Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) is Beneficial for Birds

May 13, 2021

During the 1927 college football season the Georgia Bulldogs won 9 consecutive games before playing their hated rival, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Bulldogs always played the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta during this era because their own home games were played at rocky Herty Field–a poor quality gridiron. The Bulldogs were a fast team that year, so some Yellow Jacket officials watered down the field before the game, turning it into a muddy quagmire that negated Georgia’s speed advantage, and the Yellow Jackets upset the Bulldogs 12-0, ruining their unbeaten season. Georgia officials were furious and vowed to build their own stadium where they could play Tech at home every other year. Sanford Stadium was completed in 1929. Hedges of Chinese privet were planted near the sidelines, and Georgia home games are referred to as being played “between the hedges.” I’m a big Georgia Bulldog fan, and I was excited to discover 1 specimen of Chinese privet that recently popped up on its own near my back door.

Gardeners planted Chinese privet in Sanford Stadium during 1929. Traditionally, college football games played in Athens, Georgia are said to be played “between the hedges.” Photo from Gun and Garden Magazine.
I’m a big Georgia Bulldog fan, so I was excited to discover this Chinese privet that popped up near my back door.
Cardinal eating a privet berry. At least 16 species of birds use privet thickets for food and/or cover. Photo ripped off from google images.

Chinese privet, as the name would suggest, is native to China, and it was introduced to North America during 1852 as an ornamental plant. Privet is a tough species and thrives in both wet and dry locations on just about any kind of soil. In the wild privet grows on disturbed sites and originally depended upon elephant foraging, human activity, fires, or wind storms to open up the forest canopy, so it could take over a location. Privet can survive fire and will come back from the roots. In addition to spreading through sucker roots, privet is spread by birds eating its fruit and defecating the still viable seeds throughout the environment. It grows fast. The 1996 Olympic soccer matches were played at Sanford Stadium, and the privet hedges were temporarily removed and transplanted. Upon their return to Sanford Stadium they grew enough in 1 week that one couldn’t tell they’d ever been moved.

Chinese privet flowers are very fragrant. This is what attracted my attention to the bush, but I did not recognize it. I posted a photo on a Facebook page known as Weakley’s Flora of Southeastern North America. I learned plant conservationists revile Chinese privet because it crowds out native plants. The man who identified it for me told me to destroy it. I told him I liked it and was not destroying it. Numerous other shmucks called me a troll, and one suggested I was a fake account who signed up for this group just to troll about Chinese privet. (Facebook suggested the group based on my interests. That’s why I joined.) Another person suggested I use an app for plant identification because I must not be interested in ecology and didn’t belong in the group. (I’ve been writing this blog about Pleistocene ecology for over 10 years.) Yet another putz encouraged me to breath the flowers in deeply in the hopes I would suffer an uncomfortable allergic response. The internet makes it easy to expose people for their mean spirited attitudes.

Now, I am trolling them. I found a scientific study that determined Chinese privet benefits birds. Thickets of Chinese privet host the same abundance and species diversity of birds as other more natural areas during spring, summer, and fall; but during winter bird species diversity and abundance is even higher than in the surrounding landscape. Privet berries ripen in late fall/early winter when most native berries are gone. Birds that benefit from food and/or cover provided by privet include cedar waxwings, cardinals, bluebirds, robins, Carolina wrens, chickadees, brown thrashers, flickers, mockingbirds, purple finches, blackbirds, blue jays, crows, doves, sparrows, bobwhite quail, turkey, and feral chickens. Mockingbirds are the most common songbird in my neighborhood, and I suspect this was the species that inadvertently planted the bush in my backyard when it defecated the seed. The berries are toxic to humans. Deer and cotton rats eat privet foliage and also benefit from the presence of the plant. This same study did find privet does crowd out native plants.

Another study determined privet thickets host fewer bees and butterflies than privet-free zones, but this study is misleading and seriously flawed. Privet was mechanically removed from locations in a botanical garden and a nature reserve in Athens, Georgia. Forest service scientists trapped bees and butterflies 5 years after the removal and counted species abundance and diversity. The title of the article is misleading–“Removing Chinese Privet from a Riparian Corridor Benefits Pollinators 5 years later.” From the title one would assume they counted bees and butterflies at the same location before the privet was removed, but this is not what they did. Instead, they compared bee and butterfly composition from this location to different locations within the Oconee National Forest including 2 sites with privet and 2 sites without. This is quite flawed because some sites might be better for pollinators based on factors unrelated to privet. (And see below…an obvious factor.) Moreover, the sites where privet was removed were embedded within a botanical garden and a nature reserve where humans deliberately plant flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Populations of pollinators in these areas are artificially boosted due to anthropogenic activities. They are even higher than in the natural privet-free zones used as control groups in the study. A better study would take inventory of pollinators before and after privet removal in the same location.

Even without human interference nature would eventually control privet populations. During the 1996 transplanting of the Sanford Stadium privet, horticulturalists discovered the privet was slowly dying of a nematode infestation. They treated it, but many wild stands of privet may be dying from nematode infestations. Left alone, after centuries, native plants could retake space where privet previously took over.

References:

Hudson, J.; J. Handa, and S. Kim

“Removing Chinese Privet from Riparian Forest Still Benefits Pollinators 5 Years Later”

Biological Conservation 167 November 2017

Wilcox, J; and C. Beck

“Effects of Ligustrum sinense (Chinese privet) on Abundance and Diversity of Songbirds and Native Plants in a Southeastern Nature Preserve”

Southeastern Naturalist 6 (3) 2007

Giant Sea Snakes of the Georgia Eocene

May 6, 2021

The entire coastal plain of southeastern North America and all of Florida were below sea level until about 32 million years ago. Strong currents carried sediment into shallow coastal waters, and some sediments eventually became kaolin clay, now mined in Wilkinson County, Georgia. The clay preserves fossils of the Eocene Age including shark’s teeth, sawfish and ray bones, and the remains of primitive whales. Miners excavating clay also find vertebrae from an enormous extinct sea snake given the scientific name, Palaeophis virginianus. Scientists compared the vertebrae of Palaeophis with modern species of snakes and estimated this extinct species reached a length of at least 17 feet long.

Artist’s rendition of an extinct giant sea snake (Palaeophis).. Image from the Prehistoric Animals Twitter Page..
Fossil vertebrae of an extinct giant sea snake. Image from an anonymous post on the Fossil Forum.

Palaeophis was not closely related to modern day sea snakes. Scientists don’t know much about it, but they think it was an ambush predator, like a modern day anaconda, that preyed on other animals in shallow coastal waters. There was more than 1 species of Palaeophis sea snakes alive during the Eocene (55 million years BP-33 Million years BP), and they had a worldwide distribution, but today they are extinct and they left no descendants. Palaeophis fossils found in south Georgia are thought to date to ~34 million years ago, close to the end of the Eocene.

Reference:

Calvert, C; A. Mead, and D. Parmley

“Size Estimate of Extinct Aquatic Snakes from the Eocene of Central Georgia”

Georgia Journal of Science 79 (1) Article 22 2021

Pleistocene Ant Lions (Myrmeleontadae sp.)

April 29, 2021

Ant lion pits line the bare soil areas next to the back wall of my house. Ant lions, as the name suggests, prey on ants, though they will eat anything small enough to become trapped in their pits. The larval stage of most species is the monster hidden just below the sand of the bottom of the pit. When an ant lion larva senses an ant walking near the edge of the pit, it flicks sand at the ant, knocking the ant into the side of the pit. The action of flicking sand destabilizes the wall of the pit, forcing the ant to fall within the reach of the ant lion’s jaws. The ant lion then injects venom and devours the ant, or rather sucks the juices out of it. Ant lion larva can live for years without eating and during winter they dig deeper down to avoid frosts. But after they’ve had a meal, they go into a cocoon stage before emerging as adults. They survive on nectar for energy in their brief adult stage spent searching for mates. Fertilized females lay eggs in sand and the cycle begins again.

Some species of flies lay their eggs in abandoned ant lion pits, and their larva use the same strategy as ant lion larva. At least 1 species of parasitic wasp allows itself to be captured. It stings the ant lion larva and lays on egg on it, thus turning predator into prey.

Ant lion adult and larva. Image from below reference. The larva prey on ants and other small arthropods.
Ant lion pits next to the side of my house. Ant lions prefer sandy soil and are common in arid environments. They likely were abundant in the southeast during Ice Ages when the climate was dry and bare soil environments predominated.

There are about 2000 species of ant lions, and there are species on every continent except Antarctica. Their closest living relatives are owl flies and lace wings. They are most common in tropical dry climates, but they thrive anywhere they can find a sandy substrate. I hypothesize they were abundant in southeastern North America during Ice Ages when arid climates prevailed, resulting in vast landscapes with sparse vegetation. Pleistocene climate changes likely increased species diversification when populations became isolated from each other during wetter climate phases that turned sandy environments into isolated refuges.

Ant lions are rare in the fossil record. Ant Lions have been found in 99 million year old amber at a site located in Burma. Scientists think ant lions first evolved about 150 million years ago, so they lived under the feet of dinosaurs. There are no dinosaurs in my yard (unless one includes birds), but their contemporaries live right up next to my house.

Reference:

Badano, D.; M. Engel, P. Basso, B. Wang, P. Cerretti

“Diverse Cretaceous Larvae Reveal the Evolutionary and Behavioral History of Ant Lions and Lace Wings”

Nature Communications (9) 257 August 2018

The Former Abundance of Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas)

April 22, 2021

Our ancestors didn’t appreciate wildlife. For them wild animals were considered either a pest or a resource to be ruthlessly exploited until that particular species was annihilated. I came across an article entitled “Turtling in Florida” written during 1890 and learned how abundant green sea turtles formerly were. According to the author, slaughtering turtles was great sport. So many turtles populated some lagoons that a man could theoretically walk from 1 side to the other by walking on their backs. Turtle stampedes endangered men’s lives. Sea turtles crawling on beaches to lay their eggs could become frightened by men hunting them and their eggs, and hundreds of 800 pound panicking turtles could crush men too slow to get out of their way.

Of course, man is much more dangerous to sea turtles than they are to us. In North America before man invaded the continent, adult sea turtles had few enemies–bears on beaches and tiger sharks in the sea. But man killed too many turtles and gathered too many eggs, and now green sea turtles are endangered. Several methods were formerly used to catch green sea turtles. Some men used nets, though in south Florida, they encountered problems with sharks and sawfish that often destroyed the nets. (Both sawfish and sharks are much more rare now than they were in 1890.) Other turtle-hunters used harpoons in a process called “pegging.” The harpoons were designed to just barely penetrate the shell, so the turtle could be reeled in and kept alive for as long as possible. Some Seminole Indians actually dove to the bottom of the sea, grabbed the turtles, wrestled them to the surface, lassoed them, and pulled them onto the boat. The most common method of hunting sea turtles was to simply sneak up on them while they were laying eggs on the beach, and turn them over. Sea turtles are helpless when on their backs. This method could be hazardous. The turtle-hunters could run into a bear in the dark (turtles lay their eggs at night). The article reports 1 expedition shooting and killing 5 bears on a night of turtle-hunting, and they could have killed more, if the sand flies hadn’t been driving them crazy. There was also the possibility of getting crushed in the aforementioned turtle stampedes.

Green sea turtles inhabit shallow coastal waters where they feed upon sea weed. They nest on tropical beaches.
Green sea turtle range map. They often stray far from where they nest.
Green sea turtles are considered a delicacy due to their vegetarian diet. They were formerly abundant, but overhunting by men has greatly reduced their numbers.
Aborigines can still get away with hunting sea turtles.

Green sea turtles were a popular delicacy over 100 years ago. Adult green sea turtles live on a diet of seaweed, giving their flesh a delicious flavor, according to old time accounts. People enjoyed eating turtle eggs too. No matter how long a turtle egg is cooked, the white part never solidifies. The eggs must have made cakes moist when they were used as an ingredient. The turtle shells were used to manufacture women’s jewelry as well. Now, green sea turtle populations are low and even raising them on farms for food is illegal. Nevertheless, various aboriginal groups around the world still hunt them and collect their eggs.

Reference:

Murphy, J.M.

“Turtling in Florida” from

Tales of Old Florida

Castle Books 1987

Pleistocene Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis)

April 17, 2021

Fish have an amazing ability to replenish and increase their populations. Lake whitefish, a species related to salmon and trout, can lay between 8,000-130,000 eggs. During Ice Ages 90% of their present day range was covered by glaciers, making it uninhabitable for them. Yet, in less than 12,000 years they recolonized this enormous territory. The reproductive ability of this species outpaced the population of predatory fish and birds that fed upon them. Scientists used a study of genetics to determine modern day whitefish descend from 2 different refugial populations that clung to survival during the Last Glacial Maximum. 1 population survived in Beringia–the area of Alaska and the Yukon that remained free of glacial ice. They may have survived in lakes now located near Nahanni National Park. The other population occurred in the Missouri/Mississippi River Drainage just south of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Following the retreat of the Ice Sheet, lake whitefish populations exploded in the newly formed Great Lakes and managed to swim their way into lakes all over Canada. Whitefish are a cold water species and probably didn’t ever live far from Ice Age glaciers.

Map of present day range of lake whitfish. Most of this range was under glacial ice during Ice ages.
Lake whitfish.

Lake whitefish average 4 lbs. as adults, though the record for a rod and reel catch is 15.5 lbs. They spawn during fall, winter, and spring. Their diet consists of snails, clams, and insects. There are 2 ecotypes of whitefish that do not interbreed: the normal population that inhabits the bottom region of lakes and the dwarf population that swims in the upper layer of open water. Commercial fishermen net whitefish, and they are a popular food fish in cities and towns along the Great Lakes, but I can’t remember if I ever had the opportunity to try them when I lived in Ohio as a boy.

Reference:

Foote, C.; J. Clayton, C. Lyndsay, and R. Bodaly

“Evolution of Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) in North America during the Pleistocene: Evidence for a Nahanni Glacial Refuge in the northern Cordilleran Region”

Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Services 49(4) April 2011

McDermid, J., J. Riest, R. Bodaly

“Phylogeography and Post Glacial Dispersal of Whitefish ( C. clupeaformis complex) in Northwest North America”

Advances in Limnology 60 Jan 2007

First Record of the Giant Short-Faced Bear (Arctodus simus) in South Carolina

April 8, 2021

Increased currents from the periodic release of water from an upstream reservoir on the Cooper River in South Carolina disturbs the sediment at the bottom of this river. Fossil hunters take advantage and scuba dive for fossils in the disturbed sediment. Recently, Eric Proulx discovered a fossil tooth while scuba diving in the river. He didn’t know what pre-historic animal it was from, and he showed it to Dave Cicimurri, curator of the Columbia Museum. The curator misidentified the tooth, mistaking it for a lion (Panthera atrox) canine. The photo of the tooth in a news article was shared on a Florida fossil hunters Facebook page where it became an object of some derision. Most of the amateur fossil hunters recognized the tooth as bear, not lion. (A lion’s canine is much longer.) Richard Hulbert of the University of the Florida Museum of Natural History looked at it and confirmed it belonged to a giant short-faced bear. This is the first record of this species in the state of South Carolina. Though fossil specimens of this species are more common in western states, they have been found in Fern Cave, Alabama, the Withlacoochee River in Florida, and at least 1 site in Virginia. This specimen shows this species ranged all the way to the eastern seaboard.

Eric Prouix found this tooth of a giant short-faced bear in the Cooper River in South Carolina while he was scuba diving. This is the first record of this extinct species in the state.

This map is from the below reference. I added the blue dot to indicate where the short-faced bear specimen was found in South Carolina.
Typical inaccurate image of a giant short-faced bear. Recent studies determined its legs were not as long as previously thought and its face not as short.

Much of what scientists thought about the giant short-faced bear has been revised. It was a very large bear, averaging as big as a Kodiak bear, the subspecies of brown bear that enjoys an high protein diet of salmon. This diet results in a bear able to reach weights of over 1000 pounds. But giant short-faced bears did not have unusually long legs, and their faces were not particularly short. So every illustration of this species on the web is wrong. Scientists also formerly thought giant short-faced bears were highly carnivorous, scavenging by driving other predators from their kills. Though I’m sure this happened on occasion, an isotopic study determined short-faced bears were omnivorous, just like most other species of bears.

The presence of giant short-faced bears in South Carolina shows 3 species of bears co-existed throughout southeastern North America during the Pleistocene. Florida spectacled bears and black bears shared the land with their larger cousins. In addition grizzly bears lived at least as far southeast as Kentucky, and polar bears may have occasionally roamed south along the Atlantic Coast when glaciers covered most of their present day habitat.

Reference:

Schubert, B.; R. Hulbert, B. MacFadden, and S. Sourle

“Giant Short-Faced Bears (Arctodus simus ) in Pleistocene Florida, U.S.A., a Substantial Range Extension”

Journal of Paleontology 84 (1) 2010

Tigers (Panthera tigris) Suppress Dhole (Cuon alpinus) Populations.

April 1, 2021

A new study determined tigers suppress dhole pack sizes in India. Dhole packs are smaller in areas with higher densities of tigers, even if there is an higher density of potential prey species. The scientists conducting the study used camera traps to estimate pack size and tiger numbers. In Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve where tiger density is high, there were 7 dhole packs averaging 6.4 dholes per pack. In Navegaon-Naziri Tiger Reserve where tiger density is lower, there were 5 dhole packs averaging 16.8 dogs per pack. Pack sizes were 2.6 times greater in areas with lower tiger density. Both reserves are in a subtropical dry deciduous forest zone dominated by teak, argun, and giant crepe myrtle trees. The terrain is somewhat hilly. Leopards are another important large predator in the reserves, and the leopard population is also negatively impacted by tigers. Common prey species in the reserves include spotted deer, sambar deer, barking deer, nilgai antelope, wild boar, and gaur–a large species of cattle. Dhole pack sizes do increase in areas with greater prey density, but the abundance of tigers is a greater influence on pack size. Dholes tend to prey on smaller animals in areas with lots of tigers, so they can consume more of the animal before a tiger drives them away from the kill. Tigers depress dhole populations by directly hunting them and by chasing packs away from their kills.

Map of tiger reserves where the below referenced study took place. Map from the below referenced study.

Tigers totally dominate dholes. The authors of the study saw tigers kill dholes on 5 different occasions and drive packs away from their kills 23 times. They saw no instances of dholes killing tigers or driving them away from their kills.

Spotted deer are an important prey item for tigers and dholes.
Nilgai antelope, also known as blue buck are another important prey item for tigers and dholes. Hunters introduced nilgai antelope to Texas about 100 years ago, and now there is a feral population of 37,000 in that state.

India has the highest dhole population in the world. There are small packs in the northern montane forest, and larger packs in the dry deciduous forests of central and south India. Since tigers were eliminated from Laos, dhole populations have increased there. Dholes formerly ranged across most of Asia, and during the Pleistocene they ranged into North America, though fossil evidence there is limited to 1 site in Mexico.

Siberian tigers are known to depress wolf populations, and lions depress hyena and hunting dog populations in Africa. I wonder if big cats suppressed canid populations in Pleistocene North America. Saber-tooths were very powerful fanged cats, and American lions grew larger than any big cat species. Pleistocene jaguars grew as large or larger than modern tigers and are at least as common as dire wolves in the fossil record of Florida. There really is no way to know because abundance in the fossil record doesn’t necessarily reflect actual abundance in life.

Reference:

Bhanda, A.; P. Ghaskodbi, P. Nigram, and B. Habib

“Dhole Pack Size Variation: Assessing the Effect of Prey Availability and Apex Predator”

Ecology and Evolution March 29, 2021

Pleistocene Megaherbivores of India

March 25, 2021

388 species of land mammals occur in India today, including 15 species of flying squirrels, 20 species of bovids, 18 species of deer, 16 species of cats, 19 species of monkeys, and 3 species of apes.  The diversity of habitats in India from high mountains to desert plains with subtropical forests and mangrove swamps in between supports this great variety of mammals.  Africa has 1100 land and marine species of mammals and Pleistocene North America had 540, but they are whole continents.  India is just a subcontinent.  Compared to North America but like Africa, India didn’t suffer many late Pleistocene extinctions.  However, there were a few notable species that became extinct or extirpated in India.

Gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelades) today are restricted to the Ethiopian Highlands, but fossil evidence from the Billasugrun Cave Complex showed they formerly ranged into India.  Ostriches also formerly extended their range into India during the Pleistocene, but no longer occur there.

Screenshot (186)

Gelada baboons are restricted to the Ethiopian Highlands today, but during the Pleistocene their range extended into India.

Today, Asiatic elephants still live in India, but during the Pleistocene 2 additional species of elephants occurred in India–the Asian straight-tusked elephant (Paleoloxodon namadicus) and stegodon (Stegodon namadicus).  The former may have been the largest land mammal to ever live on earth.  Both species went extinct about 30,000 years ago when men began using projectile weapons.

Palaeoloxodon namadicus is a prehistoric straight-tusked elephant that ranged through Pleistocene Asia, fro… | Prehistoric animals, Extinct animals, Ancient animals

Scientists think the Asian straight-tusked elephant may have been the largest land mammal ever.  It became extinct in India soon after humans began using projectile weapons ~30,000 years ago.

What are the differences between Stegodon and Palaeoloxodon? - Quora

Stegodon namadicus.  The fossil record suggests it was formerly more abundant than the Asiatic elephant.  It too became extinct about the time man began using projectile weapons.

The pygmy hippo (Hexaprotodon) lasted in India until about 16,000 years ago.  There still is plenty of available habitat for pygmy hippos in India today, so man must be responsible for the disappearance of this species.  An horse (Equus namadicus) became extinct in India.  I can’t find much about this species, and I think it may have been the same species as the modern horse.  The wild ancestor of modern cattle (Bos namadicus) also vanished from India during the late Pleistocene, but its domesticated descendants are extremely abundant now.

File:Hexaprotodon.liberiensis-ZOO.Jihlava1.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

African pygmy hippo.  A species of pygmy hippo lasted in India until about 16,000 years ago when humans wiped them out.

Gaur - Description, Habitat, Image, Diet, and Interesting Facts

The gaur along with Asiatic elephants and Indian rhinos are still extant but endangered in India.

Scientists hypothesize India suffered fewer end Pleistocene extinctions than elsewhere because the animals there slowly co-evolved with man and learned to be wary of us.  They think this allowed for a robust population network in climatic refugia that could then rebound following local extirpations.  While this might be partially true, I have a different hypothesis.  I propose that in India (and Africa) tropical diseases and tribal warfare kept human populations relatively low.  Large tracts of land remained uninhabited for centuries.  These were the refugia that allowed animal populations to rebound and replenish regions with diminished or extirpated populations.  The Hindu religion’s reverence for life originated at least 6300 years ago and may be an additional factor in the persistence of abundant wildlife on the Indian subcontinent.  When India’s population of humans eventually did increase, the Hindu religion prevented the wonton slaughter of wildlife that plagued other regions such as China where tigers and elephants have been wiped out.

References:

Jukar, A.; S. Lyons, P. Wagner, M. Uhen

“Late Pleistocene Extinctions in the Indian Subcontinent”

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 562 (15) 2020

Roberts, P.; et. al.

“Continuity of Mammalian Fauna over the Last 200,000 Years in the Indian Subcontinent”

PNAS 111 (16) 2014

Tegu Lizards (Salvator merianae) are Invading Georgia

March 18, 2021

You know who I hate (besides Trumpanzees)?  I hate the hypocritical sadistic do-gooders who hunt Burmese pythons in south Florida.  For generations the ecosystem there has been out of whack because large predators have been reduced or exterminated.  Finally, a new large predator has been introduced (though accidentally), but these stupid jerks are wiping them out too.  Burmese pythons can help control the overpopulation of raccoons and wild hogs in South Florida that destroy eggs of endangered species of turtles.  The snake-killers refuse to acknowledge this benefit, and instead they are doing their best to eliminate another large predator that simply is substituting for the wolves and cougars that humans also try to wipe out.  I hope these assholes fail.  I root for the snake.  In fact I hope 1 day a Burmese python squeezes the life out of a snake-killing hypocrite who is trying to exterminate them. I would celebrate the irony.  I’d love to write the headline “Burmese Python Euthanizes Human.”

The Argentine black and white tegu is another newly colonizing species (which alarmists call invasive) that has wildlife biologists hyperventilating.  This species is native to South America and a popular pet among reptile-lovers.  However, they grow to 3 feet long and reach weights of 15 pounds.  Pet-owners get tired of taking care of such a large lizard, and they release them into the wild.  Tegus established a breeding population in south central Florida where they’ve been munching down on alligator and turtle eggs for 20 years.  Over the past 3 years there have been over 50 sightings of tegus in Georgia, mostly in Toombs and Tatnall Counties.  To determine whether a breeding population exists in south Georgia, scientists conducted a study.  They set out 75 live traps in 3 different locations in those 2 counties for a couple of months.  The scientists caught 2 breeding age females in all that time, indicating to me that they are still uncommon but present.  The authors of the paper wrote they “euthanized” the lizards by shooting them with a .22 rifle.  I hate the word, euthanize, because it makes killing a creature sound sanitized.

Argentine Black And White Giant Tegu, Tupinambis Merianae Or.. Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free Image. Image 94513894.

Black and white tegu lizards, native to Argentina and other South American countries, have established a population in Florida and are invading Georgia.  Do-gooder assholes want to wipe them out, but I think for the most part they are harmless.

Native range map for black and white Argentine tegus.

Verified and unverified sightings of tegu lizards in Georgia + trapping sites of the below referenced study.  .

Map of verified and unverified sightings of tegus in Georgia and Florida.  Surprisingly, some of them have been from quite far north in Georgia.  Tegus are partially warm-blooded and can dig burrows, helping them survive in cooler climates.  Map also from the below referenced study.

Most of Georgia is ideal habitat for tegu lizards.  They are partially warm-blooded and can did burrows to escape cold and hot weather.  Females lay about 30 eggs, and the young become full grown and sexually mature in 2 years.  They are also omnivorous, eating insects, other arthropods, small animals, eggs, and fruit.  The stomach contents of 7 tegu lizards trapped in Georgia included blackberry, strawberry, insects, other arthropods, crayfish, wood frogs, and a toad.  This list hardly sounds like an animal that is destabilizing the environment.  Wildlife biologists are concerned the lizards might eat eggs of the endangered gopher tortoise, and they have been found in gopher tortoise burrows, but native raccoons are much more abundant and have hardier appetites.  If gopher tortoises can co-occur with raccoon predation, they can endure the impact of a few lizards.  Unlike Burmese pythons, tegu lizards are much more vulnerable to native predators.  I’m sure bobcats, coyotes, hawks, owls, and snakes can control their numbers.

Reference:

Haro, D.; et. al.

“Evidence for an Established Population of Tegu Lizards (Salvatore merianae) in Southeastern Georgia”

Southeastern Naturalist (19) 4 2020

Deinosuchus rugosus Given a New Scientific Name–D. Schwimmeri

March 11, 2021

My wife took a geology class 40 years ago at Columbus State University, and it was taught by David Schwimmer who now has the honor of having an extinct species of crocodylian named after him.  The paleontologists who named the species after him consider it a new species (or species novum), but it is really not a species new to science.  The first scientist to name the species gave it the scientific name Deinosuchus rugosus.  However, the type specimen used to name the species is not considered diagnostic as it could represent any of the 3 known species of Deinosuchus.  So they used other more complete specimens to describe the anatomy of the species, and they decided to give it the scientific name D. schwimmeri after David Schwimmer who published a book about Deinosuchus during 2002.

Species named after Columbus State professor David Schwimmer | Columbus  Ledger-Enquirer

David Schwimmer of Columbus State University, my wife’s college geology professor.  He wrote a book about Deinosuchus, a giant extinct alligatoroid.  Deinosuchus rugosus has been renamed in his honor as D. schwimmeri.

Feces, Bite Marks Flesh Out Giant Dino-Eating Crocs

Deinosuchus preyed on tyrannosaurs and other dinosaurs.

Fossil evidence suggests there were 3 species of Deinosuchus living in North America during the late Cretaceous from ~80 million years BP-~73 million years BP.  The North American continent was split into 3 land masses by the Western Interior Sea then.  D. schwimmeri is the species that lived on the eastern part of North America, and D. riograndis lived on the western part.  D. hatcheri, a poorly known species, also lived on the western part.  D. riograndis tended to grow larger than D. schwimmeri.  All species of Deinosuchus were 36 foot long 12,000 pound monsters that ate Tyrannosaurus rex for breakfast.  Fossil specimens of Deinosuchus have been found in Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Utah, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Mexico.  Scientists aren’t sure how Deinosuchus came to live on both sides of the Western Interior Sea.  They likely were saltwater tolerant and perhaps island-hopped from 1 side to the other.  Alternatively, when the Western Interior Sea flooded the Great Plains, the 2 founding populations were separated.

Deinosuchus is considered an alligatoroid or in other words they are thought to have been more closely related to alligators than crocodiles.  They were not ancestral to modern alligators.  Instead they were related to the direct ancestor of modern day alligators.

References:

Gossette, A; and C. Bracho

“A Systematic Review of the Giant Alligatoroids Deinosuchus from the Cretaceous of North America and its Implications for the Relationships at the Root of Crocodylia”

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 40 (1) 2020

Schwimmer, David

King of the Crocodylians: The Paleobiology of Deinosuchus

Indiana University Press 2002