PEOPLE HAVE MANY ECOLOGY QUESTIONS

by Whit Gibbons


September 2, 2007


The following 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 Kentucky."

A. Thanks 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 statement.

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?

A. Gopher 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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