Sunday, August 30, 2009

Toad Story

The austere Mortenson Lake, Albany County, Wyoming

I was absolutely amazed to see this article on the NPR website today. I highly recommend you listen to actual recording rather than only read the article.

NPR talks about the wyoming toad reintroduction project we've been working on.

This is about the work we have been doing with the wyoming toads (Anaxyrus baxteri) at Mortenson Lake. Brandon and I have helped conduct surveys with Jason Palmer, mentioned in this story, who is running the reintroduction efforts for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He is famous now in public radioland. Good for him! I don't think I've written about the wyoming toad work we've been doing, but I guess I should... After all, it is the reason that we have our jobs: Shawn, our boss, managed to get funding for a BLM amphibian monitoring program by coordinating with Jason. Basically, we are employed because we helped Jason out performing the surveys discussed in this article for 3 weeks this summer.

When Brandon and I helped out two weeks ago we unfortunately saw no NPR reporters (I admit it - it is my disgustingly liberal public-radio-listening nerd-dom that makes being interviewed on NPR a secret fantasy.), but we did work with some great zoo interns who had been shipped in from Toronto and Michigan.To my knowledge the zoos' representatives who were interviewed are participating in the breeding program to a certain extent, but Jason's Fish and Wildlife lab in Laramie is planting the bulk of the toads larvae. There is a widely distributed network of zoos providing assistance, but most aren't doing more than 1000 larval contributions each. Also, I was kinda bummed that Jason's seasonal assistants, our pals Billy and Meaghan, weren't mentioned or interviewed at all. They were fun to work with and were doing a helluva toad-raising/ tadpole releasing job.

So the story is really good, considering how obscure the subject matter is. One thing I would like to rudely correct is the statement by herpetologist Val Hornyak: "Once you've seen one, your eye kind of adjusts to that," Hornyak says. "You know what it's going to look like in the territory it's in."

My counter-statement is,"yes, the wyoming toad does stick out in its territory, but its not because they are poorly camouflaged. One easily senses a toad's presence because its awkward and noticeable attempts at escape draw a lot of attention to its whereabouts." This behavioral flaw has caused Brandon and I to joke that they are "bad at existing".


Searching for the toads has been very enjoyable. With all the endless pacing around in thigh-waders, finding a toad is rewarding. We captured several the last time we went out. Brandon was lucky enough to tag one, as described in the article. We learned how to surgically implant the PIT tags back in early summer at Jason's toad-rearing laboratory.

Our capture sequence goes like this - we scan the toad for a PIT tag (using AVID RFID tech I learned how to use at the Cat Hospital), swab it for chytrid fungus, weigh and measure it, determine its sex, and do a little photo shoot. All told, it is very fun. I have included some photos from the first survey we did on June 24th, and when I get a chance I will include the more interesting recent survey photos we have in which we do toad surgery and find lots of big daddy-o's (as they say)!

Little toadlet "hiding".

Toadlet attempting escape by water.

Another seasonal employee holding a "large mama".

Hisself, swabbin' a toadlet for fungal infection.

I just love swabbin' toads.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Oh man, so goth. So much bad hair.

I have been painfully afflicted by a fixation with Goth music recently. I am sorry to those of you who aren't lucky enough to be learning this for the first time. I'm sure my ramblings on the matter have been very annoying.

Excellent use of imagery in her lyrics. I feel like I am really being killed by Mt. Vesuvius:
Cities in Dust

Love the intro (+1 on the sunglasses and ties):
She's in Parties

Oh man, so goth. And I must say it is very disturbing for a low-budget, early 80's music video:
The Hanging Garden

The animal is a primate from Madagascar known as the Aye-Aye. Addie and I saw one at the Denver zoo, and I was thrilled to see one because I have been fascinated/terrified with them for many years. Because they are nocturnal, the specimen at the zoo was in its own cave-lyke display light by a single red bulb. Once my ayes adjusted to the darkness I beheld the horrendous lemur scurrying like quasi-modo to and fro within its habitat. Suddenly it would pause. And stare me down.

Even if you are uninterested by the music I posted, you must watch this.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How does one anesthetize a mollusk?

Here is another interesting fact I learned today. It is about animal cruelty laws and mollusks.

Octopus Law:

In some countries, octopuses are on the list of experimental animals on which surgery may not be performed without anesthesia. In the UK, cephalopods such as octopuses are regarded as honorary vertebrates under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and other cruelty to animals legislation, extending to them protections not normally afforded to invertebrates.


The Source: Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, UK.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bird or Mammal?

Bird or Mammal?

Here is a link to a very interesting NYT article on the nature of TAXONOMY, which is the naming and categorization of life. The article was adapted from the book Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science by Carol Kaesuk Yoon.

There appears to be such profound unconscious agreement that people will even concur on which exact words make the best names for particular organisms. Brent Berlin, an ethnobiologist at the University of Georgia, discovered this when he read 50 pairs of names, each consisting of one bird and one fish name, to a group of 100 undergraduates, and asked them to identify which was which. The names had been randomly chosen from the language of Peru’s Huambisa people, to which the students had had no previous exposure. With such a large sample size — there were 5,000 choices being made — the students should have scored 50 percent or very close to it if they were blindly guessing. Instead, they identified the bird and fish names correctly 58 percent of the time, significantly more often than expected for random guessing. Somehow they were often able to intuit the names’ birdiness or fishiness.
It is certain that we are losing touch not only with nature and what it is to be a part of ecological systems, but with the part of our minds designed to process, understand, and label the components of our environments. Will we soon be more proficient at naming technological processes?

No wonder so few of us can really see what is out there. Even when scads of insistent wildlife appear with a flourish right in front of us, and there is such life always — hawks migrating over the parking lot, great colorful moths banging up against the window at night — we barely seem to notice. We are so disconnected from the living world that we can live in the midst of a mass extinction, of the rapid invasion everywhere of new and noxious species, entirely unaware that anything is happening. Happily, changing all this turns out to be easy. Just find an organism, any organism, small, large, gaudy, subtle — anywhere, and they are everywhere — and get a sense of it, its shape, color, size, feel, smell, sound.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Dogs are smart.

Crows are smarter.

The verdict is in: Babies is dumb.

I think that a dog/corvid team would be unstoppable. The two would make an excellent pet unit. Bird-pets tend to become too attached to their human caretakers, but if I could somehow infatuate a crow with a dog, then I would be in the clear. If that worked, then I could pursue human relationships without avian jealousy getting in the way, and everyone would be happy.

Brandon said that he found a baby raven one time and gave it to his friend. His friend's dog befriended the raven. The raven rode around on the dog's back. One day the raven flew away and never came back, which was uncommon, given that it took to flight frequently. Brandon thinks that given the raven's affinity for canines, he tried to socialize with one and was subsequently MURDERED.

Thanks to Chuggans for the link to the WIRED article on rooks and their amazingly spontaneous problem-solving ability.

I wish to work with corvids. I tried to get an internship with a research team that was studying population ecology and behavior of Island Scrub Jays on Santa Monica Island, CA. I didn't get it, but I still have hope for something similar. If anyone knows of similar opportunities on the west coast, or of any opportunities with California condors, drop me a line and I will owe you one. I've said it before, but condors are so GOTH.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Musical Mishappenings

As some of you may unfortunately know, I have been delving into making music electronically. I have only made about 5 tracks on my own, ever. My musician alter-ego is Boss Rhino and he has been on myspace music for years just resting on his laurels. You can hear the sum of my artistic output by visiting I would recommend the track "Step Dance". "Rants" is a sample from that song, if you just want a taste.

My co-intern Brandon and I have also created a few tracks under the name Prongho Deth. This music is abrasive. It is our artistic vision of the kind of sounds and thought processes that occur within the heads of pronghorn antelope. After watching this educational video, you may agree with us that they are up to something. Whatever it is sure is sinister. Enjoy:

We have done a couple of other tracks within the same "range metal" genre, but they are too inappropriate and disturbing to share online.