Sunday, January 27, 2008

Meet Ya Down at the Crawdad Hole

I’ve got some exciting news that isn’t immediately related to the EUT of the week, but is still pretty cool. I got cited by Wikipedia! And, even more exciting, EDGE just put up a new Amphibians chapter… and I got cited by them! For the same post! Looking at my Sagalla Caecilian post, it’s not even particularly in-depth, but it’s somehow linkable by pretty big names. Excuse me while I go deflate my ego….

I found this week’s EUT a while ago, but somehow never got around to writing about it. Like a few other of my past posts, if you take a perfectly innocuous animal and make it huge, it slips right into the ugly category. On a side note, I’m surprised how few crustaceans I’ve written about so far.

Image from
Image from
The Tasmanian Giant Freshwater Crayfish (Astacopsis gouldi) has enough modifiers in its common name that I don’t particularly need to explain its range, its habitat, or its superfamily. Its size could use some description, as it isn’t Giant Salamander or Giant Catfish giant, with a record of six and a half pounds and two and a half feet, it’s still a freakin’ big crayfish, not to mention the largest freshwater invertebrate.

I suppose I could also define its habitat more precisely, as they prefer clean, wooded rivers, and the juveniles are mostly found in headwater streams. Like most crayfish1, the Giant Crayfish is omnivorous, or, as this site states: “Their diet consists mainly of decaying wood, but they will also consume leaves, small fish, and rotting flesh.”

As a general rule, as a species gets larger, it takes longer to reach sexual maturity, and this is no exception. It takes males nine years and females fourteen years before they’re able to make little Giant Crayfish, and they can live up to 40 years. This, coupled with the completely unsurprising problem of overharvesting, has lead to their decline in numbers, and subsequent listing. The problem of habitat loss exists for the Giant Crayfish, just like it shows up for most headwater species.

Tasmania is doing commendably well in terms of conservation efforts. It has been illegal to collect a Giant Crayfish since 1995, and there have been habitat conservation programs and education programs running around the island in an attempt to save these cute little massive crayfish.

1I know, I know, not a fish. A lot of the Australian sources are calling it a lobster, and I suppose I could always resort to “crawdad,” but I’ve always called them crayfish, and never thought of them as fish.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Old Dead Tree

The last time I wrote about something that wasn’t an animal was just about six months ago, and the last time I wrote about a fungus was last March. As much as I hate to admit it, I can see how easy it is to fall into the “cute things” trap. I’m still trying to be even-handed, so I’m going to see if I can push my way out of the snare of zoocentrism1. In that vein, here’s a rotting log.

Image from
Image from

Many people fail to think about the fact that rotting logs don’t just fall apart on their own; they need help2. Thus is the job of Phellinus nigrolimitatus, which has no common name, other than a wood-decay fungus. It lives in the deep temporal forests across the Northern Hemisphere, and essentially having the same interactions with a tree there as vultures in Africa have with the zebras. The fungus kills nothing, just feasts on the remains, allowing nutrients to be passed back into the soil.

While I have had problems finding information about species in the past, this fungus yields a different issue, similar to the problem I had with the Sagalla Caecilian. There is information out there about P. nigrolimitatus, but it’s all in scientific journals. It’s amazing how convenient ARKive’s format is: listing what it is, where it’s found, why it’s endangered, with a big picture on top. But, since the information is out there, I don’t want to shy away from writing about it just because I’m lazy (or don't speak Swedish or Norwegian).

Its diet consists mainly of old (well, dead) Spruces, as well as a few Pine species. I’m not exactly sure how it spreads from tree to tree, but it likely has airborne spores that are scattered throughout the forest in hopes of landing on a beautiful, rotting tree carcass.

While P. nigrolimitatus may be found around the world, it is only listed in Norway and Sweden. This means one of two things: either Norway and Sweden have specific problems with the fungus, or the entire Northern Hemisphere does, and only those two countries recognize it. The problem, according to many articles, is the fact that these fungi are really only found in very dense, unmanaged forests, where tree corpses are littered throughout. In managed forests, with a low number of huge, dead trees, it is that much more difficult for the spores to find their way to a suitable habitat.

The biggest conservation effort in place for the fungus seems to be the fact that they are listed as endangered, which may lead to more old growth, non-managed forests where they are found. As I stated when I first wrote about a fungus, I’m waiting for the day when there is a United States Endangered fungus. A few states have them already.

1I know it’s not a word, but it should be.
2We've got a Petrified Forest for that exact reason.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


When I started blogging, I told myself that I would have to keep a set deadline to make sure I kept it up. I would write one each weekend, and if I didn’t keep it up, I would almost certainly fall into the trap of procrastination. And here I am. I’m going to see if I can manage back into weekend-ly posts. Since this post is for last weekend, I’ll see if I can crank out another post by Sunday night. It’s getting harder than I expected to keep finding Endangered Ugly Things.
Image by Me
Image by me
However, looking through IUCN’s list of amphibians, I never expected to see this guy. It’s the Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), whose face appears on many “Strange Animals!”-type publications and programs1. They fall into that category due to the fact that they exhibit neoteny; that is, they never undergo metamorphoses like other amphibians, but retain their gills and dorsal fin for life. They are classified as mole salamanders (genus Ambystoma), which includes more everyday salamanders, such as the Eastern Tiger2.

If you think the name “Axolotl” is hard on the mouth, just wait, I’ve got a few doozies in the next paragraph.
The Axolotl likely gets its name from the Aztec words meaning “water-dog,” though some sources link it to the other Aztec god of the underworld, Xolotl, twin of Quetzalcoatl. With these clues (as well as the fact that its species name is mexicanum), it’s not hard to guess where these are generally found in the wild. Yes, it lives in central Mexico, and its historic range includes Lake Xochimilco and Lake Chalco, which hasn’t existed since before the Europeans showed up. Xochimilco (National Geographic pronunciation: SO-chee-MILL-koh) is now only a series of canals within the bounds of Mexico City. Understandably, Axolotl populations aren’t quite what they were when the Aztecs were using them as a daily meat source.

While pollution and habitat loss have thrown the wild Axolotls onto the Critically Endangered list, that isn’t to say that there aren’t many left. They breed in captivity wonderfully, and are used in many medical research labs to study their ability to regenerate limbs (wouldn’t that be convenient?).

The restoration of an ecological park has stabilized populations in the wild, and the introduction of the abundant captive bred individuals could bring these salamanders back from the brink. Also, a local university is working hard to save the local wildlife by increasing public awareness, and are using the Axolotl as their flagship species.

1I, personally, first came to know of their existence from a series called Zoobooks, where an Axolotl appeared on the cover of “Animal Wonders,” I believe.
2Neat fact: other Mole Salamander species have developed neoteny, which apparently frequently shows up where the water is low on predators and the surrounding land is dry.