Category Archives: Amphibians

Amusing Monday: Young artists inspired by endangered species

I’m hoping you will enjoy another dose of kids’ art, this time related to endangered species. An art contest was recently completed in concert with the 13th annual Endangered Species Day, which was this past Friday.

“Hawksbill Sea Turtle” by grand prize winner Brandon Xie, a fourth-grader in Lexington, Mass.
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

More than 1,500 students from around the United States entered this year’s “Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest,” according to organizers. The goal of the contest is to encourage public appreciation for imperiled wildlife and to increase support for saving endangered species.

“The artwork created by this generation of young people is clearly demonstrating how they think deeply about the plight of endangered species,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, which sponsors the contest. “It is clear that they recognize not just our role in impacting wildlife and plants, but also our opportunities to bring them back from the brink of extinction. Each work of art is an inspiration to all of us to do more, to save more,” she said in a statement.

“Humpback Whale” by first-place winner Erin Dong, a ninth grader from Santa Clara, Calif.
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

The grand prize winner is Brandon Xie, a fourth-grader in Lexington, Mass. He received his award last week in Washington, D.C., during a reception of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. His prize will include art supplies and a lesson from a professional wildlife artist.

The first-place winner in the art contest is Erin Dong, a ninth grader from Santa Clara, Calif. Top winners in the various grade categories:

  • Kindergarten-second grade: Sean Lam, a first-grader in Great Neck, N.Y.
  • Grades 3-5: : Kyle Xu, a third-grader in East Brunswick, N.J.
  • Grades 6-8: Maggie Wu, a sixth-grader in Great Neck, N.Y.
  • Grades 9-12: Colin Phillips, an 11th-grader in Ikemos, Mich.

See all the winners on the Endangered Species Coalition website.

“Blue-tailed Skink” by kindergarten-second grade winner Sean Lam, a first-grader in Great Neck, N.Y.
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

Contest winners were selected by a panel of prestigious artists, photographers and conservationists, who first narrowed down the entries to 40 semi-finalists (10 for each category). The artwork can be viewed by following links on the Endangered Species Coalition website.

Judges included Wyland, a renowned marine life artist; Jack Hanna, host of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild; David Littschwager, a freelance photographer and contributor to National Geographic Magazine; Susan Middletown, a photographer whose work has been published in four books; and Alice Tangerini, botanical illustrator for the Smithsonian Institution.

The Endangered Species Coalition recently celebrated the successful recovery of 12 listed species. The 12 species and their descriptions can be found on the ESC blog:

  • Bald eagle
  • American alligator
  • Green sea turtle
  • Piping plover
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Channel Island fox
  • Humpback whale
  • Puerto Rican parrot
  • Robbins’ Cinquefoil
  • Whooping crane
  • Brown pelican
  • California condor

New bridges provide improved habitat in two Kitsap County creeks

Contractors are putting the final touches on two new bridges in Kitsap County, both of which are expected to improve the local environment.

A new bridge over the Carpenter Creek Estuary near Kingston helps to restore the upper salt marsh.
Photo; Stillwaters Environmental Center

One is a 150-foot bridge that crosses the Carpenter Creek Estuary on West Kingston Road near Kingston. The other is a 50-foot bridge that crosses Big Anderson Creek on Seabeck-Holly Road near Holly.

Among local residents, the Carpenter Creek bridge may best be known as the bridge that blocked traffic and forced a detour near Kingston for more than a year — much longer than originally planned. (Recall reporter Nathan Pilling’s story in the Kitsap Sun.) While contract issues remain in dispute, the environmental benefits are clear, according to Joleen Palmer of the nearby Stillwaters Environmental Center.

The old roadway across the estuary acted like a dam to impede flows upstream and downstream.
Photo: Stillwaters Environmental Center

Replacement of a 5-foot culvert with the bridge over the estuary has obvious benefits for salmon that must fight the current to go upstream to spawn, Joleen told me, but people may not appreciate the importance of the much-expanded salt marsh.

When the roadbed was installed nearly a century ago, it formed a dam, causing water in the stream to back up, which encouraged freshwater vegetation. The saltwater influence was greatly reduced, and critical nutrients coming downstream were deposited before they reached Puget Sound.

The new bridge will allow saltwater to come and go with the tides and for nutrients to flow out more freely. Juvenile salmon coming downstream can pause to grow and acclimate to the saltier conditions they will face.

Salt marshes, which were filled in all too often years ago, are considered highly productive, because dead organic material — detritus — from the stream and estuary feeds bacteria, insects, worms and a multitude of other tiny creatures at the base of the food web.

“Salt marshes are really detritus-based ecosystems,” Joleen said. “You have many invertebrates that eat the detritus and other decomposers. The food sources reach out into the estuary and nearshore habitat to fuel the marine food web. It is not insignificant that the area is now opened up.”

Side channels in the marsh will provide refuge for young fish to grow before they head out to sea. To varying extents, the stream, marsh and estuary are expected to support coho, chinook and chum salmon along with steelhead and cutthroat trout.

Volunteers and students have been monitoring conditions in the watershed to measure the changes taking place. The latest addition to the monitoring effort is an ongoing search for the invasive European green crab. The volunteer program, called the Crab Team, is managed by Washington Sea Grant.

“The estuary is still some distance from known populations of invasive European green crab,” writes Cindi Nevins, a North Kitsap resident who joined the team, “but if the green crabs ever do arrive at Carpenter Creek, they will find exactly the kind of space they love: salt marsh channels, marsh vegetation and quiet lagoon-like waters. Why do we think they’ll love it? Because hairy shore crabs (Hemigrapsus oregonensis) do!”

Throughout Puget Sound, Crab Team members catch and identify hundreds of thousands of crabs in marsh habitat suitable for both the natives and the invaders. The volunteers hope never to catch a green crab, but some green crabs have been found in a few places in Northern Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By intensifying the trapping effort, the Crab Team hopes to eradicate the invaders, or at least keep them under control.

Cindi’s report, published in the Crab Team’s newsletter, goes on to describe the challenge of catching crabs in the Carpenter Creek marsh, which often drains completely at low tide. Because the traps must be kept submerged to be effective, the volunteers are often forced to set the traps in the evening as the tide comes in and retrieve them early the next morning before the tide goes out.

To celebrate completion of the new bridge, everyone is invited to celebrate “Estuary Restoration Day” on Saturday, June 9, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Stillwaters Environmental Center, 26059 Barber Cut Off Road, Kingston.

The program will include guided tours to the marsh, live music, food and a native plant sale. Those involved with various aspects of the project will receive special recognition.

For information and videos about the marsh, visit the Stillwaters website.

The new bridge over Big Anderson Creek near Holly is nearly twice as long as the old one.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

The bridge over Big Anderson Creek near Holly is more of a highway-safety project than an ecosystem-restoration effort. The wooden bridge, 67 years old, was the last bridge in Kitsap County to be rated structurally deficient because of its overall poor condition. Check out the story in the Kitsap Sun by reporter Ed Friedrich.

Still, the new concrete bridge, which spans 50 feet of stream, is nearly twice as long as the old bridge. That will allow the stream to meander more naturally and at a rate that sandbars can form nearby. At high flows, the stream won’t be squeezed as much through the space under the bridge.

The old wooden bridge over Big Anderson Creek was rated structurally deficient by inspectors.
Photo: Kitsap County Public Works

By the way, the official name of the stream is “Anderson Creek,” allowing confusion with two other streams named “Anderson” in Kitsap County alone. I prefer to call it “Big Anderson,” in conformance to tradition by area residents and local institutions. For a further explanation of the issue, read Water Ways, June 22, 2017.

Pesticides and salmon: Can we see a light at the end of the tunnel?

Once again, the National Marine Fisheries Service has determined in official findings that three common pesticides — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — raise the risk of extinction for threatened and endangered salmon.

A crop duster sprays pesticide on a field near an irrigation ditch.
Photo: NOAA/USFWS

By extension, for the first time, the agency also concluded that those same pesticides threaten Puget Sound’s endangered orca population by putting their prey — chinook and other salmon — at risk.

This politically and legally charged issue — which has been around for more than 15 years — has gone beyond a debate over potential harm from pesticides. It also raises uncomfortable questions about whether our society will follow science as we try to solve environmental problems.

The immediate finding of “jeopardy” — meaning that the three pesticides pose a risk of extinction — comes in a biological opinion (PDF 415.6 mb) that is more than 3,700 pages long and covers not just salmon but, for the first time, dozens of other marine species on the Endangered Species List.

The report follows a scientific methodology for assessing the effects of pesticides that arises from suggestions by the National Academy of Sciences. The NAS report (PDF 14.2 mb) attempted to reconcile differing methods of assessing risk that had been used by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NMFS.

EPA’s original assessment raised no concerns about the effect of these pesticides on the survival of salmon populations. The original lawsuit by environmental groups forced the EPA to “consult” with NMFS, as required by the Endangered Species Act. The result was the first jeopardy finding in 2008. For background, see Water Ways, Aug. 11, 2008, in which I reported that the long wait for regulatory action on pesticides may be about over. Little did I know.

The biological opinion, or BiOp for short, examines both the direct harms to species exposed to pesticides — such as effects on behavior, reproduction and immune function — as well as indirect effects — such as whether the pesticides wipe out insects needed for the fish to eat.

The new BiOp is considered a pilot study for future pesticide assessments.

“Notably,” states the document, “this Opinion represents the first consultation using newly developed approaches and the first to assess all listed species throughout the U.S., its territories, and protectorates. Future Opinions regarding pesticides may utilize different analyses and approaches as the interagency consultation effort proceeds.”

The next step is for the EPA to restrict the use of the pesticides to reduce the risks for salmon and other species. Among suggested measures, the BiOp says those who use pesticides must limit the total amount of chemicals applied in high-risk areas, such as streams. No-spray buffers or similar alternatives are suggested.

Interim no-spray buffers, established by the courts, will remain in effect until the EPA takes action. The interim buffers were put on, taken off, and are back on as a result of the lengthy court battle between the agencies and environmental groups. Pesticide manufacturers have weighed in, arguing about the need for pesticides without undue restrictions.

The Trump administration asked the court for a two-year delay in the release of the BiOp, but NMFS ultimately met the deadline when the judge failed to rule on the request in time to make a difference.

I discussed some of the ongoing intrigue and a bit of history in a Water Ways post last August, after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reversed course on an impending ban on chlorpyrifos. The proposed ban, approved during the Obama administration, came in response to studies that showed how the chemical could adversely affect children’s brains.

Although it took legal action to get to this point, agency and independent scientists have worked together to study the problem and come up with solutions. The question now is whether policymakers and politicians will take reasonable steps to reduce the risks based upon these findings, which are complex, evolving and rarely definitive for all time.

As I was going back through the blog posts I’ve written about pesticides, I recalled that President George W. Bush wanted to limit scientific consultations in an effort to streamline the regulatory process — much as President Trump’s people are doing today. Check out Water Ways from March 4, 2009, which shows a video of President Obama reversing the Bush policy and speaking out for increased input from scientists.

When it comes to human health and the environment, it is good to remember that without the work of scientists, many species throughout the world would have been wiped out long ago. Human cancer, disease and brain impairment would be far worse today without regulations based on scientific findings. Science can tell us about the risk of pesticides and other threats to salmon and orcas. But knowledge is not enough. People must take reasonable actions to protect themselves and the environment. And so the story goes on.

Last week, Earthjustice, which represents environmental groups in the legal battle, released the biological opinion, which had been sent by NOAA as part of the legal case. The group posted links to the document and related information in a news release. As far as I know, nobody in the Trump administration has spoken about the findings.

Amusing Monday: Gator Girls have an unusual passion for scaly reptiles

They’re called the Gator Girls, because of their personal and affectionate connections to alligators — which we all know can be dangerous to people who get in their way.

I don’t believe the three Gator Girls featured this week in “Water Ways” know each other, but all have become fairly well known on the Internet for their videos and Instagram pages.

Gabby Scampone, 22, started out as a pet sitter with an affinity for snakes and reptiles.

“I hold them and let them move freely in my hands and arms,” she told Emily Chan of London’s Daily Mail Online last year. “I don’t restrain them or pin them behind the head, which is why they don’t bite me.”

Since then, Gabby has moved from Westchester, N.Y., where she attended college and started her business, to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she now “wrestles” alligators as a volunteer at Everglades Holiday Park. She also works for the associated Gator Boys Alligator Rescue, where she helps remove nuisance alligators from people’s backyards. Check out reporter Kelly McLaughlin’s follow-up story at Daily Mail Online.

Gabby says she is living her dream, as she chronicles her story on Instagram, where she has about 7,600 followers with more joining every day since the latest story came out. Her goal is to keep all her fingers as she continues handling the sharp-toothed gators up close and personal.

I can understand the apprehension of some of her followers. “This is not going to end well,” writes one commenter on the Daily Mail story.

Florida residents with gator problems apparently have been reaching out to Gabby and her rescue team to safely remove large reptiles from their yards.

“Unfortunatelly, that isn’t how it works,” she writes on her Instagram page. “You cannot call me or Paul personally, or even the rescue. By law, I cannot legally touch an alligator I do not have a permit for. If you have a nuisance alligator, you have to call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline, and they will issue a permit to a trapper in your area.

“Unfortunately,” she continues, “you cannot request specific trappers, and 95% of the time other trappers will kill the alligator. (The trapper sells the alligator for its meat and hide; you don’t get paid otherwise.) The best thing to do is to educate yourself and learn how to co-exist with these animals. Never feed a wild alligator; don’t let your pets (or friends, children, yourself) swim in the water; and put up vertical fences.

“By law, any nuisance alligator over 4 feet long must be destroyed/harvested or kept in captivity for life. We have about 1.4 to 2 million alligators in Florida. Learning how to peacefully live with these animals is key!”

An even younger Gator Girl is Samantha Young, featured in a video wrestling alligators at 9 years old at the family-owned Colorado Gators Reptile Park. Her parents, Jay and Erin Young, thought it would be safer for her to live on the alligator farm if she knew how to handle the animals.

“We’ve never been too worried about Samantha wrestling alligators, because she’s been around them her whole life,” her father said in the YouTube video. “And she needed to handle them as she grew up, so she would learn about them and understand them. It would be more dangerous to not let her handle the alligators and then one day she would poke one that she’s not supposed to and get hurt, so it’s actually much safer to let her wrestle them and teach her how to do it properly.”

Samantha is older now, as shown in later photos for a story in The Daily Mail, which seems to like alligator stories.

“I need to know how to wrestle them because they are all around me, so it is safer that way,” Samantha says. “And it looks cool for when my friends come round to the park. I like the looks on adults’ faces when they see me do it and I show them how.”

Gator Girl Angela Lance of Pennsylvania is in a class by herself with a pet alligator named LillyGator. Angela dresses her pet in colorful outfits, paints her nails and kind of snuggles with her pet as she gives massages. Angela says this may be the most pampered gator in the world.

Angela’s life with alligators began about six years ago, when she rescued an alligator being kept in poor conditions. She nursed the animal back to health and eventually turned it over to a sanctuary. But she couldn’t resist getting another alligator, so she bought Lilly as a 2-day-old hatchling about five years ago and has raised her since, according to an online article in People magazine.

As odd as it may be to dress up an alligator, Angela seems to have some inkling of what she is doing. As she writes on her Instagram page, with something similar posed on Zazzle, “PLEASE do not mistake my photos to mean gators are good pets. They are dangerous, EXPENSIVE, & require a lot of time/effort.”

As I was writing this blog post, I kept thinking of a cartoon from my childhood, “Wally Gator,” shown in the video below. Stories about this crazy alligator, created for Hannah-Barbera Productions, ran for the first time from Sept. 3, 1962, to Aug. 30, 1963, according to Wikipedia.

Although his theme song calls him a “swingin’ alligator of the swamp,” Wally actually lives in a zoo, where the zookeeper, Mr. Twiddle, tries to keep him contained. Wally keeps wandering away from the zoo and getting into trouble, but he always comes back.

For other alligator facts, jokes and oddities, check out my Water Ways entry from Feb. 29, 2016.

Amusing Monday: Stunning photos shared from around the world

More than 25,000 photographs taken throughout the world were submitted for judging in this year’s prestigious National Wildlife Photo Contest.

Second-place in category Baby Animals: This leatherback sea turtle was seen at Sunset in Trinidad.
Photographer: Sean Crane, Scarsdale, N.Y.

Subjects ranged from an elephant trudging across a barren plain to a green sweat bee perched on a blue flower. Without exception, the winning images were stunning, to say the least.

The annual contest is sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation and “National Wildlife” magazine.

First- and second-place winners were named in seven categories: Baby Animals, Backyard Habitats, Birds, Landscapes and Plants, Mammals, Other Wildlife and People in Nature. In addition, a grand-prize winner was selected from among all the best entries. Images on this page can be enlarged by clicking on the photo.

First place in category Landscapes and Plants: Thunderstorms billow across a Kansas plain.
Photographer: Donald Caffrey, Goddard, Kans.

One of my favorite pictures shows a newly hatched leatherback sea turtle facing his future in the wide-open ocean. The image was shot at sunset in Trinidad by Sean Crane of Scarsdale, N.Y., who helped other volunteers protect three nests of hatchlings from circling vultures. The picture took a second-place award in the category “Baby Animals.”

Growing up in Kansas until age 17, I’ve seen plenty of thunderstorms, including a few funnel clouds. But I have never seen a blue refracted light in the clouds, such as revealed in an image by photographer Donald Caffrey of Goddard, Kans. The details captured in the billowing clouds stand in stark contrast to the simple landscape that goes on for miles. The photo captured first place in the category “Landscapes and Plants.”

First place in category Mammals: A mother lion rests nose-to-nose with her young offspring in Kenya.
Photographer: Majed Ali, Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Who can resist the emotional connection between a mother and her offspring? A photo of a lion and her cubs exudes a feeling of comfort, whether or not this arises out of our human perspective. Photographer Majed Ali of Kuwait City, Kuwait, spotted the eye of the mother lion through some brush in Kenya’s Olare Motorogi Conservancy. Majed recalled this moment when he wrote, “This photo attracts me because of the tenderness of the family. There is love in the frame.” The photo took first place in category “Mammals.”

All the winning entries can be seen on the National Wildlife Federation page “Eye of the Beholder.”

Next year’s contest will be open for submissions on Jan. 8. For details, check out the photo contest page of NWF.

Lights could be creating problems for salmon, seabirds and more

Bright lights that affect the behavior of birds, fish and other wildlife are emerging as a significant environmental concern.

Endangered Hawaiian Petrel
Photo: B. Zaun, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Yesterday, for example, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Hawai’i Department of Transportation for bright lights the agency controls at piers and airports. The groups say three species of seabirds on the Endangered Species List have been circling the lights until the birds drop from exhaustion, and some birds have died.

Meanwhile, in Lake Washington and the nearby Cedar River in King County, there is evidence that threatened chinook salmon are at greater risk from predators because of lights on the two floating bridges as well as industrial facilities in Renton.

In Florida, researchers have discovered that female turtles avoid coming ashore to lay their eggs where bright lights are present, and in Virginia salamanders have delayed their feeding efforts in the glare of lights.

The lawsuit in Hawaii was filed by lawyers for Earthjustice out of concern for three species of seabirds: Newell’s shearwater, a threatened species, and Hawaiian petrels and band-rumped storm petrels, both endangered species.

The Hawai’I Department of Transportation has failed to protect the birds, as required by the Endangered Species Act, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Āina, Conservation Council and the Center for Biodiversity. Because the lighting is injuring and killing listed species, the state agency must obtain an incidental take permit and initiate actions to minimize harm, the lawsuit says. For details, see the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (PDF 1.4 mb).

Lights at airports and harbor facilities have been documented as the greatest source of injury and death to the seabirds, which migrate at night and become disoriented by the artificial lights, the complaint asserts. Some birds crash into buildings, while others end up on the ground where they may be struck by vehicles or eaten by predators.

Since the 1990s, the Newell’s shearwaters have declined by 94 percent and the Hawaiian petrels on the island of Kauai have dropped by 78 percent.

“Our ancestors depended on the ‘a‘o (Newell’s shearwater), ‘ua‘u (Hawaiian petrel) and ‘akē‘akē (band-rumped storm-petrel) to help locate schools of fish, to navigate from island to island and to know when the weather is changing,” Kauai fisherman Jeff Chandler was quoted as saying in a news release from Earthjustice.

According to the news release, the Department of Transportation dropped out of talks with state and federal wildlife agencies that are developing a habitat conservation plan to protect the seabirds. After Earthjustice filed a notice of intent to sue, the agency rejoined the talks.

“That’s a good start, but talk alone will do nothing to save these rare and important animals from extinction,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “It’s long past time for the department to take action, not only on Kauai, but everywhere in the state that its operations illegally kill seabirds.”

Lake Washington chinook

As for the lights on and around Lake Washington, I have not heard of any proposed lawsuits to protect the threatened Puget Sound chinook, but concerns continue to simmer.

Lights on the Highway 520 bridge
Photo: Washington Dept. of Transportation

Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz, salmon recovery manager for the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed, told me that the next regional chapter of the chinook recovery plan will call for further study into the effects of lights on juvenile chinook migrating down the Cedar River and through Lake Washington.

“The technical folks have identified light as a potential emerging issue,” Jason said. “We don’t have a good handle on what the impacts are.”

Lights on Lake Washington may be creating a double whammy for young chinook, Jason said. First, the lights attract the fish, which slow down their migration to Puget Sound. Second, the lights keep them visible to predators at night, so the fish may be eaten 24 hours a day.

“Juvenile salmon don’t have a nighttime respite,” Jason said. “At least that’s the hypothesis.”

Nonnative predatory fish include bass, walleye and northern pike. Native predators include cutthroat trout and pike minnow. Predatory birds include the western grebe and great blue heron.

An updated chinook recovery plan for the Lake Washington region is under review and could be finalized this fall. Predation is getting some additional attention this time around, Jason said, and the issue of lights is something that needs more study.

Experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have identified potential concerns with lighting along Lake Washington in a series of studies going back more than 10 years. It still isn’t clear, however, how much the known problems with predators are exacerbated by bright lights. That’s why more studies are needed.

Following complaints from residents of Laurelhurst near the Highway 520 bridge, the Washington Department of Transportation reduced the amount of illumination coming off that bridge, and further investigation is underway. Check out the King-5 News report below.

Other species

With regard to other species, lights are known to have a variety of effects. Reporter Sharon Guynup outlined the problems for birds, turtles, amphibians, mammals and even insects in a revealing story in National Geographic News, April 17, 2003.

A group of British researchers from the University of Exeter compiled a list of the known effects of light on various species while considering the role of artificial lighting. See “The ecological impacts of nighttime light pollution; a mechanistic appraisal” in Biological Reviews.

Hood Canal nominated as Sentinel Landscape with ties to military

Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both the natural resource values and the national defense mission of special areas across the country.

USS Henry M. Jackson, a Trident submarine, moves through Hood Canal in February on a return trip to Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith

If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense supporting the protection of Hood Canal.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where their priorities overlap, according to the 2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).

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Amusing Monday: Alligators are uniquely odd and amazing

I don’t believe I’ve ever written about alligators, probably because they don’t live in the Northwest, and it’s not easy to find their amusing side. But American alligators are interesting, once you get to know them.

I’ve never noticed that alligators have two kinds of walks while traveling on land. Their ankles flex in a different way than most reptiles. There is a “high walk,” in which the alligator pushes itself up from the ground and moves quickly. This walk resembles that of four-legged mammals.

They also do the “low walk,” a sprawling locomotion in which their belly slides along the ground, though somewhat different from a salamander or lizard. Although they normally move slowly, some alligators can reach nearly 10 miles per hour in the high walk during short bursts.

Alligator on bicycle by American Apparel. Click for website.
Alligator on bicycle by American Apparel. Click for website.

Alligators are common in cartoons, both still and animated. Here I feature a music video with the theme song of a musical group based in Finland, Arnie Alligator and the Jungle Drum. Among the many alligator characters invented through the years is Wally Gator, a character by Hanna-Barbera that I remember from my childhood. All the Wally Gator cartoons can be seen on Kiss Cartoon.

Collectible Florida Gator mug.
Collectible Florida Gator mug.

In addition to cartoons, we find lots of alligators on T-shirts, coffee mugs and other items, especially among students at the University of Florida, where the mascot is the Gator.

A few alligator jokes:

Q: Why don’t alligators like fast food?
A: Because they can’t catch it!

Q: What do you get if you cross an alligator with a flower?
A: I don’t know, but I’m not going to smell it!

Q: What do you call an alligator in a vest?
A: An Investigator

Q: What do you call an alligator that sneaks up and bites you from behind?
A: A tail-gator.

Q: Why shouldn’t you taunt an alligator?
A: Because it might come back to bite you in the end.

Customer: “Do you have alligator shoes?”
Clerk: “Yes, sir. What size does your alligator wear?”

A man walked into a Florida bar with his alligator and asked the bartender: “Do you serve lawyers here?”
Bartender: “Sure.”
Man: “Good. One beer for me and a lawyer for my alligator.”

Q: Is it true an alligator won’t attack you if you are carrying a flashlight?
A: It depends on how fast you are carrying it.

Q: How do you tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?
A: You will see one later and one in a while.

Most of these jokes are from the website Jokes 4 Us, which probably picked them up from somewhere else.

More facts about alligators from Wired magazine:

  • Alligators continue to grow throughout their lifetime. Male American alligators average 8 to 10 feet long, females slightly smaller. Very old males can get up to 15 feet long.
  • Alligators are apex predators, eating fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. But they have also been found to have a vegetarian side. The can eat fruit directly from trees, including wild grapes, elderberries and citrus fruits.
  • The temperature at which an alligator’s eggs develop will determine whether the offspring are male or female. Temperatures above 93 degrees will result in males. Temperatures below 86 degrees will result in females. Temperatures in-between produce both sexes.
  • Alligators make a variety of sounds, although they have no vocal cords. By blowing out air, they produce calls for claiming territory, signaling distress, threatening competitors and finding mates. Besides such bellowing, they can growl, hiss and make a cough-like sound called a chumpf.

Amusing Monday: Wolves found to catch and eat wild salmon

I’m amused by this looping video, which shows a bear waiting for a fish to appear. In the background, a wolf reaches down nonchalantly, bites into a large salmon and carries it away.

Not long ago, it was widely believed that bears love salmon but that wolves prefer deer, elk, moose and related animals whenever they can find them. Now we know, from careful observations in Alaska, that wolves will go after salmon when they get the opportunity.

Researcher Dave Person of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says wolves will seek out tidally affected streams where they can find salmon passing through shallow water and trapped in pools.

“They’re not as skillful as bears at fishing,” Person told Riley Woodford, reporting for Alaska Fish and Wildlife News. “Each year, they spend over a month in estuary areas, with the pups. It’s right in middle of pink and chum runs, and we watch them eat salmon all the time. There are lots of places they could go; I think they go there for the fish.”

Based on the video, I would have to say that wolves are pretty good at catching fish upstream as well.

Salmon may have gone unnoticed as a staple in the wolves’ diet, because the entire salmon, bones and all, are digested by wolves, leaving no signs of fish in their scat — unlike the bones and fur discovered after they eat a deer or other mammal.

Another Alaskan biologist, Shelly Szepanski, has been studying the stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in wolf bones to see whether the bones are made of elements that come from the land or the sea. She found that salmon appeared to make up as much as 20 percent of the diet of wolves living in coastal areas of Southeast Alaska, compared to 10 percent of those living farther inland.

As I continued to look at the video of the bear and wolf fishing for salmon, I wondered if they ever interacted and how things might turn out in a head-to-head fight. I was able to find a video that demonstrates that a bear might get the best of a wolf in a one-on-one battle, but we can never forget that wolves often travel in packs. If you watch to the end, you will see who takes charge of the meal in question.

For another video showing wolves eating salmon, in which a bear plays a minor role, check out this video posted by Tinekemike.

Speaking of fights, I am still amazed at the video below, which shows a leopard swimming across a stretch of water, grabbing onto a crocodile and dragging it back into the water. I never would have guessed that a croc could be defeated in or around water like that — but it looks like he never saw the cat coming until it was too late.

Amazing image of gray herons comes after
much experimentation

I can always count on the annual National Wildlife Photo Contest to provide some amazing water-related photos — and the 2014 contest was no exception.

This is the 44th year for the contest, sponsored by National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation. This year’s contest attracted more than 29,000 entries, according to a statement accompanying the winning photographs.

herons

The winner of the Grand Prize, Hungarian photographer Bence Mate, spent 74 nights in a blind over a period of several years to figure out how to capture this remarkable image of gray herons in Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park.

By experimenting with his camera gear, he was able to capture a clear image of the birds and water in dim light, while also showing us the stars, which were not in the same depth of field. His home-made equipment was able to achieve good exposure throughout the scene.

“I made the photo with a fish-eye lens that was less than a meter away from the closest bird and had to be careful not to scare the herons with noise or light,” he was quoted as saying.

The birds kept moving during the 32 seconds that the shutter was open, “and they created interesting forms in front of the starry sky,” he noted.

frog

I like the whimsical appearance of this bullfrog, captured by Cheryl Rose of Hopkinton, Mass., as she explored Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary in Central Massachusetts. The water seems to wrap around the log, becoming part of the sky with clouds in the distance.

“There were so many frogs in this pond,” she said, “but this one gave me the perfect pose.”

The photo won second place in the Other Wildlife category — a category for something other than birds, mammals, baby animals and backyard wildlife.

First place in the Baby Animals category went to Nathan Goshgarian of Woburn, Mass., who watching as this mallard duckling leaped at flies swarming over Horn Pond in his city.

ducks

“It had the incredible ability to select a single fly from the seemingly random movements of the swarm and launch itself out of the water,” he said.

Check out 17 stunning photographs, with comments from the photographers, on the National Wildlife website.