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Captive and Field Herpetology

This is based on a recent talk by Ben Owens at Bangor University Herpetological Society.

About the journal

During a recent trip which spanned six months and saw Ben Owens herping in 9 countries, the idea of the Captive and Field Herpetology journal was formed. As its name suggests, the journal is based around herpetological husbandry, natural history notes and captive and field observations.

A few months later (albeit later on than Ben expected) the first issue of Captive and Field Herpetology was published online. It covers a range of topics from Asian water monitor behaviour to breeding helmeted basilisk, and can be found here.

About the expeditions

Ben then went on to explain the expeditions that Captive and Field Herpetology runs. Alongside the online journal, the herpetofauna-based expeditions to a variety of places. For example, the next trip in November will go to India. They seem ideal for people wanting to gain experience in herpetology.

Personal thoughts

I found Ben’s recent talk very engaging. His passion for herpetology was clear.

It was interesting to learn more about how the journal was established, and about how labour-intensive the process was. Before this talk, I had given little consideration towards working in a scientific journal. However, I now realise that this is an area that interests me career-wise. Perhaps when I have some experience in the world of scientific publishing, I will follow in Ben’s footsteps and start a scientific journal.

Organising a wildlife-based expedition is something that I have recently been looking into. Captive and Field Herpetology’s expeditions are a source of inspiration for my own expedition planning.

 

Captive and Field Herpetology

The Captive & Field Herpetology logo. Credit: Captive & Field Herpetology.

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Dispatches from a module

Welcome to 50% of one of my modules.

As part of the third year module Bio Enterprise and Employability, third year Bangor University students are set a blogging assignment. This is worth 50% of the module’s final mark.

Although many people choose to create a blog just for this module, I have decided to run it as a series at Barreleye Zoology.

So what will this series include?

  • Posts about the module’s sessions (Assessment Centres, Careers café, Dragons’ Den, CV Writing and Writing a Business Plan)
  • Posts about the module’s seminars 
  • Posts about relevant seminars, which may include talks from Bangor University Conservation Society, Bangor University Zoological Society and Bangor University Herpetological Society

In total, this series will be at least 10 posts long, with each post being 300-500 words long. Additionally, there will be a 1000-word long reflections post at the end of the module.

This series will be posted under the Bio Enterprise and Employability category. Normal blog posts will continue alongside this series.

I hope you enjoy this series, and that it will give you an insight into this module.

 

 

New species of the month: the Mediterranean’s smallest fish

Part of the Gobiidae, the most diverse fish family in the Mediterranean sea, Pomatoschistus nanus can measure as little as 23mm. It was first discovered by divers in Turkey, and joins 12 other species from the same genus.

Both DNA markers and morphological features were assessed to determine that P. nanus is a new species. The DNA samples were collected from fin clips, which showed the new species to be most closely related to P. bathiP. nanus has a markedly smaller body size than the other species in this genus.

Although this is a recently found species, its future may be in jeopardy as extinction risks of species in the Levantine basin increases. This discovery shows that there is still room for exploration of harder-to-reach fish in the Mediterranean.

 

The original paper can be found here.

 

The problem of chytrid fungus

The last Rabbs’ tree frog died exactly a year ago.

To mark this anniversary of the extinction of the Rabbs’ tree frog, this post will explore the origins, ecology and potential solutions to the problem of chytrid fungus. Before its extinction, wild populations of the frog were decimated by the fungus.

Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) is thought to have originated from Africa, and spread to other regions via the pet trade. It is now found in six continents. Although B. dendrobatidis has a complex evolutionary history, it started infecting amphibians relatively recently. Therefore, it is considered to be an emerging pathogen.

Despite its devastating effects in terrestrial ecosystems, chytrid fungus may play an important role in aquatic ecosystems. For example, they are thought to decompose organic matter and be a food source for zooplankton.

Transmission of B. dendrobatidis occurs during its free-swimming flagellated zoophore stage. Each zoophore can swim at speeds of up to 2cm/day.  At this point in the life cycle of the fungus, microorganisms such as water fleas may consume it.

After its free-swimming stage, the zoophore becomes substrate dependent. This may happen after infecting a host, and is the reproductive stage of the fungus’ life cycle. Chytrid fungus can infect both adults and juveniles, and further research into its pathogenesis is needed.

Despite the gloomy outlook from the world of amphibian conservation, all is not lost. Treatments such as heat therapy and antifungal drugs are being developed, with the aim of eradicating chytrid from amphibian populations.

Research suggests that in order for treatment to be effective, multiple lines of attack will be needed.  As our knowledge of this fungus increases, our ability to lessen its devastating effects on amphibian populations may improve.

In the meantime, we can continue to admire and support the work of place like the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Centre.

 

References

Ecology of chytrid

Evolution of chytrid

Freshwater ecosystems and chytrid

Origins of chytrid

Treatment of chytrid

Water fleas and chytrid

 

 

They (probably) can’t tranquillise it

Time and time again, I see people suggesting using a tranquilliser in situations where animals (and often the people around them) are in danger. It is often suggested as an alternative to killing the animal.

However, there are a few reasons why using a tranquilliser may not be possible:

Lack of trained professionals on site. Aiming at a moving target is hard. Also, in many countries, dart guns are heavily regulated (for example, here’s a brief summary of the UK’s laws on dart guns).

People in the area. If the dart misses the target, it could prove fatal for anyone receiving the dose of tranquilliser.

Tranquillisers don’t work instantly. During the time in which the drug kicks in, the animal may become confused, angry and disorientated. This could place both the public and the animal in further danger.

These are general reasons why an animal cannot be tranquillised, and each situation in which lethal methods are used is unique. It’s always sad when an animal dies. However, sometimes it is unavoidable.

 

 

New species of the month: a Chilean killifish

Pseudorestias lirimensis, found in the Chilean Altiplano, represents a new species and genus of killifish (order Cyprinodontiformes).

A total of 26 fish from the Chancacolla River and Charvinto Creek were collected for this study. Physical data was collected for 20 of these. Genetic material from five of these was analysed. The sex of each fish was also recorded.

A few physical differences between the sexes were found. For example. females were found to be elongated. They also had a neuromast (sensory organ) pattern not found in males.  This differs from species of the genus Orestias (a genus of pupfish in Cyprinodontiformes).

Genetic analysis showed that both males and females had a chromosome number of 48, which is often seen in the family Cyprinodontidae. The structure of the chromosomes differed from those seen in the genus Orestias.

The authors have proposed a IUCN Red List category of critically endangered for Pseudorestias lirimensis. This is due to its limited range (less than 100 km²), water demands in the region and climate change.

The original paper can be found here.

 

Consider the lizards when choosing clothes

A recent study has revealed that T-shirt colour may affect the behaviour of the western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis). So how did they do it, and what might this mean for the species and people who study it?

Location 

2 Southern Californian sites, one closed to the public and the other in a public park,  were used

Measuring T-shirt colours

The team used 4 T-shirts: one light blue, one dark blue, one grey and one red. To human eyes, the blue T-shirts appeared to match the colour of the lizards’ ventral patches. In order to determine how much each T-shirt stood out in the lizards’ habitat, one researcher was photographed wearing the T-shirts at both sites.

Measuring the lizards’ behaviour

Sites were sampled randomly, as was the order in which the T-shirts were worn. As the researcher walked towards a lizard, the animal’s movement was recorded. The distance at which the animals moved away (flight initiation distance, FID) was calculated using the formula FID = (horizontal distance)² + (height of lizard above ground)². After approaching the lizard, the researcher attempted to capture it using a noose. Adults were used in all trials. The sex of the lizard and the distance from starting point to capture were also recorded.

Results

T-shirt colour influenced the distance which the lizards moved from the researcher (FID). The red T-shirt produced the longest FID, whereas the dark blue T-shirt produced the shorted FID.

Human activity levels were shown to have no impact on FID.

The greatest proportion of lizards were captured when dark blue T-shirts were worn. Red T-shirts produced the lowest capture rate.

The potential impact on the western fence lizard and the researchers who study it

Both researchers and tourists might reconsider their choice of clothes when in lizard habitat

As this was the first study to examine this, further research will need to be done in order to determine the full impact of clothing on lizards.

 

The original study can be found here at PLOS ONE