It’s Salamander Season!

The rains have returned and with it one of my favorite species of wildlife – salamanders. We are blessed with many of the little guys here in the Northwest. Here’s a few of the most common. They’ll probably even turn up in your backyard.

Harbor Seal Lazy Day

30% Off Entire Stock of Halloween Aquariums at

Harbor Seal life is a good one – provided you’re not being chased by an Orca.

Puget Sound Sea Snakes?

GS4 on SeaRock GS3 on SeaRock

Well, not in the true scientific sense of the term. But we do have some unique garter snakes along our rocky beaches. As you see in the photos above these serpents dwell among the rocks and grass near the shore and readily plunge into the very cold salt water of the Sound. These ones were discovered just south of the Narrows bridge. I suspect they dine on small shore creatures during low tides.

Incredible Corvids

We are blessed in the Northwest with some outstanding examples of birds in the corvid family.  Highly intelligent (they are among the most intelligent of all bird species) aggressive, and vociferous, you can’t help buy notice these avians. And corvids can always be depended on to put on a show. It might a glittering family of magpies, a crow catching a snake, ravens tying to wake up a brown bear, or a stellar jay annoying other birds at the feeder. These guys always steal the avian show. Stellar jays, like other blue birds, are not really blue, of course. That beautiful hue is actually a structural color – a trick of sunlight reflecting off the molecular composition of the feather’s cellular structure and keratin.


Lichens are actually fascinating organisms. Able to grow in the harshest environments on earth they are a source of food and nesting material for many animals, and have been used as food and medicine by humans for many years. They can live a long time, too. According to the National Audubon Society specimens 4,000 years old have been found. Here’s a few of our common Northwest species:

Lichens have been in the news lately. No they’ve not committed any acts of violence or terror but they have revealed an anatomical surprise – they are composed of two different fungal type and algae. Now that might not cause you to lay awake tonight but for lichen likers like myself it is a pretty big deal. I was taught, as were many biological student generations before me, that a lichen is composed of a fungi and an algae. The fungal part of the organism surrounds the algae, provides an anchor to the substrate, and absorption of water and necessary nutrients. Cyanobacteria, known as “blue-green algae” convert energy from the sun via photosynthesis. All this has been known for many years. For about 150 or so of those years, however, it was thought that just one fungal species existed in this symbiotic relationship – ascomycete. Now thanks to the persistence of a lifelong lichen lover named Toby Spribille, we know that there are actually two kinds of fungus – an ascomycete and a basidiomycete. Read the story here:

How a Guy From a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology

What having lived in a trailer park has anything to do with this I do not know. I lived in one for quite a while myself. But HOOAH for ya, Toby.

Lizard Surpises – Third Eyes and Molecular Mystery Toes

The peculiar clinging talent of geckos is an object of fascination for any observer. Watching them scamper along the walls and ceilings of my hootch in Saudi Arabia provided many hours of entertainment. Like most I considered this ability due to the unique mechanical construction of the underside of their clingy gecko feet. While part of that is true the real secret of gecko adhesion did not begin to emerge until the late 1960s and even now is an area of ongoing research. Basically it works like this: the toe pads are covered with tiny setae, microscopic hair like bristles. Each setae then blossoms into much tinier structures called spatulae. The result of all this hair splitting is a unique molecular interaction with the type of surface that the lizard happens to be tip toeing about on. Think about it. Cinging to a surface is very important to the lizard – but being able to instantly come loose is just as critical. Then we have this odd Third Eye business. Many lizards, and a number of other animal species, possess a kind of third eye on top of their head. This organ, the parietal eye is not a cyclopean organ designed to detect overhead prey or predators, although it does do this to an extent. Its primary function is to detect changes in light via bio chemical rather than a photo receptor mechanism as in a true eye.

For an incredibly detailed analysis of gecko toes take close look at this article in the Oxford Journals:

Mechanisms of Adhesions in Geckos by Kellar Autumn and Anne M. Peattie

For further insight into the parietal eye take a look here:

The role of the “third eye” in reptilian behavior. American Museum novitates ; no. 1870

Stebbins, Robert C. (Robert Cyril), 1915-; Eakin, Richard Marshall, 1910-

Prickly Side of Afghanistan

One of the most noticeable animals in the country is the Crested Porcupine. Rarely seen during the day this nocturnal prowler leaves signs of itself just about everywhere. Following a regular route in search of food these porcupines leave trails so well worn they are often mistaken for human trails. You’ll know you’ve found a crested porcupine den by the small collection of bones at the entrance. They aren’t predators, they chew on the bones for the calcium. Longer and more lean in build than our American variety these guys possess quills thick and sturdy enough to stab someone. The specimen above was photographed at the Portland, OR Zoo.

Despite their nearly exclusive nighttime activities hedgehogs or signs of their presence are something you are bound to see. Three different types of these tough little insectivores inhabit Afghanistan. The most common and most widespread in range is the Long-Eared Hedgehog. Found everywhere except the most mountainous regions. The Afghan Hedgehog is found primarily in the eastern part of the country. Brandt’s Hedgehog is a native of the desert regions. As cute as these creatures may appear, they are also incredibly tough and will tackle nearly anything in its quest for food to include venomous snakes. I found this little guy under my hooch; Tarin Kot in Uruzgan province as I recall.

The American Bullfrog


The American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) in all its glory:

What better way to celebrate the 4th of July weekend than with a salute to the American Bullfrog – the true El Hefe of North American frogs. In fact it is the third largest frog in the world. Only the goliath frog and the cane toad are bigger. But when you consider that there are about 4000 species of frogs and toads in the world number 3 is quite an accomplishment. Our American bullfrog tops out at about 8 inches in length and two pounds or so in weight. You have probably heard that big booming sound at some time in your life. That’s an adult advertising its presence. Younger ones often emit a loud squawk when startled. This odd vocalization often startles the human intruder just as much as the frog. Bullfrogs were introduced to the West Coast some time ago and have now pretty much blanketed any area with sufficient water to create the quiet ponds they love. 

Dedicated to the wildlife of the NW United States – and wildlife worldwide.