Archive for category Educational Material
I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned the car around – or cajoled my wife or any other unfortunate driver I happen to be with at the time to do the same – after having caught a ‘glimpse’ at sixty-five miles an hour of what could only have been a western pond turtle on the side of the road. To my chagrin, my so-called turtles have always ended up being a boot or rock or junkyard scrap. I’m still unclear if if that makes me an alarmist or a wishful thinker, seeing turtles in peril where there is neither.
Once, driving home several years ago, I happened to come up behind a car that had stopped in my rural neighborhood to pick up a wayward western pond turtle. Too late, I realized what it was the front passenger had retrieved from the road. I was tailing them, working up a pitch to negotiate the turtle’s safe return, when the car lurched to a stop, all four doors flew open, and the passengers leapt from the car. Hysterical, one of them was all too eager to tell me that, moments after retrieving their prize, the put-upon turtle had proceeded to pee all over the car while scrabbling and scratching to be released. Surprised, the young women had dropped the turtle at her feet, where the hardened prisoner made a break under the front seats for the driver’s-side, sending the passengers into a panic. They were all too glad to return their hostage, a hardy three-legged western pond turtle I dubbed “tripod” before I released it at a BLM property in a pond a short distance away.
But this Friday, traveling along Highway 84 in San Mateo County, for the first time in years I had the misfortune of being right. The turtle in this case – a mature female – lay along the roadside shoulder in an advanced state of decay. Her plastron, crushed no doubt beneath the tires of a passing car, had been flipped upward as though on a piano hinge. I can only imagine that she had first been flipped onto her back by the front tire before the rear tire pinned the anterior of her plastron and carapace against the hardtop, caving the shell like a walnut in a nutcracker.
Too often, roadways parallel waterways, acting as a barrier obstructing daily and seasonal movement and dispersal between overwintering sites, nesting grounds, and the turtle’s natal waters. There’s no telling where this unfortunate turtle was heading. To or from the nearby creek? In search of a mate or a spot to nest? I checked the shell cavity for eggs. She was running on empty.
Fortunately, not every scenario is so grim. Two weeks ago, two colleagues turned up at work on a Monday morning with photos of a mature female western pond turtle they had come across while cycling along a roadway in Marin County. Because the turtle had been found straddling the centerline, there was no telling in which direction she had been headed, so the Samaritans had relocated the turtle across the road to safety toward the nearby creek.
In this case, they did the right thing, moving the turtle out harm’s way. But scenarios like these raise a good question: what should you do if you find a western pond turtle in the road?
To help answer that question, several years ago I developed a full-color, tri-fold brochure describing our local western pond turtle, what to do if you find one, and guidance to private landowners and public land managers alike on the best ways to protect and conserve western pond turtles through proactive land stewardship. I’ve excerpted the relevant text below:
Western pond turtles leave the safety of the water more often than you might think. Turtles come to land to nest; escape drying creeks and ponds or winter floods; hibernate; find mates; and to seek out new ponds and streams.
If you come across a healthy western pond turtle on dry land that is in no immediate danger, do not disturb it. Already skittish by nature, they are especially so on land, leading females to abandon nesting attempts. Make a point of leaving (and leave!) by walking away with heavy footsteps and loud voices. If you sneak off, the turtle may wait you out – leaving it vulnerable to predators or the elements. If you find a live turtle crossing a road, safely move it to the far side in the direction it was heading.
If you come across a western pond turtle that appears ill or has sustained recent injuries (e.g., from a pet, vehicle, or fishing tackle), carefully transport it in a covered container to a local wildlife rehabilitation center immediately. Note where you first discovered the turtle so it can be returned to the closest watershed.
And it’s free! So download the .pdf, print, and distribute.
In 2003, the Pacific Rivers Council collaborated with renown herpetologist Dr. Robert C. Stebbins to prepare a poster illustrating the threatened and endangered frogs and salamanders of the Pacific West Coast. The result was this handsome wall-candy, Imperiled Amphibians of the West, a 23″ x 36″ full-color poster featuring Stebbins’ signature illustrations set against range maps for each species.
Among the species featured are California’s very own California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense), desert slender salamander (Batrachoseps major aridus), Santa Cruz long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum), Sacramento mountain salamander (Aneides hardii), California red-legged frog (Rana draytonii), mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa), Yosemite toad (Bufo canorus), western boreal toad (Bufo boreas boreas), Arroyo toad (Bufo califonicus), and western spadefoot toad (Spea hammondii).
UPDATE: Thanks to Kalei at PRC for the kind offer! PRC is waiving the S&H for (bio)accumulation readers; just email email@example.com and tell them (bio)accumulation send you for your FREE wall-candy (see comments below for details).
The responsibility of raising a child with a healthy respect and understanding for the natural world can be a tricky path to travel. Between deciphering the difference between things edible and things not (vegetable garden = good, botanical garden = bad), tempering children’s primordial, saggy-pants urge to collect every stone and leaf between the front door and the mailbox, and playing the role of freeze-dried drug dealer in response to their jilted-junky demands for one last natural-history-museum-astronaut-ice-cream fix, more compromises and concessions are made along the way than there are Crayola crayon colors. But one lapse in judgement that has repeated itself during the nurturing of a nature-child time-immemorial recently spurred the herpetological community to reach out to parents and teachers around the world: Tadpoles.
In 2009, after several herpetologists belonging to the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR) were contacted by school teachers about procuring for classrooms the eggs of native amphibians that could be raised and then released into the wild, the SSAR responded to this issue in the journal Herpetological Review through a Letter to the Editor titled, Considerations and Recommendations for Raising Live Amphibians in Classrooms. Their concerns centered on the well-intentioned practice of collecting eggs or tadpoles and releasing them as adults, a practice fraught with potential side-effects herpetologists are only just now wrapping their heads around. Today, infectious diseases like amphibian chytrid fungus and ranaviruses have been linked to world-wide amphibian declines and extinctions. In their letter, the authors surmise:
“The sad reality is that the world is no longer a simple place and seemingly innocent acts like catching tadpoles and releasing them later are now much more complex, with regard to conservation imperatives” (Mendelson et al. 2009).
Rather than put the kibosh on raising amphibians at home or school, however, SSAR suggests instead the following recommendations:
- A combination of strict isolation, quarantine, and good house-keeping (tank/equipment sterilization) when one or more species are in captivity at any given location;
- Stringent sanitization of all equipment when moving between sites while collecting or releasing specimens;
- A strict “no release” policy for any amphibian purchased or received from any commercial or questionable (e.g., a neighbor) source; purchasing a commercially available pet should mean you are making the commitment to:
- take on the responsibility of caring for the animal for its natural life, or
- euthanize the animal when you are no longer able to take care of it.
In the case of an American bullfrog, they note, that could be a commitment of as much as 33 years, considerably longer than any cat or dog. All things considered, these are reasonable olive branches to extend to the public given the gravity of amphibian declines today.
For more information, see:
Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) brochure: Please… Don’t Turn It Loose: Information on how to properly dispose of unwanted classroom or laboratory specimens. [Link]
Mendelson, Joseph R., Jennifer B. Pramuk, Ron Gagliardo, Allan Pessier, Betsie B. Rothermel, Kevin C. Zippel, Catherine Bevier, Marion Preest, and Brian Crother. 2009. Considerations and Recommendations for Raising Live Amphibians in Classrooms. Herpetological Review 2009, 40(2): 142–144. [Link]
Pinou, T., H. A. Flanigan, and M. S. Drucker. 2009. First-Grade Record Keepers. Science and Children January 2009: 31–35.
Last year, University of Oregon geography graduate student Derek Watson had the bright idea of mapping the generic names (toponyms) of streams in the USGS National Hydrography Dataset as they appear in the lower 48 states. The result – Mapping Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous United States – as Watson describes it, was a “lite-brite aesthetic” of otherwise blue-line streams or, in this case, branches, runs, forks, brooks, kills, streams, bayous, swamps, sloughs, washes, cañadas, arroyos, and rios.
As Watson points out (and so deftly illustrates), the toponyms reflect not only a geographic but cultural influence to cartography. For example, the bayous trace the historic French settlements of the south, while the rios, arroyos, and cañadas mark the northward movement of the conquistadors from Mexico into the southwest. Still, it should come as no surprise that rivers and creeks float to the top of the list of common stream names.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s All About Birds Labs is hard at work developing Merlin™, an online bird identification tool that needs your help to shape the artificial intelligence engine. All you need to do is play Merlin’s Bird Color Challenge: After staring at an image of a bird for five seconds, you are asked to select the bird’s three most prominent colors from a pallet of choices. After you’ve made your selection, you are given a pie-chart that illustrates how others responded. Next, there’s Mark My Bird, a follow-up program that asks runs you through a battery of questions about a single bird.
How does this help? Logging your observations helps train a computer to solve bird ID questions. It also helps hone your observation skills – or at least matches them against your peers. Although it may not be a good pastime for the colorblind, for everyone else Merlin’s challenge is a good opportunity to log some citizen science sweat equity on a rainy day from the comfort of your living room sofa.
And by crowd-sourcing the artificial intelligence engine, with every click we’ll be that much closer to developing the Swiss clockwork necessary to fuel the field guides of the future – digital resources like Merlin that turn LBBs (little brown birds) into LBVIs (Least Bell’s vireos).