Of Crocodiles and Cows

A study conducted by the University of Tennessee has found evidence of ‘arboreality’ among various species of crocodile across the world, meaning that the reptiles we assumed could only be a lurking threat beneath the murky surface of the water can actually climb trees, as well.

A sub-adult American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) perching on a tree branch in Pearl River Delta, Mississippi. Photo: Kristine Gingras / Herpetology Notes

A sub-adult American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) perching on a tree branch in Pearl River Delta, Mississippi.
Photo: Kristine Gingras / Herpetology Notes

According to the study, tree climbing is most common in areas with few convenient areas for land basking to cool off or warm up the cold-blooded animals. Tree-climbing is a means of thermoregulation. Or rather, at least it is during the day.

Tree climbing has other benefits, especially at night. According to the study, “one key role of arboreal basking is, in fact, site surveillance and increased individual security through longer distance observation of potential threats from a vantage point where escape is as easy as falling off a log.”

Local residents of some areas report seeing crocodiles in trees from time to time, but researchers have only recently documented this behaviour.

The crocodiles are watching, they just don’t like to be observed watching. So when they see a researcher approaching, they pretend they were in the water all along.

Why? I think the reasons are probably something along these lines.581429

It just goes to show, no matter how much we think we know, there is always more to learn.

New Windows

Red-throated skinkImage: Dustin Welbourne

Red-throated skink
Image: Dustin Welbourne

Here’s a good thought project for next time there’s nothing on the TV: Designing new ways of observing things you would like to see. What do you do to study creatures that don’t travel in packs or flocks, don’t use calls or song to communicate, and which can be very susceptible to rapid injury or death if trapped? You build a better observation method.

“A camera trap is a remotely activated camera that is equipped with a motion sensor or an infrared sensor, or uses a light beam as a trigger. Camera trapping is a method for capturing wild animals on film when researchers are not present, and has been used in ecological research for decades.” (Wikipedia)

I came across a project the other day, the development of new camera trap techniques by Dustin Welbourne in New South Wales. He’s trying to find a way to observe reptiles in their own habitat without disturbing them – apparently, many camera trap triggers aren’t entirely appropriate for the kind of work he does because cold-blooded animals don’t trigger the infrared sensors of many traps. So he is designing new ones.

With the development of new technologies for a specific task, you never know what you might end up seeing, or what other unexpected uses those technologies might serve.

As Mr. Welbourne eloquently quotes in his post, “Every time we open a new window on the universe we are surprised.” (Lawrence Kraus)

That’s my own goal for today – I’m going to think about new windows on the world.

The Conversation – New gadgets are opening windows on┬áreptiles

Of Whisky and Frogs

We have a radio station programmed into our media player, a quirky French station called Swing FM, ‘la radio du Hot-Club de Limoges’. They play a round-robin mix of jazz, swing, gospel, boogie and blues, almost all of it American and much of it pre-1955. I had it playing yesterday and this great whisky song came up, just right for this blog:

I grew up listening to this kind of music, and I’d never heard this sweet tune or singer. If I have, I don’t recall, which is almost the same as not knowing in the first place. The American tune took the roundabout path to me, an American, via a French swing station that has its own perspective of what constitutes a worthy playlist.

It made me think of the recent announcement of a new kind of flying frog in Vietnam – Helen’s Flying Frog, to be exact. Rhacophorus helenae.

Helen's Flying FrogPhoto source:  Jodi J L Rowley/Australian Museum

Helen’s Flying Frog
Photo source: Jodi J L Rowley/Australian Museum

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s eye to recognize something within its own habitat. Australian researcher Jodi Rawley found a sweet hidden gem in the low-lying evergreen forest just outside Ho Chi Minh City. From what I gather, being a flying frog is nothing special, as frogs go. Over half of the 4,800 known frog species have evolved some mechanism for gliding over some distance. Still, this frog had not yet been identified as a separate species, in spite of its proximity to around 8 million people – of whom at least a few must be forest biologists or amateur herpetologists. And yet there was Rhacophorus helenae, just standing around on a log, unique and unnamed.

Need I even add that few specimens of the frog have been found, that researchers are searching in other similar terrains for other populations, and that the frog will likely be declared endangered? Or that we can only discover gems if the habitat is still intact? Or that this habitat is rapidly disappearing? Of course not. Any more than I need to mention how much I would miss Swing FM if it were to go off the airwaves.

Journal of Herpetology