Monday, August 27, 2007

Crocodile Rock

Well, I was searching around IUCN’s redlist for a reptile to write about when I came across the legless skink (Barkudia insularis) which lives on an Indian island. Then, I find out that it had been recently rediscovered after not being seen for 86 years. It’s category on the redlist, however, is “Data Deficient.” While I know that these things need to be seen1, they don’t make for very long posts, and I’m getting tired of writing about things with limited information. Therefore, I hit the redlist again, searching for this beauty.
Image from The Guardian
Image from The Guardian

The Gharial, or Gavial2 (Gavialis gangeticus) is amongst the largest crocodilians in the world, rivaled only by the Saltwater Crocodiles of Northern Australia. Gharials can reach up to about 21 feet and weigh approximately one ton. They inhabit fast moving rivers in the Indian subcontinent, where the purpose of the long, thin snout becomes apparent. While many crocodilians are ambush predators (think of the Animal Planet footage of one leaping out of the water for a wildebeest), Gharials rely mainly on fish for their diet. A thick snout like an alligators would produce large amounts of drag, but a long, thin snout can snap sideways, grabbing unsuspecting catfish.

Not that they eat only catfish, but birds, crabs, and small mammals are eaten if they can be caught. This website mentions that the people buried by Hindu funeral tradition in the Ganges river frequently end up in Gharial’s stomachs. By my thinking, this is a good thing, reminding us that, as much as we try to deny it, we’re still part of the food chain.

Gharials have a bit of their own success story, but not quite to the point of the Lake Sturgeon or the Bald Eagle. At one point, in the 1970s, there were about 70 of them left, due to poaching3, and habitat destruction as the population of India increases. Now, after lots of captive breeding and introduction, there are about 2,500 of them in the wild. This still isn’t a big population, but it’s certainly a start.

1Which is why I mentioned it here, even though it’s not what the post is about.
2I’ve always called them Gharials, so I have no clue why I searched for “Gavial”.
3Their snout is long, with a bulb on the end. Of course people thought it was an aphrodisiac.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Long and Winding Road

As of today, I have been writing this blog for an entire year. In the first post, I alluded heavily to the essay I wrote four years ago to apply to college. I decided to post the entire thing here, without changes, as much as that pains me.
Save the midges! Collect the whole set! Yes, there is an endangered species of midge, at least in Ohio. There are also five endangered snakes, four endangered amphibians, three endangered lampreys, forty-three other endangered insects, and twenty-four endangered mollusks in this state alone, all of which get slim to nil media attention. The black bear, newly reintroduced, has made local TV often, but what about the Indiana bat? Or the Allegheny woodrat?

Therein lies my goal: inform the public of species on the brink of extinction that people either do not know about or do not care about. People care about animals to which they can attach certain traits. The bald eagle is majestic, the panda is cute, the black bear is powerful. However, these traits have nothing to do with the species’ importance in nature. The midge, which is most easily equated with annoyance, is a vital food source to many larger animals.

The only way to accurately determine the necessity of a certain species is through ecological surveys, which, as a wildlife ecologist, I hope to conduct. We can only mess up nature so much and get away with it. Maybe we have already crossed that line. The only way we can know is by these environmental studies. The disappearance of a species of freshwater clam could affect nature just as much as the disappearance of a species of falcon.

To achieve this lofty goal, I plan on attending college and majoring in biology, to get a well rounded view of the field. After obtaining my bachelor’s, it is off to graduate school, where I can focus in on my desired field of study.

I have, in fact, already begun the journey toward research ecology. Throughout my high school career, I have been advocating for animals that people have problems finding cute even when they are alive. For the past four years, I have been conducting a road mortality survey of snakes in the Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. This study involves driving all the roads in the wildlife area, which is about thirty-three miles, and recording each snake found, of which, about eighty percent are dead.

Along with the cute and cuddly species, the ugly ones, the annoying ones, and the gross ones have to be saved just as well. We cannot ignore killing things, saying, “It’s just one species of insect,” when it causes a species of fish to die, which is, “just one species of fish.” We must remember we are just one species of ape.

Looking back at it, it seems a little cheesy, especially the ending. Well, let’s look at my track record. I’ve written about two of the snakes, one of those amphibians, one of the lampreys1, and one of the insects. Remember, that’s just on the Ohio Endangered Species List2. In the first post, I talked about American Burying Beetle news posts, Ohio Lamprey plush toys, and Save the Wartyback Mussel t-shirts. Well, I only managed one of those, but if I knew how to do the other two, I would be on them before you could say Nicrophorus americanus.

One common thread you will see between the essay and the first post is the midge on the Ohio list. Its name is Rheopelopia acra, and now you know as much about it as I do. At one point, I asked Beetle Lady if she could find anything about it. She couldn’t. I asked Bug Girl if she could find anything about it. She couldn’t. There has to be something that differentiates this midge from all the rest of Diptera, since none of them are listed. On a high note, when I searched Google for the scientific name, I came up as the fifth hit, simply from a footnote on my post on the Puritan Tiger Beetle.

I’ve become more attached to this project than even I expected, and I will keep at it as long as I can keep finding ugly things that need my help3.

1The other two were non-parasitic. That’s no fun.
2From which I’ve also taken two other fish.
3“Whenever a beetle cries out from habitat loss… I will be there.
“Wherever a salamander finds a dam… you will find me.
“When a fungus finds it can go no further… there I shall be.
“For I… am a blogger!”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pretty Fly for a Cayman Guy

A while ago, a friend of mine suggested that I get in contact with the Blue Iguana Recovery Program to study those intriguing animals. A few days ago, he sent a request for me to write about another animal from his home island1. And since I’m always ready to take suggestions, here’s a disgusting, semi-parasitic fruit fly from the Cayman Islands.

Image from Carson (1974)
Image by Hampton Carson. Please note the white, seed-looking things around the crab's eye--those are the eggs.

Drosophila endobranchia has no common name, though if it did, it would probably be something such as the “Cayman Islands Land Crab Fly.” It is, from birth, completely attached to the land crabs found there. The eggs are laid around the eye of the crab. Once hatched, the larvae make their way to the gills, where they have a veritable feast on the microorganisms living there. Afterwards, they wander to the mouth, where they will grab whatever bits of food they can from the crab. When they’ve had their fill, they fall to the ground and pupate. Don’t think they’ve left the crabs alone, though, because, after pupating, they hitch rides on the crab’s backs until they lay the eggs.

What makes them interesting (or, at least, what this article found interesting, I think it’s pretty neat too), is that there are three separate species of Drosophila in three different locations that have given up the usual fruit fly method of eating bacteria off rotten fruit, and have taken to stealing from land crabs. The strangest part about this is they evolved these methods completely separately from each other. One is from an island in the Indian Ocean, while the others (including D. endobranchia) live in the Caribbean, and each of their life histories are different enough to show that they evolved independently.

I can’t find them on any endangered species list, but with the small size of their habitat, which is frequently being taken over by resorts, I wouldn’t be surprised if their numbers were dwindling. Also, my friend is working with a man who likely knows more about Cayman Island ecology than anyone. If he thinks they’re endangered, I’d take his word for it.

1The entire message was:
Re: Your endangered species blog.
Drosophila endobranchia
Whaddya say?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gut Feeling

Well, this week I had intended to write about the African Wart Frog, which is both incredibly cute and unbelievably ugly at the same time. Alas, I couldn’t find enough information about it, so I had to find another amphibian to take its place1. This one seemed to fit due to the fact that the WWF catalog that I mentioned in the last post was about “Wildlife Families.”
Image by Ella Tyler via EDGE

This is an image of the Southern Gastric-Brooding Frog (Rheobatrachus silus). In 2002, they were moved from their status as endangered to extinct2. They looked like the typical grey and semi-aquatic frog, but their name gives away everything they were as parents. After mating, the female eats the eggs. Literally—there is no special mouth-pouch or anything like that; the eggs go straight into the stomach. This isn’t too much of a problem, since the female shuts down her digestive tract and does not eat anything from six to seven weeks. By this time, the frogs turn into froglets, and are ready to hop out of her mouth.

Living in Southern Australia, they were never found more than 12 feet from water. When they weren’t raising the kids, they’d eat all the insects they could catch. Their extinction is a mystery. The feral pigs that reside in the same habitat and the disruption of the water flow obviously couldn’t help, not to mention the problems that global climate change is causing all amphibians, what with more drought and higher UV levels. I suppose this makes the real mystery which one caused the most damage. If anyone was wondering why we care about the extinction of the Gastric-Brooding Frog, medical science will never know how the females turned off their stomach acid. Looks like I’ll have to stick with Nexium. Scientists have been on the lookout for them, but alas, none have been seen since 1981.

1All right, it didn’t have to be an amphibian, but I really do try to be all-inclusive when it comes to the major taxa. Since it’s been about two months since the last amphibian, I thought it was time for another one.
2I was really trying to avoid using the past tense to make this a blow at the end, but the thought of writing three paragraphs without any forms of “be” seemed too difficult.