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You're a nice guy Brendan.

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Posted by jaffo on September 13, 2002 at 14:11:52:

In Reply to: Your welcome posted by Brendan on September 13, 2002 at 13:39:02:

I will back up these observations as well. I also am nothing special in terms of education.

On the other hand, I also find it highly valuable to learn as much as possible from all input. For example, I like to compare my personal observations with the documentaton and research that coincides or relates. Often, discussing certain subjects with more educated folks or those actually doing the research, or simply reading the available literature will give us a well-rounded understanding of what we're looking at while in the field.

No matter how much we think we know as humans-- educated and otherwise, something always comes up to change our thinking a bit. It pays to keep track of both our personal observation, and the proven, up-to-date research.

When I was 13 years old, I found some very large aquatic salamanders in high mountain lakes in the Cascade range in Oregon. They were found as long as 15 or 16 inches. Locals from the area simply called them "mud puppies", and I would have agreed, except that my field guide, which I had had since I was 7 years old, showed mud puppies (Nectrurus) as ranging only in the Great Lakes region and South-- nowhere near the Oregon Cascades.

However, locals, and pet store "experts" maintaned that these were actually mud puppies, maybe introduced when Fish and Wildlife stocked the lakes with trout. Regardless, they each regarded themselves as local "experts", so I took their word for it... at first.

That could have been fine with me. Making assumptions based on a half-assed description is a common occurance when it comes to armchair herpetology. Likewise, people who look for bigfoot have trouble believing their eyes when they see a bear, if you know what I mean.

The point is, I could have accepted the local "expert" explanation, and it would have been fine. It seemed somewhat believable.

But, my curiosity got the better of me. Mud puppies have tiny eyes in proportion to big heads, and these animals I found did not. Mud puppies also seem to have some blotching or some form of a pattern, and the animals I found did not.

I ended up calling around until I managed to get a hold of a biologist with OSU, who found some papers on a study done a few years before by a number of students and biologists in the area. It was found that the Pacific Giant Salamander, (Dicamptodon) which was native to the area, seemed to have an interesting developement in some populations, in which they remained in larval stage throughout adult life. This even even equated to better developed external gills, and even longer lengths attained in a totally aquatic environment. Pretty amazing, really. The trouble is, once I conveyed this info to pet shop folks and locals-- they DIDN'T belive it, and maintained their original fairy tale, based only on novice observation. Why? Because I was a kid, and they were adults, and I was supposed to learn from them. In addition, they simply didn't want to admit that they didn't understand what went in to comprehensive study and research of wild salamanders.

So to some, the truth isn't as important as their own quest for recognition. If maintaining only their own interpretation of the world around them brings them recognition in the circles they place themselves in, they won't want some stuffy science-minded person coming in and screwing up their fortress of knowledge.

I didn't tell this story to hammer on anyone. I told it to explain myself. I choose not to rely only on my own observations, and that of other casual herpers that I happen across. I want to suppliment with the info that may have already been obtained at some point by folks who spend the majority of their time studying the very animals I have an interest in. What matters to me is truth and understanding based not only on the evidence I gather on my own or anecdotally from other folks, but also from up-to-date research and data that is available if we take the time to find it...


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