Monday, December 31, 2012

Treeboa Diets

 Ruschenberg's treeboa from the Frenchman's River, Tobago. JCM
Nine species of  Neotropical treeboas in the genus Corallus range from southeastern Guatemala to southeastern Brazil. Based largely on previously published papers, Henderson and Pauers (2012) accumulated records for 271 prey items for all species combined. Prey reported were: 2 frogs, 69 lizards (mostly Anolis), 1 snake, 65 birds, and 134 mammals (mostly marsupials, rodents, and  bats). The authors found a conspicuous difference in diet between the two West Indian species (C. cookii and C. grenadensis) and species occurring on the mainland. Juvenile and subadult boas from the West Indies prey almost entirely on anoles, whereas on the mainland (with the notable exceptions of C. batesii and C. caninus), preyed mostly on birds and bats. Four species (C. cookii, C. grenadensis, C. hortulanus, and C. ruschenbergerii) are vertebrate generalists and exhibit both active foraging and ambush hunting modes. Adult C. batesii and C. caninus (and, perhaps, C. cropanii) are specialists on mammals, and may only use an ambush hunting techniques, and these were the only species that did not have at least three records of birds in their diet. Although more common than the critically endangered C. cropanii, both C. annulatus and C. blombergii seem genuinely rare and it is premature to make any generalizations regarding their trophic biology.

 The longest of the nine treeboa species is Ruschenberg's treeboa, but it has less bulk than three of the other species (batesii, canius, cropanii) based on body girths. Ruschenberg's treeboa has a large distribution, ranging from Costa Rica to Venezuela, and it occurs on Trinidad, Tobago, and the Isla de Margarita. The authors found it feeds on lizards, birds, marsupials, rodents and carnivores (mongoose).

Henderson, R. W. and Pauers, M. J. 2012. On the Diets of Neotropical Treeboas (Squamata: Boidae: Corallus). South American Journal of Herpetology 7:172-180.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tucker Valley Bioblitz, Press Report

The following is from the Trinidad Express.

The Tucker Valley Bushmaster, Lachesis muta.

The small headed treefrog, Dendropsophs microcephala

From 3.15 p.m. on November 17 to 3.15 p.m. on Sunday November 18 the first ever BioBlitz in Trinidad and Tobago took place in Tucker Valley, Chaguaramas. There are two main purposes of a BioBlitz: to see what is living in a chosen site and then to educate the public about what is there.

More than 80 scientists, experts and nature enthusiasts turned up over the weekend to record as many different species of plants and animals as possible in 24 hours. On the Sunday, more than 200 members of the public came along to go on guided walks, to watch the scientists at work and to learn something from the various organisations taking part.

The event was organised by Mike Rutherford, the curator of the University of the West Indies Zoology Museum (UWIZM), with help from members of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists' Club (TTFNC) and the UWI Department of Life Sciences. First Citizens very generously sponsored the event through the TTFNC, which allowed the setting up of a base camp in the overflow car park of the Macqueripe Bay Beach Facility. Here, lights, tables, microscopes, guide books, computers and collecting and processing equipment were set up for the scientists to do their work. The Chaguaramas Development Authority gave permission for the event and provided the security, who kept an eye on the base camp throughout Saturday night.

The experts and their helpers had been organised into seven groups, each focusing on different species or habitats – birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, terrestrial invertebrates, plants, marine and freshwater. Each group had previously planned how to find and record their target species or survey their chosen habitat. They also had to engage the public at the base camp or by taking them on guided walks. Information stands by the Asa Wright Nature Centre, the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Youth Ambassadors, the Ministry of Food Production/CAB International and the TTFNC informed the public about various environmental issues. The Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago was also there with their mobile zoo called the Zoo To You programme, which allowed people to get up close to a blue-and-yellow macaw, a tree porcupine, a wild hog, a manicou and several rabbits and tortoises, among others.

The Bird group included members of the TTFNC Bird Group, Asa Wright Nature Centre staff, and independent wildlife tour guides. Although spotting started on the Saturday, with some good records of night birds including a barn owl, the majority of the birding was conducted on Sunday morning. One group headed up Morne Catherine on the western side of Tucker Valley and had a very productive time, while another group, led by Courtenay Rooks and Kayman Sagar, took the eastern side of the valley. They headed up to the Tracking Station and back down through the Bamboo Cathedral along with the members of the public who had signed up for the guided walk. In total 97 different species of birds were seen or heard, including parrots, toucans, owls, hawks, hummingbirds, tanagers, trogons and manikins.

The Mammal group, which included Howard Nelson, Ellie Nelson, Luke Rostant and Darshan Narang, headed into the forests and set up mist nets to trap bats and Sherman traps to capture small mammals. Both types of traps leave the animals unharmed. The mist nets weren't too successful and so the bat numbers were low, but by checking the abandoned houses and bunkers in the valley they did manage to add a few species. They also heard and saw monkeys and agoutis and found signs of armadillo, but the highlight was the temporary capture of a Robinson's mouse opossum in one of the Sherman traps. In total, 12 different mammals were seen.

The Reptile & Amphibian group, which included American expert John Murphy and local specialist Adrian Hailey, started surveying on the Saturday afternoon and went on through the night using torches to spot snakes, lizards and frogs. They saw 17 reptiles and 12 frogs, although one of the reptile highlights was actually provided by another group, the Birders, who found a dead bushmaster (mapepire zanana) snake that had been run over on the road up to Morne Catherine. This attracted a lot of interest when it was displayed at the base camp, with many members of the public very curious to see the rarest venomous snake in Trinidad.

John Murphy and Howard Nelson led a combined Mammal, Reptile & Amphibian walk along the Edith Falls trail on the Sunday, where they saw some capuchin monkeys and a racer snake, along with some small frogs and lizards.

The Terrestrial Invertebrate group had several sub groups: Chris Starr looked for wasps, bees, ants and termites; Jo-Anne Sewlal did the spiders; Rakesh Bhukal had a large group of UWI students looking for scorpions at night-time using UV lights; Imran Khan and Kris Sookdeo noted the butterflies they saw and Mike Rutherford did the land snails. Chris Starr led the public walk along the trail from Macqueripe Bay to the golf course and showed people the variety of insects that can be found in the forest. Overall, they found 125 species, although there are still some that need further identification, including a possible new species of orb-weaving spider found by Sewlal.

The Freshwater group included Amy Deacon, Dawn Phillip, Raj Mahabir and Erin Mangal, who are all involved with the UWI Department of Life Sciences. They focused mainly on the Cuesa River where they used a variety of nets to sample for the fish, crustaceans, insects and worms that can be found in freshwater. The conditions weren't ideal as heavy rains from the week before meant the river was murky and flowing high, which made it more difficult to sample. However, by the Sunday the levels had dropped and Deacon was able to lead a guided walk along the river and members of the public saw many different plants and animals. In total they found 43 different species including guppies, damselflies, crayfish and freshwater snails.

The Marine group was led by Jahson Alemu, with help from members of the Trinidad and Tobago Eco Divers Club as well as many students from The UWI. They dove and snorkelled in Macqueripe Bay during the day and at night, and found a wide range of sea creatures. One of the highlights for some of the snorkellers was seeing a green turtle in the bay on the Sunday. As the Marine group couldn't do guided tours for the public due to safety reasons, it was better to bring the animals to them, so some of the smaller animals found were temporarily brought up to the base camp to be displayed in an aquarium. These included a juvenile French angelfish, a scorpionfish and several sea urchins and brittle stars. Despite the rather poor visibility underwater the group recorded 138 species of fish, corals, sponges, crustaceans and other invertebrates.

The Plant group was coordinated by Mike Oatham from UWI and had help from the National Herbarium. They headed out into the forests and collected samples of as many plants as they could carry before returning to the base camp and processing them late into Saturday night. Members of the Trinidad and Tobago Orchid Society came early on Sunday morning and recorded several species of orchids in the forests between Macqueripe Bay and the golf course. The rest of the day was taken up with the identification of the collected specimens, with the help of local plant expert Winston Johnson, and the guided walk. This was led by Rutherford who took members of the public on the trail to the old bunker behind the Samaan Park. At the end of the 24-hour period, 211 species of trees, shrubs, ferns and orchids had been identified.

The BioBlitz was also used as an opportunity to launch some brand-new publications. The TTFNC had their 2013 calendar, sponsored by First Citizens, which contained many beautiful photos of the wildlife and scenery of Trinidad and Tobago, and their Trinidad and Tobago Wildflower Guide, with photos of 100 commonly encountered flowering plants. Rutherford launched his Trinidad and Tobago Wildlife Guide, which contains detailed drawings of more than 200 mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs and insects. Both of the guides are pocket-sized and laminated, perfect to take on walks and should be available soon in all good bookstores.

Following the success of this first national BioBlitz, plans are already being made for a sequel next year, with possible sites including Arima Valley, Maracas Bay to El Tucuche, Aripo Savannahs and Charlotteville in Tobago.

Event in numbers and facts

Time to record species — 24 hours

Number of scientists and volunteers — 80

Number of members of the public taken on guided walks — 140

Number of animals recorded — 443

Number of plants recorded — 211

Total number of living organisms recorded — 654

Biggest recorded organism — Samaan tree

Smallest recorded organism — Diatom (a type of algae)

Number of species recorded by group:

Birds – 97

Mammals - 12

Reptile and Amphibian – 28

Freshwater – 43

Marine – 138

Terrestrial Invertebrates – 125

Plants – 211

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Name Changes for T&T Snakes in the Genus Liophis

Erythrolamprus reginae. JCM
Using eight mitochondrial and nuclear genes Gazziotin et al. present a phylogenetic analysis of the New World snake family Dipsadidae that included 246 terminal taxa and 196 dipsadids. Two previously un-sampled dipsadid genera, Sordellina and Rhachidelus, were included in the analysis. The definitions of the genera, Erythrolamprus, Clelia, Hypsirhynchus, Philodryas and Phimophis, and the tribes Alsophiini, Echinantherini and Conophiini, were revised. In order to maintain monophyly, the genus Umbrivaga was synonymized with Erythrolamprus, and two new genera were erected to accommodate Phimophis iglesiasi and Clelia rustica, as well as closely related species. The West Indian genera Schwartzophis, Darlingtonia, Antillophis and Ocyophis were also resurrected.

This study impacts the Trinidad & Tobago fauna by moving all of the members of the genus Liophis to the genus Erythrolamprus. Thus, Trinidad & Tobago now have seven species in the genus Erythrolamprus, E. aescapulii, E. bizona,  E. cobella, E. melanotus, E. ocellatusE. reginae, and E. sp from Tobago.

Grazziotin, F. G., Zaher, H., Murphy, R. W., Scrocchi, G., Benavides, M. A., Zhang, Y.-P. and Bonatto, S. L. (2012), Molecular phylogeny of the New World Dipsadidae (Serpentes: Colubroidea): a reappraisal. Cladistics, 28: 437–459.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Podcnemis unifilis on Manzanilla Beach

The following story is from Newsday - September 10, 2012

Beach goers at Manzanilla Beach were called into action last week, when they came across several turtles coming out of the water. At first glance, believing them to be the young of the sea turtles that nest on this beach from March to August, they attempted unsuccessfully to carry them back out to sea, only to realise that the turtles struggled to come back to shore.

On closer inspection though, the turtles seemed different, with a closer resemblance to the land tortoises. Not being able to identify the particular turtle, contact was made with employees of the nearby Nariva Estate for assistance. According to Michael James, Manager of the Estate and member of the Manatee Conservation Trust, this is not an isolated incident since every three to four years, turtles and other reptiles that are not indigenous to Trinidad, have been migrating to the coastline travelling on mats of water lilies or water hyacinth and large debris - like clumps of trees or uprooted whole trees.

President of the Zoological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Gupte Lutchmedial who coincidentally was on site confirmed that this seemed to be an alien species and advised that it would be imprudent to release the surviving turtles into the Nariva Swamp, which may not be this turtle’s natural habitat. The live turtles were subsequently sent to the Emperor Valley Zoo for positive identification, and over 30 carcasses discovered among the beach debris were buried.

Nirmal Biptah, Curator of the Emperor Valley Zoo, recognised the turtles as Podocnemis unifilis, commonly known as yellow headed sidenecks, one of four existing South American species. The turtles found were full-grown adults and are fresh water, land-based species. As these fresh water turtles cannot survive in sea water, this would have accounted for the high level of mortality observed. Lutchmedial added, “Another cause of mortality to these turtles may be predation by the stray dogs that dwell on the beach front. While some were lucky to survive the journey atop the flotilla of vegetation and debris, others could not get past this danger.”

There is a debate on whether or not these species are indigenous to Trinidad. According to a local journal, Kearney (1972) states that they occur in Trinidad but are "confined to a small colony in Nariva Swamp." However, according to Hans Boos, the former curator of the Emperor Valley Zoo, and expert on Trinidad and Tobago’s reptiles species, he disputed this statement saying, "This species is not indigenous to Trinidad and there is a possibility that these species are from our neighbour, Venezuela."

A couple years ago, there was the arrival of some juvenile anacondas on “rafts” of water hyacinths at Icacos beach, around the same period. These rafts were propelled from the Orinoco River and its tributaries because of the heavy rainfall there.

There are reported instances of other reptiles and even mammals making landfall, including the capybara, giant otter and the Brazilian tapir. In this instance where the rafts reached all the way up to Manzanilla, Lutchmedial explained, “The debris may have been because of the dredging activities for gold along the Orinoco River where heavy rains and flooding caused the bank flora to collapse.”

One of the surviving turtles is on display at the Emperor Valley Zoo and is attracting the attention of patrons.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Notes on the Tobago Glassfrog, Hyalinobatrachium orientale

Two recent papers document male parental care in the Tobago glassfrog population. Murphy et al (2012) reported males attending nests while calling, presumably to attract more females to deposit more eggs. This past month we observed males attending up to three nests. Lehtinen and Georgiadis (2012) report males attending up to six egg masses. The eggs masses and calling males are frequently on the underside of leaves that overhang the water (see above). Our observations in the past month suggegst that glassfrogs are frequently using Heliconia leaves that overhang the water and that nests may be 1-4 meters above the water (see photo). In 2011, Murphy et al. observed small crabs on the same plants used by the frogs. Placing eggs on the underside of leaves may be a response to crab predation, since the crabs are unable to walk on the underside of leaves. However, the purpose of male attendance remains uncertain. Males covering egg masses may act to prevent dessication, but a male with six nests may find protecting all nests from drying quite difficult. Another possibility is that the male is transferring some molecule(s) to the eggs that are antifungal or antibacterial. The presence of the male may also prevent predation or parasite infection from insects. Twelve eggs masses examined by Lehtinen and Georgiadis (2012) had 21-36 eggs (mean = 28.3).  And, they found tadpoles capable of prpeling themselves up to 40 cm (or 36 times their body length). The distribution of these frogs on Tobago also seems to be more widespread than previously thought because we heard them calling from numerous stereams that drain the island's Main Ridge in all direstions.

Lehtinen R. M.and Georgiadis A,P. 2012. Observations on parental care in the glass frog Hyalinobatrachium orientale (Anura: Centrolenidae) from Tobago, with comments on its natural history. Phyllomedusa, 11(1):75-77.

Murphy, J.C., Charles, S., and Traub, J. 2012. Hyalinobatrachium orientale. Male parental care. Herpetological Review 43:118-119.

Friday, June 8, 2012

More Foam Nesting Frogs

Another species of frog we found in Lopinot Valley on Thursday morning was the Whistling Frog, Leptodactylus fuscus. Whistling frogs lay their eggs in foam nests within small burrows at locations that will flood with increased rainfall. Locating nests is tricky. But, Roger Downie has developed a technique that includes probing the soil with small sticks until a nest is found, removing the mud cover, and exposing the foam nest. Below is a photo of a whistling frog foam nest and an adult Leptodactylus fuscus. As rainfall increases, the nest will be covered with water and the tadpoles will escape into the pool, or be washed into a pool by runoff. Should the rains be delayed the tadpoles will stay in the nest and produce more foam (undoubtedly with a different chemical composition) to prevent desiccation and deter predators. Which is why Dr Paul Hoskisson is a microbiologist of Strathclyde University is here. Hoskisson is examining the structure of proteins in frog foam, both foam made by the parent frogs initially building the nest and the foam mad by the tadpoles.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Foam Nest of the Tungara Frog

This morning a walk in Lopinot Valley produced several frog nests after last night's rain. Below is a photo of a nest made by the túngara frog, Engystomops pustulosus.  My companions were interested in studying the proteins involved in making these nests. So, here is some background on nest construction and function of the foam.
The widespread and abundant túngara frog, builds foam nest on the surface of small temporary pools of water in the Neotropics. The male collects eggs and foam precursor fluid from the female's cloaca with their feet, and create a rounded mound of foam incorporating pond water, the eggs, and proteins with a mixing action of their legs. Construction of the nest is a series of mixing events that takes about an hour. At first observation nest construction appears to be a simple process of regular, periodic bouts of egg release and foam production that should result in eggs being disorderedly distributed throughout the foam. But, Dalgetty and Kennedy (2010) showed the nesting process is sophisticated, occurs in three phases, and that the nests have a differentiated internal structure.

They found that a semi-dispersed raft of bubbles is produced initially, during which no eggs are released, followed by the appearance of a growing mound into which eggs are incorporated. The males keep their lungs inflated throughout the nesting process, and arch their spines considerably to accommodate the height of the nest as it enlarges. Time lapse filming revealed that they move regularly from side to side, probably to ensure the round mound shaping of the finished nest.

They measured the duration of each mixing for 16 nesting events, and found that mixings are initially short, but increase in duration linearly from about 1 second to a plateau of approximately 4.5 seconds which is then sustained with little variation until nest completion

The time between the beginnings of successive mixing events is irregular at first, but then becomes regular with intervals of about 14 seconds that are maintained throughout the main building phase. Towards the end of nesting, the time between mixings increases in an exponential-like manner until cessation, though the duration of mixings does not change.

When the frogs are disturbed (in the wild or in the laboratory) and leave the nest, they tend to return to it, reversing into their original position to resume construction. When disturbance occurs, the periods between mixing event beginnings are irregular but soon return approximately to the original periodicity.

Thus, they found nesting occurs in three discrete, overlapping phases. Phase 1 is characterized by the production of a bubble raft with no egg release and mixing events increasing in duration. Phase 2 is the main building phase, marked by both event duration and start-to-start intervals being roughly constant as the foam hemisphere develops. Phase 3 is the termination phase, when the duration of mixings does not change but the time between them increases in an exponential-like fashion to cessation of the construction.

Túngara frogs may build nest colonially so that many nests are laid in contact with one another, but the eggs and foam are not co-mixed. Vertical cross sections of nests show eggs concentrated close to the base in the core of the nest, with a distinct cortex of egg-free foam about 1 cm deep. When a completed nest is placed on a dry surface, mimicking post-spawning drying of the nesting pond, tadpoles descend to the base of the nest and remain confined to its core, and do not breach the egg-free cortex despite the core's foam becoming liquefied, and the authors found the larvae can communicate between the cores of two nests that are in contact without breaching the protective cortex.

The advantages to the egg-free cortexseem to include protecting the eggs from dehydration by distancing them from exposure to air; shielding the eggs from light damage; and the cortex reduces access to the eggs and tadpoles by predators or parasites. The advantages of colonial nesting may be a decreased in the surface to volume ratio, and thus a reduction in the evaporative water loss. Also, joining a nesting already in progress allows exploitation of a pre-existing bubble raft and thus saving of nest material, energy expenditure and time exposed to possible predators.

Laura Dalgetty and Malcolm W. Kennedy. 2010. Building a home from foam—túngara frog foam nest architecture and three-phase construction process. Biology Letters doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0934

Monday, May 14, 2012

TTFNC Presentation: An Update on the T&T Herpetofauna

Roger Downie and I will be giving an update on the T&T herpetofauna on this topic on June 14 at the TTFNC meeting in Port of Spain. Check the TTFNC website for time and location. My presentation will include a discussion of cryptic species.  The evidence is mounting for T&T holding numerous cryptic species of frogs, lizards and snakes. In some cases these are species thought to be widespread and known to be present on the islands for a long time, but we are just realizing they are different from mainland populations. In other cases there are multiple cryptic species present in the islands that were previously thought just one species.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Forest snakes in decline in Trinidad?

The following story is from the Trinidad Express Newspapers. The common name mapepire balsain refers to Bothrops sp., mapepire zanana refers to Lachesis muta.

...Plenty mapepire balsain, but no zanana

Story Created: May 2, 2012 at 10:57 PM ECT

Those who traverse the mountains of our ranges will no doubt tell stories of how they learned to survive in an environment that is totally the domain of silent creeping and climbing creatures.

Stories of huntsmen finding reptiles snuggled in their bunks in camp, some finding them camouflaged amid leaf debris, some set to ambush along the trails, some hanging from overhanging branches and others swimming across streams.

Each story will tell of at least one reptile that felt threatened and retaliated in defence of its safety.

One Madamas huntsman got bitten on his hand when he used it to hoist himself up onto the riverbank. Another narrowly missed sleeping with one as his companion in camp when he was too tired to shake out his blanket before covering with it. There are those men who were actually bitten by poisonous species but had the survival techniques to overcome the effects of the venom. Each of these experiences has been with the mapepire balsain or zanana.

Last weekend, our outfit had not only one tale to tell of narrowly being bitten by a mapepire but of being under constant threat from numerous of the species set across a vast area of the north eastern Northern Range.

The mapepire balsain (bothrops atrox) is one of four venomous snakes found in Trinidad. It is a master of camouflage as it lies in wait amid the leaf debris carpeting the forest floor.

Our first encounter was set in ambush for its unsuspecting prey.

Though this one was a baby, it was just as dangerous as the grown ones, set as it was on the forest floor.

Our second was about seven feet long when it showed its length during a hasty retreat down the hill.

We managed to get more of them out of the way by either diverting them downhill or passing as far as possible from them.

The ninth or tenth balsain was a bit more stubborn, holding its ground despite our attempts to relocate it.

This was the one that actually attacked Ronald's boot.

Hssss… and Ronald was up in the air, landing some way down the hill.

Luckily there was the warning sound that caused him to jump out of harm's way. Luckily also, he wore a pair of boots, a must especially around these months of mating season of the species.

Marking the balsain's location, we cut a detour for our safe return passage.

They were really out in their numbers last weekend. What was most disturbing to us, however, was the total absence of the mapepire zanana or bush master. This species seems to have been on the decline for some time.

We know that these species are forced out of their domain by the encroachment of humans into their territory. They are not allowed to retreat into the forest, but are killed.

Talking to Allan Rodriguez, popularly known as "the original snake man", he, too, was disturbed about the obvious scarcity of the mapepire zanana in our forests.

"You have to blame the commercial hunters for this. They hunt for what they want and kill everything else that comes along their path. We must remember that the mapepire zanana is an egg layer. It lays at least 12 eggs and out of these 12, only six will hatch young safely. The balsain, on the other hand, delivers live young. This puts the mortality of the zanana at high risk.

"Something has to be done about this indiscriminate decimation of our reptilian species. Had it not been for their presence, we would not have had a balance of species in our forests.

Each reptile, and that includes the zanana, is a valuable part of the web of life to which we belong."

A Correction on the name for the Trinidad & Tobago Oxyrhopus

Oxyrhopus petolarius, JCM

In zoology, the Principle of Priority is one of the guiding principles of the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, and is defined by Article 23.

It states that the correct formal scientific name for an animal taxon, the name that is to be used,  the valid name, is the oldest available name that applies to it. There are exceptions; another name may be given precedence by any provision of the Code or by any ruling of the Commission.

This is one of the fundamental guiding precept that preserves the stability of zoological nomenclature. It was first formulated in 1842 by a committee appointed by the British Association to consider the rules of zoological nomenclature; the committee's report was written by Hugh Edwin Strickland.

Two available Linnean names from1758 and two from 1766 are based on snakes of a single species of Oxyrhopus. Which of these names has priority has been unclear. A review of the history of these names establishes Oxyrhopus petolarius (Linné, 1758) as the correct name for the species because of the actions of Lönnberg (1896) the first reviser of O. petolarius.

Savage, JM. 2011. The correct species-group name for an Oxyrhopus (Squamata: Dipsadidae) variously called Coluber petalarius, C. pethola, C. petola, or C. petolarius by early authors. Biological Society of Washington 124:223-225.

Monday, April 30, 2012

New species of skinks for T&T

Marisora aurulae 
Copeoglossum aurae

As of today the two species of skinks on Trinidad and Tobago have new genera and new epithets - they are newly described species. This is just a glimpse of changes to come in the herpetofauna of the islands. Many T&T species though to be widespread species are not, they are cryptic species that evolved in the islands or on the adjacent mainland. Below are parts of the species accounts for these new lizards from Hedges & Conn (cited below).

Copeoglossum aurae Hedges & Conn, 2012

Greater Windward Skink

Mabuia agilis—Boulenger, 1887:191 (part). Mabuia aenea—Garman, 1887:53 (part). Mabuya aenea—Barbour, 1914:322 (part). Mabuya aenea—Barbour, 1930:105 (part).

Mabuya mabouia—Barbour, 1935:129 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Dunn, 1936:544 (part). Mabuya mabouia—Barbour, 1937:147 (part). Mabuya aenea—Underwood, 1963:83 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Peters & Donoso-Barros, 1970:200 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Schwartz & Thomas, 1975:141 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—MacLean et al., 1977:40–41 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Schwartz & Henderson, 1988:150 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Schwartz & Henderson, 1991:457 (part). Mabuya bistriata—Powell et al., 1996:82 (part). Mabuya bistriata—Murphy, 1997:150 (part). Mabuya sloanii—Mayer & Lazell, 2000:883 (part). Mabuya mabouya—Miralles, 2005:49 (part?). Mabuya nigropunctata—Miralles et al., 2005:833 (part). Mabuya nigropunctata—Miralles et al., 2009:609 (part). Mabuya mabouya—Henderson & Powell, 2009:292 (part).

Distribution. Copeoglossum aurae sp. nov. is distributed on Grenada, St. Vincent, the Grenadines (Bequia, Carriacou, Mustique, Petit Martinique, and Union Islands), Trinidad (including Huevos Island), and Tobago (Fig. 11D, I–J). The Union Island record is based on image identification (Fig. 25D). A DNA sequence from an uncataloged specimen collected on the nearby Peninsula de Paria (Sucre, Venezuela), reported by Miralles and Carranza (2010), clusters with this species in our tree (Fig. 5), indicating that the species also occurs on the mainland, possibly restricted to that peninsula. Previous distributional data in the literature (Murphy 1997; Daudin & de Silva 2007) cannot be used because it confounds C. aurae sp. nov. and Marisora aurulae sp. nov.

Ecology and conservation. No ecological information is available specifically for this species. Past ecological information reported for skinks from Trinidad and Tobago, summarized in Murphy (1997), probably confounds Copeoglossum aurae sp. nov. and Marisora aurulae sp. nov. In those reports, skinks were noted as occurring in a diversity of habitats, including rainforest, forest edge, coconut trash, and cultivated and disturbed areas. In the Grenadines, skinks have been found usually on the ground "in woody underbrush and between cacti" and climbing among cacti and on tree trunks (Daudin & de Silva 2007). According to Barbour (1937), skinks were already extirpated from the large islands of St. Vincent and Grenada by 1937, by the introduced mongoose. However, one specimen of C. aurae sp. nov. was collected in 1964 at Tempe, Grenada. Many herpetologists have visited Grenada and St. Vincent in the last four decades and no sightings of skinks have been reported. Circumstantial evidence suggests that black rats (Rattus rattus) are also predators, and these are on many islands. Skinks have not been extirpated from Trinidad, despite the presence of the mongoose on that island. In the past, Trinidad has had geological connections with South America and has a continental mammalian fauna that included natural predators of skinks, which may explain how they have survived (Murphy 1997). We identified more than twice as many specimens in museums of C. aurae sp. nov. than of Marisora aurulae sp. nov., suggesting that C. aurae sp. nov. is the more abundant species of the two. Now that these two species have been identified and described, studies are needed to assess their ecological relations and further clarify their conservation status. Based on IUCN Redlist criteria (IUCN 2011), we assess the conservation status of Copeoglossum aurae sp. nov. as Vulnerable (VU A2ace). It faces a primary threat from the introduced mongoose, which has probably led to its extirpation on Grenada and St. Vincent. Secondary threats include habitat destruction from agriculture and urbanization, and predation from other introduced predators, including black rats. Studies are needed to determine if the species still exists on Grenada and St. Vincent, the health of any remaining populations, and threats to the survival of the species.

Marisora aurulae Hedges & Conn, 2012

Lesser Windward Skink

Mabuia agilis—Boulenger, 1887:191 (part). Mabuia aenea—Garman, 1887:53 (part). Mabuya aenea—Barbour, 1914:322 (part). Mabuya aenea—Barbour, 1930:105 (part). Mabuya mabouia—Barbour, 1935:129 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Dunn, 1936:544 (part). Mabuya mabouia—Barbour, 1937:147 (part). Mabuya aenea—Underwood, 1963:83 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Peters & Donoso-Barros, 1970:200 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Schwartz & Thomas, 1975:141 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—MacLean et al., 1977:40–41 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Schwartz & Henderson, 1988:150 (part). Mabuya mabouya mabouya—Schwartz & Henderson, 1991:457 (part). Mabuya bistriata—Powell et al., 1996:82 (part); Murphy, 1997:150 (part). Mabuya sloanii—Mayer & Lazell, 2000:883 (part). Mabuya mabouya—Miralles, 2005:49 (part?). Mabuya falconensis—Miralles et al., 2009:609 (part). Mabuya mabouya—Henderson & Powell, 2009:292 (part).

Distribution. The species is distributed in the southern Lesser Antilles and on Trinidad and Tobago. Specifically, it occurs on Young's Island (off St. Vincent), the Grenadines (Mayero Island, Carriacou, and Petit Bateau in the Tobago Cays), Grenada, Trinidad, and Tobago (Fig. 11D, I–J).

Ecology and conservation. Because of confusion between this species and the sympatric species Copeoglossum aurae sp. nov., published ecological information on skinks from the region cannot be applied to either species with certainty. Past ecological information reported for skinks from Trinidad and Tobago, summarized in Murphy (1997), probably confounds C. aurae sp. nov. and Marisora aurulae sp. nov. In those reports, skinks were noted as occurring in a diversity of habitats, including rainforest, forest edge, coconut trash, and cultivated and disturbed areas. In the Grenadines, skinks have been found usually on the ground "in woody underbrush and between cacti" and climbing among cacti and on tree trunks (Daudin & de Silva 2007). Apparently this species, and C. aurae sp. nov., have been extirpated from the large islands of St. Vincent and Grenada (Barbour 1937), both of which have the introduced mongoose. The mongoose is present on Trinidad, although C. aurae sp. nov. has been collected there in recent years (Murphy 1997); it may have adapted to continental mammalian predators on that island. Photographs of that species confirm its recent presence in the Grenadines (Fig. 25D). However, the last date of collection for M. aurulae sp. nov. on any island, from material we examined, was 1967 (Trinidad), although two specimens from Tobago (ZFMK 62602–03), not examined here, were collected more recently. Black rats (Rattus rattus) are also likely predators, and these are on many islands. We identified more than twice as many specimens in museums of C. aurae sp. nov. than of M. aurulae sp. nov., suggesting that M. aurulae sp. nov., over the years, has been less frequently collected (for whatever reasons) than C. aurae sp. nov.

Based on IUCN Redlist criteria (IUCN 2011), and considering that this species has not been seen on any island within its range (except Tobago, which is mongoose-free) in nearly a half-century, we assess the conservation status of Marisora aurulae sp. nov. as Critically Endangered (CR A2ace). It faces a primary threat from the introduced mongoose, which has apparently led to its extirpation from Grenada and Trinidad, and near-extinction. A secondary threat is predation from other introduced mammals, including black rats. Studies are needed to determine if the species still exists, the health of any remaining populations, and threats to the survival of the species. Captive breeding programs should be considered, if the species still exists, because eradication of introduced mammalian predators is not possible on large islands.

Hedges, S.B & C.E, Conn. 2012. A new skink fauna from Caribbean islands (Squamata, Mabuyidae, Mabuyinae). Zootaxa 3288:1-244.

An Overhaul of Caribbean Skink Systematics, new species, genera and families

The Neotropics are well known for their confused skink fauna composed of 26 species in the genus Mabuya, they have a conservative body plan, few conventional diagnostic characteristics, and are unique among lizards and other vertebrates in the degree of convergence, in reproductive traits, with eutherian mammals.

Blair Hedges and C. Conn of the University of Pennsylvannia have now revised the Caribbean skink fauna using conventional and unconventional morphological characters, supplemented by molecular analyses. They define 61 species grouped into 16 clades (=genera). The 16 genera include three available generic names (Copeoglossum, Mabuya, and Spondylurus) and 13 new genera: Alinea gen. nov., Aspronema gen. nov., Brasiliscincus gen. nov., Capitellum gen. nov., Exila gen. nov., Manciola gen. nov., Maracaiba gen. nov., Marisora gen. nov., Notomabuya gen. nov., Orosaura gen. nov., Panopa gen. nov., Psychosaura gen. nov., and Varzea gen. nov.

These 16 clades form a monophyletic group and are placed in the Subfamily Mabuyinae of the skink Family Mabuyidae. Six other skink families are recognized: Acontidae, Egerniidae, Eugongylidae, Lygosomidae, Scincidae, and Sphenomorphidae. The authors describe three new subfamilies of Mabuyidae: Chioniniinae subfam. nov., Dasiinae subfam. nov., and Trachylepidinae subfam. nov.; and 24 new species of mabuyines and resurrect 10 species from synonymies: Of the 61 total species of mabuyine skinks, 39 occur on Caribbean islands, 38 are endemic to those islands, and 33 of those occur in the West Indies. Most species on Caribbean islands are allopatric, single-island endemics, although three species are known from Hispaniola, three from St. Thomas, and two from Culebra, St. Croix, Salt Island, Martinique, the southern Lesser Antilles, Trinidad, and Tobago. Co-occurring species typically differ in body size and belong to different genera. Three ecomorphs are described to account for associations of ecology and morphology: terrestrial, scansorial, and cryptozoic. Parturition occurs at the transition between the dry and wet seasons, and the number of young (1–7) is correlated with body size and taxonomic group. Molecular phylogenies indicate the presence of many unnamed species in Middle and South America.

A molecular timetree shows that mabuyines dispersed from Africa to South America 18 (25–9) million years ago, and that diversification occurred initially in South America but soon led to colonization of Caribbean islands and Middle America. The six genera present on Caribbean islands each represent separate dispersals, over water, from the mainland during the last 10 million years. Considerable dispersal and speciation also occurred on and among Caribbean islands, probably enhanced by Pleistocene glacial cycles and their concomitant sea level changes. Based on IUCN Redlist criteria, all of the 38 endemic Caribbean island species are threatened with extinction.

Twenty-seven species (71%) are Critically Endangered, six species (16%) are Endangered, and five species (13%) are Vulnerable. Sixteen of the Critically Endangered species are extinct, or possibly extinct, because of human activities during the last two centuries. Several of the surviving species are near extinction and in need of immediate protection. Analysis of collection records indicates that the decline or loss of 14 skink species can be attributed to predation by the Small Indian Mongoose, an invasive predator introduced to control rats in sugar cane fields in the late nineteenth century (1872–1900), immediately resulting in a mass extinction of skinks and other reptiles. The ground-dwelling and diurnal habits of skinks have made them particularly susceptible to mongoose predation. 

The next post will discuss the changes impacting the T&T fauna.

Hedges, S.B & C.E, Conn. 2012. A new skink fauna from Caribbean islands (Squamata, Mabuyidae, Mabuyinae). Zootaxa 3288:1-244

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tobago's Melanistic Reptile Fauna

Melanism is the increase of the black pigment melanin, in the skin of animals. Melanin plays a role in several physiological processes including the synthesis of vitamin D; the protection of cells from harmful ultraviolet radiation; and it may be involved in the prervention of autoimmune diseases in humans. In cats, melanism may provide resistance to viral infections. And, at least one study suggests recessive-gene melanism is linked to disease resistance rather than altitude in cats.

However, despite extensive research, the function and adaptive significance of melanism remain controversial in reptiles. It is generally though that melanistic lizards and snakes, enjoy a thermal advantage compared with normal-colored individuals due to superior thermoregulatory capabilities. The often cited hypothesis is that melanistic individuals have a thermal advantage that lengthens daily and seasonal active allowing melanistic individuals to obtain more food, and a subsequent higher growth rate and larger body size. But, experimental evidence and observations suggests this is not the entire story (White et al. 2002; Tanaka 2009).

Tobago has several melanistc species, perhaps the best known is the tigre or tiger rat snake, Spilotes pullatus, but Pseudoboa neuwiedii also is darker on Tobago. Recently, John Jones from Huston Texas sent me this photo of an Ameiva atrigularis he took in central Tobago. It is remarkably dark for an Ameiva, and it would be interesting to know if all adults in this population are melanistic or this is just in this individual. Ugento and Harvey (2011) have described the sexual dimorphism in this species and have a photo of a specimen from the Isla de Margarita that looks very similar to this specimen.

Of interest is that all of these populations are at the northern edge of their distribution on Tobago.

Hardy, JD 1982. Biogeography of Tobago, West indies, with special reference to amphibians and reptiles: a review. Bulletin of the Maryland Herpetological Society 18:37-142.

Ugento, GN & Harvey, MB. 2011. Revision of Ameiva ameiva Linnaeus (Squamata: Teiidae) in Venezuela: recognition of four species and status of introduced populations in southern Florida, USA. Herpetological Monographs 25:113-170.

Tanaka K. 2009. Does the thermal advantage of melanism produce size differences in color-dimorphic snakes? Zoological Science. 26:698-703.

White A, Powell R, Censky EJ. 2002. On the thermal biology of Ameiva (Teiidae) from the Anguilla Bank, West Indies: Does melanism matter? Amphibia Reptilia 22:517-528.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

As turtle nesting season opens bi-catch a major problem

The Trinidad Guardian (March 3) carried the following story by Michelle Loubon

Beaches along Trinidad’s east coast like Grande Riviere, Mathura, Sans Souci, Fishing Pond, Guayama, Blanchisseuse and Madamas beckon the gigantic leatherback, green, hawksbill, loggerhead and Olive Ridley turtles. Swimming gracefully, the magnificent marine creatures frequent Maracas, Tompire, Blanchisseuse and Patience Bay. The turtle nesting season opened on March 1, Thursday and continues until the end of August 31 (Independence Day). Interviewed on Thursday, Managing Director for Nature Seekers Dennis Sammy says while poaching is down, bi-catch remains a problem. He explained while fishermen seek to empty the ocean of prized kingfish and carite for the Lenten period, turtles often get inadvertently caught in their nets. Both fishermen and turtles end up being sore losers—since the fisherman has to cough out dollars to repair nets which cost as much as $30,000. Turtles, which are an endangered species globally, drown. Sammy said: “Some fishermen have been catching turtles. Recently, a fisherman caught three and one died. Bi-catch is a huge problem not just for turtles but for Trinidad. It is one of the ancient species and bi-catch could really destroy the population. When they drown in the nets they are washed ashore from Mayaro straight to Matelot.”

Less poaching

He said: “There isn’t significant poaching on the beaches. It has to do with the level of awareness and education. But there are beaches where poaching takes place and it is difficult to keep track.” He cited examples such as Manzanilla’s stretch of beautiful beach, which is fringed by coconut palms, and Paria Bay which is difficult to access. “Manzanilla has a lot of beach to cover. Paria is harder to monitor since it hardly has people there to manage that area. It is a little out of the way.” Among the interventions he felt would reduce the problem of bi-catch were promoting alternative fishing methods and creating opportunities to have lines set in the areas where fishermen frequent. He noted fishermen were not adamant about working with conservationists since “it costs them every time they have to repair a net. They would prefer if they did not have to cut their nets.” Sammy felt government should do its part to better regulate the fishing industry. “If legislation on things like the types of nets are implemented, then it becomes a lot easier,” he said.

“Treat turtles with respect”

Commenting on the opening of turtle season, forester Atherly Harry said special permits would have to be granted to enter protected beaches. They have been nesting in T&T since the 17th century. Another significant feature was turtles were migratory and T&T served as a port-of-call for a few months only. He said: “You would have to get approval...special permits... for areas like Grande Riviere and Matura.” He appealed to the public to respect and show compassion for these “ancient dinosaurs.” Using the analogy of a gestant woman, he said: “I always say to people to treat the turtles, the way you would treat a pregnant woman. Don’t ride on their backs. Leave these magnificent creatures alone. T&T is blessed that they come to our shores. They frequent beaches like Gran Tacoreb. Places you didn’t dream about. It is important we provide a safe haven for them.” Turtle lovers might be fortunate to see as much as 500 turtles on one night during the peak nesting period.

Moonilal: “turtles are protected species”

In a speech delivered at Sangre Grande Civic Centre (February 26, 2011), he paid kudos to the Forestry Division for their active involvement. He cited the Conservation Wildlife Act, Chapter 67: 01) which considers marine turtles as protected species. He said: “In the 1980s, they were being slaughtered on the east coast at an alarming rate of 30 to 40 per cent. As a result, the Forestry Division through the Wildlife Section, implemented protection and conservation initiatives in an effort to curb the slaughter of these majestic marine reptiles. The Division began the process of getting the nesting beaches of Mathura and Fishing Pond declared as Prohibited Areas under the Forests’ Act.”

He cited statistics which stated “a total of five to 10 leatherback turtles are killed annually on land. An estimated 10,000 leatherbacks now nest in Trinidad, compared to 500 in 1987, which places the population as the largest in the Western hemisphere and perhaps the world.”

Matura, communities come onboard

Moonilal said 1990 was significant since three significant strides took place—the Forestry Division took the step of seeking the assistance of Matura Community, community members were employed to patrol the beach and turtle nesting data collection began to take shape. He said: “Matura accepted the invitation. Programmes of awareness, education and training were important steps in enlisting support for turtle conservation. It led to an eco tourism initiative and since 1991, Nature Seekers began conducting tours for visitors at the Matura Beach.” Training programmes were extended to Fishing Pond and Grande Riviere. Among the conservation groups which are involved in turtle protection are Nariva Environmental Trust, Manatee, North Manzanilla Village Council, Fishing Pond Conservation Group, Nature Seekers, San Souci Wildlife Tours, Toco Foundation, Grande Riviere Nature Tour Guide Association, PAWI Sports Club and the Blanchisseuse Environment and Art Trust. Moonilal further challenged stakeholders to look after the welfare of turtles since “the future of the leatherback turtles rests here, and what happens to the T&T population will impact on the species as a whole.” He added since the land conservation activities had been successful to date, it was important to continue the effort to ensure turtles continue to be present on T&T beaches and territorial waters for generations to come. Among those present were Tourism Minister Dr Rupert Griffith, Anthony Ramnarine Conservator of Forests and Deputy Conservator of Forests Kenny Singh.

Beach clean up at Matura today

As turtle season gets under way, Sammy said a beach clean up is scheduled for Matura Beach, at Toco Road. About 1,000 volunteers will lend a helping hand to clean about about 5 km of nesting beach for the turtles. It starts at 7 am till 11.30 am. Apart from the beautification works, a “sand turtle” competition will be held.

Turtle watching tips

Keep movement to a minimum; so as not to disturb turtles

Keep a safe distance away as indicated by tour guide

If the turtle shows signs of distress, move away at once

No use of flashlights or flash photography

Allow hatchlings to make it to the ocean alone

Wear warm clothing and comfortable shoes

Don’t light campfires, smoke or litter

Don’t drive on nesting beaches

Don’t stake umbrellas or other objects on nesting beaches

Avoid disturbing the eggs or nests

Control dogs on the beach because they dig up nests.

Best practices

Provision of funding to community partners; the success was dependent on vibrant community partners along the east coast who conduct successful tour-guiding operations on the nesting beaches and in the forests;

Provision of manpower to patrol respective beaches for data collection;

Protection of the nesting female;

Collaborating with national and international organisations in the implementation of research projects—such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Fora (CITES) Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, Cartagena Convention and the Western Hemisphere Convention;

Saving turtles, keeping fishermen’s livelihoods intact;

Eco-Tourism opportunities.

About marine turtles

Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) has a wide distribution in subtropical and tropical seas worldwide. It is the only herbivorious marine turtle with a diet consisting mainly of sea grasses an algae. Population status: occasional.

Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a tropical species living near coral reefs. It is rarely seen in temperate waters. The main reason for its decline has been centuries of trade in tortoise shell. This trade is now illegal but there is still a strong demand for tortoise shell products particularly in Asia. Population status: Abundant.

Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coricacea) are the largest of the marine turtles. It can reach a carapace length of 1.5 metres and a weight of 480 kg. It is one of the heaviest reptiles in Trinidad waters. Population status: Abundant.

Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) is a large species with a red-brown carapace. Compared to other marine turtles, the head is much larger in relation to body size, accommodating powerful jaws. Loggerhead turtles are found around the world in warm temperate and tropical waters. Population status: Rare.

Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) turtles are the smallest of the marine turtles and is probably the most abundant. It is nevertheless considered to be endangered and suffers the same general threats as other marine turtles. Population status: Rare.

(Information courtesy Forestry Division of T&T)

More info

Permits can be purchased at Forestry Division

Long Circular Road: 622-7476

San Fernando: 657-7357

Sangre Grande: 668-3825

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Trinidad Frog Assigned an Old Name

The first report of a large leptodactylid frog from Trinidad was made by R. R. Mole and F. W. Urich (1894) when they listed Leptodactylus pentadactylus as present. Thomas Barbour (1914) suggested it may have exterminated by over-hunting for human food. Barbour was at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) and in fact the musuem has a single specimen of a frog in the Leptodactylus pentadactylus Group (MCZ 8662) now recognized as L. knudseni Heyer from Trinidad. Its origin remains obscure because it lacks any other data. H. W. Parker compiled a list of Trinidad anurans in 1933 and included L. pentadactylus as present, but hypothesized that it may have been exterminated by the mongoose.

Frank Wonder, a mammal collector working on Trinidad in the late 1940's, collected several specimens of a large leptodactylid frog near Brickfield in central Trinidad.

In his now classic 1969 paper on Trinidad amphibians Julian Kenny reported Leptodactylus pentadactylus as present on Trinidad. based upon specimens he collected at five localities in Mayaro, as well as hearing it call it Nariva swamp. He also included a drawing of the tadpole and the photograph of an adult.

Morley Read was working on Trinidad in the 1980's and collected some large leptodactylids, as did I. By the late 1980's it was clear that a member of the Leptodactylus bolivianus-ocellatus group was living in Trinidad. A decade later, W. Ron Heyer identified some tadpoles thought to be from Tobago as belonging to the L. bolivianus-ocellatus Group. In my 1997 book I included accounts for Leptodactylus bolivianus and Leptodactylus knudseni; recognizing that knudseni was known from a single Trinidad specimen. No other specimens have been found to date.

In a recent paper Heyer and de Sa (2011) have revisited the leptodactylid frogs in the bolivianus Group, a group of species with a pair of distinct dorsolateral folds on the dorsum and well-developed lateral fringe on the toes. The bolivianus Group ranges from Costa Rica southward through Panama, extending across northern South America (east of the Andes) in the river valleys draining to the Caribbean, and throughout much of the Amazon basin with southernmost limits in the Bolivian departments of La Paz, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz.

The authors analyzed variation in this complex of frogs throughout its geographic range and identified the Group to contain three species: L. bolivianus, L. insularum, and L. guianensis (a new species).

Barbour (1906) described Leptodactylus insularum from Saboga Island in the Gulf of Panama. Now, Heyer and de Sa have given its distribution as ranging from the mainland Pacific versant of Costa Rica, throughout lowland Panama, the Caribbean drainages of Colombia and Venezuela, and Trinidad.

Trinidad is exceptionally rich in leptodactylid frogs -eight species, and two of the species (knudseni and lineatus) are known from only one specimen each from the island; and one of the species is endemic (nesiotus) - and known only from the southwest peninsula. Note that other references show here can be found on the literature page.


Heyer WR, de Sa RO 2011 Variation, systematics, and relationships of the Leptodactylus bolivianus complex (Amphibia: Anura: Leptodactylidae). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 635:1-58.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Whip Snake & The Lizard

The Machete couesse or Neotropical Whipsnake (Mastigodryas boddaerti) is an often seen Trinidad snake because it is terrestrial, diurnal, and often in open habitats. Mike Rutherford (UWI Zoology Museum) took these photos on February 28 on Paria Beach.The lizard is probably an Ameiva or Cnemidophorus. Mike writes, "
It was on the path when we came across it and stayed there for about three minutes, any time we came too close to it to get a photo it started to wriggle its tail. Eventually it swallowed enough of the lizard so it could move off with just the end of the lizards tail still sticking out of its mouth. It disappeared very quickly into the forest. This happened at around 1:30pm about 1/2km from Paria Beach on the 28th February. That day I also found a dead green turtle on Paria Beach, mostly buried in a sandbank and rotted away to just the skeleton, I dug out the skull and brought it back to the museum. And when we eventually reached Paria Waterfall we came across two naked Homo sapiens enjoying the sun, after a loud hello from me we allowed them to maintain their modesty and eventually they too disappeared into the bush!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Another Name Change for a Trinidad Lizard

Anolis planiceps from Lopinot Valley. JCM
The Anolis chrysolepis species group is distributed across the entire Amazon basin and currently consists of A. bombiceps and five subspecies of A. chrysolepis. These lizards are characterized by moderate size, relatively narrow digital pads, and a small dewlap that does not reach the axilla. D'Angiolella et al. (2011) used the mitochondrial gene ND2 to estimate phylogenetic relationships among putative subspecies of A . chrysolepis and taxa previously hypothesized to be their close relatives. They also assessed the congruence between molecular and morphological datasets to evaluate the taxonomic status of group members. On the basis of the two datasets, the authors present a new taxonomy, elevating each putative subspecies of A. chrysolepis to species status.

Anolis planiceps is known from Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana, and the states of Roraima and Amazonas in the northern Brazil.It reaches a maximum body length of 76 mm; has a double row of enlarged vertebral scales extending from the nape to base of tail; a few to several rows of weakly keeled scales, increasing in numbertowards the tail, forming a gradual transition between double row of enlarged scales andgranules on flanks; the scales on the upper arms markedly larger than vertebral scales. Supraorbital semicircle scales and enlarged scales, forming pronounced ridge in some specimens. Supraocular region with distinct group of enlarged, weakly keeled, scales surrounded by smaller scales. Interparietal distinctly larger than adjacent scales

Annelise B. D'angiolella, Tony Gamble, Teresa C. S. Avila-Pires, Guarino R. Colli, Brice P. Noonan, and Laurie J. Vitt. 2011. Anolis chrysolepis Duméril and Bibron, 1837 (Squamata: Iguanidae), Revisited: Molecular Phylogeny and Taxonomy of the Anolis chrysolepis Species Group. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 160(2):35-63.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Herpetofauna of Three Tobago Satellite Islands

Hemidactylus palaichthus, a gecko with an unusual satellite
 island distribution . JCM
The herpetofauna of the satellite islands off Trinidad is fairly well-known as the result of the work done by Hans Boos in the 1980's. However, the herpetofauna of the satellite islands of Tobago is less well-known with the exception of the reptiles of Little Tobago Island reported on Dinsmore. Now, more recent surveys by Stevland Charles and colleagues have examined the second and third largest satellites of Tobago, St. Giles Island and Goat Island, Their new paper documents preliminary searches for amphibians and reptiles on these satelite islands as well as summarizes previous records and literature. Goat Island, Little Tobago Island and St. Giles Island are administered by the Tobago House of Assembly (T.H.A.) with the last two being categorized as game sanctuaries. Brief visits of only a few hours to each of the islands were made by the authors and searches were conducted for reptiles and amphibians. Microhabitats including leaf litter, tree trunks, under rocks, bark and logs, crevices in rocks, and anthropogenic locations including walls, ceilings and crawl spaces under buildings and piles of rubble that may serve as refuges for herpetofauna were searched.

They found four species on Goat Island (Thecadactylus rapicauda, Iguana iguana, Anolis richardii, and Cnemidophorous lemniscatus) all species that are exceptionally good at dispersal and colonization.St. Giles Island produced five speices (Thecadactylus rapicauda, Iguana iguana, Gonatodes ocellatus, Mastigodryas dunni, and an unidentified skink in the genus Mabuya), again species that excell at disperal and colonization.

Little Tobago has a more specious herpetofauna, undoudtedly due to its greater size. The authors report includes: Rhinella marina, Leptodactylus fuscus, Gonatodes ocellatus, Hemidactylus palaichthus, Sphaerodactylus molei, Thecadactylus rapicauda, Bachia heteropa alleni, Ameiva ameiva (now A. atrigularis), Cnemidophorus lemniscatus, Iguana iguana, Leptophis ahaetulla coeruleodorsus, and Mastigodryas boddaertri dunni (now M. dunni). 

Given the proximity of these island to Tobago (Goat Island is about 0.95 km, St. Giles Island is about 0.74km, and Little Tobago is about 1.77 km from Tobago) the presence of these species is not too unexpected. However, it very useful to have these distributions documented for biogeography studies.

Charles, SP, Stephen Smith, S, & de Jonge J. M. A.. 2011. Terrestrial Herpetofauna of Some Satellite Islands North-east of Tobago with Preliminary Biogeographical Comparisons with Some Satellite Islands North-west of Trinidad. The Living World Journal of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalist's Club, 2011, 54-59.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trinidad Ameiva Populations Re-assigned an Old Name.

Ugento and Harvey (2011) noted Ameiva ameiva has been a polytypic species and that the nomenclatural history of the species has been chaotic. They reviewed the species and concluded that Ameiva ameiva in Venezuela is composed of four species: A. ameiva (Linnaeus), A. atrigularis Garman, A. praesignis (Baird & Girard), and they describe a new species, A. pantherina. Garman’s Ameiva atrigularis inhabits the forested areas of northcentral and northeastern Venezuela, the Isla de Margarita, the Peninsula de Paria and Trinidad.
An Amevia atrigularis from the Arima Valley, Trinidad. JCM
Garman’s Ameiva atrigularis can be distinguished from other species by a combination of traits including: smooth dorsal head scales; a single frontal; and a frontoparietal and parietal that contact the interparietals. Males reach a maximum body length of 186 mm and total length of 526 mm; females are slightly smaller with a body length of 146 mm and a total length of 420 mm.  Ugento and Harvey did not examine Tobago specimens, but note that color photographs suggest the Tobago population is also A. atrigularis.
An Ameiva from central Tobago. JCM

Ugento, GN & Harvey, MB. 2011. Revision of Ameiva ameiva Linnaeus (Squamata: Teiidae) in Venezuela: recognition of four species and status of introduced populations in southern Florida, USA. Herpetological Monographs 25:113-170.