Thursday, May 29, 2008
“The bear’s ingenuity, his curiosity, and his enjoyment of recreation are closely connected. They are the signs of his intelligence. The bear shows his sagacity in many ways; he is not an idler, and is always busy learning something. Even though he does not venture far from his known domain and is cautious in his actions, he is a mental adventurer, constantly assimilating new impressions and ideas. He is not a gregarious animal, and when he meets a new situation, he has to reason it out for himself. Any unusual occurrence arouses his curiosity, and he usually investigates in an intelligent manner. The grizzly has a good sense of humor, of a mischievous type.”
In regard to the mind of the grizzly, Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park wrote of the ursids:
“Considered as a group, the bears of the world are supremely interesting animals. In fact, no group surpasses them save the Order Primates, and it requires the enrollment of all the apes, baboons and monkey’s to accomplish this. From sunrise to sunset a bear is an animal of original thought and vigorous enterprise.”
Studies conducted on the "academic" abilities of bears have shown that they can learn as fast as the great apes. They have amazing spatial memory. Anyone that has lived in bear country knows how good their memory is when it comes to relocating a food source. One encounter with an a trash can that contains edible-refuse will almost certainly bring the bear back to that very spot (sometimes again, again and again). Gunter et al (2004) said in their study on problem bears “Once a bear successfully obtains food reward at a particular location, the site is usually periodically re-checked for more food.” Problem bears that are relocated, typically find their way back to the location where easily accessed morsels were originally found. These individuals are often referred to as “boomerang bears” and they have been known to revisit an inappropriate food source even after having been moved over 100 miles from it!
The video below shows just how smart a young grizzly can be! What it documents is a three-year old bear placing our group of photographers between itself and a large male (Snaggletooth – I will introduce him to you in detail in a future post). The young bear is Helga, one of the “H-twins” (her sister is Hannah - both were named by longtime bear enthusiast, wildlife photographer and Katmai visitor, Carol Bailey). While it may seem counterintuitive, large males are often more reluctant to approach human groups than are younger bears or adult females. (It turns out that Snaggletooth is a very human-habituated bear and so he really does not mind people.) Females and subadults of both sexes may hang out near groups of observers because they have learned that the potentially dangerous males are less likely to bother them there. In this case, Helga is using our group as a shield, just in case the big bad boar decides to harass or even attempt to eat her! She eventually moves off behind us and away from Snaggletooth. In my next bear post, we will look at cub caching, a truly amazing phenomenon that I have been able to witness at Katmai.
One thing that excites me about exploring coral reef communities are the amazing relationships that you can readily observe in this species-packed neighborhood. Anemones and anemonefishes. Pistol shrimps and shrimpgobies. Damsels and stony corals. The list goes on and on. But some of my favorite partnerships involve feeding relationships that exist between various reef fishes. The most common of these involves a substrate-disturbing species, like most goatfishes (family Mullidae), and an opportunist, like many of the wrasses (family Labridae). (This type of feeding association is referred to by trophic biologists as “following” [clever, huh?]: the fish that is followed is called the nuclear species while the fish doing the following is known as the attendant species). The goatfish stirs the sand or rubble with its chin barbels in an attempt to find something to eat. When it does this, it attracts the attention of neighbors, like the labrids, that see the goatfish’s foraging as an opportunity to jump on otherwise cloistered prey. The goatfishes will flush concealed crustaceans and small fishes, which the wrasses pounce on as they try to elude the mullid. It has been quantitatively demonstrated that wrasses that associate with goatfish enjoy greater hunting success than those that do not. It is so important to food acquisition, that a wrasse may defend its goatfish “gravy train” from other labrids that want to join in.
But the most interesting feeding association, which is one that apparently benefits both partners, exists between certain wrasses and the yellowsaddle goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus). These two buddies are truly attached at the fin! If you look at the photos above, you will see a Celebes Maori wrasse (Oxycheilinus celebicus) and a juvenile P. cyclostomus. This pair was skulking about on the edge of a shallow fringing reef in West Papua. I watched and photographed the pair for well over 30 minutes and most of the time the two fish stayed side-by-side. Occasionally, one or the other would move off a couple feet, but invariably, this odd couple would reunite. In one case, the goatfish became separated from the wrasse and upon discovering it’s solitude, it looked agitated and began to search for the Oxycheilinus. It swam up to several fish of the appropriate size until it finally found its wrasse pal. I watched as the goatfish probed crevices with its long barbels (this mullid uses these appendages to probe crevices not sand) as the wrasse vigilantly looked on. Both fish seemed to acquire some prey during these foraging bouts.
Ormond (1980) was the first to formally describe these types of relationships in a scientific publication. He observed that the bird wrasse (Gomphosus varius) and the yellowsaddle goatfish (he uses the older binomial, Parupeneus chryseredros) engage in this behavior in the Red Sea. He coined the term “interspecific joint-hunting” to describe it. This is a type of cooperative foraging behavior. The two fish swim together until they come to a coral colony or a rocky patch. Unlike foraging by following, the two fish begin working the area over together so that both species have the potential of benefiting. In some cases, one member of the hunting party goes “around a coral head one way, while the other goes round in the other direction.” Apparently the advantage is that the fossicking behavior of one fish may herd or scare prey into the path of its accomplice. More on this and other feeding associations in the future.
Ormond, R. F. G. 1980. Aggressive mimicry and other interspecific feeding associations among Red Sea coral reef predators. Zool. Soc. Lond. 191:247-262.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
It turned out our trip was by no means a disappointment when it came to seeing grizzlies. We observed seven grizzlies in the park over a five day period. All of these were observed while traveling the roads through the Lamar Valley and near Fishing Bridge. All of these bears were well behaved (most were hundreds of meters away and some were barely viewable with the naked eye). But while the bears exhibited good manners, some members of my own species exhibited truly appalling decorum.
While I could describe a number of infractions against Yellowstone’s wildlife, instigated by fellow park visitors, the most distressing example of stupid human behavior involved a sow with a cub-of-the-year. On our first full day at YSNP, we hired a guide (The Bearman, Kevin Sanders) to help us find grizzlies to photograph (I was especially interested in getting shots of U. arctos feeding on moribund bison or elk). While making our way over Fishing Bridge, a sow came running along a path by the river and on to the main road. Kevin was appalled when a photographer in a van pressed the female as she began to cross the bridge (that is, he drove very close behind her causing her to move more rapidly). She began to gallop along, leaving her young cub a good distance behind. (The sow also provided some unwanted thrills to a couple that were standing on the bridge, watching the water flow past!) She finally reached the other side of the bridge, at which time she reunited with her cub and they moved away from the road into a meadow. Kevin drove to the other side of the meadow and we viewed the pair from a far. They continued to run for several hundred yards after getting away from the cars and people before their pace slowed.
Kevin left us at around noon and Janine and I began searching for more potential photo subjects. We were driving through a forested area (trees on both sides of the road) when we came across the “bear paparazzi.” I pulled over to see what everyone was looking at and was appalled to find that the cars and their inhabitants had succeeded in separating the same mother grizzly and her small cub on opposite sides of the road! The mother was gone (or at least she was not in view), while the cub ran parallel to the road, some 20 or 30 yards from the mob of photographers. I was told by one of the photogs that the sow had run across the road and left the cub behind. I suggested to a section of the group that we move out of the area and let the nervous cub cross, at which people responded by glaring at me like I was from Uranus! Not a soul moved, they just kept taking photos. I decided not to be a part of this melee and jumped in the car to find Mr. Ranger (normally, YSNP rangers are on the scene anytime a grizzly is near the road and a mob coagulates around it, but in this case, there had not been enough time for the Calvary to arrive). After some time, I did find a ranger, who told me that the problem had been taken care of. After sharing my concerns about what I had just witnessed, he assured me that he had seen a lot worse!
We left Yellowstone a few days later. Upon returning home, I heard on the news about a photographer, Jim Cole, that had been mauled by a sow with cub not far from the area where the mother and its offspring had been harried by the human hoard. I have to wonder if it was not the same bear? Was this sow “on edge” due to the previous day’s incidents and had she finally had enough of the human species? Bears learn very quickly and if they have negative experiences with humans (as that sow had) it is more likely that they will behave aggressively toward a person if approached too closely.
Even so, grizzlies are remarkably tolerant. They have to be when you consider that this incident was the first bear mauling in the Park since September 2005 and that there have only been eight other bear-caused injuries to humans (most minor injuries) since 2000. In fact, the last fatality in YSNP caused by a grizzly attack was in 1986! That is amazing when you think of how many people visit YSNP (as many as 15,000 people visit the park/per day in the summer months) and how many grizzlies are now likely to be encountered by guests, at least in some portions of the park, during certain times of the year. Throw into the mix people that are willing to do anything to get a good photo and you have a recipe for disaster, at least you would if the bears were not rather indulgent creatures.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Thursday, May 22, 2008
GOBIES TO GRIZZLIES.. Hmmm? I have done a number of grizzly posts but no goby offerings as of yet – the time has come! I would like to introduce you to a new species of Tomiyamichthys presumably from West Papua (this is where it was said to have come from, but collectors don’t always give accurate local information). There appears to be at least two species (and possibly more) within the genus that have yet to be described. You will find a photo of both above.
I received a pair of the undescribed Tomiyamichthys shown above from Kevin Kohen (www.liveaquaria.com) along with their crustacean symbiont, Alpheus randalli (a.k.a. Randall’s snapping shrimp) (the members of this genus are found with other Alpheus shrimp as well). This goby (which I will refer to as Tomiyamichthys sp. A) has a large, sail-like dorsal fin with no filaments (see photo above). Like the recently described Tomiyamichthys tanyspilus (see photo above), it has elongated blotches along the side of the body. However, it also has white spots along the lower dorsum, which are lacking in T. tanyspilus. This species also lacks the filaments present on the dorsal fin of T. tanyspilus. Both have spots on the first dorsal fin, but Tomiyamichthys sp. A has a dusky patch, while T. tanyspilus often has black spots along the bottom margin of the fin. The latter species also has a lanceolate (pointed) caudal fin, which is obvious in the photo above.
My pair of Tomiyamichthys sp. A are not very congenial toward one another (they are in a 5-gallon nano-tank so space is limited). The larger one regularly displays at and chases the smaller member of the pair. In fact, the smaller individual now hides most of the time. They share their tank with a pair of Sri Lankan dracula gobies (Stonogobiops cf. dracula). The larger of the pair of S. dracula and the Tomiyamichthys have reached a truce and although they occasionally aggressively display at one another, they never come to blows. One lives on one end of the their spacious 5-gallon aquarium, while the other maintains a domicile on the opposite side of the vessel.
I have also included a photograph of a new Tomiyamichthys that I photographed while diving in West Papua. This fish has filaments on the posterior edge of the dorsal fin and a sky blue spot. Dr. Gerald Allen was able to collect a couple specimens and intends on describing it in the future. There are currently six species described in the genus Tomiyamichthys. But, for the taxonomically inclined shrimpgoby freaks out there, Flabelligobius will soon be placed in the genus Tomiyamichthys. There are currently three species recognized in the genus Flabelligobius, so when the two merge there will be a total of nine described species.
All of these gobies are great for a nano or larger reef aquarium. I will post more on shrimpgoby husbandry in the future.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Is the contemporary grizzly the same beast described by Dr. William T. Hornaday and John M. Holzworth in my bear blog on May 17th (click here to review)? I would suggest that the answer to this question is yes and no. The behavior of bears towards people is greatly impacted by how the latter treats the former. If you are familiar with bear intelligence, this should not surprise you. These animals learn quickly and negative reinforcement is a good teacher. If they have had bad experiences with the human species they will behave accordingly. This usually means giving people an even wider berth.
Holzworth wrote, “Contact with man has not changed the bear from a savage and aggressive animal; contact with man has added considerable, however, to his native caution.” Likewise, Theodore Roosevelt states “Constant contact with rifle carrying hunters, for a period extending over many generations of bear life, has taught the grizzly by bitter experience that man is his undoubted overlord, as far as fighting goes; and this knowledge has become a hereditary characteristic.”
But what about in the lower 48 States where the grizzly has been protected for decades? Is the bear still as cautious as it was when it was regularly hunted? I would propose that few grizzlies that roam the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its adjacent environs are still impacted in negative ways by man. Bears are regularly hazed, if they become nuisances by regularly approaching too closely to camping areas or trails that are heavily utilized by hikers. For many years, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife has attempted to discourage close contact between bear and people. And for good reason – our species often behaves inappropriately when interacting with other animal neighbors. There are incredible stories of mothers attempting to put their children on the backs of human-conditioned black bears or eagerly sharing their sack lunch with a nearby bruin. Food conditioned bears can be very dangerous. As a result, the Parks department and bear advocates constantly chant the “fed bear is a dead bear” mantra. But, many people choose not to listen and, as a result, directly negatively impact bear behavior.
Because of irresponsible people, the Feds have apparently decided it is best for bears and Homo sapiens to try and restrict contact between the two. This is done by shooting line-crossing (“bad”) bears with bean bags, rubber bullets or pyrotechnics. Grizzlies are also tranquilized and relocated. I have been told that during this process the bear is well aware of its surroundings. It sees the people as they lift and weigh it, as it is tagged or collared and slid it into the holding cage. It is simply paralyzed. It sees and smells “the aggressor” (people) and is well aware that humans are responsible for its discomfort. It views them as foe, not as friend (or even indifferently as it might view a rock or tree). Bears have amazing memories. In fact, the parks service is counting on the bear to remember. When they haze a bear, they assume that the problem bruin will remember the negative encounter which will dissuade it from returning to that location. (There is one thing that can overcome the bear’s desire to avoid pain and that is its desire to eat - even hazed bears will return to an area if they found easy pickings.)
While grizzlies in the lower 48 may not deal with hunters (this may change soon since the grizzly is no longer considered a threatened species), they do deal with humans that sometimes inflict pain and discomfort.
Now consider this question: which sow, with spring cubs in tow, is more likely to attack a hiker that stumbles across it and its family: one that has been hazed by humans or one where all of its experiences with humans have not been positive or negative (i.e., neutral)? It seems logical that the bear that has had threatening encounters with humans, is more dangerous than the one where human encounters have been neutral (no positive or negative stimulus). The hazed sow is more likely to look at humans as a threat to her progeny and is thus more likely to engage in a pre-emptive strike if she should suddenly be faced with a Homo sapien.
You only have to go to Katmai National Park to see how brown bears react to “neutral” human observers. In this ursid Shangri-La, grizzlies have few if any negative experiences with the Homo sapiens that move about the landscape during the summer months. Here sows with young cubs regularly approach to within 4 to 6 meters of groups of photographers without exhibiting any aggression at all. I have seen family units (consisting of a sow and one to three spring cubs) slowly move past our stationary group as mother bruin browsed on Carex “grass” or dug clams from the intertidal flats (see photos above). The female may have looked up at us as she chomped on a sedge salad, but exhibited no concern at all that her cubs were within spitting distance of humans. You would never (or it would be very unlikely to) have such an experience in a place like Yellowstone, where the relationship between bear and people is strained.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Pictichromis paccagnellae from Southern Sulawesi. Photo by Roger Steene.
How about some more dottyback stuff fellow ichthyophiles– but these are a bit more colorful than the last one we examined! You may look at the photo at the top of the post and think “big deal” – it is a royal dottyback (Pictichromis paccagnellae). Or maybe it is the bicolor dottyback (P. coralensis)? Or maybe not? Compare it carefully to the photos of the two described Pictichromis spp. below it. You can see there are some disparities in coloration. (Also note that P. paccagnellae is quite variable in coloration as well.)
While all three species are bicolored – exhibiting the stunning magenta coloration on the fore portion of the body and yellow on the rear section - there are some subtle differences. Upon first examination , the most obvious difference between the mystery dottyback and the two described species is the margin of the magenta body section. In the first Pictichromis sp. the margin is strongly oblique, extending from the anterior portion of the dorsal fin (around the fifth or sixth dorsal spine) to the anal origin. In P. coralensis and P. paccagnellae, the margin tends to be straight or only slightly oblique, extending from the dorsal fin (in P. coralensis it can begin at around the 10th dorsal spine, while in P. paccagnellae it often originates between the seventh and eighth dorsal spine) to the ventral surface (it can end well in front of the anal fin or at its origin).
The pelvic fins of the mystery Pictichromis are entirely magenta. In many cases, but not in all locations, it is only the base of the pelvic fins that are magenta in Pictichromis paccagnellae (you can see that the pelvic fins can be entirely magenta in the photo of the Southern Sulawesi specimen above). Pictichromis coralensis may or may not have magenta pelvic fins.
Another difference is that the Central Sulawesi Pictichromis has filaments off the upper and lower edge of the caudal fin. This is most pronounced in larger individuals, but if you look at the top photo, you will see it in this medium-sized specimen. It also appears to have a slightly longer lower jaw than its relatives that juts out giving it a "Sammy Davis" junior appearance.
This individual fish, along with a number of other specimens, was sent to me by Ken Hyltoft, a fish enthusiast that works in the fish collecting business in Jakarta. Kenn knows his fish and found that this P. paccagnellae-like dottyback, that was being collected in Central Sulawesi, looked a little different than the described members of the genus. Pictichromis paccagnellae is apparently collected in the same area as this unusual dottyback, although according to the collectors that brought the fish to Kenn, the possible new species tends to be limited to greater depths (steep walls from 30 to 40 m).
Above you will also see a photo of a recently described Pictichromis from western New Guinea. It was described by Gerry Allen, Anthony Gill, and Mark Erdmann in 2008. It was named Pictichromis caitlinae. The color differences between this newly described species and the known species of Pictichromis is very obvious.
There was a time when subtle color differences between populations would have been classified as geographical variation. But since Kenn finds the “normal” P. paccagnellae with the unusual Pictichromis, it may be that the oblique-lined fish does warrant consideration as a distinct species? It will probably take analysis on the molecular level to determine for sure if this is a new species, but it was Kenn’s keen eye that has brought this unusual fish to light!
I want to thank Kenn for sending me the fish and Dave Palmer (Pacific Aqua Farms) and Dennis Reynolds (Aquamarines) for assisting in getting the fish to me!
Copyright (2008) Scott W. MichaelReference:
Allen, G. R., M. V. Erdmann and A. C. Gill. 2008. A new species of Pictichromis (Pisces: Pseudochromidae) from western New Guinea with a redescription of P. aurifrons. aqua, International Journal of Ichthyology 13 ( 3-4): 145-154.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
The margined dottyback is one of two members of the genus. The second member, Pholidochromis cerasina (a.k.a. cherry dottyback) (described in 2004 after Gill’s revision was published), has become quite common in the aquarium trade. The margined dottyback is less likely to be a hit with hobbyists because of its more subdued coloration. Both are medium-sized dottybacks, and like most confamilials, they tend to be a little boisterous, pestering smaller fishes or less aggressive piscine neighbors, especially if kept in smaller tanks.
The fish was sent to me by one of my best fish buddies, Dennis Reynolds, who owns Aquamarines (a wholesale fish supplier). I use to buy fish from Dennis when I owned an aquarium store and he sends me odd fish from time to time.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
I and my wife Janine are taking a group of bear-enthusiasts to Katmai National Park, Alaska to observe and photograph the great coastal populations of Ursus arctos as they fish for salmon and interact with one another. We are taking a group of up to eight bearophiles (we have limited space as a number of spots are already taken) on a six day/five night trip (from August 22nd to the 27th, 2008) and a four day/three night trip (from August 28th to the 31st, 2008). I have had the good fortunate to be part of many fantastic wildlife adventures in my life, but none has compared to my trips to Katmai!
The trip will be led by the bearman extraordinarie John Rogers (owner of Katmai Coastal Bear Tours). John has been plying the waters along the Alaskan Peninsula for decades and knows the bears of this region like no one else. He is the man that all the documentary and film crews use when they are looking to get great footage of Alaskan brown bears. Ursid Guru Brad Josephs will be guiding us out to observe bears every day. You will never meet anyone that loves and knows brown bears, or the local natural history, more than Brad. He is a very competent guide that stresses the safety of his clients as well as the bruins he has come to know so well. He is keenly aware of the needs of wildlife photographer and will do all he can to get us in situations to catch amazing photos of the star of the Katmai show. That said, he will never compromise the health of the bears.
If you love bears, you must experience Hallo Bay. During the peak of the fishing season, dozens of brown bears gather here to catch chum and silver salmon as they make their way from the sea, back into freshwater. With the high density of bears in the bay, one also is likely to observe some amazing ursid interactions. One professional wildlife photographer I met (whose gallery walls were adorned with photos of animals from around the world), said Hallo Bay was the most exotic place he has ever been in his life! Last year, there were loads of spring cubs at Hallo bay (at least three mothers with two to three cubs each). Those youngsters that survived the winter will be playful little yearlings this summer and there may be more younger cubs around as well as some females that are regular visitors of Hallo Bay were observed mating last spring.
The Alaskan officials are about to put restrictions in place that will limit where bear-viewers go in Hallo Bay. Human observers will be confined to viewing pads. It appears as though this may be the last year (2008) that photographers/viewers have unhindered access to the bears in Hallo Bay. While these restrictions will be good for the bears, they will certainly make it more challenging to get great photos without very long lenses and will take away some of the excitement of having the bears all to yourself!
I want to encourage you to come and join us in late August on our bear-viewing adventure. If you love bears, you have to do it at least once in your lifetime! (If you want to see just how awesome a trip to Katmai can be click here and watch my original Katmai Bear video from 2006.) If you are interested in being apart of this amazing adventure, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
In the last few bear posts I have described why the grizzly has had a harder time living side-by-side with Homo sapiens than its cousin U. americanus. We discussed how the grizzly evolved in a rough neighborhood and that by being bellicose, this bear ensured its survival. So, grizzlies are potentially more dangerous than black bears because of the behavioral baggage they have carried with them through the years - but really, how dangerous are grizzly bears to our species?
While the grizzly bear is potentially more dangerous than its kin, the actual likelihood that you will become the victim of this often misunderstood beast, even if you spend lots of time in grizzly country, is very slim. But how can that be? Many non-bear devotees (which included me at one time) believe your chances of surviving a wild grizzly encounter (that is, running into a grizzly on its turf) is almost nil and if you do live through the experience you will bear the emotional and physical scars for life. Much of this is due to the contemporary media. How many times have you seen a show on one of the many nature-oriented TV stations that concentrate on those rare bad encounters between bear and human. (Does Grizzly Man ring a bell?) The old adage “if it bleeds, it leads” certainly has been applied to exploit the grizzly.
This type of sensationalist reporting is not new. You only have to look at the stories of killer bears that permeated the literature of the late-19th and early 20th-centuries. But not all the naturalists and outdoorsman of the time were bellowing this same warning. Some went against the flow. For example, consider the writings of zoologist Dr. William T. Hornaday. In 1927, he wrote the following about the grizzly’s character.
“I have made many observations on the temper of the grizzly bear, and am convinced that naturally the disposition of this reportedly savage beast is rather peaceful and good-natured. At the same time, however, no animal is more prompt to resent an affront or injury, or punish and offender. The grizzly temper is defensive, not aggressive; and unless the animal is cornered, or thinks he is cornered, he always flees from man.”
Much of the grizzly’s bad reputation was inspired by the tales disseminated by Indian and European hunters. They found that the mighty bear was indeed ferocious when it had been hit with a slug, peppered with buckshot or pierced by an arrow. But can you blame the animal for defending its life against an aggressor? Such was also the case with Lewis and Clark’s expedition. The majority of their bad encounters with grizzlies were bears that had been maimed by their relatively light caliber weapons.
John M. Holzworth speaks to the truth and legend behind the grizzly’s ferocity. He was not a neophyte when it came to the behavior of the great bear. He had spent lots of time with brown bears between approximately 1915 and 1930. He reports having seen over 250 individual grizzlies in the wild (both in Alaska and the lower 48 states) and he photographed many of these at close range. He concluded the following about the grizzly’s undeserved reputation in his book The Wild Grizzlies of Alaska:
“The big bears… are fighting machines of the first order… Together with his character as a fighter was soon added his reputation for ferociousness and proneness to attack beast and man. But is his desire to fight in self-defense is not justifiable? It is a far different thing from going out to attack people who are not molesting him. The big bear’s criminal offense, apparently, is his effectiveness in defending himself.”
Thus, these pioneers of bear observation conclude that while grizzlies will fight more ferociously than any other animal if they or their offspring are in danger, they are more likely to avoid people than attack them. More on grizzly aggression in my next bear post!
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Friday, May 16, 2008
Much has been made in recent years about the “walking sharks,” even though they have been known to science for centuries (shark experts have long referred to the group as epaulette sharks because of the epaulette-like markings above the pectoral fins). But the taxonomy of these sharks has been a bit of a mystery and in a state of flux for the last couple of years. Part of this was due to Max Ammer and his dive operations in West Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), Indonesia (click here for more information). I observed photos of the unusual epaulette shark from this region, which appeared to be undescribed based on a revision of the genus (click here to see post about new epaulette sharks from West Papua). To make a long story a bit shorter, the shark in West Papua that appeared to be undescribed turned out to be Hemiscyllium freycineti. But what about the shark in the revision of the genus (Dingerkus and DeFino 1983) that these researchers refer to as H. freycineti? Thanks to some ichthyological detective work done by Dr. Gerald Allen, it was determined the Dingerkus and DeFino H. freycineti is actually an undescribed species! (That is, D and D screwed-up - it happens to the best of us!)
I have been interested in and collecting information on the Hemiscyllium spp. for decades. After examining the distribution of the various species, I started to wonder if the various species have very limited ranges and if the larger distributions attributed to some species is a function of misidentification, as so many of the Hemiscyllium spp. are so similar (more on this in future blogs). It turns out this may indeed be the case and that the species that” D and D (1983)” called H. freycineti (the undescribed species that is) may be limited in distribution to the Milne Bay Province region of eastern Papua New Guinea.
I visited this region in 2003 and was a guest on the Chertan. This live-aboard boat is owned by one of the most congenial people in the dive industry, Rob van der Loos. The idea of collecting and killing one of these beautiful sharks made me queasy! Having had pet epaulette sharks in the past, I look at them more like dogs than fish! But it had to be done – a specimen needed to be collected. Fortunately for me, the Big Guy upstairs was smiling on me on this trip, as on a dive near Samaria Island I found a half-dead (that’s right HALF DEAD) Hemiscyllium sp. rolling around on the sea floor! I took some photos of the shark, grabbed it and took it back to the boat where it was put on ice. Roger Steene and I were able to convince a dogged customs officer to let us take the shark into Australia and Roger then passed the fish onto Gerry. Unfortunately, the specimen ended up in formalin, which made it impossible to conduct DNA analysis on the animal’s tissue. So, we are currently waiting on Roger to get a small piece of fin from a live specimen when he returns to Papua New Guinea this year.
The video below of a Milne Bay epaulette shark (the undescribed species) was taken by Rob van der Loos off his resort (Tawali Resort) in Milne Bay. You will notice the very distinct honeycomb markings of this beautiful shark. Now look at the specimen I collected off the island of Samaria (above), which is less than 100 km southeast (if you follow the coast) of Rob’s resort. Note the color differences (especially of the epaulette over the pectoral fin)? While color differences may or may not be a valid indices when separating different fish species, it seems to be a fairly reliable character when distinguishing the various epaulette sharks. Could it be there are TWO new species off the coast of Milne Bay Province? It may be that the shark above was a bit younger and had not developed the full adult coloration as of yet? Time, Dr. Allen and some shark DNA should be able to tell us soon!
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Thursday, May 15, 2008
So why is the grizzly a more bellicose bear? It is instructive to look back in time and examine the “neighborhood” that the grizzly bear species “grew-up” in. The fossil record indicates that the first grizzlies were found in North America towards the end of the Pleistocene epoch (geologists tell us this epoch ended about 11,550 years ago, spanned about 1.8 million years and covered the earth’s most recent period of repeated glaciations). The receding glaciers left luxuriant grasslands in their wake that were home to numerous herbivores, like bison, mammoth and yak. Where there are herbivores, there will also be great predators to cull the herds. Such was the case in the Pleistocene and the grizzly was one of these predators. But this was a rougher neighborhood than the modern day grizzly inhabits. There were massive saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and a behemoth of a bear known as the giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus) – this was a massive creature that is proposed to reach a weight of 2,000 pounds.
While the grizzly foraged in the open grasslands, usually adjacent to forested areas, the black bear was (and still is) a resident of the woodlands - a habitat that is critical for the survival of their young. A black bear cub can climb trees days after leaving the maternal den. By scurrying up trees, neonates are able to elude most predators. In many cases, the mother black bear will climb up the tree behind her young or may remain at the base of the tree to dissuade a potential threat from pursuing her offspring any further. Because of their arboreal abilities, momma black bears rarely have to fight off the enemies of their cubs.
Now consider the grizzly. This species is not an adept climber. Even if they were, spending time in the open grassland habitats preclude the likelihood they are going to be able to out climb an adversary. Therefore, in order for the grizzly to survive and protect its vulnerable young in this more exposed Pleistocene ecosystem, it was the female’s aggressiveness that determined whether her offspring survived or not. Those mother grizzlies that turned into a raging ball of fury when their young were threatened passed more of their genes (including their aggressive inclinations) into the next generation. If she had a disposition more like that of a black bear sow, her young would not last long on this hostile, unforgiving community.
Natural selection has apparently honed the female grizzly into a more volatile creature – unfortunately, when it comes to getting along with H. sapiens their defensiveness is a big strike against them. While a black bear sow with young of the year is more likely to run for cover when encountering a human hiker, a mother grizzly is more predisposed to initiate a preemptive strike (that is, take out the potential threat before that threat can harm her cubs).
Male grizzlies can also be aggressive toward people, but usually only when they are taken by surprise. If a grizzly (boar or sow) knows your coming, more often than not, they will vacate the area in order to avoid contact with their most formidable rival - man. But if the boar is suddenly face-to-face with a human, it may do as the female with cubs does; that is, take out the menace to prevent harm to itself. That said, in most cases, a surprised bear will simply bluff charge, hoping that intimidation will be enough to prevent the threat from attacking or run away. On rare occasions, usually when the person behaves inappropriately, the bear may make contact.
Many grizzly attacks can also be attributed to defense of a food source. The script for these episodes usually goes as follows: unknowing human stumbles onto a food cache (usually the carcass of a large animal), grizzly that is resting nearby guarding its prize, or feeding on it, attempts to drive off potential competitor (said human). Bear bites and slaps unsuspecting interloper around a few times and returns to its post. A subsequent assault may occur if the human does not behave appropriately (e.g., gets up attempts to flee, fights with the bear). In most cases, the curl up and “kiss your ass goodbye maneuver” (that is, play dead) is the most appropriate defensive strategy in these situations.
It was one of a family of grizzlies that were defending their food that mauled a jogger, 54-year old Dennis VanDenbos, around Jackson Hole last summer (2007). Janine and I encountered this ursid family unit (a sow with three larger offspring) in the willows along the road early one morning last spring. The family had been hanging around in this area, to the delight of many tourists, for a long time and had not been implicated in any aggression towards human observers. But this morning, the 350-pound sow, along with her cubs, were feeding on an elk carcass, when the unsuspecting Mr. VanDenbos stumbled across the bruin bunch and their freshly-killed ungulate prize. When confronted by the bears, VanDenbos yelled at the bears and when that didn’t work, he hit the ground and played dead. One of the bears ran forward and bit and clawed the man (for more on this story click here).
It may be surprising to some readers that grizzly attacks rarely have a predatory component. Of all the serious human-grizzly conflicts that have occurred in Alaska, only 1 % of these attacks ended in the victim being fed upon. In fact, the majority of attacks (about 88 %) were of short duration, lasting no longer than 60 seconds. The typical encounter is typically fast and furious.
While black bear attacks may be less frequent than those inflicted by grizzlies, bear biologist Dr. Stephen Herero has documented U. americanus assaults are often motivated by predation. If the black bear presses home an attack, it is more likely an attempt to eat you than defend progeny or a resource. In fact, Dr. Herero recommends fighting, tooth and nail, against a marauding black bear, not playing possum. In the last couple years, there were two cases of black bears preying on humans: one case in Utah (click here for more) when a black bear killed a 11-year old boy (2007), and one case in Tennessee, where this species killed a 6-year old (2006) (click here for more).
So how dangerous are bears, especially grizzlies? We will investigate this in the next ursid post.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Have you ever done something you would like to take back? I will tell you a secret - after every REEF FISHES volume that has been published to date (including the new volume on DAMSELFISHES) I wish I had a chance to take it back and make changes! In part, as I mentioned in an earlier post, taxonomic changes often occur during the preparation and publication process. Inevitably, there are journal articles that come out just after these books go to press that can impact the taxonomic standing of various species and proposed synonyms. In fact, one reason the DOTTYBACK volume was delayed was because I was aware that a big revision of the family Pseudochromidae was about to be published by Dr. Anthony Gill and I wanted to wait until it came out so that the scientific binomials in the book were up-to-date. If I had not waited, the dottyback section of the book would have been totally out of date within three months of the book hitting the shelves!
As I mentioned below, I mislabeled a couple of new species of anemonefishes (which I classified simply as color variants) that are going to be raised to species level by Dr. Gerald Allen. But the changes do not stop there. Taxonomic upheaval has recently occurred in one of my favorite Pomacentrid genera, the Chrysiptera (a.k.a. demoiselles). Dr. Gerald Allen (the guru of all that is damsel) came out with a paper a couple of months ago that will cause all of us to re-examine the proposed geographical variants of the most beautiful members of this genus.
For example, in my damselfish book (and in other REEF FISHES books published before it) I use the term Chrysiptera parasema for the yellow-tailed blue demoiselle with yellow pelvic fins. But according to Dr. Allen, this is actually distinct on the species level from the yellow-tailed demoiselle that lacks the yellow pelvics (see photos above which are from Allen and Erdmann 2008). Dr. Allen also described a new, closely related form from West Papua that he named Chrysiptera giti. "What's a giti" you might ask? Two donors that are generously supporting the Conservation International’s Bird’s Head Seascape marine conservation initiative requested it be given that name to honor a family company. Not only is C. parasema being broken up into at least two distinct species, it is also likely that all the various color forms of Chrysiptera cyanea are actually valid species....but we will save that for a future post!
So there you have another example of why I wish I could have a “do-over!” I will keep you abreast of other taxonomic changes that occur and will also provide the new name of the C. parasema-like fish, with the yellow pelvic fins, when it becomes available.
Allen, G. R. and M. V. Erdmann. 2008. A new species of damselfish (Pomacentridae: Chrysiptera) from western New Guinea and the Togean Islands, Indonesia. Aqua Special. Pub. 13 (3-4): 171-178.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Another reason for the disparity between the number of black and grizzly bears in North America has to do with their habitat preferences and behavior, which is a function of their long evolutionary history. For centuries, frontiersmen that roamed the wilderness recognized that the grizzly is a much more dangerous beast than the black bear. In 1703 Baron Lahontan, in his book Memoir of A Fur Trader in Canada, made the observation “The reddish bears are mischievous creatures, for they fall fiercely upon the huntsmen, whereas the black one fly away.” In the journals of Lewis and Clark the grizzly is referred to as “a creature of extraordinary ferocity” and they noted that it would rather attack man than avoid him (ironically, the more detailed observations they include in their journals do not support this claim).
Theodore Roosevelt listed the Alaskan brown bear and then the grizzly as the most dangerous wild animals to man (note: these are one in the same species). He stated, “The king of the game beasts of temperate North America, because the most dangerous to hunters, is the grizzly bear.” In contrast, the back bear has never had such a dubious reputation. In his book Grizzly Country, Andy Russell says the following about the two species, “To compare him [the grizzly] with his lesser cousin, the black bear, is like standing a case of dynamite besides a sack of goose feathers.”
This is not to say that black bears do not attack people, but they do so much less frequently than grizzlies (In fact, in 2007 several people were killed by black bears in the Lower 48 States). Consider Dr. Stephen Herrero’s study that looked at injuries inflicted on humans by bears between 1960 and 1998 in Alberta, Canada. Of 42 serious or fatal attacks on humans in this region, 69 % were caused by grizzlies, while only 31 % were inflicted by the black bear. Then take into account that the latter is 38 times more common than U. arctos - it is very clear that the grizzly is by far the more dangerous of the two species (Herrero estimated that at this time, there were about 1,000 U. arctos in Alberta province and from 38,000 to 39,000 U. americanus). We will discuss the disposition of the grizzly in much more detail in future blogs (you might be surprised at some of my conclusions on just how dangerous grizzly bears are to humans!).
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Since that time, Gerry has made a number of trips to West Papua and has found two more new species of Hemiscylliid sharks (which are often referred to as "walking sharks" in the popular press)! The scientific names of both species were auctioned off at the "Blue Auction" - while this is a not a common way to determine the species name of a new fish, it was done in this case to raise money to protect the Raja Ampat Islands, which are now part of a marine reserve. The two species (see above) were recently described by Gerry and Mark Erdmann in a Aqua International Journal of Ichthyology (vol 13, issues 3-4, 2008). Dr. Allen is now in Halmahera, Indonesia where another species of Hemiscyllium that may be new to science has been spotted.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Monday, May 12, 2008
One reason that grizzly numbers plummeted as Europeans subdued the North American continent is because this bear requires large tracts of wilderness in order to survive. Human development in grizzly habitat has continued to have a negative impact on the great bear. Much of grizzly country includes picturesque landscapes where people want to visit or settle. More campgrounds, hotels, hiking trails, restaurants, swimming pools, tennis courts, stores, golf courses, ski areas, housing developments, etc. are popping up within or at the periphery of prime bear habitat. More development, either residential or business, also means more roads – this equates to more bear-people encounters and more bears being struck by automobiles.
Many people that set-up residence in bear country are unwilling to put up with the potential danger or property destruction that are inherent in sharing the “wilderness” with these large carnivores. In fact, most premature bear deaths result from “defense of life and property” (a.k.a. DLP) kills and automobile collisions. Between 1992 and 2000, 74 grizzlies were killed by humans in the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem (Gunther et al. 2004). Forty-three percent were killed in DLP incidents, while 28 % were destroyed by park managers because of conflict between these grizzlies and humans (most of these “bad” bears were killing livestock, raiding orchards or bee hives). During this study, no humans were killed by grizzlies in the area, but 38 people were injured (most of these were hunters [54%], followed by hikers [31%]).
Black bears have better adapted to the encroachment of human habitation. Ursus americanus is a stealthy bruin that will spend the daytime hours in the woods, only foraging in people-infested areas when darkness falls. Unlike their grizzled kin, they do not require the large wilderness areas to survive. More on the differences between black bears and grizzlies in tomorrow's post...
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Saturday, May 10, 2008
As with my past books, there are already taxonomic changes that occur that are missed or that are published just after the book goes to press (there are also other errors which I hope to correct on this blog).
There are a couple of anemonefishes in the new REEF FISHES book (see post below) that are misidentified. For example, the fish pictured on page 219 (on bottom right), is actually a new species from Fiji that was originally considered a color form of Amphiprion melanopus. The leading authority on reef fishes, Dr. Gerald Allen, tells me it is a new species. Its true identity was confirmed by doing some DNA analysis.
Likewise, on page 229 I have a photo of what I believed to be an odd variant of Amphiprion perideraion from Fiji (it actually looks more like A. akallopisos). This too, according to Gerry, is a new species. I have been able to obtain some type specimens for Gerry so he can make the formal description of the little beauty. The two specimens I obtained came from Dave Palmer of Pacific Aqua Farms. The fish were actually collected in Tonga.
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
The book is 256 pages and is similar to the other three volumes in layout. The paper is not as glossy but, as in the past volumes, I have tried to be as comprehensive as possible in providing biological and husbandry content on all the species covered. That said, it certainly does not include all 320-odd species of pomacentrids. Because of space limitations I have highlighted those tropical species that are more apt to be encountered by divers and aquarists. (The future REEF FISHES ATLAS, which will hopefully be available in 2010, will include more species.)
I hope you enjoy the new book. The next volume, which deals with wrasses and parrotfishes (to a lesser extent) will be out towards the end of 2008. I think it will be my favorite of the volumes so far as I love the labrids!
California is one of many sad examples demonstrating the outcome of this conflict between man and U. arctos. It is hard to imagine that California was once a haven for the grizzly bear. There are accounts from as early as the 1500’s to as late as the 1900’s that tell of “troupes” or “regiments” of grizzly bears feeding on whale carcasses that were cast-up on California beaches. When Scotsman John Muir explored Yosemite National Park, there were both black and grizzly bears. In his writings he shares many of his observations on Yosemite’s U. arctos. He described his first encounter with a grizzly (which he refers to as the Sierra bear) as follows:
“In my first interview with the Sierra bear we were frightened and embarrassed, both of us, but the bear was better than mine. When I discovered him, he was standing in a narrow strip of meadow, and I was concealed behind a tree on the side of it. After studying his appearance as he stood at rest, I rushed toward him to frighten him, that I might study his gait in running. But, contrary to all I had heard about the shyness of the bears he did not run at all; and when I stopped short within a few steps from him, as he held his ground in a fighting attitude, my mistake was monstrously plain. I was then put on my good behavior, and never afterward forgot the right manners of the wilderness." Our National Parks (1901)
The last grizzly bear was reportedly killed in California in 1922 – it was shot by a rancher. Isn’t it ironic that the prominent symbol on the State flag of California no longer lives there because of the man-grizzly rivalry?
So why was the grizzly eradicated from the California landscape, as well as over most of their North American range, while the black bear was not? Black bears have done much better, not only in California, but all across North America. There are currently an estimated 800,000 black bears in the lower 48 and only about 1,000 grizzlies (no one really knows for sure how many of either species live on this continent, but these are the expert’s best guesses). In the 1900’s it has been estimated that there were over 100,000 U. arctos in North America. (We will look at why the black bear has been able to co-exist with Homo sapiens in more detail in a future post.)
Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael
Friday, May 9, 2008
I received three of these wonderful fishes from fellow fish-lover Kevin Kohen (of www.liveaquaria.com) (you will see Kevin’s name mentioned frequently in this blog as he has consistently provided me with great fish). Kevin had three H. borbonius in his reef tank, which I was able to see a year ago. When a sudden glut of these fish appeared at Liveaquaria, Kevin sent me a trio of young H. borbonius. He selected smaller individuals because he found that as they grow, they become less social, with the larger member of the clan regularly harassing smaller conspecifics. While my Holanthias were small, there was one individual that was about ¼ a body length longer. It did not take long until this larger Holanthias began harrying its two slightly smaller kin. Now, the two subordinate fish hide most of the time. In fact all three fish are fairly shy, hiding in holes in the roof of a cave I created in my tank. But, when the smaller fish appear at feeding time, the large anthias chastises them. Because of this, I would recommend you keep a single individual, as sooner or later this fish will probably quarrel (of course, if you have a huge tank they may be able to avoid one another). Also, make sure you have plenty of suitable refuges so they will more readily acclimate.Copyright (2008) Scott W. Michael