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Meet The Anaconda

iPhoneOgraphy – 03 Nov 2016 (Day 308/366)

Anacondas are group of large snakes of the genus Eunectes. They are large snakes found in tropical South America. Four species are currently recognized.

Although the name applies to a group of snakes, it is often used to refer only to one species in particular, the common or green anaconda (Eunectes murinus) which is the largest snake in the world by weight, and the second longest.

The South American names anacauchoa and anacaona were suggested in an account by Peter Martyr d’Anghiera but the idea of a South American origin was questioned by Henry Walter Bates who, in his travels in South America, failed to find any similar name in use. The word anaconda is derived from the name of a snake from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) that John Rayburn described in Latin in his Synopsis Methodica Animalium (1693) as serpens indicus bubalinus anacandaia zeylonibus, ides bubalorum aliorumque jumentorum membra conterens. Ray used a catalogue of snakes from the Leyden museum supplied by Dr. Tancred Robinson, but the description of its habit was based on Andreas Cleyer who in 1684 described a gigantic snake that crushed large animals by coiling and crushing their bones. Henry Yule in his Hobson-Jobson notes that the word became more popular due to a piece of fiction published in 1768 in the Scots Magazine by a certain R. Edwin. Edwin described a tiger being crushed and killed by an anaconda when in fact tigers never occurred in Sri Lanka. Yule and Frank Wall noted that the snake was in fact a python and suggested a Tamil origin anai-kondra meaning elephant killer. A Sinhalese origin was also suggested by Donald Ferguson who pointed out that the word Henakandaya (hena lightning/large and kandastem/trunk) was used in Sri Lanka for the small whip snake (Ahaetulla pulverulenta) and somehow got misapplied to the python before myths were created.

The name commonly used for the anaconda in Brazil is sucuri, sucuriju or sucuriuba.

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The Gigantic Tortoise

iPhoneOgraphy – 24 Oct 2016 (Day 298/366)

Giant tortoises are characteristic reptiles that are found on two groups of tropical islands: the Aldabra Atoll in Seychelles and the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador (a population at the Mascarene Islands was exterminated by the 1900s) . These tortoises can weigh as much as 417 kg (919 lb) and can grow to be 1.3 m (4 ft 3 in) long. Giant tortoises originally made their way to islands from the mainland; for example, Aldabra Atoll and Mascarene giant tortoises are related to Madagascar tortoises while Galapagos giant tortoises are related to Ecuador mainland tortoises. This phenomenon of excessive growth is known as islands gigantism or insular gigantism. It occurs when the size of the animals that are isolated on an islands increases dramatically in comparison to their mainland relatives. This is due to several factors such as relaxed predation pressure, competitive release, or as an adaptation to increased environmental fluctuations on islands. These animals belong to an ancient group of reptiles, appearing about 250 million years ago. By the Upper Cretaceous, 70 or 80 million years ago, some had already become gigantic. About 1 million years ago tortoises reached the Galápagos Islands. Most of the gigantic species began to disappear about 100,000 years ago. Only 250 years ago there were at least 20 species and subspecies in islands of the Indian Ocean and 14 or 15 subspecies in the Galápagos Islands.

Although often considered examples of island gigantism, prior to the arrival of Homo sapiens giant tortoises also occurred in non-island locales, as well as on a number of other, more accessible islands. During the Pleistocene, and mostly during the last 50,000 years, tortoises of the mainland of southern Asia (Colossochevlys atlas), North and South America, Australia (Meiolania), Indonesia, Madagascar (Dipsochelys), and even the island of Malta became extinct. The giant tortoises formerly of Africa died out somewhat earlier, during the late Pliocene. While the timing of the disappearances of various extinct giant tortoise species seems to correlate with the arrival of humans, direct evidence for human involvement in these extinctions is usually lacking; however, such evidence has been obtained in the case of Meiolania damelipi in Vanuatu. One interesting relic is the shell of an extinct giant tortoise found in a submerged sinkhole in Florida with a wooden spear piercing it, carbon dated to 12,000 years ago. Today, only one of the species of the Indian Ocean survives in the wild, the Aldabra giant tortoise (two more are claimed to exist in captive or re-released populations, but some genetic studies have cast doubt on the validity of these as separate species) and 10 extant species in the Galápagos.

Giant tortoises are among the world’s longest-living animals, with an average lifespan of 100 years or more. The Madagascar radiated tortoise Tu’i Malila was 188 at death in Tonga in 1965. Harriet (initially thought to be one of the three Galápagos tortoises brought back to England from Charles Darwin’s Beagle voyage but later shown to be from an island not even visited by Darwin) was reported by the Australia Zoo to be 176 years old when she died in 2006. Also, on 23 March 2006, an Aldabra giant tortoise named Adwaita died at Alipore Zoological Gardens in Kolkata. He was brought to the zoo in the 1870s from the estate of Lord Clive and is thought to have been around 255 years old when he died. Around the time of its discovery, they were caught for food in such large quantities that they became virtually extinct by 1900. Giant tortoises are now under strict conservation laws and are categorised as threatened species.

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The Lazy Goliath Dragon

iPhoneOgraphy – 23 Oct 2016 (Day 297/366)

The rhinoceros iguana also known as “Goliath Dragons” (Cyclura cornuta) is a threatened species of lizard in the family Iguanidae that is primarily found on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, shared by the Republic of Haïti and the Dominican Republic. They vary in length from 60 to 136 centimetres (24 to 54 in) and skin colors range from a steely gray to a dark green and even brown. Their name derives from the bony-plated pseudo-horn or outgrowth which resembles the horn of a rhinoceros on the iguana’s snout.

The rhinoceros iguana is a species of lizard belonging to the genus Cyclura. The generic name (Cyclura) is derived from the Ancient Greek cyclos (κύκλος) meaning “circular” and ourá (οὐρά) meaning “tail”, after the thick-ringed tail characteristic of all Cyclura. The rhinoceros iguana’s specific name, cornuta, is the feminine form of the Latin adjective cornutus, meaning “horned” and refers to the horned projections on the snouts of males of the species. The species was first identified by Piere Joseph Bonnaterre in 1789.

In addition to the nominate race (Cyclura cornuta cornuta) found on Hispaniola, there are two other subspecies of Cyclura cornuta, the Mona ground iguana (Cyclura cornuta stejnegeri) and the Navassa Island iguana (Cyclura cornuta onchiopsis), although the latter subspecies is believed to be extinct in the wild.

The rhinoceros iguana, like other members of the genus Cyclura, is a large-bodied, heavy-headed lizard with strong legs and a vertically flattened tail. A crest of pointed horned scales extends from the nape of their neck to the tip of their tail. Their color is a uniform gray to brown drab. Most adults weigh 4.56 kilograms (10.1 lb) to 9 kilograms (20 lb).

These iguanas are characterized by the growth of bony prominent tubercles on their snouts which resemble horns. Dr. Thomas Wiewandt, who spent an extended period on Mona Island studying Cyclura cornuta stejnegeri, suggested that the horns, along with lateral spines and prominent parietal bulges, function as protective armor against sharp rocks or as defensive tools to facilitate the escape of males from the grasp of one another. Males possess an adipose pad in the form of a helmet on the occipital region of the head, and a large dewlap. This species, like other species of Cyclura, is sexually dimorphic; males are larger than females, and have more prominent dorsal crests and “horns” in addition to large femoral pores on their thighs, which are used to release pheromones.

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The Gila Monster

iPhoneOgraphy – 22 Oct 2016 (Day 296/366)

The Gila monster (Heloderma Suspectum) is a species of venomous lizard native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexican state of Sonora. A heavy, slow-moving lizard, up to 60 cm (2.0 ft) long, the Gila monster is the only venomous lizard native to the United States and one of only two known species of venomous lizards in North America, the other being its close relative, the Mexican beaded lizard (H. horridum). Though the Gila monster is venomous, its sluggish nature means it represents little threat to humans. However, it has earned a fearsome reputation and is sometimes killed despite being protected by state law in Arizona.

In this species, the largest extant lizard native to North America north of the Mexican border (non-natives like green iguanas are larger), snout-to-vent length is from 26 to 36 cm (10 to 14 in). The tail is about 20% of the body size and the largest specimens may reach 51 to 56 cm (20 to 22 in) in total length. Body mass is typically in the range of 350 to 700 g (0.77 to 1.54 lb), with 11 males having been found to average 468 g (1.032 lb). Reportedly, the very heaviest, largest specimens can weigh as much as 2,300 g (5.1 lb).

The Gila monster has one close living relative, the beaded lizard (H. horridum), as well as many extinct relatives in the Helodermatidae, the evolutionary history of which may be traced back to the Cretaceous period. The genus Heloderma has existed since the Miocene, when H. texana lived, and fragments of osteoderms from the Gila monster have been found in late Pleistocene (10,000–8,000 years ago) deposits near Las Vegas, Nevada. Because the helodermatids have remained relatively unchanged morphologically, they are occasionally regarded as living fossils. Although the Gila monster appears closely related to the monitor lizards (varanids) of Africa, Asia and Australia, their wide geographical separation and the unique features not found in the varanids indicate the Gila monster is better placed in a separate family.

The name “Gila” refers to the Gila River Basin in the U.S. states of New Mexico and Arizona, where the Gila monster was once plentiful. Heloderma means “studded skin”, from the Ancient Greek words helos (ἧλος), “the head of a nail or stud”, and derma (δέρμα), “skin”. Suspectum comes from the describer, paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, who suspected the lizard might be venomous due to the grooves in the teeth.

The Gila monster is found in the Southwestern United States and Mexico, a range including Sonora, Arizona, parts of California, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico (potentially including Baja California). They inhabit scrubland, succulent desert, and oak woodland, seeking shelter in burrows, thickets, and under rocks in locations with ready access to moisture. In fact, Gila monsters seem to like water and can be observed immersing themselves in puddles of water after a summer rain. They avoid living in open areas such as flats and farmland.

The Gila monster emerges from hibernation in January or February and mates in May and June. The male initiates courtship by flicking his tongue to search for the female’s scent. If the female rejects his advances, she will bite him and crawl away. When successful, copulation has been observed to last from 15 minutes to as long as two and a half hours. The female lays eggs in July or August, burying them in sand 5 in (13 cm) below the surface. The clutch consists of two to 12 eggs: five is the average. The incubation lasts nine months, as the hatchlings emerge during April through June the following year. The hatchlings are about 16 cm (6.3 in) long and can bite and inject venom upon hatching. The juveniles typically have larger bands of pink scales than adults, although the banded Gila monster (H. s. cinctum) has a tendency to retain the band pattern. H. suspectum sexually matures at three to five years old. After egg-laying, adult Gila monsters gradually spend less time on the surface to avoid the hottest part of the summer (although they may be active in the evening), eventually starting their hibernation around November.

Little is known about the social behavior of H. suspectum, but they have been observed engaging in male-male combat, in which the dominant male lies on top of the subordinate one and pins it with its front and hind limbs. Both lizards arch their bodies, pushing against each other and twisting around in an effort to gain the dominant position. A wrestling match ends when the pressure exerted forces them to separate, although bouts may be repeated one after the other. These bouts are typically observed just before the mating season. Those with greater strength and endurance are thought to win more often and enjoy greater reproductive success. Although the Gila monster has a low metabolism and one of the lowest lizard sprint speeds, it has one of the highest aerobic scope values (the increase in oxygen consumption from rest to maximum metabolic exertion) among lizards, allowing them to engage in intense aerobic activity for a sustained period of time. Males have been observed to have higher aerobic scopes than females, presumably because of sexual selection for a trait advantageous in prolonged combat. The Gila monster may live up to 20 years in the wild, or 30 in captivity.

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Hide & Seek with Crotalus Atrox

iPhoneOgraphy – 21 Oct 2016 (Day 295/366)

Crotalus atrox, the western diamondback rattlesnake, is a venomous rattlesnake species found in the United States and Mexico. It is likely responsible for the majority of snakebite fatalities in northern Mexico and the second-greatest number in the U.S., after C. adamanteus. No subspecies is currently recognized.

Adults commonly grow to 120 cm (4 ft) in length. Specimens over 150 cm (5 ft) are infrequently encountered, while those over 180 cm (6 ft) are very rare. The maximum reported length considered to be reliable is 213 cm (7 ft). Males become much larger than females, although this difference in size does not occur until after they have reached sexual maturity. Rattlesnakes of this species considered medium-sized weighed 1.8 to 2.7 kg (4 to 6 lb), while very large specimens can reportedly weigh up to 6.7 kg (15 lb).

The color pattern generally consists of a dusty-looking gray-brown ground color, but it may also be pinkish-brown, brick red, yellowish, pinkish, or chalky white. This ground color is overlaid dorsally with a series of 24-25 dorsal body blotches that are dark gray-brown to brown in color. The first of these may be a pair of short stripes that extend backwards to eventually merge. Some of the first few blotches may be somewhat rectangular, but then become more hexagonal and eventually take on a distinctive diamond shape hence the name “Diamondback rattlesnake” . The tail has two to eight (usually four to six) black bands separated by ash white or pale gray interspaces; this led to the nickname of “coon tail”, though other species (e.g. Mojave rattlesnake) have similarly banded tails. Its postocular stripe is smoky gray or dark gray-brown and extends diagonally from the lower edge of the eye across the side of the head. This stripe is usually bordered below by a white stripe running from the upper preocular scale down to the supralabial scales just below and behind the eye. Its off-white belly is usually unmarked, its anal scale is undivided, and its dorsal scales are extremely keeled, often in rows of 25 to 27 near the midbody.

The wide range of this species overlaps, or is close to, that of many others. It may be confused with them, but differences exist. The Mohave rattlesnake, C. scutulatus, also has tail rings, but the black rings are narrow relative to the pale ones. The timber rattlesnake, C. horridus, has no tail rings. In the western rattlesnake, C. oreganus, the pale tail rings are the same color as the ground. The tail of the black-tailed rattlesnake, C. molossus, is a uniform black, or has indistinct tail rings. The Mexican west coast rattlesnake, C. basiliscus, also has a mostly dark tail with obscure or absent rings. The tiger rattlesnake, C. tigris, has a relatively small head and large rattle along with a dorsal pattern consisting more of crossbands. The Middle American rattlesnake, C. simus, has a generally uniform gray tail without any rings, as well as a pair of distinctive paravertebral stripes running down the neck. Members of the genus Sistrurus lack tail rings and have enlarged head plates.

C. atrox are solitary except during the mating season. Usually inactive between late October and early March, occasionally these ectotherms may be seen basking in the sun on warm winter days. In the winter, they hubernate or brumate in caves or burrows, sometimes with many other species of snakes. Life expectancy is more than 20 years.

They are poor climbers. Natural predators include raptors such as hawks, eagles, roadrunners, wild hogs, and other snakes. When threatened, they usually coil and rattle to warn aggressors. They are one of the more aggressive rattlesnakes in the US in the way that they stand their ground when confronted by a foe. If rattling does not work, then the snake will strike in defense.

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The Shy Morelia Spilota

iPhoneOgraphy – 20 Oct 2016 (Day 294/366)

Morelia spilota, commonly referred to as carpet python and diamond pythons, is a large snake of the family Pythonidae found in Australia, New Guinea (Indonesia and Papua New Guinea), Bismarck Archipelago, and the northern Solomon Islands.

Morelia spilota is a large species of python in the genus, reaching between 2 to 4 metres (6.6 to 13.1 ft) in length and weighing up to 15 kilograms (33 lb). M. s. mcdowelli is the largest subspecies, regularly attaining lengths of 2.7–3 m (8.9–9.8 ft). M. s. variegata is the smallest subspecies, averaging 120–180 cm (3.9–5.9 ft) in length. The average adult length is roughly 2 metres (6.6 ft). However, one 3-year-old captive male M. s. mcdowelli, measured in Ireland, was found to exceed 396 cm (12.99 ft). Males are typically smaller than females; in some regions females are up to four times heavier. The head is triangular with a conspicuous row of thermoreceptive labial pits.

The colouring of Morelia spilota is highly variable, ranging from olive to black with white or cream and gold markings. The patterning may be roughly diamond shaped or have intricate markings made up of light and dark bands on a background of gray or a version of brown.

Described as semi-arboreal, they are largely nocturnal, climbing trees and shrubs as well as crossing open areas such as rock faces, forest floors and even roads. However, basking behaviour is commonly observed.

Occurs in a wide variety of habitats, from the rainforests of northeastern Queensland (M. s. cheynei) through the River Red Gum/Riverbox woodlands of the Murray and Darling Rivers (M. s. metcalfei), to the arid, treeless islands of the Nuyts Archipelago off the South Australian west coast (M. s. imbricata). They are often found near human habitation where they perform a useful service by eating rats and other vermin. Morelia spilota is known to occur in areas that receive snowfall. Morelia spilota are (semi-arboreal) tree snakes; they do not completely rely on trees, however, and are capable of moving around elsewhere. Morelia spilota are also found in temperate grasslands with hot and dry weather.

The first description of Morelia spilota was by Lacépède (1804), who placed it in the genus Coluber as Coluber spilotus. The species has since been described by various authors as containing a number of subspecies and hybrids, these have also been known by various informal names. The attempted arrangement of taxa in this, and other, Australasian Pythonidae has produced numerous synonyms. The discrete and roaming habits of this species have produced a low number of recorded specimens, giving inadequate sample numbers to support descriptions of a taxon’s morphology. This is the case with proposed names which are sometimes cited, such as the Papuan Morelia spilota harrisoni (Hoser), despite being unaccepted or invalid. Common names are regional variants of carpet and diamond python or snake.

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