Komodo Island is closing because people are stealing the dragons

Indonesia government officials are shutting down tourist visits to Komodo Island for 2020 because smugglers are stealing the fantastic Komodo dragons and selling them on the black market. All next year, conservationists will focus on boosting the dragon population and habitat preservation. From CNN:

Though plans to limit the number of Komodo visitors have been under discussion for months, Tempo reports the closure comes in response to the March bust of an alleged smuggling ring in which 41 Komodo lizards were taken from the island and sold abroad for 500 million rupiah each (about $35,000)...

Part of the UNESCO-listed Komodo National Park, Komodo Island has grown increasingly popular in recent years thanks to the addition of new flights and hotels in the nearby town of Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores. The park currently receives an average of 10,000 visitors per month.

According to UNESCO figures, there are more than 5,000 dragons spread across the national park's islands of Komodo, Rinca, Gili Motong and some coastal regions of western and northern Flores.

(image: UNESCO) Read the rest

Man has alligator as emotional support animal

Joei Henney, 65, of Strinestown, Pennsylvania has an alligator as his registered emotional support animal. According to Henney, the 5-foot alligator, named Wally, helps Henney manage his depression. Apparently, the reptile is very generous with his hugs. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

A man who answered an e-mail from a reporter about Wally from the web site Service Dog Registration of America said, "Our therapist would never approve a client to have an alligator as an emotional support animal. "

Henney’s doctor did.

“My doctor wanted to put me on depression medicine, and I hate taking medicine. I had Wally, and when I came home and was around him, it was all OK," he said. “My doctor knew about Wally and figured it works, so why not?”

Wally, Henney cautioned, is still a wild animal, one that could tear his arm off now, and do worse later...

“He has never tried to bite no one,” Henney said. “I don’t push him on to people. I tell people to respect him, not fear him. He will not hurt you.”

images: Joie Henney/Facebook Read the rest

Firefighters rescue more than 100 snakes from home

Over the weekend, firefighters in Conroe, Texas responded to a house fire caused by Christmas tree lights. When they arrived, they were faced with more than 100 snakes and numerous lizards. From CNN:

The reptiles -- which, according to CNN affiliate KTRK included several five- to six-foot-long pythons and boa constrictors -- were in glass cases but still needed to be carried outside the house. With the help of the home's owners, fire crews ferried the snakes to safety...

"The homeowner wasn't willing to give a lot of information on why they had so many snakes. In fact, they told us the snakes don't like people in uniform," Flannelly added. "But as firefighters, we will do anything to help anybody."

Several reptiles died in the fire but the ones that were rescued were transferred to a local facility and are expected to be okay, KTRK reported.

Read the rest

This punk turtle that breathes through its genitals is going extinct

The Mary River Turtle (Elusor macrurus), seen in this marvelous photo by Chris Van Wyk, calls Queensland, Australia its home. It's a fantastic creature with a green mohwawk of algae strands. The Mary River Turtle can stay underwater for up to 72 hours as it breathes through glands in its reproductive organs. Unfortunately, it's also one of the latest animals that the Zoological Society of London's EDGE conservation group added to its list of endangered species. From National Geographic:

The Mary river turtle waddled its way on the list for a number of reasons: it's the only member of its genius, and according to EGDE's website, it became evolutionarily distinct 40 million years ago. Forty million years of Earth's changes, however, wasn't enough to prepare them for 100 years of human intervention.

Their habitat... has been disrupted from dam construction, and the species was widely bought and sold in the pet trade.

Today it's protected by the Australian government, and conservation groups are working to make sure its habitat is preserved.

Read the rest

The century-long fight over how turtles evolved to have shells

Turtles were at the center of a hundred-year evolutionary controversy since the 1887 discovery of a Proganochelys fossil in Germany. AS PBS Eons explains, the question of how turtles got their shells led scientists "to rethink the entire history of reptile evolution." Read the rest

Entire boas and iguanas found in Mexican bottles of mezcal

Looks like the worm at the bottom of a mezcal bottle just isn't enough for some folks. Boas and iguanas stuffed into mezcal bottles are now the thing, at least in Oaxaca, Mexico.

So far, environmental inspectors have seized 15 bottles of “artisanal, wild agave” mezcal that also contained entire reptiles such as "a blood snake, ridge head snake, yellowbelly snake and a whip snake," according to APNews.

Although some adventurous drinkers dare to swallow the worm, these larger critters would require a lot of chewing before swallowing. Good thing that mezcal can reach an alcohol content as high as 55%.

Selling wildlife in Mexico is strictly regulated, so this trend might not last long, at least not on store shelves.

Image: Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE - Western Whip Snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) male close-up (Found by Jean NICOLAS), CC BY-SA 2.0, Link Read the rest

Two-headed snake drinking water

After going down a rabbit hole of watching snakes drinking water, I can say this is the best one: a two-headed albino snake, with one head fighting with the other on getting some water. NEED SNEK DRINX PLS BRO. Read the rest

Watch this iguana run for its life from a snake attack

From BBC's Planet Earth II, intense footage (with an intense soundtrack) from the Galapagos Islands of a newly-hatched iguana chased by racer snakes.

Read the rest

Hipster snake sports mustache and sunglasses

The Texas Park and Wildlife Department recently posted this photo of a particularly stylish Western rat snake.

Read the rest

America's Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake

Why would Alcott Smith, at the time nearly seventy, affable and supposedly of sound mind, a blue-eyed veterinarian with a whittled-down woodman’s frame and lupine stamina, abruptly change his plans (and clothes) for a quiet Memorial Day dinner with his companion, Lou-Anne, and drive from his home in New Hampshire to New York State, north along the western rim of a wild lake, to a cabin on a corrugated dirt lane called Porcupine Hollow? Inside the cabin fifteen men quaffed beer, while outside a twenty-five- inch rattlesnake with a mouth full of porcupine quills idled in a homemade rabbit hutch. It was the snake that had interrupted Smith’s holiday dinner.

Excerpted from Ted Levin's America's Snake. Available from Amazon.

Because of a cascade of consequences there aren’t many left in the Northeast: timber rattlesnakes are classified as a threatened species in New York and an endangered species everywhere in New England except Maine and Rhode Island where they’re already extinct. They could be gone from New Hampshire before the next presidential primary. Among the cognoscenti it’s speculated whether timber rattlesnakes ever lived in Quebec; they definitely did in Ontario, where rattlesnakes inhabited the sedimentary shelves of the Niagara Gorge but eventually died off like so many failed honeymoons consummated in the vicinity of the falls.

That rattlesnakes still survive in the Northeast may come as a big surprise to you, but that they have such an impassioned advocate might come as an even bigger surprise. Actually, rattlesnakes have more than a few advocates, both the affiliated and the unaffiliated, and as is so often the case, this is a source of emotional and political misunderstandings, turf battles and bruised egos. Read the rest

This is why chameleons are so amazing

National Geograph explores the magic and mystery. Read the rest

Afraid of snakes? Don't watch.

In the winter, tens of thousands of red-sided garter snakes gather in the Narcisse Snake Pits of Manitoba, Candada to mate. Read the rest

Portrait of a cow-sized, knobby-headed reptile

This handsome devil is Bunostegos akokanensis, a large reptile that lived in northern Niger 266-252 million years ago. “Imagine a cow-sized, plant-eating reptile with a knobby skull and bony armor down its back,” writes University of Washington biologist Linda A. Tsuji. The image is an artist's rendering based on fossils recently unearthed by Tsuji and her colleagues. (National Geographic) Read the rest

The lament of the taxonomist

The good news: A recent study of preserved museum specimens revealed that the Caribbean is home to 39 different species of skink, rather than the previously-accepted six. The bad news: Turns out that 16 of those species are already extinct. (Via Tim Heffernan) Read the rest

How long have we known that dinosaurs were birds?

 

I spent most of my childhood with books about dinosaurs that played up the ancient beasties as overgrown lizards. The connection between dinosaurs and birds, while kind of flipping obvious once somebody points it out, was not much discussed among laypeople until I was in my teens. (That would be the 1990s, FYI.) 

But, among scientists, the idea of a dinosaur-bird relationship is nothing new. In fact, Thomas Henry Huxley was making that connection back in the 1860s. On the Dinosaur Tracking blog, Brian Switek tells the fascinating story of how Huxley started to realize that dinosaurs and birds were related—a discovery that's all the more impressive because he figured it out without the help of some of the key transitional fossils we have access to today.

Huxley did not suggest that birds were the direct descendants of dinosaurs. So much geologic time was unaccounted for, and so few dinosaurs were known, that Huxley could not point to any known fossil creature as the forerunner of birds. Instead he made his argument on anatomical grounds and removed the issue of time. Dinosaurs were proxies for what the actual bird ancestor would have been like, and flightless birds (such as the ostrich and emu) stood in for what Huxley thought was the most archaic bird type. (We now know that Huxley got this backwards—the earliest birds could fly, and flightless birds represent a secondary loss of that ability.) As Huxley went about collecting evidence for his case, though, he also gave dinosaurs an overhaul.

Read the rest

Meet the pentastome

At the Thoughtomics blog, Lucas Brouwers has a really nifty post on a recent discovery about the biology of pentastomes. What's a pentastome? Oh, I am SO glad that you asked.

Every animal has its own parasites to worry about, but canivorous reptiles and amphibians have to deal with particularly gruesome ones. They can become infected with small, worm-like creatures called pentastomes that live inside their lungs, where they suck blood from ruptured blood vessels. Reptiles pick up the parasite when they eat infected prey.

Pentastomes are true escape artists. Once they realize they’ve entered a reptile stomach, they use their sharp hooks to claw themselves a way to the victim’s lungs. In an experiment where pentastomes were implanted in a gecko’s stomach, the parasites invaded the lungs in as little as four hours.

Fun!

BTW: The image above, of a pentastome called Kiricephalus coarctatus, comes from a student page on the life and pests of the Western Cottonmouth snake. It's worth poking around that site, too. Read the rest