This spring the Alameda County Conservation Partnership, together with the Los Vaqueros Reservoir & Watershed and the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Coastal Training Program, is once again sponsoring the Workshop on the Biology and Management of the California Red-Legged Frog 2014 for the 10th year running with presenters Greg Tatarian and Trish Tatarian. The workshop, slated for April 23 and 24, 2014 at the Martinelli Center in Livermore, CA, will provide a comprehensive review of the species’ natural history and conservation efforts with both classroom lecture and a field training session within the Los Vaqueros watershed. Among the topics covered are species identification, natural history, habitat requirements, management practices, habitat assessments, pond designs, equipment demonstrations, tadpole identification, and survey methodology, including a night-time training practicum in the field.
Space is limited, so act now! This year’s registration deadline is March 31st.
Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, by Errol Fuller, Princeton University Press (http://press.princeton.edu), 2014, 240 pages, $29.95
With countless books about species extinction under his belt – titles like Extinct Birds, Dodo: From Extinction to Icon, and The Great Auk: The Extinction of the Original Penguin – artist and writer Errol Fuller has long had his finger on the pulse of vanishing species. With Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record, Fuller takes a new look at extinction through the lens of the camera, exploring what in many cases has become the only visual proof of life known for these species.
Rather than recording the natural history of these lost species, Fuller instead examines the history of these species as recorded on film, be it the oft-paraded photograph of Martha, the Cincinnati Zoo’s last passenger pigeon, or the tragicomical series of photographs depicting the juvenile ivory-billed woodpecker known as ‘Sonny Boy’ perching like a pet atop a gentleman’s head and shoulders. Where a physical type specimen or stuffed museum mount captures the body of these creatures, these photographs capture their souls – the animus of animals in life, animated in spite of captivity or isolation, naive to the likelihood they might be the last of their kind.
Lost Animals could stand alone as a coffee table book, a poignant photographic memento ’mori’ of humankind’s foibles and hubris in our capacity as sometimes-stewards of the land. But in reaching beyond the photographs to tell their stories, Fuller gets lost himself in a muddle of awkward sentence constructions, fuzzy logic, and passive voice. Looking at sentences mired in passive voice such as ”…but most zoologists believe that by the time of the coming of Europeans they were…” (p 174) or “Hopes are expressed that birds may still survive…” (p 151), or clunky prose such as “Two years passed, and 21 birds of the species flew into a lighthouse,” the final result comes across unpolished.
Understandably, there is no shortage of uncertainty surrounding these species and the photographic record. But Fuller vacillates instead of authoritatively wrestling fact from fiction, seemingly unwilling to make a clear statement to any effect. Instead of asserting “The photographer is unknown,” he writes: “It has not proved possible to find details of when or how it was taken” (p 149). And several times Fuller makes baseless claims, editorializing unnecessarily about the lastness of a photograph’s subject. For example, he writes that the Kaua ‘i ‘O’o (Moho braccatus) featured in a 1975 photograph “may even have survived for long enough to become the very last” (p 147), a nebulous claim given how little was known about the species at that time, not to mention the fact that a pair of Kaua ‘i ‘O’o was sighted six years later and the last bird was seen in 1985. Or the waffling “…later in the year only a single individual seemed to be present” followed immediately by the groundless concession, “Either this bird, or perhaps another that was living nearby, was captured…” Pushing prose charged with reckless uncertainty, Fuller seems a fickle arbiter of lastness.
And for a book that professes to examine the photographic record, Fuller’s formula is erratic at best. While for most species he recounts the story behind the handful of photos that comprise a species’ “photographic record,” in some cases his pen wanders of course. For the three photographs known of the ‘O’u (Psittirostra psittacea) Hawaiian honeycreeper, not a single one is described in any more detail than the one or two sentences that make up the captions.
That being said, nowhere else will you find so haunting a gallery of ghosts. Whether it’s appropriate to canonize them as angels or deem them the demons of our follies, only time will tell. But by recording these spirits’ celluloid souls between the pages of Lost Animals, perhaps we’ll better remember what we’ve already lost.
In celebration of Darwin Day, I thought it would be fun to revisit a story I originally wrote for Inkling Magazine in 2007 about Darwin fish, “Evolution’s Bumper Sticker War Against Intelligent Design“:
“In a modern world where religion often finds itself at odds with science, it’s worth keeping in mind that Charles Darwin, the father of evolution, was God’s man. After he returned from his five year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, the Anglican naturalist struggled to reconcile his faith with his theory of evolution by natural selection. As can be expected in a world where the fittest survive, evolution won out over creationism. Today we remember Darwin’s legacy by way of a small plastic fish. A fish with legs…” [Continue Reading]
This feature article was quick to inspire Inkling Magazine‘s Your Chance to Be an Intelligent Designer contest, where readers submitted ideas for a new fish to join the pantheon of pisces that adorn dusty bumpers around the world. Overseeing the competition were judges Prophet Bobby Henderson of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Nona Williams, co-owner of Ring of Fire Enterprises, and science blogger PZ Myers.
My own contribution to the contest was The Steve Fish, inspired by the National Center for Science Education’s Project Steve, “a tongue-in-cheek parody of a long-standing creationist tradition of amassing lists of “scientists who doubt evolution” or “scientists who dissent from Darwinism.”
But hands down, the best entry in my esteem was the Teapot Fish contributed by Patrick Quigley, in honor of the late Bertrand Russell and his famous Celestial Teapot metaphor.
I can’t recall who actually won, but in honor of the late Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809 to April 19, 1882), let’s raise a cup of tea to remember the champion of science and reason.
LOST SPECIES OF THE BAY AREA
Presumed Extinct: sooty crayfish, San Francisco horseshoe shrimp
As with the presumed extinct ivory-billed woodpecker reported in Arkansas in 2004, there is always the chance that a long-lost plant or animal will be rediscovered, thanks to persistent searching and luck. That’s true even in a busy metropolitan area like the San Francisco Bay Area. In May 2005, botanist Michael Park stumbled upon a population of Mount Diablo buckwheat (Eriogonum truncatum) on the slopes of Mount Diablo. The buckwheat was a species long thought extinct, last seen in 1936 by UC Berkeley botany graduate student (and later Save Mount Diablo cofounder) Mary Bowerman.
Spurred by the rediscovery of the buckwheat, it bears asking today which plants and animals endemic to – but presumed extinct in – the San Francisco Bay Area scientists continue to search for in the hope they may still be hanging on by a thread, waiting to be found and protected.
sooty crayfish (Pacifastacus nigrescens)
San Francisco horseshoe shrimp (Lightiella serendipita)
On one weekend every June, deep in the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the town of Isleton comes alive to celebrate its annual Crawdad Festival. Curiously enough, amid the crawdad sausages and jambalayas, the only thing missing is the native crawdad that once inhabited local streams: the sooty crayfish (Pacifastacus nigrescens). Only two other crayfish are native to California’s waters: the Shasta crayfish (P. fortis), a state and federally endangered species found only in Shasta County, and the Klamath signal crayfish (P. leniusculus klamathensis) of far Northern California. From the original 1857 description by marine biologist William Stimpson, we know only that the sooty crayfish was four inches long, blackish, and “common in the vicinity of San Francisco.” It otherwise closely resembled the Shasta crayfish. In the late 1800s the species was reportedly common in Central California streams, including Alameda and Coyote creeks, turning up on occasion in San Francisco markets.
Since the sooty crayfish has vanished without a trace, we can only guess that invasive crayfish introduced for bait and food out-competed their sooty cousins. But that hasn’t stopped ecologist Robert Leidy from looking along the upper reaches of Coyote and Alameda creeks, much of which is pristine land with a native wildlife assemblage. “People rediscover species with periodic regularity in places that are fairly well studied,” says Leidy, “As a field biologist, there’s always that sexy idea of finding something long thought extinct.”
The Bay’s miniature San Francisco horseshoe shrimp (Lightiella serendipita)—one of just five Lightiella species known worldwide—is a cephalocarid, among the most primitive of crustaceans, harkening back 500 million years to the Cambrian period. In 1961, Meredith L. Jones, from New York’s American Museum of Natural History, dredged four of these tiny, eyeless shrimp from the muddy sand bottom of the Bay off Point Richmond, making it the only known benthic (bottom dwelling), non-fish species endemic to the Bay. Five more were found in 1987 and 1988 off Brooks Island and Coyote Point, but none have been seen since, despite a California Academy of Sciences “bio-blitz” in search of bottom-dwelling Bay creatures in 2000. Academy curator Rich Mooi says mud samples were taken throughout the Bay where Lightiella had been reported. “I would have expected that if they were there, we would have seen them,” says Mooi. But, he adds, “[the shrimp] are tiny, they’re hard to see, and people hate going through mud.” Then Mooi hints that Lightiella just might be lurking, overlooked, in one of the academy’s many jars of Bay mud, awaiting another sifting. Any takers?
Field Guide to the Lost Species of the Bay Area
SPECIES: sooty crayfish (Pacifastacus nigrescens)
LISTING STATUS: none
FIRST/LAST RECORDED: 1857/late 1800s
RANGE: reported specifically in Alameda Creek, Coyote Creek, Steamboat Slough, and other Bay tributary streams
HABITAT: freshwater Bay tributary streams
FIELD NOTES: the sooty crayfish hasn’t been seen in over 100 years; the sooty crayfish closely resembles its cousin the Shasta crayfish (Pacifastacus fortis) but is blackish, smaller in size (4 inches long), and has more slender, hairless hands (claws)
Crayfishes (Astacidae) of North and Middle America, by Horton H. Hobbs
Ask the Naturalist—All the Crawdads You Can Eat (Bay Nature), March 13, 1996, by Michael Ellis
SPECIES: San Francisco horseshoe shrimp (Lightiella serendipita)
LISTING STATUS: none
FIRST/LAST RECORDED: 1961/1988
RANGE: known only from San Francisco Bay at Point Richmond, Brooks Island, Coyote Point
HABITAT: muddy sand bottom
FIELD NOTES: although extensive sampling has been done to rediscover this shrimp at its type locality and other collection locations, “searching” for this species amounts to sorting through Bay mud; mud-raker Richard Mooi of the California Academy of Sciences has generously offered would-be shrimp seekers the opportunity to pick through jars of mud—with the proper training, of course—to make sure no horseshoe shrimp have been overlooked— Reach Mooi at (415)321-8270.
Animals of San Francisco Bay: A Field Guide to Its Common Benthic Species, by Rich Mooi, Victor G. Smith, Margaret Gould Burke, Terrence M. Gosliner, Christina N. Piotrowski, and Rebecca K. Ritger
The account excerpted above was originally featured in the October/December 2007 issue of Bay Nature magazine.
Illustrations by Devin Cecil-Wishing.