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Black Caiman (Melanosuchus niger)

Black Caimen
photo by wikiuser Rigelus

Common Name: Black Caiman
Scientific Name: Melanosuchus niger
Family: Alligatoridae – Alligator family
Locations: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, and Peru
Size: 7.25 – 14.1 feet (2.2 to 4.3 meters) , can grow to 16.5 feet (5 meters)

The Black Caiman is the largest living species of caiman, capable of reaching 16.5 feet long and reaching over a thousand pounds! They live in the Amazon River Basin, where they are one of the apex predators there. Once the Black Caiman reaches full size, only humans attempt to hunt them. The caiman feeds on a variety of animals such as snakes, fish, monkeys, frogs, and even other caiman. They hunt at night, where their excellent night vision help out.

At the end of the dry season, the females start to build their nests of soil and vegetation. Additionally, these nests are almost 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and 2 and a half feet (0.75 meters) wide. At the start of the wet season (May – June), the caiman lays between 30 – 60 eggs. The mother protects her nests from predators until they hatch. The eggs hatch between 42 – 90 days after being laid. The mother helps dig the hatchlings out of the nest. Then, the offspring stick close to their mom. Even with their mom’s protection, a large number of the offspring die.

Black Caiman Conservation

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorizes the Black Caiman as Conservation Dependent. The IUCN Red List no longer uses this category. The caiman’s status hasn’t been reassessed since 2000 when they were placed there. Before, they were categorized as endangered due to over hunting of the species. Hunting of the species has slowed down thanks to legal protections.

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American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

American Alligator

Common Name: American Alligator
Scientific Name: Alligator mississippiensis
Family: Alligatoridae = Alligator family
Locations: United States and Mexico
US Locations: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas
Size: 10 – 15 feet (3 – 4.5 meters)

The American Alligator is an iconic species of the southeastern United States. They live a long time, up to 50 years in the wild. Female alligators don’t grow as long as males, only reaching 10 feet long max. The alligators have an interesting way of surviving freezing temperatures. They stick the tip of their snout of the water so they can breed while keeping the rest of their body underwater. Then, they go into a state of brumation to preserve their energy. Also, the gators create massive tunnels to help them escape dangerous weather conditions.

Courtship begins in April with mating typically happening in May. The male bellows out for the females and to ward off other suitors. These bellows make the water on the back of the alligator “dance”. Mating takes place only in fresh water. The female lays her eggs in a nest she builds in late June or early July. The eggs take between 63 – 84 days to hatch. The babies break open their eggs and call out for the mom. Then, the mom digs out her babies and protects them from predators for a few years. Even with the mom’s protection, around 80% of the offspring dies from predation.

American Alligator

American Alligator Conservation

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classifies the American Alligator as Least Concern for Extinction. This wasn’t always the case. The alligator was once on the Endangered Species List. People hunted the gators to the brink of extinction. Legal protections were in acted that saved the species. Now, alligators are numerous throughout their range. Thanks to proper wildlife management, people can hunt the gators once again.

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American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)

American Crocodile
photo by wikiuser Mattstone911

Common Name: American Crocodile
Scientific Name: Crocodylus acutus
Family: Crocodylidae – Crocodile Family
Locations: Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, United States, Venezuela, and Bolivia
US Location: Florida
Average Male Size: 9.5 – 13.1 feet (2.9 – 4 meters)
Average Female Size: 8.2 – 9.8 feet (2.5 -3 meters)
Maximum Size: 20 feet (6.1 meters)

The American Crocodile has the most widespread range of any crocodile in the Americas. They reach from southern Florida, through Central America, and down to northern South America. They live in fresh or brackish water of estuaries, lagoons, and mangrove swamps.

The American Crocodile breeds during the dry season. The males are highly territorial and fight other males for the best land. The courtship and breeding takes place in the water. The male’s main advertisement to females is 1 to 3 headslaps. If this is acceptable for the female, then she either puts her head on his back / head or performs some snout lifts. Next, the male lets out a low frequency noise that makes water blow up off of his back, called water dancing. Finally, the two mate in the shallows.

The female builds their nests on elevated, well drained soil. The female lays between 30 – 60 eggs. Temperature determines the sex of the offspring. Temperatures between 88- 91° F (31.1 – 32.7° C) produce mostly male offspring. Meanwhile, temperatures lower than 88° F (31.1° C) result in mostly females. The female parent protect the nest from scavengers such as raccoons and iguanas. The eggs hatch in 75 – 80 days at the start of the wet season. The female helps dig ups the hatched babies and carries them to the water.

American Crocodile Conservation

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classifies the American Crocodile as Vulnerable to Extinction. The Croc’s populations has improved than it previously had been. It was listed as Endangered before conservation work was done to help save them. Unfortunately, they were over-hunted for their hides before being listed on the US Endangered Species List in the 1970s. However, they moved from listed as federally endangered to federally threatened. Protections are still in place to help conserve the species from overharvesting. Unfortunately, their habitat is under threat of destruction to make room for more urban areas.

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Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)

Gharial
Male Gharial – photo by Charles J Sharp

Common Name: Gharial, Gavial, and Fish-eating Crocodile
Scientific Name: Gavialis gangeticus
Family: Gavialidae – Gharial family
Locations: Bangladesh, India, and Nepal
Female Size: 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) – 14.75 feet (4.5 meters)
Male Size: 10 feet (3 meters) – 20 feet (6 meters)

The Gharial is known for their long, narrow snout that is adept at catching fish. Males of the species develop a gross looking growths called a ghara on the tip of their snouts once they reach sexual maturity. Ghara means Mud Pot in Hindi. They use the ghara to vocalize more loudly and blow bubbles during their mating displays.

The mating season for the frogs happens during the dry season, between March and April. The males stake out their territory and defend it from rival males. Females in the territory mate with the male and she then lays an average on 40 eggs. Their eggs are the largest eggs of all the living crocodilians, averaging over 5 ounces. The male provides no parental care for their offspring and will move onto reproducing with other females. The female stays to protect her nest from predators. The eggs hatch between 30 – 80 days. After hatching, the mom still protects the babies for weeks and even months.

Gharial Conservation

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List classifies the Gharial as Critically Endangered. Their habitat has been drastically altered due to damming and diverting water from the rivers. Gharials don’t do well far away from the river. These alterations to the habitat causes them to have to travel farther on land when moving to new spots in their river, increasing their chance of dying. Overfishing is also rampant in rivers that the Gharial is found in. This reduces their food source and they get stuck or injured by nets.

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Crocodile Research Coalition

Crocodile Research Coalition

The Crocodile Research Coalition is a non-profit organization that focuses on the protection of crocodiles throughout Central America and the Caribbean. The group was founded by Dr. Marissa Tellez and her husband Karl Kohlman in 2016. The group runs a variety of different projects to help crocodiles. They do hands on science such as population surveys to help aid in the conservation of the crocodiles. The CRC also educates the public about crocodiles and they also lobby the government to help crocodiles and clean up / protect their habitat.

The Crocodile Research Coalition is working to build a state of the art facility in Placencia Peninsula. You can help them build the facility by donating to them.

You can view their website at CrocodileResearchCoalition.org or follow them on Facebook or twitter @CrocResCoal

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Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

Saltwater Crocodile
photo by flickr user fvanrenterghem

Common Name: Saltwater Crocodile or Salties
Scientific Name: Crocodylus porosus
Family: Crocodylidae – Crocodile family
Locations: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines,, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vanuatu, and Vietnam
Size: 17 – 23 feet (5.1 – 7 meters)

The Saltwater Crocodile is the largest living crocodile species in the world. These crocodiles can reach 23 feet and over 2,200 pounds! They received their name due to their resistance to saltwater. Most crocodiles only enter the saltwater in emergencies while the Saltwater Crocodile just lives there. They are capable of living over 70 years in the wild and longer in captivity.

Saltwater Crocodile Reproduction

The Saltwater Crocodile breeds during the wet season when the water levels are the highest. The females select a nesting site where she and a male eventually mates. The male is a dead beat dad and doesn’t provide any care for his offspring. He leaves the mom and tries to find more potential mates. The female crocodile shows a high amount of parental care.

The mother guards her nest of eggs, even splashing water on the eggs to help prevent them from drying up. The eggs take 3 months to hatch. The sex of the offspring depend on the incubation temperature. Temperatures below 86 ºF (30 ºC) result in females. Meanwhile, temperatures above 89 ºF (32 ºC) results in male offspring. Once the eggs hatch, the female digs out the babies and carries them to the water in her mouth. Then, she protects the babies until they are able to take care of themselves. What a mom!

Conservation

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorizes the Saltwater Crocodile as Least Concern for Extinction. They have a fairly large range but the destruction of potential nesting sites is a concern. Another threat is hunting of the crocs for their pelts and meat. These threats are rather low though.

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CROCtober

Welcome to CROCtober, the annual celebrations of all things crocodilian, the animal group – not the shoes, during October. The term Crocodilians includes crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials. These creatures are often misunderstood as furious, killing machines but there’s more to them than that. Crocodilians are one of the most endangered group of animals on the planet. Out of the 23 species, 7 of the species are listed as critically endangered. Additionally, 4 species are listed as vulnerable to extinction. That’s not great.

Over the month of CROCtober, I plan to highlight the different species of crocodilians, the troubles they face, some researchers who study them, and how you can help save the crocs. Don’t worry, frog content will still be posted. Stay tuned!

Frog of the Week

Cape Platanna (Xenopus gilli)

Cape Platanna
photo by flickr user Chris Verwey
Conservation status is Endangered

Common Name: Cape Platanna, Gill’s Plantanna, and Cape Clawed Toad
Scientific Name: Xenopus gilli
Family: Pipidae – Tongueless Frog family
Locations: South Africa
Size: 2.3 inches (60 mm)

The Cape Platanna is an aquatic frog that inhabits the highly acidic seepages, marshes, ponds, and lakes of coastal South Africa. These waterbodies are dark in color, allowing the frogs to blend in. The Platanna are able to “see” in this water due to their highly developed lateral line system. This system always them to detect small vibrations in the water. The frogs have highly webbed clawed toes on their back legs to help them swim. They only come to the surface when their wetlands dry up during the summer or when they want to migrate ponds during the mating season. The frogs aestivate during the summer when their ponds dry up by digging deep into the mud.

The Cape Platanna breeds during the winter months between July to October. Unlike most frogs, members of the family Pipidae lack vocal sacs. To communicate with female frogs, the male frogs make a series clicks. Once the female selects her mate, the male grasps her around the waist in the amplexus position. Then, the female lays between 300 – 400 eggs while the male fertilizes them. Neither parent is known to provide any parental care. Once the eggs hatch, the tadpoles take 120 days to complete their metamorphosis.

Cape Platanna Conservation

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorizes the Cape Platanna as Endangered with Extinction. There is believed to be only 5 locations where the frogs live. Most of the wetlands that the frog calls home as been filled to make room for housing development and farm lands. Additionally, the frog hybridizes with the African Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis), reducing their numbers. Better protections are needed to help save them.

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Variable Poison Dart Frog (Ranitomeya variabilis)

Variable Poison Dart Frog
photo by John P. Clare

Common Name: Variable Poison Dart Frog, Splash-back Poison Frog, and Zimmermann’s Poison Frog
Scientific Name: Ranitomeya variabilis
Family: Dendrobatidae – Poison Dart Frog family
Locations: Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru
Size: .6 – .7 inches (17 – 18 mm)

The Variable Poison Dart Frog was originally thought to be only in rain forests in Peru but populations in Colombia and Ecuador were found recently. These frogs live on the forest floor but they also live in trees. They are primarily active during the day aka diurnal. Due to their poisons, not many predators attempt to eat them. The frog’s create their poison with the help of their diet of ants, termites, and beetles. In captivity, they are not poisonous. You can find them in found in the pet trade with many individuals being captive bred. Always make sure to buy frogs or any animal that is captive bred to help fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

Reproduction for the Variable Poison Dart Frog

Mating for the frogs take place after rainfall. Females lay between 2 – 6 eggs in pools of rain water that collect in bromeliad plants. While the female is laying her eggs, the male positions himself facing away from her and fertilizes the eggs. After mating, the female leaves the eggs while the male sits and watches them. Once the eggs hatch in 12 – 14 days, the males carry some of the tadpoles on their back to other plants to help reduce competition between the tadpoles. Not all males care for their offsprings. Eventually in 12 – 14 weeks, the tadpoles complete their metamorphosis.

The International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List hasn’t categorized the Variable Poison Dart Frog yet so they sit at Data Deficient. The frog has a wide range that is generally undisturbed. Hopefully, the land stays safe from logging. They are listed in the CITES Appendix II. This requires that the governments were they are found must issue permits for the exportation of the frog.

Frog of the Week

Holy Cross Frog (Notaden bennettii)

Holy Cross Frog
photo by wikiuser Tnarg 12345

Common Name: Holy Cross Frog, Crucifix Frog, and Crucifix Toad
Scientific Name: Notaden bennettii
Family: Myobatrachidae – Australian Ground Frog family
Locations: Australia
Size: 2.7 inches (6.8 cm)

The Holy Cross Frog is a fossorial species of frog found in the  black soil plains and semi-arid grassland regions of western New South Wales and Queensland. During the dry times, the frog burrows down in the ground and surrounds itself in a cocoon to preserve water. They are capable of digging down almost 10 feet (3 meters)! Due to their fossorial lifestyle, the frogs feed primarily on ants and termites. When threatened by predators, the frogs produce a sticky, glue-like substance that predators don’t want to eat. It is advised to wash your hands after handling the Holy Cross Frog and basically any frog.

Once the heavy rains come, the frog will emerge from the ground, ready to breed. The male frogs will move to temporary ponds created by the rains and start to call out to females. The call sounds like a woo. Once the female arrives at the pond, the male glues himself to her back due to his smaller size. Next, the female lays her eggs and the male will fertilize them. Neither parents provide any parental care for their offspring.

Holy Cross Frog
photo by flickr user eyeweed

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List categorizes the Holy Cross Frog as Least Concern for Extinction. The only threats to the species are habitat loss due to farming, climate change, and the introduction of the invasive Cane Toad (Rhinella marina). Researchers have been trying to get the frogs to breed in captivity just in case but have been struggling. Surprisingly, the answer to this problem was a Youtube Clip of a thunderstorm. This clip helps simulate heavy rain storms that gets the frogs in the mood.