Episode 261 – Reef Stonefish: Point Taken

“…and today we’re talking about a stone at the bottom of the sea. Definitely don’t be on that later.”

It’s no surprise that the most venomous fish in the world is found in none other than the land down under. Hidden among the rocks and coral in Australia and the surrounding islands, the reef stonefish never backs down from a fight. Instead, it attacks with a vitriolic and very venomous vengeance. Its venom is so powerful, it’s worked its way into the folklore and rituals of the natives. But affecting the heart, mind, and soles of your feet is how the stonefish gets by here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 260 – Bar-Tailed Godwit: Long-Haul Birds

“…and today we are talking about Godwit the Soarin. But more on that later.”

If you’re looking wistfully out the window at a frozen or snowy gray day, you know that winter can be a real drag. Some birds fly south for the winter, and sometimes those birds clog up South Florida roadways. But what if you could fly so far south that it became springs again? That’s what the Bar-Tailed Godwit does, but soaring into the wild blue yonder in search of opportunity can really pay off in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 259 – Wrap-Around Spider: Flat Spider Theory

“…and today we’re talking about a flat character in the animal kingdom, but more on that later.”

There are hundreds of species of spiders that call Australia home. Some small, some big, some deadly, and some…hidden. But one master of disguise tends to order a side of contortion with its camoflauge entre. Taking the term tree hugger a bit too literally, the wrap-around spider keeps out of sight from both predator and prey by getting close and personal with the local flora. But hiding in plain sight is how this spider survives here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 258 – Phylliroe: The Fake Fish

“…and today we are talking about an impostor that’s not among us, but among the fish of the sea. But more on that later.”

Humans have explored nearly every biome on earth, but when it comes to getting around in the ocean, we are clearly outmatched. Fish are built to ride waves and currents with ease. To effectively navigate the water, we need to mimic fish by wearing fins. One sea slug looked up from the reef to see some tasty resources and did something very similar. Sometimes there’s more than one way to get past a problem, but other challenges require a single solution in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 257 – Markhor: Nature is Metal Gear

“And today we’re talking about a gruff goat with a wooly throat. But more on that later.”

High up in the mountains of central Asia lives a giddy goat with a lot of panache and a penchant for stomping its enemies into the dirt. But the rumor mill stops for no goat, not even for the Markhor, and this cud-chewer’s legendary hooves have earned it a name that have led to an unusual fascination with its spit. But expecting exceptional expectoration is all part of Life, Death and Taxonomy. 

Episode 256 – Large Blue Butterfly: Larval Marvel

“…and today we’re giving our last hope to you. Don’t give it back to me, Bitterblue. But more on that later.”

In the insect world, there are threats around every log and under every leaf. A young grub is all alone in a huge place. Worse yet, a lot of creatures think he tastes slimy yet satisfying. But the large blue caterpillar read How to Win Friends and Influence People and he knows allies are the key to success. But making sure the deal works in your favor is one way to work in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 255 – Magnificent Frigatebird: A Pirate’s Flight

“…and today we are talking about the Pirates of the Caribbean, but not the movie. More on that later.”

Out on the high seas, it’s a dog eat dog eat bird eat other bird’s food kinda world. Yer never safe when you have booty to take home to the littl’uns. You’ll have to keep yer eyes on the skies, as there lurks a thief with wings blacker than his heart, ready to wring the devil out of ya and set sail with yer precious treasure. So if yer a tropical island bird, you better watch for the shadow of the magnificent frigatebird here on Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 254 – Pelican Eel: Sea Shovel

“…and today we’re talking about a big-mouthed, deep-living, inflatable tube man. But more on that later.”

Americans have just enjoyed a holiday of abundance. Many of us have funneled turkey into our gobblers with mirth and glee. But what if you lived in a place where food was less abundant. That’s where the spirit of thankfulness comes in. At the bottom of the sea, the pelican eel really does become a funnel to make the most of the marine snow that trickles down from above. But this year, we can all be thankful that we don’t live in the deep ocean for our entire Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 253 – Red-Sided Garter Snake: Tying the Knot

“…And today we’re talking about an American noodle of many varieties. But more on that later.”

The Manitoban city of Narcisse is a small, quaint place with not much tourism for most of the year. However, for a few days of every spring, the ground erupts in a slithering mass of red-sided garter snakes. Why do these living noodles get together in such massive numbers? What are they doing for so long underground? Well, not surprisingly, it’s all about surviving long enough to pass along those genes. It is, after all, the true meaning of Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Garter Snake

  • Common garter snakes are long thin noodles.
  • Most have multicolored stripes that run the length of their bodies from head to tail.
  • Common garter snakes come in several colors, including green, blue, yellow, gold, red, orange, brown, and black.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words Measure Up into ldtaxonomy at Gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro!


  • Up to four feet long
  • How many garter snakes go into the height of the tallest tier in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?
  • Hint: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are among the seven wonders of the ancient world. The gardens were built on a stepped pyramid shaped building, covered in plants and vegetation. The gardens were said to be a gift from King Nebuchadnezzar II to his wife Queen Amytis of Media. Media was a green, mountainous country and she was sick of the flat plains of Babylon. So he built her a mountain. 
  • 18.75 snakes. The uppermost gallery was described as 50 cubits high (75 feet).


  • 5 ounces
  • How many garter snakes go into the weight of the Big Bud 16V-747 when it is fully ballasted?
  • Hint: The Big Bud 16V-747 is the biggest tractor ever. The top of the cab is 14 feet high. Ballast is usually a liquid or foamy material that’s used to fill the tire to add weight, which increases traction and cuts down on horsepower imbalance. 
  • 432,000 snakes. Big Bud weighs 135,000 pounds.

Fast Facts about the Garter Snake


Garter snakes are found in forests, fields, prairies, streams, wetlands, meadows, marshes, and ponds–often found near water. 


Geographically, they are found as far south as the southernmost tip of Florida and as far north as Canada’s Northwest territories. 


They eat frogs, newts, earthworms, leeches, slugs, fish, lizards, crustaceans, and insects.

Other Facts

Garter snake bites aren’t dangerous to humans, but their bite can cause itching and irritation. They don’t have fangs like a viper, but many garter snake species have very small teeth. 

Their saliva has a mild venom that can be toxic to small prey species. 

Some subspecies ooze a stinky liquid when they are threatened.

They are resistant to poisons that might kill a human, including the toxic poisons found on toads and newts.

Major Fact: Tying the Knot (10,000 Snakes in their Dens)

With Thanksgiving coming up, many of us are prepping for large family gatherings – you ain’t got nothin on this snake though, even though its biggest gatherings happen in Canada where they’re apparently not thankful for anything.

Each year, the red-sided garter snake migrates to the Inner Lake of Manitoba, near Winnipeg, creating the largest gathering of snakes in the world.

In an area known as the Narcisse Snake Dens, some 70,000 snakes come to nest in the clefts of the rocks. That scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy is dropped in that pit of snakes? Yeah that’s more than fiction in Manitoba.

As long as you’re not squeamish around snakes, I highly recommend the Nat Geo video covering it. Seeing that many snakes all together in one pit is fascinating.

The reason they congregate like this is that they’re cold-blooded reptiles living in Canada. Temperatures can reach down to -50F, colder than the surface of Mars. This is definitely cold enough to kill any animal that needs to manually regulate its body temperature.

That’s why you almost never see snakes outside of the tropics or subtropics. So they brumate, the reptile version of hibernating just without the sleeping part. For reptiles, it’s as much about maintaining body temperature as it is about slowing metabolism to conserve energy.

These snakes brumate inside of sinkholes made in the limestone that allows them to hang out below the frost line.

Since there are only a few sinkholes that are large and deep enough to act as dens, all the snakes in the area need to congregate at just four locations, each den being about the size of a living room but housing tens of thousands of snakes.

All of them wriggling around apparently sounds like wind rushing through trees loudly. It would be like a giant looking down at a small college football stadium filled to capacity.

They also mate in the spring once they come back up out of their dens. Females are larger and less numerous than males (1:100), so the males need to navigate an ocean of writhing angel hair pasta to find one pasta strand that’s slightly larger than the rest. 

Using pheromones, they’ll track down a female. Sometimes so many males pile onto one female that they can tumble down slopes in a big mating ball.

The goal for the males is literally to irritate her until she opens up a gland to spray a repellant odor that also leaves her open to mate.

This area was actually the site of one of Manitoba’s first labor strikes. The workers at a construction site refused to continue working until these massive snake dens were cleared.

There’s even a giant statue of two garter snakes named Sara and Sam.

The u-haul I saw this on called it one of the largest gatherings of vertebrates in the world, but Adelie penguins have colonies of up to half a million.

Ending: So stay warm, don’t neglect to gather together, and irritate your females like the red-sided garter snake here in LDT.

Episode 252 – Silverfish: Real Bookworms

“…and today we’re talking about a bookworm. Literally, but also not literally. More on that later.”

In the dark of an academy library, a shining silverfish ponders some of life’s greatest questions, like, “what is a tastier snack, the pages of War and Peace or its bindings?” A true scholar, the silverfish must test his hypothesis before making any definitive judgements. You and I don’t have the stomach for such studies, but expanding your palate is a great way to experience Life, Death, and Taxonomy.