rotating banner

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Herps That Go Bump in the Night

This weekend, I found myself in the unusual situation of being wide-awake after a day of working late, and in my post-workday boredom, I texted Ali Iyoob and we decided to meet at nearby Battle Park to see what nocturnal creatures we could find. The floodlights next to the Forest Amphitheater, which should have been flush with moths, held little more than flying ants and planthoppers. Then, we noticed a large insect buzzing in and out of the shadows, and Ali deftly knocked it to the ground.

Those jaws aren't just for show - Ali got bitten, and he says it hurt worse than a turtle bite!

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a male Giant Stag Beetle, and boy he didn’t disappoint. Those huge antler-like jaws curved over his giant head, making for a truly imposing figure. For whatever reason, the natural defense of a stag beetle is to stand perfectly still with jaws outstretched, possibly to frighten potential predators – luckily for us, this meant that this immense insect made for quite the photogenic subject. Shortly after having our fill (and foolishly daring each other to place the stag beetle on our face), we found the female individual you see above. Hard to believe they’re the same species, but that’s sexual dimorphism for you!

From the woods, we could hear the droning songs of Cope’s Gray Treefrogs, but they’d always stop calling before we got very close. Instead, we followed the incessant twangs of a hidden Green Frog to a small pool formed by the meandering Battle Creek. Using Ali’s iPhone as a flashlight, we found a large frog sitting on a branch jutting out of the water. He quickly nabbed it, but upon viewing it in better light, we found this frog lacked the tell-tale dorsal ridges of a Green Frog.

Would've made for some mighty fine frog legs! Actually scratch that - I've had frog legs. They suck.

Instead, we had a gigantic Bullfrog, almost a foot long with his feet outstretched. As soon as I handled him, the frog fell limp, long legs dangling at his side. Oh no! I thought. We’ve killed it! It had a heart attack from being caught or something! I placed it on the ground, and it flopped over on its stomach before suddenly awaking and bounding off. We caught it again before it got too far, and again the Bullfrog went limp and appeared dead. Turns out, Bullfrogs are well known for playing “possum” when handled, and with this first-hand experience, I’d say they’re pretty convincing!

After our zombie-frog, Ali and I decided to meander the UNC campus, as he’d found an interesting lizard there a week before. We never found it that night, but while checking out the multitude of cockroaches that swarmed over The Pit, we noticed a small shape dashing along a brick wall. Ali whipped out a pillowcase, covered the animal, and maneuvered it inside. I expected to see a House Mouse, a common invasive species of urban areas, so I was surprised when he revealed our prize to be the native White-footed Mouse, a species I’ve only seen once before and not nearly this close up.

I've also heard them called Deer Mice... don't look much like deers to me!

The following night, I found myself in the exact same situation – off of work, wide awake, and bored. So, again I called up Ali, and again we got our nature on. He’d heard of a nearby apartment complex that’s got another invasive species, and one you might not expect. So, we headed off, and almost immediately I spotted the same species of lizard Ali had seen on campus last week. Under a light on the top floor of the apartment, I saw an unmistakable Mediterranean House Gecko.

We thought the pale one was an albino at first - then Ali kept a whole bunch on paper towels, and they all turned white!

Apparently they arrived on shipments of live plants from around the world, and the ones here have taken to scaling the walls of this one apartment complex. Interestingly enough, these geckos can change colors – the ones we found on the white apartment walls were a distinctly pale shade. But checking each and every unit seemed a little sketchy, so we decided to visit the lights that surrounded the fenced-in pool. Turned out to be a good decision, as pretty much every lantern held at least two or three quick little geckos. Because the lanterns were covered in brass, the geckos turned dark to match their surroundings.

Their sticky feet meant that all the ones we caught ended up in one giant gecko-ball by the end of the night.

Because house geckos are highly invasive, we had no qualms about catching as many as possible (we ended up with an impressive sixteen). A small gecko scurried across the brick wall that surrounded the pool, and upon nabbing it we found the inch-long lizard was, in fact, a juvenile. It was like that scene in Jurassic Park when Sam Neill stumbles across those raptor eggshells. We always suspected it of this large, stable, and invasive population, but now we're sure – they're breeding. This realization may upset some people, that an invasive species is just going to become more widespread (after all, their range has expanded from the apartment complex to the pool area). But geckos are kind of awesome, a tropical lizard I honestly never thought I’d see in the wild unless I traveled the world. Turns out, I just had to travel up the road!

All photos in this post thanks to Ali Iyoob and his sweet macro lens!

No comments:

Post a Comment