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Freshwater Ecology lab field work, 2014

Well, I just finished what (might) be the last draft of my thesis before my defense and also just finished my last teaching assistantship of my Master’s career. In between searching for jobs (anyone need a good ecologist?) I’ve had some time to look through some of the pictures my students took in the Florida Atlantic University Freshwater Ecology class I was TA’ing this summer semester. It was a great class, and we got to do and see some very interesting stuff – although as I was helping teach the class I didn’t photograph quite as much as I would’ve liked. But, fortunately I had a couple, and also one of the students in the class, Jen, graciously let me use her photos – so most of them in this post belong to her.

 

So, after finishing up my thesis field work and delving into the deep dark corners of my house to write for months on end, I got to get back into the field and some of my former haunts with this class and Dr. Dorn (the prof. for the class, and my graduate advisor) got to show them some of the wonders of a world present right among them (though seldom considered).

 

To initially introduce the class of some quantitative ecology field methods, we brought them to a retention pond behind the Davie campus.

Seineing:

Passive aquatic traps:

Plankton netting:

Fyke nets (I’d love to give these a shot for Rainbow Snakes!)

 

 

Some of the bounty:

Jaguar Cichlid (I think):

Tilapia:

 

Next we got to take a look in two of my former study wetlands in Jonathan Dickinson State Park. This was a lot of fun, we picked two of my sites that were right next to each other – sandhill lakes of similar size – and looked at the invertebrates in the two in terms of species assemblage (generally) and size structure.

 

The Florida Park service (via park biologist Rob Rossmanith) was gracious enough to help us with site access deep in the scrub:

 

 

 

Site 20: lot’s of fish.

 

Largemouth bass:

Lake Chubsucker:

Physid snails:

 

Long story short, some low activity invertebrates, but mostly fish.

 

Site 19: fishless. Mmmm.

As seen from the ridge above it.

Some of the catch; Buenoa sp., Damselfly larvae, Procambarus fallax and Anax junius larvae (and I think another species of dragonfly too):

Tadpoles:

Barkin’ Treefrog (Hyla gratiosa)

This one I’m not 100% on, as I didn’t catch this size class during my field work. I think a barking treefrog young of the year, but I’m not too sure.

Damselfly:

A leopard frog, showing the telltale “soul patch”

The particularly impressive Pinewoods Treefrog, Hyla femoralis:

Cricket frog larva and adult:

We found only 4 tadpole species total in the pond; though I know of at least 6 species that breed there. From left to right: Barking Treefrog, Pinewoods Treefrog, Cricket Frog, Leopard Frog.

 

We also visited some other wetlands of interest in the area;

 

A seepage bog filled with sphagnum: a rare site in Florida.

And a cypress strand which hadn’t filled up for the wet season yet. in the high, dry strand itself we found this Lethocerus sp. under a board:

 

And nearby in a ditch was the last water in the immediate area:

But even in this primordial soup was life – seminole killifish, mosquitofish, black acara and one watersnake (not captured for obvious reasons). Dr. Dorn was brave enough to sample the puddle with a bar seine – you can see the contents in the background and one of the seminole killifish in the foreground.

and a Black Acara:

And in the sand nearby were plenty of Oak Toads living it up in their post-metamorphic life.

And one last site to briefly dip-net for the day; the fish-filled site 5. Not much going on here besides fish, unfortunately.

 

Finally, the last week of field work involved going to the Loxahatchee River via the Riverbend Park put-in. It was some people’s first time in Kayaks; so an interesting time for sure.

Turtles were aplenty:

I even outfoxed a couple with the dipnet.

Hazards were many:

 

 

We did some dipnetting, including a couple in the group trying to net some big fish at one of the dams.

…and crabs among the snail beds:

I wanted to dip this Vallisneria (Tapegrass), but the flow was a little too quick:

And on our lunch break I took to looking for snakes:

And was rewarded soon thereafter with a Brown Watersnake, Nerodia taxispilota:

We also turned up some water lettuce at one of the dams, which provides excellent habitat for a wide range of herps and invertebrates:

more dragonfly naiads:

And the ever-abundant P. fallax

And also the invasive Insular Apple Snail

Then something amazing happened. I took a dip into the water lettuce and thought I’d gotten an amphiuma. On closer inspection it proved to be an American Eel (Anguilla rostrata) elver! I’d spent hours (and days) looking for these (and their predators) in Fisheating Creek; now to have one turn up haphazardly in a dip – wow.

We got two in one dip, this one and an even smaller elver – and then one of our group saw a larger (~2ft) one down by the second dam – it singlehandedly made an already-excellent class that much more worth it – need any more be said?

 

Thanks for viewing all, hope you enjoyed.

 

-Josh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple publications

Ones I neglected to post last year – dietary notes from the Florida Green Watersnake.

 

Holbrook, J. D., C. A. Young, D. P. Young and N. Greenwald. 2013. Nerodia floridana (Florida Green Watersnake). Diet. Herpetological Review 44(3):525.

 

Vogrinc, P., J. D. Willson, A. M. Durso, L. A. Bryan, Z. Ross, J. Holbrook and D. Filipiak. 2013. Nerodia floridana (Florida Green Watersnake). Diet. Herpetological Review 44(4):695.

 
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Posted by on 30/04/2014 in Uncategorized

 

Herping Paraguay, Part III

Well, we were back in Filadelfia after a night in Defensores Del Chaco and were starting up with the reason for the herping: we had some specimens to use as educational animals for some classes we were teaching at the New Tribes Mission Ed Camp. We got to work teaching about the wonderful, beautiful wildlife literally just outside our door. Some shots of teaching – I gave them a clue in this first picture as to what the specimen was – see if you can see it.

 

 

 

The herps I brought to show them were a hit – as was the gushing wound the Boa gave me when I wasn’t paying attention. The kids from the camp were quick to show me their herping skills – bringing me a few species they’d found around the mission house:

 

 

It was all fun and games until they proudly showed this guy off to me:

 

 

And of course, some relaxation time was in order – Paraguayan style: Terere and a copy of Gerald Durrel’s “The Drunken Forest” (If you’re a herper/animal type and haven’t read this book, you need to).

 

While in Fili I capitalized on the evenings to get out and search for more specimens for the class – the moonrise was getting later now and making herping a little more productive. The first night of the Ed Camp I got out and found this guy, a Mussarana (Bioruna maculata). Unfortunately it had recently been hit – I thought it might pull through though, so I bagged it and brought it out the next morning for the K-4th grade class. Unfortunately, my hopes for it surviving came to naught, and I quickly emptied the building with the smell of putrifying Mussarana.But not to be dismayed by one night’s sparse finds, we headed out the following night: this time it was cloudy and was beginning to look like rain, and that’s all it took for the best night of roadcruising on the trip.

 

You see, we had been driving aimlessly along dusty lanes through Mennonite farmland without a single find; until I began to see the little liquid drops of rain on my windshield. In Florida, rain is typically a kiss of death for snakes; but I explained to Beka that I’d heard in drier climates that it actually brought snakes out to play. As I was explaining this, I turned a corner and there before me was another Mussarana; this one much more alive than the last:

 

 

And things just got better from there, mere feet down the road I spied a tricolor banner slide in front of me. Tricolor it was, though only later that night did I confirm that it was a Oxyrhopus rhombifer.

 

Another corner, another snake! This time it was a a Chaco Miner Snake (Phimophis vittatus):

Its rostrum was similar to hognoses back in Florida:

 

 

The beginnings of a great night – but it was soon hit with a twinge of disappointment. We found a DOR Tricolored Hognose (Xenodon pulcher) one of my top targets for the trip. Even so, he stilled looked alive, so I photographed the DOR:

 

By now it seemed everything had stopped moving, so Beka and I started back for Fili. On our way, we spied a mammal and stopped to take pictures of this Azara’s Fox (Lycalopex gymnocercus).

 

To our surprise, the rain which has tapered off began to build again, and we managed one last find for the night, a snake the locals call the Jarará, Bothrops diporus:

What a beautiful snake! I was particularly captivated by its eyes.

 

Anyway, with the Education Camp over, Beka and I were going to hang out at Shaun and Melanie’s property in the more western part of the Chaco. On the way we saw several species of Liophis and Racer, but only managed decent shots of one – most of the Racers in Paraguay are rear fanged, and I didn’t want to experiment with their bite toxicity on this occasion:

 

Around that time, we had some car trouble, and finally hobbled into Shawn’s driveway some hours later, at which point he took a look at the car: the prognosis was not good and we were to herp on foot for the rest of the trip. Oh well, lo que será, será.

 

But nevertheless there were some more critters found. Among them a live Tricolored Hog. As found:

 

Posed:

 

 

This is what some of the typical Chacoan thornscrub habitat looked like near the native village we were staying in:

Shaun and Melanie’s homestead:

 

 

 

That evening, we went in to help with a snakebite victim in the village. We were hoping to identfy the species to tell whether they would need to go to the hospital. Unfortunately the identification was all too clear, it was a small Neotropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus terrificus). Shaun took the woman to the hospital in the truck, and Beka, Melanie and I walked home. On our way back, we saw a larger Rattlesnake, but unfortunately I only had my long lens on me, so the pictures were not superb:

 

We also found a larger Chacoan Monkey Treefrog the next night. In situ:

 

 

Posed:

 

And behind  the house in the Swamp, a lone Broad Snouted Caiman, Caiman latirostris:

 

And the last snake before heading back to Fili to catch a bus was a juvenile Mussarana. This particular individual was found on one of those starry nights that are so vivid in the Chaco, where the stars are like a glowing cloud overhead.

 

We returned to Fili, had a nice meal out and readied for our bus trip home the next day. We managed a couple more snakes for the trip (and a couple of frogs) after a Mennonite man kindly showed us a well at the Fili airport that had been acting as a big pitfall trap. Ironically this was one of the few cases I’ve ever come across of misidentification of a venomous species for a nonvenomous one – the guy had said they were boas at the bottom of the well!

 

That was about it for our time in Paraguay, except for a couple of days to relax in the capital of Asuncion before returning stateside. I’ll leave everyone with a few miscellaneous shots that I forgot where they fit in with the narrative. Thanks for reading all.

 

-Josh

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Posted by on 30/04/2014 in Tales From the Field

 

Herping Paraguay, Part II

Picking right off from where we left off…

 

After our evening in Fili, we decided to hit the road and head off to Parque Nacional Defensores del Chaco (Defenders of the Chaco National Park, or DNP as we called it); a few hours north.

On the way there we were treated with a lot of wildlife – unfortunately little of it was herpetofaunal, but even the birds in Paraguay are something to behold. The one herp on the way up was this Spirit Diminutive Snake (Psomophis genimaculatus) which is evidently not a commonly seen snake (whether it’s rare or not is hard to say in a country as little-herped as Paraguay.) It reminded me of a Pinewoods Snake back home.

Other animals from the drive up,

 

Jabiru Storks, a very interesting looking bird.

 

Caracara – there are several species in Paraguay. We have Crested Caracaras in Florida and I always thought it odd that they would have the name “Face-face” – but evidently the name is Guarani, a native language from Paraguay (and spoken by more of the population than spanish!) and it’s onomonopedic (is that a word?), sounding like their call.

 

Other things seen on the drive out:

 

I was happy for an upclose look at a Rhea after missing on pictures of them in Bolivia a couple years earlier:

 

The Bottle Tree; one of the most picturesque trees in the Chaco:

 

We got permission from one of the rangers to set up a tent onsite, so we pitched it and explored the grounds around the ranger station:

 

Beka found a young goat that she liked: I told her not to get too attached.

We headed out from the ranger station to drive the main road; it looked something like this:

 

 

We were hoping to get a little ways down it and to Cerro Leon, an interesting formation – a hill of sorts in the middle of the vast, flat Chaco. On the drive there we saw a couple of rabbit-like Chacoan Mara:

 

Water being as scarce as it is, any mud hole was an important resource for Lepidopterans (moths and butterflies) and we saw them by the hundreds:

 

There were also ubiquitous Armadillos – Paraguay actually has over a dozen species:

 

Finally we arrived at Cerro Leon and hiked up to get a view of the Chaco from on high:

 

That night we had an unfortunate realization that snake activity might be a bit depressed: a big, bright full moon. We saw one snake, a Yellow-bellied Leophis (Erythrolamprus poecilogyrus), and some other non-herps as well:

Interestingly enough, despite fact that this was the most remote place I’d ever been, I ran into someone I knew there – Paul from Fauna Paraguay (http://faunaparaguay.com/). I’d emailed back in forth with him quite a bit prior to coming; and he was having similar sparse luck on animals for the evening. The next morning after a late night of cruising we hit the road to return to Fili. On the way, interspersed between big trucks coming down from Bolivia we saw a peculiar shadow in the road.

Sure enough – a beautiful Argentine Boa. The color variant in the Chaco is absolutely gorgeous.

Posed up:

 

That’s all for tonight, hang around for part III

 

 

 
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Posted by on 14/04/2014 in Tales From the Field

 
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Herping Paraguay, Part I

Hello all,

 

It’s been two months (and change) since I’ve posted – I’ve been spending time either in the great white north, down in Florida working on my thesis, and doing a little herping here and there. I also just finished up the bulk of the writing on my second book, a children’s story about a pack of dogs in the Paraguayan Chaco; and as such I’ve been thinking about Beka and my last trip there in April of 2011, when we went to teach at the New Tribes Mission Ed Camp. This was covered in detail in an issue of Herp Nation magazine, so if you’ve not checked that out please do – http://www.herpnation.com/issues/issue-no-14/?simple_nav_category=issues – not wanting to upstage the paying gig, I’m going to keep the narrative here to a minimum (but throw in a couple of pictures that didn’t make the cut in the HN issue.)

 

Paraguay; I’ve been in love with the place since going there in 2005. I’ve been to quite an array of countries: Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, Germany, Poland, Austria, Peru, Bolvia, Brazil – but none of them are quite as amazing to me as Paraguay. I don’t know if I could quite explain it, except to say that there’s a certain freedom and mystery there that can only come from a country so wild and sparsely population. I say wild, but there’s also a certain sophistication there, probably brought on by the large mennonite population in the Chaco, the northwestern part of the country.

Anyways, all that aside until later. Beka and I arrive in mid-April in Asuncion, the country’s capital city. Within a day I was thrust into my first experience driving an manual transmission and we were off on the Ruta Trans Chaco (Cross Chaco Highway) towards our destination. On the way, there was some mixed feelings of thrill and disappointment, such as with this big guy, an animal I instinctively knew as we passed by, despite never having seen one in the wild before:

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Hopefully I’ll turn up a live Yellow Anaconda someday, but it seems this one had got going with the coming of the rains and got nailed on the Trans Chaco; an event I found was not isolated – a little while later we saw this poor guy:

A Tamadua – a species we had at the Zoo I was working at, but our individual wasn’t as blond as this guy. It was a depressing sight for sure. But, arriving in Filadelfia lifted my spirits. Filadelfia (Fili) is an interesting town – there’s a couple of supermarkets and stores, but most of it looks like this:

 

And stray too far from the central grid and you arrive at places like this:

or the occasional wetland:

 

In short, my kind of town. Despite the last couple of pictures, the Chaco is often a very dry place – the year previous, in fact, parts of the Chaco had gone 10 months without rain gracing their skies. Beka and I were very fortunate to have arrived during a very wet time. We actually arrived after dark (the previous pictures were taken later) with a light rainfall, so needless to say as soon as we got in and dropped our stuff off at the mission house we were to be staying at, we hopped back in the car and went out frogging. It was a fruitful night, and some of the Chaco’s best made an appearance.

 

Chacoan Monkey Treefrogs (Phyllomedusa sauvagii) were among the first seen; looking quite out of place crossing the road – they walk rather than hop and look about as odd as any human would walking on all fours:

 

 

Interesting color variant; some of these daytime pictures were taken the following day as Beka and I were holding onto a few specimens to show at the Ed Camp:

Granular Toads (Rhinella major) were also out in force:

And these might just be my favorite amphibians of the trip; looking like a gigantic version of our narrowmouth toads, called the Mueller’s Narrowmouth (Dermatonotus muelleri). The local missionary kids called them turtle frogs – an appropriate common name, I’d say, because they looked like little turtles when they walked across the road.

 

Another “familiar” (but not really familiar) face was this Chaco Frog (Leptodactylus chaquensis), which is a doppelganger of the Leopard frog in the US:

Then there was this Paradox frog (Pseudis paradoxa) – so named because of the fact that they actually shrink when going from larval stages to adulthood (similar to River Frogs in the southeast); they’re also strange because although they look like a Ranid, they’re actually a hylid. Go figure.

The Oven Frogs (Leptodactylus bufonius). Interestingly enough, these guys will often inhabit Vischacha (wild chinchilla) burrows.

Then came some of my favorites – the horned frogs. We saw two species, Ceratophrys  cranwelli and Chacophrys pierottii:

The two together, dorsal:

And shot from the front that Beka took:

And, a final find for the night, I thought I escaped Cane Toads (nasty animals!) when I left south Florida. Kind of, but not quite: another doppleganger, Bufo schneideri.

And one final Phyllomedusa for the night, P. azurea:

 

 

 

 

 

That’s all for part one folks – stay tuned for part 2 – Defensores Del Chaco and La Princesa.

 

 
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Posted by on 13/04/2014 in Tales From the Field, Uncategorized

 

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Next Meeting of the South Florida Herp Society – Featuring Shawn Heflick

Hey Everyone,

I know a lot of south Florida locals read this blog – the South Florida Herp Society is having its next meeting on February 1st at Wild Cargo Pets in West Palm Beach – 7pm.

We’re having Shawn Heflick (From the Nat. Geo show Python Hunters) speak – he’ll be giving a talk entitled “Reptile Conservation, Filming and Fun around the World”

Please come join us, it’s not too often we have TV stars at our SF Herp Society gatherings – meeting is $5 for non-members, but first time attendees are free.

 

 

ALSO – Come by Wild Cargo beforehand (12pm – 6pm) for the first SFHS Flea Market – a variety of herp-related products will be for sale; including 20, 10, and 5 gallon tanks and critter carriers: all for ridiculously low prices. We’ll be around in Wild Cargo’s back lot.

 
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Posted by on 17/01/2014 in Uncategorized

 
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Field Herping October – December 2013, Part II

 

I know, I know, everyone is filled with excitement after that intro, so we’ll jump right into it.

 

The time of year was right, so I made the 5 hour trek to Daniel’s place and join him, his son Mike and Jake Scott to go kick (ok, photograph) some herpetofaunal tail (maybe I should just say “Caudates.”)

 

But before that, we took a day to seek out one of my favorite groups of snakes, running into Mike Rochford and joined by Lloyd Heilbrunn along the way. Mike was newly married (Congrats again Mike!) and hoping for the road to spit him out a wedding present. Meanwhile in another car, Lloyd was also hoping for some good fortunes, and I was secretly pulling for him (I was in his car, after all.) After not too much time, bam!

 

This Southern Hognose came a few minutes after a pygmy, which for some reason I neglected to use my flash on.

 

Mike stuck around after we were on our way and had similar luck – maybe he’ll throw up a picture on the forum at some point.

 

Meanwhile, on with our journey, the next find was quite novel to me: I enjoy Box Turtles, and seeing the sheer size of one of these Gulf Coasters had me dumbfounded.

 

And look at that head!

 

Moving onwards, the sun set and we began to hike around. We were hoping for rain, to no avail. We nearly stepped on a couple of lurking Cottonmouths. Ok, maybe “nearly” is a bit sensationalistic. . .

 

But persevere we did, through every danger, toil and snare (see aforementioned). I was taking a gander at this little fellow for a while.

 

 

Finally, I heard a whoop from ahead.

 

Ambystoma cingulatum

Now that’s the stuff dreams are made of. We returned to our car, victorious, and headed to other areas. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem that too much was out and about – though I managed one additional lifer for the eve’; a River Frog.

 

What a weekend! Team Aquatica was victorious, though it was bittersweet as I had not encountered one of my targets for the weekend, the last of the Nerodia clarkii subspecies I had yet to find: the Gulf Saltmarsh Snake (Nerodia clarkii clarkii.)

 

So, I waited. Patience is one of those herping virtues that allows one to do things like have a life outside of herping: you know, have a job, family – all that stuff that people have been doing since time unmemorable. Well, a month later I hopped back in the car and back up to northern Florida for yet another reunion of Team Aquatica. This time the target was clarkii.

 

We met up with Jason and he promptly showed us four he had gotten earlier in the evening. Primed for action we got walking through the marsh…

 

And walking…

 

And walking…

 

And nothing…

 

Well, that was anticlimactic. Fortunately for you (and us) we sacrificed our health (late night) and sanity (see previous bracket) completely beyond what is reasonable, advisable or intelligent and decided it would be a jolly good idea to drive a little father north to another spot. We hopped out at a culvert and began shining – Mike had eyes like an Osprey and said he saw something on the edge of the salt creek. Well slap me silly! what did we see before us but the biggest, most impressive clarkii we’d ever seen (it was actually a first for Daniel, and I believe Mike too.) So I showed them my clarkii-wrangling expertise and did a flying leap into the knee-deep mud to find my writhing quarry in my hand:

 

 

(Please allow for a short intermission to allow my adrenaline levels to recede.)

 

What a beauty.

 

Happy with our victory, we headed to camp for a couple hours of sleep, and then on the road again. Once again, pesky terrestrial herps waylaid us on our journey. There was that one that nearly caused an accident when Dan laid on the breaks in front of me:

 

A young and beautiful Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

 

One Diamondback in a day is pleasant enough, two (for me) is rarely ever even worth hoping for. A Little later in the day, whaddaya know:

 

It did that funky thing EDB’s sometimes do where they’ll stick out their tongue and just let it sit there.

 

I was tempted to touch the tongue, and would have had the snake not been highly venomous

 

Another successful trip and pretty soon we’re in the month of December. I just finished the last class of my Master’s Degree and was up for a little celebration. I gave Josh Young a call to invite him on a trip to completely circumnavigate (or was it circumvent?) Lake Okeechobee. A more complete account of the day can be found here: http://fieldventures.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/a-schools-out-field-venture/ We got going around 7am, and quickly began flipping debris, turning up a Blue-tailed Mole Skink, which did not stick around for photos. Soon thereafter though:

 

Mmm, victory.

 

We kept on looking for our next target: Nerodia clarkii from Lee County. We scouted out some great looking habitat and began hiking as the sun went down. After a long while we turned up a good number of clarkii:

 

The vast majority were hybrids, looking mostly like Florida Watersnakes

 

Well, heck of a day so far – why not keep it going? I thought.

My friend Jason joined us for this leg of the journey, here’s him and Josh photographing one of the Veiled Chameleons from the evening:

 

A great day, for sure. That’s mostly the end of the narrative portion of this post, but I’ve also, of course, accrued some et cetera shots from one-night outings here and there, so here are some of those finds:

An axanthic Striped Crayfish Snake from an otherwise unproductive night:

 

I’ve found that I’ve hardly photographed any cornsnakes in the past couple of years. A shame, I thought and made it a point to photograph one or two this season:

 

One of five Bobcats seen one evening:

 

A group shot from a field trip with the South Florida Herp Society:

 

Oustalet’s Chameleons:

 

A Juvenile Veiled Chameleon from the same evening:

 

Another taeniata:

 

 

That’s about all everyone, thanks for looking… Hopefully Episode VI will be coming in a few months.

 

-JDH

 
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Posted by on 07/01/2014 in Tales From the Field

 
 
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