A Frog on a Log at the Bog Blog! Answer to FoW#22

The Gray Treefrog at Cedar Bog.

The Gray Treefrog at Cedar Bog.

Sorry about the cutesy title but hey, when you’re writing a blog about a frog on a log from the Bog, what else can you call it!? This identification is kind of tough since there are several small frogs in Ohio. But congrats to Chrissy for the correct answer: a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor)! Usually the Gray Treefrog will have a light-colored spot under each eye which helps distinguish it from the other small frogs in Ohio. However, it’s so closely related to the Cope’s Gray Treefrog (H. chrysoscelis) that the only way to tell them apart is by their call! As Chrissy mentioned, the Cope’s is a more southern species and probably isn’t as far north as Cedar Bog. Both of these Treefrogs also have a bright yellow-orange patch on their hind legs, which you can only see when they jump. They also have a bumpy texture to the skin, which gives them a “warty” appearance. Both frogs live predominately in trees and shrubs, and can change colors from gray to green depending on the surface they are on. This frog was probably on nearby leaves before hopping on the bolt of wood.

Update on Dragonfly New to Ohio

Here’s an update from Bob Glotzhober about the new dragonfly!:

Setwing 2 20140803Last week we posted about the discovery of an additional species of dragonfly that was found in Ohio. The find of a male Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) not far from Urbana in Champaign County increases the number of dragonflies and damselflies known from Ohio to 164 species.

As noted previously, each time the sightings were made, no more than a single male Swift Setwing had been seen. But sightings in the same general area a few miles from Urbana were made on multiple dates: July 25th, August 2nd, August 3rd, August 7th, and on August 9th. Sightings stretched out over two weeks plus the fact that the first sighting was an immature adult, all suggested that there might be more than one individual, and that they had emerged from larvae living in the lake where find was made.

Last Thursday, August 14th, Jim Lemon and I checked out five different locations, searching for the Swift Setwing. First we explored three nearby access points to the Mad River. Swift Setwings are reported to prefer slow to moderately moving streams and rivers, and the lake where the sightings have been drains into the Mad River. We spent variously 40 minutes, ten minutes and twenty minutes at the three spots. While such limited time cannot totally exclude the possibility that they are using the river, we saw no indication of such during this preliminary search.

Setwing 6 20140803 (2)As we were close to the original site – we returned to the lake as well. Bonanza! We spotted a total of five different male Swift Setwings and two different sites that were separated by an elevated gravel roadway, but only about 100 yards apart. Each of the five was perched on the tip of a branch on a snag floating in the shallows. One such spot was shallow enough that I could wade out to it (the lake has narrow shallows, with a sudden and steep drop-off). I could just barely reach the snag with my net, but after inching slowly closer, was able to snag one male in the net. Having seen a total of five males, and knowing that male dragonflies are highly polygamous, Jim and I felt safe in removing one male to serve as a voucher specimen in the natural history collections of the Ohio History Connection.

Finally, we traveled a bit north of Urbana to search several ponds belonging to Freshwater Farms of Ohio. We knew that this aqua-culture venture had imported shrimp from Gulf coastal areas and perhaps other animals and plants along with them, so we wanted to see if their ponds were supporting any Swift Setwings. Again, our search was limited in time, and we could not totally rule this potential source out, but while we saw a number of dragonflies and damselflies – no Setwings were seen.

In summary, it appears that there at least a small population of Swift Setwings at private lake where Jim Lemon first discovered the species. While we saw no females, it is not uncommon for females to both emerge later than males, and to stay away from territorial breeding sites except when they come to mate and oviposit. So not seeing any females certainly does not mean they are not there. The test will be continued observations, especially observations next summer to see if eggs have been laid and another generation of Swift Setwings is established in this new habitat.

Bob Glotzhober,
Curator Emeritus, Natural History

Name this species! Freak of the Week #22

A frog at the Bog

A frog at the Bog

We were at Cedar Bog three weeks ago, doing another release of the parasitoid wasps to combat the Emerald Ash Borer beetle, and Erin noticed this little frog in a tree. It’s sitting on one of the “bolts” of wood that was previously nailed to the tree. These bolts contain various life stages of the wasps, and are left on the ash trees for 30 days for the wasps to emerge. This frog found it a convenient place to rest! This is a small frog, note the size of the nail that’s holding the bolt to the tree. So what species is it!? Hop in to the “Reply” box below and leave your answer.
Frog in leaves

Frog in leaves

It’s a Long-tailed Weasel! Answer to FoW #21

Skull of a Long-tailed Weasel

Skull of a Long-tailed Weasel

Everyone was at least on the right track with this one! A small skull with sharp teeth could lead one to say it was a bat or mole, however this is a Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata). Those who attended the Skull Identification Workshop at Wahkeena last Saturday would recognize that this is the skull of a true carnivore, a member of the mammal Order Carnivora. Bats have more insectivorous type teeth and are in Order Chiroptera, while moles have a row of sharp cheekteeth for eating worms, other small invertebrates, and nuts. Moles are placed in the Order Soricomorpha along with the shrews. Also the size of the skull is a determining factor; this skull is about two inches long, while the bat, mole, or shrew skull would be smaller. The short rostrum and the flattened, elongated skull are also distinctive for a weasel. Good job Tessa, Mindy, David and Dale for recognizing this one!

Long-tailed Weasel

Long-tailed Weasel

There are five members of the weasel family (Mustelidae) in Ohio, and the Long-tailed Weasel is the most common. Like the Short-tailed and Least Weasel, the Long-tailed may molt to a pure white pelage in the winter but this is not real common in Ohio. The white coat is more prevalent in the northern parts of its range. However the Long-tailed and Short-tailed will retain the distinctive black tip on the end of the tail in summer and winter. The secretive members of the weasel family are important species in helping to control the populations of rats and mice.

Southern Dragonfly Expands Range: New To Ohio!

By Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus, Natural History

How often does Ohio end up with a species of wild animal new to the state that is not an exotic invasive species? It is pretty rare, but it does happen. Recently Ohio added a dragonfly to its list of inhabitants which has never before been found in Ohio. The dragonfly new to Ohio is known as the Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) and it is a member of the “Pond Skimmers” family, the Libellulidae. While not previously known from Ohio, it is native to North America and can be found as close as southern Illinois and southwestern Indiana. Retired entomologist (and avid volunteer at Cedar Bog Nature Preserve) Jim Lemon found it on private property near Urbana, Ohio in Champaign County. The property is in a rural location only a few miles from Cedar Bog Nature Preserve. The official count of species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) in Ohio now rises from 163 to 164. (There is one additional, potential species of yet un-named River Cruiser, genus Macromia, which is not included in this count. For a complete listing and distribution maps of Ohio species, go to the Ohio Odonata Society website of Marietta College at:  http://www.marietta.edu/~odonata/ )

Jim has been assisting another volunteer, Rob Liptak, with a monitoring program for butterflies at Cedar Bog.  Rob established the Butterfly Monitoring program at Cedar Bog about five years ago, as part of the state-wide Butterfly Monitoring Program, sponsored by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Ohio Lepidopterists. (Note: Lepidoptera is the order of insects which includes both butterflies and moths.) Both Rob and Jim have started expanding into dragonflies and damselflies as they walk the Cedar Bog property in a systematic fashion.

SwiftSetwingJimLemonA_07252014Recently Jim got permission to survey some pond areas on a piece of private property. On July 25th Jim found a dragonfly he could not identify. Jim took several photos of it in the wild, then captured it and took several photos in hand before releasing it. The photos were sent to me to help the ID. While the initial photos were pretty good, I could not see all the features I wanted to, and could not come up with a positive match. I sent the photos to Dennis Paulson, a long-time colleague in the Dragonfly Society of the Americas, and author of the 2011 book, Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guide Series). Dennis has traveled a lot and is expertly familiar with all the dragonflies in North American and many beyond. He identified the photos at once as the Swift Setwing.

Setwing 2 20140803

 

Dennis also indicated that he believes this southern species seems to have been expanding northward. I had seen this species once, back in 2001 in Texas – and was embarrassed that I had not recognized it – but with 450 dragonflies and damselflies in North American north of Mexico, perhaps I have at least a partial excuse.

 

 

 

 

 

SwiftSetwingDistMapThere are four species in the genus Dythemis (all known as setwings) in the United States, and the other three are southwestern in their distribution. The Swift Setwing reaches eastward in the southern states, reaching all the way to southern Virginia. The closest known populations to Ohio are in extreme southern Illinois and southwestern Indiana, more than 200 miles away!

The Setwings are an interesting group of dragonflies. They spend a lot of time perched, typically on the tip of branches and frequently with their wings angled down and forward and their abdomen slightly raised. Sid Dunkle and Dennis Paulson came up with their English name of “setwings” from this posture, which reminded them of a sprinter at a track meet on the blocks in the “ready, set, go” position.

Setwing 6 20140803 (2)

Despite the excitement over a new dragonfly in Ohio, there is a bit of a mystery around the discovery of the Swift Setwing in Champaign County.  In his book, Paulson describes their habitat as: “Streams and rivers with slow to moderate current, less often ponds and lake shores. Usually wooded or shrubby banks.” The Ohio location is along a lake which has some shrubby areas, but mostly mowed lawn surrounding it. The habitat partially fits Paulson’s description, but it is not the preferred wooded streamside. If this is a brand new expansion of range for the Swift Setwing, would it not be more likely to first establish itself along the preferred habitat? The Mad River is not far from the lake where the Swift Setwing was found, so Jim and I plan to explore the Mad River in the near future to see if there are more Setwings along that river.

We have never seen more than one male on one day – but the sightings have been on July 25th, August 2nd, August 3rd, August 7, and most recently on August 9th. Two of the sightings was at least 200 yards away from the other sightings. Is this a single male that is wandering a bit, or multiple males with separate territories along the lake shore? While adult dragonflies might survive individually for up to a month or more, they are very susceptible to predation by birds, spiders and fish. Spotting individuals over a period of two weeks strongly suggests more than a single individual, but does not by any means prove there is more than a single individual. Further, not a single female has yet been spotted. So a lot survey work needs to be done to decide if we have a single male, blown north by a storm, or perhaps a small but established population. Leading a little bit of evidence toward the later, when Jim saw the first individual on July 25th, it was a teneral – a term that describes a dragonfly recently emerged from the larval form. If the male Swift Setwing emerged from the lake waters or nearby Mad River, then last year a there had to have been a female which laid eggs in these Ohio waters. Jim and I, and perhaps some others, will be watching for evidence to help determine which scenario is true. Stay tuned for an update if and when we find more individuals!

-Bob Glotzhober, Curator Emeritus of Natural History

 

 

This is why we need rattlesnakes: Part II

So all this tick stuff is great news and all, but what does this all have to do with rattlesnakes?

I’m glad you asked!

Because their main prey are… (drumroll)… rodents that carry Lyme disease.

Recent findings by University of Maryland researchers demonstrate that the Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) may indirectly benefit humans by keeping reservoir hosts’ populations in check. Timbers are listed as endangered in Ohio and five other states, mainly due to habitat loss and fearful humans that kill them.

Although not addressed in the study, it’s worth mentioning that the Northern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) and many other nonvenomous snakes—plus Ohio’s other endangered rattlesnake, the Eastern Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus)—also eat reservoir hosts!

There is mounting evidence that climate change will both expand the range of ticks and increase the amount of time that ticks are able to feed throughout their life cycle. Both will contribute to the persistence of the Lyme spirochete and other vector-borne diseases in the environment, so it’s pretty likely that we’ll see an increase the rate at which people contract them. Luckily, nature has already provided us with a solution!

Our secret weapon against Lyme, a lovely and mild-mannered (and very frightened!) Timber Rattlesnake. She’s puffed herself up and is giving us the ‘ole side-eye (notice she is neither rattling nor threatening to strike). After I took this photo I moved her off the road with a trekking pole so she wouldn’t get smooshed, and she quietly went on her way. Such an evil, super aggressive snake! *sarcasm*

Our secret weapon against Lyme, a lovely and mild-mannered (and very frightened!) Timber Rattlesnake. She’s puffed herself up and is giving us the ‘ole side-eye (notice she is neither rattling nor threatening to strike). After I took this photo I moved her off the road with a trekking pole so she wouldn’t get smooshed, and she quietly went on her way. Such an evil, super aggressive snake! *sarcasm*

 

Venomous snakes in particular benefit humans indirectly in other ways. It’s old news that a protein isolated from Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix contortrix) venom slows or prevents breast cancer tumors from metastasizing (spreading to other parts of the body) and slows the growth of the blood vessels feeding the tumors. Neurotoxins isolated from snake venom may have applications in the treatment of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and pain management. So perhaps we should see them as less a slithering menace, and more like a legless pharmacopoeia.

Unfortunately, many harmless snakes are killed because people suspect they *might* be venomous. Many people assume any patterned snake is a copperhead, but it almost always isn’t. (See this helpful webpage on how to distinguish them).

If you’re an urban Ohioan, the chances that you will find a venomous snake on your property are pretty tiny. If your home is in rural Ohio, well… the chances are still pretty dang small. So if you see a snake in your yard, it’s very likely to be completely harmless, AND it’s probably there to provide the helpful service of eating the disease-ridden mice running around in your walls, and then have a nice nap in your brush pile. (If you get rid of the mice and brush piles, the snakes won’t see your property as a good place to stay.)

Alternatively, consider your property something to share with other creatures, and take pride in the things that feel safe enough to reside there with you. Give a snake the same consideration that you’d give any other wild creature in your yard, be it a hawk, a dragonfly, or a robin—just sit back and relax, and let them do their thing! They certainly are not interested in you.

The 4’ Lace Monitor living under our kitchen in Australia. He was big and scary, but he was also eating the rats!

The 4’ Lace Monitor living under our kitchen in Australia. He was big and scary, but he was also eating the rats!

 

Most snakes are relatively small, and thus make a good snack for a lot of animals farther up the food chain—hawks, foxes, raccoons, other snakes, and felines come to mind. So if you’re a snake, you can safely assume that anything bigger than you is probably going to eat you. People generally don’t eat snakes on the regular, but the snakes don’t know that. All they see is something bigger than me. So keep in mind, if you see a puffed up, coiled, hissing, or striking snake—it is literally afraid for its life and desperately wants to get away. To quote Clifford H. Pope, “Snakes are first cowards, then bluffers, and last of all warriors.”

Finally, the vast majority of snake bite situations arise out of a person actively harassing the snake. Like humans, a snake may attack if it fears for its life; but unlike humans, NO snake will actively seek you out for the purpose of doing harm. So if you leave it alone, guess what—it will leave you alone right back!

For more information on venomous snakebite, I strongly recommend this in-depth and well-researched blog post.

SnakeFlowChart

Image by Urban Jungles Radio (http://urbanjunglesradio.webs.com/)

 

Snakes are needlessly vilified by popular culture, especially in the United States. It’s time we moved past this ill-informed attitude and accepted them as a vital puzzle piece in our human ecosystem. Our lives could very well depend on it.

 

“I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her.”

—“An American Guesser” (plausibly identified as Ben Franklin), on supporting the adoption of the “Rattle-Snake” as a symbol of the 13 Colonies, published in the Pennsylvania Journal on December 27, 1775. The entire letter is posted here.

 

 

This is why we need rattlesnakes: Part I

Late one evening following a visit to one of our Natural History sites, I saw something on my arm.

Tick1

 

Is it a freckle? A mole?

 

deertick2

OH GOD IT’S A TICK.

I’m a nature enthusiast and have played host to all manner of multi-legged (or no-legged) critters, but ticks still give me the heebie jeebies.

And this one was infinitesimal. I mean, really really REALLY tiny. It’s a wonder I saw it in the first place. And of course, one can’t see a tick on one’s body and not immediately become stricken with Lyme paranoia.

Lyme is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted by Ixodes ticks; in Ohio it is transmitted by I. scapularis, the Eastern Black-legged Tick (a.k.a. deer tick). Early symptoms of Lyme can be flulike, and the famous “bull’s eye” rash around the bite may not form in up to 30% of those infected. Long-term neurological problems are possible if left untreated (or undetected), and there is still a lack of consensus about how to diagnose and treat it.

But that’s not all, folks! In some people a bite from a Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum) and some other species can result in a possibly lifelong allergy to red meat. (In case you are wondering, “red meat” also includes marsupials, as one friend of mine with this condition can attest.)

And if that wasn’t enough, the bite from up to 64 species of tick around the world (including at least 2 in North America) can cause paralysis. Tick paralysis is almost chiefly a concern for pets and livestock, but small children are sometimes stricken. Symptoms include limb weakness and partial face paralysis, and can culminate with heart and lung failure. Unlike Lyme however, the paralysis is not caused by a pathogen but rather a neurotoxin in the tick’s saliva, so symptoms disappear after the tick is removed.

Paralysis

The Paralysis Tick (Ixodes holocyclus) of Australia, taking a stroll on yours truly

 

I’ve probably been assailed by a countless multitude of possibly worse threats to my immune system, but I don’t mess around with Lyme. My little friend had to come off. I also had to ID the species, but it was so small that I couldn’t use my fingers, and I feared the dreaded “puke response” if I tried to simply scrape it off, and it was almost too small to grab with tweezers. What to do!?

So I turned to the Internet for help and quickly found the excellent website http://www.tickencounter.org/. In short order I knew the proper way to remove a tick.

I grabbed my trusty Pointy Tweezers, swabbed the site in alcohol, plucked off the tiny hitchhiker by the head and put it in a Ziploc bag. Through the wrong end of my binoculars, I could see its eight legs flexing feebly. It was indeed a deer tick, but being smaller than a poppy seed, it was only a larva and thus no threat.

To understand why, it’s helpful to understand the deer tick life cycle.

DeerTickLifeCycle

 

Deer ticks do not hatch carrying the Lyme spirochete, but pick it up as larvae (or nymphs) from infected rodent hosts such as mice, rats and chipmunks (these are termed reservoir hosts—deer cannot transmit the pathogen, and are only reproductive hosts). This particular tick had the misfortune of choosing a paranoid human as its very first host, thus never had a chance to pick up Lyme, so I was in the clear… for now.

This is great news and all, but what does this all have to do with rattlesnakes?

 

Stay tuned for Part II!!

 

 

What is this small skull!? (And upcoming workshop!) FoW#21

FoW#21 004

Anterior view of the skull.

Anterior view of the skull.

Here’s a skull for this week’s Freak of the Week. What species is it from? Hint: it’s small, less than 2 inches in length, and is from Ohio.

One reason that we selected a skull for this week’s Freak is that this Saturday, August 9, the Ohio History Connection will be conducting a workshop titled “Skull Sleuths: Identifying Animal Skulls”. It will be held at Wahkeena Nature Preserve, one of the Ohio History Connection sites, located just 6 miles south of Lancaster off U.S. Hwy. 33. It will be taught by yours truly, and will run from 10 AM – 2 PM. We’ll look at lots of skulls, and learn how to identify them by the shape and features of the skull and by the using dental charts. If you like the Freak of the Week feature on this blog, then you’ll love the “Freaks” session of the workshop, where participants will use their new-found knowledge to interpret several unusual animal skulls. Space is limited so phone reservations are needed: 1-800-297-1883.

It’s a Worm Snake (Carphophis amoenus)! Answer to FoW #20

Congrats to Tom Arbour and Charlene Clinger for correctly identifying this as a Worm Snake! Although much of the color has faded from this specimen, the diagnostic feature of the species is clearly visible in the second photo, as well as this one:

WormSnake

 

This harmless snake uses its flattened head and pointed tail tip for burrowing, and feeds on earthworms and soft-bodied insects. Although probably fairly common in the forested southern parts of Ohio, you’ll have to do a fair bit of log-turning to find this secretive animal!

Mystery Specimen — Freak of the Week #20

A label, or an intention to employ a cooking method using a lot of butter?

A label, or a suggestion to employ a cooking method using a lot of butter?

 

This week’s Freak of the Week was stored in a cabinet with the rest of our alcohol-preserved specimens in a standard 8 oz. jar. But what IS it??

 

Is it looking at me?

Is it looking at me?

 

Is it an invertebrate? An amphibian? Something else entirely? Hint: they can be found in southern Ohio!

 

Leave your guess in the comments and we’ll post the answer later this week!