Sunday, April 20, 2014

Recording Reptiles and Amphibians

Yesterday was a beautiful day in northeastern Pennsylvania!  Lauren, Steve and I had a great time learning about reptiles and amphibians from John Jose, a field biologist who worked for 8 years in our county before moving to Vermont.  After a short introduction to the kinds of frogs, salamanders and snakes we might encounter in our community, we headed out to the Hemlock Farms trail to see what we could discover.

We learned that it's really important to consider an animal's preferred habitat when looking for them, so we'll be more likely to find them, and know how to identify what we've found.  John had described all sorts of characteristics from physical characteristics to sounds and calls, and we tried really hard to keep it all in mind as we searched.

The first place we looked was a pretty dry and rocky area on the edge of the woods.  After turning over just a few rocks, our group discovered this beautiful specimen!  It's a Northern Ring-necked Snake, Diadophis punctata.

It was maybe a foot long, and Lauren loved holding it!  John explained that it was fairly easy to find this guy because we chose the right spot - a place where there were lots of flat rocks to hide underneath.  Snakes love to lie under flat rocks because they heat up and warm the snakes.  These snakes like to eat salamanders and slugs, so it was likely we'd find salamanders nearby.

We walked up the trail into the woods.  The ground became wetter - more suitable for salamanders.  After upturning only a few rocks, we found several of these Eastern Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).  Slimy!    

We learned that it's important to keep them from drying out, so we couldn't hold them or keep them uncovered too long.  And we learned the right way to return them to their hiding places.  Return the rock to its place, then put the salamander beside the rock so it can find its way underneath on its own.  It can take a really long time for the microhabitiat to form underneath a rock or decaying log, and we shouldn't go disrupting it and leaving it disturbed.

Closer to the edge of the stream we found this Northern Two-lined Salamander, Eurycea bislineata.  It was under the rocks in the water saturated soil.  Our guide was careful to keep it on his net that he had soaked in the water, so we could keep it out long enough to be photographed so we could document having found it.

A little further along the stream, we found this gooey glob of eggs.  They're yet another species of salamander, the Spotted Salamander, Abystoma maculatum.  We didn't see any adults, but we know they've been there!  John waded out into the stream to scoop these eggs up gently with his net, and it was all I could do to keep Lauren from following him into the water.  She was a very eager student and wanted to see and do and hold everything.  All the hands you see in these photos are hers!  Even around the gooey mass of eggs!

We'll be spending a lot of time in the woods and at the streams looking for reptiles and amphibians.  Maybe the most important thing we learned was about how to report our findings to PARS, the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey.  PARS gathers information from its "army of citizen scientists" to help determine the distribution and status of these important members of our ecosystem.  Reptiles and amphibians can be important indicators of the health of our natural surroundings.

To learn more about the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey, visit their website at

Thanks to John Jose, proprietor of Otter Creek Environmental Education Services, for his interesting and inspiring workshop.

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