Posts Tagged ‘bluff’

Slimy Salamanders and Bigfoot

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Southeastern Oklahoma harbors an interesting set of reptiles and amphibians, dominated by species typical of southeastern deciduous forests. However, a small group of related salamanders are endemic to the east to west chain of mountains collectively known as the Ouachita Mountains. Also known as the Interior Highlands, these are the only mountains between the Appalachian Mountains to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the West. Each mountain has a name (e.g., Kiamichi Mountains, Winding Stair, Boktuklos, Rich Mountain), and almost all have their own endemic salamander species. The salamanders have been collectively called “slimy salamanders” and are in a large group of salamanders known as lungless salamaders (Family Plethodontidae). They are “slimy” because they produce a viscous liquid from glands in the skin that is first slimy, but then sticky. They are “lungless” because they do not have lungs, but rather breath entirely through their skin!

The lungless salamander, Plethodon sequoia

The lungless salamander, Plethodon sequoyah

Slimy salamanders of the Ouachita Mountains have recently been studied in detail by Dr. Don Shepard, formerly a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma and here in the Sam Noble Museum. One of the salamanders is shown above and a future blog will detail what Don has discovered about these interesting salamanders.

Another interesting point about southeastern Oklahoma is a growing interest in Bigfoot, the large, hairy, man-like beast that purportedly runs wild in the forests near the tiny town of Honobia. A fall festival (the Bigfoot Festival) occurs each year in which various groups attempting to gather evidence of Bigfoot’s existence meet and discuss their findings. Honobia is remote and located equidistant from Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Shreveport. Limited lodging is available at Dancing Rain Ranch and the Honobia Creek Country Store, with additional lodging in Talihina. Each year, Bigfoot researchers claim to have gathered additional evidence, but firm verifiable physical evidence that Bigfoot exists has still not been presented to the public. Perhaps in the next few years, Bigfoot will step on a slimy salamander and lose some hair so that DNA can be collected and analyzed—but please, don’t hold your breath, unless you are a slimy salamander!

“Spreading Adders”

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

The hiss of an Eastern hog-nosed snake as it spreads its neck and acts like a cobra can be quite startling, but it is all bluff. Eastern hog -nosed snakes are completely harmless, and it is nearly impossible to get one to bite. It is no accident that they seem to show up when toads are active. Hog-nosed snakes specialize on toads, eating almost nothing else. Colors and patterns of hog-nosed snakes vary from nearly all black to reddish with various shaped markings, and younger hog-nosed snakes seem to be brighter in color than older and larger ones.

An adul;t (top) and juvenile (bottom) Eastern hog-nosed snake

An adult (top) and juvenile (bottom) Eastern hog-nosed snake

When first disturbed, hog-nosed snakes go through their hissing and spreading display, hence the nickname “spreading adder.” However, if they are bothered a bit more, they switch their behavior to a ridiculous series of movements in which they appear to act as though they have died, going so far as to roll over on their back, open their mouth, drag their tongue in the dirt and lay there motionless. If you wait a few minutes, they will roll their head over and look at you. If you roll them over so that they are upright, they quickly roll back over upside down. And, if you wait long enough, they roll over and crawl away. What could possibly be the advantage of doing this? One would think that simply lying there would make it easier for a predator to eat them.

Starting in the bottom left, follow clockwise, the deith-feigning sequence of a hog-nosed snake

Starting at the bottom left, follow clockwise, the death-feigning sequence of an Eastern hog-nosed snake

If you watch carefully when hog-nosed snakes first start rolling over, you will notice that they cover themselves with bodily wastes released from their cloaca as they twist and coil during their death feigning act. Recall that they eat toads, almost exclusively. Toads eat ants and beetles that produce chemicals (alkaloids) for defense, and toads in turn produce strong chemicals that are released from the large glands (paratoids) just in back of their head that make them very bad tasting and sometimes toxic (don’t lick a toad!). So, when Hog-nosed snakes eat toads, they are also eating a bunch of very bad-tasting chemicals. By covering themselves with excrement, Hog-nosed snakes make themselves very bad to eat. The “playing dead” likely keeps them from being injured while a predator determines that they are not as tasty as they first appeared to be when they were crawling along.

Threat display of an adult Eastern hog-nosed snake. Note the raised tail and the flattened neck, hence, "spreading adder."

Threat display of an adult Eastern hog-nosed snake. Note the raised tail and the flattened neck, hence, "spreading adder."