2014, international Year of the Salamander


This video from North America says about itself:

The barred tiger salamander may look cute, but to any insects passing by, it’s a deadly predator.

2014 will be the international Year of the Salamander.

In this year 2013, the fire salamander was, and is till New Year, the Amphibian of the Year in the Netherlands.

In line with other countries, in 2014 all salamander species will be Dutch Amphibians of the Year.

Dutch 2014 various wildlife species of the year: here.

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Orchids and axolotls in the botanical garden


This is a Dutch video about botanist Ed de Vogel, who discovered many orchids on New Guinea island.

9 December 2013. To the botanical garden orchid collection.

We met Ed de Vogel at the recently restored hothouse complex of the botanical garden. The banana plants were flowering.

Eleven plant species are named after De Vogel. also two species of seashells; which he studied before specializing in botany.

He said that now, about 3000 New Guinea orchid species are known. Maybe still a thousand species there are unknown yet.

De Vogel estimates that, all over the world, there are about 30,000 orchid species; a higher estimate than Wikipedia, which estimates, at least today, “between 21,950 and 26,049″ species. De Vogel’s estimate makes orchids the biggest flowering plant family; more numerous than Asteraceae.

Most orchids are epiphytes, growing on shrubs, or high in trees. A minority, including all species native to the Netherlands, grow on ground level.

One of the species in the hothouses is Grammatophyllum speciosum, the biggest orchid species in the world.

Other species here: Arundina graminifolia. And Dendrobium chrysopterum. Discovered only ten years ago; described then by De Vogel.

A bit further, a related species: Dendrobium spectabile.

In all the botanical garden hothouses together, there are about 3000 orchid species; some not yet described. Mainly from South East Asia; making Leiden botanical garden the garden with most South East Asian orchids in the world.

Bulbophyllum medusae is flowering. Various orchids flower in the hothouses throughout the year; never all at once.

In the hothouse, only accessible for scientific research, there are not only orchids, but pitcher plants as well: Nepenthes vogelii.

Dendrobium victoria-reginae is originally from the Philippines. It was named after Queen Victoria of England.

Chelonistele maximae-reginae is named after Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. Recently, De Vogel described that new species.

In a small aquarium in the non-accessible part of the building, many small fish. And three axolotl salamanders: two whitish, one brownish. Will they be exhibited in a bigger aquarium, visible for the public, again, like before the reconstruction of the hothouses. Yes, says Ed de Vogel.

This video says about itself:

Axolotl salamanders continue to intrigue researchers

15 June 2011

Students and professors at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois are studying axolotl salamanders. They are trying to discover why some of the salamanders appear to hold air in their lungs while continuing to get oxygen through their gills. The lungs full of air make the salamanders float to the surface, and the students call them “Floaters.”

Hellbender salamander rock music video


This video from the Center for Biological Diversity in the USA says about itself:

Hellbenders Rock

20 nov 2013

We love hellbenders. But they’re not the cuddliest of species, with their slimy bodies that look like the 2-foot-long lovechild of phlegm and a rock. Actually these critters — also called (by people not on the Center’s staff) “devil dogs” and “snot otters” — are pretty much a PR nightmare for anyone trying to fight off their extinction due to water pollution and dams. The rallying cry “Save the Snot Otter” doesn’t always go over well.

Happily for the hellbender, a band from St. Louis is now doing this salamander justice through song. They may yet make a rock ‘n’ roll legend out of North America’s largest amphibian.

We think there are few things more rockin’ than raising a little hellbender.

NATURAL HISTORY

HELLBENDER: Cryptobranchus alleganiensis
FAMILY: Cryptobranchidae

DESCRIPTION: Hellbenders are considered to be living fossils because they have changed so little over time. They are large, stout-bodied, fully-aquatic salamanders that grow to be two feet long with brown, grey or black skin with lighter markings. Hellbenders have flattened bodies and heads that allow them to cling to the river bottom, as well as a rough pad on their toes for traction on slick rocks. They have paddle-like tails for swimming, and numerous folds of fleshy skin for oxygen absorption. Their eyes are small, without lids, and their skin secretes toxic slime to ward off predators.

HABITAT: This salamander occurs in rocky, clear creeks and rivers, usually where there are large shelter rocks. It generally avoids water warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Males prepare nests and attend eggs beneath large, flat rocks or submerged logs.

RANGE: This species is found in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The Ozark subspecies is found only in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.

MIGRATION: The hellbender does not migrate.

BREEDING: Hellbender breeding is aquatic. Males may move short distances within their home ranges to brooding sites. The breeding season is variable but occurs mainly in September and October; a male prepares a nest by moving gravel to create a saucer-shaped depression, then depositing 200-400 eggs in the depression. The male fertilizes the eggs and guards the nests until the young are about three weeks old.

LIFE CYCLE: Newly hatched larvae are approximately 1.2 inches long. Development is rapid, and hatchlings double their size in the first year. Larvae normally lose their external gills in the second summer after hatching. Hellbenders reach sexual maturity at five to six years and may live as long as 30 years.

FEEDING: Crayfish are the most important food items for hellbenders, but the salamanders’ diet also includes fish, insects, earthworms, snails, tadpoles, fish eggs, other hellbenders and other hellbenders’ eggs.

THREATS: This species is mainly threatened by poor water quality, unsustainable collection for the pet trade and scientific purposes, persecution by anglers, disease caused by chytrid fungus, stocking of predatory fish and loss of genetic diversity.

POPULATION TREND: The hellbender is declining throughout its range. The Ozark hellbender in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas is in especially alarming decline.

Action timeline

May 4, 2004 — The Center petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list 225 candidate species, including the Ozark hellbender.

April 20, 2010 — The Center petitioned to list 404 aquatic, riparian and wetland species in the southeastern United States as threatened or endangered, including the hellbender.

September 8, 2010 — The Service issued a proposed rule to list the Ozark hellbender as endangered but refused to designate critical habitat.

November 8, 2010 — The Center filed comments with the Fish and Wildlife Service urging the Service to designate critical habitat for the Ozark hellbender.

July 12, 2011 — The Center reached a landmark agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service compelling the agency to move forward in the protection process for 757 species, including the Ozark and eastern hellbenders.

October 5, 2011 — The Service issued a final rule listing the Ozark hellbender as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act as part of our 757 species agreement.

January 31, 2013 — The Center and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agencies’ failure to protect the Ozark hellbender, Hine’s emerald dragonfly, Tumbling Creek cavesnail and two endangered mussels on Missouri’s Mark Twain National Forest, where logging, road use and other activities are polluting waterways.

Two new species of mini-salamander discovered in Colombia: here.

British newts in a dog bowl


This video is called Smooth Newts (Lissotriton vulgaris).

From Wildlife Extra:

Odd location for wildlife – More newts in a dog bowl again

Smooth and palmate newts appear in a dog bowl!

October 2013. The Wildlife Extra office is near a large pond, and there is plenty of wildlife in and around that pond, but we were taken aback in August when two small, immature newts appeared in the dog’s water bowl that sits outside our front door. We relocated the newts to the edge of the pond, but 2 months later, we now have 4 small newts in the dog bowl, apparently 3 palmate newts and a smooth newt.

Newts actually spend much of their year on dry land, so it isn’t unusual to see them away from the pond, but how and why they ended up in the dog’s water bowl is a mystery.

Even more surprising, it appears that they are two different types of newt; a smooth newt and a palmate newt! Once we had taken a couple of pictures, we released the newts back into the wild (before a dog could drink them.).

This video from Britain is called Palmate Newt displaying to a female.

Hellbender salamanders back in New York


This video from the USA says about itself:

A nationwide group is working to save the declining Hellbender species and hopes it can rally others to do the same. Hellbenders are North America’s largest salamander, typically 11-24 inches long with flat green or brown bodies that have noticeable wrinkles on the sides. They are long-lived and spend up to 30 years under flat rocks in rivers and streams across Appalachia, parts of the Midwest and the northern tips of several southern states.

But the eastern hellbender is endangered in five states, and protected or of special concern in many others. This video shows how a team from several state, national, and university groups (including Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources) are working together with the goal of increasing the Hellbender population in Indiana. For more information, visit: http://www.helpthehellbender.org.

By Jennifer Viegas in the USA:

Loch Ness Monster-Like Reptile Returns to NY

Sorry, Ms Viegas, a hellbender is an amphibian; not a reptile.

A large, Loch Ness monster-resembling reptile has been re-introduced to streams in western New York State, the Wildlife Conservation Society today reports.

Thirty-eight of the animals, known as Eastern hellbenders, were placed under rocks in streams by Don Boyer, Bronx Zoo Curator of Herpetology, and Sarah Parker, Bronx Zoo Wild Animal Keeper.

The researchers and their colleagues raised the Eastern hellbenders from eggs collected in the Allegheny River.

Eastern hellbenders, also known as devil dogs, Allegheny alligators and snot otters, are among the world’s largest salamanders. They can grow to around 2 feet in length. (The world’s two largest salamanders, the Japanese giant salamander and the Chinese hellbender, can both grow up to six feet long).

“The hellbender is an important part of our state’s aquatic biodiversity and it’s clear that we have to take dramatic steps to ensure its continued presence in New York,” Patricia Riexinger, Director of the Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, said in a press release.

According to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, the big salamanders have been in decline due to pollution in their aquatic habitat and damming of rivers and streams, which lowers the dissolved oxygen content and eliminates some of their habitat. Siltation of streams and rivers resulting from agricultural practices and construction work, such as bridges and roadwork, is yet another problem.

Another issue is “the unintentional or intentional and senseless killing by fishermen who accidentally catch hellbenders and erroneously fear that they are venomous.”

Let’s face it. The Eastern hellbender won’t win any beauty contests. They have flattened heads and bodies, small eyes, and slimy, wrinkly skin. They are typically a brown or reddish-brown color with a pale underbelly. Their tails feature a narrow edge that helps to propel them through water.

But the Eastern hellbender is a gentle creature that spends most of its time searching for crayfish, insects, small fish and other prey. Studies show that it doesn’t favor game fish, so there’s no real conflict with humans.

It is actually a good sign to spot one, since studies show hellbenders have a preference for clean streams and rivers. When they are around, it’s generally an indication that water quality is very good.

Indiana and other states are home to hellbenders too, as you can see in this video [top of the post].

Fungi and amphibians in the botanical garden


Phellinus pomaceus

On 11 August 2013, to the botanical garden. What fungi are there at this time of the year? A Phellinus pomaceus fungus is close to the entrance.

It can cope well with dry summer weather. This is a parasitic species; especially on plants of the Rosaceae family. In this case a Japanese hawthorn, brought to Leiden in the nineteenth century by Philipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, the famous founder of Japanese studies in Europe. When, ten years ago, the fungus was discovered on that special shrub, there was much fear. However, this parasitic fungus is not really aggressive; so, the hawthorn still survives.

In the pond close to the garden entrance, two juvenile coots swim with their parents.

In the lawn on the bank of the pond are small mushrooms. They are Conocybe tenera.

We pass a nestbox. Birds use about half of the nest boxes in the garden.

In the systemic garden, torn fibrecap fungi. And Russula pectinatoides.

Also in the systemic garden, orchids: Epipactis helleborine. They grow here spontaneously, without caring about the principles of the systematic garden, where only plants related to each other should be in the same plots. However, as these orchid are a protected species, the garden management does not remove them. It puts a sign with their name next to them.

In the fern garden near the big pond, triple earthstars. This is the only earthstar species which is widespread in the Netherlands. Of the nineteen other species, eighteen grow practically only in the coastal sand dunes; one in Limburg province.

Xylaria longipes.

Ganoderma adspersum growing on a big old tree, where sometimes tawny owls nest.

Turkey tail growing on an old tree stump.

Trametes gibbosa, a species on which algae grow often.

Stereum hirsutum.

Polyporus varius.

Candlesnuff fungus.

Dead man’s fingers.

Under a piece of wood, two newt species: smooth newt and Alpine newts.

Smooth newts occur here naturally. Alpine newts don’t. So, why are they here?

Years ago, there was a house with a garden with a pond in it. In the pond lived two unusual newt species: Alpine newts and palmate newts.

This video is about Alpine newts.

The house was sold, and the old owner was not sure the new owners would care about the pond amphibians. So, the Alpine and palmate newts moved to the botanical garden. Strictly speaking that was illegal; as amphibians are not allowed to be just released into the wild.

The palmate newts did not survive the move; as they need very shallow water for reproduction, which does not exist in the botanical garden. There are plans to maybe make a new pond especially for amphibians.

However, the Alpine newts thrived. They were originally twenty; now, there are probably hundreds of them. They don’t always hide under pieces of wood together with smooth newts. Sometimes, they are in the company of toads or common frogs.

It is too late in the year already to find tadpoles in the stream.

In the big pond, the water tends to become salty. The bread, fed by visitors to the carp, causes this. To stop this, once a year, the pond is drained to let fresh water in. Then, roach and other non-carp fish, and non-gold coloured carp are removed from the pond to the canal a hundred meter away. In summer, the koi carp have young. These gold-coloured youngsters, easy to spot, attract attention of kingfishers and grey herons.

A small Eurasian toad under a stone. 2013 so far is a good year for amphibians.

Mower’s mushrooms on a lawn.

As I leave the botanical garden, two adult coots with their two chicks in the canal.

The juvenile herring gull sits on the old coot nest again. This time, it is not sleeping, but cleaning its feathers. In the canal, I had seen another juvenile gull, resting on a boat’s tarpaulin.

Fire salamander crosses cycle track, video


This is a video of a fire salamander crossing a cycle track.

The video is by C. Krom from the Netherlands.

September 2013. A new species of fungus that eats amphibians’ skin has ravaged the fire salamander population in the Netherlands, bringing it close to regional extinction: here.

North American giant salamanders, video


This video from Canada says about itself:

Hidden Biodiversity: Giant Salamanders

Some of the most intriguing animals in the world are ones we seldom see because they are part of our hidden biodiversity. Among the most unusual are the giant salamanders.

The video is about North American species, like sirens.

United States amphibians declining


This video, recorded in Colorado, USA is called Metamorphosis: Amphibian Nature Documentary.

From Wildlife Extra:

U.S. amphibian populations declining at precipitous rates

Study shows amphibians declining fast, even in protected areas

May 2013. The first-ever estimate of how fast frogs, toads and salamanders in the United States are disappearing from their habitats reveals they are vanishing at an alarming and rapid rate.

According to the study released in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, even the species of amphibians presumed to be relatively stable and widespread are declining. And these declines are occurring in amphibian populations everywhere, from the swamps in Louisiana and Florida to the high mountains of the Sierras and the Rockies.

Significant declines even in protected national parks and wildlife refuges

The study by USGS scientists and collaborators concluded that U.S. amphibian declines may be more widespread and severe than previously realized, and that significant declines are notably occurring even in protected national parks and wildlife refuges.

“Amphibians have been a constant presence in our planet’s ponds, streams, lakes and rivers for 350 million years or so, surviving countless changes that caused many other groups of animals to go extinct,” said USGS Director Suzette Kimball. “This is why the findings of this study are so noteworthy; they demonstrate that the pressures amphibians now face exceed the ability of many of these survivors to cope.”

Decline of 3.7% per year

On average, populations of all amphibians examined vanished from habitats at a rate of 3.7 percent each year. If the rate observed is representative and remains unchanged, these species would disappear from half of the habitats they currently occupy in about 20 years. The more threatened species, considered “Red-Listed” in an assessment by the global organization International Union for Conservation of Nature, disappeared from their studied habitats at a rate of 11.6 percent each year. If the rate observed is representative and remains unchanged, these Red-Listed species would disappear from half of the habitats they currently occupy in about six years.

“Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said USGS ecologist Michael Adams, the lead author of the study. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

9 years of data

For nine years, researchers looked at the rate of change in the number of ponds, lakes and other habitat features that amphibians occupied. In lay terms, this means that scientists documented how fast clusters of amphibians are disappearing across the landscape.

In all, scientists analyzed nine years of data from 34 sites spanning 48 species. The analysis did not evaluate causes of declines.

The research was done under the auspices of the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, which studies amphibian trends and causes of decline. This unique program, known as ARMI, conducts research to address local information needs in a way that can be compared across studies to provide analyses of regional and national trends.

Very bad news

Brian Gratwicke, amphibian conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, said, “This is the culmination of an incredible sampling effort and cutting-edge analysis pioneered by the USGS, but it is very bad news for amphibians. Now, more than ever, we need to confront amphibian declines in the U.S. and take actions to conserve our incredible frog and salamander biodiversity.”

The study offered other surprising insights. For example, declines occurred even in lands managed for conservation of natural resources, such as national parks and national wildlife refuges.

“The declines of amphibians in these protected areas are particularly worrisome because they suggest that some stressors – such as diseases, contaminants and drought – transcend landscapes,” Adams said. “The fact that amphibian declines are occurring in our most protected areas adds weight to the hypothesis that this is a global phenomenon with implications for managers of all kinds of landscapes, even protected ones.”

Amphibians seem to be experiencing the worst declines documented among vertebrates, but all major groups of animals associated with freshwater are having problems, according to Adams. While habitat loss is a factor in some areas, other research suggests that things like disease, invasive species, contaminants and perhaps other unknown factors are related to declines in protected areas.

“This study,” said Adams, “gives us a point of reference that will enable us to track what’s happening in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Newt eats fly, video


This is a video from the Netherlands, about a smooth newt catching a fly and eating it.

Rianne de Graaf from Kockengen made this video.