HAVE MANY ECOLOGY QUESTIONS
by Whit Gibbons
September 2, 2007
are comments and questions received recently in response to topics in
earlier Ecoviews columns.
Q. A member
of the Indiana Bat recovery Team wrote about "a small inaccuracy"
in my article about the Wal-Mart Acres for America program. "You
state that 'Sherfield Cave in Arkansas has one of the largest winter hibernation
sites for an endangered species, the Indiana bat.' This is not accurate.
This cave is not even on the list of caves recognized as a hibernaculum
for this species, and even so, the largest hibernacula in Arkansas are
not nearly as large as the largest hibernacula in Indiana, Missouri, and
for the correction. The problem arose because Arkansas is recognized by
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of the states where the Indiana
bat (officially endangered since 1967) occurs, and the Nature Conservancy
(www.nature.org) reports that Sherfield
Cave is where "the largest colony of Indiana bats in the state hibernates
each winter." You are correct that its being the site harboring the
most Indiana bats in Arkansas does not necessarily mean that it is competitive
with the much larger caves in other states, some of which may have hundreds
of thousands of bats each winter. Thanks for pointing out the misleading
Q. You mentioned gopher frogs in one of your newspaper columns, so please
see if you can help me. I think gopher frogs are digging holes in my yard
in Athens. My Internet research shows that they are endangered in Florida
and the Carolinas. We are trying to sell our house, and big holes in our
yard are not exactly good advertising. I am contacting local animal removal
companies to see what my options are. Are they endangered in Georgia also?
frogs would not be the source of the holes in your yard as they primarily
use burrows created by other animals such as gopher tortoises or crawfish,
or tree roots. So, you have some other animal that is digging the holes,
possibly armadillos, which have reached the Athens area in their dispersal
north from Florida during the past several years. Gopher frogs are recognized
as rare in the states of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina and
certainly warrant conservation attention, but they are protected as a
federally endangered species only in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
Q. You have written about lizards and I hope you will be able to answer
my question of an unusual behavior I have observed in five-lined skinks.
I am with the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and live
in a house with a deck on the back. We have the usual variety of frogs,
toads, and lizards observed around our island. I have on many occasions
observed the five-lined skinks sunning on the deck and then folding their
legs back to put their feet, soles upward, on their backs. This behavior
seems to be contrary to successful survival behavior. I was curious to
know whether this is a common phenomenon, whether it serves a purpose,
and if it is a behavior practiced by other species of lizards.
A. What a
neat observation. Most of the large skinks (the big males have red heads
in spring and summer) you see on Hilton Head are probably broad-headed
skinks (one of the five-lined species). The basking behavior you describe,
which is probably simply comfortable to them, makes them look like they
are really laid back and unaware of what is going on. But you will notice
that they can drop their legs down and put them into action in a split
second to escape. As far as a survival risk to animals that consider lizards
as prey, they have to balance the value of basking in the sun to warm
up against the risk of exposure to predators. Some lizards probably make
bad choices, but I imagine they have learned at some level that your deck
is a relatively safe harbor compared to basking in open areas in more
natural habitats. Your presence alone probably lowers the risk of some
predators being a problem for a lizard during the day, including large
hawks, raccoons, and some snakes.
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