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Is this the offending foam?

On last weekend’s trip to the Oregon coast, E and I noticed the beaches were festooned with unsupported sea-foam, churned up by the wavesFtStevensFoam.  This might have been the slimy foam that’s currently causing major problems for sea birds along the Oregon coast.  The foam, a result of an off-shore algal bloom, coats the bird’s plumage as they dive or float in affected seawater. This destroys the water-proofing loft of down feathers, the warmth-holding space under the countour plumage which keeps the birds warm in cold water.

(Above: Foam-coated beach, Fort Stevens State Park; photo E. Shock)

Hundreds of hypothermal seabirds, including loons, murres, grebes, and puffins, are washing up on shore on along the northern beaches of Oregon.unsupp_seafoam Extraordinary efforts are being made to save these animals at wildlife rescue centers both in Oregon and California.  The Coast Guard is helping evac the feathered patients from Oregon to a high-tech rescue center in California which is designed to help victims of oil-spills — read about it here and here.

(Right, unsupported sea foam, photo E.Shock)

We didn’t encounter any of the suffering birds, fortunately, but we did see a number of loons, grebes, and  sea-going ducks like scoters cruising the near-shore waves on beaches covered with blowing clots and rolls of sticky foam.rthrloon

(Left: Red-throated loon, photo E.Shock.  Note that there’s a small wavelet behind the bird’s beak that’s making the bill look thicker than it actually is.)

Posted by Allison on Oct 28th 2009 | Filed in birds,environment/activism/politics,field trips,natural history | Comments (0)

Who needs vultures? Everybody needs vultures!

International Vulture Awareness day is Sept. 5

Vultures and condors are really useful in your niche or ecosystem.  What to do with that pesky roadkill, thawed winterkill, shot-winged quarry, victims of natural disaster, contagion, or warfare, or any other squishy, odiferous and past-its-prime meaty object?  Just leave it to vultures — it’s easy, quick, FREE, and All Natural.

Recommended by ornithologists, epidemiologists, jhatorists, and vultures worldwide!

(Not available in perpetually frosty environments)

For more about International Vulture Awareness Day, click here.

(Photo:Turkey vulture; A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Sep 5th 2009 | Filed in birds,environment/activism/politics,natural history | Comments (1)

Is birding green?

The Telegraph website of the UK has posted a short column hastily summarizing a research paper concluding that Birding Is Not Green, especially competitive birding and twitching.  The Telegraph article is not very in-depth, refers mostly to Britain (although the issues are largely common to the US as well, and the primary author is at University of Illinois, and is a birder himself) and takes a bit of a snarky tone — you birders aren’t as green as you think — but it’s still worth a glance.

The author of the study points out that while chasing rarities, twitchers (the mostly British term for avid birders who mainly are interested in checking off bird species from their lists) log many gasoline-hogging hours in their vehicles, or taking long flights to see hard-to-find species or vagrants. A case in point from my own experience: many years ago a pinkish Ross’s Gull — usually an arctic bird — showed up near the Alton Lock and Dam on the Mississippi River north of St. Louis.  People were coming from places as far away as Italy and South Africa to see that bird, because it was closer and easier to get to than the high arctic.  And local birders made the drive twice or more, to log the bird in two separate years (it was at the New Year), and in two separate states, since it was at times visible from both the Missouri and Illinois side of the river!  A much more recent Ross’s gull at the Salton Sea created a similar scene.

(The photo above of the Salton Sea Ross’s Gull is by Henry Detweiler from the Southwest Birders website.  I’ve used it here because it’s a very nice photo of a ROGU, not because Southwest Birders are involved in any way that I know of in the debate about greenness and birding.)

These Ross’s Gulls chases would be cited as examples of fuel being used profligately, although the opposite argument could be made as well: visiting the Salton Sea or Alton, Illinois — closer and less pristine habitats than, say, Churchill Manitoba — actually represents a greener way of seeing the gull. In addition, the Telegraph article leaves out the fact that many birders (in the States, at least), regularly carpool to spot their targets.  Also ignored is that some eco-tours offer carbon offset opportunities for their trips.  And that many “birdwatchers” bird greenly in their yards, or nearby hotspots they access on foot or by bike.  Gilbert Water Ranch in Phoenix is a great place to bird by bike.  Some competitive birding activities, such as Big Days or Christmas Bird Counts, make useful contributions to what’s known about seasonal populations and ranges of birds, which for some might mitigate fossil fuel use to some degree.  No one criticizes the Family Roadtrip Vacation for being a fuel-wasting chase to bag National Parks: instead, people talk about broadening the kids’ horizons, engaging in “quality family time” and bolstering local economies. Traveling birders spend money in local economies, too. I would question why birding has been singled out for this criticism in the press.

(Left: Birding from the car in NZ: who’s birding who?  Cheeky Kea!  Photo: A.Shock)

There’s also a seriouly confusing and confused bit of content in the article that seems to quote the researchers as blaming birders for un-environmental practices because birders ignore pollution problems in bird-rich areas because birds tend to thrive there.  Not enough time to sort that one out in this post; I suspect the original study states it more clearly.

However, I didn’t set out to write a defense of the Greenness of Birding: most birders are aware that their passion has some not-so-environmentally-friendly aspects, and try to offset them.  The concept of Green Birding (like BIGBY) is not new; there are sites and posts all over the web — just plug “green birding” into your search engine and check a few of them out.  But, the Telegraph article does provide a reminder that some birding practices are fuel-consumptive or carbon-emitting, and we need to be aware and pro-active to make birding as green an activity as possible.

This might be one of those times it’s best to read the source article for yourself.  Here’s the reference:

Spencer Schaffner. Environmental Sporting: Birding at Superfund Sites, Landfills, and Sewage Ponds. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 2009; 33 (3): 206.

I couldn’t access more than an abstract online without a subscription to the online reference service.

Here’s a link to an interview with the author of the study, from Science Daily. This has more detail than the Telegraph article, and perhaps better summarizes Schaffner’s conclusions.

Posted by Allison on Aug 21st 2009 | Filed in birding,environment/activism/politics | Comments (2)

The Presidential Motorcade…

…just passed within a block of our house!

Turns out the street at the edge of our neighborhood — two houses away from ours — is a convenient north-south thoroughfare for Leaders of the Free World on their way between Sky Harbor Airport and resort row up on the shoulders of Camelback Mountain.  George W. Bush used to pass by every time he was in town en route to his favorite Phoenix digs, the Royal Palms, and on this trip the Obamas are staying at the Phoenecian.

Yesterday afternoon, we missed President Obama by a middle-aged minute — we were still hurrying over the front garden wall when the shiny black limos, trailed by mysterious subdued gray vans, zipped past the end of our street.  How disappointing!  I’d even made a polite sign about health care reform, with markers and a box to brandish, but we were too late.

So as E left for work this morning, he called home to say the police units were once again positioned along every side street, including ours.  Determined not to be so lame this time, I waited until I heard the chopper overhead, then grabbed a camera, a hat, and my sign and went out to wait at the corner in the shade of a mesquite tree. On the other side of the street a bunch of kids from the local parochial school were already out baking in the sun, and there was a sweaty pink cop who told me to stand back from the road. In just a few minutes, flashing lights could be seen up the road. Then steadily rolling down off Camelback Mountain towards us came a phalanx of motorcycle officers, some vans, two or three black limos with tiny side flags whipping, just like in the movies, white vans with clear windows crowded with Secret Service agents, Press Corps, and others, the mysterious gray vans again, an ambulance, and other serious-looking vehicles deemed necessary to keep POTUS safe on his way to a Stimulus Support speech at the Convention Center downtown.

Did I see the Prez or First Family?  Nope – just heavily tinted windows.  I was waving, so I didn’t even get a picture of their limos (if they were in them!), just some of the auxiliary vehicles.  But to me the important thing was that I was there with my mild little message, and for a split second in time, the President of the United States might have seen it.

That, and now I can add Presidential Motorcade to the Yard List.

(All photos A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Aug 17th 2009 | Filed in environment/activism/politics,yard list | Comments (1)

Feral Quadrupeds of Interest

In an earlier post, there was an oblique mention of seeing “Feral Quadrupeds of Interest”.  These would be the wild burros who live in the desert around Lake Pleasant, Arizona.

On our hike the other day, E and I encountered a small group of them.  They are often described as “more likely to be heard than seen” and in fact, we did hear them first.  A loud braying filled the quiet air of the desert morning, drowning out the breeze in the saguaro spines, the jingling of the Black-throated sparrows, and the chup-chup-chup of the male cardinal.  It was instantly recognizable — after we remembered there were supposed to be feral donkeys out here! — and after looking around for a bit, E spotted a group of about 5 on the top of a ridge.  They were not very close, but we did get some distant images of them, one of which is above.  The adults are gray, and you can see them on the very right-hand edge of the photo, behind a saguaro and a palo verde tree.  There’s a younger, darker animal visible grazing near the left side of the picture.  (Photo by E. Shock.)

These are the naturalized descendants of work-burros brought into the region by miners and others during the 1880s when gold prospecting and other pursuits were a big deal in the area. (I’ve read that Phoenix, on the Salt River, actually started as an ancillary vegetable-growing supply community for the then larger population around Wickenburg, where the local river, the Hassayampa, lives mostly underground.)  There are approximately 200 wild burros living in the desert around Lake Pleasant.  (The photo to the right is of a Burro I met in Veracruz last fall.)

But there’s a sorrowful angle to this tale which we didn’t know when we saw these guys the other day: just a couple weeks ago, an ORV rider found the bodies of 11 wild burros including several jacks, a jenny, and some colts, not far from this trail, on BLM land.  They had been shot by someone, which is a federal offense, and now there are investigations, a $5000 reward, a hotline (call 1-800-637-9152 if you have info about who did this) and a great deal of deserved outrage about the shootings.  Is it my imagination, or does the desert west of Phoenix harbor more gun-totin’, Saguaro-plugging, burro-murdering, gila-monster-kissing ignoramuses than necessary?

The discussion of whether feral animals like these should be in wilderness areas is not one I intend to engage in here — these issues are complex and I have no expertise (although I will say that the Federal Government allows cattle on these lands, and I can’t imagine cattle are gentler on the desert than a relatively small number of dainty-footed burros).  They certainly are part of the human history of the land, like a ghost town or an old stagecoach track, but of course, living.  What I do know is that I’m happy we saw this small family group of wild burros at home in this part of the desert.

Etymology

A bit of a stuffy etymological point unrelated to burros: although always used as a noun nowadays, the word ignoramus is actually a verb: in Latin it means “we do not know”.  So the proper plural really is ignoramuses, not ignorami, which is a “pseudo-learned blunder” (a favorite concept of mine — a common example of which is saying “pro-cess-eez” as if processes is a Latinate plural for process, incorrectly based on the thesis-theses model, which it isn’t: it’s just a plain old -es plural added to a noun that ends in a consonant.  You would never pluralize address by saying “ad-dress-eez”).

Biomimicry: when Monkey-see-Monkey-do is a good thing

Tuesday night E and I heard a biomimicry expert speak at ASU.  Her name is Janine Benyus, and she’s a natural history author who’s been documenting the emerging cross-disciplinary field of biomimicry.  Before hearing her talk, I had a very primitive notion of biomimicry: “Dude, did you know a spider’s silk is 10 times stronger than steel — like, if we could do that, how cool would it be?”  And, like most over-simplified notions, it’s both right and not so much.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of biomimicry: Biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning [imitation]) is a relatively new science that studies nature, its models, systems, processes and elements and then imitates or takes creative inspiration from them to solve human problems sustainably.

Benyus’s presentation was an overview of some of the work being done RIGHT NOW on deriving high-tech solutions to problems in engineering, health, agriculture, energy production and many other fields by observing organisms and natural systems.  Her idea: “We need to re-design everything”, as she admits is a tall order, but from her examples, there are a lot of smart people working on it 24/7.  Here are some of the things she mentioned:

  • significantly increasing efficiency of wind-turbine blades by designing them with bumps like the tubercules on the flippers of Humpback whales
  • making strong and very water-resistant plywood without formaldehyde using a soy-based adhesive similar to the glue mussels use to adhere to underwater rocks
  • An aerodynamic 70mpg Mercedes car that looks like a box-fish and has an interior steel frame designed by bone-mimicking software (check it out on this link)
  • apartment buildings with intramural structural cooling based on the cooling tunnels in African termite towers
  • water-gathering technologies for arid areas based on highly efficient moisture-gathering organisms like a Namib beetle whose wings are capable of sieving fog-droplets out of a 50mph wind, and the Thorny “devil” (a horned lizard like reptile of the Australian desert) whose scale-borders act as capillary channels and can direct even tiny quantities of water, like dew, against gravity to its mouth.
  • exterior surfaces for structures based on the pleated form of many cactus like saguaro, which are not only self-shading, but also direct rain to where it’s needed at the roots of the plant.
  • self-cleaning paint for buildings and autos that works using the “lotus effect”: tiny surface bumps allow rain drops to skip down a wall, washing away dirt without using detergents, as do the surfaces of many plant leaves like water lotus.

These are only a small fraction of the projects she covered.  There’s more at the website Asknature.org, which is designed not only to introduce the public to the concept of biomimicry, but has a resource section for connecting people with nature-based strategies for the problems they need to solve: “sticking to”, “self-cleaning”, “break down,” etc.

What struck me most (apart from the really smart ideas biomimicry people are coming up with) were two things: 1) Biomimicry is a fantastic example of why Basic Research is important and should be funded.  The ideas involved are not vague tree-hugging notions of how we should all “learn from the animals”, but fact-based high-tech products, companies, projects, and enterprises created by biologists, engineers, entrepreneurs, designers, scientists and others working together: commerce and science, business and academia tightly and productively intertwined.  And they arise from basic research: many are launched from studies that are undertaken to further our knowlegde of the world around us, and not originally intended to result in commercial applications.   And 2) The Arizona angle.  Not only did Benyus point out how the desert itself is full of organisms surviving under adverse conditions and so is a perfect system to study and learn from, but also how many people in biomimicry are working at Arizona State University.  Over and over, she mentioned names of scientists, teachers, and students who were sitting around us in the audience.  While this made me proud of ASU, it was painful too in light of the ongoing budget crisis created by partisan factions in the Arizona state legislature.  Even as we sat there listening to all the social, economic, scientific, and environmental advances ASU personnel are making in schools and departments from Design to Chemistry, money was being ripped away short-sightedly from those very programs and people in the name of fiscal responsibility.

Bad bad bad monkeys — what are the politicians thinking?  “Monkey see monkey do” — biomimicry and its educational foundations and commercial development — deserves staunch support, for the good of the future.  And Arizona, with its universities already deeply involved in such research, could be a leader in biomimicry studies and industry.  But only with a well-nourished educational system.   As Benyus said, the defiinition of the success of a species is not whether its offspring survive, but whether its 10-thousandth generation survives. To do that, a species must take care of where its offspring will live.  This is what a bird does when it builds a nest, this is what nature does on both a grand and a small scale: “Life creates conditions conducive to life.”  That is the lesson for individuals, for people in charge of policy and states: it is the lesson for the ages.

But in the interest of happy thoughts, I’ll leave you with this final fact, humorous visual image, and new word:  Supposedly, the “stiction” of a fully engaged gecko could support 200 pounds.  Imaging suspending a porky politician — by his waist of course — from the ceiling, with a just a gecko!  How sustainable is that?

Photos: I’m uncertain whom to credit the great photo of Ms. Benyus and a very large milipede to.  But in case this applies, I will credit AskNature.org, a project of The Biomimicry Institute.  The photo of the Thorny Devil is from Wikipedia, and is by Wouter.  The female hummer is a Black-chinned girl on a nest built above a footpath at the Nature Conservancy’s Hassayampa Preserve near Wickenburg, AZ, by A. Shock.

Serious stuff: Trouble Brewing in Arizona’s education budget

Our progressive Democratic governor, Janet Napolitano (now in Washington as Secretary of Homeland Security) hasn’t been out of the state for five minutes, and the conservative, small-government, small-minded cabal is already Brewing up trouble for our state’s educational system.

I am not a terribly political creature, and I don’t intend Three Star Owl to be a frequent political forum.  But I am posting two letters here.  Both deal with an appalling plan for gutting the entire state education system from Kindergarten through University in the name of fixing the current deficit in the state’s budget.  One letter is an e-mail sent to all faculty, employees, staff, affiliates and students of ASU by its controversial President, Michael Crow.  (I have never heard of a university president personally sending an email to every single person affiliated with a university.)  The other is a letter I emailed to our new Governor, Republican Jan Brewer, as well as to my state representatives imploring them to explore and enact different measures to shore up the economic health of our state.

President Crow’s philosophies and actions have not been universally popular during his roughly 7-year tenure as head of ASU, but under his focused and ambitious guidance ASU has advanced into the current educational decade and firmed the foundation for quality education for the rapidly growing numbers of Arizona students for decades to come.  They have also increased the financial contribution of the universities to the state of Arizona — just as supporting any major industry or business would — and that contributes to the economic health of our state.  Read his letter for its content, and consider it as being from someone who is both an expert in and close to the subject.  Keep in mind that this email only contains the effects of Pearce/Kavanagh on the universities of Arizona; there are also wide-reaching effects on secondary education as well, and child welfare issues, such as de-funding all-day kindergarten.
________________________________
From: Michael Crow
Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 11:09 AM
To: DL.EMP.Faculty; DL.EMP.Staff; DL.EMP.AP;
DL.EMP.OtherAffil; DL.WG.ASUF.ALL.STAFF; DL.Student.All
Subject: Proposed Budget Cuts and the Future of Arizona

I am deeply concerned for the future of Arizona State
University. ASU has taken its share of budget cuts to help
the state deal with its revenue shortfall — and we are
prepared to do more.  But Senate Appropriations Chair
Russell Pearce and House Appropriations Chair John Kavanagh,
without considering the full array of options, have singled
out education for the largest cuts. Their plan would reverse
all of the progress ASU has made and set the institution
back a decade or more.
ASU has already taken more than $37 million in state
funding cuts and prepared for further reductions by
eliminating a total of 500 staff positions and 200 faculty
associate positions. We have disestablished schools and
merged academic departments while managing to preserve
academic quality.
On top of these cuts, the Pearce and Kavanagh proposal
would require ASU to cut another $70 million, or 35% of our
remaining state funding, in less than five months. Another
cut of $155 million is proposed for FY10.  Three of our past
legislative initiatives — the research infrastructure bill
of 2004, the Polytechnic campus construction package of 2006
and the SPEED construction stimulus bill of 2008 – would
be defunded. The cuts to our base budget are both cumulative
and permanent and to put them into perspective, they are
equal to:
•         A base General Fund budget reduction of nearly
40% from the FY08 level; or
•         Doubling the number of ASU students without
state funding to 40,000; or
•         Cumulatively reducing per student funding by
almost $3,200;

To deal with cuts of this magnitude, we would need to:
•         Layoff thousands more employees;
•         Have a massive furlough of all remaining
employees for two weeks or longer;
•         Increase tuition and fees; (replacing the cuts
by raising tuition alone would require a tuition rate of
almost $11,000 for Arizona residents)
•         Close academic programs.
•         Close a campus or possibly two.

Our Legislature has failed to live up to its
constitutionally mandated responsibility to fund education.
Borrowing funds, running a budget deficit (which Arizona is
constitutionally allowed to do for one year) and raising
taxes are not politically popular. But the alternative will
be even less popular – creating for Arizona a Third World
education and economic infrastructure.

We can use this deficit as an excuse to take a chainsaw to
vital public services or we can work our way out of our
current budget problems — exploring every option — without
sacrificing our future.  To that end, I will make ASU’s
economic and financial expertise available to our state
leaders.

You can read more about our budget situation and the
Legislature’s constitutional responsibility to fund
education at http://asu.edu/budgetcuts.  I welcome your
constructive feedback at
president@asu.edu<mailto:president@asu.edu>.

Michael M. Crow
President
http://president.asu.edu<http://president.asu.edu/>

Arizona ocotillo in bloom; photo E. Shock

Arizona ocotillo in bloom; photo E. Shock

Here is my letter, written to state legislators in response the information contained in the Crow email:

Gov. Brewer:

I can’t get a phrase out of my head: “Bomb ’em back to the Stone Age!”

This is what Pearce/Kavanagh would do: Bomb our schools and universities back to the Stone Age.

Arizona is in a fiscal crisis, and something has to be done, but please do not support this unfairly harsh hacking of our state’s education budget.  Other options must be considered and enacted.

EDUCATION IS NOT A LUXURY.  Don’t make Arizona a state where young children are poorly educated and higher education is merely the privilege of the wealthy.  Don’t decimate advances of recent years, such as all day kindergarten.  Education goes hand in hand with commerce: we need a well-educated workforce to attract and keep high-tech business in our state.  Above all, don’t balance the budget at the expense of Arizona’s students.

Why would our state government, which has an obligation to fund education, which should be PROUD to have a major role in supporting education, take such a short-sighted solution to economic shortfalls, and choose such a depleted and difficult path for our businesses and people?

There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost by Bombing our schools and universities back to the Stone Age. Do not support Pearce/Kavanagh’s education cuts.

Allison Shock
small business owner
17th Distr. voter
Scottsdale AZ

If you are an Arizona resident and wish to express your views on the cataclysmic budget cuts proposed by Pearce/Kavanagh, use this link to find the names and email addresses of your senators and representatives.

If you wish to email our governor Jan Brewer, it must be done through the contacts page of her office, here.

Let’s hope, for the future of Arizona and its citizens, our state government arrives at a different solution to balance the budget than the short-sighted and irresponsible Pearce/Kavanagh plan.

Posted by Allison on Jan 23rd 2009 | Filed in environment/activism/politics | Comments (0)

It’s finally now, now!

Smart is the new mighty.

Here’s a link to the transcript of the Inaugural Address on NPR’s website. Better yet, hear the address as Pres. Obama gave it: there’s a link on the NPR page you can click on to hear him speak it. It’s strong, inclusive, thoughtful, and focused, and meant for all of us on the planet, not just Americans.

Click here to view the new White House website, including the White House blog.  Transparent government manifesting before our eyes.  And it’s not even tomorrow, yet.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Posted by Allison on Jan 20th 2009 | Filed in environment/activism/politics | Comments (0)

Couch’s spadefoots: Tons of tiny toadlets!

My friend Kathy gave me a bucket of toads. Twenty five tiny toads, actually Couch’s spadefoots (Scaphiopus couchii) to be precise. Spadefoots are toadlike amphibians, with their own family, Pelobatidae (see etymological note below). They’re native to the Sonoran desert, and their reproductive cycle is timed to take advantage of summer monsoon rains, needing only 7-8 days to go from egg to tadpole to toadlet. In between monsoon seasons, the adults stay buried deep in the soil of sandy washes to keep from drying out. They can stay buried for 8-10 months at a time, until storms bring the right conditions for them to feed and breed. The sheep-like bleating of the singing male spadefoot is an archetypal sound of the Sonoran desert. Some Arizona tribes associate toads and owls with monsoon rain, and that’s the origin of the fanciful Three Star Owl pieceTwo-Toad Owl“.

These little spadefoots hatched in a standing pool in Kathy’s Scottsdale yard, where they’re plentiful. They’re very tiny — each could sit on a penny. They’re so small that it wasn’t until I saw the close-up photos that their emerald green eyes were noticeable. If you’ve never nourished toadlets, they’re easy to feed: if it moves and fits in the toadlet’s mouth, they’ll eat it. These guys have been snarfing up crickets, and other protein-rich yummies like Miller moth larvae from birdseed (and an old bag of flour!). Even ants will go down the hatch, as long as it’s not one of the larger soldiers, which put off a noxious chemical. The one on the left was photographed before the first cricket feeding; it plumped up noticeably after downing a small cricket or two.

But I’m not keeping them in captivity. Once they’re fed up, I’ll release them in our yard at twilight, where hopefully they’ll replenish our neighborhood population. Releasing them after dark will give them a head-start over the foraging Curve-billed thrashers and Cactus Wrens. A couple years ago, we would hear male spadefoots bleating like lambs after a big rainstorm, and one or two would end up in the pool, looking for somewhere to breed. But recently, we haven’t heard or seen any. So I’m hoping these guys get things going again. Good luck, little spadefoots, and ‘ware Raccoons and Coachwhips!

Photos: the adult spadefoot photo is from the US Fish & Wildlife site on Arizona Amphibians. The other photos are by A. Shock. Excellent photos and still more info about Couch’s spadefoot can be found at Firefly Forest — check it out.

Etymolgical note and stray ornithological note

About the term “spadefoot”: It comes from the small, hard digging appendage on the underside of the back legs of these amphibians. Members of the family Pelobatidae are not considered “true” toads, so it’s proper to call them simply “spadefoots”. Pelobatidae, the family name for all Spadefoots, comes from a Greek word, pelobates (πηλοβατης), literally “mud-walker”. A nice tie-in for a potter is that the first element of this word comes from the Greek word pelos, meaning “clay”, specifically the clay used by potters and sculptors. The genus, Scaphiopus, is constructed of two Greek elements and means “spade-foot”. The species name, couchii, comes from the surname of Darius Nash Couch, a U.S. Army officer who, during leave in 1853/54, traveled as a Smithsonian Institute naturalist to Mexico, where he collected specimens of both the Couch’s Spadefoot, and Couch’s Kingbird, a tyrant flycatcher native to south Texas and the gulf coast of Mexico. Out-of-range Couch’s kingbirds occasionally show up in Arizona. Recently, a Couch’s kingbird has wintered in Tacna in southwest Arizona, eating bees and behaving like a tyrant flycatcher.

Spadefoot Update

All toadlets released tonight, in three batches around the yard, in areas with lots of cover, leaf litter, and access to sandy soil. Turns out there were about 30. They all hopped away dispersing almost instantly in the dark. They are hereby encouraged to eat earwigs and small cockroaches.

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