Ecoviews: Snakes, Snails, and Environmental Tales

Ecoviews: Snakes, Snails, and Environmental Tales


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780817309190
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Publication date: 03/28/1998
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Whit Gibbons is Professor of Ecology at the University of Georgia, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. His natural history publications include Their Blood Runs Cold: Adventures with Reptiles and Amphibians and Poisonous Plants and Venomous Animals of Alabama and Adjoining States (as co-author). Anne R. Gibbons is a free-lance editor and indexer. John Cairns, Jr., is University Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology Emeritus at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Do Trees Own Themselves?
Thoughts to Ponder

"We by-and-by discovered, however, what I thought well worth my trouble, a pair of those splendid birds, the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.... They were engaged in rapping some tall dead pines, in a dense part of the forest, which rang with their loud notes. These were not at all like the loud laugh of the Pileated ..., nor the cackle of the smaller species, but a single cry frequently repeated, like the clang of a trumpet.... We succeeded in shooting both, which I skinned and dissected."

The ivory-billed woodpecker is now presumed extinct in North America. The above account was written in southern Alabama in the late 1830s. No illegal act was committed and no environmental harm was intended by the writer, Philip Henry Gosse. His 1859 book, Letters from Alabama, reissued in 1993, contains verbal portraits and is an excellent addition to our knowledge of plants, animals, and natural habitats in the 1800s.

    William Bartram is generally recognized as having written the most thorough accounts of natural history in the southern regions of the country during the early colonization period, in the late 1700s. More than half a century after Bartram, Gosse's views as a naturalist give intriguing insight into the natural history of the developing region. Gosse arrived in Mobile, Alabama, in 1838, and his writings disclose environmental, as well as social, attitudes of the times. An Englishman who had lived in Philadelphia, Gosse came to Alabama with prospects of being a teacher. His"letters" are notes and sketches based on his observations of the region, its people, and its wildlife.

    Gosse mentions more than three hundred plants and animals (usually including scientific names). Most are insects: he had a special fondness for butterflies and moths. He also reports observations of about fifty birds, a dozen reptiles, thirty-five trees, and more than fifty flowers, shrubs, and vines. His accounts of natural history reveal a keen and observant individual with a background in biology. An annotated section by Daniel D. Jones and Ken R. Marion at the end of the modern edition is valuable for today's readers; it cites currently accepted names of each species of plant or animal mentioned by Gosse.

    Even without the annotation, many of Gosse's descriptions are accurate enough for readers to recognize today's extant species and some that are no longer with us. For example, Gosse states that on "a ride to Selma ... I had the pleasure of seeing a flock of Parrots.... There were eighty or a hundred in one compact flock, and as they swept past me, screaming as they went, I fancied that they looked like an immense shawl of green satin, on which an irregular pattern was worked in scarlet and gold and azure." These were of course now-extinct Carolina parakeets. The last confirmed specimen of the Carolina parakeet died in the Cincinnati Zoo on 21 February 1918. Ironically, the last passenger pigeon had died in a nearby cage in the same zoo four years earlier.

    Some readers will be alarmed at the prevailing attitude of the times that any living animal was fair game for a man with a rifle. Gosse, like John James Audubon, shot birds in order to study the specimens. But he mentions the indiscriminate shooting of other animals by anyone holding a gun. The prey included great horned owls, Mississippi kites, and opossums—not for food but because of an attitude that shooting anything was all right. Even Gosse, clearly a lover of nature, is not judgmental on the topic. This attitude is understandable. As recently as the 1950s shooting even songbirds or hawks went unchallenged in many parts of the country. Unfortunately, this same attitude persists in some regions today, although a more environmentally aware society is gradually pressing such views into extinction.

    Overall, Gosse's book is a reflective and informative guide for those interested in the perspectives of a biologist in the South a century and a half ago. But environmental issues have become increasingly complex not only within the last century but also within the last few decades. In the 1970s, around the time of the first Earth Day, most people could easily decide which position they should take in an environmental debate. Each year, the decisions have become less and less clear-cut. Economics, water quality, agricultural needs, disappearing forests, and other complex issues must be pondered, evaluated, and placed in a proper balance. The environmental conscience of most of us is taxed daily. The American beaver provides an outstanding example of the complexity of environmental conscience at the personal level. The perplexing problem of the beaver mirrors, in microcosm, the ongoing environmental dilemmas that we face collectively and individually.

Enter the Beaver

    As many as 400 million beavers inhabited North America in the 1700s. By the early 1900s fur trappers and disgruntled landowners had reduced the beaver population to near extinction in most of its range. Today, beavers have made a comeback and can be found in many regions where they were rare or absent for decades.

    Beavers are undeniably cute, from the chubby babies dragging little paddlelike tails behind them to ones that have been raised as pets to adulthood and can even be fed safely by hand. A family of beavers in a lake can be the pinnacle of fascination for someone who enjoys observing animal behavior—a wildlife experience with a lesson in sociology. If they do not feel threatened, beavers will busily swim about building a lodge or dam as a cooperative family unit, although they do not build either lodges or dams in some situations. Contented beaver family members can even be heard mewing to one another. It is easy to be smitten with their industrious, friendly behavior. Their hard-working nature is a textbook example of a positive trait we would all do well to acquire.

    People who live on a lake, however, may find that a family of beaver neighbors can soon present a dilemma. Having their own private beaver family involves both costs and benefits. For example, the residents along a lake spoke with pride of their small beaver colony. But one spring night the beavers cut down and carried away six boxwood shrubs planted the previous afternoon. The next night, as if to make a firm statement to their previously admiring audience, the beavers expertly removed a flowering pink dogwood tree that grew only a few feet away from the boxwood stumps. Because the record-size tree (a cottonwood in Canada) known to have been felled by beavers was five and a half feet in diameter, a landowner could easily become concerned. The predicament is how to keep beavers for show-and-tell and yet have them behave to our liking. Pam Graves, an environmental educator who has kept a pet beaver for years, has suggested that if people want to keep beavers in their ponds, they should plant red maples and willows. The beaver teeth will act like pruning shears, but the trees will not be killed.

    Another common problem occurs when beavers decide the water level of a lake is not high enough to suit them. They may proceed to dam up the overflow pipe, thus flooding driveways and backyards. Removing the vegetation from the pipe will help for only a day at a time, because beavers, some of whom do not care much for running water, will repair a broken dam or fill an unclogged pipe within hours. Beavers also burrow under roads and weaken structural foundations. Another stressful situation can arise when beavers build a lodge inside a boathouse. Although the activity may be fun to watch, the attractiveness begins to wane when the beavers use the boathouse pilings to increase the size of their lodge. In each case, the dilemma is, do you get rid of the beavers or forfeit your personal property? (Beavers, however, are not the only species that can damage property with dams. As Pam Graves points out, beavers in the Savannah River that separates South Carolina and Georgia build neither lodges nor dams but instead live in holes they make in the bank. She notes that the only dams on the Savannah River have been put there by human activity. Think how much habitat, including formerly private property, these dams have flooded.)

    The quandary with beavers is compounded when people grow fond of the flat-tailed animals around them and do not want to hurt them. The simplest way to remove beavers is with a steel snap trap that kills them. This method does not qualify as "not hurting." So what about trapping them alive? With more effort than required for snap traps—and less effective results—beavers can be captured unharmed. Then the question arises, what do you do with them? Regional zoos have a limited demand for beavers, so this option is soon exhausted. Releasing what you consider a pest into another lake or stream hardly seems fair to whoever lives there. Besides, like many animals, beavers will return to their former home if the distance is not too great. So, what do you do?

    No simple answer exists. Beavers put the issue of nuisance wildlife on a personal scale. You have two clear options: kill the beavers or ignore the destruction of your property. A compromise is often out of the question.

    The issue of balancing one's love of wildlife with decisions about personal lifestyle, including ownership of pets, can be even more complicated. One dilemma that affects millions of Americans is caused by a predator that lurks in virtually all terrestrial habitats, ready to pounce upon any small prey—mammal, bird, or reptile. The creature is everywhere, from England to Australia, and throughout North America. Biologists consider it the most dangerous carnivore in many regions because of its large numbers, stealth, and agility. An inclination to hunt, whether hungry or not, makes the species a potential menace to all wildlife. The killer is the domestic cat, a species introduced to North America in the 1600s, centuries before fire ants or kudzu.

Look What the Cat Dragged In

    An article in Virginia Wildlife by Joe Mitchell of the University of Richmond gives some striking facts about house cats and their potential impact on native wildlife. He distinguishes between "domestic, free-ranging cats" (those that spend much of their time outdoors but are assured of a food supply at home) and feral (wild) cats. The latter have no human home and therefore must provide their own meals. Both types of cats prey on wildlife and are highly successful predators.

    Mitchell, a biologist who lives in a suburban neighborhood and who is a cat owner, kept a tally of the wildlife trophies his family's four cats brought home over a period of eleven months. The total was 104 individuals of 21 native species: 6 kinds of birds, 8 kinds of mammals, 7 kinds of reptiles. Among the prey were flying squirrels, chipmunks, Carolina wrens, and cardinals. Peter Stangel, with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in Washington, D.C., told of his two cats' kill records during the time he lived in rural South Carolina: 15 different species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in four months. Anyone with a cat knows such prey numbers are not unusual for active domestic cats with access to wooded areas. Such tallies, which include only animals brought to the homeowners, are probably underestimates. On the other hand, some cats do not seem particularly predatory. Some fat, lazy felines lounge and bask all day and sleep inside at night.

    Mitchell used his tally to provide some measure of the total impact that house cats might have on local wildlife. The Humane Society estimated about a million house cats in Virginia, not counting the feral ones. Mitchell calculated that 3 million songbirds and 27 million native mammals potentially fall victim to domestic cats annually, if all kill at the rate that his did. This record is only for one year and only in Virginia! An article by Paul Karr in Sanctuary, the journal of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, provided comparable data on wildlife destruction by domestic cats. An estimated 2 million birds are killed annually in that state. The article mentions another study stating that no fewer than 20 million birds are killed by cats each year in Britain. Cats are also considered a major menace to wildlife in some parts of Australia, where active eradication programs have been instituted by some of its citizens.

    Awareness that cats can have a major impact on wildlife is not new. More than a century ago in England, cats were recognized as affecting plant, as well as animal, communities. Red clover was considered dependent on "humble bees" for pollination. The number of humble bees and the level of successful pollination were low in some areas, where field mice destroyed the hives. However, when cats were present, the number of mice was generally low. The author reporting this observation concluded, "it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine ... the frequency of certain flowers in that district!" The author was Charles Darwin; the book was The Origin of Species.

    Human beings obviously appreciate cats, as evidenced by the presence of an estimated 60 million in the United States. Their impact on small native animals is significant and in many instances disturbing, whether one is concerned about disappearing wildlife or concerned that the gentle house cat could get a bad reputation. Will Americans concerned about the national decline in numbers of songbirds and other wildlife be willing to get rid of their cats? Not likely. So what should we do about an environmental problem of this kind?

    Can we rationalize that cats are only filling a void left by the disappearance or decline of natural predators like panthers, bobcats, and wolves? Do we refer to Darwin's observation that cats can be important in the preservation of flowers? No matter what justification we offer for not getting rid of our cats, such as emphasizing that they do not destroy natural habitat the way some other species do, the reality is that they kill a lot of small wildlife. One solution for the situation with house cats is simply to keep them indoors, a position strongly recommended by many as best for the cat as well as the wildlife.

    Cats are not the only normative species introduced into a habitat where it competes with native species. Imagine the scene of a herd of horses feeding on an open range. A majestic stallion watches over his harem of mares on a green plain that stretches from one blue horizon to the other. Environmental beauty? Or environmental destruction?

Who's at Home on the Range?

    In looking at a magnificent thoroughbred horse, we sometimes forget that the ancestors of all pets and domestic animals were once wild. Each adapted to a specific natural environment before coming under the care and protection of people. The process often goes full circle, as with the feral horses that now roam parts of the West. Horses, like cats, are still capable of living in natural environments, even after generations of care and breeding by humans. The descendants of formerly domestic equine stock, after many centuries of complete or partial domestication, can clearly live under sometimes harsh environmental conditions. Good examples are the ponies of Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, the Atlantic barrier islands off the Virginia coastline. The ponies' ancestors escaped from wrecked European sailing vessels. The descendants have survived now for many generations in the sometimes stringent environments of the coastal islands.

    Owners of thoroughbred horses are proud if they can identify their steeds' ancestors back to the turn of the century. Thoroughbreds have long genealogies, recorded in careful detail. But the search back through history can only go so far, for experts disagree about the origins of the domestic horse; presumably its roots were in a grassland region of Europe or Asia. The earliest records of human beings riding horses are from Asia, fifty centuries ago, near present-day Iran.

    Paleontologists probably smile at such short-term records. The lineage of horses with which paleontologists work can be traced back 65 million years. We know from fossils that the ancestral "dawn horses" (Eohippus) were about five hands high (less than two feet) and lived in North America and Europe. Four flat toes allowed them to walk in a swampy environment; their short teeth were suitable for a habitat filled with lush, leafy vegetation. As centuries passed, their environment changed to a firmer terrain with coarse grasses. This new diet wore down short teeth very quickly. Thus, horse ancestors with longer teeth were favored for survival. By following fossil remains through geologic time, we see the horse developing the single hoof, as we know it today. Also, as horses spread throughout all continents except Australia and Antarctica, they became larger, owing to unknown forces of natural selection.

    According to William D. McCort of the Nature Conservancy, herds of wild horses ranged across North America as recently as eleven thousand years ago. Then, horses disappeared from the Western Hemisphere. Although the return of domestic animals to the wild is seldom good for the overall environment, one might claim that horses in the New West are former natives that were simply absent for a time—a long time.

    How long does an introduced species have to be present before we call the situation "natural"? Should horses that have now been around for centuries be considered part of the natural environment? And who should make the decision about whether a habitat should be returned to its original state or left to take its own course? These questions have no simple answers—they involve not only ecology but also politics and economics. Complicating the issue is the fact that cattle are allowed to graze unhindered on many open ranges of the western United States. Cows cause more damage to native vegetation than do horses. Should we be overly concerned for the environmental impact caused by horses when we allow cattle, which are estimated to outnumber the horses by more than four hundred to one, to have free rein over thousands of square miles of public lands?

    This is not an easy issue to resolve. Who has the greater rights? The horses, because we feel a closeness to them and because they have clearly found a suitable home? Cows, because we eat them? Or the natural plants and animals of North America that have, for more than ten thousand years, lived and evolved into an existence with neither horses nor cows? Or do we quit trying to referee the situation and let whoever happens to have arrived sort the problem out among themselves?

The Palm That Keeps Its Feet Wet

    Anyone familiar with kudzu in the southeastern United States or autumn olive in the Midwest can readily appreciate that environmental quandaries created by nonnative, introduced species are not restricted to animals. On a trip to Palm Springs, California, I learned of a plan to bring convicts into the desert to apply chemicals that would poison a particular type of shrub, an introduced species that threatened the environmental integrity of the desert ecosystem. I was in a jeep with Jeff Lovich and Roland de Gouvenain, who were at that time officials with the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM). We were driving to a place called Dos Palmas, a unique desert area with many native California fan palms.

    BLM's mission is to manage public lands and resources in a manner that best serves the needs of the American people. The lands administered by BLM in California make up more than 17 million acres, an area larger than the state of West Virginia. The resources include recreation, wildlife, cultural values, timber, minerals, and wilderness. Jeff and Roland are ecologists, so they focus on preserving and managing native plants and animals in sensitive environmental areas.

    We passed many different kinds of palm trees on the way to Dos Palmas, but only one kind, the California fan palm, is native to the state. All the others are species introduced from other states or other countries. I had heard about "the palm tree that likes to keep its feet wet," a phenomenon known in the region since the earliest settlers arrived. Any thirsty desert traveler was ecstatic at the sight of palms; under natural conditions, palms indicated the presence of water, a true oasis. To see the palms today in their natural setting at one of the two major oases at Dos Palmas is like stepping into an ecological dream world.

    We sat beside a clear pool, surrounded by towering palm trees that shield not only the sun but any sight or sound of the surrounding desert. The solitude of the oasis bespeaks protection and security. The trees are about fifty feet tall with trunks two feet across. The protection from sun and wind comes from the brown palm fronds that hang from top to bottom of each tree. The top fans of the palms are green, but as each season's fans are replaced by new growth, the dead ones droop toward the ground, adorning the tree like a huge skirt. The stand of palm trees creates a series of thick, heavy curtains on all sides, some more than fifteen feet in diameter. Desert completely surrounds the few acres of water and palm trees, which serve as refuges for desert birds, diamondback rattlers, the endangered desert pupfish, and a host of small mammals.

    The desert has a beauty of its own. Creosote bushes and mesquite trees are scattered across the rocks and sand. On a warm winter day lizards scamper from one clump of vegetation to another. Natural sounds. Natural landscape. Native inhabitants to observe. This is how nature really is and should be.

    But an invader spoils the scene at Dos Palmas. Amid the native desert plants, even around the thick stand of palms, a nonnative has emerged, and it threatens to change the scenery. A Eurasian shrub or small tree—the tamarisk, or saltcedar—has become established at Dos Palmas. Tamarisk is a tough competitor for native plants under certain conditions: it overshades other vegetation and uses great quantities of the precious soil moisture. A mature tamarisk tree produces half a million windblown seeds each year, and any area of moist disturbed soil can serve as a germination site for a tamarisk seed. Native animals make little use of the trees for food or shelter, and only a few birds nest in them.

    BLM's directive was to return Dos Palmas to its natural state by eliminating tamarisks from two thousand acres. Simply cutting them down is not effective because they resprout vigorously. Even cut limbs can take root. Thus BLM has developed a tamarisk removal plan. The plants will be cut, and herbicides that have been carefully tested and judged environmentally safe will be applied directly to the cut stems. One plan was for the labor-intensive project to be carried out under BLM's supervision by prisoners from a state correctional facility.

    Dos Palmas, with its admixture of palm oases, natural desert, and alien shrubs, suggests that southern California has the potential to qualify as environmental chaos. Some think it has already achieved this condition. Others, including some at BLM, believe many of the natural areas can still be reclaimed. Should we launch a desert attack on an imported weed with the aid of tree-poisoning convicts? Some would argue that a tree introduced more than a century ago should not be eliminated. But if we want a natural desert, the alien tree must go. The project is a major undertaking in environmental management. When dedicated ecologists with no political agenda are the environmental managers, why not give them a try?

Who Owns That Tree?

    Trees, however, need not be introduced aliens to create controversy. A "man against tree" battle occurred in the 1990s in the Low Country of South Carolina where three big trees were declared to be standing in the way of education. Each tree was more than two feet in diameter and had occupied the same spot for eighty years. That spot was now needed for new classrooms. Simply put, a legal contest ensued over whether the school district was required to comply with a county ordinance that protected the trees because of their size. One must wonder if school officials pondered the point of whether next year's environmental education classes should be delivered in crowded classrooms shaded by big trees or in a vacant lot with a roomy building.

    Another Low Country controversy, near Charleston, South Carolina, resulted from plans to cut down huge live oak trees along the road that leads through Johns Island to Kiawah Island. A major professional golf tournament, the Ryder Cup, was scheduled for the following year, and a decision had been made to widen the road to accommodate the anticipated traffic. Or looking at it another way, the trees, which have adorned the roadway for a century or more, would have to be removed so that a group of people could watch a golf match for a few days. The decision seemed to hinge on whether it would be good business to assume that golf spectators would prefer to leave for the golf tournament a few minutes earlier and plan to spend the additional driving time on a narrower road graced with live oak trees. The trees are still there, so it appears that in 1991 the United States won more than just the Ryder Cup.

    Sentiments about tree rights are definitely on the rise. In the foreseeable future more than a chainsaw will be required for cutting down any big tree that just happens to be in someone's way. The native tree ordinance of Dade County, Florida, protects certain native trees regardless of property ownership. We can expect a lot of legal maneuvering and interpretations before we reach the point where it becomes illegal to cut down any tree, anywhere. But remember, only a century or so ago, anyone with a gun could shoot a deer, a goose, or any other animal. We now have hunting seasons and other controls for game animals and many other species.

   One kind of activity that should change people's attitudes about big tree destruction can be seen in almost any developing town in the country. Big, healthy trees are removed from alongside the streets for some type of development. Then, in an ironic twist worthy of an O. Henry short story, a bunch of scraggly little trees are planted where the giants were. Well, maybe in a few decades ...

    Nonetheless, we still have a lot of impressive trees: the banyan tree in Fort Myers, Florida, planted by Thomas Edison and now spreading over the better part of an acre; the Angel Oak, near Charleston, South Carolina, with a trunk diameter greater than the height of a tall man; the towering redwoods. A tree in Athens, Georgia, is unusual for something other than its physical characteristics. The white oak of medium size stands on a back street, surrounded by a series of granite posts connected by chains. Inside the posts, amid the dead leaves from the tree, rises a piece of granite that resembles a tombstone. At first I thought I had found a special grave site, and I stopped to read the epitaph. Instead of a statement of death, however, the writing was a gift of life, apparently excerpted from someone's will: "for and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides."

    Someone had willed a plot of land to a tree. Upon pursuing the issue, I found the will had been that of W. H. Jackson, a professor at the University of Georgia in the 1880s. Jackson owned the land, had enjoyed the tree much of his life, and decided to leave the tree to no one but itself. The original tree was blown down in 1942, and in 1946 the Junior Ladies' Garden Club planted a sapling grown from one of the tree's acorns. This is the tree I saw. The Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau reports that the tree that owns itself was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not as the world's most unusual property owner. Part of what is unusual, of course, is that an unemployed tree pays no property tax.

    My first thoughts were that if this approach were to catch on, with all of us protecting a tree or two in our wills, we would soon have a lot of protected trees. Or if people got really ambitious, they could will entire woodlots or forests to themselves, protected from human whims. I am not sure how the property tax issue would be handled, but after a few decades we would certainly have a lot of protected habitat.

    Nat Frazer of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) pointed out to me an even more intriguing issue. Why do we assume that for a tree to own itself someone has to state this intent in a will? One line of environmental ethics might be, instead, that all trees already own themselves and that we are being presumptuous to assume they belong to us in the first place.

    Such a presumptuous attitude is of course the very foundation of many of our environmental problems today. We assume that the plants and animals of the world are ours, to be used (and sometimes abused) at our whim. Instead, we should recognize that their lives and well-being are intimately intertwined with our own. The increasing number of endangered species and the disappearing tropical rain forests attest to the problem of this mistaken attitude. Those who might take the position that human beings hold dominion over all plants and animals should consider the following analogy. Giving your teenagers dominion over the family car on a Saturday night does not give them permission to wreck it.

    Perhaps we need guidelines that require justification for the destruction of any habitat, including every plant or animal that lives in it. Each development project or forestry operation would have to demonstrate that the economic gains to the community outweigh the environmental losses. People undertaking some ventures would have a hard time justifying that their financial gain was properly balanced by the loss of habitat, plants, and animals.

    The tree that owns itself in Athens is one of a kind from the human perspective. But from the standpoint of the millions of species of plants and animals that live on the earth, isn't this really the way things were supposed to be in the first place?

    Clearly, the issue of the rights of plants and animals, both native and introduced, is unresolved, as is the related issue of their environmental disposition. The ultimate controversy, however, comes with animals that kill people as part of their behavior.

They Eat People, Don't They?

    A few years ago a journal called Hamadryad (a hamadryad is a king cobra), the official publication of a zoological park in Madras, India, had an article about crocodiles. The magazine's emphasis was on the conservation and ecology of reptiles in India and other parts of the world. Frequently, articles in such a publication offer environmental views in a manner and from a perspective that differ from that to which we are accustomed. We should consider the approaches and ideas of other cultures lest we become nearsighted and provincial in our view of the world. One thought-provoking series of articles in Hamadryad was about the saltwater crocodile.

    The saltwater crocodile of coastal areas of Borneo, New Guinea, and Australia is the great white shark or Bengal tiger of the reptile world. A saltwater crocodile views a human being as one more source of body-building protein, an edible morsel good enough to deserve a bit of stalking and beguiling behavior if necessary. Sometimes these crocodiles swim in the ocean, far from land, but they often live in rivers and freshwater marshes. Their size is enormous, the record lengths being more than twenty-two feet. To get an idea of the awesome size and behavior of these creatures, consider that I saw a sixteen-footer lunge out of a murky pool and land fourteen feet out of the water, mouth opened wide enough for a yardstick to be placed between the top and bottom jaws. A large Australian man who was present at the spectacle told about sitting on the back of one even larger, so large that he could not touch the ground with his feet on either side.

    People often ask what the difference is between an alligator and a crocodile. The answer is not simple; the almost two dozen species of crocodilians vary greatly in shape and size, within the restricted morph of a lizardlike animal with four legs. American alligators have broad snouts, whereas many crocodiles, such as the American crocodile native to southern Florida, have narrower ones. But the most significant and dramatic way that a few, but not all, crocodiles differ from alligators is that some crocodiles will unequivocally eat people. Fortunately, American crocodiles do not indulge in this antisocial behavior. American crocodiles, in fact, behave somewhat like alligators, which are shy and usually inoffensive. Some people consider American alligators a menace because they occasion-

Mothers, Sisters, Resisters
Oral Histories of Women Who Survived the Holocaust

Edited by Brana Gurewitsch

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 1998 Brana Gurewitsch. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

1. Do Trees Own Themselves? Thoughts to Ponder1
2 Wanderlust, Cannibals, and Chemical Warfare: Amazing
Animal Acts23
3 Why Did the Turtle Cross the Road? Research Questions and
Occasional Answers49
4 Not All the Answers Are Black-and-White: The World of
Sight and Scent81
5. Ever Smoke a Colorado Toad? On the Lighter Side of Ecology101
6. Barbershop Ecology: True Tales Worth Telling119
7. In Your Own Backyard: Exploring Nature's Wonders147
8. Time to Put Out the Night Light: In Our Opinion171

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