Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sao Paulo's Snake Island and It's Deadly Inhabitants

Just outside of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in the Atlantic Ocean, there is a legendary island that scares away fishermen and tourists. It is tiny and home to thousands of inhabitants that could kill you with a single bite. They live both on the ground and in the trees. This island is Ilha de Queimada Grande and its inhabitants are golden lancehead snakes (bothrops insularis).

Ilha de Queimada Grande is also known as "Snake Island" or the "Island of the Golden Snakes." Humans do not live on this island for fear of these creatures. In fact, the Brazil Navy enforces a no visitors rule with the exception of some scientists and those who accompany them. This is for the safety of visitors. It is also good for the golden lancehead. These snakes are indigenous to Ilha de Queimada Grande. One disaster could wipe them off the island and the Earth.

The inner part of Snake Island is thick forest. The outer edge is made up of steep, rocky inclines. There are no beaches, so access is limited. Very few other animals exist on this island, so the diet of most pit vipers is out of the question for the golden lancehead. This has made for an unusual adaptation. Golden lanceheads feed mainly on birds. Therefore, they not only spend a lot of time in trees, their venom has notoriously rapid results. Their prey has to be immobilized faster, as birds cannot be tracked on the ground if they fly away from their attacker. What this means for a human is that the necrosis and hemorrhaging caused by this venom occurs faster than that of this creature's equally deadly cousins.

Local fishermen tell stories about the island's last lighthouse keeper and the demise of his family. It is said that snakes snuck into the lighthouse and bit each of them as they slept. Not one survived. Another story is that of a fisherman who went ashore on Ilha de Queimada Grande, was bitten and made it back to his boat only to bleed to death in it before he could leave the island. The former story is rather strange because snakes do not display pack behavior. It seems highly unlikely that the snakes would come into the lighthouse and make it a point to bite everyone inside. The latter scenario is much more convincing. The anticoagulants in this snake's venom are quite dangerous.

Golden lanceheads are close cousins of the fur-de-lance. They can grow to be more than three-and-a-half feet long. Males are smaller than females. They are yellow in color and may have slightly darker, brownish markings. They thrive on Snake Island because they have no natural predators. It is said there is between one and five golden lanceheads on Ilha de Queimada Grande per 1.2 square yards. That is a lot of snakes for an area of that size. However, it is not a lot of snakes for a world population. That is why the IUCN has the golden lancehead on their critically endangered list.


Snake Island, retrieved 12/4/10, nationalgeographic.com/fieldtales/snakeisland

Friday, October 28, 2016

Superb Bird-Of-Paradise: A Master of Disguise

Superb bird-of-paradise

Birds of paradise are some of the most colorful and eye-catching exotic birds on the planet. Among them is the striking superb bird-of-paradise or Lophorina superba, which is native to the rainforests of New Guinea. These little creatures measure around 10 inches and are known mostly for the males' frankly hilarious mating display.

When at rest, the male superb bird-of-paradise is relatively normal in appearance. It does have bluish-green iridescent feathers at its chest and head, but that is all that is visible. However, this bird is hiding some special features that he uses to attract a mate. The pretty feathers at his chest are actually part of a shield. Some of the black feathers along his back are part of what is known as his cape. He can manipulate the colored feathers on his head and some black ones along his bill in conjunction with these other parts to masquerade for the ladies.

After meticulously cleaning an area on a branch, the male superb bird-of-paradise calls out to the honeys. When one approaches, he lifts his breast shield, cape, head and bill feathers until they line up to give him the appearance of a deep black elliptical creature with shining blue-green markings. Once he's got the right look, he hops about on his branch, making sure to keep his huge disguise facing his potential mate. While he hops, he snaps his tail feathers together, creating a sharp, repetitive clacking noise.

In contrast, the females and young of the species blend into their surroundings. They have reddish-brown uppers with brown chests and bellies. These ladies don't let their average looks stop them from being notoriously picky. There are more of them than there are of the flashy males, so they feel comfortable refusing up to 20 potential mates before finally settling in to make a family.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Beast of Bray Road: A Curious Cryptid

The Beast of Bray Road is a creature that witnesses claim to have seen in Racine, Walworth and Jefferson counties in Wisconsin. The first reported sightings of the creature happened on Bray Road near Elkhorn, Wisconsin. These sightings are what lent the beast its name. However, sightings do not only occur on Bray Rd. In fact, the beast has not been sighted there since the early 1990s.

No one knows what the Beast of Bray Road, also known as Manwolf, is. Some people believe it is a werewolf, others that it is a Bigfoot and, of course, there are people who believe that it is some heretofore-unknown species. There really is no way to know unless a specimen is found. There is also the possibility that they Beast of Bray Road is, in fact, some creature that we are well aware of that simply scared some people enough that they believed it was something bigger and scarier than it really is. Common theories as to what known animal the beast could be include wolves and bears.

The creature is described as around 6 ft. tall with grayish and brown fur. Its face is said to resemble a wolf, and its ears are pointed. It has three long claws on each hand/paw. It has shiny yellow eyes. Its body has been likened to that of a lean, muscular man that tends to sit back on its haunches or kneel.

The Beast of Bray Road can run and walk on all four of its legs or just its hind legs. It has been seen eating its prey or its scavenged carrion in its hands with its palms facing upward. It has never attacked anyone, but some witnesses claim that it has acted aggressively toward them. This aggressive behavior includes running at people and jumping on their vehicles. The creature’s diet is not known for sure, but it has been seen eating the carcasses of small road kill.

Sightings of the Beast of Bray Road may go back as far as the 1930s. However, it wasn’t sighted frequently or reported thoroughly until 1989 through 1992. Most of the sightings have occurred when one or more people stumbled upon or drove past the animal while it was eating or possibly hunting/scavenging. Sightings of the animal have tapered off since the 90s, but the creature can supposedly still be seen in the woods of the area.

Perhaps the Beast of Bray Road is some cousin of other cryptids in the United States. Alternatively, it could simply be an animal that has yet to be classified or captured, which would make it a true cryptid. It could also be a group of wild animals that has become so adjusted to human life that individuals feel comfortable approaching people and vehicles. It could also be that people are frightened enough to see more than what is really there. Whatever the Beast of Bray Road is or isn't, we will never know until one is captured or it is conclusively proven that the Beast of Bray Road is a case of mistaken identity, which would be difficult to do.


Creature History, Evidence and Happenings, retrieved 11/24/09

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Freshwater Sharks

Northern River Shark
CSIRO National Fish Collection

Most of the world’s shark species are found in the ocean, but there are some elusive and not so elusive sharks out there that live in freshwater. Granted, there are only two types and possibly only five or six species of freshwater sharks, but they do exist and at least one is quite dangerous.

Bull Shark

Bull sharks are typically found in rivers or near warm shores in tropical areas. However, these animals are not strictly fresh water dwellers. Some of them spend all of their time in fresh water, while others swim to salt water for mating and birthing. They are able to transition between the two because they have the ability to control the amount of urea and sodium in their bodies. They also urinate frequently to rid themselves of excess fresh water.

Bull sharks are medium-sized sharks that are grey on their top half and white on the bottom. They have short, blunt noses that they use to head butt their prey before attacking. They weigh between 200 and 500 pounds and can be up to eight feet long. On average, they live about 16 years. Their diet consists of just about any meat that swims near them, so humans should be weary in areas where bull sharks have been sighted. Bull sharks are one of the three most dangerous shark species in the world.

River Sharks

River sharks are some of the most elusive and rare fish species on Earth. We don't know much about them. For the most part, their diet, mating habits, populations, behavior, life expectancy, specific locations and size are all mysteries. It is believed that they eat fish, though not enough research has been done on them to know for sure. They are also believed to spend their entire lives in rivers, making them the only true fresh water sharks in the world. To date, there are only around five known species, two of which may actually be one and the same. Of the five known species of river sharks, the speartooth river shark and the New Guinea river shark may be the same. The other three species include the Ganges river shark, which is critically endangered, the Bizant river shark and the Borneo river shark.

So you see, there are freshwater sharks in the world. In the case of the bull shark, we can only marvel at its adaptations and avoid its aggressive behavior. In the case of river sharks, we can only hope that we will be able to obtain more information about these creatures in the future.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Saint Dane: A Hybrid Sweetheart

Saint Danes are a hybrid mix of the Saint Bernard and Great Dane dog breeds. They are also known as Great Bernards. They are usually bred by mating a purebred Saint Bernard with a purebred Great Dane. A mixture of either of these breeds with a Saint Dane will also produce a Saint Dane.While Saint Danes are not purebred dogs, they are also not mutts. They are not mutts because their lineage is traceable on both sides to purebreds or to Saint Danes who have purebred lineage.  That is what makes Saint Dane a hybrid breed.

A hybrid dog breed’s appearance and behavior is best assessed by looking at both parent breeds. This is a good way to guess how the animal will behave and what their needs will be.

Saint Bernard

Saint Bernards are huge dogs. Their minimum adult height is 2 feet 3 inches and their adult weight ranges between 130 and 180 pounds. They were initially bred as guard and rescue dogs so they are very powerful. They also have an excellent sense of smell.

Saint Bernards are typically white with brown markings all over their bodies. They can have long or short hair and they shed a lot. They need frequent grooming. They also have very large heads and they drool constantly.

Despite their size, Saint Bernards are fantastic family dogs but because of their size, they should be monitored around small children. It is very easy for a full-grown Saint Bernard to inadvertently knock an adult over, let alone a child. They need daily exercise and a lot of space to run around. A properly cared for and exercised Saint Bernard should be a cinch to train.

Great Dane

The Great Dane is also known as the “gentle giant.” Their minimum adult height is 2 feet 4 inches and they weigh between 110 and 170 pounds when full-grown. They were initially bred as guard dogs, but are gentle by nature.

Great Danes can have many different color variations. They can be Blue, Black, Harlequin, Mantle, Brindle and Fawn in coloration. They have short fur and need minimal grooming. They have slender snouts and lean bodies.

Like the Saint Bernard, Great Danes need exercise every day. They are gentle, but also very energetic. They make great family dogs because of their sweet personality, but their size is daunting.

Saint Dane

As you can see, the Saint Danes parent breeds are very similar in size and temperament, but can differ in appearance. Therefore, Saint Danes vary in fur color, markings  and length as well as snout size and amount of drooling. They can have long or short hair, so grooming needs are on a dog-to-dog basis.

Saint Dane owners describe them as friendly and loyal. They share all of the personality traits of the two breeds they are born from. Though, like all dogs, behavior depends largely on their upbringing. These are very big dogs and they should be treated with respect.

If you would like to own a Saint Dane, you should be prepared to take care of him or her. They need a lot of space and plenty of exercise. They also eat an awful lot. They can be a wonderful, loving addition to any family, but only families who can accommodate their needs should adopt them.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cryptid: Chupacabra

For roughly fifteen years or longer, a strange creature has been sighted in various parts of the world, mainly Latin America. This creature sucks the blood from livestock, particularly goats, if the stories are to be believed. The beast only appears at night and vanishes after it attacks. The only evidence it leaves behind is dead animals, all with two puncture wounds like vampire teeth. It is known as Chupacabra or "goatsucker." As far as cryptids go, it is young, but its infamy has spread far and wide, both as something to fear and as something to scoff at.

Chupacabra may have first appeared in Puerto Rico in the 1990s. However, some sources say sightings go back much further. People simply had different names for the creature. Since the sightings in Puerto Rico, Chupacabra has been seen in Mexico, numerous South American countries, the United States and supposedly even Russia. How a creature could spread around the globe so fast without being captured or identified is anyone's guess. Perhaps it is because descriptions of Chupacabra are so contradictory and far-fetched that people are mistaking known creatures for this cryptid.

The Chupacabra's appearance is a much debated and contradictory subject. Here we will discuss some of the creature's supposed attributes. It is hard to come up with a clear picture of what the creature is supposed to look like from this information, but you can decide which Chupacabra you think is the most realistic, if any.

Chupacabra has gray skin like that of an alien a la Roswell photos. It is also said to have green skin like that of a frog. Its skin may be leathery and reptilian, furry and reptilian or feathered and reptilian. Descriptions have covered all three. Other interesting skin characteristics the Chupacabra may have are webbed toes, fingers, arms and legs. It may also have "feathery spines" running down its back to its hindquarters. It is sometimes said that Chupacabra has a tail and that the spines follow the creature's tail to the tip. It has been described as winged as well.

The size of Chupacabra is another mystery. It could be the size of a large rodent with wings, but it is too large to be a bat. It could also be between 4-1/2 and 5-1/2 feet tall. The gait of the creature is up for debate as well. When it is not described as a rodent, it is described as walking on its hind legs, but being capable of running on all four. Other sources say that it moves like a kangaroo. It may also be able to move in and out of this "realm" without notice.

The face of Chupacabra may be dog like, rodent-like, alien-like or demon-like. The alien Chupacabra is rather popular. It has vertically oval red glowing eyes and a vertically oval-shaped head-like the grays of Roswell fame. One more notable feature is its scent. Some say that Chupacabra reeks of sulfur.

The varying descriptions of Chupacabra would give any skeptic pause. There are so many variations that the idea it is the same creature is difficult to swallow. The sulfur scent that some witnesses describe has obvious religious connotations. It is said that the Devil and demons smell of sulfur. People who are on the brink of being demonically possessed supposedly report the smell of sulfur. It makes one wonder if superstition is not playing a huge role in the spread of Chupacabra throughout Latin America.

On the other hand, many people believe the Chupacabra is real. They fear the creature, despite authorities' assurances that all the attacks attributed to this cryptid are actually wild animal attacks. All photographic and biological evidence of the creature have been proven hoaxes. That, in and of itself, says a lot but does not prove that Chupacabra is not real and sucking the life out of livestock around the world.


Neer, Katherine, How Chupacabras Work, retrieved 10/27/10, science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/strange-creatures/chupacabra2.htm

Frank B. Chavez II, Origins of Chupacabra, retrieved 10/27/10, ehow.co.uk/list_6827258_origins_chupacabra.html

Chupacabra, retrieved 10/27/10, monstropedia.org/index.php?title=Chupacabra

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Differences Between Monkeys and Apes

Monkeys and apes are both primates. Both are also members of the same suborder of primates (anthropoids). Incidentally, this is the same suborder that humans belong to. They are grouped this way because they are very similar creatures. However, despite the fact that monkeys and apes share many similar characteristics, they are different in many ways.

Body Structure and Appearance

One of the most obvious differences between monkeys and apes is that most monkeys have tails.  Apes do not. Monkeys have prehensile tails that they use to help them swing from branch to branch. This makes them more adapted for life in the trees than apes. However, apes can use their arms to swing from branch to branch because their shoulders are structurally different from those of monkeys.

Apes have a more upright posture than monkeys. Though both apes and monkeys generally walk on all fours, apes can stand upright.

Apes have wider chests than monkeys. They also have broader noses and longer arms. Most ape species are also significantly larger than monkeys, with very few exceptions.


Apes have larger brains in comparison to their body size than monkeys do. They are able to use tools, much like humans. They also have more advanced powers of deduction than monkeys.

Both monkeys and apes share similar feelings and expressions with humans. However, apes are more closely related to humans genetically. In fact, they are the only animals that can communicate with humans using a human language. They can learn sign language and express themselves with it.


Apes, chimpanzees in particular, have been observed using tools to hunt prey. They sharpen sticks and use them as spears. This is not behavior you see in monkeys. In fact, chimps do this to hunt monkeys sometimes.

Apes nest in trees and on the ground. Monkeys nest exclusively in trees. This may have something to do with predation. A lot of ape species are big enough to fend off most predators. Monkeys are not.

These are the most obvious differences between apes and monkeys. There are other more subtle differences too. There are also differences that are species specific. For example, one species of apes may display different social behavior than monkeys that other ape species do not. Therefore, this is not an exhaustive list of the differences between monkeys and apes. There are too many species of ape and monkey (more of monkeys than apes) to list all of their individual characteristics here.

(Note: Sources were retrieved at the time this article was written in 2010)

Great Apes & Other Primates, retrieved 1/16/10, nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/Primates/Facts/default.cfm

Apes vs. Monkeys: What’s the difference?, retrieved 1/16/10, hsus.org/animals_in_research/chimps_deserve_better/monkey-use-in-research/apes_vs_monkeys_whats_the.html

Ellis, Jessica, What is the Difference Between Monkeys and Apes, retrieved 1/16/10, wisegeek.com/what-is-the-difference-between-monkeys-and-apes.htm

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Spitting Cobras Aim To Kill

Equatorial spitting cobra
looking fierce
Cool, terrifying, whatever you want to call them, spitting cobras are unarguably fascinating. They are a group of cobra species that have the ability to “spit” their venom from their fangs. They are similar to other cobra species, aside from this odd defense mechanism. They have similar eating and mating habits and are also alike in appearance. It's tough to tell the difference, but it's good to avoid cobras whether they prefer to spit or bite, anyway.

There are currently eleven known species of spitting cobras on Earth. Their color, markings and size differ greatly between the species. The difference in size can be several feet. Some spitting cobras are only a few feet long, while the largest spitting cobra ever found was more than nine feet in length. Spitting cobras can be red, brown or black, with or without markings. However, they do have one feature in common; all spitting cobras are hooded, like the king cobra.

An interesting fact about spitting cobras is that they do not actually spit their venom; technically it is sprayed out of their fangs. After the snake uses its muscles to force the venom into its fangs, it uses a burst of air from its lungs to propel the venom out of its mouth. They do this mainly as a way to defend themselves, and they can aim their venom rather accurately when threatened. The venom that is expelled from the snakes fangs can travel up to ten feet.

Most spitting cobras are equipped with hemotoxic and neurotoxic venom. This venom is harmless if it lands on unbroken skin. However, you should be careful not to touch or spread the venom and to wash it off carefully. If the venom enters the blood stream through broken skin, it can be deadly. A spitting cobra will often aim for the eyes, which can be a problem if it hits its target. The venom can cause complete and permanent blindness if it isn’t treated properly.

Spitting cobras are also capable of delivering their venom through a bite. They will typically use this method for prey only, but the bite is dangerous for the unlucky who are on the receiving end. The large brown spitting cobra is particularly dangerous as it can potentially deliver more venom per bite than any other snake species on Earth.

The large brown spitting cobra is the most recent discovery among spitting cobra species. It is also the biggest and most deadly. Its venom is not as toxic as the king cobra, but far more can be delivered in one bite. There may be even more spitting cobras out there, just waiting to be discovered, but it is doubtful that any can deliver as much venom as the large brown.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Animals That Can Literally Shock You

Electric catfish
Every creature on Earth is capable of producing electricity. However, this biologically produced electricity occurs in varying levels and is typically used up to complete biological functions. In other words, it cannot be stored and emitted. That is not the case with a few creatures. Some animals are able to store and emit the electricity produced by their bodies. With these electrical emissions, these animals can shock predators and prey or scare humans away with a jolt that can be mind jarring.

Electric Rays

Electric rays are flattish, roundish saltwater creatures. They are also known as torpedo rays. Electric rays can weigh more than 200 pounds and be up to six feet long.

Electric rays store electricity in two organs. When necessary for hunting and self-defense, the rays deliver a jolt of electricity from these two organs. The most powerful shock they are capable of delivering is about 220 volts. Historically, this jolt of electricity has been used as a pain reliever.

Star Gazers

Star Gazers are fish that can be found around the world. They have interesting facial features. Their eyes are located atop the head and the mouth opening is in front of the eyes, facing up. Inside the mouth is a fleshy appendage used to lure fish into their mouths whilst star gazers hide in the sand.

Like the electric ray, the shock from star gazers comes from electricity-storing organs. However, the shock is slight overkill. Star Gazers hunt in hiding and trick their prey directly into their jaws. There is little reason to deliver a shock, though they may, like other electricity-emitting animals, use it for navigation purposes.

Electric Catfish

Electric catfish are simply catfish that can store and emit electricity. They are found in freshwater in Africa. Like electric eels, electric catfish use their electricity to hunt, defend and navigate.

The electric catfish has a single organ that allows for shocking. The organ is located beneath the skin and envelops nearly the entire fish. When needed, the organ emits up to 350 volts of electricity. This is often followed by several lesser shocks.

Electric Eels

Electric eels are not actually eels. Taxonomically speaking, they are more like carp or catfish. Electric eels live in ponds and streams in South America. The largest specimens are more than 8 feet long.

Electric eels are the most powerful of the electricity-emitting animals. They can deliver a jolt of up to 600 volts. This poses minimal danger to humans, but can exacerbate or create heart problems and has been known to cause drowning. This amazing amount of electricity is stored in roughly 6,000 cells in the electric eel's body.

Many other animals emit electricity. However, most of them give off weak levels of electricity compared to the above shockers. While they pose little danger to humans, children and people with heart conditions should avoid these animals, lest they be mistaken for predators.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Interesting Facts About Snapping Turtles

Common snapping turtle
Photo courtesy of Brad Gratwicke
Snapping turtles are bitey creatures that are found in the United States, Canada, and northern South America. There are three known species of snapping turtles–the common snapping turtle, the alligator snapping turtle and the Florida snapping turtle. All of these species have powerful beak-like jaws that can easily bite off a person’s finger or toe, hence the name. Do you want to know more about these favorites of leisurely fishermen? Read on.

Snapping turtles are strictly fresh water turtles. You can spot them in lakes, ponds, streams and marshes. They are omnivorous. They eat vegetation, snakes, fish, crayfish, carrion and insects. They can go for days or even weeks without eating.

Most snapping turtles are grey, brown, green or black. They have long tails in comparison to other turtle species and have smaller shells than other turtles. In fact, their shells are so small that they cannot pull their heads and bodies in like other turtles. That leaves more of their bodies exposed.

A fully grown common snapper’s carapace is usually between 10 and 18 inches long. These turtles can weigh between 35 and 60 pounds. An alligator snapper can grow to be up to 200 pounds with a carapace of up to 26 inches. Common snappers can live 30-40 years, sometimes longer in captivity. An alligator snapper can live 20-70 years; they can grow to be even older in captivity as well.

Alligator snappers have the second strongest bite strength of all the creatures on Earth, according to some sources. Others say they have a similar bite strength to humans. Either way, they can take off a finger, so don’t let one bite you.

Alligator snapping turtles have spiky, plated shells and can stay underwater for up to three hours. They also have a worm like protuberance growing out of their mouths that is used as a fishing lure.

Snapping turtles mate from April to November and will lay up to 83 eggs at a time. Females can store sperm for years so they can reproduce even when they don’t have a mate. They lay their eggs and leave them. They do not rear their young or even care for the eggs. The eggs take between nine and eighteen weeks to hatch and their sex is determined by the temperature of their surroundings during the incubation period.

Snapping turtles are known for their aggressive behavior, though they are usually only aggressive on land. When they feel threatened, they will hiss and may even give off an offensive odor. They can also strike very quickly with their jaws, so injuries from snapping turtles are relatively common.

These turtles spend most of their time in the water with the exception of nesting females. If you do see one out of the water just avoid it and be sure to keep your eyes open for others. Do not attempt to pick up these turtles, they have long necks and will bite if provoked. They hibernate in mud burrows during the winter so it is highly unlikely that you will see them at that time.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Tennessee's Elephant Sanctuary

In Hohenwald, Tennessee, there is a 2,700-acre stretch of land like no other in the United States. It is the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee. This vast stretch of land is home to numerous African and Asian elephants and their understanding caregivers. It is the largest place like it in the country and its reach is global.

The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee was founded by experienced elephant trainers and elephant enthusiasts Carol Buckley and Scott Blais. Their mission was to create a place where elephants that need special care can get it, while enjoying a life that is as free from stress as possible where they can roam in a natural habitat created for them. All of the animals Carol and Scott take in are former circus and zoo animals that have spent their lives cooped up and handled extensively. The Elephant Sanctuary gives them a life that is free from those hindrances.

The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee contains three separate sanctuaries for the animals. There are specially designed barns and elephant "houses" on the property. Six years after the sanctuary opened, a 700-acre parcel was added, which includes a 25-acre lake. Eighteen hundred and forty acres were added in July of 2003. Since that time, no more land has been added, but the most recent purchase is being improved for pastures. Elephants are known to roam tens of miles each day in the wild. The land at the Sanctuary allows them to do so comfortably, whereas zoos and circuses often do not provide space for their elephants to roam.

If you want to see animals in captivity, go to the zoo, the circus or Las Vegas. The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee has no such animals. The environment they create there is as noninvasive to the creatures' lifestyle as possible. The Sanctuary is not open to the public and the animal caregivers are not there to interfere with or control the natural behavior of its inhabitants.

The caregivers at the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee use a technique called "passive-control" in the handling of the Sanctuary's elephants. The animals do not perform and are not asked to bend to the will of the humans who care for them. No negative reinforcement is used and the animals are never denied food, water, shelter or social interactions. They are allowed to express themselves, as elephants are wont to do, without interference from caregivers. The animals are never chained, either. In fact, Sanctuary leaders are vocal in their opposition of this tactic, which is common in elephant handling.

The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee is home to only female elephants. At this time, there are 13 living there. They keep only females because male and female Asian elephants do not live together in the wild. Nonetheless, the Sanctuary is open to taking in male elephants that are in dire need of care and has done so in the past. Sadly, their only male inhabitant was very ill when he was confiscated from his owner and brought to the sanctuary. Despite every effort from the Sanctuary, he passed away within months of his arrival.

The Sanctuary is involved in several education programs, both locally and globally. Part of their mission is to educate children about elephants and the plight of the endangered Asian elephants. These animals will not be around forever if we do not take responsibility for our part in their population decrease. Keeping them in zoos and circuses is not enough. In fact, it is only more of an affront and those elephant-lovers at the Sanctuary want to spread that message.

Try to catch a glimpse of Sanctuary elephants on their EleCam.


The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, retrieved 11/3/10, elephants.com/about/aboutSanctuary.php

Passive Control Elephant Management, retrieved 11/3/10, elephants.com/management.php

*This establishment is run entirely on donations and is a non-profit organization.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

All About Painted Turtles

Painted turtle
Painted turtle
Courtesy of Andrew Karwath

Painted Turtles are a small North American species. They are well known for the unique, colorful and beautiful patterns on their plastrons (the lower half of their shells). They are also popular as pets because of these painting-like markings and their relatively small size.

Painted Turtles live in the southern parts of Canada, most of the Continental United States and Northern Mexico. They dwell in freshwater, such as ponds, streams and rivers (slow flowing). They bask nearby or on floating logs, usually in the morning hours. When they move from one location to another, people may spot them outside of their typical habitat.

Painted Turtles are remarkable in their appearance. Their carapaces (the upper half of their shells) are typically green or black. The outer edge of the shell has red vertical stripes. The plastrons of these turtles can be solid yellow or orange, yellow with a dark pattern in the center or it can have a bright red and yellow design that gives them their name. The flesh of these turtles is green or black and they have bright yellow or red stripes on their heads and legs.

The carapace of a Painted Turtle is usually 4-7 inches in length, but they can be up to 10 inches. The females of the species are noticeably larger than males. However, they mature slower.

These creatures are omnivorous. They eat vegetation, carrion, insects, worms, tadpoles and small fish. They must bask after eating. They cannot properly digest their food properly unless their temperature is regulated.

Mating seasons for Painted Turtles occur in the spring and fall. Nesting usually occurs in the spring and during the start of summer. They spend much of their time in the water, but females must nest on land. They lay 2-5 clutches of eggs a year and leave these eggs immediately after covering the nest. The gender of the Painted Turtles offspring is determined by the eggs temperature during the incubation period. Typically, hotter temperatures (85-degrees Fahrenheit or more) produce female offspring, while lower temperatures (less than 85-degrees Fahrenheit) produce males.

Interesting Facts About Painted Turtles

-Painted Turtles hibernate in the muddy bottoms of ponds and streams. At the right temperature, they can survive for up to five months in this state without oxygen.

-Painted Turtles cannot eat unless their entire head is submersed in water.

These turtles are very popular as pets because of their size and appearance, but pet owners should be cautious of how they obtain these turtles. In some states it is illegal to capture wild turtles to keep as pets.


Painted Turtles, retrieved 5/16/09, answers.com/topic/painted-turtle-1

Painted Turtle-Chrysemys Picta, retrieved 5/15/09, herpnet.net/Iowa-Herpetology/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=73&Itemid=26

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rare North American Frog Species

North America seems to be a haven for frogs and toads. There are more than a hundred species in North America and not a single state or country on the continent is without one or more species. Frogs are abundant in North America. However, there are some species of frogs on the continent that are rare and sometimes elusive. Habitat tends to be the cause of rarity for all of the following frog species. For some it is habitat loss that is causing a problem with the population. Others just have a naturally small range. Either way, the effect is the same. These frogs are very difficult to find.

Rare North American Frogs: Florida Bog Frog

The Florida Bog Frog can only be found in a very small portion in the Midwestern area of Florida’s panhandle. In that area, they can only be found in the drainages of the East Bay River, the Titi Creek and the Lower Yellow River. They are not considered endangered, however, their very limited range makes them very vulnerable to habitat destruction or alteration.

Florida Bog Frogs are green or murky green in color. They may have darker greenish spots on their backs and/or light yellowish-green spots on their sides. They have very little webbing on their rear feet. They grow to be between 1-3/8 inches and 1-15/16 inches in length.

As is the case with most frog species, Florida Bog Frogs are much easier to find during the mating season, when the males are emitting their mating calls. This happens between April and August, sometimes as late as September.

Rare North American Frogs: Pine Barrens Treefrog

The Pine Barrens Treefrog can be found in New Jersey, the far western Florida panhandle, a very small portion of southern Alabama, and small portions of both North and South Carolina. They can be found in boggy areas where they breed in the spring and summer. Males are often more active in their mating calls after it rains.

Pine Barrens Treefrogs are medium green with a white and brown stripe from their snout all the way down their sides. The stripe may be speckled yellow near the frog’s joints. They grow to be between 1-1/8 inches and 2 inches in length.

Rare North American Frogs: Relict Leopard Frog

Relict Leopard Frogs are only found in a very small area in southeastern Nevada into northwestern Arizona. Their population has declined and their range has decreased in size due to invasive species and habitat changes.

Relict Leopard Tree Frogs are light brown to dark greenish-black in color. They often have darker markings all over. They may grow to be between 1-3/4 inches and 3-1/2 inches in length. They breed between February and April and again in November. However, their calls are very difficult to hear because they are often made underwater.

With the right habitat conservation efforts and/or captive breeding and release programs, not only can we ensure that these rare frog species will survive, but we may also be able to increase their numbers. Some of these frog species are already receiving the help they need. Others are not in dire need of any assistance, but habitat conservation should always be kept in mind.


Elliott, Lang & Gerhardt, Carl & Davidson, Carlos, The Frogs and Toads of North America Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009 p. 228-229, 292-293, 204-205, 52-55

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Snakes are highly efficient predators. They are stealthy, they are fast and some of them are even packing lethal venom. It is hard to imagine that such skilled hunters would need defense mechanisms, but obviously they do. No animal on Earth is exempt from becoming prey. Snakes may be preyed upon by predatory birds, other snakes, small mammals and more. Lucky for them, most snake species have evolved with instinctual defensive behaviors and/or physical attributes that aid in their defense. Here are just a few of the more common ways that snakes can defend themselves.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Warnings

When a member of some species of snakes is startled by something that it feels may be a threat, it may attempt to scare the creature off by giving it a warning. The most well known of these snake warnings is the rattle. Rattlesnakes will use their rattle as a way of saying “If you get close, I’m going to bite you.” This can be effective against animals that know the sound comes from a very dangerous snake. Other ways that snakes may warn potential predators are to hiss, puff themselves up so they look larger or to open their mouths wide as if to strike.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Balling

A very popular snake to keep as a pet is known as the Ball Python. This snake is thus named because of its habit of wrapping its body around its head when it is threatened. This is called balling. They are not the only snakes that do this to protect their head from damage, but they are the only species that are nicknamed for it.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Tail Loss

There are at least three species of snakes that are capable of ridding themselves of their tails. They do this when a predator has them by the tail. This way, the more important half of their body can escape to safety while their attacker munches on their tail.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Play Dead

There are several species of snakes that will pretend they are dead when confronted by a predator. Some will roll over on their back and let their mouth hang open. Others will go one step further by giving off a nasty scent that mimics the smell of decomposition. However, this isn’t very effective when they meet with a predator that doesn’t mind eating a dead snake.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Camouflage

Snakes can camouflage themselves in many ways. This is a great defense mechanism because it makes it very difficult for a predator to spot them. Some snakes can blend into their surroundings really well by hiding in leaf litter or holding very still so they look like a branch or a vine.

Ways That Snakes Defend Themselves: Venom

Now, most venomous snakes rarely resort to using their venom as a defense. They prefer to use their venom to kill prey. Nonetheless, they will not hesitate when need be. Spitting cobras (which don’t actually ‘spit’) spray their perceived threat with venom strictly as a warning. They never use their ‘venom spit’ to kill prey. Of course, a venomous snake without this ability will bite if they have to. They don’t want to, but they will, with the exception of a scant few highly aggressive venomous snake species. They do want to bite you and will if you get close enough.

So you see, snakes are not only very good at causing the rest of the animal kingdom to go on the defensive, they are actually quite good at playing defense themselves. Remember, if you see a snake displaying any of these behaviors, they are threatened by you. The best thing you can do is to leave them alone and walk away. They’ll eventually calm down and go about their business. Also, if you will be walking outdoors, know the snake species in the area, if possible. Some snakes are very territorial–not many, but some. The best defense against the smaller species of this category is high boots.


Chris Mattison, Snake, p. 26-29, DK Publishing, INC. 1999

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Wood Frogs

Wood frog
Wood frog
Wood frogs are interesting little creatures that can be found in the northern parts of North America. They are relatively common animals, but that doesn't make them any less interesting.

Wood frogs can be found in the wooded areas, grasslands and tundra of northern North America. They can be found in, near or far from bodies of water in their habitat. Adult wood frogs tend to move away from the water during the summer months.

A fully-grown wood frog is typically around three inches long. They are brown, tan or pinkish in color with a white underbelly and may also have differing patterns of blackish stripes and spots on their bodies. All wood frogs have one black stripe on either side of their face that begins at the front of the face, goes past the eyes and to the eardrum located near the back of the animal’s head. They have two ridges, one on either side of the back. A telltale feature that a wood frog has are toes on their front legs that are not webbed as completely as that of some other frogs. Males also have enlarged thumbs. This not only makes it easy to tell what kind of frog they are, but it also aids in discovering the sex of the animal, if you should have the need to do so.

Wood frogs mate in the early months of spring. During the mating season, the male wood frogs will spend time in the water, calling out to potential mates. Once they see another frog that they are interested in mating with, they will jump onto it’s back and hold on. They do this to decipher the sex of the other frog, as they are unable to do this without feeling the frog to see if it is swollen with eggs. If a male frog jumps on another male frog, the offended frog will give a croak of warning and the offender will jump off of it.

Female wood frogs will lay more than one thousand eggs at a time. They lay the eggs into the water and the eggs are sometimes attached to pond debris or plant life. Wood frogs reproduce in a group setting, so all of the eggs wind up in the same area, they then become covered in algae, causing an “egg mat” to form on the surface of the water. The tadpoles are a brownish-black color when they hatch. They are adults within two months of hatching.

Wood frog tadpoles will eat algae when they are young and quickly graduate to insect larvae.  Adults eat insects, snails, slugs and worms. Birds of prey, raccoons and other small forest dwelling carnivores or omnivores may eat them.

The most interesting thing about wood frogs is their ability to freeze during hibernation. In the climates that these frogs dwell in, it is necessary to hibernate and in many of these areas, it is very cold during the winter. Wood frogs are able to find themselves some shelter under natural debris, rather than digging deep into mud or earth to hibernate, because they are able to freeze several times during hibernation and then thaw out in the spring. For more information regarding wood frog hibernation click here.


Wood Frog, retrieved 10/13/09, fcps.edu/islandcreekers/ecology/wood_frog.htm

Wood Frog, retrieved 10/13/09, enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?reenum=AR0033