Just When You Thought Sex Was Complicated Enough…

… here come the whiptails!

Actually, whiptail lizards have been around for quite a while. And scientists have for some time been aware of—and fascinated by--the unique gender qualities of these lizards, a species that is not sexual but unisexual. Who wouldn't be intrigued by lizards that are, essentially, all female—but which can still produce offspring with genetic variations (i.e. that are NOT clones)?

But it turns out the uniqueness of these winsome creatures points to an even more interesting theory concerning the evolution of a species. According to an article in Discover magazine, this particular species of lizard came up for study during research on how hybridization leads to different outcomes in their evolution. In evolutionary terms, hybridization sometimes produce genetic differences, and in other cases, it leads to entirely different species.

In this study of whiptails, the research seems to indicate that "genetic distance between parental genomes can predict hybrid outcomes and the likelihood of forming a new species due to hybridization." Specifically, it suggests that the divergence period between species needed for hybridization to result in unisexual lizards had to exceed at least ten million years. The study thus seems to conclude that, well, some things about sex are predictable, at least in whiptail lizards. It just takes a long time....

OK, who had "evolutionary outcomes" on their bingo card?

Snake on a … Well, You Know!

Some headlines just write themselves.

In an instance of (fictional) déjà vu, last fall, a United Airlines flight from Tampa to Newark had an unexpected—and sad to say, unwelcome—stowaway on board. It was, of course, of the ophidian variety—specifically, a common garter snake, both harmless and diminutive. The hapless creature, which had somehow strayed onto the aircraft, was discovered late in the flight, as the plane was taxiing into the destination airport. Seems it disrupted the passengers--who were "shrieking" and pulling up their feet--but limited its walkabout to business class. (Evidently, the snake either had business to do, or simply didn't wish to travel in coach. Who can blame it?)

The plane was able to land normally, and the snake was removed, though no details were forthcoming on what became of it. Let's just hope it was someone able to guide it to a rescue or shelter.


Or maybe make it the latest Hollywood star?  😉

Up Close and Personal: A Gecko’s Journey

This news item is a couple of years old, but still worthy of note. A British woman on holiday in Barbados returned to her Yorkshire home only to discover a tiny reptilian stowaway in, of all places, her bra!

A small (possibly juvenile) desert gecko made the journey of 4,000 miles (there's a song in there somewhere, right?) in the woman's brassiere, inside her luggage. This turned out to be a safe, soft, and comfy spot in her otherwise cramped suitcase—which she admitted she had to sit on to get closed. A very tight spot indeed.

Once the woman discovered that the centimeters-long uninvited guest—which she later dubbed "Barbie"—was still alive and kicking, she promptly called the RSPCA (the British equivalent of the US organization for animals). They sent out a reptile specialist to take in the foundling. The article, written at the height of the pandemic, went on to note that the minute creature happily did not require a Covid test upon arrival at its very own holiday destination.

Life ProTip: after your travels, do shake out your clothes. One never knows what might be lurking in one's lingerie!

In Memoriam: Mitch the Water Dragon

RARN is very sorry to report that in January (2023) we lost one of our long-time rescues, a very handsome but skittish male water dragon named Mitch. He was over 10 years old.

Mitch came to us as a tiny dragon, no more than a couple of months old. When RARN took him in, we thought Mitch was a girl—so for quite a while he was called Midge. He did not seem to be offended. Later, when it was obvious that he was a male, we found him a new name!

Mitch was a poster-boy rescue animal. He came in with a messed-up tail, an injury treated by a vet who was not experienced in handling exotics. The bandage put on the tail was too tight and the tail had to be amputated by another vet, one who had some background in reptile pets. Because of that, Mitch was not a good candidate for adoption—but he beat the odds! He was adopted by someone who wanted him very badly. But alas, the union was short-lived. He sustained damage to his front jaw from rostral rubbing against glass. This can easily get infected if it is not treated immediately. He came back to RARN and got care, and stayed with us to the end.

Mitch had a big bowl with two gallons of water to swim in, in his enclosure, and really seemed to enjoy contact with water—well, he was a water dragon, after all! Though he was pretty much a homebody, he did get the chance to run around the house in the summer, under supervision, for a little "time out." He lived his best life.

Mitch was always a bit shy and grumpy, and did not like crowds or strangers. They frankly freaked him out. So he never showed up at RARN's pre-pandemic public outreach events. But he was always our beloved RARN water dragon. We adored his little face and incredibly gorgeous green coloring. And we miss him.

Cuddle your creatures a little closer this week, and think a good thought of Mitch.

Froggies Went a-Courtin’? (Now with a real court!)

This summer, a trip to Prague, Czech Republic (part holiday, part business) led to a most delightful discovery: frogs in the middle of the venerable city!

Specifically, we stumbled upon the amphibians in an intricately ornate terraced garden in Prague's Mala Strana neighborhood: Vrtbovska zahrada, the Vrtba Garden. This immaculately tended Italianate garden, a baroque gem from the 18th century at the foot of Petrin Hill, had been developed for the highest officer attached to Prague's Castle: the burgrave of Bohemia, Jan Josef, count of Vrtba. Though the burgrave's palace no longer survives as it was, the lovely formal court gardens endure (though they underwent renovations some 25 years ago). We were fortunate to have this rose-scented bower as the setting for a theatrical performance we were attending.

Five minutes into the performance, however, a creature hopped over my foot. I knew by the light touch it had to be a frog or toad. All evening long I was entranced by the play, but even more enchanted by having had an amphibian make its presence known to me, a stranger in town!

After the performance we wandered around the lush fountains and—of course—found more frogs. There were LOTS of frogs. And that spoke well of how the gardens were being kept—amphibians do NOT do well in the presence of heavy pesticides or insecticides. And these fellows were well fed. Who knows how long they had been breeding there?

But light was fading fast, and we could only snap a couple of pictures before our amphibian friends disappeared into the ponds and hedges. When we first saw them, we thought the bumpy, dark-patterned creatures were toads. (They may still be, by the way) But after some research—thank you, iNaturalist!—I believe we can identify these winsome anurans as specimens of the European Common Frog (Rana temporaria).

But here's the rub: the name. Common? A frog from the gardens of a chief courtier, common? Not possible, say we! Ah well. Common or not, the frogs in that garden at least did not seem endangered.

Here's hoping all readers have similarly engaging amphibian adventures in your travels!