greygirlbeast (greygirlbeast) wrote,

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Another "damned thing."

So, in my entry from July 22nd, in which I describe our visit to Newport and the Cliffwalk, I wrote:

Oh, and we encountered a rather Wrong Thing at the Forty Steps, and this time I have photographic evidence, but I'll save that for a later entry.

And then, what with one thing and another, I forgot about it. But I was looking through a file of images on the iMac's desktop this afternoon and came across the aforementioned photographs. On July 21st, after we'd walked some distance south down the Cliffwalk and then back to the Forty Steps, we happened to notice, lying up high near where the boulders met the underbursh, where the Pennsylvanian-aged bedrock met Holocene-aged soils, was what I first took to be some sort of eel. It was maybe 25 centimeters long, and at its greatest circumference, maybe 4-5 centimeters. As Spooky took a couple of photos, it suddenly occurred to me that it wasn't an eel, at all, or any oother sort of fish, but an animal I'd not seen since college, some twenty years ago, when I was taking herpetology and ecology classes. It was, I am quite certain, a sirenid salamander of the genus Siren. I thought it odd to encounter one near no evident body of freshwater, so near the sea, but figured perhaps a gull or crow had picked it up inland, then dropped in at the Forty Steps. It had begun to putrify, and was giving off quite an awful odor, so we left it and sat some distance away on the boulders as a fog rolled in across the bay.

Back home, I looked more closely at the photos we had, comparing them with various field guides. Though unable to be certain of the species, whether this was the Greater Siren (Siren lacertina) or Lesser Siren (Siren intermedia) —— though I lean towards the former —— my initial identification seemed entirely sound. Except. Turns out, sirens (at least of the salamander variety) are not native to Rhode Island. Indeed, if this truly were a specimen of Siren lacertina, we'd come across one far outside the species' known range. According to all the published and online sources I've consulted, this large amphibian can be found no farther northeast than Virginia, which placed our discovery several hundreds miles from any previous recorded occurrence (and the range of the Lesser Siren is even more restricted). We puzzled over it for days, and finally concluded that the most rational explanation was that the specimen was in the collection of some local herpetofile or maybe even a student or professor at nearby Salve Regina College, and that it must have died and been summarily discarded at the cliff face. On the one hand, it seems awfully ad hoc, this explanation, but on the other, well, I know what Mr. Fort would have said. The photos are behind the cut (and if you're squeamish about dead things, consider yourself warned):

Oh, and I should post the link to the current eBay auctions, as I forgot to this morning, and Spooky relisted some stuff today.
Tags: damned things, herpetology

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