Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The End 2

Last time, the rainforest ended with a bang on the final night hike: a snake, a lizard and a caiman, oh my! What more could a young herpetologist want in his final hours in the jungle? This time, instead of showing off its abundance of reptiles, the rainforest decided to show off its abundance of rain. I guess that's the universe telling me to study something else. Just a few measly frogs and insects before it started pouring until early morning. But that's fine, there's no use in romanticizing any arbitrary night when you've spent an entire month in the most biodiverse place in the world. 

More thrilling rainforest tales and pictures like this one later. 

Another great time in Ecuador has ended and now I'm back in the lame freezing cold northeast. After a day of this winter BS, I'm sick of it so I'm going to Puerto Rico. See you in a week. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gone Fishin'

I'll be in the rainforest from tomorrow until December 5th. Surprisingly enough, I won't be spending too much time on the internet despite how boring it is there. And it costs money. Mainly the former. Since I've already been there I've seen nearly every tree, insect, lizard, and frog. There are only more species of tree in a single hectare (100 meters x 100 meters) than in the entire United States and Canada combined. And only 100,000 species of insects per hectare. And this particular area has the highest concentration of amphibians in the entire world. Actually, it is the most biodiverse place on the planet. Better destroy it for some oil!

Another pleasant grasshopper

You can read more boring statistics about how incredibly diverse eastern Ecuador is or about its unfortunate impending fate. But for now you can watch this highly educational nature documentary series filmed entirely with a cheap point-and-shoot camera.

Watch in HD!

Now that I have fancy cameras, I have no excuse not to get some incredible footage. I still have to write about Galapagos, but here are all the pictures I took there. See you in a month. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Galapagos (videos)

I'll be blogging about the magical islands soon enough but first, here is a video from the last time I was there. This was footage from my friend's GoPro  that I edited together with some music. This inspired me to get a GoPro, although for much less extreme purposes.

And this is a video from the most recent visit to Galapagos.

More thrilling tales from the Enchanted Isles (no, seriously. That's another name for the Galapagos) coming soon.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lizards Lizards Lizards

Why does anyone go to lovely tropical coastal Ecuador? The lizards, of course. This is probably the most popular tourist activity right behind hiking in the cloud forest by yourself in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, staying at the beach during this time of year was a very different experience.

Fortunately, the only day the sun decided to show up was during our visit to Parque Nacional Machalilla which is Spanish for "lizard heaven." The park is located in a dry forest and happens to have one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador within its borders. I don't know how people ever make it to the beach when you literally encounter hundreds of lizards on your way there.
Just one of many beautiful distractions. 

One of the actual reasons for going to the coast was to look at all the primordial creatures that live in tide pools. My opinion on tide pools and their residents hasn't changed since the last time I was there, but this sea slug was quite funky. 
Just a pretty nudibranch

Despite the lack of sun for the majority of the trip, the lizards were still out and about, albeit in lesser numbers. But that didn't stop this beautiful gecko from showing up. Or me from watching this same exact individual for three days straight.

His less-pretty nocturnal cousin below is probably quite jealous, but could probably devour him if it wanted; it's about three times larger.
If I took less artsy fartsy pictures you might be able to see the 
size difference between these two lizards.

If you're sick of lizards by now, too bad. Here's another. But this is no ordinary lizard! This is the ancestor of the most famous Galapagos animal: the lava lizards. Forget what you heard about the tortoises, marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies, these are definitely more interesting and widely-appreciated. This also serves as the perfect segue into the next horribly delayed post: The Galapagos.
I ordered my drink 30 minutes ago...
She's been waiting a while for me to write something too. 

Lizards in order of appearance: Ameiva septemlineata, Gonatodes caudiscutatus, Phyllodactylus reissi, and Microlophus occipitalis. A few more pictures here. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Onwards to the coast

The cloud forest is a dark and gloomy place. With no lizards. Just clouds and forests and failure. Stupid cloudy places with no sun. Or lizards. Maybe I'm just bad at finding lizards. I quit. After another weekend spent in the cloud forest in vain, I've decided to become an entomologist that studies weevils.
Tightrope Walking Weevil
This is a weevil.

With the way this world works, you can always find insects. Weevils are a kind of beetle, and beetles basically rule the world, numerically anyway. There are around 9 million species of animal on this planet and probably about 6 million species of beetle. What a great world we live in...
Yoga Cotton Candy Weevil
I guess this is pretty fantastic. 

Well, that about exhausts my knowledge of weevils. Luckily I'm off to the coast tomorrow, which was pretty much "lizard heaven" (although I did find a weevil there too)... but apparently the weather this time of year is cloudier (like the cloud forest!) which could mean no lizards... Hopefully I'll be able to find some reptiles and won't actually have to resort to studying insects. I gave a rather honest and complete overview of what that place is about the last time so feel free to refresh your memory by reading that. 
This bromeliad is being hanged for treason
No more cloud forests for me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

La Hesperia

I just spent the past weekend in La Hesperia which is a cloud forest I conveniently never blogged about the last time I was there. "Cloud forest" is an odd term and unless you're a biologist or someone who's vacationed in Costa Rica it brings a strange visual to mind.

Artist's rendition.

A more technical name for these places would be "tropical premontane moist forests." I don't know why that name never caught on. While they aren't floating above rainforests on clouds, they are higher than rainforests in elevation along mountains. The name is not completely misleading though; cloud forests are shrouded by... (you guessed it) clouds for at least part of the day. Due to the readily available moisture this is where forests start to look really lush and tropical with plants growing on plants. 
Frogs also like wet places, but surprisingly there weren't many out and about like last time. I guess they didn't like how I violently grabbed them out of their daily routine to take a million pictures of them. Or rather, the last time I was here was during a wetter part of the year when more frogs were reproducing tiny froglets to place on your finger. But there are always insects, so you'll have to entertain yourself with these leaf cutter ants who decided to add some color in their life by bringing flower petals back to the nest. 
But the real reason people come to cloud forests is for the birds. Like actual birds. I did see toucanets, tanagers, and barbets which is English for "colorful tropical flying things," but they're hard to photograph so here is an underwhelming, but humorous bird called an ani.
I could eat it, but I'm watching my figure.
Contemplating dinner. 

While birds are nice (if you're into that) the true jewel of the cloud forests are the lizards. Except, there aren't many lizards in the cloud forest. And they're hard to find. Actually, the cloud forest is a truly horrible place to go lizard hunting, something I found out last year the hard way. But it makes finding them all the more enjoyable or something like that. 
Sweet gemmosus Brown
Gee, what a sappy ending.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Round 2

If you're a true fan you may remember why I started this blog in the first place: to write about the fun times I was having gallivanting all over Ecuador. It was a magical time where I got to go hunting for seals in the Galapagos and help extract oil in the Amazon all under the guise of "school" in a completely once-in-a-lifetime type of experience.

Well, in a bizarre turn of events I'm going back. To do exactly everything I did the last time. Again. I'm still in disbelief even though I'm sitting in the airport about to leave for paradise. Yes, this is very lucky for me, but even luckier for you! This means no more boring crap from the northeast and the return of the blog that originally won you over.

Next time: A blog posted with 100% genuine Ecuadorian internet!

Hopefully I'll see this rare species of mosquito again this weekend.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The End 2

Summer is over. I've taken 82 pictures in what is more or less my backyard since May. You can view these photographs in chronological order here OR you can view the slideshow below. It's so big that it barely fits on the blog space so it must be good. Might I suggest playing some groovy music behind it so you won't be bored to death. Thankfully this marks the end of the "unemployed stuck at home phase" of my life. For now. So while my writing may not improve I can promise the subject matter will be objectively more exciting. I leave you in suspense!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hawaii 4

Aloha sagrei
An Ole. 

And finally we have the infamous anoles. While these lizards may not seem as pretty as the day geckos, they make up for their otherwise bland coloration with retractable colorful flaps of flesh under their throat. Now doesn't that sound attractive? Maybe if you were a lady lizard.

Lizard doing the neck thing again.
*wolf whistle*

Actually, it seems that the lady anoles probably care about this wonderful appendage just as much as you, but the color and timing is important in species recognition and differs between species of anoles. Just check out how the green anole's dewlap is totally different from the brown anole's dewlap. They're practically different species.

Although there are over 400 anoles in the world only the one in the above video is a native resident of the United States. But now a handful of species are running amok in Florida, the most common invader being the brown anole. The brown anole is so fat and mean and beats up his green cousins. They then go hide in the treetops where the brown anoles cannot reach because they are so fat and mean. This has been scientifically proven in areas where the two species overlap. 

A great view of the hyoid apparatus in action, the bone behind the ear and jaw that's responsible for the movement of the dewlap.

If you have too much free time on your hands, you may notice that the brown anole only slightly bobs his head while the green anole would fit in at a thrash metal concert. Unfortunately, I didn't get the full display of the brown anole, but it would probably look slightly different from the green anole's performance. 

"Green" anole
The "green" anole can be quite brown. 

Well, there are many other facts about these anoles (about seven), but there isn't enough time in the day to blog about all of them. This concludes the wonderful pictorial walkthrough of the reptiles (and amphibian) I saw while in paradise. More pictures can be found here. We'll be back with more thrilling stories from the second most exciting place on earth: upstate New York. 

The Majestic Brown Anole

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hawaii 3

WOW! Look at that lizard!

I could spend all day watching and photographing these geckos. So I did. These geckos are so pretty! I would totally buy car insurance from one if it asked me. Originally from Madagascar and released by a University of Hawaii student years back with the purpose of filling my heart with joy and saving me a trip all the way to Madagascar, this is the gold dust day gecko.

Really cute!
Phelsuma laticauda which is Latin for "I should get a new hobby."

I could easily post one hundred more pictures and rant about how gorgeous these geckos are, but I'll spare you from boredom and post this equally self-indulging video instead. 

But there is still some boring science to be learned! Geckos, and lizards in general, tend to be visually oriented animals. Our star knocks down a piece of debris at the :12 second mark with its tail and immediately changes its gaze towards the falling object. Unfooled, the insurance spokesperson goes onto to examine the camera, spending most of the video staring directly at it. There is also a tongue flick at :43 seconds probably picking up my greasy fingerprints on the casing of my GoPro. So unfortunately, I didn't capture a lizard behaving completely "naturally" in its "natural environment," but it does show you that lizards aren't (completely) dimwitted cold-blooded lugs. They're creatures that are keenly aware of their environment and smart enough to realize when someone is trying to record them with a camera.

Wow! Look at that lizard!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hawaii 2

Little frog big bromeliad

You might think Hawaii is a horrible place to live if sea turtles are the only reptile readily available, but thanks to the meddling of the human race, the islands are overrun by a handful of species of lizards and frogs. Perhaps the most exciting amphibian to see is the aptly named green and black poison dart frog.

Still not hunting mosquitoes
It really is green and black!

It's so exciting that you should forget about the other less exciting slimy jumpy things. But it's true, the only other frogs on Oahu include the cane toad, which is the quintessential boring toad and the American bullfrog, arguably the standard frog. There is also the Japanese wrinkled frog, but it's not terribly exciting (unless you're a weirdo who likes to find reptiles and amphibians...) and I failed at getting a nice picture of one. If only there were some fast and easy way to search for images on the internet. Oh well. Here's another fun and exciting poison dart frog.

Hunting for not mosquitoes
Green and black poison dart frog? More like "fun and exciting poison dart frog."

These were intentionally released in an attempt to control the mosquito population in the wetter areas of the island, but they shirked this responsibility and are now one of the most popular attractions for visitors to this great state, further solidifying its status as a vacation hotspot. Even though we're taught the evils of moving animals around the globe, what a cool species to introduce. Someone should give that guy a Nobel Peace Prize. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hawaii 1

Turtle with meddling beachgoers
See turtles here. 

Hawaii. What negative things are there to say about Hawaii? Nothing. Hawaii was paradise. Between the beach, Spam, and streets overrun by Japanese tourists, what more could you want? Oh yeah. Reptiles. So without further ado, here is Hawaii's own green sea turtle: the Hawaiian green sea turtle.

Turtle sleeping on beach

And what's better than just one measly sea turtle? Two measly sea turtles.

"What do you want to do today?" "I dunno, what do you want to do today?"
"What did one sea turtle say to the other?
We're BOTH sea turtles."

And what could be better than two sea turtles? Three sea turtles, of course. But I don't have a picture with three sea turtles even though there were five of them lying on the beach together. Instead, here's this exciting shot of a sea turtle getting hit by the sea.

Turtle getting hit by the surf

And that's all for Hawaii's native reptiles. Every other slimy or scaly creature is an evil introduced hitch hiker, besides the rarely seen yellow-bellied sea snake which floats throughout the entire Pacific Ocean.

Turtles with more awestruck viewers

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Graveyard Super Fun Time

I've come back with a terrible sunburn on my neck and a broken foot. Actually, I don't know if my foot is injured, but it kind of hurts when I walk. Regardless, I'm not into feet. I'm into lizards. They're so interesting that I'll spend all day in a graveyard in the middle of Queens observing and photographing them. Just another completely normal activity for a completely normal person.

What are you looking at?

But these aren't your average lizards. Actually, they might as well be. They're greenish with a long tail, four legs and they're cool. But the killer is that these are lacertids! Which means they're in the family lacertidae! Which means they're originally from the Old World and have no reason being in the Americas. This is concerning because "introduced species are bad," but if you're an optimist  like me, it's really an amazing opportunity to study a species from a completely unique and distinct lineage that is normally unavailable here in the United States.

Apparently a pet shop in Long Island went out of business way back when and with great foresight let loose their stock of Italian wall lizards, Podarcis sicula. Despite New York being colder than their native Italy, the lizards did not die off in the winter, but proceeded to spread around Long Island and various parts of New York City. Someone should give that guy a medal or the key to the city or a Nobel prize. Whichever is the easiest to mail.


Another common name for these fine reptiles is "ruin lizard" because they're often found on rocky wall faces, but it seems that tombstones make a fine substitute. Also, as you may notice from the bit of Hebrew above, this was a Jewish cemetery making me even more of an oddball to see stalking through the graves with a lizard noose and DSLR. Here is a video detailing the habitat and me walking around contemplating whether or not I am disrespecting the deceased.

A lizard does make a quick, barely-visible appearance in this video.
Watch in 1080 and full screen for your best chance of finding it. 

These lizards were extremely abundant and it was hard not to walk a few steps without seeing or hearing one a two dash off into the vegetation or under a loose gravestone. Instead of amazing camoulfage, these lizards rely on their wariness and speed to escape from predators or lizard-crazy weirdos like me. This alertness is visible as you can see the lizard staring back at the camera in some photos.

Get off my back.

As exciting as watching lizards run away from you can be (very) , lizards occasionally do other things too. One tried and true method to observe lizards behave naturally is to simply sit and wait for them to ignore your presence. As I sat on a conveniently placed bench nestled next to some graves, I was soon surrounded by a handful of lizards going about their business, although the lizard in the grave closest to me remained wary and only peeked his head out.

Is he gone yet?

At this point in the day the lizards seemed to be bumming out in the shade, not doing much. But the stiff tension was broken when two large quarreling males brought their disputes to the ground next to my feet. The tail-less male below was being chased by another male with a complete tail. Unfortunately this was more of a chase than a fight, but it was an interesting moment of natural history. Who doesn't love those?!


If you have too much time on your hands and spent a good chunk of time staring at these pictures or reading about lizard biology, you may have noticed the difference in head size between photos. In this case, males have larger jaws relative to females presumably because they spend so much time fighting each other. Males with bigger heads have stronger bite force and defeat punier males and then proceed to take all the ladies, just like in humans. 

Not the best picture to highlight the differences, but the male is on the left. 

And as if you haven't had enough enthralling facts and pictures of lizards today, the peeling sunburnt skin on the back reminds me that lizards also shed. 

This is what my neck looks like. 

Wasn't that just wonderful and enlightening? Knowledge is power and power corrupts, so be careful. 

Chilling in a cemetery.
A female Podarcis sicula bids you adieu from her stone perch placed neatly above a dead man. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The End of Summer

Well, the summer's over. Remember, it's a magical world and you should go exploring. It's been a good run.

Fine, the it's only mid-June and there's still plenty of good sunshine left to bring out the reptiles, but I'll be leaving the magical realm known as the temperate northeast for a while due to personal-medical-unemployment reasons AKA no actual reason at all. Actually I'll be going somewhere with many lizards. And then somewhere new with pretty lizards. More on that later. So before I leave here are some updates to the cliffhangers left by the last few taxonimically oriented posts to close out the end of the middle of the season.

Snakes: I have learned how to find snakes. I've found nine snakes since my last post. I am getting snake fever. I am no longer satisfied unless I find a snake.

Smell ya later!

Turtles: I found the box turtle. It was a very pleasant experience. I love turtles.


Salamanders: I got a shot of the red backed gerrymander with the added bonus of a worm. See if you can tell the two apart.

Where have you been living, under a rock?

Frogs: are still omnipresent and I still take pictures of them.


The end. If you'd like to see my photographic progress from the whole season you can do so here. I've managed to produce 44 pictures in the month I've been exploring the badlands of the northeast, surpassing the 29 pictures I took in Florida. Yeah, yeah I was only in Florida for a week and there were way more reptiles, but despite the depauperate herpetofauna I've had a blast this past month getting to know the fauna of my childhood and what the buttons on my camera do.

Also, don't forget to submit your questions, comments, and criticism to the Super Fun 3000 Views Extravaganza Festival Q&A Party that is coming up once 3000 views are reached. This is thanks to all of you! Yes, even you spambots from Russia.

That's all folks!

Saturday, June 14, 2014


If you asked me what my favorite group of animals was in elementary school I would have said salamanders. I think I've always wanted to focus on lizards, but they weren't around while salamanders were locally abundant and served as a superficial substitute. So I settled, but I was still the annoying kid who would harp on the differences if anyone were to generalize these two fundamentally different organisms. One key difference can barely be seen in the picture below:

Somewhere between the artsy fartsy-ness is a larval salamander in the genus Ambystoma

If you squint really hard there's an alien like creature floating towards the surface in the above picture. It has tiny toothpicks for hindlimbs and feathery plumes projecting from the back of its head to let it breath underwater. This may sound strange, but if you've ever played Pokemon this is the inspiration for Wooper and Mudkip. Except the design for Wooper is wrong because no salamander develops its legs before its arms. That's what frogs do. If you haven't played Pokemon and have no idea what I am talking about then I'm afraid there is nothing that can be done at this point (see hyperlinks).

Another reason why salamanders trump frogs in my unjust biased opinion is that all salamanders are born with a taste for blood. You'll never find a baby salamander being a wimp and scraping off some algae like some (but not all!) tadpoles. It's a general rule (in Jon's Guide to Cool Animals) that carnivorous animals are more interesting than herbivorous ones. Watching your pet lizard chase crickets is a lot more exciting than watching your pet tortoise chase a head of lettuce.

Forgot to wipe his mouth.
What are you looking at? You should be reading!

I could go on about the biology of salamanders for days, so I will. The next set of pictures illustrates the interesting life cycle of the interesting eastern newt. After the aquatic gilled Pokemon stage, this salamander goes onto land for two to seven years as a brightly colored " red eft" before finally going back to the water as an adult.

An ewt
Devoted subscribers may notice I already used the bottom picture before.
Good thing I don't have any of those!

Efts are extremely abundant on the forest floor after rains and it can be hard to walk without squashing one every few steps. It's quite unusual to see a salamander strutting about so boldly in broad day light as most of them are secretive nocturnal creatures, but the efts are toxic and if you eat them you will die. Actually, I'm not sure if a human could be killed by eastern newt toxins, but their cousins in California are extremely toxic having killed a human (upon ingestion). Despite the potential harm to people, eastern newts are conducive for studies of limb and eye regeneration therefore of use to humans; which is really the point of biodiversity anyway.

Eastern newts are so cool because aquatic amphibians are cooler than terrestrial ones (see Jon's Totally Unbiased Guide to Cool Animals). Unfortunately the next salamander is not aquatic. It even went so far as to pop out miniature adults without gills severing its dependence on freestanding water although it still needs to live in moist environments because it doesn't have lungs and breathes through its skin. Imagine that.

A very sticky salamander.
You can barely see the lungs on this guy. 

So without further ado we have the slimy salamander AKA Plethodon glutinosus although sticky salamander is a more fitting name. It secretes a very sticky mucus upon being picked up by curious herpetologists. I've actually only heard about this species in the field guides of yore so I cried tears of happiness upon finding one under a rotting log. Actually I cried tears of sadness because the first one was extremely skittish and disappeared before I could get a good picture so I cursed the heavens and flipped everything in sight until finding another. 

Most woodland salamanders could easily be mistaken for a worm, but that's not the case for ye olde slimy sally-mander. This was a huge skink-sized beast of around six inches that could easily eat lesser manders for breakfast. One of these smaller salamanders is the omnipresent redbacked salamander whose accumulated biomass in a forest can be heavier than deer according to some studies which I do not have a picture of yet. This is a shame as this species was the first amphibian I ever saw. 

Thus ends Taxon Week as the weather is nice again and I won't be sitting on my computer all day. We're coming up on 3000 views which is just 11,239,232 views short of the average viral video, an important milestone nonetheless. To celebrate I ask you, the readers, to ask me whatever it is you wanted to know about this mysterious man of mystery who writes such inane posts. Comment below or send a letter to my estate.