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News articles on herps
Mongabay.com news articles on herps in blog format. Updated regularly.
(02/17/2014) Scientists have identified a new species of day gecko that is the largest in its genus (Cnemaspis) to be found in Sri Lanka. To date, it has been observed only within the Rammalakanda Reserve in southern Sri Lanka, an area spanning just 1,700 hectares, raising questions about the viability of this population and hence the species' long-term prospects.
Helping the Amazon's 'Jaguar People' protect their culture and traditional wisdom
(02/11/2014) Tribes in the Amazon are increasingly exposed to the outside world by choice or circumstance. The fallout of outside contact has rarely been anything less than catastrophic, resulting in untold extinction of hundreds of tribes over the centuries. For ones that survived the devastation of introduced disease and conquest, the process of acculturation transformed once proud cultures into fragmented remnants, their self-sufficiency and social cohesion stripped away, left to struggle in a new world marked by poverty and external dependence
Photos: mass turtle hatching produces over 200,000 babies
(02/11/2014) Biologists recently documented one of nature's least-known, big events. On the banks of the Purus River in the Brazilian Amazon, researchers witnessed the mass-hatching of an estimated 210,000 giant South American river turtles (Podocnemis expansa). The giant South American river turtle, or Arrau, is the world's largest side-necked turtle and can grow up to 80 centimeters long (nearly three feet).
'Flying snakes' achieve surprising lift through unique body shape
(02/04/2014) Flying snakes achieve surprising amounts of lift through the shape of their bodies, report researchers from Virginia Tech in a paper recently published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. The study examined how paradise tree snakes—one of five species of so-called flying snake found in Southeast Asia—shape their bodies to achieve the lift that allows them to glide up to 30 meters between trees.
287 amphibian and reptile species in Peruvian park sets world record (photos)
(01/28/2014) It's official: Manu National Park in Peru has the highest diversity of reptiles and amphibians in the world. Surveys of the park, which extends from high Andean cloud forests down into the tropical rainforest of the Western Amazon, and its buffer zone turned up 155 amphibian and 132 reptile species, 16 more than the 271 species documented in Ecuador's Yasuní National Park in 2010.
One lizard, four species: the collared treerunner
(01/21/2014) Now, that’s a horse of a different color. Or, in this case, a lizard of another species--four species. Recent research suggests that the collared treerunner (Plica plica), previously thought of as one widespread species, is actually four distinct species inhabiting diverse geographical areas east of the Andes in northern South America.
Red toad discovered in the upper reaches of the Amazon
(01/19/2014) Scientists have described a previously unknown species of toad in the Peruvian Andes.
High-living frogs hurt by remote oil roads in the Amazon
(01/14/2014) Often touted as low-impact, remote oil roads in the Amazon are, in fact, having a large impact on frogs living in flowers in the upper canopy, according to a new paper published in PLOS ONE. In Ecuador's Yasuni National Park, massive bromeliads grow on tall tropical trees high in the canopy and may contain up to four liters of standing water. Lounging inside this micro-pools, researchers find a wide diversity of life, including various species of frogs. However, despite these frogs living as high as 50 meters above the forest floor, a new study finds that proximity to oil roads actually decreases the populations of high-living frogs.
Not seen in over 130 years, 'extinct' frog rediscovered in Sri Lanka
(01/10/2014) In 1876—the same year that the first telephone call was made—the British scientist Albert Günther described a new species of frog from Sri Lanka, but the species, known as the webless shrub frog (Pseudophilautus hypomelas), was never seen again. Having disappeared into history, scientists considered the species extinct—that is until a 2010 expedition stumbled on 40 mystery frogs.
Scientists uncover new crocodile in Africa
(01/07/2014) Scientists working in Africa have uncovered a new crocodile species hiding in plain site, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Looking at the molecular data of the slender-snouted crocodile, the researchers discovered two distinct species: one in West Africa and another in Central Africa. Although mostly lumped together as one species (Mecistops cataphractus) for over a hundred and fifty years, the scientists found that the two species have actually been split for at least seven million years, well before the evolution of hominins.
Python attack kills security guard in Bali
(12/27/2013) A security guard at a hotel in Bali was killed after he tried to catch a 13-foot-long (4m) python, reports Agence France-Presse.
Biggest new animal discoveries of 2013 (photos)
(12/23/2013) Thousands of species were scientifically described for the first time in 2013. Many of these were 'cryptic species' that were identified after genetic analysis distinguished them from closely-related species, while others were totally novel. Below are some of the most interesting "new species" discoveries that took place or were formally announced in 2013.
Sky islands: exploring East Africa's last frontier
(12/04/2013) The montane rainforests of East Africa are little-known to the global public. The Amazon and Congo loom much larger in our minds, while the savannas of East Africa remain the iconic ecosystems for the region. However these ancient, biodiverse forests—sitting on the tops of mountains rising from the African savanna—are home to some remarkable species, many found only in a single forest. A team of international scientists—Michele Menegon, Fabio Pupin, and Simon Loader—have made it their mission to document the little-known reptiles and amphibians in these so-called sky islands, many of which are highly imperiled.
Strange mouth-brooding frog driven to extinction by disease
(11/21/2013) An unusual species of mouth-brooding frog was likely driven to extinction by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), making an unusual example of 'extinction by infection', argue scientists writing in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. Rhinoderma rufum has not been seen in the wild since 1980.
Longline fisheries in Costa Rica hook tens of thousands of sea turtles every year
(11/14/2013) Hundreds of kilometers of commercial fishing lines slither along coastal waters in Costa Rica, hooking thousands of mahi-mahi and many other marketable fish. But when scientists scrutinized fishermen’s catch, they were shocked by the staggering number of sea turtles accidentally snagged on the lines.
Thought-to-be-extinct 'halloween' frog rediscovered in Costa Rica
(11/04/2013) A breeding population of a critically endangered harlequin toad thought to be extinct in Costa Rica has been discovered in a tract of highland forest in the Central American country, reports a paper published in Amphibia-Reptilia. Atelopus varius, an orange-and-black harlequin toad, was once relatively common from central Costa Rica to western Panama. But beginning in the 1980's the species experienced a rapid population collapse across most of its range.
New to science: 2 lizards, 1 frog discovered on Australian expedition (pictures)
(10/28/2013) Researchers from James Cook University and National Geographic discovered three new herp species — a cryptic leaf-tail gecko, a colorful skink, and a frog — during an expedition to northeastern Australia. The species are described in three papers published in October in the journal Zootaxa.
California celebrates its inaugural Pacific Leatherback Conservation Day with sobering reality
(10/15/2013) On an isolated beach in Bird’s Head Peninsula, Indonesia, a female leatherback turtle shuffles out of the ocean and onto the shore, ready to lay her eggs. Under the cover of night she excavates a hole in the sand, depositing anywhere from 80 to 100 eggs inside. Using her flippers she flicks sand over the eggs, hiding them from potential predators. Then, shuffling away, she returns to the turquoise waters ready to make an 8,500-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean to the California coast.
Newly discovered chytrid fungus devastates salamander populations
(09/19/2013) A frightening disease has been ravaging amphibians across the planet. At least 350 species have been infected, two hundred of which have suffered massive population reductions or extinctions, some even occurring within the space of weeks. In 1999, a single fungal species called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), commonly known as the chytrid fungus, was identified as the causative agent for these rapid die-offs.
4 new species of legless lizards discovered in California
(09/18/2013) Four previously unknown species of legless lizard have been described in California, report researchers from the University of California at Berkeley and Cal State-Fullerton.
Suspects arrested in Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist's murder
(08/03/2013) Eight suspects were arrested during early-morning raids Wednesday in the murder of Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist Jairo Mora.
New poison dart frog discovered in 'Lost World'
(07/19/2013) Scientists have described a new species of poison dart frog after discovering it during a study to determine the impact of tourism on biodiversity in a tract of rainforest known as 'The Lost World' in Guyana.
Madagascar's rate of speciation slowing down
(07/16/2013) While Madagascar is famous for its incredible diversity of plants and animals, a new study suggests that the island's rate of speciation has slowed to a crawl.
Vocal-sac breeding frog possibly extinct
(07/02/2013) Somewhere in the wet pine forests of Chile, a male frog is gulping-up a bunch of eggs. No he's not eating them, he's just being a good dad. Darwin's frogs are known for their unique parenting-style: tadpoles are incubated in the vocal sac of the father. First recorded by Charles Darwin during his world famous voyage aboard the Beagle, the amphibians were common in the native Chilean pine forests until the last few decades. Now, scientists believe that one of the two species, the northern Darwin's frog (Rhinoderma rufum), may have vanished for good. And the other is hanging on by a thread.
Amazonian students help monitor threatened frog populations
(07/01/2013) According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, amphibians are the most threatened group of animals on Earth: currently around 30 percent of the world's amphibians are listed as threatened with extinction. However this percentage doesn't include those species about which too little is known to evaluate (26 percent). Amphibians face many threats but two of the largest are habitat loss and the lethal chytrid fungus, which has rapidly spread worldwide and is likely responsible for numerous extinctions. But conservationists are coming up with innovative and creative ways to keep amphibians from disappearing, including a program from the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) that is working with students in the Peruvian Amazon to monitor frog populations.
Reward for information on sea turtle conservationist's murder reaches $56,000
(06/13/2013) Conservation organizations and individuals have raised $56,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of turtle egg poachers who murdered Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old sea turtle conservationist earlier this month.
Palm oil expansion endangering rare frogs in Malaysia
(06/04/2013) Expansion of the palm oil industry in Malaysia is destroying key habitat for endangered frogs, putting them at greater risk, finds a new study published in the journal Conservation Biology.
Monitor lizards vanishing to international trade in pets and skins
(06/04/2013) The world's monitor lizards remind us that the world was once ruled by reptiles: this genus (Varanus) includes the world's biggest lizards, such as the stunning Komodo dragon and many other island kings. A large number beautifully-colored and patterned, these lizards are known for their intelligence and their apex role in many island food chains. However, a new study finds that the world's monitors, especially those in Southeast Asia, are vanishing due to the international pet trade and for their skins, which are turned into handbags and straps for watches. Meanwhile the rapid destruction of their rainforest homes is exacerbating the situation.
Chewbacca bat, beetle with explosive farts among oddities spotted on Mozambique expedition
(06/04/2013) The 'Chewbaka' bat, a cave-dwelling frog, and a diminutive elephant shrew were among hundreds of species documented during a one-month survey of a park that was ravaged during Mozambique's 17-year civil war. The findings suggest that biodiversity in Gorongosa National Park in Central Mozambique is well on the road towards recovery, opening a new chapter for the 4,000-square-kilometer protected area.
Photo: Stunning new pit-viper discovered in Honduras
(05/15/2013) A stunning new species of pit-viper has been discovered in the cloud forest of Honduras. The venomous snake is described in the journal ZooKeys.
Five percent of ploughshare tortoise population perishes after botched smuggling attempt
(05/14/2013) In March, two people were caught attempting to smuggle 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) into Thailand. Listed as Critically Endangered, the tortoises' wild population is down to approximately 400-500 animals in its native Madagascar, meaning the smugglers were attempting to move over 10 percent of the total population. Now, the Scientific American blog Extinction Countdown reports that nearly half of the smuggled tortoises have died of unknown causes.
Cobra bust in Vietnam
(04/23/2013) Authorities in Vietnam arrested a man who they say was transporting 53 king cobras — a protected snake species — in his car, reports the Associated Press.
Two new frog genera discovered in India's Western Ghats, but restricted to threatened swamp-ecosystems
(04/22/2013) The misty mountains of the Western Ghats seem to unravel new secrets the more you explore it. Researchers have discovered two new frog genera, possibly restricted to rare and threatened freshwater swamps in the southern Western Ghats of India. The discoveries, described in the open-access journal Zootaxa, prove once again the importance of the mountain range as a biodiversity hotspot.
Market figures out that geckos don't cure AIDS, but killing continues
(04/12/2013) Millions of tokay geckos continue to be traded for traditional medicine, despite waning belief that the colorful lizards are a cure for AIDS, reports a new study from TRAFFIC.
Mad Max sequel runs over sensitive desert ecosystem in Namibia
(04/11/2013) The Namib is the oldest desert on Earth, composed of gravel plains and dune fields that have been intact for circa 40 million years. It forms a thin strip along the coast of southwestern Africa running for approximately 2000 km from Namibia into Angola. Its unique assemblage of flora and fauna are specialised for desert life and include one of the longest lived organisms on the planet, a plant named Welwitschia mirabilis, with a lifespan of 5 - 15 centuries. The Namib is also home to the only truly desert dwelling chameleon on the globe, the Namaqu chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis). The gravel plains are home to a multitude of invertebrates and small vertebrates. The topsoil is gypsum and calcium carbonate enriched, and forms a delicate crust upon which impressions of tire tracks and footprints remain for decades.
Madagascar's chameleons came from African mainland
(03/29/2013) Madagascar's color-changing chameleons originated in Africa and crossed over to the island some 65 million years ago, concludes a study published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Relative of the 'penis snake' discovered in South America (photos)
(03/27/2013) A new species of caecilian - a worm-like amphibian - has been discovered in French Guiana.
Over ten percent of a species' total population found in smuggler's bag
(03/25/2013) On Friday, March 15th Thai authorities arrested a 38-year-old man attempting to collect a bag containing 54 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) and 21 radiated tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) in Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Found only in Madagascar both species are listed as Critically Endangered and protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but have become lucrative targets for the black-market pet trade given their scarcity and beauty.
Scientists discover two new remarkably-colored lizards in the Peruvian Amazon (photos)
(03/21/2013) Scientists have discovered two new species of woodlizards from the Peruvian Amazon. Woodlizards, in the genus Enyalioides, are little-known reptiles with only 10 described species found in South and Central America. Described in a new paper in ZooKeys, both new woodlizards were found in Cordillera Azul National Park, the nations third-largest.
Scientists discover 8 new frogs in one sanctuary, nearly all Critically Endangered (photos)
(03/21/2013) Two surveys in the mountainous forests of Sri Lanka's Peak Wilderness Sanctuary have uncovered eight new species of frogs, according to a massive new paper in the Journal of Threatened Taxa. While every year over a hundred new amphibians are discovered, eight new discoveries in a single park is especially notable. Sri Lanka is an amphibian-lovers paradise with well over 100 described species, most of which are endemic, i.e. found only on the small island country. Unfortunately the country has also seen more frog extinctions than anywhere else, and seven of the eight new species are already thought to be Critically Endangered.
Scientists clone extinct frog that births young from its mouth
(03/18/2013) Australian scientists have produced cloned embryos of an extinct species of frog known for its strange reproductive behavior, reports the University of New South Wales.
Crocodilian competition may hinder conservation efforts in Amazon
(03/11/2013) In the slow-moving freshwater of the Amazon River basin, a dark, scaly crocodilian known as the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) is attempting a comeback from near extinction, but another crocodilian may threaten the recovery process, according to a new study in the journal Herpetologica.
Turtles win greater protection at CITES meeting
(03/08/2013) Dozens of freshwater turtle and tortoise species won greater protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Starry frog rediscovered after thought extinct for 160 years (photos)
(03/07/2013) In 1853 Edward Frederick Kelaart, a physician and naturalist, collected a strange frog on the island of Sri Lanka then a British colony known as Ceylon. The specimen was a large shrub frog (about 2 inches or 5.5 centimeters long) with black-outlined white specks on lime-green skin. He dubbed it "starry" after its pale specks, but that was last anyone heard of it. Even the holotype—the body of the amphibian collected by Kelaart—went missing. Fast forward nearly 160 years—two world wars, Sri Lanka's independence, and a man on the moon—when a recent expedition into Sri Lanka's Peak Wilderness rediscovered a beguiling frog with pinkish specks.
Frogs radio-tracked for first time in Madagascar
(03/01/2013) Researchers have radio-tracked frogs for the first time in Madagascar. Attaching tiny radio transmitters weighing 0.3-0.35 grams (1/100 of an ounce) to 36 rainbow frogs (Scaphiophryne gottlebei), the research team tracked the movement of the colorful frogs through rugged canyons in Madagascar's Isalo Massif. They found that the frogs have a short breeding period that occurs after the first intense rainfall at the start of the rainy season.
Two new species of mini-salamander discovered in Colombia
(02/28/2013) Biologists have discovered two new species of salamander in Tamá National Natural Park in Colombia. While the discovery should be cause for celebration, the news was dampened by the fact that both species are already infected with the deadly fungal disease, known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), which has wiped out amphibian populations worldwide. Both of the new salamanders belong to the genus Bolitoglossa, which are web-footed salamanders found in the tropical Americas.
Leatherback sea turtles suffer 78 percent decline at critical nesting sites in Pacific
(02/27/2013) The world's largest sea turtle, the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), is vanishing from its most important nesting sites in the western Pacific, according to a new study in Ecosphere. Scientists found that leatherback turtle nests have dropped by 78 percent in less than 30 years in the Bird's Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea. Worryingly, these beaches account for three-fourths of the western Pacific's distinct leatherback population; globally the leatherback is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List, the highest rating before extinction.
15 percent of Guyana's reptiles and amphibians found nowhere else
(02/21/2013) Fifteen percent of Guyana's 324 known species of reptiles and amphibians are found nowhere else in the world, reports a comprehensive new assessment published in the journal Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington.
Pictures: 20% of the world's reptiles endangered
(02/15/2013) Nearly a fifth the planet's reptiles are threatened with extinction, warns a new assessment published in the journal Biological Conservation.
Beyond the resorts: traveling the real and wild Dominican Republic (photos)
(01/29/2013) For its stunning variety of ecosystems, the Dominican Republic is like a continent squished into half an island. Lowland rainforests, cloud forests, pine forests, dry forests, mangroves, savannah, coastal lagoons, salt lakes, a rift valley, karst land formations, four mountain ranges—including the highest mountain in the Caribbean—and not to mention some of the best beaches, snorkeling, and scuba diving in the hemisphere can all be reached within just a few hours drive of the capital, Santo Domingo. Yet, bizarrely, most tourists who visit the Dominican Republic never venture out of their all-inclusive resort, missing out on some of the most stunning landscapes—and accessible wildlife viewing—in the Caribbean.
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