Frog changes color with changed surroundings

I really wish I’d taken a photo of this frog when I found her this noon, sheltering on the porch next to the wall. There were some beer 6-pack carriers there waiting return to the store and when I picked one up there was this big dark frog clinging to the side. She (well, she just seems like a “she”) was a very dark brown tinged with green all over, with some darker mottling on her back, and sparkling gold stripes above her eyes. I caught her up and put her in our 100-gallon pond, on the lotus and water hyacinth leaves.

This afternoon, here she is, transformed in color.

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The dark splotches on her rear are about the color that her entire body was, about six hours ago.

It was only recently that I learned frogs could do this, so now having seen it in action I had to talk about it. Apparently it’s an ability found in many species, and the frogs can change as a result of light, humidity, surroundings, or “mood”. Whatever that means. The frog changed and the researcher cannot see any objective alteration in environment so it’s put down to “mood”.

Fear or excitement makes many frogs and toads turn pale, but others, like the African clawed frog, darken when disturbed. Another African frog is normally green, but turns white in the heat of the day to reflect heat and keep cool. The tiny African arum frog is ivory white and lives in the white blossoms of the arum swamp lily. When the blossoms die, the frogs turn brown to match. from exploratorium.edu.

We think she’s probably a Pacific Tree Frog (Pseudacris regilla).

[Etymological note: Pseudacris from the Greek pseudes (false) + akris (locust) — alluding to the frogs’ song?; regilla from the Latin regilla (regal, splendid) — probably referring to the markings.]

Unclear on the basic concept: White House Press Secretary on Gulf oil spill

As President Obama made his tour of the Gulf region on Monday, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One that BP would move forward in creating an escrow account to ensure, “that all the people who are affected by BP’s oil spill are made whole.”
from politicsdaily.com, June 14, 2010.

What kind of a disconnected nitwit can use the phrase “made whole” about this? Believe it or not, there are some things money can’t change. All the money in the world cannot turn back the clock and make the ocean clean, bring back to life the millions of dead creatures—the tiny ones we never see also suffered, also died, and from our myopic human standpoint they are important because they’re part of the web of life that makes shrimp for us to catch and eat.

This isn’t “just words”, this is a perversion of thinking that is at the root of our modern lostness. Minds so separated from the real “buzzing blooming confusion” of life, that they are hardly here in the same world with the oiled pelicans and the devastated fishermen. Yet like aliens from some distant galaxy they walk among us and their power is immense, to act in our world, control what we know, run our government like a puppet theatre.

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A dead jelly fish floats in oil in the Gulf of Mexico near Venice, LA. AP photo from Telegraph (UK).

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Hermit crabs struggle to cross a patch of oil on a barrier island near East Grand Terre Island, LA. AP photo from Telegraph (UK).

Some penguins to be listed under Endangered Species Act

from the Penguin News site,

4 June 2010

Legal settlement will protect seven penguin species at risk from global warming and fisheries (USA)

A federal judge has approved a settlement that requires the US federal government to finalise protections for seven penguin species under the Endangered Species Act. The court-ordered settlement results from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network challenging the Obama administration’s failure to finalise its determination that these penguins warrant Endangered Species Act protection due to threats from climate change and commercial fisheries.
Read Center for Biological Diversity press release

While this is a justified action, it’s not clear what the practical results might be. The polar bear was listed under the ESA in May 2008 because of habitat loss from global warming. Yet Bush’s Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne “made clear several times during a press conference announcing the department’s decision that, despite his acknowledgement that the polar bear’s sea ice habitat is melting due to global warming, the ESA will not be used as a tool for trying to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for creating climate change.” For the bears, listing could have potential benefits of changed regulations governing activities in US territory (such as oil drilling) but action would be based on the direct impact on the ground, not the contribution of oil and drilling to climate change.

Last year the Scientific American blog stated the effects of ESA listing for these species of penguin:

Why protect penguins under the ESA if they don’t live in the U.S. or its territories? “Listing of penguins under the ESA would make import or export of the species illegal without an ESA permit,” Ward says [US Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs specialist Tamara Ward]. “Such permits are issued only if an activity has a conservation benefit and it is hoped listing may help focus international attention on the species conservation needs.” In addition, according to the CBD [Center for Biological Diversity], listing would also require federal agencies to ensure that any action carried out, authorized or funded by the U.S. government would not jeopardize the continued existence of the protected species.

Major threats to penguin species include overfishing and climate change. The latter causes loss of ice on which some species nest, and changes in currents which move fish and other prey to new areas of the sea—sometimes so far offshore that penguin parents are hampered in bringing back fish to feed the young. Oilspills and introduced terrestrial predators (rats, dogs, feral cats) can have devastating local effects.

Realistically, I think it will take a much greater disaster than the Gulf Oil spill to provide the political will for effective action on climate change and the overfishing/pollution of the oceans. Piecemeal wildlife protection is sometimes valuable, and ESA listing has symbolic importance (perhaps little else in this case), but where, where, is the “place to stand” for moving the world on these huge issues?

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African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) oiled in a spill off the South African coast. Photo by Cape Times, Cape Town South Africa, from Penguin Conservation vol. 7(2).

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Little Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor), at entrance to a nest burrow on Phillip Island, Australia. Photo by M. Kuhn, Creative Commons license.

What matters most to BP

This’ll fix things:

As for BP, it has taken steps to beef up its PR operation, in an attempt to limit the damage to its reputation. The company has recruited as head of the firm’s US media relations Anne Womack-Kolton, the former press secretary to Dick Cheney.

from this morning’s UK Guardian

True, the company’s public relations since the explosion have been terrible: suppressing and lying about things that will become known eventually anyway, and ridiculous efforts to play down the seriousness of the oil spill. Tony Hayward, BP CEO, “told Fox News sister network Sky News on Tuesday [May 18] that he is largely unconcerned:

I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest. It is impossible to say and we will mount, as part of the aftermath, a very detailed environmental assessment as we go forward. We’re going to do that with some of the science institutions in the U.S. But everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest.

After BP has squandered any potential public credibility, the most silver-tongued revolving-door lobbyist-cum-government appointee (such as Ms. Womack-Kolton) will be hard pressed to reverse the tide. We all know which tide they really truly care most about, when it comes to the tide of financial-world and public opinion, vs. the tide of oil.

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Young heron dying in oil-soaked marsh. Photo by GERALD HERBERT / AP. Copyright by photographer and AP, not used with permission.

Fox vs. dog, no contest

We were walking down a gravel road when, perhaps a hundred yards ahead of us, a grey fox crossed the road at a dead run, from a brushy area on the left of the road to a wooded area on the right side. The wooded area wasn’t very big; at its edge a long open grassy stretch began and continued to where we stood, and beyond.

Our mastiff Jack was off down the road instantly, turning into the woods where the fox had gone. Like us, he thought the fox would prefer the cover of the forest, or perhaps keep going away from the road, through the wooded area and up the steep brushy slope at the back.

Not so: while Jack remained in the woods sniffing around, here came the fox out of the trees and down the long open strip paralleling the road. He was completely exposed, and heading right toward us. Maybe he’d zigged and zagged a bit after entering the woods, to give Jack some scent to follow, but very soon he’d made a hard right to leave the confined area for a place where he could gain a lot of yardage on his pursuer.

By the time Jack followed his nose and reached the grassy area, the fox was long gone past us and out of sight; our exhilarated dog ran after him quite a ways before giving up. Then he came back to the woods to snuff up that interesting smell some more. I can imagine his satisfaction: finally, he had a visual sighting to go with one of the mysterious smells he’s found on our walks. And the fox, well, he proved his legendary cleverness once again.

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Photo by dbriz

Lizard skin

There are quite a few alligator lizards around our place, and one of them left a shed skin for us to find last month. Our lizards are probably the Southern Alligator Lizard, (Elgaria multicarinata). (See here for range map and basic info.)

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[photo © Gary Nafis, from the californiaherps site]

The skin is complete, although in two pieces (ventral or belly view below).

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The larger scales of the head

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[photo © Gary Nafis, from the californiaherps site]

are clearly visible, or at least their clear covering is.

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Also the legs, as they were arranged when the lizard wriggled and scraped its way out of the skin.

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Here are the rear legs and vent.

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And here’s a photo by Mark Leppin, in Northern Oregon, of the belly of a live alligator lizard:

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The shed skin is turned inside out as the lizard peels it back over its head, by wriggling and scraping against whatever’s handy. Unlike most lizards, the alligator lizard sheds its skin in one piece (the one we found tore in handling), but it is like others in usually eating the shed. Depending on an individual’s health and rate of growth, it may shed every four to six weeks. Beforehand lizards and snakes may seek out water or damp places to help loosen the skin. The process is said to take only a few hours for those that shed in one piece.

Alligator lizards are insectivores but also take small eggs, snails, and probably anything else that they can find. The young are live-born, and we see them each summer––scarcely over an inch long, and very fast once they learn that everything bigger than they are regards them as lunch. The adults lose their tails once in a while, perhaps to snakes or other predators, and regrow them but the regenerated tails look stubby, not long and whiplike. Every dog we’ve had has tried to catch these creatures, without even coming close. My attempts to take pictures of them have all failed too, they’re just too wary and quick.

Views of a lion skull

Recently I had the opportunity to photograph a lion’s skull. Since there seem to be few detailed photos of this subject online, I’m posting several here.

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The ruler at the bottom is 3.5 inches (89mm) long. I don’t know the age or sex of this animal, only that it was an African lion. The ragged hole on top of the skull is a bullet hole; more about that later.

The large openings flanking the nasal cavity, and beneath the huge eye-sockets, puzzled me. Turns out they are the passageways into the eye area for the infraorbital nerve, artery, and vein (technically, each of these two openings is termed the “infraorbital foramen”). The infraorbital foramen is indicated by the arrow in the anatomical illustration below, from the University of Wisconsin’s digital collection of Veterinary Anatomical lllustrations.

In searching out what these openings were, I came across the information that Asiatic lions often have divided infraorbital foramina, with a bony bridge across the opening. Most African lions have the single open foramen seen in the skull I photographed. It is believed that the modern lion originated in Africa, and some researchers think that a severe population bottleneck at some point in the recent past of Asiatic lions may have allowed this variation to become common.

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[]Thanks to Bibliodyssey for the post on these great illustrations.

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The longitudinal grooves or clefts in the upper canines seem odd, though I found similar ones on another skull pictured online. Most of the lion skull images online were casts, replicas, and lack these grooves.

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On the side of the lower mandible, insertion openings for nerves or blood vessels are clearly visible.

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Turbinate bones and the air we breathe

Few skulls or replicas online show something I was especially interested in, the delicate turbinate bones within the nasal cavity. These are thin bony structures, with a rich blood supply, found in all modern warm-blooded animals. Here they show a complex scrolled shape that is marvelous to see.

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The turbinates are also seen in the first photo; the close-up above is taken from a lower vantage point, looking farther into the nasal cavity.

What is the function of these unusual structures? The tissue covering the turbinate bones warms, cleans, and humidifies air as it is inhaled; the air exhaled from the lungs, which has picked up even more heat and moisture there, is cooled to reclaim moisture and prevent dehydration. The turbinate system also benefits the sense of smell. Humidifying the incoming air is necessary to “preserve the delicate olfactory epithelium needed to keep the olfactory receptors healthy and alert” (Wikipedia); the turbinates also increase the surface area of the inside of the nose and direct air upward toward the olfactory receptors. And, in humans at least, the tissues are what get swollen and obstruct our breathing, when we have allergic reactions.

The dinosaur connexion

The turbinates interested me because I remember reading speculation, in Digging Dinosaurs by palaeontologist Jack Horner, that dinosaurs were endothermic, warm-blooded––and he based this partly on indications that some skulls showed signs of turbinate bones (I don’t recall what exactly he described). However, that book was published in 1988, and it appears that subsequent researchers have failed to substantiate his suggestion. The delicate turbinate bones rarely survive as part of fossilized skulls; for example, none have been found in fossils of ancient birds’ skulls, even though the birds must have been warm-blooded. Some dinosaurs have thin tubular nasal spaces, as do present-day reptiles, and it is argued that those with narrow nasal cavities couldn’t have had turbinate bones. The question is not settled, but the current consensus seems to be that dinosaurs were not warm-blooded. For point-by-point summaries of the controversy, these seem good: The Evidence for Ectothermy in Dinosaurs (cold-blooded) and The Evidence for Endothermy in Dinosaurs (warm-blooded). Wikipedia considers some additional points in Physiology of dinosaurs.

Cause of death of this lion

The lion skull had been lent for a display in our local library, by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland Oregon. It’s the only lab in the world devoted to crimes against wildlife, and I’ll say more about it in another post. The skull had been evidence in a despicable case: an individual bought up lions (they breed easily in captivity) from roadside zoos, put them in small enclosures and sold the right to shoot them. My grim theory is that the “hunters” were required not to shoot at the head, so that more shots could be taken at the living lion, before the highest-paying customer delivered the coup de grace in a shot to the top of the head. First, that would yield the most money for the scumbag, and second, it would have been very difficult to make this shot to the top of the head of a lion still standing.

At least the person running this was tried, and convicted with the assistance of the Wildlife Lab. Highly unlikely that he received a sentence I’d regard as sufficient, though.

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A Cape Lion (Panthera leo melanochaitus, now extinct) in a drawing of the Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Circa 1650-52. Location: Louvre, Paris. Source, Wikimedia Commons.