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Reptile & Amphibian Conservation – Protection Sought for 53 US Natives

San Bernardino Ringneck SnakeI’ve recently posted information concerning a petition that seeks Endangered Species Act protection for 53 US herps.  Many readers applauded the news, but some were concerned about potential limitations on their ability to keep protected species.  As they correctly pointed out, responsible pet owners have made important contributions to the conservation of many species (please see article below).  In the course of my work as a zoologist, I’ve often dealt with federal, state and international permits, and continue to assist zoos with related issues.  Today I’d like to explain a bit more about this proposal, which was championed by the Center for Biological Diversity, and how it may impact target species in the wild and captivity.

The ESA: Pros and Cons for Herp Keepers

Although federal red tape complicates life for private herp owners, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) remains our nation’s most powerful conservation tool.  A recent study revealed that the ESA is 99% effective in preventing extinctions…once a species is listed, its survival is almost guaranteed.  Benefits to such species extend beyond permit requirements – habitat protection, research funds, compilation of recovery plans and other possibilities arise.  This post lists frequently asked questions concerning the ESA. Read More »

Reptile and Amphibian Conservation in the USA – 2012 Update

The global extinction crisis faced by amphibians has been much in the news in recent years, as have threats to sea turtles, Madagascar’s tortoises, Asia’s freshwater turtles and other long-suffering groups.  In the USA, a number of reptile and amphibian species are also in dire straits despite, in some cases, federal protection.  I hope this article inspires both hope and action in my many conservation-minded readers.

Unprecedented Agreement May Help 757 Species

Following a slew of lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the Federal government has agreed to speedily consider protecting an additional 757 native species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The CDB employs an attorney who deals solely with amphibians and reptiles, and the agreement is said to be “airtight” and legally enforceable.

This agreement is an important step, as the ESA is our most powerful wildlife law.  Indeed, ESA listings have proven vital to the continued survival of many species.  For example, a recent CBD study of 110 ESA-protected species showed that 90% of them were recovering “on time”, according to the goals set at the original listing…not bad, considering what is happening to rhinos and other “protected” species elsewhere! Read More »

Crickets and Carotenoids – Study Examines Cricket Nutrient Levels

veggiesCaptive insect-eating reptiles and amphibians (and perhaps invertebrates) are often plagued by nutritional deficiencies. A highly-varied diet is a great way to ensure adequate nutrition, but most keepers have access to only a few feeder-insect species; gut-loading (providing nutritious diets to feeders) is helpful, but detailed studies are lacking. While touring several Japanese zoos a few years ago, I was intrigued by the number of cricket species being bred as herp food, and resolved to investigate the species and diets I saw in greater detail. A recent article in Zoo Biology (2011, V. 30), which provides insights into carotenoid supplementation in three different cricket species, has re-sparked my interest. I’ll summarize below.


Carotenoids are pigments that occur in plants. Animals, as far as is known, cannot manufacture carotenoids but rather must obtain them through their diet.

Carotenoids benefit the immune system by acting as antioxidants, function in the reproductive and other systems, and are believed partially responsible for the health benefits enjoyed by people who regularly consume fruits and vegetables.  We know little of their role in reptile and amphibian health, but many zoo nutritionists believe them to be important. Read More »

“Salt Water” Snapping Turtles – Snappers and other Turtles in Estuaries

55 lb. Snapping turtleThe incredible diversity of life in tidal creeks and rivers has attracted me since childhood.  And while invertebrates and fishes predominate, areas where fresh and salt water meet hold wonderful surprises for reptile enthusiasts as well.  Today I’d like to discuss a turtle that I often find in brackish water habitats, and which seems to be evolving unique adaptations to survive there – the Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina.

A Turtle Banquet

The Long Island (NY) tidal creeks (please see photo) that I frequent seem “paved” with crabs, marine worms, snails, bottom fishes, mussels, clams, shrimp and other foods that could be easily exploited by turtles.  In fact, research indicates that at least one marine turtle, the Kemp’s Ridley, actively migrates to the LI Sound, gaining up to a pound per week during the time it remains there.  The Snapping Turtles I’ve seen in such habitats have been quite large, and I can’t help but think that abundance of high quality, easily-caught food must play a role in their presence.

I’ve even been fortunate enough to come upon a family of River Otters in one tidal creek, a species long gone from LI but now making a comeback.  I’ve worked with captive otters, and can attest that if they are present, there’s lots of food about – their appetites are unbelievable! Read More »

Pet Trade Frogs Fund Conservation – Wikiri’s Unique Strategy

Marsupial FrogDecades of work in zoos and the pet trade has, I believe, given me a unique perspective on the contributions that each can make to amphibian conservation.  Over the years, I have been greatly influenced by the work of private keepers who, in some cases, bred rare species long before zoos. Indeed, numerous husbandry techniques used in zoos originated in the private sector. In general, however, the pet trade focuses on pets and conservationists focus on conservation. But Wikiri, an enterprise formed to support amphibian conservation and research, combines the best of both worlds by using captive-bred frogs to promote its goals. In doing so, Wikiri has broken new ground in addressing the amphibian extinction crisis.

Amphibian Declines

The threat currently facing amphibians are unprecedented. At least 200 species have become extinct in recent years, prompting some to compare this “Sixth Extinction Crisis” to the disappearance of the dinosaurs.  Read More »

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