From Frogs, Logs, Dogs, Slogs, Bogs, Hogs, and Pollywogs - It's the Methow Conservancy Blog!
Occasional posts - from the quirky to the momentous - on the life and times of the Methow Conservancy.
(What you won't find in E-News)

Monday, March 19, 2018

Herpetology Course - Class #4 Rattlesnakes

Our 4-part 2018 "Conservation Course" started February 12th. Below are notes taken by Kristen Kirkby. See notes and videos from the previous classes here:
Class #1 - Herpetology Overview
Class #2 - Methow Reptiles

Class #3 - Methow Amphibians

Learn more about the Herp Course here

Class #4 -Rattlesnakes & the Methow's Northern Pacific Rattlesnake with John Rohrer, March 12, 2018

Watch and listen to the 1.75 hour lecture portion of the class on this video

Cool Terms ~ Ecdysis: Process of skin shedding
~ Ectothermic: only get heat from environment, don’t generate their own
          Thigmothermic: heat from contact with a warmer object
          Heliothermic: heat from the sun
~ Solenoglyphs: snakes with hinged front fangs
~ Viviparous: give birth to live young
~ Oviparous: young hatched from eggs

Class: Reptilia – Snakes, lizards, turtles
     Order: Squamata – Snakes and Lizards
          Suborder: Serpentes – Snakes
               Family: Viperidae – Pit vipers
                    Genera: Crotalus and Sistrurus – Rattlesnakes

There are 32 species of rattlesnakes in the world - of those 16 are in US (and territories). There are also 32 subspecies among the species.

In WA: only the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus), which is a subspecies of the Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus).

Federally listed (Endangered Species Act) rattlers:
~ New Mexican Ridge-Nosed (threatened) (AZ, NM)
~ Aruba Island Rattlesnake (threatened) (Aruba)
~ Eastern Massasauga (threatened) (Midwest US)

State Listed (species of concern):
~ Timber Rattlesnake (East of the Mississippi)
~ Eastern Diamondback (Southeast US)

The Rattle:The rattle is thought to have evolved as a warning to large animals, like deer and elk, so that the snakes wouldn't get stepped on. They still use the rattle as a warning today. A muscle at the end of the tail vibrates at 50x/second, shaking the "buttons" (made of keratin similar to our fingernails). The buttons are loosely connected so they shake against each other and make noise. A new segment or button is revealed each time the snake sheds it's skin. Shedding depends on growth (multiple times/year in warm, productive areas versus only 1x/year further north like in the Methow).

Food Acquisition:
~ Pit vipers have paired heat sensing organs and can detect tiny temperature differences (0.002 degrees F) at close range
~ Short-sighted, see varying shades of heat
~ Use venom to subdue prey; venom glands behind eyes give triangular shaped head
~ Venom is a mix of hemotoxin (destroys blood cells) and neurotoxin (affects nerves)
~ Sit and wait to ambush predators, then reach out, strike, and inject venom, then sit back and wait for the venom to take affect (less opportunity for injury from fighting prey). Then they use their tongue to smell/track prey down, and eat it whole.
~ Primarily eat rodents (baby rattlers eat lizards)

There are approx. 9000 venom bites/year in US (all venomous snakes not just rattlers); most happen in the Southeast, and most people are trying to catch or kill the snake. Of these, there are only about 5 fatalities per year, and this is typically because these victims choose not to get treatment or delayed it too long. 25-50% of rattlesnake strikes are dry (no venom). Treatment is antivenin

Snake Fungal Disease (Ophidiomyces ophidiicola) was identified in 2006 in Timber Rattlers in New Hampshire, found mostly in the East, and Midwest; it has not yet found in West. The disease may be linked to a warming climate, 5-15 degrees C is too cold for fungus growth, but folks have seen outbreaks in warmer dens.

North Pacific Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus oreganus)

Lives in British Columbia, WA, OR, ID, and CA. There are no protections in any state, so anyone can kill them anytime.

Live primarily east of the Cascades; in the Methow they live valley bottom (core habitat), and somewhat up in the hills (peripheral habitat)

Tan to green coloring, with blotches on dorsal surface; broad triangular head; typically 30-40” long and up to 60” (largest found in the Methow was 47”, 1093 grams).

They are ectothermic, so they only get heat from their environment; they can't generate their own heat like we can. But this also means they use and need a lot less energy (food). They use 1/5 to 1/10 of the energy requirement of a similar sized "endotherm" (a creature like a mammal or bird that). Consequently, they have a much broader range of suitable body temperatures, however they do need to maintain a temp above freezing (and 85-90 degrees is the optimal body temperature, physiologically).

So, they are challenged in northern latitudes: There's a short growing season; they need winter refuge (underground den), and they have a seasonal migration.

They den from roughly mid-September to mid-April, and dozens to hundreds of snakes are in a communal den. Individuals generally use the same den their whole lives. Den sites are 6-8 feet underground (under frost line). They need air flow and shelter from precipitation, so they require unique conditions. Most local dens are on talus slopes with rock outcroppings (~35 dens are known in the Methow).

Historical documents outline people killing 350-400 rattlesnakes from a den in Pateros (1930), even 1000 at one site. In 1952, someone documented killing 259 in one day at a site on Leecher Mountain.

Methow Research
John and others wanted to find dens, so they started radio-tagging rattlers with a transmitter to detect their location, and sometimes with an internal sensor to log body temperature.

They found that rattlers are active with temperatures of 60 degrees and sun. Individuals start coming out of their dens in April, but only a subset (15-20%) will come out of the den each day to sun nearby, and all leave their dens by mid-May.

Females always return to the same den, but males forage until mid-July, and then search out the track of a female to follow her back to her den and to mate.

Females give birth to 4-10 babies for the first time at 6-9 years old, and then every 1-3 years (need recovery time). Methow Valley females reproduce after 8 sheds. They give birth in late-August to early-Sept, and while it was once thought that the young were immediately on their own, research now shows that mom stays with the baby snakes for a week to 10 days, then she goes back to her communal den (if she's not already there), and the young snakes follow the mom’s smell to the den and imprint on it.

A rookery is a group of pregnant females that hang out and stay warm together.

N.P. Rattlers live up to 20 years (Timber Rattlers found to live up to 45 years)

Males have longer tales (length from vent), usually 3.5 cm+
Females have body constriction at vent, tail less than 3.5 cm
Other study findings:
~ Nuisance snakes that were relocated to new dens had the same recapture rate as snakes native to a den~ Dens affected by fires (e.g. Carlton Complex) showed no difference in growth rate than unaffected dens the following year, but rattlesnakes in fire areas were smaller (meaning larger snakes may have died), and showed some burn scars
~ Some difference in crypticism and color between females and males from Methow and Columbia, but not statistically significant findings.

Respect and appreciate your snake neighbors!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Herpetology Course - Class #3 Methow Amphibians

Our 2018 "Conservation Course" started February 12th with an introductory class by Professor Dan Beck. Below are notes taken by Kristen Kirkby. See notes and videos from the previous classes here:

Class #1 - Herpetology Overview
Class #2 - Methow Reptiles

Learn more about the Herp Course here

Class #3 -Methow Amphibians with Julie Grialou & Amphibian Disease and Toxicology with Jenn Zajac, March 5, 2018

Watch and listen to the 2 hour lecture portion of the class on this video

Amphibios = double life. Amphibians lead a double life with aquatic larvae (juveniles) and terrestrial adults (but there are exceptions to this rule). This characteristics allows amphibians to exploit different habitats over their life history.

Heterochrony means that an animals life history and development timing can be fairly "plastic." They change over time and can change as a response to things in the environment.

Neotenic is a term used for larvae amphibians who have become sexually mature - they never look like "adults."

Amphibs can absorb water and oxygen through their skin, allowing them to burrow into soils in relatively arid environments and find sufficient water. With the skin as a respiratory organ, some don’t even have lungs (e.g. lungless salamanders)

Anuran (Frogs and Toads)
5892 species in 38 families
Characteristics: No tail, diverse reproduction strategies, metamorphosis from larvae to adults, fused caudal vertebrae aid in jumping, stabilizing the pelvis, also have adaptations to capture prey (e.g. saliva)
Frog saliva is viscous like honey, super sticky, but it liquifies when it hits prey so that it covers them, then becomes more viscous to capture them and bring back into the mouth, then liquifies again for swallowing.
Amplexus is the mating position of frogs and toads. In water, the male clasps the female from the back and holds on while the female releases eggs. The male then releases sperm and the eggs are fertilized external (in the water).
Frogs make rounded egg masses, toads make long stringy ones

The Pacific Northwest has 5 families of frog/toads. They are:

Ascaphidae – Tailed frogs
Ancient family; endemic to NW; highly aquatic; “tails” are reproductive organ.  Tadpoles are like one big sucker mouth, which they use to cling to substrates in fast-moving water in headwater streams where they eat algae off the rocks.
In our NW region:

~ Pacific tailed frog (Ascaphus truei) (here in the Methow)
~ Rocky mountain tailed frog

Pelobatidae / Scaphiopodidae – Spadefoots

Great Basin Spadefoot
Ancient family, not technically a true frog or toad. Adapted to arid environments, have a hard keratinized digging "spade" on a toe on the back feet; live mostly underground with explosive breeding when rain arrives in the spring. This if followed by a rapid development, with larvae metamorphosing in a few weeks. They mass together, creating more thermal mass and allowing for faster development.  Fairly small, squat, not big jumpers.
In NW:

~ Couch’s spadefoot (Scaphiopus couchi)
Great Basin spadefoot (Spea intermontana) (here in the Methow, in the shrub steppe, from Winthrop south, also in open ponderosa pine with seasonal ponds)

Bufonidae – True toads
Large, complicated family with a variety of development strategies.
In NW: 

~ Woodhouse toad (Bufo woodhousii) in south eastern WA
Western toad (Bufo boreas) in the Methow. Stripe down back, black spots on belly. Digging tool on back foot for burrowing, or they use rodent burrows. They are early breeders up high in the mountains.

Hylidae – Tree frogs / chorus frogs
Tree Frog Eggs

One of the largest families, very widespread, distinct wider adhesive toe tip.
In NW & in the Methow:

Pacific chorus frog (Hyla (or psudacris) regilla) use a wide variety of habitat, just need water source, wide toes at end, black stripe from tip of nose to shoulder, dark triangle on head (can change tone of color). They attach eggs to vegetation in lakes/ponds; they are relatively small in size (enlarge with age).

Ranidae – True frogs
Huge family (1377 species), worldwide, arid to temperate to tropical. Huge size range.
In NW:

Columbia Spotted Frog
~ Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) WA state listed, proposal to list on ESA was rejected because it’s abundant in other parts of its range and isn’t genetically distinct in WA
Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana lutieventris) In Methow. Red underside on legs; dorso-lateral folds; breed in shallow warmer water; lay big egg clusters communally; eggs often get algae on them, and get frothy-looking.

Salamander (Urodela)
585 species, 10 families (5 in WA/OR)

The Ambystomatidae family is known as the "Mole Salamanders."
Individuals can either metamorphose (change from eggs to larvae to adults), or be obligate "paedomorphic" (retain larval traits) individuals. They typically migrate to breeding habitat in large numbers. Terrestrial adults have robust bodies and limbs, and short, blunt heads.

In the Methow: 
Tiger Salamander

~ Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). Found in the shrub steppe and ponderosa forest. Eggs laid singly on vegetation in the water; larvae have long gills
Long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) Yellow stripe down back, eggs in parallel clusters.
In WA:
~ Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile). West of Cascade crest. Softball-sized egg masses. Mostly underground when on land; need moisture. Rib-like grooves on head; have perisoid glands (poison).

The Dicamptodon family are the "Giant Salamanders." They are endemic to PNW and there are 4 species OR/WA.

The Salamandridae family are called "True Salamanders"
They are mostly in Europe and Asia, except newts, which we have here in the PNW.
~ The Rough Skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) Dry to the touch when terrestrial, but become slimy and develop dorsal fins in water where they go to breed; they are toxic and it's a good idea to not touch them!

Rough-Skinned Newt
The Plethidontidae family are the "Lungless Salamanders"
Terrestrial; are in wet areas but not in water. They are the most diverse. Nasolabial grooves (skin folds) help with chemoreception. There are 4 genera in Western Washington.

The Rhyacotritonidae family are the "Torrent Salamanders" (aka the Cascade salamanders. Rhyaco = stream, triton = greek sea god. They are endemic to the PNW; typically up high in watersheds. They are small and semi-aquatic.

Amphibian disease and toxicology with Jennifer Zajac

1/3 of all amphibian species are threatened (43% are in decline); 168 species have already gone extinct. There are multiple causes: habitat loss, pollution, invasive species, disease, etc.

Chytrid fungus (Bd)
Caused by a pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatids, which uses keratin in skin of amphibians and the mouth-parts of larvae, leading to low electrolytes in the animal and eventually cardiac arrest. The motile zoospore stage swims and is viable in water for 7 weeks without a host. Symptoms include lethargy, sloughing of skin, abnormal resting poses, loss of righting reflex, seizures and death.

Worldwide, it is thought to have originated in Japan, where it has little impact. There are different impacts in different areas on different species, but has led to serious decline in some areas, such as Central America.

Frogs and salamanders are both carriers, but frogs are more susceptible. Testing is done with a swab of the skin, legs, and feet to pull spores, which can be counted to tell severity of infection.

Chytrid has been found in Washington, but not much sampling has been done in the state.

Batrachochytrium salamandridrorant (Bsal)
Only affects salamanders; causes skin lesions; can be cured by holding critters at 25°C for 10 days.
Originated in eastern Asia on fire-bellied newts in the pet trade in 2013; currently only in Asia and Europe. Legal action is ongoing to try and keep it from the U.S.

Rana virus (RV)
Affects not only frogs, but fish and turtles, too. There is now global distribution as a group of different viruses. Leads to swelling of legs and body, hemorrhaging redness, white plaque in mouth (turtles), lethargy, and erratic swimming. It is lethal mostly at the larval stage, and 90% die off in 1-5 days. Man-made stressors such as pollution increase susceptibility.

Frog deformities (e.g. multiple hind legs)
Debated causes include: UV contamination, agrochemicals, parasites, trematodes, combination of those, but now it is believed to be from trematodes (internal parasites such as flatworms). More fertilizer leads to more snails leads to more birds leads to more trematodes leads to more deformities.

Toxicology: Susceptibility of animals to chemicals
Pesticide drift: chemicals from farmland drift, even to remote, seemingly pristine areas
The term "LC50" is the "lethal concentration" for 50% of study population.

Jen’s research looked at the interactive effects of chytrid, triclosan (ag chemical), and predatory effects. Triclosan is an antimicrobial used in MANY products, and found in 50% of US streams. She looked at Woodhouse toad tadpoles and the synergistic effects of these stressors.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Herpetology Course - Class #2 Methow Reptiles

Our 2018 "Conservation Course" started February 12th with an introductory class by Professor Dan Beck.  Below are notes taken by Kristen Kirkby.  See notes and videos from the previous classes here:
Class #1
Learn more about the Herp Course here

Class #2 -Methow Reptiles with Scott Fitkin, Feb 26, 2018

Watch and listen to the 2 hour lecture portion of the class on this video

The Class of Reptilia includes turtles, snakes, lizards, and crocodilians.  They are characterized by ecotothermy, dry scaly skin, lungs, internal fertilization (not dependent on water), and shelled, amniotic eggs.

Within a 100-mile radius of the Methow there are:
                1 species of turtle, 6 lizards, 10 snakes, but within the Methow we typically only see 1 turtle, 4 lizards and 6 snakes.

Turtles (Order Testudines)
Have a shell, can withdraw their head and appendages inside shell, are long-lived, and lay eggs on land. 
There are 257 species around the world, 2 native species in Washington, 1 of which is in the Methow.
Turtle vocab:
          Carapace: upper shell
          Plastron: bottom shell
          Emydid: semi-aquatic

In the Methow:
We have the Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
Distinguished by red patterning on plastron
Live in still, slow, shallow water with muddy bottom, need basking sites where they congregate
Omnivorous (mostly plants)
Reproduce at 5-6 years old; hatchlings over-winter in the nest and can withstand freezing (heart stops beating and use glucose in cells to prevent freeze damage)
Turtles absorb oxygen through their skin(!) when buried in mud or under the ice of a pond
Where to find them in the Methow!: Twisp-to-Carlton ponds, Davis, Paterson, Barnsley, Pearrygin lakes

Lizards (Order Squamata)
Have claws on digits, external ear openings, most can lose/regrow tail, and shed skin in large pieces.
There are 3300 species in the world, 7 species in WA, and 4 known in the Methow.
Lizard vocab:
          Oviparous: young hatch from eggs
          Viviparous: young born alive
          Autotomy: casting off of part of the body

In the Methow: 
We have the Northern Alligator lizard, the Pygmy Short-horned lizard, the Western Fence lizard, and the Western Skink.

Northern alligator lizard (family anguidae, Elegaria coerulea)
Long-bodied, snake-like, 3-5” from snout to vent (S2V), olive-brown with black/white checkering
Live in forested areas with rocky openings, up to 4600’, can live moister and cooler than other lizards
Insectivorous; viviparous (1-8 young), home bodies that stay within about 10m
Where to find them in the Methow!: War Creek bridge, Cougar lake, W Fork Methow, Buck Lake, Chewuch River

Short-horned lizard (family iguanidae, Phrynosoma douglasii)
Small, flat, round, cryptic (blend into surroundings)
Live in open shrub steppe to 3500’; Okanogan County is their northern limit (extirpated in BC),
Live on top of knobs with open shrub steppe, bitterroot
Insectivorous (specialize in ants), semi-fossorial (lots of time underground), need loose soil
Viviparous (2-7, newborns are just 1” long)
Where to find them in the Methow!: Patterson, Lewis Butte, Big Buck wildlife area, Studhorse (report to Scott if found!)

Western fence lizard (family iguanidae, Sceloporus occidentalis)
Gray/black/brown, blotches of color which can change with surroundings; rough, keeled dorsal scales, males have blue undersides, S2V 3.5”
Oviparous (up to 10 eggs), 60 day incubation
Reduce the prevalence of lyme disease by destroying the spirochetes in ticks that feed on them. 
Areas with W. Fence lizards had 5% of ticks carrying lyme, areas without had 50%
Where to find them in the Methow!: Pine Forest, above Aspen Lake, near rattlesnake dens

Western skink (family scincidae, Eumeces skiltonianus)
Long body, short legs, smooth shiny scales, S2V to 3”, brown/tan with striped pattern, blue tail
Very fast, will often lose tails
 Live in dry forest with rim rock to 3200’, often found under rock/bark
Construct burrows and lay 2-10 eggs, only lizard in NW that guards eggs
Where to find them in the Methow!: Pipestone, near rattlesnake dens

Snakes (Order Squamata)
No limbs, no moveable eyelids, no external ear openings, swallow prey items whole, and smell with protrusible tongue.  There are 2700 species in the world, 12 species in WA, and 6 known in Methow
Snake vocab:
          Ecdysis: shedding of the skin
          Thigmothermic: get heat from direct contact with a warmer object
          Solenoglyphs: snakes with hinged front fangs (rattlers)
          Opisthoglyphs: rear-fanged snakes (night snakes)

In the Methow: 
We have the Gopher snake, Western Racer, Wandering Garter snake, Common garter snake, Rubber Boa, and the Northern Pacific rattlesnake.

Gopher snake (family Colubridae, Pituophis catenifer)
Longest snake in the Valley at 4-5’; dark brown blotches on tan
Lives in shrub steppe and open pine to 3500’
Constrictor, eats small mammals, birds, lizards
Strongly thigmothermic
Lay eggs (4-20) in rodent burrows
Rattlesnake mimic (does not eat rattlers), great climbers
Initially aggressive, but calm quickly
Poop on you 25% of the time when you pick them up
Where to find them in the Methow!: Upper Bear Creek, Gunn Ranch Rd)
Western racer (Family Colubridae, Coluber constrictor)
Long, thin, narrow pointed tail, dull-green/gray dorsal, yellow/cream ventral, large dark eye, often has head up
Live in low elevation, open shrub steppe, on the edge of pine forest
Prey on lizards, small mammals, insects, frogs, eggs
Non-constrictor (grab and swallow)
Oviparous (3-7)
Visual, diurnal hunters; squat in rattlesnake dens
Poop on you 100% of the time, sometimes bite
Where to find them in the Methow!: Gunn Ranch, areas with lizards

Wandering garter snake / Western terrestrial (Family Colubridae, Thamnophis elegans)
Long, slender to 43”, many color morphs, light jagged dorsal stripe
Moist habitats below 5000’, terrestrial and semi-aquatic
Grab and swallow eater with diverse diet
Viviparous (4-19)
Opisthoglyphs with toxic (not to you!) saliva
Migrate long distances from hibernacula (den)
Poop on you 100% of the time, may bite
Where to find them in the Methow!: everywhere

Common garter snake/ Valley garter snake (Family Colubridae, Thamnophis sirtalis)
Long, slender to 52”, vibrant dorsal and lateral striping, often red spotting
Most widespread, everywhere there’s water available, more aquatic than wandering garter
Varied diet, lots of fish and amphibians
Cold tolerant, hunt in the water
Mate at spring emergence, viviparous (3-18)
Have resistance to toxic amphibians (like rough-skinned newt)
Poo on you 100%, might bite
Communal denning, world’s largest snake concentration in Manitoba with 1000s of snakes
Where to find them in the Methow!: everywhere there’s water, Methow and Chewuch rivers,

Rubber boa (Family Boeidae, Charina bottae)
Small to 30”, thicker body, small eye, small head and blunt tail look similar, tiny smooth scales, brown/olive dorsal, creamy yellow ventral, very slow moving (look like large worms!)
 Live in riparian, to dryer forest to 4000’
Semi-fossorial, mostly nocturnal
Specialize on shrews, small mice, kill with constrition
Viviparous (1-8)
Cold tolerant, active into fall
Have a vestigial pelvic girdle,
Poo 50%, never bite, slow and easy to handle, and they are sooo very cute
Where to find them in the Methow!: Mixed shade/sun with ground litter, Upper Chewuch, Twisp River, Winthrop trail

Northern Pacific rattlesnake (Family Viperidae, Crotalus oreganus)
Large, heavy-bodied to 48”, brown to greenish with dark blotches, banded tail, wide head, rattle
Live in shrub steppe and dry forest to 5000’, limited by good denning habitat
Only venomous snake around, most evolutionarily advanced, hinged fangs
Subdue prey with venom, eat lots of mammals
Viviparous (1-25)
Can “see” in dark with infrared detection
Live in communal hibernacula
Don’t handle!
Where to find them in the Methow!: south-facing rocky areas, Pipestone, Rendezvous, Finley Canyon, Golden Doe

Unverified Methow residents:
Night snake (Hypsiglena torquata)
Dark blotches on light background, dark head, <18”, vertical pupil
Live in arid, rock areas under rocks
Nocturnal, oviparous, opisthoglyphs

Sage brush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus)
Look like fence lizard, but no blue under males, smooth rear thigh, S2V 2.5”
Arid, sandy areas, likely in the lower Methow

Snake handling! Do it but do it carefully! (but not to rattlers!)
                Move slowly
                Support weight of snake with two hands
                Move hands with scales, not against
                Don’t grab behind head

Developing reptile issues:
                Snake fungal disease: is out east and has been moving west
                Pond turtle shell fungus
                Invasives (like bull frogs)

Rubber Boa up-close - Look at its eyes!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Herpetology Course - Class #1 What are Herps and Why are they special?

Our 2018 "Conservation Course" started February 12th with an introductory class by Professor Dan Beck.  Below are notes taken by Kristen Kirkby.
Learn more about the Herp Course here

Class #1 -What are Herps with Dan Beck, Feb 12 2018

Watch and listen to the 76min lecture portion of the class on this video
Why should we care about herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles)?
·        We’re in the middle of a 6th extinction right now, and humans are the cause. Roughly 1/3 of amphibians are threatened or endangered, and reptiles are close behind. For example, the leopard frog has largely disappeared from Washington State.
·        Amphibians and reptiles have provided great benefit to us, scientifically. We’ve learned much through study of their toxins and have developed important medicines using them. For example:
o   Blood pressure regulation drugs developed from the venom of pit vipers
o   Diabetes treatment drugs developed from the venom of Gila monsters
·         They also play a large role in food webs, energy conversion, and other ecological services
·         They’re awesome! Ignorance of these animals can lead us to fear, but hopefully knowledge will lead us to respect.

A Rattler holding a Gopher Snake!
Herps in the state of Washington
Check out some great resources:
·         WDFW's WA herpetology atlas
·         Get a field guide! 
In Washington:
27 species of Amphibians
                14 species of salamander (Order Candata)
                13 species of frogs and toads (2 introduced) (Order Anura)
28 species of Reptiles
                4 species of turtles (2 introduced) (Order Testudines)
                8 species of lizards (1 introduced) (Order Squamata)
                12 species of snakes (Order Squamata)

Neat fact!: Tailed frogs are the only amphibians with internal fertilization, and males have external copulatory organs. And they live around here! Look for them up the Twisp River.

Alligator Lizard
Another Neat Fact! (ANF!):
Alligator lizards have a huge inner ear, and studying their cochlea helped scientists develop hearing aids.
(look for more ANF!s below)

Herp evolution
Amphibians, reptiles, and mammals are all tetrapods (four legged), limbed vertebrates

The earliest amphibians evolved 360 million years ago, and evolved from fish, transitioning from a round head with eyes on the side to a flat head with eyes on the top, and developing limbs.

Amphibian eggs are dependent on water, but around 340 million years ago there was a major evolutionary break through with the evolution of the amniotic egg. This egg includes food, water, and a space for the collection of wastes, so creatures were no longer dependent on water. After this development, reptiles and mammals evolved and radiated relatively quickly.

So, in this way, reptiles have more in common with mammals than with amphibians, which are in many ways more similar to fish.

ANF!: Crocodiles and birds are closely related, since, of course, birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Garter Snake
Amphibians and reptiles are united by ectothermy, which is the mode of temperature regulation where body temperature is determined by a creature’s external environment.

In contrast to endothermy, where body temperature is determined internally through metabolism.  Mammals are endotherms.

(there's also poikilothermy (body temperature varies) and homeothermy (constant body temp)).

Endothermic creatures produce more heat in metabolically active tissues (eg. the liver, heart, brain, gastrointestinal organs). Cells have a higher density of mitochondria (powerhouses in the cells that convert sugars to energy), but the membranes of these mitochondria are leaky and heat is given off. This heats the body, but also makes for less efficient energy conversion.

Ectotherms are much more efficient, only needing roughly less than 1/10 of the energy of a comparably sized endotherm.
                Ectotherms are more efficient because they:
·         Don’t have to regulate their temperature with metabolism, just rely on external heat
·         Metabolic rates drop in cooler environments, which increases efficiency. A 10 degree drop in temperature drops metabolic rate 3-fold.
·         Don’t need as much food, so don’t have to use the energy to be so active in procuring it

Ectotherms rely on behavioral thermoregulation (modify their body temp by choosing their environment) so habitat selection is important.

Because of the issues of heat loss with increasing surface area to volume ratios (greater mass holds more heat), endotherms are more limited in how small they can get. Ectotherms get much tinier. For example, compare a shrew or a hummingbird (very small) to the tiniest snakes (itty bitty). 80% of lizards and 90% of salamanders weigh 20g or less.

Ectotherms can then put a greater percentage of the energy that they take in towards reproduction.

Great Basin Spadefoot Toad
ANF! Spadefoot toads have a bony tubercle on their hind foot that lets them dig well, and they’ll dig 1 meter deep, finding and following the water table, and can stay under for maybe up to three years. They might come out to eat and breed for a week, then go back for a year of burial.

Rattlesnakes need to eat about their body weight per year (more for breeding and growing). This could be maybe 6-12 voles, compared to a weasel which might need to eat 400-600 voles a year. For the quantity of food you need to support 2 weasels you could have 40-60 rattlesnakes. So, reptiles and amphibians convert energy up through the food web at a higher efficiency than mammals and birds.

Amphibians and reptiles have a 3-chambered heart, that either can or can not allow oxygenated and deoxygenated blood to mix, depending on their oxygen demands.

Rough-Skinned Newt
ANF! The toxin in rough-skinned newt (those guys are so cute) skin is the same as is found in the puffer fish! It binds to sodium channels, which are critical for nerve function. Garter snakes have evolved some resistance to this toxin by changing the cell membrane surface so those channels can’t be affected.

Amphibian means “double life”, which is descriptive of their life history: juveniles (larvae) live in the water, adults tend to live terrestrially (on land). So, these two life stages are able to exploit different habitat niches.

Some amphibians display heterochrony (timing and rate of development is altered) in the form of paedomorphosis (adults remain aquatic and retain larval characteristics. Tiger salamanders often do this, and it may allow them to best exploit unpredictable habitat availability.
Tiger Salamander
Amphibian skin allows water permeation, and the skin can even act as a respiratory organ, which allowed the evolution of lungless salamanders

ANF! Lizards autotomize, which means they can drop their tail off so that it wriggles on the ground and distracts predators

ANF! Reptiles pick up chemicals with their tongues and bring them into their mouths to “smell” with the vomeronasal organ. 2 sides of the tongue can pick up different chemicals, informing directional decisions. 

And then we held and touched lots of different snakes and lizards and salamanders, which was super neat!

Boa Constrictor
Gila Monster

Gopher Snake

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Methow Mammal Course - Class #6 Insectivores & "One Stick at a Time"

Our 2017 "Conservation Course" started February 6th.  Below are notes taken by Avery Young.  See notes and videos from the previous classes here:
Class #1
Class #2
Class #3
Class #4 
Class #5
Learn more about the Mammal Course and see all the course documents here.

Class #6 - Insectivores with Dr. Peter Wimberger, plus The 10 Decades Project with Kent Woodruff.

(Watch and listen to Peter Wimberger's section here)
If you are a mammal in the Methow, the chances are very likely that you are a rodent. If you are not a rodent, but still call yourself a mammal, then it’s likely you are a shrew, mole or bat. Rodents are the largest order of mammals.  Shrews, moles and bats are in the second and third largest families of mammals.  “Insectivora” is a now-abandoned taxonomic order.  Insectivores are the sister group to all the rest of mammals.  It wasn’t until the 1990s, when we started sequencing DNA, that biologists realized not all those groups fit together. Now, there are new orders, and “super-orders” and new families and “sub-families,” all trying to distinguish how mammals are similar/related or not, and the classifications continuing changing today.  For now, true shrews and moles are in the order Eulipotyphla, and bats are in the order Chiroptera. 

Vagrant Shrew (by William Leonard)

The family Soricidae, the “shrew” family, has 26 genera and 376 species worldwide! The only places shrews are not found are Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.  Shrews are all small mammals found in forests, and most of them primarily make their living off of eating insects.  They are carnivorous, but they also eat subterranean fungi.  Shrews have many sharp teeth, but lack a zygomatic arch, which rodents have. Unlike rodents whose teeth are constantly growing, shrews only have one set of teeth. However, like beavers, some shrews have iron capped teeth which reinforce the tooth and make them stronger. Like bats, shrews can echolocate. They are mostly solitary, but very territorial (for fun, google: “shrew territorial battle!” It will make cage fighting look tame!).  Shrews burrow, but they also spend a lot of time above ground. Shrews have a short lifespan of about one year, and can have up to 10 litters per year. A few other interesting facts about shrews: they have venomous saliva, and also can engage in seismic body shaking in order to figure out where to burrow.  Being small has its disadvantages when it comes to being homoeothermic (warm-blooded) in a cooler climate.  In colder climates, shrews have to eat 1.5-3x their body weight in food/day. They take several very short naps during the day, but they don’t go into torpor or hibernate. 

In the Methow, we have the masked shrew (Sorex cinereus) and vagrant shrew (Sorex vagrans) for sure, and it’s likely we also have Montane (dusky) shrew (Sorex monticolus (obscurus)) and water shrew (Sorex palustris).  The masked shrew has the widest distribution range of any North American shrew and can be found in a variety of habitats. Water shrews live in water and make their living by eating lots of aquatic fish and amphibian larvae. Water shrews have hairs around the edges of their feet which makes them more efficient swimmers. They can control their metabolic rate a little bit more efficiently than other shrews.

Coast Mole (by Peter Paquet)

Moles are in the Talpidae family. There are 17 genera and 50 species of moles world-wide. They spend much of their lives in underground burrows, so they’ve evolved a special ability to survive in low-oxygen environments.  Their blood cells have a special form of hemoglobin that allows them to reuse oxygen.

Moles have a fused radius and humerus, and a huge pectoralis, all allowing them to dig efficiently and for long periods of time. Moles do have a zygomatic arch and like birds, they have a keeled sternum, which makes sense given the sweeping or swimming motion their front arms make.  Mole saliva has a paralyzing toxin that allows them to store their still-living prey (primarily earthworms) for later consumption.

Pacific Moles, also known as Coast Moles (Scapanus orarius), live on the west side of the Cascades throughout the Northwest, but their mounds and sign have been found in the Methow by David Moskowitz, and records show that they’ve been seen to reach some parts of west-central Idaho.  They stick to wetter riparian areas, and their mounds look different from gopher mounds (moles are more like volcanos with hole going straight down the middle; gophers are large nondescript piles and a hole may be found anywhere in it, curving down a side.

Townsend's big-eared bats in Twisp by Mary Kiesau
Bats, in the order Chiroptera (meaning hand-wing) are the only true flying mammal.   Bats are the second largest order of mammals (after the rodents), representing about 20% of all classified mammal species worldwide (there about 1200 species of bats).  Bats showed up soon after the dinosaurs went extinct.  Fossil records go back to the early Eocene period, (52-53mya). 

Bats have the broadest array of feeding niches of any animal. Different bats eat different things; nectar, pollen, fish, frogs, blood, fruits, frogs, birds, and more. Bats have a wide array of teeth based on their diets. 

The aspect ratio is the length to width ratio of the wing. Bats with shorter/broader wings are very maneuverable with a low aspect ratio wing. Also, like birds, some bats migrate. It was recently discovered that some bats who migrate use the same migratory paths that birds do.  Bats have a higher concentration of red blood cells than other mammals in order to supply them with the energy they need for flying.  Most bats utilize echolocation for navigation and feeding. Some bats estivate and some bats hibernate or go into torpor for a single night. 

Flight lowers the probability of an early extrinsic death and so they generally can live a long time - many up to 30 years.  If a species has a high probability of dying young, they will generally reproduce very quickly (like rodents).  Bats reproduce very slowly, because of the reduced selection pressure on their lifespan (this is also a contributing factor to bats’ population decline).  Mating occurs in late summer/early fall and the female stores the male sperm until April or May the following year.  Once implantation is allowed, gestation is 30-60 days depending on the species.  Generally, bats have 1 young, sometimes 2.

When it comes to echo-location, most bats generate sound with their larynx and their tongue in the 20-70kHz range. Our hearing range is between 20Hz-20KHz, so we usually can’t hear them. Some bats can generate calls up to 210 KHz.  Many of the bat species in the Methow are in the myotis genus, and they have the ability to avoid a wire as thin as .28 mm by using echolocation. Others can avoid a wire .05 mm (the size of an amoeba!).

Pallid bat wingspan (NPS photo)
The most common bat, the “little brown bat” (Myotis lucifugus), is the bat that has been most devastated by the white nose syndrome. The “big brown bat” (Eptesicus fuscus) is widely distributed and uses human structures to build their habitat. Townsend’s big-eared bats (Corynorhinus townsendii) feed primarily on moths and have very low intensity sounds so that the moths can’t hear them coming, giving this bat the common name of “whisper bat.”  Hoary bats (Lasiurus cinereus) have high aspect ratio wings and can endure long migrations. Pallid bats (Antrozous pallidus) are WA’s second largest bat.  They like our arid river canyons and cliffs, and shrub-steppe where they forage on crickets.  Spotted bats (Euderma maculatum) are considered one of America’s rarest animals. There are only 73 museum specimens in the world.  We do have them in the valley - listen for them in Pipestone canyon at night; if you hear “tick, tick, tick, tick, tick” it’s probably a spotted bat. 

Up until white nose syndrome, wind turbines were the biggest threat to bats. Bats often get hit by them, or the negative pressure can make it impossible to escape getting sucked into them. Wind farms kill between 600K-900K bats/year!  Solutions proposed are to have the wind turbines only running during the day, but this solution is voluntary.  Pesticides reduce food sources for bats, and a lot of pesticides are fat soluble and so the fatty tissues in bats gets an accumulation which can be lethal.  If you want to help bats, leave dead trees standing to give them roosting cavities.  White nosed syndrome is a fungal infection that grows on the face and wings. First discovered in 2006 in the Northeast, it is now in 29 states mostly found on the eastern side of the United States, but WA has also had one case. There have been over 11 million bats killed due to this deleterious fungal infection. The spores are highly resistant, and are passed by contact including, it was discovered, by bat researchers and spelunkers (people exploring caves) who get the fungal spores on their clothes and then go to another cave.  (Throw clothes away if you go spelunking; washing doesn’t destroy the spores.)

The 10 Decades Project & “One Stick at a Time”
Kent Woodruff spoke about The 10 Decades Project which was conceived in 2014 as an attempt to engage resource managers and community leaders in actions directly related to reducing the climate change impacts expected for their areas.  The main effort is to communicate that excellent work has been done to identify some of the specific climate change impacts that are here now and are arriving with increasing frequency, and demonstrate a few ways people in the Methow Valley are responding. The film “One Stick at a Time” was created for people that care about land and water and wildlife and fish and forests and people.  The project is focused on showing that we have our work cut out for us and we need to start now to retain, for as long as we can, the things we value ... hopefully for 10 Decades or more.  Kent asked questions and encouraged each of us for doing something to shape the future we want.  What is one thing you have done to lessen climate change impacts? 

The film “One Stick at a Time” (25 min)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Methow Mammal Course - Class #5 Rodentia & Lagomorphs

Our 2017 "Conservation Course" started February 6th.  Below are notes taken by Susan Ernsdorff & Jan Sodt.  Photos by Mary Kiesau (except beaver images).  See notes and videos from the previous classes here:
Class #1
Class #2
Class #3
Class #4
Learn more about the Mammal Course here

Class #5 - Rodents & Lagomorphs with Kris Ernest, March 6 2017
plus a mini presentation by Torre Stockard on the Methow Beaver Projec
(Watch and listen to the entire class on this video)

Red Squirrels are common in the Methow!

Themes of the talk
    1.    Small body size has advantages and disadvantages
    2.    Adaptions to herbivorous diet and “life in the fast lane”
    3.    Amazing diversity – physiology, behaviors, survival strategies.  Why diversity?  Being small bodied allows for different ways to make a living in a given niche; and evolution can take place more quickly because they are shorter-lived and breed more quickly than larger species.

We think of mice when we think of Rodents but this order also includes voles, squirrels, chipmunks, ground squirrels, marmots, porcupine, muskrat and beaver!

If you have a skull in the hand, you can ID rodents and lagomorphs by teeth type and amount (dental formulas)

Rodents have 1/1 Incisors - 1 on the top, one of the 1 bottom, per side.
Muskrats eat lots of vegetation, and build small lodges too.
They have 0 Canines, the gap where the canine teeth would have been is called the diastema.
Premolars + Molars = 5 or less on top, 4 or less on the bottom, per side
Total teeth = 16 to 22
So: I 1/1, C 0/0, P + M  S5/S4 = 16-22 teeth=  most rodents have total of 16 teeth

Lagomorphs have 2/1 Incisors - 2 on top and one on the 1 bottom, per side
They also have no canines. 
Premolars + Molars = 5 or 6 on top, 5 on the bottom, per side
Total teeth = 26 to 28 (significantly more than rodents)
So: I 2/1, C 0/0, P + M 5-6/5 = 26-28 teeth
Lagomorphs also have a funny little second incisor on the top behind the incisor called the peg tooth.
Other characteristics of Rodents & Lagomorphs
Rodents and lagomorphs are each others' closest relatives taxonomically.  Both are found worldwide.
A chipmunk or a golden-mantled ground squirrel??

Rodents are very small, 20-100 grams.
Their feet are bare on the soles.
There are 36 families, totaling 2300 species (more than 40% of total mammal species)
They are mostly herbivorous or omnivorous but they can be carnivorous

Lagomorphs are mostly smallish, less than 5 kilograms
Feel are fully furred.
There are only 2 families totaling 94 species.
Lagos are only herbivorous.

Advantages to being small:
~ Easy to hide and to find shelter
~ Need small amount of food
~ Live in a small territory so there are bigger populations in an area, better genetic diversity
~ Higher reproductive rates

Disadvantages to being small:
~ Easy to be eaten, especially when snowpack is low
~ Can't carry much or move very fast
~ Have more surface area per mass – harder to stay warm, have to eat more per unit weight
~ Limited ability to see far
A Hoary Marmot basking (a warming strategy)

Surface area/volume ratio for smaller mammals is 60 times greater than larger mammals.  And smaller animals have to eat far more:  Elephants are 200,000 times larger than a mouse; but their mass-specific metabolic rate 1/12 as large.
For example: here are some mass-specific metabolic rates (energy needed per unit of mass):
Shrew = 7    Flying squirrel = 1    Elephant = .2

Strategies to stay warm when it's cold
~ Live in warmer micro-habitats (most do this - like burrows under snow or in soil)
~ Insulated nests (most do this)
~ Communal huddling (many do this, like deer mice and marmots, but pika are solitary)
~ Hibernation (some do this, like marmots)

So cute, but fierce protectors of their territories!
Pikas (because they really are the cutest species)
Have a super-high metabolism and thick fur, so they overheat easily.  They live in high alpine talus fields and nest under big rocks where it's cooler and there's good cool air flow.  Across their range, they are threatened by a warming climate - there's been quite a research done on them.  They just can't go higher up, they are already at high elevations.
They eat plants year-round, with no hibernation or torpor phase.  They dry plants in the summer for winter consumption (their stacks of dried plants are called hay piles and can be quite large!  This drying also leaches out the toxicity in certain plants).
Therefore they have to digest cellulose, which is difficult.  Their strategy? Coprophagy.  They re-eat their first round of "poop" pellets for more digestion and absorption of nutrients the second time around.  The pellets we humans see are the second round.

All rodents have teeth that never stop growing (the word rodent comes from Latin rodere, "to gnaw"). Beavers are a great example of that.  They have special skulls and very strong jaws for constantly chewing.  Their teeth are also strong, containing iron, which is why they have an orange tinge to them.  

We've talked about being an herbivore, omnivore or carnivore, but many rodents are also "Granivores" (grain eaters) or "Fungivores" (fungus-eaters aka Mycophagy).  The Great Basin pocket mouse has external fur-lined cheek pouches for hauling grain.  They literally have a flap of skin on the outside of their cheeks (not like a chipmunk with internal pockets.  They don't have to drink water because they can get all they need as a byproduct of metabolizing food.  Northern flying squirrels, red-backed vole and Pacific jumping mouse are fungivores - they eat fungi and spread spores and nutrients around the forest.

Conservation concerns     
Western Gray Squirrel – State Threatened
American Pika – no conservation status, but petitioned for listing, specifically because of global climate change
Northern Bog Lemming - State Monitored species (a few are known to be in the Methow Cascades)
The Snoqualmie Pass East Project is attempting to increase wildlife connectivity and safe passage, and decrease mortality across I-90.  The project includes 30 new crossing structures under and over the freeway, plus habitat enhancements such as logs and plantings, adding microhabitat features, innoculating with local fungal spores, using local soils, etc.  Monitoring of use of crossing structures by small animals is done using live traps and pit fall arrays.  The project is also monitoring pika patch occupancy.  They can live right next to the interstate if there's enough cover, food and other habitat requirements.

THE METHOW BEAVER PROJECT with Speaker Torre Stockard
Our watershed is 1800 square miles.
Goals of project: Restore beavers where they used to be; improve the watershed health and restore complexity to the stream systems of the watershed.
Measurable outcomes: Improve water quality; delay runoff and increase storage of water; expand riparian habitat; increase stream complexity; reconnect floodplains.

Key innovations in the first 10 years: 
~ GIS analysis of watershed to identify good beaver locations
~ Live capture and handling and processing of beavers - they created a special "beaver bag" so beavers don't have to be anesthetized
~ Determined how to distinguish sexes (via anal glands), which was not known anywhere prior to the Methow Beaver Project.

Beavers being housed at the Fish Hatchery until relocation
About 325 "nuisance" beavers have been captured and relocated since 2008.    These are beavers that landowners have requested be removed and the project deemed necessary as well (clogging culverts; chewing orchards, etc). 

PIT (passive integrative responder) Tagging allows tracking of their movement – they can move far!  One went down the Methow River to the Columbia, up the Columbia and then up the Okanogan river, last monitored at Canadian border.  142 miles.

A temporary lodge made by humans for released beavers.
Captured beavers are temporarily housed at the fish hatchery pens on Twin Lakes Road.  Lots of  volunteers help with feeding.  Monitoring is done to see if a male and female pair seems to get along, before relocating.  Before beavers are released at a chosen site, a temporary lodge is built for the beavers to use while they build their own.  Site monitoring shows remarkably fast work!  One picture showed that in the first week the beavers had already built a dam and created a pond.   Water storage and changes in stream temp are monitored too.

So far, there's about a 50% success rate of the relocated beavers staying put.  Approx 45 pairs have been established in 9 years.  The project is now working on ways to improve success such as more preliminary work to help beavers get established in very compromised landscapes (such as highly-incised stream cuts), as well as more education to local landowners on how to live with beavers instead of relocating them, including the creation of structures to block them from culverts.