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Archive for the ‘Amphibians’ Category

Amusing Monday: Blobfish earns uncommon respect

Monday, October 21st, 2013

We know about beauty contests and cute baby contests, but the competition really worth celebrating is the Ugliest Animal Contest, sponsored by the British-based Ugly Animal Preservation Society.

Blobfish / Kerryn Parkinson, NORFANZ Founding Parties

Blobfish / Kerryn Parkinson, NORFANZ Founding Parties

There were plenty of candidates, from the proboscis monkey, with its large nose, to the Dromedary jumping slug, a slug with a hump on its back known for jumping to escape from predators.

But when more than 3,000 votes were counted last month, the winner, with 795 votes, was the blobfish, a gelatinous fish that lives at great depths off the coast of Australia.

As far as I can tell, nobody asked the blobfish what he thought of this honor. But there was an important theme to the contest. With an estimated 200 species going extinct each day, the ugly animals need special attention, according to Simon Watt, president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, who told The Guardian newspaper:

“We’ve needed an ugly face for endangered animals for a long time, and I’ve been amazed by the public’s reaction. For too long the cute and fluffy animals have taken the limelight, but now the blobfish will be a voice for the mingers who always get forgotten.”

I love that British term “minger,” defined by the Urban Dictionary as “a male or female who fell out of the ugly tree at birth and hit every branch on the way down.”

Simon Watt explains the origins of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society and how the contest came about on a video posted on YouTube.

Adam Gabriel of “Epic Wildlife” took note of the contest and posted his own video on YouTube, which helps us understand the blobfish and his motivations.

When you have time, listen to the comedians who nominated other species for the Ugly Animal Contest. I think you’ll find the following videos educational as well as amusing:

Finally, I have to reflect on the photo of the blobfish, a face that launched a thousand YouTube video players. There are pictures of blobfish and then there is THE PICTURE of a blobfish. This picture has been repeated again and again, apparently without permission, and many of the photo credits are simply wrong.

How THE PICTURE came to be taken during a research expedition is described by Mark McGrouther, collection manager for ichthyology at the Australian Museum. By the time of the Ugliest Animal Contest, the blobfish, known as Mr. Blobby, was already quite famous and beloved in Australia, where he had his own Facebook page and Twitter account. For more about Mr. Blobby, check out this blog on the website of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

If you haven’t gotten your fill of blobfish by now, check out “The Blobfish Song” by Friday Morning Freak House.


Amusing Monday: Animal friends and foes

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Parental instincts are on stark display in this video, below, showing a pair of fish protecting their eggs against an aggressive turtle, who no doubt wants to make a meal of their unhatched offspring.

The conflict takes place in Africa’s Lake Tanganyika. At first glance, you have to wonder how these fish, known as emperor cichlids, could possibly hold off the larger terrapin. But they do.

Another kind of fish-vs-turtle contest is the classic tug-of-war involving a worm. I found two videos in which a goldfish in an aquarium tries to steal a worm from a turtle. In each, the fish is at least partially successful. The longer (2.5-minute) video on Benjenings Channel plays up the drama; the shorter (22-second) video on Stonemanjosh Channel gets right to the moment of truth.

Can a turtle and goldfish be friends? They can, according to this sweet little video by Chibikana70.

But if you want to understand the more common scenario between turtle and goldfish, just search in YouTube for “turtle eating goldfish” and choose from the long list. You’ll find out more about the dark side of life than you wish to know.

I used to include some epic battles in this “Amusing Monday” feature. (Remember the octopus-vs-shark video taken at the Seattle Aquarium?) But some readers objected to violent battles ending in death, so I’ve kind of steered away from them. But I’m still fascinated by closely matched conflicts, such as the alligator against the python. Check out this video from “Nature,” originally broadcast on PBS.

As the narrator of the alligator-python battle explains:

“Alligators were once the undisputed reptile kings of the Everglades. But when push comes to shove, who would win in a battle now, alligator or python? It all depends on which one is bigger.”

Who wins in a battle of bats versus crows? I’m not sure there is an answer, but this well-produced video on BillsChannel is amusing to watch.


Amusing Monday: A friendship of the reptilian kind

Monday, March 19th, 2012

We’ve talked about unusual friendships, but you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the videos showing Gilberto “Chito” Sheeden, a Costa Rican man, wrestling with and even cuddling with Pocho, a 15-foot crocodile.

A story in the London Daily Mail (with some great still photos) quoted Chito in 2009, when he was 52:

“This is a very dangerous routine, but Pocho is my friend and we have a good relationship. He will look me in the eye, and he does not attack me. It is too dangerous for anyone else to come in the water. It is only ever the two of us.”

The pictures of Chito and Pocho tell you more than anyone can describe, but the question remains how such a friendship could ever develop.

As Chito tells it, he found the crocodile close to death about 20 years ago on the shore of a river, where he had been shot in the eye by a farmer who said the crocodile had been feasting on his cattle.

Chito brought the crocodile home, fed him and nursed him back to health, even sleeping at his side. Later, he began to play with him, cautiously at first and then more vigorously over time.

Chito and Pocho became somewhat famous around the world, although I never saw these videos until recently, when Chuck Hower of South Kitsap sent me some still photos showing the pair. Since then, I’ve learned from the Tico Times that the crocodile died in October of natural causes. His age was estimated to be about 50.

Despite reports of the friendship, a story published by “Inside Costa Rica” says crocodiles cannot be tamed, because their brains are too primitive to react other than instinctively — which often means attack.

So why didn’t Pocho attack Chito? Experts at Costa Rica’s inBio Parque, say the bullet that blinded the animal could have affected his brain, eliminating his aggressive tendencies. If Chito had not taken care of Pocho until his final days, the animal surely would have died, because he was unable to fend for himself, the experts said.

I found two other good videos about the friendship on YouTube, one by bTV, the other by Aicirta. I believe the three videos I picked out are among the best, but I was unable to review all of the dozens of videos on YouTube that feature the pair.


A new perspective on creosote log removal

Friday, March 18th, 2011

I’ve always wondered how much ecological good comes from removing old creosote pilings from along the shoreline, as the Washington Department of Natural Resources has been doing in its Creosote Removal Program.

A helicopter transports logs out of the salt marsh at Doe-Keg-Wats near Indianola in Kitsap County
Kitsap Sun photo by Meagan Reid

I was given a new perspective on the problem Tuesday, when I visited the Doe-Keg-Wats estuary. (See my story in Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.) Now I am better able to see the value of removing creosote logs. Still, I wish a few more quantitative field studies would be done.

We all know that creosote, generally made from coal tar, contains numerous toxic chemicals. A study completed in 2006 for the National Marine Fisheries Service, titled “Creosote-Treated Wood in Aquatic Environments: Technical Review and Use Recommendations” (PDF 1.7 mb) talks about the many toxic constituents (p. 52), routes of exposure (p. 53-54) and toxicity (p. 54-65).

The report draws this important conclusion (p. 84):

“Overall, the laboratory and field studies described above indicate that treated wood structures can leach PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and other toxic compounds into the environment. However, the degree of PAH accumulation to sediment associated with these structures appears to be relatively minor in many settings, particularly in well-circulated waters….

“Nevertheless, there are several factors that suggest that a precautionary principle might be applicable to certain treated wood uses. First, the above studies typically have evaluated responses at the community level (e.g., the benthic invertebrate studies) or to tolerant life stages (e.g., adult oysters and mussels). However, the level of environmental protectiveness applied to T&E (threatened and endangered) species (such as endangered salmonids) should occur at the individual rather than the population or community level.

“Moreover, field studies have indicated that PAHs can accumulate to potentially deleterious concentrations in poorly circulated water bodies or when the density of treated wood structures is high compared to the overall surface area of the water body. As a result, site-specific evaluations of risk should be conducted for treated wood projects that are proposed for areas containing sensitive life stages, species of special concern, or where water circulation and dilution are potentially low….”

This brings us to Doe-Keg-Wats, which appears to be one of the most pristine estuaries in the Puget Sound Region. Take a look at the aerial photo at the bottom of this page.

(more…)


Amusing Monday: python versus alligator

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Here’s another battle between species. In November on Water Ways, I repeated a “dramatic” video showing a life-or-death fight between a shark and an octopus. The video was filmed at the Seattle Aquarium and was produced by National Geographic.
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Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

This time, the fight (actually a double billing) is between an alligator and a python in the Florida Everglades, where Burmese pythons are not native but have grown to incredible numbers in recent years. So which animal is the king of the swamp? Left to their own battles, will the alligator survive or will the python become the dominant predator?

This video, taken from a Nature program last year on PBS, shows that individual battles between an alligator and a python depend on the size of the individuals.

The program describes research in which pythons have been found to eat a wide variety of mammals, birds and reptiles. Because the invasive pythons could wipe out endangered species, a serious effort is under way to keep them out of the Florida Keys, where they have not yet established a comfortable home. The invasion is a serious, but interesting, challenge. I can recommend the entire 50-minute episode if you have not seen it.


Environmental ed takes on social challenges

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

Environmental education has undergone a revolution since the first Earth Day 40 years ago, as I describe in a story I wrote for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun, which I called “The Evolution of Environmental Education.”

Poulsbo Elementary first-grader Ella Jagodzinske, 7, looks for worms under a rock in the school's courtyard wildlife habitat.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Now in Washington state, requirements approved by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction are designed to take another huge step in preparing young people to understand all sorts of environmental tradeoffs and write environmental policies for the coming decades.

The word “sustainability” is emphasized in the new “Integrated Environmental and Sustainability Education Learning Standards.” Unlike other educational standards, this new approach does not include specific grade-level expectations.

The standards call for an understanding of: 1) Ecological, social and economic systems, 2) the natural and built environment, and 3) sustainability and civic responsibility.

I hope you’ll read the Sunday piece, which includes an interactive map of environmental programs and projects across the Kitsap Peninsula. You’ll meet Lisa Hawkins, a first-grade teacher who built an outdoor classroom — a certified wildlife habitat — in a courtyard at Poulsbo Elementary School.

This amazing young teacher has a special relationship with her students, especially when they are exploring freely and finding connections among living things.

Here are some links for creating habitats to foster environmental learning at all grade levels.

National Wildlife Federation

Time Out: Using the Outdoors to Enhance Classroom Performance

Certify Your Wildlife Garden

Creative Habitats for Learning

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Schoolyard Habitat Project (Chesapeake)

Schoolyard Habitat Program (Sacramento)

Lisa Hawkins, first-grade teacher at Poulsbo Elementary, engages her students in the wildlife habitat she and an earlier class created in a courtyard at the school.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall


Prison inmates grow giant frogs to be released

Friday, November 20th, 2009

As part of an effort to rebuild Northwest populations of endangered frogs — specifically Oregon spotted frogs — two inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center near Olympia were given 80 frog eggs with the goal of growing them into adult frogs.

<em>Oregon spotted frog</em><br><small> Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife</small>

Oregon spotted frog// Photo courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The two — Harry Greer and Al Delp — not only took the job seriously, their frogs grew larger and with a higher survival rate than identical frogs grown by experts at Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo.

Sarah Waller, a reporter for KUOW News, tells the story well, and I encourage you to listen to her report. Other accounts are provided in a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and in a newspaper story by Jennifer Sullivan of the Seattle Times.

What Sarah Waller does not tell us is why the inmates were able to grow larger frogs, so I contacted Marc Hayes, project leader for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
(more…)


Tony Angell tells an amazing story through his art

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Tony Angell, author, artist and longtime observer of Puget Sound, will make appearances around the region over the next few weeks. The occasion is his new book, titled “Puget Sound Through an Artist’s Eye.”

Pond turtle: Recent work by Tony Angell

Pond turtle: Recent work by Tony Angell

Mike Sato of People for Puget Sound asked Angell to answer some questions about his new book and to describe his observations about changes he has seen over the past 50 years.

I thought Angell’s comments about how an individual can make a difference are worth repeating:

It’s one thing to expect to pull a trout or salmon out of one of our rivers and it’s something else to roll up your sleeves and clean up the banks and spawning beds of that river or stream system so it becomes hospitable to these fish.
You can check off a white winged scoter from your life list of birds to see, but it requires something else to take time to understand what species like this need to remain on our waters as wintering birds.
We might wish to dedicate acres of intertidal habitat to the birds’ welfare, along with other invertebrates, that might even include leaving some clams for the ducks. The possibilities, I think, are endless and the long-term benefits immeasurable.

Here’s the schedule for folks who would like to meet Angell and hear him read from his new book. Appearances begin at 7 p.m., except for the Seattle Public Library at 2 p.m.

Tuesday, Sept. 22: Traditions Café, 300 Fifth Ave. SW, Olympia
Thursday, Sept. 24: Islandwood, 4450 Blakely Ave. NE, Bainbridge Island
Tuesday, Sept. 29: Bellingham Library, 210 Central Ave., Bellingham
Sunday, Oct. 18: Seattle Public Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle
Thursday, Oct. 22: Port Townsend Marine Science Center, 200 Battery Way, Port Townsend


New members appointed to Fish and Wildlife Commission

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Gov. Chris Gregoire has appointed three new members of the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. They are:

David Jennings of Olympia, who has been active in fish and wildlife issues for nearly 20 years, according to the Governor’s Office;
Rollie Schmitten of Lake Chelan, former director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and former director of the National Marine Fisheries Service; and
Brad Smith, dean of Huxley College of Environmental Studies at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

The three will serve terms that end in December 2014. The commission oversees the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages natural resources and regulates hunting and fishing seasons.

Schmitten replaces Jerry Gutzwiler, a Wenatchee orchardist; Smith replaces Will Roehl, a Bellingham attorney; and Jennings replaces Shirley Solomon of Mount Vernon, chairwoman of the Skagit Watershed Council.

More information about the three as well as background on the ongoing commission members:
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Unofficial trails raise questions for future county park

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

It appears that local trailbikers have taken it upon themselves to upgrade makeshift trails on state land in the Newberry Hill area of Kitsap County.

Without permits, a boardwalk was built on state land destined to become a county park.

Without permits, a boardwalk was built on state land destined to become a county park.
Kitsap Sun photo

The work — including installation of wooden boardwalks, concrete pavers and plastic culverts — was all done without permits or review by state or county authorities charged with protecting the environment.

So are these unofficial trail-builders good guys or bad guys?

That is, are they well-meaning folks who just happened to bypass the approval process? Or are they a calculating group trying to ensure that their wishes for the land become stamped into the landscape before anybody can question whether trails are appropriate for certain areas?

Kitsap Sun reporter Brynn Grimley raises this question in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

The state property in question is destined to become part of Kitsap County’s park system, thanks to a proposed land exchange. Those working on the Newberry Hill trials apparently are part of a group that deserve thanks for volunteer work on trails at another county park — Banner Forest. But there appears to be an important difference: Banner Forest went through an extensive planning process to decide what uses were desirable and appropriate given environmental constraints.

I have not been to the property nor discussed it’s environmental values, and I promise to keep an open mind. It does seem fair, however, that when the county goes about planning this park, no priority should be given to keeping open trails that were built illegally — or, to put it more kindly, trails not officially sanctioned. After all, trails can be removed if that’s what people want.

From Brynn’s story:

Planning for the future of the park could get tense as officials wade through the differing opinions of how the land should be used…

The county also probably won’t remove the trails once it acquires the land from the state, said Chip Faver, Kitsap’s parks and recreation director.

But Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown said the public will determine the uses of the park, not one interest group over another.

“An individual or a group doesn’t get to squat on county property and determine its use,” he said. “I don’t want to in any way discredit the work of volunteers, I appreciate their enthusiasm, but they need to work through the public process like the rest of us.”


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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