What do you mean their dorsal spots ain’t right?


When I first embarked on doctoral research study it was clear that climate change had a great impact on amphibian decline as did disease along with pollutants (toxicants). Although I eventually transferred from a program that would allow me to investigate such issues, the topic will continue to warrants a lot of attention. I wanted to do work on a project that had interested me as a zoo keeper and one that I thought, at least at the time would be very applicable to carnivore preventive medicine.  I still found the topic of examining synergistic effects of pathogens, global warming, and toxicants on herpetile health to be really interesting, but creating a model to study these factors seemed a lot more difficult when I set out to mimic nature and modify it in a lab. In fact, this post may dissuade or encourage you to pursue an advanced degree.  In graduate school they don’t spoon feed you information and many advisors work with students on projects that are beyond their scope of expertise. This is not at all uncommon. I came in with some background studying helminth parasites in plethodontid salamanders (don’t get too excited now) and was hoping to develop a related project with ambystomatid salamanders (e.g., tiger salamanders, spotted salamanders, etc.).   The one thing about mole salamanders is that your field season is abbreviated as in a couple of days long and if you miss the mass migration to vernal pools where mole salamanders breed, you have to wait another season. Migration is triggered by several factors (i.e., ground and ambient temperatures, humidity, barometric pressure, and light/darkness).  Hence, the movement of  these explosive breeders is somewhat predictable to the seasoned herpetologist, but expect the unexpected.   The second objective was to find a model pathogen that I could use to infect a laboratory population of wild caught spotted salamanders and then introduce variations in the photoperiod through the use of artificial light. Finally, I was planning to find some pollutant that was a known toxicant. Not too long ago an interesting study had been published on the effects of toxicants on salamander spot patterns.  If you didn’t know spotted salamanders normally have two symmetrical rows of dorsal yellow spots on a dark dorsum (back), you do now.  Stress  from toxins or  lack of water due to warming temperatures are considered potential etiologies for these aberrant dorsal spot patterns. This may be a subtle anomaly compared to additional limbs or something more bizarre, but it’s a great indicator of ecosystem health.  Anyway, I established that I would select malaria, a vector-borne disease which effects non-human animals including species of mammals, and birds as well as amphibians.  I was just ready to go out and collect specimens when the opportunity to work on a zoo project was made available. As much as it sounds “insensitive” that scientists continue to conduct laboratory studies that require sacrificing wild caught specimens, it’s occasionally imperative to conduct these investigations for the benefit of the species. I must say that I certainly prefer working on projects that do not involve terminal procedures and fortunately I have had other opportunities.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

New Hampshire Fish & Game

“Spheniscid Screening”


I wasn’t not aware that flipper/wing bands impeded motion in these temperate penguins, but perhaps the bands used in field research are different than the “plastic” ones that I’m more familiar with. I really would like to know. I suspect that perhaps wild marine birds require more durable bands and much greater mobility. I admit to total ignorance on this as I have never worked with wild spheniscid penguins in the wild. My bird banding skills are limited to psittacines and migratory and resident passerines. I have to throw in these scientific terms for tagging purposes. If you blogged you would know this.

The new technology reported in article  sounds expensive, but it’s cool and quite reliable, I think.  I remember having to ID a colony of 40 African penguins to monitor feeding. I relied on color bands and am not sure that I performed at a rate as strong as this technology. I will leave it up to those of you who are Antarctic, sub-Antarctic, and temperate penguin experts to decide.

Journal Watch Online

Engelbert Humperdinck Supports Same-Sex Marriage in Pelagic Seabirds

Can Animals be Gay? New York Times (April 2, 2010)

It’s truly none of my business whether or not people with different sexual preferences choose to commit to marriage.  In fact, I think that everyone should try it at least once, and some have endeavored to try it many times.  No one cares whether I condone or endorse it, but I do know that the divorce rate among some pelagic seabirds that have entered into committed relations with same-sex partners is particularly low. And yes, biologists do refer to the frequency of break-ups of such unions in the animal kingdom as divorce rates.

Text books have recently broached the subject of same-sex relations in the animal kingdom because it’s much more common than we once thought and evolutionary biologists, and sociobiologists now recognize these relationships as important factors that drive evolution.   Same-sex unions play a role in cooperative breeding strategies, they help mediate intrasexual conflict, and they facilitate social bonding. These partnerships are documented in courtship behavior, pair bonding and copulation in species as wide-ranging as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects. Even one of our closest simian relative, the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee is known to engage in these kinds of partnerships. Invertebrates such as molluscs and nematodes also participate in such behavior. As a medical zoologist, applied nematology of parasitic species in zoo animals is an interest of mine, but I can’t say that I have observed same sex relations among roundworms that I’m aware of.

The spheniscid penguins at the San Francisco Zoo elicited world-wide attention as have other penguin couples at the Central Park and Bremerhaven zoos .  I don’t know what transpired in Manhattan or in Germany, but partners Harry and Pepper are the two Magellanic penguins at the San Francisco Zoo who were broken up by a female penguin (technically called a hen) by the name of Linda.  Harry and Pepper entered into a romantic relationship in 2003 and spent several years together before splitting up.

Magellanics are spheniscid penguins native to Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands. They are closely related to black-footed (jackass) penguins of South Africa and the Humboldt penguins (Peruvian penguins) of the Chilean and Peruvian coastlines.   All three species are common in captivity.  Temperate penguins are not only popular exhibit animals, but anyone who has worked with them can share fond memories of these birds. And many keepers bare the scars of their painful bites as I can.  The spectrum of docility in these captive birds ranges quite a bit.  I don’t want to suggest that these penguins are inherently vicious.  Some are great animal ambassadors and commonly participate in hands-on education programs. Careful monitoring of imprinted animals is always considered.

Only the keepers may be able to provide the intricate social dynamics and genealogy of a particular captive colony.  San Francisco Zoo keeper, Anthony Brown, is quite a knowledgeable and seasoned zoo professional. Perhaps he can share more details and insight into the particular love triangle involving Harry, Pepper and Linda. He could als0 share more about the sociobiology of these temperate penguin species in general. I myself have worked with different penguin species, but among spheniscid birds, I have only been privileged to work with a  colony of 40 black-footed penguins.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we overlooked some of these atypical partnerships in the colony that I worked with.  They were a blast to take care of.  Even if you have a feather phobia I recommend that you find an opportunity to work with these little guys.

Spheniscid penguins may be a bit more promiscuous than Antarctic and sub-Antarctic penguins in captivity and in the wild. I can’t speak to that claim, but they certainly are more liberal in their romantic interests than some pelagic sea birds.  Laysan albatrosses, for instance, live about twice as long as spheniscid penguins and they may remain in monogamous same-sex relationships for their entire lifespan (approx. 60 yrs).   This brings us to crooner, and world- acclaimed recording artist Engelbert Humperdinck. One of his more recent hits Lesbian Seagull became a pop culture sensation.  Nearing 75, the legend also known as the “King of Romance” shared his appreciation for all kinds of romance with this tribute to same-sex partnerships in seagulls.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus


Vanishing Felid of the Wakhan Corridor

Time Article

Time Article

(No commentary or supplemental info provided at this time)

Hyenas Laughing

(Follow Link to BBC Report)

From BBC Report

The spotted or laughing hyena is the largest member of Hyaenidae inhabiting open areas throughout sub-Saharan Africa. These highly social predators are often erroneously labeled as strict scavengers like other members of this clade of hyaenid carnivorans. Other species include, striped hyenas, brown hyenas, and aardwolves (earth wolves).

Unlike other hyaenids, the foraging ecology of spotted hyenas is often considered similar to that of large African felids and canids with respect to their prey base and predatory behavior. They are certainly known for being indiscriminant  scavengers with robust digestive systems permitting the consumption of  very large ungulate bones. However, they hunt their fair share of ungulates, competing heavily with lions. Common prey include wildebeests, zebra and Thompson’s gazelles, but as predators they are also quite indiscriminant. Spotted hyenas have been reported to catch fish, tortoises, pythons, pangolins, and prey on black rhinos, hippo calves, young elephants, as well as humans, among other species, including a host of different ungulate species. They will avoid some of the largest of adult ungulates.   In captivity, they may live as long as 10-12 years, but have been known to live as long as 25 yrs.  These nocturnal animals are not rare is zoo collections, but are on display primarily for educational purposes, as their conservation status places them at a lower risk than many other members of their large African carnivore community.

The San Diego Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, the St. Louis Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Miami MetroZoo, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo, the Milwaukee County Zoo, the San Antonio Zoo, the Denver Zoo, the Honolulu Zoo, the Sacramento Zoo, the Oakland Zoo, the Rio Grande Zoo (NM), the Seneca Park Zoo (Rochester, NY), and the Oklahoma City Zoo are just some of the living institutions where you can see spotted hyenas in North America.

I welcome you to join  wildcanidkeepers@yahoogroups.com, a mailing list that serves global husbandry and health professionals working with canids and hyaenids managed in captive facilities for behavioral/endocrinological research and for educational exhibition.

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus