Posted 1 day ago

I finally saw my first Snapping Turtles of the year today, and even managed to sneak up on one and touch it! It was pretty big — certainly over 40 cm in straight carapace length — with a very prominent healed wound right at about the center of the shell. I’ve seen this individual around before, but never managed to photograph it clearly.

Posted 1 week ago

From the Snapping Turtle Research set by the Florida Fish and Wildlife flickr.

Since this is an Alligator Snapping Turtle from the Suwanee River, Florida, it is now classified as Macrochelys suwanniensis. Only skeletal and molecular differences between the Macrochelys spp. have been documented, but since they diverged as far back as the Miocene, I wonder if there are some soft tissue differences too. Most of the turtles in this set appear to have quite a bit of yellow pigmentation (particularly on their faces), but, well, it could just be a coating of some sort or a trait that shows up in other populations.

Thomas, T. et al. (2014) Taxonomic assessment of Alligator Snapping Turtles (Chelydridae: Macrochelys), with the description of two new species from the southeastern United States. Zootaxa 3786(2) 141–165. Available.

Posted 1 week ago

As discussed on this post, there are some newly-described Alligator Snapping Turtle Species. I already shared the Suwanee lineage, so now, here’s the central/Apalachicola lineage. 

Macrochelys apalachicolae sp. nov.

Common name. Apalachicola Alligator Snapping Turtle

Holotype. UF 3998, partial skeleton from the Apalachicola River, Gadsden County, Florida, on 4 April 1953 by the Florida Museum of Natural History (see Figures 13, 14). (Central lineage; Figure 9).

Paratypes. UF 52676, partial skeleton from Waddells Mill Creek, Jackson County, Florida, on 10 April 1978 by L. Richard Franz et al.; UF 152479 skull from Econfina Creek, Bay County, Florida (30.15274oN, 85.55748oW, elev. 2 m, 13.1 m depth), on 21 August 1982 by Joseph P. Ward and Joseph J. Ward.

Diagnosis. Macrochelys apalachicolae is distinguished by the following: carapacial caudal notch narrow and triangular or narrow and U-shaped (Figure 13), relatively shallow, and reduced; posterior projection of the squamosal globular and obtusely angled in lateral aspect (Figure 5,14); pygal with two serrations, with medial suture; peripheral 11 with one serration; distal rib end of costal 1 enters posterior third of peripheral 3; pleural scute set 1 with slight to no overlap onto the nuchal; processus trochlearis oticum relatively straight with a single distal protuberance; posterior margin of squamosal-opisthotic contact relatively straight in dorsal aspect.

Comments. Although there is a general pattern of small triangular pygal regions of the carapace, there is observable variation within the species. All cranial specimens are characterized by large, globular squamosal projections that are intermediate between those of M. suwannensis and M. temminckii. Although M. apalachicolae is genetically most similar to M. temminckii, in some ways it is morphologically more similar to M. suwanniensis; they share the unique synapomorphy of a sutured pygal. Macrochelys apalachicolae is somewhat morphologically intermediate between M. temminckii and M. suwannensis with regard to carapacial caudal notch proportions. The degree of overlap of pleural 1 onto the nuchal also suggests this (usually lying on or just anterior to the nuchal-costal 1 suture), as does a pygal that possesses two serrations (a western character) that is typically sutured medially (a character found in M. suwannensis).

Distribution. Restricted to river drainages bounded by the Choctawhatchee and Ochlockonee rivers in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Etymology. Specific epithet refers to the new Latin apalachicol– (referring to the Apalachicola River) and the Latin –ae (treating the name of the river as a Latin cognate in the First Declension, genitive case), combined to form the composite noun apalachicolae.

Thomas, T. et al. (2014) Taxonomic assessment of Alligator Snapping Turtles (Chelydridae: Macrochelys), with the description of two new species from the southeastern United States. Zootaxa 3786 (2): 141–165.

Posted 1 week ago

As mentioned in this post, two new species of Alligator Snapping Turtle were recently described. The article describing them is a pain in the ass to find, so for those curious, I’ll paste the description here:

Macrochelys suwanniensis sp. nov.

Common name. Suwannee Alligator Snapping Turtle

Holotype. UF 166146, adult male skeleton from Santa Fe River and State Road 235, Alachua County, Florida (29.87872oN, 82.33619oW, datum WGS84, elev. 23 m), found dead, apparently from gunshot wounds, in very low water in 2003 by Jason R. Bourque (see Figures 10, 11, 12). (Suwannee lineage; Figure 9).

Paratypes. UF 22267, partial skeleton from Santa Fe River, near Town of Santa Fe, Alachua County, Florida, on 9 April 1962 by George R. Zug; UF 12694, partial skeleton from Fletcher Spring, Lafayette County, Florida (29.84672oN, 82.89256oW, elev. 9 m), on 19 November 1961 by B. Sites, D. Desautels, and D. Young.

Diagnosis. Macrochelys suwanniensis is distinguished by the following: carapacial caudal notch very wide and lunate (Figure 10), usually comprising the pygal and peripheral set 11 (shared with Chelydra); pygal sutured medially (composed of two bones) often with no serrations; Peripheral 11 with 1–2 serrations; distal rib end of costal 1 enters posterior third of peripheral 3; pleural scute set 1 with broad overlap onto the nuchal; dermal scale on the frontals very wide; processus trochlearis oticum with developed proximal and distal protuberances; squamosal contacts opisthotic anteriorly when viewed in dorsal aspect; mandible broad with expanded triturating surfaces and developed labial rugosity just anterior to the coronoid; posterior projection of the squamosal acutely angled in lateral aspect, dorsally straight or downwardly directed, and posteriorly extensive past the plane of the quadrate (Figure 11).

Comments. Most carapaces of Macrochelys suwanniensis exhibited a medially sutured pygal. This feature is significant when considering caudal notch width and is likely at least part of the reason this species possesses the widest caudal notch amongst congeners. The extra suture may allow the caudal notch to expand as the turtle grows larger. This is in contrast to M. temminckii, which possesses a single unsutured pygal bone and consequently the narrowest caudal notch of extant Macrochelys. Peripheral 11 is usually doubly serrated; i.e., the serrations that are typically contained on the pygal bone in the western and central species have migrated onto the 11th peripheral set in M. suwanniensis.

Distribution. Restricted to the Suwannee River drainage in Florida and Georgia.

Etymology. Specific epithet refers to combination of the new Latin suwanni– (referring to the Suwannee River) and the Latin –ensis (belongs to the) to form the composite noun suwanniensis.

Specimens examined. See Appendix.

Thomas, T. et al. (2014) Taxonomic assessment of Alligator Snapping Turtles (Chelydridae: Macrochelys), with the description of two new species from the southeastern United States. Zootaxa 3786 (2): 141–165.

Posted 1 week ago

So according to Thomas et al. (2014), there are actually three Alligator Snapping Turtle species. Previous molecular phylogeny analyses have found three groups of Macrochelys, however, Thomas et al. are the first to take morphology (including fossils) into account and revise the taxonomy.

The western lineage (“A.” in the images; Macrochelys temminckii; Alligator Snapping Turtle) was the first described and occurs in the Mississippi, Mobile Bay and Neches River drainages. The squamosal angle is intermediate between the other two lineages. The caudal notch is the narrowest compared to the other two lineages, is typically triangular (sometimes ‘U’-shaped) and there is no pygal suture.

The central lineage (“B.” above; M. apalachicolae; Apalachicola Alligator Snapping Turtle) is from the Apalachicola, Choctawhatchee, Econfina Creek, and Ochlockonee drainages. It is estimated to have diverged from the western lineage 5.9 million years ago. The caudal notch is narrow and triangular or ‘U’-shaped caudal notch and a pygal suture is present. It has the most obtuse squamosal angle.

The eastern linage (Macrochelys suwanniensis) is from the Suwanee drainage. It is estimated to have diverged from the western and central lineages 9.6 million years ago. The caudal notch is wider than those of the other two lineages, lunate, and a pygal suture is present. The squamosal angle is the most acute of the lineages.

Thomas, T. et al. (2014) Taxonomic assessment of Alligator Snapping Turtles (Chelydridae: Macrochelys), with the description of two new species from the southeastern United States. Zootaxa 3786 (2): 141–165.

[I’m curious if there are some as-yet-undocumented soft tissue differences between these lineages since at present, the caudal notch of the Suwanee turtles is the only trait that seems like it can be distinguished in the field. There’s a good chance these will get busted down to subspecies, but it seems for conservation purposes, it’s very important to treat these lineages as separate entities]

Posted 2 weeks ago

So while looking for snakes and salamanders I happened upon a planarian, which appears to be Bipalium adventitium. It’s an invasive species from Asia that eats earthworms, however, here in New England we don’t have any native earthworms so as far as invasive species go, this one doesn’t seem to be a huge concern. They may be poisonous to the touch; I didn’t know that when taking this photograph, so I’m glad I avoided touching it directly. 

There’s a great series of posts on this species on The Urban Pantheist.

Posted 2 weeks ago

The squid Asperoteuthis acanthoderma is a large species with a distinct coating of pointed tubercles and extremely elongate tentacles. They were only recorded from between the Philippines and Hawai’i until 2007, when a female specimen was found floating at the surface near Key West, Florida (first picture). Note the yard stick; while incomplete at both ends, the squid had a 62 cm (~2 foot) mantle length and 1.8 meters (<6 feet) of total length. A second female was found a few months later near Marathon, Florida and was substantially larger, having a mantle length of 1.63 meters (5’4”) and a total length of 3.4 meters (11’3”). For comparison, the giant squid Architeuthis dux has a maximum mantle length of 2.2 m

The third picture (taken by Jesse Wicker) shows a male specimen recovered from the Gulf of Mexico (evidently in 2010). Unlike the spent females, this individual has complete tentacles and demonstrates their outrageous elongation. It isn’t known if large females have similar proportions in life… but (caution: rampant speculation) it could be possible this species rivals Giant and Colossal squids in terms of sheer length.

Judkins, H. et al. (2009) First records of Asperoteuthis acanthoderma (Lu, 1977) (Cephalopoda: Oegopsida: Chiroteuthidae), from the North Atlantic Ocean, Straits of Florida. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 122(2) 162–170.

Posted 2 weeks ago

European Pond Turtles from the industrialized Louro River (Spain) exhibited very high levels of scute abnormalities, 75% of all individuals. Turtles from the rural Arnoia River had lower rates of this deformity, 40% of individuals. It is hypothesized pollution (likely from heavy metal and pesticides) could have caused this condition, however inbreeding and suboptimal incubating conditions may play some role as well.

Fernández, C. & Rivera, A. (2004) Asymmetries and accessory scutes in Emys orbicularis from Northwest Spain. Biologia, Bratislava 14 85–88

Posted 2 weeks ago

Julije Klović’s very early (c. 1539–1546) illustration of a Greater Bird of Paradise (left), the first known color illustration produced by a European. This may have been one of the skins brought back from the Maluku Islands by Magellan’s crew in 1622.

Mužinić, J. et al. (2009) Julije Klović: the first colour drawing of Greater Bird of Paradise Paradisaea apoda in Europe and its model. Journal of Ornithology 150(3) 645–649.

Posted 2 weeks ago

The carapace of an adult male Batagur borneoensis with curious “portholes”. These are fontanels, structures typically found in young, growing turtles. Despite retaining these structures, adult male Painted Batagur have fully ankylosed shells — the lines in the carapace are from scutes, the sutures are absent — with heavy buttressing… but the only covering over the “portholes” are extremely thin scutes. It is hypothesized that vibrations could travel from these portholes to the nearby lungs, and it so happens that females of this species (which have normal shells) make loud thumping sounds.

Pritchard, P. (2008) Evolution and Structure of the Turtle Shell IN: Wyneken, J. et al. (eds.) Biology of Turtles.