May 29

In a letter to Nature magazine, researchers have expressed their concern over the appearance of a non-native toad species, the Asian common toad, in Madagascar.

The Asian common toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictusi) is a close relative of the cane toad (Rhinella marina), an invasive toad species that rapidly spread across Australia after its introduction in the 1930s, and has devastated many native fauna and flora populations. First seen on Madagascar in March, the Asian common toad has been sighted several times in areas close to Toasmasina, the main port of the island nation. Worryingly, there have also been sightings of the amphibian just 25 kilometres from the Betampona Nature Reserve and short distances from other biodiversity hotspots. The dispersal of this species is not just limited to Madagascar and it is thought that populations may have also become established in other areas. One of the authors of the letter, Jonathan Kolby, of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, said, ”There is now a high dispersal risk of these toads spreading from Madagascar to other Indian Ocean islands such as the Mascarene Islands, Comoros, and Seychelles.”

It is thought that populations may have also become established on other Indian Ocean islands, such as the Mascarene Islands

It is thought that the Asian common toad could have various negative impacts on the fauna of Madagascar, including spreading diseases such as ranavirus and chytridiomycosis to native amphibians and competing with them for food and breeding areas. This toad species is poisonous and is known to be toxic to animals that ingest it. Snakes are thought to be one of the animal groups most at risk from the invasion and there are over 50 endemic snake species on Madagascar, including the Madagascar ground boa. Other endemic species including fossas, lemurs, and birds will also be put at risk should the population of this harmful amphibian become established. Kolby also said, “It’s worrying because Madagascar has amazing endemic biodiversity – plants, animals, and amphibians that are found nowhere else. And this one species has the propensity to damage that.”

95 percent of the reptiles on Madagascar are endemic to the island, including the Madagascan ground boa

As well as being a threat to the animals of Madagascar, the Asian common toad is also a threat to the human population as it is known to contaminate drinking water and transmit parasites. After the devastation the cane toad has caused in Australia, it is thought that immediate action is required on Madagascar to prevent history from repeating itself. Kolby said, “The question is, can we still eradicate them? Have we caught it soon enough that eradication could be a feasible option? Obviously we all hope the answer is yes.” Suggested methods of eradication include removing adult toads, draining breeding ponds, and installing fences to prevent the toads from reaching water where they would be able to breed. Highlighting the urgency of the situation, Kolby said, ”Time is short, so we are issuing an urgent call to the conservation community and governments to prevent an ecological disaster.”

In Australia, the introduced cane toad is responsible for the declines of many native species, including the Near Threatened brush-tailed phascogale

Read more on this story at Nature – Toxic toads threaten ‘ecological disaster’ for Madagascar.

View images and videos of Madagascan species on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer

Oct 19
Photo of Louisiana pine snake

Louisiana pine snake (Pituophis ruthveni)

Species: Louisiana pine snake (Pituophis ruthveni)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Louisiana pine snake is non-venomous, instead using its body to crush its prey.

More information:

One of the rarest and least understood snakes in the United States, the Louisiana pine snake occurs in longleaf pine forests in parts of Louisiana and eastern Texas. This large snake relies on pocket gophers for food, hunting them in their underground burrows and pinning them to the side of the burrow to kill them. It also eats some other small mammals, as well as birds, bird and turtle eggs, and lizards. The Louisiana pine snake spends most of its time underground, usually relying on pocket gopher burrows for shelter and for hibernation sites. This snake has the smallest clutch size of any North American snake, at just three to five eggs. However, its eggs are larger than those of other North American species.

The Louisiana pine snake’s longleaf pine habitat is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the United States, with only 3% of the original forest now remaining. Much has been logged or degraded by urbanisation, agriculture and the cultivation of other pine species. Changed fire regimes have also altered the structure of the habitat, making it less suitable for the snake and its prey. The Louisiana pine snake is often killed on roads and may be threatened by collection for the pet trade. Recommended conservation measures for this snake include protecting its remaining populations, maintaining and restoring its habitat, and undertaking more research into its populations and behaviour. The Louisiana pine snake is a candidate species for potential listing on the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and is legally protected in Texas. A reintroduction project is underway for this rare and elusive species.

 

Find out more about the Louisiana pine snake at the National Wildlife Federation and see Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation for more information on reptile conservation.

See fact file and images of the Louisiana pine snake on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 22
Photo of leaf-scaled sea snake

Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Species: Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The leaf-scaled sea snake is able to remain underwater for up to two hours before resurfacing for air.

Named for the characteristic leaf-like shape of its scales, the leaf-scaled sea snake is a relatively small snake which spends its entire life at sea. Like other sea snakes, it shows a number of adaptations to its aquatic lifestyle, including a flattened, paddle-like tail for swimming, valves in the nostrils which prevent water entering the lung, and a gland under the tongue which excretes excess salt from the body. The leaf-scaled sea snake lives in shallow waters and gives birth to live young. It feeds on small coral reef fish, which it immobilises with its venom.

The leaf-scaled sea snake has one of the most restricted ranges of any sea snake, occurring in just two reefs in the Timor Sea, and occasionally being seen off the northwest coast of Australia. This species was once one of the most commonly seen sea snakes in its range, but has not been recorded in surveys since 2001. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but could be to do with rising sea temperatures and the degradation of its reef habitat, which in turn reduces prey availability. All sea snakes are legally protected in Australia, and measures are underway to monitor and reduce any impacts of fisheries on sea snake species. One of the reefs the leaf-scaled sea snake inhabits is a nature reserve, but unfortunately none of the habitat management plans for this area specifically target this rare marine reptile.

 

Find out more about sea snakes at IUCN – Sea snakes.

See images of the leaf-scaled sea snake on ARKive.

Find out more about other sea snake species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Feb 9
Photo of female golden lancehead flicking tongue

Golden lancehead (Bothropoides insularis)

Species: Golden lancehead (Bothropoides insularis)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The golden lancehead is unique to a tiny island off the coast of Brazil, where has a total range of just 0.43 square kilometres.

The golden lancehead is a highly venomous pitviper with heat-sensitive pits on its face which help it to detect prey. Although its mainland relatives feed mainly on rodents, this island species has switched to a diet of birds. To prevent its prey from flying away before the snake’s highly toxic venom can take effect, the golden lancehead holds it in its mouth after biting it. This snake is unusual in that it appears to exist as three genders: males, females, and ‘intersex’ females, which have both female and male reproductive organs.

The golden lancehead has a small population which is entirely restricted to one tiny island, making it particularly vulnerable to any threats. Its forest habitat is being lost due to clearance and burning, and the snakes themselves are collected illegally for the wild animal trade. Conservation efforts are underway to study and monitor the golden lancehead, and there are plans to breed it in captivity and research the potential medicinal uses of its venom. Educational programmes and more effective enforcement may also help protect this fascinating snake.

Find out more about conservation efforts for the golden lancehead at Neotropical Snakes Conservation.

Find out more about snakes on the ARKive snakes page.

See images and videos of the golden lancehead on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Feb 4

The 10th of February 2013 will mark the start of Chinese New Year, and around the world many people will be taking part in colourful celebrations to welcome in the Year of the Snake. The snake is the 6th of the 12 animal signs in the Chinese Zodiac, and those born in the year of the snake are said to be wise, calm and responsible.

According to ancient Chinese wisdom, a snake in the house is seen as a good omen and a sign that the family will not go hungry. Snakes are well known for their ability to swallow large prey, and after eating an impala whole, I don’t think this African rock python will be hungry any time soon either!

African rock python photo

During Chinese New Year the colour red is worn as it is considered to symbolise good fortune and joy. Red also represents fire and is thought to scare away evil spirits. Being characterised by its bright red belly, Kirtland’s snake is sure to fit in well at any New Year Celebration!

Kirtland's snake photo

Chinese New Year is tied to the lunar calendar, with the celebrations starting at the arrival of the new moon and continuing for 15 days. In Australia, the orange-naped snake is also commonly known as the ‘moon snake’. Although this species is venomous, it generally isn’t considered a danger to humans.

Orange-naped snake photo

There are several different stories regarding how the 12 animals were chosen for the Chinese Zodiac, and why they appear in the order that they do. One of the most popular tales tells of how the Jade Emperor declared that the animals must race across a fast flowing river, and that the 12 years of the zodiac would be named after the winners. Snakes are certainly excellent swimmers, with some species adopting an entirely aquatic lifestyle, such as the olive-brown sea snake.

Olive-brown sea snake photo

Chinese Year of the Snake – Get Involved!

Celebrate the Chinese Year of the Snake the wild way by joining us on Facebook and Twitter every day this week.

What does the Year of the Snake have in store for you? We’ll reveal all on Facebook! *Like* us to open your fortune cookie each day.

Love a challenge? Why not join our daily snake hunt on Twitter? Each day we’ll set you on a mission to hunt down some awesome snake photos and videos from ARKive. The winners can pick their favourite ARKive photos to go on the homepage. So what are you waiting for… start the snake hunt.

Here’s your first clue: Snake, rattle and roll – find and tweet a video of a rattlesnake shaking its thing! We’ll be waiting on Twitter to see if you track it down!

We have also launched a brand new snakes page full of amazing snake facts, photos a videos – make sure you check it out!

Claire Lewis, ARKive Researcher

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