Creature Feature: Crested Gecko

Crested Gecko (aka Eyelash Gecko)

Rhacodactylus ciliatus

Reptiles Alive Name: Rhacodactylus (aka Rhacky)crestedgecko30int

Hissstory: Rhacky came to us as an unwanted pet in July 2010.

RA Diet: Crickets and fruit.

Natural Diet: Insects and other invertebrates plus fruit and nectar.

Range: New Caledonia.

Habitat: Cool and humid tropical lowland rain forest from the understory to the canopy.

Size: 6-7 inches long.

Lifespan: 10-20 years.

Reproduction: Females lay 1 or 2 eggs which hatch in about 2 months.

Conservation: Crested gecko habitat is threatened by: deforestation, nickel mining, and the introduction of exotic predators.  Most of the crested geckos available for sale as pets in the United States have been captive bred.

Cool Facts: Crested geckos were first discovered in 1866, but were later thought to be extinct.  However, in 1994, two herpetologists on expeditions to New Caledonia “rediscovered” the geckos.

Creature Feature: White Lined Gecko

White Lined Gecko (aka Skunk Gecko)

Gekko vittatus

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Pilau the White Lined Gecko

Reptiles Alive Name: Pilau

Hissstory: Pilau was an unwanted pet left at a nature center.  The nature center sent Pilau to us in April 2010.

RA Diet: Crickets.

Natural Diet: Insects and other small invertebrates.

Range: India, Indonesia (Java, Timor), New Guinea, Oceania;Belau, Admiralty Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, Rennell;Bellona, Santa Cruz Islands.

Habitat: The canopy and understory of tropical rain forests.

Size: 5-8 inches long, including the tail.

Lifespan: Probably 10-20 years.

Reproduction: Females lay 1-2 eggs at a time by “gluing” them to surfaces such as leaf stalks.  The eggs hatch in 3-6 months.

Conservation: Most of the white lined geckos for sale in the United States have been collected in the wild and imported.  Most geckos (and other wild animals) do not survive this process.  The few that do survive to be sold as a pet are usually very ill.  If you are thinking of getting a gecko as a pet, we recommend you adopt from an animal rescue organization or purchase from a legitimate breeder.

Cool Facts: Like all “true” geckos, white lined geckos have microscopic scales in the shape of hooks on the bottom of their feet. These scales grab on to microscopic imperfections found on every surface. This enables them to walk vertically or even upside down on almost any surface! Scientists are studying gecko feet in order to develop super strong tape, and maybe even gloves and shoes you could wear to walk up a wall. Just like Spider-man – or GECKO MAN!

A Summer Saunter in the Sierra

Posting by Caroline Seitz
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There was a lot of snow this June.

NO — don’t worry, no more snowmageddon for us here in the DC area. I just returned from my June trip to Reno. There was plenty of snow in the Sierras and we even had a brief sleet/thunder storm down in the desert around my dad’s house. No shoveling, but we did enjoy some hot soup and a fire in the fireplace.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to hike at my favorite Washoe County park: Galena Creek. Galena Creek Park is located just southwest of Reno, NV and features miles of fantastic hiking trails, horse trails, camping, and picnicking. Galena is in the Sierra Nevadas, but it is low enough in elevation that most of the hiking trails are clear of snow by June.

The air was crisp and cool, the skies were bright and sunny and the relative humidity was around 6%. Really — 6%! Nothing like a typical June day here in Virginia!

Galena Creek itself is usually a small creek — sometimes it even dries up completely. But not the day we were there. The snow melt above caused the little creek to become a raging torrent!

The Sierras are home to some really beautiful wildflowers.  Snowplant, mule’s ears, spreading phlox, and more are all natives.

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My favorite plant in the Sierra is the Jeffrey Pine.  It is a close relative of the Ponderosa Pine, but it’s bark is fragrant with the smell of butterscotch or vanilla and its needles are more fragrant as well.  Another way to differentiate the Jeffrey from the Ponderosa is with their pine cones.  The Ponderosa’s cone has a prickle on each scale that turns outward and the Jeffrey’s cone’s prickles point inward.  Remember the saying:  “Prickly Ponderosa, Gentle Jeffrey” to remember the difference.

 

Due to the cool climate of the Sierra Nevadas, there are not as many reptile species as there are here in the DC area.   There are approximately 13 species of amphibians, including the introduced Bull frog.  About 19 species of reptiles are able to survive in the Sierras and only one is venomous:  the Western Rattlesnake.

While I was at Galena,  I spotted only one type of herp, the Western Fence lizard…

After we finished our hike at Galena, we headed up the Mt. Rose Highway over the highest all-season pass in the Sierras.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.
— John Muir

Galena Creek Regional Park 
Galena Creek Regional Park
18350 Mt. Rose Highway
Mount Rose District Ranger: (775) 849-2511

Nestled in a forested area on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada, Galena Creek Park is seven miles up the Mt. Rose Highway from the intersection with U.S. 395. Galena Creek flows through the park creating separate north and south portions of the park. Campfire programs, ranger-led hikes, and exhibits in the old stone visitor’s center add to the diversity of the park. The park offers fishing at Marilyn’s Pond and an outdoor education camp called camp We Ch Me. Reservable building and picnic pavilions.

Call the ranger office at (775) 849-2511 for more park information.
Call the Parks Administration office at (775) 823-6501 for building and picnic pavilion reservations.

Reptile Survey at Mason Neck State Park – 5/22/10

We had a ssssspectacular Saturday as part of a Virginia Herpetological Survey (VHS) team for Mason Neck State Park and National Wildlife Refuge.  Tony & Caroline along with about 20 other VHS members participated in the day long search for reptiles and amphibians.  Each animal found was documented along with the location and  micro-habitat it was found in.

We started the day around 8:30 am.  We were divided into 5 teams that were given 5 different sections of the area to survey.  Our team was assigned to the areas of the Wildlife Refuge that are closed to the public.

We drove to the end of the main Refuge access road to an area that used to be a farm.  Five foot tall grass, poison ivy, and millions of deer ticks awaited us.  We were not deterred!  Almost immediately an eastern box turtle was found.

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Eastern Box Turtle

And then in a very short period of time, we found a brown snake, multiple worm snakes, more box turtles, two spotted salamanders, and giant native millipedes (I know – they don’t really count on a herp survey, but they were so cool!)

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Northern Brownsnake

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Spotted Salamander

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Eastern Wormsnake

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Millipede

We also found two black racers – snakes that are known for being fast.  One of the racers was in a somewhat odd micro-habitat.  It was about 5 feet off the ground hanging on a small tree growing on the edge of a cliff.

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Northern Black Racer

We continued herping (searching for reptiles and amphibians) throughout the morning.  It was hard work hiking through the brush, lifting logs and turning over rocks, but we were dedicated to our mission.

 

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Jon the Dedicated Herper

We drove a few miles down to an area of vernal pools, marshes, and wetlands.  We found more herps, including cricket frogs and green frogs.  One of the green frogs was also in a somewhat strange spot (for a green frog), he was about 3 feet up on the side of a tree stump.

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Northern Green Frog

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Northern Green Frog on a Stump

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Northern Cricket Frog

While in the wetlands, we also found some frog predators.  Many painted turtles were spotted basking on logs.  A large snapping turtle was found in a pond under a log – but he foiled our attempts to take his picture.

Many people believe the myth that venomous cottonmouth (water moccasins) live in the Washington DC area.  They do not.  Our area is too far north for them to survive.  We do, however, have harmless northern water snakes which are often confused with both cottonmouths and copperheads.  Like many snakes, northern water snakes will flatten their bodies and heads to appear more “viper like” when they are threatened which can lead to their mis-identification as a venomous species.

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Common Watersnake

In the same wetland location, we also found beautiful ribbon snakes.  Ribbon snakes are similar in appearance to their close relatives the garter snakes, but the ribbons are much more slender.

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Common Ribbon Snake

Whew – after all this success we started to get a bit hungry.  So we decided to head back to the meeting site,  eat lunch, and find out how the other teams were doing.

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Hungry, Hungry Herpers!

After our short lunch break, we headed back out into the field for more searching.  We discovered more worm snakes, more box turtles, lots more green frogs, more spotted salamanders and we had an encounter with a rarely seen in Fairfax County lizard species, the ground skink.

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Little Brown Skink

Deep in the woods, far from any roads or trails, we also discovered a sign of the past.

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Dial S for Snake

We did, however, find a venomous species of arachnid hiding under a log:

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Black Widow Spider

Around 5 pm, we headed back to meet up with the other teams and share our data collection for the day. The VHS president Kory Steele was there adding up all the numbers from each team. Soon, we would learn which team found the most animals.
Guess which team won? Well, as Kory reminded me, this was not a contest. Our mission was to collect data to assist with the conservation of reptiles and amphibians. (Ok, but our team won – we found 57 individual herps representing 17 species – woo hoo woo hoo!)
All of the animals we found that day were left in the spot we found them. Well, except for two animals – alien invaders were found in a turtle sampling trap.

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The mouth of an ALIEN!

The aliens were the Frankenfish – the Northern Snake-head! Apparently, there is now a large breeding population of these introduced exotic fish in the Potomac River and its tributaries in the Mason Neck/Pohick Bay area. This new invader could cause unknown consequences on our native fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects and possibly even birds and mammals. Surveys such as the one the VHS teams completed at Mason Neck are crucial for the protection and conservation of our wildlife.
We had a sssssssuper ssssssssuccessful Ssssssssssaturday. It was snaketacular.


Information on Mason Neck State Park:
 http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/mas.shtml

To see more pictures of our herp search at Mason Neck, visit our Facebook page.

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Hmmm, I wonder if he will become Prince Charming?