Paper Describes a New Species of Frog from Madagascar

My colleagues and I have just published a paper describing a new rain forest frog in the genus Guibemantis from northern Madagascar.

We named it Guibemantis milingilingy, the latter part of which means “in an uncomfortable position” in Malagasy. This refers to the difficulty of accessing the leaf axils of the Pandanus plants in which these frogs live in Marojejy National Park. Congrats all!

Guibemantis milingilingy
Guibemantis milingilingy

More glimpses of a hidden world

My students from “Natural History of the Vertebrates” and I set up our wildlife cameras again. This time, we put them out in the forest along the College of Wooster Golf Course, right in the middle of the town of Wooster, Ohio. In addition to cottontails, possums, raccoons, etc., we got lots of deer photos

White-tailed deer in the rain
White-tailed deer in the rain

one of a squirrel bringing leaves back to repair its nest

Gray squirrel with leaves in mouth
Gray squirrel with leaves in mouth

and (surprise) more than a few shots of coyotes. These photos were almost always taken in the dead of night when these clever carnivores are unlikely to be seen. Someone (or something) is always out shopping for dinner!

Coyotes at the College of Wooster
Coyotes at the College of Wooster

Hidden Wildlife: What comes out after dark?

Recently, I got a few wildlife cameras for my “Natural History of the Vertebrates” class. We deployed them out at Fern Valley Field Station for about a month (January and February 2018). The great thing about these devices is that you can see up close and personal some of our wonderful wildlife that you might not ever otherwise see. Below are some of my favorite pictures:

Fox at Fern Valley
Fox at Fern Valley

Is this a red or a gray fox? I can’t tell for sure without color.

Woodchuck having a look around
Woodchuck having a look around

Several other photos were taken weeks earlier – I thought these guys were supposed to be true hibernators?

Raccoons at Fern Valley
Raccoons at Fern Valley

Always up to something, raccoons are common residents at Fern Valley.

White-tailed Deer
White-tailed Deer

No surprise here – white-tailed deer out for a late night snack.

Stay tuned for more wildlife camera photos!

The story of an odd snake

On the Caribbean island of Tobago, there is an odd snake. Many snakes are well camouflaged to blend in their environments, to surprise a tasty meal and to avoid their own predators. Other snakes are brightly colored to advertise their dangerousness to predators (called aposematic coloration). Coral snakes are an excellent example of aposematic coloration, with conspicuously banded color patterns usually in some combination of red, black and white or yellow (and the deadly venom to back it up).

(Micrurus nigrocinctus, Reserva Ecologica Bijagual, Costa Rica, photograph by the author)
(Micrurus nigrocinctus, Reserva Ecologica Bijagual, Costa Rica, photo by author)

There are also a host of coral snake mimics that look like coral snakes but are not venomous or only mildly so. These mimics get protection for looking like what they are not. However, the snake on Tobago (Erythrolamprus ocellatus), is neither well camouflaged nor a good mimic of coral snakes. It is red with black blotches (not rings) and virtually no white coloration at all.

Erythrolamprus ocellatus in life. Photo by Stephen L.S. Smith, taken on 28 July 2010 in Runnemeade, Tobago,West Indies.
Erythrolamprus ocellatus in life. Photo by Stephen L.S. Smith, taken on 28 July 2010 in Runnemeade, Tobago, West Indies.

Now, Tobago does not have coral snakes (though neighboring Trinidad does) and we hypothesized that E. ocellatus was in the process of evolving away from being a coral snake mimic in their absence.

In summer 2014, Erin Hodson (’15) and I did a field experiment to test this idea. Erin (and her friends and family) laboriously made 480 clay replicas of E. ocellatus and the relevant coral snakes (see below). We then hauled them down to Trinidad and Tobago to set out and see what would attack them. Notable overweight baggage fees were incurred.

Clay snakes made for the field experiment.
Clay snakes made for the field experiment.

The paper describing the results of our work has recently appeared in the pages of the journal Evolutionary Biology. Feel free to look it up and see what we found!

Erin E. Hodson and Richard M. Lehtinen. 2017. Diverse Evidence for the Decline of an Adaptation in a Coral Snake Mimic. Evolutionary Biology 44: 401–410.

Waiting for Spring

As I sit here, an ice storm is on the way that will wreck havoc among all of us endotherms that are active at this latitude in January. Our salamander friends, however, are waiting (happily, I hope) below the frost line, looking for signs of spring. Salamanders are ectotherms and have body temperatures (and corresponding metabolic rates) that are primarily influenced by temperatures in the environment. It might seem like an advantage to have high internal body temperatures year round but when the food runs short and the ice storms come, it makes you appreciate that the salamanders have a pretty good system, too.

Red-backed Salamander getting weighed in
Red-backed Salamander getting weighed in (Oct. 2017)