'The Secret World of Naked Snakes': a ZSL event

As a Tet Zoo regular you'll know and love the remarkable limbless amphibians known as caecilians.

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In case you don't know, caecilians have sensory tentacles, sometimes have protrusible eyes, sometimes lack eyes entirely, often exhibit sophisticated parental care [maternal skin-feeding is going on in the middle image above], are incredibly long-bodied yet often lack tails, sometimes possess large, anatomically complex, eversible male sexual organs, and so on and so forth. Should you need to know more, please visit the links below. Due to their fossorial habits, a very confused taxonomic history, and a lack of study, caecilians are very poorly known and astonishingly little is known about the conservation status of many of the 180 or so species. Given that amphibian species worldwide are undergoing major declines, it is imperative that we learn more.

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I'm very pleased to report that the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is hosting a whole evening devoted to caecilians on Monday 7th December, entitled 'The Secret World of Naked Snakes'. 'Naked snakes' aren't snakes at all, of course, but this is what Gymnophiona means (it's one of the two names widely used for the group). The talks begin at 6.00pm in the ZSL Meeting Rooms, and the talks and question period after are free and open to everyone (doors will be open from 5.00pm and seats will be on a first-come, first-served basis). There will be talks on the biology and conservation of the group (Helen Meredith is talking about the caecilians that are on the EDGE* list); Alexander Kupfer's talk on reproductive behaviour and parental care is titled 'Yummy mummy'. For more on the meeting, please do visit the ZSL page here.

* Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered. You'll know the acronym from the blog or the website.

I admit I was somewhat surprised to learn that the meeting is being chaired by Ken Livingstone. For those of you outside of the UK I should note that Livingstone is a well known politician and former Mayor of London (a position he held from 2000 to 2008). What on earth is he doing standing up at a zoological meeting devoted to caecilians, I hear you cry. Relatively poorly known (it seems) is that Livingstone is a genuine amphibian enthusiast who has kept and bred various obscure anuran and caudate species (thanks to David Gower for this information).

I look forward to the meeting and hope to see some of you there. I'll report on what happened here at Tet Zoo.

For the Tet Zoo guide to caecilians see...

And for other crucial stuff on amphibians you should also check...

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What's that garishly red caecilian? Is it an aposematic species?

And speaking of red...

Relatively poorly known (it seems) is that Livingstone is a genuine amphibian enthusiast who has kept and bred various obscure anuran and caudate species

That's really quite surprising. I would never have guessed.

Gosh, he is quite the amphibian enthusiast!

A quick google search found that he was the first person to breed the West African Dwarf Clawed Frog in captivity.

I never would have suspected this.

Oh cool - Ive been meaning to ask you if you were going, Im planning to go.

Livingstone used to be refered to a lot as the newt and king newt (as retieverman has said) etc before the London elections, I remember being impressed by a politican that actually new what an amphibian was!

I thought it was well known that Ken Livingstone was an amphibian enthusiast, they've even made jokes about it on 'Have I got news for you.'

By Richard Hing (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

I ***knew*** Ken Livingstone was a GOOD THING. (Didn't he introduce congestion pricing for motor vehicles in London? which seemed to me one of the few decent original ideas for improving the urban environment in recent years.) ... I can't, off hand, think of ANY U.S. politician who is reported as having ANY interests outside politics!

By Allen Hazen (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

I remember the Sun cover, which was shown on TV around the world:

Blair's Worst Nightmare:

OH MY GOD[,] THEY'VE ELECTED KENNY!!!

(Not quite sure on the number of exclamation marks.)

The mayor of Vienna has studied zoology. His doctoral thesis was on the skull kinetics of gekkonids, and he worked as a scientist in the natural history museum of Vienna for 8 years before going into Social Democratic politics.

I can't, off hand, think of ANY U.S. politician who is reported as having ANY interests outside politics!

Clearing brush? :-}

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

I'm told Dick Cheney is interested in shooting ... fowl.

By Andreas Johansson (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

Never go in against a caecilian when death is on the line.

The mayor of Vienna has studied zoology.

If we're tallying political figures with biological hobbies, we can't forget that Akihito (aka His Majesty The Emperor of Japan) moonlights as a goby taxonomist.

Allen:

I can't, off hand, think of ANY U.S. politician who is reported as having ANY interests outside politics!

That may be true of contemporary U.S. politicians, but if we look back in history there are at least a few exceptions: Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt come to mind.

Christopher:

If we're tallying political figures with biological hobbies, we can't forget that Akihito (aka His Majesty The Emperor of Japan) moonlights as a goby taxonomist.

He's following his father's footsteps: the late Emperor Hirohito had several publications on Pacific hydroids.

I knew Ken Livingstone had worked as a biology technician before going into politics. According to Wikipedia, this was in a cancer research lab.

Tony Blair's hobby seems to be religion.

Harry Truman was a keen pino player (Chopin etc). Churchill of course had several hobbies. Viscount Grey, a Foreign Minister, was a keen bird watcher.

What's that old Paul Simon song? "Caecilians, you're breaking my ehart, you're shaking my confidence daily...". or maybe it was "Cecilia"...?

Another US president who was interested in natural history was Calvin Coolidge. He had all sorts of exotic animals at the White House, in addition to having too many dogs to count.

His most influential pet was a pygmy hippo given to him by Harvey Firestone (the tire man). The baby hippo had been captured at one of Firestone's rubber plantations in Liberia, and Firestone presented him to the president, who then donated him to the Smithsonian National Zoo.

That hippo founded a major line of pygmy hippo in the US.

I don't think Silent Cal and Red Ken/King Newt would actually agree on much, but if they could meet and talk about natural history, maybe they would have a good conversation.

Another good guy, I think US president Teddy Roosevelt was key in setting up US National Parks at the beginning of the 20th century. I expect US Tet Zoo people will know more.

Teddy Roosevelt was a great naturalist.

He spent a lot of time in the West-- as a hunter and amateur zoologist. He traveled to Africa and the Amazon in search of new specimens and discoveries(and trophies)

Not only did he help found the National Parks system, but he also, like Calvin Coolidge, donated lots of specimens.

The book that won the National Outdoor Book Award this year was Douglas Brinkley's The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America. It's about his life and times in the American wilderness and in the political sphere trying to protect it.

http://www.noba-web.org/books09.htm

What about Newt Gingrich?

By Bradley Fierstine (not verified) on 24 Nov 2009 #permalink

It's pretty well known in the UK that "Red Ken" (who isn't all that "Red" in my view, but that's another story...) is an amphibian enthusiast - i recall several headlines along the lines of "New Labour vs Newt Labour". IIRC, he was influential in re-establishing (through captive breeding) several wild populations of British newts.

I think he also used to write for BBC Wildlife magazine.

On another note, the pic of the caecilian with the bright blue eye reminded me of this old, very bizarre cryptozoological story, which has been circling around the net for 10 years or so and occasionally resurfaces. A caecilian was the first thing that sprang to mind when i read it, but a bit of research shows that the ones with the blue eyes are strictly aquatic, and burrowing caecilians don't have visible eyes (which makes good adaptational sense). The only other thing i could think of was some sort of insect larva with "false eyes" to distract predators. Anyone else got any ideas?

Shiva- an insect larva with a two inch diameter would be
a whopping big bug, but I suspect a caecilian that big
around would be pretty atypical too...

I've read this one, too, and while intriguing, it seems
to follow a pattern for 'one-off' reports, though its
a more likely beast than the cyclopean freshwater
cephalod that was reported from the same neck of the
woods.

US politicians expressing an interest in anything
aside from the occasional sports event is usually a path
to being ignored-Livingstone would probably be considered
an unelectable weirdo in the States...

By Craig York (not verified) on 24 Nov 2009 #permalink

I suspect a caecilian that big
around would be pretty atypical too...

There are meter-long species, though.

Livingstone would probably be considered
an unelectable weirdo in the States...

Apart, of course, from being considered an unelectable to-the-left-of-the-scale communist in the first place! :-)

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 24 Nov 2009 #permalink

Don:

Churchill of course had several hobbies.

Wow, I've heard that Churchill had a pet budgerigar but I didn't know that he kept hobbies too. (Sorry, couldn't resist...)

Shiva:

i recall several headlines along the lines of "New Labour vs Newt Labour".

And if Livingstone was interested in bovids rather than in amphibians we'd surely have seen headlines along the lines of 'New Labour vs Gnu Labour'. (Sorry, couldn't resist that either...)

Seriously now:

-The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Hofenstaufen (1194-1250) was, by the standards of his time, quite a naturalist, and he wrote a seminal book on the subject of falconry (De Arte Venandi cum Avibus, which translates to 'The Art of Hunting with Birds').

-Napoleon Bonaparte deserves a mention in the context of politicians interested in the natural sciences. He was not a naturalist himself in any sense of the word (although he was supposedly quite gifted in mathematics), but he was a notable patron of the sciences in France; Georges Cuvier, for example, was for a time something of a protégé of his. And Napoleon's Egyptian Campaign (1798) had not only military objectives but it also intended to secure France's position as the scientific centre of the world. On Napoleon's orders, the French army in Egypt was accompanied by many scientists, including the zoologist Ãtienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.

Rose:

Another good guy, I think US president Teddy Roosevelt was key in setting up US National Parks at the beginning of the 20th century.

That's true, but it should be kept in mind that protecting nature and promoting animal welfare does not automatically make you a 'good guy'. Hermann Göring did just those things in Nazi Germany. The Third Reich actually did have, at least by the standards of its time, fairly progressive legislature governing nature conservation and animal welfare (human welfare was another matter). I don't know whether it's just a myth or not, but supposedly Göring said - in earnest - that people who abuse animals in Germany would be sent to concentration camps.

I hope I won't terminally Godwin this thread if I also point out that Heinrich Himmler started out as a chicken farmer...

Hofenstaufen

Hohenstaufen.

The Art of Hunting with Birds

On/about the art of hunting with birds.

I don't know whether it's just a myth or not, but supposedly Göring said - in earnest - that people who abuse animals in Germany would be sent to concentration camps.

Well, this is the same Göring who famously quipped "I'm the one who gets to decide who is a Jew" ("Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich"), the best comment ever on all those race theories.

I hope I won't terminally Godwin this thread

You have turned godwinning into a fine art, sir! :o)

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 25 Nov 2009 #permalink

David:

Hohenstaufen

Oops. Typographical cockup.

this is the same Göring who famously quipped "I'm the one who gets to decide who is a Jew" ("Wer Jude ist, bestimme ich"), the best comment ever on all those race theories.

It's a very Göring-esque quip for sure, but it's not originally his (nor Hitler's). It was Karl Lueger, who once was the mayor of Vienna, who made the phrase famous in the early 20th century.

There are, of course, quite a few vegan and/or antispeciecist Nazis around. I have a policy of not linking those creeps, but googling "Straight Edge Nazi" will result in some 260.000 hits, "Media pro Patria" in some 326.000 hits...

Nice, except it's Rhinatrematidae. "Nose without a hole" or something.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 26 Nov 2009 #permalink

It is very cool. Does anyone know the artist? I'd like to ask if I can steal it for use here.