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News articles on herps
Mongabay.com news articles on herps in blog format. Updated regularly.
(11/09/2010) From the terrifying Komodo dragon to the diminutive hobbit Homo floresiensis, islands are home to some remarkable curiosities of size. Despite the fame of giant lizards and pygmy humans, a longstanding tenet of evolutionary biology suggests that the size of island animals moves towards the middle of the pack. A study published on 1 September in the Journal of Biogeography explores these two seemingly contradictory notions and finds that neither is a perfect explanation.
Wildlife trafficker gets 5 years in Malaysian prison
(11/04/2010) A Malaysian court sentenced notorious wildlife trafficker Anson Wong to five years in jail, reports The Star.
Biological shocker: snake reproduces asexually
(11/03/2010) Researchers have discovered a biological shocker: female boa constrictors are capable of giving birth asexually. But the surprise doesn't end there. The study in Biology Letters found that boa babies produced through this asexual reproduction—also known as parthenogenesis—sport a chromosomal oddity that researchers thought was impossible in reptiles.
Undercover for animals: on the frontline of wildlife crime in the US
(11/03/2010) Special Agent O’Connor is a veteran wildlife law enforcement officer, with over 20 years of service under belt. She began her career in wildlife law enforcement as a Conservation Police Officer for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, where she served for eight years. She then moved to federal wildlife law enforcement with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, where she was first posted to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then to St. Paul, Minnesota. During that time, she investigated several major cases that led to felony convictions for violations of wildlife laws. She now serves as a training officer at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), the interagency law enforcement training organization that serves 88 Federal agencies, in Georgia.
World's rarest snake making a comeback
(11/02/2010) The Antiguan racer (Alsophis antiguae) shares a similar story with many highly endangered island species. Invasive mongoose killed every racer on the Caribbean island of Antigua, leaving only a small population on nearby Great Bird Island. Confined to 8 hectares, this final population was being killed-off by invasive Eurasian black rats. By the time conservationists took action, only 50 Antiguan racers survived in the world. But here's where the story turns out different: 15 years later, a partnership between six conservation groups has succeeded in raising the population tenfold to 500 snakes and expanded its territory to other islands through snake-reintroductions.
The march to extinction accelerates
(10/26/2010) A fifth of the world's vertebrate species (i.e. mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish) are threatened with extinction, according to a massive new study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); and the situation is worsening for the world's wildlife: on average 52 species of mammals, birds, and amphibians move one category closer to extinction every year (the IUCN Red List categorizes species as Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, and then Extinct). However, the news isn't all bad. The study found that conservation action does work: in the first analysis of its kind, researchers found that the global biodiversity decline would have been 18% worse if not for conservation attention, "nonetheless," the authors—174 scientists from 38 countries—write, "current conservation efforts remain insufficient to offset the main drivers of biodiversity loss." According to the study, these drivers include agricultural expansion, logging, over-exploitation of species, and invasive species.
Life shocker: new species discovered every three days in the Amazon
(10/26/2010) A new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) confirms the Amazon rainforest, even as it is shrinking due to deforestation, remains among the world's most surprising places. According to the report, Amazon Alive, over the past decade (1999-2009) researchers have found 1,200 new species in the Amazon: one new species for every three days. Not surprisingly invertebrates, including insects, made up the bulk of new discoveries. But no type of species was left out: from 1999-2009 researchers discovered 637 new plants, 357 fish, 216 amphibians, 55 reptiles, 39 mammals, and 16 new birds. In new discoveries over the past decade, the Amazon has beaten out a number of high-biodiversity contenders including Borneo, the Eastern Himalayas, and the Congo rainforest.
Elephant tromping benefits frogs and lizards
(10/25/2010) While elephants may appear destructive when they pull down trees, tear up grasses or stir up soils, their impacts actually make space for the little guys: frogs and reptiles. The BBC reports that a new study in African Journal of Ecology finds that African bush elephants (Loxodonta Africana), facilitate herpetofauna (i.e. amphibians and reptiles) biodiversity when they act as ecosystem engineers.
Photos: ants take top prize at Veolia Wildlife Environment Photography contest
(10/21/2010) An image of nocturnal ant silhouettes systematically devouring a leaf in Costa Rica has given Hungarian photographer, Bence Máté, the much-coveted Veolia Wildlife Environment Photographer of the Year award. In addition to being named Photographer of the year, Máté also won the Erik Hosking award, given to a young photographer (ages 18-26) for a portfolio of images, for images taken in Costa Rica, Brazil, and Hungary.
Photos: three new forest frogs discovered in Tanzania
(10/19/2010) Africa's most biodiverse nation, Tanzania, has added a few more species to its dockets. Researchers have discovered three new amphibians in the always surprising Eastern Arc Mountains, a region which has supplied a number of new species recently. All three new species are members of the frog genus Callulina. Described in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society the researchers warn that all three of the new frogs are confined to small habitats threatened by deforestation and firewood collection.
Photos: 200 new species discovered in 60-day expedition in New Guinea
(10/06/2010) A 2009 expedition to Papua New Guinea proves once again that the island-nation is as diverse in life as it is in human cultures. It took researchers with Conservation International (CI) and the local Institute for Biological Research (IBR) just two months to uncover a startling 200 new species: averaging more than 3 a day in the remote Nakanai Mountains and Muller Range rising from the island of New Britain, a part of Papua New Guinea. Half of the new species were spiders, but the team also found two new mammals, nine new plants, two dozen frogs, and multitude of insects. Most surprising was the discovery of at least two species so unique that they are likely to be assigned their own genus.
Wildlife permits revoked for 'Snakes on a Plane' animal trafficker in Malaysia
(10/02/2010) Wildlife smuggler Anson Wong and his wife Cheah Bing Shee had their business licenses and wildlife permits revoked after the notorious trafficker was convicted of attempting to illegally take nearly 100 snakes out of Malaysia, reports the Star.
1000 rare tortoises poached each week in Madagascar
(09/30/2010) One thousand endangered tortoises are being illegally collected each week in southern Madagascar, reports WWF.
Stunning toxic frog protected as a result of drug trafficking conflict
(09/29/2010) A spectacular poison dart frog on the edge of extinction in the wild has been afforded temporary protection by warring drug gangs in Colombia's Chocó region, reports ProAves. The La Brea Poison Frog (Oophaga occultator), a colorful species only documented by scientists in 1975, has suffered from unsustainable collection for the pet trade, severe deforestation for coca cultivation, and aerial spraying for coca eradication, resulting in a substantial population decline. But the species has clung to life in a deforested landscape along the Saija River in Colombian Pacific coast in part due to conflict between three armed groups which has kept collectors out of the area.
U.S. government bombs Guam with frozen mice to kill snakes
(09/28/2010) In a spectacularly creative effort to rid the island of Guam of an invasive species, the US Department of Agriculture is planning to 'bomb' the rainforests with dead frozen mice laced with acetaminophen. The mice-bombs are meant to target the brown tree snake, an invasive species which has ravaged local wildlife, and angered local residents, since arriving in the 1940s.
Photos: 'Lost amphibian' search makes good: three 'extinct' species rediscovered
(09/22/2010) A search for 100 of the world's 'lost amphibians'—unseen for decades and in many cases supposed extinct—have turned up three species so far, one of which hasn't been recorded since the Nazis were bombing London. The lost amphibian expeditions, formed by Conservation International (CI) and the IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG), have found surviving populations of the cave splayfoot salamander (Chiropterotriton Mosaueri) in Mexico, the Mount Nimba reed frog (Hyperolius Nimbae) in the Ivory Coast, and the Omaniundu reed frog (Hyperolius sankuruensis) from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
How the overlooked peccary engineers the Amazon, an interview with Harald Beck
(09/20/2010) When people think of the Amazon rainforest, they likely think of roaring jaguars, jumping monkeys, marching ants, and squeezing anacondas. The humble peccary would hardly be among the first animals to cross their mind, if they even know such pig-like animals exists! Yet new research on the peccary is proving just how vital these species are to the world's greatest rainforest. As seed dispersers and seed destroyers, engineers of freshwater habitats and forest gaps, peccaries play an immense, long overlooked, role in the rainforest. "Peccaries have the highest density and biomass of any Neotropical mammal species. Obviously these fellows have quite an appetite for almost anything, but primarily they consume fruits and seeds. Their specialized jaws allow them to crush very hard seeds. The cracking sounds can be heard through the thick vegetation long before we could see them. As peccary herds bulldoze through the leaf litter in search for insects, frogs, seeds, and fruits, they destroy (i.e. snap and trample) many seedlings and saplings, sometimes leaving only the bare ground behind," Harald Beck, assistant professor at Towson University in Maryland, told mongabay.com in an interview.
Photos: the world's most endangered turtles
(09/10/2010) More than 40 percent of the world's freshwater turtle species are threatened with extinction, according to a new assessment by Conservation International. Turtles are threatened primarily by hunting, habitat destruction, and the pet trade, making them among the most endangered groups of animals.
Frogs and friends at risk from booming global wildlife trade
(09/08/2010) Alejandra Goyenechea, International Counsel at Defenders of Wildlife and Chair of the Species Survival Network's (SSN) Amphibian Working Group, spoke with Laurel Neme on her 'The WildLife' radio show and podcast about the global amphibian trade. In her interview, Alejandra Goyenechea discusses the benefits of frogs and the many threats – such as habitat loss, climate change, pollution, invasive species, disease, and overexploitation – to their survival. Did you know frogs indicate environmental quality, like canaries in a coal mine? Or that many have medicinal properties, like the phantasmal poison dart frog which produces a painkiller 200 times the potency of morphine?
'Snakes on a plane' trafficker gets 6 months in jail
(09/06/2010) Notorious wildlife trafficker Anson Wong has been fined 190,000 Malaysian ringgit ($61,000) and sentenced to 6 months in jail for attempting to smuggle 95 boa constrictors, reports the Malaysian Star.
Photos: 'Tarzan' chameleon discovered in Madagascar
(08/31/2010) Scientists have discovered a new species of chameleon in a small block of rainforest in Madagascar.
Cold snap may have killed millions of fish in Bolivia, poisoning rivers
(08/31/2010) Although the last few months have been some of the warmest worldwide on record, including 17 countries reaching or breaking all-time highs, temperatures have not been above average everywhere. Cold air from Antarctica has brought chilling temperatures to parts of South America, including Bolivia where millions of fish and thousands of caimans, turtles, and river dolphins have perished according to Nature Communications.
Snakes on a plane! Malaysian reptile trafficker busted at airport
(08/28/2010) A notorious reptile smuggler has been busted at Malaysia Kuala Lumpur International Airport after his luggage was found to contain 98 snakes and a turtle, reports the Malaysian Star.
Photos: Asia's tiniest frog discovered living inside carnivorous plants in Borneo
(08/25/2010) One of the world's smallest frogs has been discovered living inside carnivorous plants in Borneo, reports Conservation International, a conservation group that is jointly supporting a campaign with IUCN to search for some of the world's 'lost amphibians.' The species, described in Zootaxa by Indraneil Das and Alexander Haas of the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum of Hamburg, is named Microhyla nepenthicola after the plant in which is was found, Nepenthes ampullaria, a species of pitcher plant from Malaysian Borneo.
Monster turtle killed off by man
(08/17/2010) Researchers have linked another extinction to human beings: this time of a massive prehistoric horned turtle. Prehistoric turtles in the Meiolania genus were thought to have vanished some 50,000 years ago. However, scientists have found a new species that was likely wiped out by human hunters much more recently.
Golden toad saved from brink of extinction
(08/17/2010) One hundred Kihansi Spray Toads have been flown to their native Tanzania after a close brush with extinction, reports the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Photos: world's top ten 'lost frogs'
(08/09/2010) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Conservation International (CI) have sent teams of researchers to 14 countries on five continents to search for the world's lost frogs. These are amphibian species that have not been seen for years—in some cases even up to a century—but may still survive in the wild. Amphibians worldwide are currently undergoing an extinction crisis. While amphibians struggle to survive against habitat loss, climate change, pollution, and overexploitation, they are also being wiped out by a fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis.
Scientists hunt for 'lost frogs' around the globe
(08/09/2010) From now through October, teams of scientists will be scouring through leaf litters, in shallow pools, under rocks, and in tree trunks for the world's 'lost frogs'. Searching in 14 countries on five continents, the researchers are looking for some 100 species of frogs that have not been seen in decades and in some cases up to a century. While some of the species may well be extinct, researchers are holding out hope that they can find the ones that are still hanging on, albeit by a thread.
Endangered Animals: 10 Reasons for Hope
(08/03/2010) Earlier last month the Zoological Society of San Diego launched two far reaching media and development projects which showcase the Zoo's extensive global field conservation programs. Mongabay had the opportunity to attend the launch ceremony of the Zoo's new 'Global Action Team' and the accompanying 'Ten Reasons for Hope' campaign. While at this event, we spoke with Alan Lieberman, Director of Regional Conservation Programs, about the development of both projects.
Following public outcry, New Zealand drops plan to mine protected areas
(07/20/2010) The New Zealand government has caved to public pressure, announcing that it is dropping all plans to mine in protected areas. The plan to open 7,000 hectares of protected areas to mining would have threatened a number of rare and endemic species, including two frogs that are prehistoric relics virtually unchanged from amphibian fossils 150 million years old: Archey's frog (Leiopelma archeyi) and Hochstetter's frog (Leiopelma hochstetteri).
30 frog species, including 5 unknown to science, killed off by amphibian plague in Panama
(07/19/2010) With advanced genetic techniques, researchers have drawn a picture of just how devastating the currently extinction crisis for the world's amphibians has become in a new study published in the Proceedings of the Nation Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Studying frog populations using DNA barcoding in Panama's Omar Torrijos National Park located in El Copé researchers found that 25 known species and 5 unknown species have vanished since 1998. None have returned.
Photos: rats drive island lizard to extinction
(06/29/2010) The Selmunett lizard (Podarcis filfolensis ssp. Kieselbachi) is very likely extinct, according to Maltese naturalist Arnold Sciberras. One of four subspecies of the Maltese wall lizard, the Selmunett lizard was last seen in 2005. Although the lizard's home—Selmunett Island—has long been uninhabited by people, that fact did not help save the lizard. Over-predation by introduced rats is thought to be the primary cause of lizard's extinction.
Study points to global snake decline
(06/09/2010) A number of reports over the last decade have shown amphibians, lizards, fish, and birds facing steep population declines across species and continents, providing further evidence that the planet is undergoing a mass extinction. Now a new study in Biology Letters adds another group of animals to that list: snakes.
Two new frogs discovered in Panama amidst amphibian plague
(06/06/2010) Researchers working to save Panama's frogs from a fatal disease have stumbled on two species unknown to science. In Omar Torrijos National Park they found a bigger version of a common species, which is now known to be a unique species, and near the Colombian border they discovered a new frog that has been named after Spanish for DNA. Both frogs were discovered while researchers searched for frog populations in chytridiomycosis-infected areas. The highly contagious disease chytridiomycosis has devastated frog species worldwide and is believe to be at least in part responsible for some 100 extinctions of amphibians.
Saltwater crocodiles surf across the ocean
(06/06/2010) Despite being poor swimmers, researchers have discovered that the saltwater crocodile (also known as estuarine) commonly travels long distances over open oceans by riding ocean currents. The discovery, published inJournal of Animal Ecology, solves an unknown mystery of why saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) are found across vast distance in the Pacific, yet have not diverged into different species.
Mexico has big role in the illegal parrot trade
(05/30/2010) Juan Carlos Cantu, Director of Defenders of Wildlife’s Mexico office, spoke with Laurel Neme on her The WildLife radio show and podcast about the illegal parrot trade in Mexico and how his innovative research into the trade was used by the Mexican Congress to reform that country’s Wildlife Law to ban all trade in parrots. The illegal pet trade is probably the second-biggest threat facing parrots in the wild, with only habitat loss rating higher, and the impact is disturbing. Defenders of Wildlife documented this threat in a 2007 landmark study which found between 65,000 and 78,500 parrots are illegally trapped in the wild in Mexico every year.
18,225 new species discovered in 2008
(05/27/2010) In the 2010 State of Observed Species researchers have announced that 18,225 living species were discovered in 2008. In addition, 2,140 new extinct species were discovered byway of fossils.
Children prioritize TV, video games over saving the environment
(05/18/2010) When asked to rank what was most important to them children across the world chose watching TV and playing video games ahead of saving the environment, according to an Airbus survey of 10,000 children, ages 5-18, from ten countries. Forty percent of children ranked watching TV and playing video games as most important to them, while 4 percent put 'saving the environment' as number one. Nine percent of the children said that protecting animals was most important to them.
Photos: more new species found in Indonesia's 'lost world'
(05/17/2010) The Foja Mountains on the Indonesian side of New Guinea have proven a biological treasure trove that just keeps spilling riches. Two-and-a-half years ago the region—dubbed Indonesia's 'lost world'—made news globally when researchers announced the discovery of a giant rat: five times the size of the familiar brown rat. New amphibians, birds, and insects have also been found during past expeditions in 2005 and 2007. A collaborative team of Indonesia and international researchers have since returned to the Foja Mountains and found more spectacular species.
Climate change devastating lizards worldwide: 20 percent estimated to face extinction
(05/13/2010) Lizards have evolved a variety of methods to escape predators: some will drop their tail if caught, many have coloring and patterning that blends in with their environment, a few have the ability to change their colors as their background changes, while a lot of them depend on bursts of speed to skitter away, but how does a lizard escape climate change? According to a new study in Science they don't. The study finds that lizards are suffering local extinctions worldwide due exclusively to warmer temperatures. The researchers conclude that climate change could push 20 percent of the world's lizards to extinction within 70 years.
A day to celebrate (and save) the world's amphibians: the 2nd Annual Save the Frogs Day
(04/28/2010) Friday, April 30th is for the frogs: educational programs, conservation walks with experts, frog leaping races, and the world's first protest to save frogs are all planned for the world's 2nd Annual Save the Frogs Day. Organized by the non-profit SAVE THE FROGS!, events are so far planned in 15 countries on every continent besides Antarctica—fittingly the only continent that lacks amphibians.
Photo: Fire-headed dragon discovered in Southeast Asia
(04/27/2010) Just weeks after scientists announced the discovery of a new monitor lizard in the Philippines, researchers have uncovered another unknown monitor inhabiting Southeast Asia. Described in Zootaxa, the new torch monitor (Varanus obor) is found only on the tiny island of Sanana, in the western Moluccan islands of Indonesia.
Environmentalists say President of Philippines not deserving of conservation award
(04/13/2010) Filipino environmentalists and religious leaders have expressed shock and anger that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the President of the Philippines, has been chosen to receive a conservation award from the US Congress in Washington, DC today according to the Philippine Daily Enquirer.
Scientists: 60 million USD needed to gauge the global threat to biodiversity
(04/08/2010) One of the greatest barriers to saving the world's biodiversity is simply a lack of knowledge: to date less than 50,000 species have been surveyed by the IUCN Red List regarding their threat level, while the vast majority of the world's species are left unanalyzed especially fungi, plants, fish, reptiles, and insects and other invertebrates. To address this problem, some of the world's top biologists have proposed a 60-million US dollar program they dub the 'barometer of biodiversity' to gather a representative sample of all taxons.
Forgotten species: the subterranean Gekko gigante
(04/08/2010) Travelers to tropical destinations are likely familiar with the gecko. Clinging to walls and ceilings of buildings—sometimes staring down at you from the bedroom ceiling or glancing at you quizzically from the bathroom door—the small adhesive-footed lizard could be aptly described in some tropical areas as ubiquitous. Despite the apparent commonness of some species, geckos are delightful lizards with round wide eyes, a thick gripping tongue, and of course that amazing knack of seemingly defying gravity with specialized toe pads. But not all geckos are as easily found—or as common—as those hanging out, literally, in a jungle lodge. The Gekko gigante, also known as the Gigante narrow-disked gecko, has been little- noticed by the public. Even scientists know little about the lovely gray-and-blue gecko beyond the fact that it lays its eggs on cool moist cave walls in two Philippine Islands.
Photo: Fruit-eating dragon discovered in the Philippines
(04/07/2010) Scientists have discovered a new species of giant lizard in the unlikeliest of places: a highly populated, deforested landscape in the Philippines.
New blind snake discovery
(04/06/2010) Call them survivors: blindsnakes have been identified as one of the few groups of organisms that inhabited Madagascar when it broke from the Indian subcontinent around 100 million years ago. According to a new study in Biology Letters, blindsnakes not only survived the split of Madagascar and India, but likely traveled from Asia to Australia and Africa to South America on floating vegetation, the latter a journey that may have taken six months of drifting on ocean currents. "Blindsnakes are not very pretty, are rarely noticed, and are often mistaken for earthworms," says Blair Hedges of her subjects. "Nonetheless, they tell a very interesting evolutionary story."
New report finds millions of marine turtles killed by fisheries, not thousands
(04/06/2010) Humankind's appetite for seafood has had a bigger impact on the world's marine turtles than long thought. A new report by Conservation International (CI) in partnership with Duke University’s Project GloBAL (Global By-catch Assessment of Long-lived Species) finds that in the past eighteen years it is likely millions of marine turtles have been killed as bycatch by the world's fisheries.
Once common tortoise from Madagascar will be 'extinct in 20 years'
(04/05/2010) The radiated tortoise, once common throughout Madagascar, faces extinction within the next 20 years due to poaching for its meat and the illegal pet trade, according to biologists with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Returning from field surveys in southern Madagascar's spiny forest, they found regions without a single turtle. Locals said that armed bands of poachers were taking truckloads of tortoises to be sold in meat markets. The tortoise is also popular in the underground pet trade, although it is protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
Photo: Camouflage expert discovered in Cambodia
(03/25/2010) Researchers have discovered a cryptic species of gecko in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), a conservation group that operates in the region.
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