Snake Disease Confirmed in Georgia

mudsnake-scwds_cropSnake Fungal Disease was identified in a mud snake found on the edge of a blackwater swamp near near Statesboro, Georgia, according to a press release from Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section. The fungal disease was confirmed by the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, the release notes.

The mud snake was the first wild snake confirmed with the disease, but previously a captive rat snake had been diagnosed with the fungus, a brief article in a newsletter from Georgia Department of Natural Resources says.

Mud snakes are solitary, so the finding suggests that all snake species are vulnerable to the fungus, the press release says.

Read many more details, including a description of the disease, in the Georgia DNR press release, here.
The Georgia DNR newsletter article can be found here, but you have to scroll down.

Photo: Mud snake with Snake Fungal Disease, courtesy of Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Stiltgrass Bad News for Toads

northern leopard frogJapanese stiltweed is an invasive grass species that out-competes native species in wetlands, forests and other areas. Recent research at the University of Georgia found that it isn’t doing any favors for the American toad either, a post in Entomology Today reports. The paper appeared in the journal Ecology.

The stiltgrass, the researchers found, is wonderful habitat for wolf spiders. As wolf spider numbers increase, they prey on an increasing number of juvenile American toads. The researchers had noticed low toad survival in eight areas in Georgia with invasive stiltgrass and wanted to know why. They were surprised to find an abundance of wolf spiders.

The researchers hypothesize that the stiltgrass allows the spiders, which keep their own populations in check through cannibalism, to hide from each other.

Read all the gory details in the Entomology Today post.
Read all the scientific details in the Ecology paper.

In other amphibian news, National Public Radio recently featured the North American Amphibian Program, a citizen science project that has been tracking calling frogs for 20 years. The news hook seems to be that a citizen science in Virginia recently discovered the presence there of a leopard frog species that had only been identified two years ago in the New York City area.

Photo: Leopard frog. Credit: Shaula Hedwall/USFWS

Fish and Wildlife to the Rescue

Florida panther kitten FWCFish and Wildlife personnel rescue wildlife all the time. Sometimes they rescue rare wildlife. But this week there were two rescues of critically endangered species in adjoining states. Actually, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staffers were involved in both rescues.

Off the coast of Georgia, a rescue team that included Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologists cut over 100 yards of heavy fishing rope from a 4-year-old male North Atlantic right whale, allowing it to swim more easily. The young whale one of only about 450 remaining North Atlantic right whales.

Read the Georgia Department of Natural Resources press release here.

In Florida, biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida discovered an approximately week-old Florida panther kitten while conducting research at the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge in Collier County in mid-January.

There are 100 to 160 Florida panthers in the wild today, but this kitten will no longer be among them. Because it is too young to have learned survival skills from its mother, it will have to live in captivity. But with a gene pool this small, even captive individuals help with diversity.

Read the Florida Wildlife Commission press release here.

Photo: When you look at this Florida panther kitten, make sure you are thinking, “populations, not individuals.” Photo by Carli Segelson, courtesy Florida Wildlife Commission.


Environmental DNA Survey Reveals Hellbenders

floydwithhellbender_original_cropFrom the Georgia DNR Georgia Wild newsletter:

Eastern hellbenders have become a bit less elusive in north Georgia.

DNA analysis of water samples from 98 sites across the top of the state have provided Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Thomas Floyd a clearer picture of where the massive salamanders are still found in Georgia.

Floyd said the collaborative research with The Orianne Society (“Hellbenders in a bottle,” Sept. 30), part of a larger State Wildlife Grants project aimed at conserving Georgia amphibians and reptiles, “has given us a better idea of hellbender distribution and will allow us to concentrate our conservation efforts.”

That’s good for hellbenders and the scientists who study them (video)….

Hits and misses

The eDNA analysis confirmed the presence of hellbenders at six of 10 historical sites where they had not been seen in at least five years, 13 of 25 streams that had not been physically surveyed before and one site where hellbenders had been reported but researchers had been unable to find them in recent surveys. Also, although what looks like suitable habitat is found in streams that drain into the Chattahoochee, Conasauga, Etowah, Oostanaula and Savannah rivers, samples confirmed the presence of hellbenders only in the Tennessee drainage.

Some results were sobering.

Floyd, who works for DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section, said lab analysis showed that DNA amounts at historical sites that tested positive were minimal compared to levels found in streams with healthy populations. Also, eDNA tests did not detect hellbenders in any northwest Georgia stream, including those in the Tennessee basin where the species had been seen before.

“Hellbenders weren’t even detected from a stream stretch where a specimen was found in 2011, which indicates that – like several of the historical sites – the populations there are likely really small and it is uncertain as to whether they can persist into the future,” Floyd said.

He is disappointed by the lack of hits outside the Tennessee drainage, but says the research will lead to more efficient conservation. “We don’t have to expend time, effort and resources surveying, even in really good habitat, where we now know that hellbenders don’t occur.”

Read the rest of the article in Georgia Wild, here.
See a previous Georgia Wild article on hellbenders, here. It details the sampling technique. (And keep following the links back to trace the project to its beginnings.)

Photo: Biologist Thomas Floyd with a hellbender. Ga. DNR

The Nation’s Strangest Wildlife Laws

In Georgia, you may not keep a garter snake as a pet, but you can own a rattlesnake, says Whit Gibbons, an ecologist and environmental educator with the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, in a column in the Aiken (Georgia) Standard.

The poisonous snake exception to Georgia’s law prohibiting the ownership of native snakes and reptiles is probably the weirdest law in Gibbons’ round-up, which includes the fact that frogs are regulated as fish in Alaska and that you may hunt frogs with a dog in Kansas. (Frogs, you know, are both funny and hard to legislate, so lots of frog laws make the list.)

I appreciate Gibbons’ list for its intelligence and wit, but I suspect that the regs he lists are not the nation’s weirdest wildlife laws. Does your state have a weird wildlife law? Do you know of one in another state? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Read the column here.

Whitney Named Georgia Wildlife Assistant Director

MarkWhitney2013According to a Georgia Department of Natural Resources press release:

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division recently appointed Mark Whitney as Assistant Director. He assumes the position left vacant by Terry West, who recently was promoted to DNR Administrative Services Director.

Mark Whitney began working for the agency in 1997 as a wildlife biologist. He most recently held the position of chief of the Game Management Section. His work career included serving as a game management region supervisor in Northeast Georgia and program manager of the Private Lands Program. He has a master’s degree in Forest Resources from the University of Georgia. Whitney lives in Covington with his wife, Shawn.

More info on the position and on Whitney can be found in the press release, here.

Photo: Mark Whitney, courtesy Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division

Syndrome Kills Southern Eagles

hydrillaClarks Hill Lake in Georgia was home to seven bald eagle nesting territories a few years ago. Today, only one nesting territory on Clarks Hill remains. The culprit is Avian Vacuolar Myelinopathy, or AVM, a mysterious syndrome that has killed thousands of coots and dozens of bald eagles in the southeastern United States, says a Georgia Department of Natural Resources newsletter.

While the exact cause of the syndrome is unknown, it is connected to the cyanobacteria Stigonematales. Stigonematales likes to grow on hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant. It appears as though the coots eat the hydrilla, which has Stigonematales growing on it. And the bald eagles eat the coots.

Bald eagle and coot deaths tend to peak around November of each year.

Read more about this mysterious syndrome and more non-game news in Georgia Wild, the newsletter of Georgia DNR’s non-game and natural habitats program.

Photo: Hydrilla draped over a man’s hand. Courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bald Eagles Up in 3 States

Bald_EagleBald eagle numbers are up in Georgia and Massachusetts, and a Wisconsin county has seen its first bald eagle nest in over 100 years.

In Wisconsin, an article in the Kenosha News reported that Seth Fisher, a Department of Natural Resources wildlife technician, flew over the nest, which is on private property in the southern part of Racine County. “It’s exciting to have this be the first nest in a long time this far south” in this region of the state, the article quotes Fisher as saying.

In Georgia, bald eagle surveys in January and March found 166 occupied nesting territories, 124 successful nests and 185 young fledged, according to a Department of Natural Resources press release. That’s an increase from last year’s 163 nesting territories and 121 successful nests, the release says, while the number of eaglets fledged dropping slightly from 199.

The Quabbin Reservoir and the Connecticut River remain the strongholds of the Massachusetts bald eagle population, the Worcester News Telegram reports. There is still plenty of unoccupied bald eagle habitat on the state’s ocean coastline, the article quotes Joan Walsh, coordinator of the Massachusetts Breeding Bird Atlas for Mass Audubon as saying.

There were 107 bald eagles in the state during the last count, in 2011 and there were 38 nests last year, the News Telegram article says. Preliminary results from the state’s first spring survey suggested the state’s bald eagle population would continue to increase.

Read the Kenosha News article, here.
Read the Georgia DNR press release here.
Read the Worcester News Telegram, here.

Photo: Bald eagle, by Dave Menke, used courtesy of the USFWS.


Fish Eggs in Freshwater Mussels

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you work with freshwater mussels, you know that their larval form, known as glochidia, often must live as a parasite in a suitable species of fish to survive. Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and University of Georgia scientists have discovered that that relationship may work the other way as well: in 2009 DNR zoologist Jason Wisniewski found a developing shad egg inside the shell of a freshwater mussels.

Further research by a group that included Wisniewski and DNR technicians Matt Hill and Deb Weiler revealed that six percent of nearly 760 native mussels sampled from seven sites across more than 150 miles contained one or more fish eggs. The eggs were most commonly found in Altamaha slabshell mussels, which are common in the Altamaha River in Georgia.

Read the Georgia DNR write-up here.
An paper on the surprising find ran in the Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. Read it here.
If you don’t know about the lifecycle of freshwater mussels, learn about it here.

Photo: Altamaha slabshell mussel with American shad egg. Jason Wisniewski/Ga. DNR

White Nose Syndrome in Georgia

cumberland gap wns batAccording to a Georgia Department of Natural Resources press release:

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that bats with white-nose syndrome were found recently at two caves in Dade County.


A National Park Service biologist and volunteers discovered about 15 tri-colored bats with visible white-nose symptoms in a Lookout Mountain Cave at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in late February. On March 5, a group led by a Georgia DNR biologist also found tri-colored bats with visible symptoms in Sittons Cave at Cloudland Canyon State Park.

This news follows quickly on the announcement just yesterday that white nose syndrome had been found in South Carolina. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources release says, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s WNS map confirms, that Dade County, Georgia is contiguous with counties in Alabama and Tennessee that confirmed WNS last year.

I’ll sometimes say that “it’s white nose season,” but what that means may not be clear if you haven’t been following WNS closely. This is a cold-loving fungus that requires low temperatures to become symptomatic in bats. WNS is typically detected at the end of winter, particularly in southern locations or in places where the infection is in its early stages. Add in time for a laboratory to analyze the bat to confirm WNS, and you are usually looking at a window of March through June for announcements of new WNS sites.

Read the Georgia DNR release here.
Find the USFWS map here. (Look carefully at the northwest corner of Georgia.)
If you want traditional media, there is a short piece in USA Today, here.

Photo: An eastern pipistrelle bat — aka tri-colored bat — found at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia) shows visible signs of white-nose syndrome. Courtesy of the National Park Service