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Guys… guys… These.

The bad news is I have been out of commission for a while, and I apologize. The good news is, I am one month away from FINISHING MY PHD! YAY! So I should be able to post things more regularly again. Hooray for all caudate, art, and weird animal fans.

As an apology, enjoy these amazing Toothless/ Night Fury sculptures.

If you feel the need to own one of these amazing works of art (as I do…), they can be found here: Demiurgus Dreams Etsy Shop

 

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(Belated) June Species of the Month: Carpathian Newt

Sorry, still busy and behind, and this will be a brief species of the month…

For June of 2015: The Carpathian Newt (Lissotriton montandoni)!

carpathain

Vigo the Newtpathian

These little Carpathian newts are conquerors… That’s not really the right word, but I like the image. They are survivors. They appear to have adapted well to humans encroaching on their habitat (compared to most amphibians). Sometimes population densities can get up to 20 newts per meter square, which is pretty great.

Like most newts (for the difference between Newts vs. Salamanders see this post), the Carpathian newt has 3 life stages: larvae, eft, and adult. As the namesake suggests, these little guys range throughout the Carpathian mountains and are frequently found in the Ukraine and Romania.

Range of Carpathian newt.

Range of Carpathian newt.

The Carpathian newt seems to be more active during the daytime hours than any other species of newt (most newt species are moderately nocturnal).

Their breeding season varies based on how high they live in the mountains (groups living higher up the mountains will breed mid through late summer, vs. animals living in the foothills which will breed in late spring through mid summer). Efts usually start to climb out of the water in mid/late summer.

Adult newt in breeding colors.

Adult newt in breeding colors.

This is a brumating (brumation= mild form of hibernation) species that will brumate late fall through late spring.

Handsome newt.

Handsome newt.

All glory to the Carpathian newt!

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(Belated) April Species of the Month: Fire Salamander!

The fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) is the April species of the month! We will catch up here…

The fire salamander is one of the most readily recognized species of salamander, due to its bright coloration and its popularity in the pet trade. Salamandra salamandra and its subspecies are naturally found on the majority of the mainland of Europe, in parts of North Africa and along the Mediterranean coast.

Range map for Fire Salamanders

Range map for Fire Salamanders

The fire salamander is the animal primarily responsible for the historical mythological connection of salamanders to fire (hence the common name). These animals would be snug (or rather, cool) in their damp log homes, and when they were tossed on the fire they would come scurrying out. The impression was that they were generated from, or drawn to (for the slightly smarter people), the fire.

Fire salamanders come in a range of bright colors, from yellow to red. Like most brightly colored amphibians, the color indicates that fire salamanders are toxic!

The toxins which these animals carry are highly specific to each population, modifying in intensity and in effects based on predator load; however, they all contain the toxin salamandarin which will have the effect of neurotoxicity. Licking fire salamanders can lead to hypertension, hyperventilation, and convulsions. Too much toxin can lead ultimately to cardiac arrest and death. Obviously- don’t lick fire salamanders. Not as obviously- wash hands after handling, and don’t touch your lips/face/eyes/food after handling.

This card is false- they don't squirt poison into your eyes or mouth.

This card is false- they don’t squirt poison into your eyes or mouth.

They do have a larval stage (they aren’t direct developers like some other species, including the Mississippi Slimy Salamander).

Adorable baby!

Adorable baby!

The fire salamander was the first species in which the fungus Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans was discovered. This fungus, a relative to Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis which has been recognized as a major player in the cause of amphibian declines and extinctions over the last 20+ years, is highly aggressive in salamanders and acts as a flesh eating disease. So far, this newly recognized fungus has not been seen to infect frogs. It is suspected that it was transferred to the salamanders from Asian salamanders (which appear able to carry the fungus) via importation and the pet trade. This fungus has not yet been detected in the USA but it has been detected on the mainland in Europe and in the UK. It is devastating in most salamander species and in the USA the government may potentially halt trade, at least temporarily, on all salamanders in order to help prevent spread.

Protect me! Support salamander conservation!!

Protect me! Support salamander conservation!!

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Mythology Monday: Brown Recluse

I was at an annual environmental camp and I was bit by something. Because I didn’t see what bit me, and because it is a necrotizing wound, it was diagnosed as brown recluse bite… with a treatment for tickborne disease just for good measure. I have little doubt it was a spider bite, it had the two little classic fang marks and I have been bit by enough spiders to recognize how I react to spider venom. I am not positive it was a recluse.

When a doctor diagnoses a patient with a brown recluse bite, they are frequently using the diagnosis as a catch all term for a necrotic skin ulcer. Is a necrotic skin ulcer fun? No. Frequently, though, it is a bad bacterial infection or fungal infection misdiagnosed as a recluse bite (my brother had a MRSA infection that was called a recluse bite… and then it reoccurred in the exact same spot), or it is a bad reaction to a bite by another kind of spider or insect, which can, if you react to bug bites like I do, cause quite the reaction. I got bit by a bitty little jewel orb weaver last year and it bothered me quite a lot. The bite I have right now is disgusting and awful; I am not saying the diagnosis is wrong, and regardless, the treatment I was given for the bite is right. The only point I am trying to make is the brown recluse does not cause as many bites as are reported.

I guess this makes me special if I was bitten...

I guess this makes me special if I was bitten…

Spiders get some bad press. I personally love spiders. Even if I did get bit by a recluse, I can pinpoint when it happened, and I wouldn’t blame the little guy/lady. I am huge and scary and, let’s face it, pretty clumsy. I would have terrified it and it would have had no escape. The only option would have been to give me a lil’ nip and hope it would then have time to run away. Unfortunately I didn’t know I was bit until much later, I assume the spider got away safely, and I hope it did. Spiders aren’t out to get us. Spiders are our pals, our buddies. They eat all the bugs that are NOT our friends. They eat the things that fly up in our faces and transmit diseases. I have a wolf spider living under my couch that eats all the house centipedes (I HATE house centipedes).

This creepy image came up when I was looking up "shy recluse." And that is how most people picture recluses... lurking around corners.

This creepy image came up when I was looking up “shy recluse.” And that is how most people picture recluses… lurking around corners.

Recluses were named because they are shy and don’t like being around areas of activity. The name, however, seems to give the impression that these spiders lurk in corners waiting to ambush people. The big MYTH to dispel: I have a hard time with this one because, having grown up in recluse territory, this one has been deeply ingrained in me… recluses are extremely unlikely to hide in shoes. A shoe would make a recluse feel trapped (even before your foot is in it) and it would smell like you long after you wore the shoe. That is not to say a recluse has NEVER hid in a shoe (the myth probably started from some truth), but it is probably one of the last places a recluse would pick to hide.

They think we stink. The cartoon says so.

They think we stink. The cartoon says so.

Having lived in Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi, I have heard lots of stories about recluse infested buildings. Heck, one of the buildings at my undergraduate institution had been infested at one point, and it was rumored the basement was still filled with recluses. Oddly enough, many of these stories are true. The infestation occurrence with recluses is not understood, because they ARE shy animals and they don’t like being close to other spiders. You may notice, though, in all of these infestation scenarios (at least all the ones I have ever heard and all the major ones in the news), no one living in the buildings gets bit. Here is a great summary  of one of these instances that really helps take away the sensationalism that most journalism gives to these stories.

It’s true that most people see a brown spider and they assume it’s a recluse. I have been guilty of this myself. And, honestly, if you are afraid a spider is a recluse, are you really going to take the time to check the eyes or inspect the “fiddle?” If you look at enough pictures, though, the recluse is pretty distinct and hard to misidentify. If you are faced with an unfamiliar brown spider, be cautious, scoop it up in a container, and check a photo. If it IS a recluse… I would just put it safely outside. But that’s me. I like my spider friends, they keep me safe. I also sleep with 4 tarantulas above my bed (in tanks, of course, but still).

Additionally… the scary pictures of recluse bites you see online? Some of them are real. The SUPER NASTY disgusting ones that show people’s limbs falling off? Not a recluse bite. You can find the exact same pictures under labels for different injuries. These pictures are reused in order to freak people out. What are they actually from? I could guess, but they have been reused so much it is hard to say. I can say that your entire hand does not turn black, with pus and bone exposure, on “day 3” after the bite.

Do brown recluses bite? Yes, but only if  they think they are in grave danger and have no escape route. They are flighters, not fighters. Does a brown recluse bite hurt like the dickens and will it take a long time (up to 6 months) to heal? Yes. Will it kill you? No death has ever been recorded from a brown recluse bite, so unless you’re the first, highly unlikely.

Respect the recluse! Don’t hate. They keep our ecosystem balanced and happy and healthy. And they play the fiddle.

violin

I really wanted there to be a picture of a spider playing the fiddle. Why does that not exist???? This is as close as I could find.

 

 

April 2015 Book of the Month: The War of the Wizards

I have been searching for this book for YEARS. I read this book as a small girl and received sooooo many rainy afternoons of pleasure from its pages.

The War of the Wizards (not to be confused with War with the Newts) by Carol Gaskin is a Forgotten Forest book. It is a classic choose your own adventure type book. I had a difficult time finding it as I had forgotten (haha, the irony…) which series it belonged to, and using War of the Wizards as a search brings back other, better selling choose your own adventures.

war of the wizards

Yep. Classic cover art.

 

The premise: you are the apprentice to the wisest wizard of all. You think he’s an old fart. He and his all powerful buddies (a hot sorceress and a fire wizard who lives in a volcano) are on the verge of war. What do you do???

This is my all time favorite choose your own adventure. I still remember most of the endings (I don’t remember the “good” ending, but those are always boring). In my favorite ending of all, which is why this was dubbed BOOK OF THE MONTH, you go to speak to the fire wizard.

Paraphrased (from my 9 year old self’s memory, so it is not a spoiler):

The fire wizard is, predictably, a real hot head. You sneak into his fortress by using a spell to turn you into a huge fire salamander. He finds you. I don’t remember why, I think your boss already talked to him or something, but he decides peace is a super idea on his own. However, he has been wanting a giant fire salamander for a pet for sooooo long… You are doomed forever to be his big squishy pet.

Salamander wizard pet.

Salamander wizard pet.

That made me super happy. I loved that ending.

I recall endings involving turning into toads, involving magical illnesses, involving horrible death… Even if you don’t like choose your own adventures (are you mad?) I recommend this book for the salamander ending. Also, for this type of book, it actually has pretty well developed characters. There were dozens of these in my childhood library, and I can safely say this is the only one I can solidly remember.

Take an afternoon and get lost backtracking through your poor decisions in War of the Wizards!!

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Titan Thursday: The Bust of Gillman

I looooooooooooooooooooooooooooove Creature from the Black Lagoon. It is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Gillman is that perfect combination of animal and misunderstood monster (like Godzilla and Frankenstein’s monster all in one) that gives me all the right emotions. As a biologist, I really appreciate the movie and the evolutionary bits too. I mean… what IS Gillman??? Evolutionarily speaking, he could be an amphibian, a fish, a primate…. It’s madness!

I would love replica of the hand they find at the archaeological dig in the movie… I don’t have that, though. What I do have is this handsome bust in my library (why, yes, that IS a first English edition of War with the Newts he is propping up…).

Handsome devil.

Handsome devil.

Many artists appreciate the good looks of Gillman and have rendered his visage into something worthy of one’s mantel. Today, we appreciate the busts of Gillman. Enjoy.

Here is an especially epic work, where a bust of Gillman is locked in eternal battle with a Predator. The mantel this bust graces must be legendary.

I like the water. It looks like Gillman surprised Predator.

I like the water. It looks like Gillman surprised Predator. Art by GorillaKing18 at deviantart.

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Mythology Monday: Xolotl, king of the A-xolotls!

This Mythology Monday is devoted to the Aztec god Xolotl (would have been pronounced “sh-ō-lōt-uhl”).

Classic representation of Xolotl.

Classic representation of Xolotl.

Aztec gods are not often “the god of ___.” They usually represent many things. Xolotl is a trickster god (kind of Loki or Coyote esque), he is the god of fire and lightening, he is the guardian of the underworld (in an Anubis manner, he guides soul through the underworld, and he also guides the sun through the underworld at night), he is the god of deformities, and of the evening star.

xolotl (1)

Xolotl is the twin of Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent, another one of my favorites), although they look nothing alike. Xolotl is typically personified as a man with the head of a dog, a skeleton with the head of a dog, or a man with the skull of a dog.

Representation of Xolotl by Amrock.

Representation of Xolotl by Amrock.

So why do we, the lovers of amphibians, reptiles, and other less loved critters care?

The dog head of Xolotl.

The dog head of Xolotl.

Xolotl…. Sound a little like axolotl? Not a coincidence! The a-xolotls lived in Aztec waters, and Aztecs thought they looked like little water dogs. Because of this dog like appearance, they made a connection with the god Xolotl. They thought the a-xolotls to be the earthly incarnations of Xolotl and Xolotl’s devoted followers.

So respect the a-xolotls! They are little manifestations of a powerful Aztec god!