in the Galápagos more than a century ago, when he studied the fauna.

As Diego produces more offspring, and as those he has produced reproduce with one another, the entire hoodensis species could begin to look like Diego.

Evolutionary scientists call this process the bottleneck effect — when survivors’ genes come to dominate the gene pool as populations rebound. It’s particularly true on islands like Española, where tortoises from other lines will not breed with Diego’s kin.

Tortoise experts were divided on what risk that presents for hoodensis on a recent afternoon. Dr. Gibbs called it a “dangerous zone,” where little genetic diversity could mean susceptibility to a dangerous disease or changes in habitat because of climate change.

But Linda Cayot of the Galápagos Conservancy dissented, saying island species on the Galápagos have a long history of being decimated to just a few survivors that rebounded without incident — like a population of giant tortoises that chose to live in the caldera of a volcano. After the volcano exploded 100,000 years ago, the tortoises bounced back and returned to the caldera.

“Every species came from a bottleneck,” Dr. Cayot said. “It’s what happens in the Galápagos.”Dr. Gibbs noted that another male of Diego’s species, in captivity, is adding his own progeny to the gene pool, possibly even beyond the numbers of Diego. He has not been given as much credit, though, perhaps because he does not have a name. (He goes only by “Male No. 3.”)

Two days later, the scientists’ attention was back on George, whose embalmed body was being revealed for the first time on the Galápagos.

A kind of memorial ceremony was underway around dusk at the Charles Darwin center, attended by national park guards, air force officers and police officers. A government official stood to declare the tortoise’s body “cultural patrimony of the people.”

Someone presented a death mask of George, made shortly after he had died.

“It is a great honor to receive this relic,” said Fausto Llerena, George’s longtime caretaker, who spoke below a sign that read: “Lonesome George: A legacy, a future, a hope.

But maybe the real hope was elsewhere at the Darwin center.
Diego lounged in his pen with the females. His face was an old yellow color after four decades in the breeding pen, his shell looking like a house that could use a new coat of paint. He craned his neck to look around him.
“If you give him the chance, he bites you,” warned Mr. Villalva, the breeding center manager.

Before long, Diego had found a female. The act did not look easy, like one boulder trying to roll over another. January to June is the mating season, Mr. Villalva explained.

But not that afternoon. The female backed off into the bushes, and Diego landed with a thud that sent dust flying. After a moment, he scooted away.

For some great photos go to the original story at ... ntemail0=y

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1. Controlling turtle motion with human thought

2) How cobras developed flesh-eating venom

3) Wall lizard becomes accustomed to humans and stops hiding

4) A Scholarly Sting Operation Shines a Light on ‘Predatory’ Journals

1) Controlling turtle motion with human thought
Date: March 23, 2017
Source: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology

Korean researchers have developed a technology that can remotely control an animal's movement with human thought.

In the 2009 blockbuster "Avatar," a human remotely controls the body of an alien. It does so by injecting human intelligence into a remotely located, biological body. Although still in the realm of science fiction, researchers are nevertheless developing so-called 'brain-computer interfaces' (BCIs) following recent advances in electronics and computing. These technologies can 'read' and use human thought to control machines, for example, humanoid robots.

New research has demonstrated the possibility of combining a BCI with a device that transmits information from a computer to a brain, or a so-called 'computer-to-brain interface' (CBI). The combination of these devices could be used to establish a functional link between the brains of different species. Now, researchers from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have developed a human-turtle interaction system in which a signal originating from a human brain can affect where a turtle moves.

Unlike previous research that has tried to control animal movement by applying invasive methods, most notably in insects, KAIST researchers propose a conceptual system that can guide an animal's moving path by controlling its instinctive escape behaviour. They chose the turtle because of its cognitive abilities as well as its ability to distinguish different wavelengths of light. Specifically, turtles can recognize a white light source as an open space and so move toward it. They also show specific avoidance behaviour to things that might obstruct their view. Turtles also move toward and away from obstacles in their environment in a predictable manner. It was this instinctive, predictable behaviour that the researchers induced using the BCI.

The entire human-turtle setup is as follows: A head-mounted display (HMD) is combined with a BCI to immerse the human user in the turtle's environment. The human operator wears the BCI-HMD system, while the turtle has a 'cyborg system' -- consisting of a camera, a Wi-Fi transceiver, a computer control module and a battery -- all mounted on the turtle's upper shell. Also included on the turtle's shell is a black semi-cylinder with a slit, which forms the 'stimulation device'. This can be turned ±36 degrees via the BCI.

The entire process works like this: the human operator receives images from the camera mounted on the turtle. These real-time video images allow the human operator to decide where the turtle should move. The human provides thought commands that are recognized by the wearable BCI system as electroencephalography (EEG) signals. The BCI can distinguish between three mental states: left, right and idle. The left and right commands activate the turtle's stimulation device via Wi-Fi, turning it so that it obstructs the turtle's view. This invokes its natural instinct to move toward light and change its direction. Finally, the human acquires updated visual feedback from the camera mounted on the shell and in this way continues to remotely navigate the turtle's trajectory.
The research demonstrates that the animal guiding scheme via BCI can be used in a variety of environments with turtles moving indoors and outdoors on many different surfaces, like gravel and grass, and tackling a range of obstacles, such as shallow water and trees. This technology could be developed to integrate positioning systems and improved augmented and virtual reality techniques, enabling various applications, including devices for military reconnaissance and surveillance.

Story Source:
Materials provided by Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1 Cheol-Hu Kim, Bongjae Choi, Dae-Gun Kim, Serin Lee, Sungho Jo, Phill-Seung Lee. Remote Navigation of Turtle by Controlling Instinct Behavior via Human Brain-computer Interface. Journal of Bionic Engineering, 2016; 13 (3): 491 DOI: 10.1016/S1672-6529(16)60322-0
2) How cobras developed flesh-eating venom
Date: March 14, 2017
Source: University of Queensland

A University of Queensland-led international study has revealed how one of the world's most feared types of snakes -- cobras -- developed their potent venom.
Associate Professor Bryan Fry of UQ's School of Biological Sciences said cobras were killers in Africa and Asia, and caused crippling social and economic burdens through the number of survivors who needed amputations due to the snake's flesh-eating venom.

"While we knew the results of their venom, how the cobra's unique defensive venom evolved remained a mystery until now," he said.

"Our study discovered the evolutionary factors shaping not only cobra venom, but also the ornate markings on their hoods, and the extremely bright warning colourings present in some species.”

The research team studied 29 cobra species and related snakes, finding that the flesh-destroying venom first evolved alongside the broad hoods that make cobras so distinctive.

Dr Fry said further increases in the potency of the toxins subsequently occurred parallel to their warning strategies such as hood markings, body banding, red colouring and spitting.

"Their spectacular hoods and eye-catching patterns evolved to warn off potential predators because unlike other snakes, which use their venom purely for predation, cobras also use it in defence," he said.

"For the longest time it was thought that only spitting cobras had these defensive toxins in high amounts in their venoms, however we've shown that they are widespread in cobras.

"These results show the fundamental importance of studying basic evolution and how it relates to human health.”

Dr Fry said the next step in the team's research was to conduct broad antivenom testing.

"Globally, snakebite is the most neglected of all tropical diseases and antivenom manufacturers are leaving the market in favour of products that are cheaper to produce and have a bigger market," he said.

"Antivenom is expensive to make, has a short shelf life and a small market located in developing countries.

"Therefore, we need to do further research to see how well those remaining antivenoms neutralise not only the toxins that kill a person, but also those that would cause a severe injury.”

He said there may also be a benefit to this research in cancer treatment.

"Any kind of compound that selectively kills cells could be a good thing," Dr Fry said.

"These chemicals may lead to new cancer treatments if we can find ones that are more potent to cancer cells than normal healthy cells.
"Cobras are a rich resource of novel compounds in this way so there may ultimately be a silver lining to this very dark cloud."

Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Queensland. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1 Nadya Panagides, Timothy Jackson, Maria Ikonomopoulou, Kevin Arbuckle, Rudolf Pretzler, Daryl Yang, Syed Ali, Ivan Koludarov, James Dobson, Brittany Sanker, Angelique Asselin, Renan Santana, Iwan Hendrikx, Harold van der Ploeg, Jeremie Tai-A-Pin, Romilly van den Bergh, Harald Kerkkamp, Freek Vonk, Arno Naude, Morné Strydom, Louis Jacobsz, Nathan Dunstan, Marc Jaeger, Wayne Hodgson, John Miles, Bryan Fry. How the Cobra Got Its Flesh-Eating Venom: Cytotoxicity as a Defensive Innovation and Its Co-Evolution with Hooding, Aposematic Marking, and Spitting. Toxins, 2017; 9 (3): 103 DOI: 10.3390/toxins9030103
3) Wall lizard becomes accustomed to humans and stops hiding
Date: March 27, 2017
Source: FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

Habituating to predators or fleeing and hiding are tactics that vary between species. Scientists from two research centres in Italy and Spain have observed that adult male common wall lizards sharing their living spaces with humans become accustomed to them and hide less when humans approach them. Yellow lizards were the most “daring."

Humans have an increasing presence in different species' natural habitats. For this reason, scientists are investing much time in studying wild animals' capacity to tolerate these disturbances. Lizards are an appropriate model for research into this subject, as they can be found in high densities in many environments and are relatively easy to observe in the field and handle in laboratories.

Scientists from the Eco-Ethology group of the University of Pavia (Italy) and the National Museum of Natural History (CSIC) in Spain used the lizards to analyse their reactions to attacks by human predators and the strategies they adopt, depending on the local risk level. To do this, they simulated human attacks on two populations in completely different settings: rural and urban habitats
"The species we used in the study was the common wall lizard (Podarcis muralis). The main aim was to detect the possible influence of urbanisation on their antipredator response in terms of activity, time spent hidden in refuges after attacks and habituation to predators after repeated attacks," Sinc was told by Jose Martín of the Spanish National Museum of Natural History and co-author of the paper, published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

The findings show that urban lizards spend less time in their refuges following simulations of predator attacks and that the become habituated, as their successive hiding times decreased faster than those of the rural lizards. This detail suggests different levels of caution against potential predators. "The study has important implications for our understanding of humans' effect on animal populations and animals' resp

The explanation for this is that for prey, the majority of humans they come across represent "ineffective, dangerous predators" that rarely attack and are easily escaped from with low-intensity, low-cost antipredator responses. In this way, they save themselves always having to respond with high-intensity antipredator strategies, which can be very costly in terms of lost time and energy.
Red lizards cower when threatened

As this species displays polychromatism (there are individuals with yellow, red and white bellies), which has an important role for the species, the researchers also took individual colouration into consideration in the study.

"Independently of whether the population was rural or urban, yellow lizards gradually decreased the time they spent in their refuges compared to the other two morphs," Martín explained. "On the other hand, red lizards progressively spent longer periods before emerging from their refuges after successive tests, suggesting growing sensitisation to potential attacks by predators.”

Previous studies had found differences between differently coloured lizards in terms of stress and haematological profiles, for instance, as well as in immune response, female reproductive strategies and males' chemical signals.
"By using a lizard species as a model, we shed light on two key points of evolutionary ecology, concerning both antipredator response optimisation and factors enabling polymorphism to be maintained," the researcher concluded.

Story Source:
Materials provided by FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1 Daniele Pellitteri-Rosa, Adriana Bellati, Walter Cocca, Andrea Gazzola, José Martín, Mauro Fasola. Urbanization affects refuge use and habituation to predators in a polymorphic lizard. Animal Behaviour, 2017; 123: 359 DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2016.11.016A

4) A Scholarly Sting Operation Shines a Light on ‘Predatory’ Journals
By GINA KOLATA, MARCH 22, 2017, New York Times

The applicant’s nom de plume was not exactly subtle, if you know Polish. The middle initial and surname of the author, Anna O. Szust, mean “fraudster.” Her publications were fake and her degrees were fake. The book chapters she listed among her publications could not be found, but perhaps that should not have been a surprise because the book publishers were fake, too.

Yet, when Dr. Fraud applied to 360 randomly selected open-access academic journals asking to be an editor, 48 accepted her and four made her editor in chief. She got two offers to start a new journal and be its editor. One journal sent her an email saying, “It’s our pleasure to add your name as our editor in chief for the journal with no responsibilities.”

Little did they know that they had fallen for a sting, plotted and carried out by a group of researchers who wanted to draw attention to and systematically document the seamy side of open-access publishing. While those types of journals began with earnest aspirations to make scientific papers available to everyone, their proliferation has had unintended consequences.

Traditional journals typically are supported by subscribers who pay a fee while authors pay nothing to be published. Nonsubscribers can only read papers if they pay the journal for each one they want to see.

Open-access journals reverse that model. The authors pay and the published papers are free to anyone who cares to read them.

Publishing in an open-access journal can be expensive — the highly regarded Public Library of Science (PLOS) journals charge from $1,495 to $2,900 to publish a paper, with the fee dependent on which of its journals accepts the paper.

Not everyone anticipated what would happen next, or to what extent it would happen. The open-access business model spawned a shadowy world of what have been called predatory journals. They may have similar names to legitimate journals, but exist by publishing just about anything sent to them for a fee that can range from under $100 to thousands of dollars.

The fee often is between $100 and $400, said Jeffrey Beall, scholarly communications librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver, as the journals compete for paying customers. Of course, it is easier for predatory journals to have low fees because their expenses are minimal.

The researchers decided not to list any of the fake journals that they uncovered in the sting, saying that some have names so close to those of legitimate journals that it would be confusing.

There are now thousands of fake open-access journals, about as many as legitimate ones, according to one of the creators of Dr. Fraud, Katarzyna Pisanski, a researcher in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex in England, and her colleagues.

It was that alternate world that Dr. Fraud tapped into. The legitimate journals rejected her application out of hand, but many fake ones did not hesitate to take her on.

The investigators, writing about their sting operation in Nature, said they had seen young colleagues fall for the blandishments of predatory journals, not realizing that the emails they received were from publications that only wanted their money. Dr. Pisanski and her colleagues wanted to help researchers understand how fake journals operated.

“The emails can be very flattering,” Dr. Pisanski said, telling the recipients they are “eminent researchers” and “inviting” them to contribute. When researchers respond and send in papers, “they are published at lightning speed, often without peer review,” she said.

But not everyone who publishes in these journals is an innocent dupe. Mr. Beall, who until recently published a list of predatory journals, said he believes many researchers know exactly what they are doing when they publish there.

“I believe there are countless researchers and academics, currently employed, who have secured jobs, promotions, and tenure using publications in pay-to-publish journals as part of their credentials and experience for the jobs and promotions they got,” Mr. Beall said.

And it can require real diligence on the part of employers to ferret out those questionable publications, Mr. Beall said.

“Examining someone’s publications now requires close scrutiny,” Mr. Beall said. “Merely eyeballing a C.V. is insufficient now.”

David Knutson, the manager of communications at PLOS, said that young researchers may feel relentless pressure to publish, at all costs.

“These authors are shopping around their papers,” he said. “There is so much pressure to publish.”

As for Dr. Fraud, she got some lucrative offers. One journal suggested she organize a conference, whose papers would then be published; she would get 40 percent of the proceeds. Another invited her to start a new journal and offered her 30 percent of the profits.

Dr. Pisanski and her colleagues told the journals that accepted Dr. Fraud that she wanted to withdraw her application to be an editor. But it was not easy to withdraw.

Dr. Fraud remains listed as a member of the editorial boards of at least 11 of those journals. She is also listed as a member of conference-organizing committees. At least one journal she did not apply to also listed her as an editor.

And, Dr. Pisanski and her colleagues wrote, Dr. Fraud is even listed as an advisory board member of the Journals Open Access Indexing Committee. Its mission? To “increase the visibility and ease of use of open-access scholarly journals.”
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HERPDIGEST - VOL. 19 ISSUE #32 DATE - 5/18/17
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1. Bangkok production house releases clip of monster lizard swallowing giant turtle whole

2. Scientists figure out why female turtles are born at higher temperatures

3. When the Lab Rat is a Snake-Why Burmese Pythons May be the Best Way to study Diabetes, Heart Disease and the Protective Effects of Gastric-Bypass Surgery in Humans
1) Bangkok production house releases clip of monster lizard swallowing giant turtle whole
By Laurel Tuohy May. 18, 2017, Coconuts Bangkok
To see video go to

Bangkok production house Rubber Knife Productions just released a short film that might teach even seasoned Bangkokians a thing or two they didn’t know about the city’s scariest creatures — monitor lizards.

The 5-minute clip, filmed over five afternoons in Rot Fai and Chatuchak Parks, was created for anyone that “appreciates nature, these awesome reptiles, and a good story,” said Director/Producer Kevin Richard.

“We wanted to do something educational, but also add a smidge of humor to it. We live in a rush 24/7 era. Often, the cool things are happening right in front of us and they are free.”

They featured monitor lizards, also called “hia” since the creatures often elicit this swear when spotted, because so many of them live close to the Rubber Knife office. Richard said, “We think they are amazing creatures who have passed the test of time and live harmoniously right here in Bangkok amidst the mayhem.”

“It’s a shame that they are looked at as a hindrance and are being ‘relocated’ from some parks to somewhere safer,” said Richard, referencing the lizards that were removed from Lumpini Park last year.

“They’ve been here way longer than we have. We should leave ‘em be.”

About the filming and the ending of the short lizard narrative, Richard said, “We got really lucky to capture the turtle scene. It was a total fluke. Jim (the director of photography) and I were just wrapping up for the day when we decided to check one more spot. The next thing you know — a hunt! That was day two. We came another three times along with our new guy, cameraman Dennis Natrayon, to grab the rest.”

So far, the creators are getting great feedback about the video. “We hope that the interest continues as we have a whole bunch of other things in the pipeline. Our dream would be to do this thing full-time. This has always been a pet project of ours when we are not working on corporate gigs as it puts us in total control of our storytelling and style.”

The director added about the sad ending for the film’s turtle, “As cruel as it looked and as much as we felt bad and wanted to save the turtle, we didn’t want to disturb nature. Whether we were there or not, the same thing would have happened without the cameras rolling.”

Co-writer and voice-over artist Jeremy Linn chimed in with, “As brutal as it is, it is truly fascinating that that level of wild animal activity happens in the middle of a city of 10 million people.”
2) Scientists figure out why female turtles are born at higher temperatures

The Washington Post, by Sarah Kaplan, 5/7/16

In the 1980s, scientists trying to save sea turtles noticed something truly

They thought they were doing something good: rescuing eggs from vulnerable beaches and keeping them warm in incubators until they were ready to swim out to sea.

But when the sea turtles were born, almost every single one of them was male. At that point, scientists had known for some 80 years that sex was determined by a creature’s chromosomes. It seemed crazy that you could skew a hatchling’s gender just by taking its egg out of the sand — just as crazy as saying that the gender of a baby depended on where its mother lived while she was pregnant.

And yet here were dozens of all-male sea turtle siblings wriggling in front of them, emphatically suggesting that sex wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed.

What those scientists encountered was temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), a phenomenon found in a range of cold-blooded animals. Unlike mammals, birds and other creatures, whose sex is set by the chromosomes they get from their parents, the trigger that causes turtle embryos to develop into baby boys or girls comes from outside the egg. Warmer ambient temperatures during incubation will make the hatchlings skew toward female. But keep the eggs just a few degrees cooler — as the scientists in the ’80s inadvertently did — and they’ll come out mostly male.

Five decades later, scientists are still trying to understand exactly how and why that happens. From an evolutionary standpoint, it seems like a pretty risky adaptation; it would only take a few hot years full of female hatchlings to spell the end of the entire species. And from a developmental standpoint, it’s just as confusing. If an embryonic turtle’s chromosomes aren’t telling it what way to grow, what is?

Turk Rhen, an integrative biologist at the University of North Dakota, has devoted much of his career to studying those questions. And he may have found an answer to at least one of them. In a study published in the journal Genetics this week, Rhen and his colleagues identify a gene that seems to be responsible for turning hot and cold temperatures into girl and boy babies.

If they’re right, the find could help keep turtles safe in an ever-warming world.

But, “like every scientific project ever,” joked co-author Kelsey Metzger, a former master’s student in Rhen’s lab and now a life sciences professor at the University of Minnesota at Rochester, “there’s a lot of work that came before it, and there’s going to be a lot of work that comes after it.”

What came before were decades of research into the sex differentiation of common snapping turtles — large, sturdy-shelled, sharp-beaked reptiles that inhabit ponds and streams from Florida to southern Canada and as far west as the Rocky Mountains. Rhen’s turtles come from Minnesota.

Even though the trigger for differentiation isn’t genetic, scientists know that the developmental process that turns a sexless embryo into a male or female turtle is more or less the same as in other species: It’s carried out by genes. Past research has shown that, early in development, some of the same genes that control sex in humans are also put to work in turtles. As each gets switched on, they cause amorphous blobs of tissue to differentiate into male and female reproductive parts, setting off a cascade of reactions that eventually produces a baby boy or girl.

But Rhen wanted to know where the whole process started. Those genes might control sex, but they don’t respond to temperature. Somewhere in the body, a thermometer gene must be telling them what to do.

He and colleague Anthony Schroeder, the lead author on the latest paper, first identified their candidate gene several years ago: the cold-inducible RNA-binding protein gene, or CIRBP (pronounced “surp”) for short. It’s known to be involved in body heat regulation in humans and other mammals, raising and lowering our temperatures according to the rhythms of our days. But it’s also something like the project manager on the construction site that is a developing embryo; it directs the transcription of DNA (the body’s molecular master plan) into RNA (its working blueprint), which then creates the proteins that do the body’s work.

In his newest study, Rhen tested to confirm that CIRBP was being turned on at the right time and in the right part of the embryo to be responsible for taking the temperature and directing the body’s response. Turtle eggs in incubators had their ambient temperatures changed by less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit during a five-day window of development when differentiation was known to take place. Then their tissue was examined to see how they responded.

The reaction was almost instantaneous.

“The gene expression changed within 24 hours of the shift,” Rhen said. Two days after that, the genes that scientists know are involved in sex differentiation started to spring into action.
Not only that but a minute variation in the gene — swapping out just one of the molecules that make up DNA for another — changes how turtles respond to temperature. One version lowers the temperature threshold for females — which are typically born at the warmest incubation temperatures. The other version raises it.

“We don’t know for sure yet,” Rhen said. “But our hypothesis is that CIRBP might be upstream and is involved in regulating expression of all those other genes” that determine sex.

Rhen also has a theory to explain why turtles evolved this way in the first place — one that, like his genetic explanation, is looking more and more convincing. In 1995, he and a colleague used hormones to get female turtles to hatch at “male” temperatures and found that the females grew incredibly large, far larger than they normally would be.

Paired with the knowledge that larger male turtles are usually more successful since they can fight off competition and hold down territory, a picture began to take shape: Natural selection favored male turtles born at lower temperatures because those temperatures speed up development and result in larger bodies. Those successful males then passed down their low-temperature favoring genes, and, over time, the current temperature regime took shape.

Which was all fine and dandy, until the planet’s temperatures began dramatically rising.

A recent report on loggerhead sea turtles in Florida found that the vast majority of nests studied produced between 90 and 100 percent female hatchlings four years in a row. Researchers studying painted turtles in Mississippi estimate that an average temperature increase of just 1.1 degrees Celsius would be enough to skew the population all female.

“It’s ultimately extinction,” ecologist Rory Telemeco, lead author of the painted turtle study, told the New Scientist in 2013.

Understanding the genetic mechanism will become more and more important as Earth warms, the researchers say. Knowing that some turtles have, say, the gene variant that raises the temperature threshold to skew female might help scientists to save them.

“There’s a lot of discussion going around with climate change,” Metzger said. “But in the end, the question is, is there enough genetic variation that these species will be able to adapt?”

3) When the Lab Rat is a Snake-Why Burmese Pythons May be the Best Way to study Diabetes, Heart Disease and the Protective Effects of Gastric-Bypass Surgery in Humans
by Daniel Engber, New York Times, posted online 5/17/17, Will appear in print in Sunday May 21st New York Times Magazine Section.

As Amit Choudhary opened the package of snake blood, the first thing he noticed was its color. It looked like yogurt. The blood plasma, harvested from a Burmese python shortly after feeding, was so clogged with fatty acids that it was not clear but milky white. An oily mess like that should be toxic, Choudhary thought. Indeed, when he smeared the same amount of fatty acids on a plate of human pancreatic cells, the kind that supply the body with insulin, they self-destructed from the stress. Yet he knew the snake could somehow thrive, even as its plasma turned to yogurt after every single meal.

It was the late fall of 2012, and Choudhary, then a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, had become interested in the Burmese python on account of its extraordinary physiology. The animal is essentially a slithering digestive tract: In the wild, it often spends a month or two in silent ambush; then, when the moment is right, it wraps its coils around a monkey, a pig, an antelope and swallows its prey head first. A single meal for a full-grown python may contain more than 50,000 calories, a tidal wave of nutrients and fatty acids that could be deadly to another species. But the python has adapted to the overload. For the week or so that follows feeding, its body turns into an engine of digestion: Its intestine thickens; its liver and kidneys nearly double in mass; its insulin level shoots up; its temperature increases by six degrees Fahrenheit; its pulse triples; and its metabolism jumps. Once all the food has been absorbed, the python’s organs shrink back to their quiescent state.

In his lab, Choudhary wondered if there might be something in a python’s yogurt blood that helps it undergo this protective transformation. He dabbed a few drops on a rodent’s pancreatic cells to see how they would respond. “The results were mind-blowing,” he recalled on a recent April afternoon in Boston, where he now does research at Harvard and M.I.T.’s Broad Institute. Choudhary used an antibody kit to measure how much insulin the rodent cells produced. The assay works by color: Insulin turns a sample very slightly yellow, a change researchers detect using a specialized instrument. But after Choudhary treated the cells with snake blood, they started spurting so much insulin that he could see the sample changing color. The python’s fatty plasma didn’t just insulate the pancreas from fatty acids; it appeared to juice it up.

Growing up in a farming area several hours from Kolkata, India, Choudhary had always been afraid of snakes. “I was told not to mess with those creatures,” he says. Now he realized they might hold a cure for diabetes. The pancreatic cells he used in the lab were beta cells, and diabetes is a beta-cell disease. In the early-onset (Type 1) form, the body’s immune system turns against these cells and nearly wipes them out. Without a source of insulin, a patient can’t control the sugar in the bloodstream. In Type 2 diabetes, the version of the ailment linked to Western diets and obesity, it goes the other way: The patient loses sensitivity to the insulin being produced, and the beta cells become overcharged to compensate, until eventually they weaken or die. What if Choudhary could find a chemical in snake blood that worked to bolster the beta cells and reverse the condition?

Choudhary knew the stakes as well as anybody. In India, they call diabetes “having sugar,” and his family seemed at special risk: Nearly every one of his male relatives, and some females, too, had sugar, and many died from its complications. Even he and his younger brothers, all of whom now live in the United States, may be doomed to the condition in their later middle age. So after completing his dissertation work in quantum chemistry and biophysics, Choudhary started looking into diabetes.

Until that point, he found, much of the research into therapies for beta cells had been done on laboratory rodents. After years of work on rats and mice, scientists had come up with lots of drugs that energized a rodent’s pancreas, but very few of these showed any promise when it came to treating humans. We don’t yet know why, but one reason may be that the pancreas of a mouse or a rat is a bit peculiar. For one thing, its beta cells are livelier than ours and more likely to divide. They are also grouped together in one place in the pancreas, while ours are a bit more scattered. And rodents have a pair of genes encoding insulin, while we have only one.

In spite of these discrepancies, rats and mice remain the most common research animals for the study of diabetes, as they are for all of biomedicine. In part because of their proximity to humans on the evolutionary tree, in part because of their small size and in part because of our facility at playing with their DNA, Mus musculus and Rattus norvegicus have become the default choice for biomedical experiments. But if sickly diabetic mice and rats were useful models of the disease, Choudhary thought, might there be even greater value in a species that evolved to be the opposite — a model of good health, resistant to whatever makes a rodent or a person fall apart?

Choudhary had the snake blood and a plate of beta cells on steroids. But before he allowed himself to dream of wonder cures, he tried the same experiment again — putting milky drops into a petri dish — this time using plasma from a different snake. Once again, the beta cells were sent into a riot. If Choudhary were to start a brand-new research program using laboratory pythons, he would need to be absolutely certain that he hadn’t messed things up. “When the results are too good,” he said, “you always worry that something must have gone wrong.” He ran the experiment four more times. It always worked.

The idea of using pythons to understand metabolism got its
start 100 years ago, on the very same street as Choudhary’s
Harvard office. Opposite the medical school on what is now
called Blackfan Circle, a physiologist and professional
magician named Francis Gano Benedict embarked on a
landmark 17-year study of absorption in the snake.

Benedict came to Boston on behalf of the Carnegie Institution
to found a laboratory for the study of nutrition. He brought
with him a state-of-the-art device that he helped develop
while at Wesleyan, known as the respiration calorimeter. An
airtight chamber lined with zinc and copper, it could be used
to calculate the energy in food — i.e. its “calories” — and study
how exercise or eating might affect a person’s metabolic rate.

He soon discovered that his measurements of energetics could
be applied to nearly any animal — he once built a mammoth
version of the chamber for an elephant — and used to answer
endless questions on nutrition, important or mundane. At one
point, he calculated the energetic cost of thinking: “The
cloistered scholar at his books may be surprised to learn that
the extra calories needed for one hour of intense mental
effort,” he announced in 1930, “would be completely met by
the eating of one oyster cracker or half of a salted peanut.”

As part of his grand project on behalf of Carnegie, Benedict set
out to construct a bestiary of metabolic rates. In 1915, he
traveled to New York City to install a respiration chamber in
the reptile house at the Bronx Zoo. He hoped to use the snakes
— including the zoo’s 17-foot python — to understand how
and why an animal’s body temperature might fluctuate.
Eventually, he predicted, this work could help explain the
mysteries of human fever.

By the following spring, Benedict had begun a study of the
snakes’ response to eating. It intrigued him that pythons and
other constricting snakes, in particular, could ingest an
“inconceivably large mass” at one time. He had them gobble
rabbits whole, or hunks of beef fat wrapped in the pelts of
guinea pigs, and tested them in his giant-snake-size chamber.
The resulting bumps in heat — and fivefold increase in
carbon-dioxide production — left him dazzled. “With no other
animals in the world, certainly among the vertebrates, can one
expect such economy in the taking of food,” he wrote in his
monograph from 1932, “The Physiology of Large Reptiles.” A
photograph of Benedict, published that same year, shows him
in a lab coat and bow tie, proudly holding an eight-foot python
by its neck.

For Benedict, the python’s Olympian feats of digestion made it
worthy of study, but he was nearly as impressed by its placid
disposition — a highly valued trait in a laboratory animal.
Special credit went to the python he examined at the National
Zoo in Washington: “In the entire series of experiments with
this animal she gave but one sign of agitation,” he wrote,
“which was a heavy, deep breath, approximating a hiss, in the
middle of an afternoon session.”

Yet despite Benedict’s efforts to proselytize, the python barely made its way into the labs of other physiologists. In fact, the details of its digestive tract and their implications for our understanding of metabolism were more or less ignored for 60 years, until a young biologist named Stephen Secor started tracking rattlesnakes in the Mojave Desert.

Secor, who grew up on a horse farm, planned to be a veterinarian, but a love of snakes derailed him. At first, he tried to study their behavior in the lab (the mating habits of the speckled king snake), but he found the research boring. So for his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, Secor headed out into the field to track a pair of wild species — the coachwhip and the sidewinder rattlesnake — and learn how they managed their metabolism in a natural setting. As eaters, these snakes were polar opposites. Secor noticed that the coachwhip, whose form is long and slender, was always on the move, chasing little lizards through the Kelso Dunes. A sidewinder waits for its dinner: It sits in ambush until a kangaroo rat happens to come hopping by, and then it has a banquet.

When Secor presented his observations at a 1991 scientific meeting at White Mountain Research Center, a few hours north of Los Angeles, Jared Diamond raised his hand. Diamond, now better known for his work as a geographer and historian (he is the author of “Guns, Germs and Steel”), was at the time a physiologist in the mold of Francis Gano Benedict. Since the early 1980s, he had been working on a grand survey of animal digestion. His lab had looked at rats and mice, cats and minks, frogs and fish. He had even studied how a hummingbird handles so much nectar in its small intestine.

Diamond thought of the intestine as something like a muscle, lifting substances into the bloodstream. If you had to do more lifting, he reasoned, you would need to have a stronger muscle. So Secor’s talk about the sidewinders, and their feast-or-famine diet, made him wonder if the animals’ intestines were endowed with superhero strength. As it happens, Secor had tried to measure the rattlesnakes’ metabolism, but the numbers he got were so high that they seemed impossible. A mammal’s metabolic rate typically rises by one-quarter or one-half after feeding. The largest such increase anyone had ever measured in a reptile was a fourfold or fivefold change. But Secor’s data showed that sidewinders could increase their metabolism by almost eightfold — a bigger jump than anyone had seen in any species. A prominent scientist at U.C.L.A., who would later serve as Secor’s mentor, told him that he must be doing something wrong. “Leave the physiology to physiologists,” the professor said.

But when Diamond looked at Secor’s numbers, he believed them. “This is the most exciting data I’ve seen in five years,” he announced. As soon as Secor finished his dissertation, he moved his work to Diamond’s lab. It soon became apparent that, as research animals, Secor’s three dozen wild rattlesnakes were not ideal. “Every now and again, he’d get bitten, and then he’d get a little dizzy,” Diamond remembers. Secor says the venom didn’t bother him much, but U.C.L.A.’s administration was not keen on housing a colony of sidewinders. So Secor and Diamond set out to find a safer snake with an athlete’s intestine. Secor tested a Noah’s ark of options — a pair of water snakes, a pair of corn snakes, a pair of black racers, a pair of Burmese pythons — before he found his champion. The python’s gut looked even more impressive than the rattlesnake’s. After feeding, the intestine blew up like a bodybuilder’s, doubling in mass.

And if the python’s meal was very large, its metabolic rate would increase not just eightfold, like the rattlesnake’s, but by a factor of 44. The only comparable metabolic increase Diamond knew of had been identified in a galloping racehorse. The most impressive short-term increase he had seen in humans — measured in water-polo players and cyclists in the Tour de France — was no more than five or six times their resting rate. “These pythons made the Tour de France cyclists and water-polo players look like wimps,” he says. What’s more, the python could sustain that level of metabolism for several days.

Secor kept a pair of 12-footers in his home, Linus and Bob; he knew pythons were easy to acquire and maintain. The pet trade in the Burmese python had been booming since the 1980s. So he reached out to a guy he knew in Oklahoma, who happened to be the nation’s biggest python breeder, and put in an order for 100 snakes. Over the next few years, Secor worked on tracing how a Burmese python’s body transforms itself after feeding. Nearly every facet of digestion was exaggerated, he found, from the way the python fills its stomach with hydrochloric acid to the way its organs thicken and expand. For him and Diamond, the scale of these effects had a scientific value of its own. It made the process of digestion easier to study, because every nuance could be seen in high relief.

But as Secor finished this initial round of work, Diamond was preparing to move on. “The future of the world does not depend on intestines and gallbladders,” he had decided. In the fall of 1998, he and Secor summarized their research on pythons in the journal Nature. Their article was half-prospectus and half-plea — a call to fellow physiologists to make the Burmese python a standard laboratory animal. The snakes were practical, the article said, on account of their infrequent feeding and inexpensive upkeep, their convenient “linear anatomy,” their easygoing nature and their relative lack of moral standing. (Snakes “do not arouse the controversy associated with medical research on similarly sized mammals,” Secor and Diamond noted.) But the Burmese python’s greatest value — its raison d’être as a laboratory species — derives from its special way of eating.
“The history of biology illustrates the importance of selecting exceptionally suitable species as models,” Secor and Diamond wrote. The fruit fly, for example, with its rapid reproduction, helped scientists understand genetics; the squid, with its peculiarly gigantic axon fibers, allowed scientists to examine the workings of a single nerve cell. Could pythons, with their astounding feats of regulation, become the next great model animals?

Secor now runs his own lab, bustling with reptiles, at the
University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa. Since 1998, he has
published 30 papers on the python. His lab has studied,
among other things, how the python’s microbiome changes in
response to eating; how its metabolism responds to meat
depending on whether it has been ground up like hamburger
or cooked in a microwave oven; how it regulates its blood flow
after feeding; and how it keeps a rising tide of gastric acid
from lapping into its throat.

For most of his career, Secor’s work has been unadulterated
by the need for real-world applications. People rarely
bothered him with plans to plumb the python as a source of
pharmaceuticals or as a means to better human health. “I
don’t care about the medical aspects,” he says he might have
told them at the time. “That’s not what I do. I just love these
animals because I’m interested in their biology.”

Then, all at once, the field began to change. First a group
based at the University of California, Irvine, led by a
comparative physiologist named James Hicks, published data
showing that the python’s heart can grow in size by 40 percent
as the animal digests. Not long after, Leslie Leinwand, who
studies cardiac disease at the University of Colorado, became
interested. Leinwand knew that in humans, an enlarged heart
can be a sign of good health — athletes get bigger, stronger
hearts from working out — but it can also signal that the organ
is diseased. With help from Secor, she and her postdoctoral
researcher, Cecilia Riquelme, found that after feeding, a
python’s heart swells the way an athlete’s does, with no ill
effects. Then they tried pouring snake blood on a dish of rat
heart cells and found it bulked them up, like liquid exercise. A
subset of the fatty acids in the python’s blood seemed to
function as a cell-expanding cocktail, one that worked even in
living mice.

In early 2012, Leinwand presented her research at the Broad
Institute, where Choudhary had just begun to think about the
python as a tool for treating diabetes. The python’s heart
might swell by 40 percent after feeding, he thought excitedly,
but its pancreas would double. Leinwand had found a signal
in a python’s blood that makes heart cells big and strong.

What if he could do the same, or more, for pancreatic beta
cells? Later, in 2013, another researcher, Nicholas Stylopoulos
of Boston Children’s Hospital, whose office happens to be just
down the street from Choudhary’s (and from the site of
Francis Gano Benedict’s), decided that the python might be a
useful model for his work on the science underpinning
gastric-bypass surgery and its benefits for diabetics.

Why did it take so long for medical researchers to see the
value in the python? For one thing, the conditions the python
might help to treat have become more prevalent. In 1998,
when Secor and Diamond’s essay first appeared, 10.5 million
Americans were found to have diabetes. By the time Leinwand
published her results, that number had nearly doubled.
Obesity rates have also climbed during that span. Our
worsening diets have made the python’s way of eating more

Leinwand has begun to investigate whether the snakes themselves
get fat and sick. In the 25 years since Secor started work in
Diamond’s lab, escaped or discarded Burmese python pets have
found their way into the Everglades in Florida. With no natural
predators, they have flourished on the region’s supersize supply of
birds, raccoons and opossums, as well as bobcats, deer and
alligators. Leinwand wants to know whether the Burmese python —
or the Burmese-American python, really — might be getting ill from
all this food. (And if it isn’t, then what, exactly, is protecting it?)
“Their diet is different, they’re eating things that they’re not
normally eating and they’re eating way more often,” Leinwand says.
“So one of the experiments that we’re working on right now is
asking, Is this a bad thing for them, or a good thing, to be exposed to
such huge amounts of food and fat?”

It’s not clear when Leinwand’s and others’ newer projects
might develop. Python research has been very slow, especially
compared with the work done on rodents. It took Leinwand
and Riquelme several years just to make sure that antibodies
they used for their mouse research would work the same for
snakes. And while a round of lab mice can be bred in a matter
of weeks, new python hatchlings arrive only once per year.

That glacial pace makes the work on snakes “a very high-risk,
high-reward project,” Choudhary says. Last year, he and Secor
and a third researcher, Bridget Wagner, secured a grant of
$2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health, from a
special fund for “innovative, unconventional, paradigm
shifting research projects.” They have started by setting up
what Choudhary calls a “snake infrastructure,” so they can
rear and analyze the pythons as efficiently as possible.

The work is on the verge of getting easier for another reason too. When Leinwand and Riquelme started on the Burmese python, the animal’s genetic code had not been mapped. They did their best by comparing bits of python RNA to published genomes of the chicken and the lizard. But just before they published their research, a group of snake biologists put out a first draft of the sequence for the Burmese python. Now Leinwand’s lab, as well as Choudhary’s and Stylopoulos’s, has a detailed atlas of the python’s DNA. That means they can feed a Burmese python in the lab and then use a simple probe to analyze tissue from its heart, pancreas or small intestine to see which genes are tuning up or down within each cell. Choudhary has been using this approach to figure out the genes behind the beneficial changes to a python’s beta cells. These might be useful targets for a future diabetes drug, he says.

If all this work on snakes continues to expand, the python may one day be as central to our understanding of disease — or at least those illnesses that stem, in part, from overeating — as the laboratory rodent. Eventually, in some respects, it might even overtake the mouse. Perhaps that would be fitting. As she raises the baby Burmese pythons for her lab, Leinwand has them on an all-mouse diet.
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1. Opening- Postdoctoral Scientist - Brown Tree Snakes, Guam

2) Turtles Bred for Food in Asia Can Transport Cholera (Turtles infected with the bacteria causing cholera — Vibrio cholerae — have been found in shipments throughout Asia, from Bangladesh to Japan)

3) How bearded dragons switch their sex-Extreme temperatures might mess with RNA from two genes-Similar effects found in embryonic sex-reversed alligators and turtles.

4) How a female-only line of salamanders 'steals' genes from unsuspecting males- Kleptogenesis gets a little less mysterious in a new study.

5) Group monitoring the amphibians in the Western Ghats, India, records increase of number of rare species found.
1) Opening- Postdoctoral Scientist - Brown Tree Snakes, Guam

The post-doc researcher will work with USGS scientists and personnel to
develop and address novel research questions, associated with a multi-year study on suppression or eradication of Brown Treesnakes in USGS Closed
Population (a 5-hectare study site closed to emigration or immigration of snakes) using simulated Aerial Delivery Systems. The post-doc will be expected to use an adaptive management framework, and analyze and interpret past data relating to the research objectives.

To apply and view a full announcement, please visit=20 by July 3, 2017.

CSU is an EO/EA/AA employer and conducts background checks on all final
2) Turtles Bred for Food in Asia Can Transport Cholera (Turtles infected with the bacteria causing cholera — Vibrio cholerae — have been found in shipments throughout Asia, from Bangladesh to Japan)

Global Health, New York Times, 6/14/17 by Donald G. McNeil Jr.

Soft-shell turtles raised for food in Asia can infect people with cholera and spread the lethal bacteria from place to place, according to a new study.

Cholera infects up to five million people around the world each year, causing rapid, overwhelming diarrhea that leads to an estimated 100,000 deaths annually.

A major outbreak is underway in Yemen and in the Horn of Africa. (That outbreak is not food-related. Cholera is endemic there and is being spread to previously clean sources of drinking water by people forced to flee drought and civil war.)

The new study, by researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was published last week in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, the journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Large-scale turtle breeding has expanded rapidly in China, the authors noted. At the same time, turtles infected with the bacteria causing cholera — Vibrio cholerae — have been found in shipments throughout Asia, from Bangladesh to Japan.

The scientists made Vibrio bacteria easily detectable by inserting into them genes for bioluminescent proteins, then dipped some turtles into a Vibrio solution for two hours before rinsing them off. The researchers also pumped the solution into the stomachs of some turtles.

Within days, the scientists found the bacteria growing all over the turtles’ shells, limbs and necks, and in the calipash, the gelatinous green layer beneath the shell that is considered a delicacy in Asia. The researchers also discovered the bacteria in the intestines of some turtles.

Vibrio bacteria flourish in the brackish estuaries where shellfish grow. They concentrate in filter feeders, like mussels and oysters, and attach themselves to crabs and shrimp, thriving on the chitin in their shells, according to a 2009 article in the American Journal of Infectious Diseases.

They are not easily removed by rinsing or depuration, a process in which shellfish are stored in sterilized seawater.

One of the last cholera outbreaks in the United States took place in Louisiana in 1986, sickening 18 people. Cases were blamed on both crabs and shrimp; raw oysters were also suspected.

Careless handling — including holding cooked shrimp in boxes that had held raw shrimp — contributed to the outbreak.
3) How bearded dragons switch their sex-Extreme temperatures might mess with RNA from two genes-Similar effects found in embryonic sex-reversed alligators and turtles.

by Laurel Hamers, Science News, 6/14/17

When things get hot, embryonic bearded dragon lizards turn female — and now scientists might know why. New analyses, reported online June 14 in Science Advances, reveal that temperature-induced changes in RNA’s protein-making instructions might set off this sex switch. The findings might also apply to other reptile species whose sex is influenced by temperature.

Unlike most mammals, many species of reptiles and fish don’t have sex chromosomes. Instead, they develop into males at certain temperatures and females at others.

Bearded dragon lizards are an unusual case because chromosome combinations and temperature are known to influence sex determination, says ecologist Clare Holleley of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Canberra, Australia (SN: 7/25/15, p.7). When eggs are incubated below 32° Celsius, embryonic bearded dragons with two Z chromosomes develop as male, while dragons with a Z and a W chromosome develop as female. But as temperatures creep above 32°, chromosomally male ZZ dragons will reverse course and develop as females instead.

“They have two sex chromosomes, but they also have this temperature override,” Holleley says.

By comparing bearded dragons that are female because of their chromosomes and those that are female because of environmental influences, Holleley and her colleagues hoped to sort out genetic differences that might point to how the lizards make the switch. The team collected RNA from the brain, reproductive organs and other tissues of normal female, normal male and sex-reversed female Australian central bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps). Then, the researchers compared that RNA, looking for differences in the ways the lizards were turning on genes.

Sex-reversed females turned up the activity of several genes, the researchers found. Two, JARID2 and JMJD3, are part of a family of genes called the Jumonji family, which are known to influence sex differentiation in other animals. For instance, in mammals, a Jumonji gene interacts with SRY, a gene on the Y chromosome that sets off testes development in males. Another is involved in X chromosome inactivation, which ensures that females don’t get a double dose of proteins made by genes housed on their pair of X chromosomes.

The researchers also found changes in the lizard’s RNA. During a cursory skim through the RNA data for JARID2 and JMJD3, study coauthor Ira Deveson noticed something strange. RNA carries information from DNA that gets translated in proteins, and normally it gets edited before translation — certain sections get taken out. But in sex-reversed females, one of the sections normally removed remained.
The observation “was kind of fortuitous,” says Deveson, a biologist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

Through closer investigation, he found that the RNA sections that stuck around contained chemical codes that act as stop signs, prematurely halting the translation of the RNA from these two genes into proteins.

It’s not clear whether the different RNA means a protein doesn’t get made at all in dragons incubated at high temperatures or whether the proteins made are modified, smaller versions of their usual selves. That’s a target for future research, says Holleley.

Either way, previous studies have shown that proteins made from Jumonji genes work to control many other genes that orchestrate developmental processes — and that environmental stress, such as from heat, can change the way these genes turn on and off.

Heat messes with the proteins made from JARID2 and JMJD3, which in turn mess with the proteins made by other sex-related genes, the researchers propose. Sex in bearded dragons is determined by amounts of certain proteins — males, with two Z chromosomes, typically get a double dose of anything coded on the Z chromosome. So such a disruption could flip the sex from male to female.

“The data are tantalizing,” says Turk Rhen, a biologist at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks who wasn’t part of the study. But, he says, the researchers looked at RNA from only adult bearded dragons. Studying embryonic dragons is important for piecing together gene activity during sex determination.

Holleley and Deveson did find similar effects in embryonic sex-reversed embryonic alligators and turtles. That suggests that RNA editing differences might start early in development, and might extend to other reptiles who use temperature (hot or cold) as a sex-determining cue. In the future, the team hopes to investigate embryonic dragons as well, snipping out the JARID2 and JMJD3 genes from their DNA and tracking what happens as the dragons develop.
4) How a female-only line of salamanders 'steals' genes from unsuspecting males- Kleptogenesis gets a little less mysterious in a new study.

Popular Science by Rachel Feltman, 7/14/17

Imagine a lineage made up solely of women. Generation after generation, these females pilfer genes from males—not mating and reproducing in the usual way, but using sex as a means to collect genetic material that they can parcel out to their offspring in seemingly any configuration. A few genes here, a few genes there, generation after generation. It's not some Themyscira-esque fantasy: some lady salamanders have been carrying on this way for millions of years.

The strange reproductive behaviors of the genus Ambystoma aren't new to science. Researchers have known for some time that one lineage of these animals—a line of salamanders that only ever have female offspring—persist by collecting the genetic material of males from several other species in the genus. But in case this is your first time encountering the fantastical world of "kleptogenesis" (side note: great word), here's a run-down.

Many members of the salamander genus Ambystoma are sexual creatures—by which we mean males drop sperm packets to fertilize female eggs, producing offspring with a set of genetic instructions from each of their two parents. But unisexual Ambystoma lizards do it better. These females pick up those packets, but they can gather more than one with which to fertilize their eggs. And once they do, it seems to be up to them to decide which parts of the genome—if any—they use from each of their mates.

"Most vertebrates that reproduce in ways that involve only females end up being sperm-dependent in one way or another," says Maurine Neiman, associate professor in biology at the University of Iowa. Many of those lineages become "sperm parasites", requiring sperm to penetrate their eggs in order to trigger development into embryos. They need that sperm to get things going, but they throw the genetic material away—essentially creating clone daughters while obeying the reproductive mechanics developed by their sexually reproducing ancestors.

"Superficially, these salamanders seem to have a lot in common with those other females," Neiman says. But in fact, their "bizarre" method of reproduction has never been documented in another animal. And it's kept them alive for much longer than other methods of makeshift asexual reproduction.

"They have the same dependence on sperm, but they also keep the genomes—or some of them, anyway—of the males they mate with," she explains.

The female salamanders seem to be able to dole out genes to their daughters in all sorts of configurations. Individuals are basically salamander hybrids made up of the DNA of a variety of species, unified by common mitochondrial DNA (which a mother passes directly to her children, with no male input) from an ancient ancestor. Some carry five unique genomes around in the nuclei of their cells. They appear to always carry at least one copy of the A. laterale genome (the blue-spotted salamander), even though this species doesn't seem to be the one from which they all descend. Scientists still don't know how a salamander "chooses" what genes to give her daughter, but they know that mom can basically make whatever kind of Franken-mander she desires.

"Let’s say she’s got three copies of a genome," Neiman explains—plus one she was born with. "She might not incorporate any of the surplus genes [into her babies]. She might incorporate one of their genomes along with her own. She might give them all three plus her own, so her baby has four. Or she could even leave out the one she was born with and pass along the other three.”

"In biology, one way to get at a question is to look at something weird."

In a study published recently in Genome Biology and Evolution, Neiman and her colleagues at the University of Iowa and The Ohio State University—led by a graduate student from each lab—tried to puzzle out what the heck a salamander does when spoiled for gene choice. And they were fueled by more than just herpetological curiosity.

"We're interested in the broader question of why genomes are organized as they are in most animals," she says. "We typically have two copies. Why is that? We don't have a good understanding of that. And in biology, one way to get at a question is to look at something weird. You can sometimes understand the typical by figuring out how the exception to the rule works.”

The little lady her team studied was definitely an exception to the rule: she carried three genomes, making her a "triploid" organism. Analysis of her DNA revealed that most of the genes taken from males of other species—Ambystoma laterale, Ambystoma texanum, and Ambystoma tigrinum—had been expressed equally. Genes make us who we are by instructing our cells to make certain proteins at certain times, contributing to specific bodily structures and processes. We say a gene is "expressed" when it's allowed to do the thing it's meant to do, leading to some physical result. If you've got multiple genomes kicking around, you probably have genes that don't need to be turned on—they might be duplicates of a gene from another source, or even produce proteins that conflict with those made by different genes. According to the new study, while a salamander seems to pass her ill-begotten genes down in all manner of assorted mixtures, her daughter is likely to use the resulting genomes pretty equally to dictate her bodily functions. That's unusual in the world of hybrids.

"That surprised us," Neiman says. "When you have hybrids, you usually think one genome is going to be used preferentially while the other is shut down. But these questions are typically asked in the context of plant hybrids." Many of the crops we grow today have been hybridized so much throughout their evolutionary history that they now carry many genomes; wheat has six copies of each of its seven chromosomes. Scientists know an awful lot more about plant hybrids than strange critters like these salamanders, Neiman says, but it's possible that a better understanding of how the extreme gene swapping works could help us breed better crops in the future.

"You start to wonder if this ability to have so much genomic flexibility set them up to be able to use their bizarre method of reproduction," she says. "Does this mean that in general, animals are more flexible about genome use than plants?" Answering that question could help us understand more about how the two kingdoms evolved.

It could be that this balance is key to keeping the (kind of absurd) method of procreation going. “If you have a team that’s unbalanced and loses a top player, you won’t win,” Kyle McElroy, a graduate student in Neiman’s lab and the paper’s corresponding author, said in a statement. “But if every player is equal, then you don’t lose as much.”

Neiman and her colleagues can't be sure whether the genome equality persists as things get more crowded. The follow-up study that's "just crying out to be done," Neiman says, would be to examine a salamander with even more genomes—some females are born carrying a genome from five different species of Ambystoma. More study is definitely needed to suss out these strange salamanders.

The promiscuity of Ambystoma can be hard to wrap your head around if you think of species in the way most of us learn about them in school: individuals that can reproduce with one another. Hybrids like the unisexual members of Ambystoma muck that all up: they actually need to mate with multiple species in order to avoid extinction. And far from being sterile mules, their daughters continue to exhibit the incredible ability to steal and reconfigure genes for generation after generation. But Neiman says that the creatures are just one example of how fluid biology truly is.

"You’re talking to an evolutionary biologist who thinks a lot of the talk about speciation is just hype," she says. "We’re humans, we like to put things in categories. But I’m not crazy about the idea that species are concrete in biology, outside of human context. Defining a species is useful in terms of research, but I'd say these salamanders demonstrate the messiness of biology and evolution—the fascinating and complicated reality that remains when you take the human need to put things into neat categories out of the picture."
5) Group monitoring the amphibians in the Western Ghats, India, records increase of number of rare species found.

By Deepthi Sanjiv, Bangalore Mirror Bureau 6/14/17

In an attempt to understand the importance of frogs, the Bisle Kappe Team – a group of likeminded individuals have been organising the Bisle Frog Watch in the pristine Western Ghats for the past six years. The result-they have been observing an increase in the species recorded and with the permission of the forest department hope to explore more places in the future.

Vineeth Kumar from the team as well research scholar at Mangalore University told BM the Bisle Frog Watch was launched in 2012 by two techies, Vivek and Deepika, who moved to the US in 2015. From then on, a group of enthusiasts have taken it forward.

This year, the team organised this event as part of the Citizen Science Initiative in association with the Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation and the Bengaluru-based Gubbi Labs from June 9-11. The aim is to introduce people to the world of lesser known creatures- amphibians. A group of 23 enthusiasts from various fields, including students researchers, doctors and engineers, participated in informal classroom sessions were participants were introduced to the world of amphibians- their taxonomy, ecology and behaviour, along with the talk on conservation and citizen science. In the field sessions, participants learned how to identify different frogs and toads by using key characters and also observed various behavioural aspects.

The core Bisle Kappe team includes Rohit S Rao, CEO Crystal Electronics, Shashwat Jaiswal- a mechanical engineer working in a private company in Bengaluru and Vineeth Kumar.

Resource persons for the workshop included Dr K V Gururaja, faculty at the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology and batrachologist Dr Sudhira HS from Gubbi Labs, Niren Jain co-ordinator Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation, Madhushri Mudke blogger and conservationist from Manipal and Vineeth Kumar. The workshop was supported by Ashok Vardhan Green enthusiast and the team visited ‘Asoka Vana’and Bisle Beauty Spot.

Vineeth Kumar said, “I have been part of this team, first as a student and now as an organiser. A total of 33 people participated in the frog watch. We observed the behaviour, mating as well as calling patterns and explored of spots around the community hall. We even saw dancing frogs. We also observed endangered species such as small tree frogs in good numbers. Handling of frogs was restricted to prevent the possible spread of fungal infections,” said Vineeth.

Dr Gururaj said the number of frog enthusiasts is increasing. “Despite notification about the event being an internal circulation, about 50 people responded, but we had to restrict the number to 33,” he said.

Species recorded


* Fejervarya caperata (Common cricket frog)
* Fejervarya mudduraja (Mudduraja’s cricket frog)
* Fejervarya granosa (Granular cricket frog)
* Fejervarya kudremukhensis (Kudremukh cricket frog)
* Hoplobatrachus tigerinus (Indian bull frog)
* Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis ( Common skittering frog)


* Duttaphrynus melanostictus (Common Indian toad)


* Microhyla sholigari (Sholiga’s narrow mouthed frog)
* Microhyla ornata ( ornate narrow mouthed frog)
* Uperodon mormoratus ( Marbled ramanella)
* Uperodon triangularis ( Triangular narrow-mouthed frog)


* Nyctibatrachus kempholeyensis (Kempholey Night frog)
* Nyctibatrachus spp.


* Micrixalus saxicola (black torrent frog)
* Micrixalus elegans (elegant dancing frog)


* Pseudophilautus wynaadensis ( Wayanad bush frog)
* Raorchestes luteolus ( Coorg yellow bush frog)
* Raorchestes glandulosus ( Glandular bush frog)
* Raorchestes tuberohumerus ( Konb handed bush frog)
* Rhacophorus malabaricus (Malabar gliding frog)
* Rhacophorus lateralis ( Small tree frog)
* Polypedates occidentalis (Western tree frog)


* Indirana semipalmata (Small handed frog)


* Indosylvirana intermedius ( Rao’s intermediate golden backed frog)
* Indosylvirana spp.


* Ichthyophis beddomei
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