Critter round-up: weird reptile edition

It’s been a good week for spotting interesting reptiles.

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A skink – apparently a member of the most diverse family of reptiles. I had no idea there were that many skinks in the world!

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Blind snake

This little guy may not look like much – I almost mistook him for a worm at first. But this is actually a member of a very basal lineage of snakes: fossorial, eye-less, and tail-less. Their natural history is fascinating – for more info (and much better photos) check out http://thesmallermajority.com/2014/02/01/mozambique-diary-blind-snakes-of-gorongosa/.

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Houseguests

In Costa Rica, you don’t need to go out in search of wildlife… it comes to you! For example:

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Bats under the eaves!

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Frogs in the kitchen sink!

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A tarantula in my laundry basket!

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Anoles in the office supplies!

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Horses in the front yard! Quit eating my study species, horse! (This awesome photo courtesy of JP).

For marine protected areas, half measures don’t count

A sobering study is out in Nature this week, which quantifies the benefits of marine protected areas worldwide: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature13022.html. The authors found that 59% of the marine reserves were ecologically undistinguishable from non-protected areas. There is a silver lining to their findings, however: conservation benefits were greatly enhanced in protected areas that had been well-designed. In marine reserves that were large, isolated by deep water, and completely closed to fishing, the biodiversity of large fish doubled in comparison with unprotected areas. These findings emphasize that conservation isn’t simply a matter of slapping a ‘national park’ label on an ecosystem and walking away. Protected areas need to be planned carefully and monitored regularly to ensure their success.

You can read more about the study here: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/02/07/3260781/marine-protected-areas-working/

Dirty work

This week, I’ve been setting up plots to measure soil CO2 flux. To do so, we install collars that fit the Li-Cor 8100A, a machine that can measure gas fluxes in situ.

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This is harder than it looks, since we’re working with heavy clays that are very dry – think brittle cement. After digging a hole of the appropriate size, the soil needs to sieved through a 2 mm sieve before we replace it in the collar.

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If we’re on top of our game, we can get about six cores installed in 3.5 hours. But the leaf-cutter ants’ digging skills put us to shame – check out the size of this mound!

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Several tons of dirt, in homogenous 1-mm aggregates, excavated by millions of Atta ants.

It’s definitely the most impressive colony I’ve ever seen. And speaking of dramatic insect encounters, witness this amazing battle that took place the other morning in our kitchen:

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Never a dull moment in the field!