Progress and focus for next year
Progress and outlook for the herp atlas
Steering committe meeting
The new Nova Scotia mapbook
Map search bug solved
The Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network
Stay tuned for coming events
New on the website
I was hired in late September to replace Sonja Teichert as the coordinator for the herpetofaunal atlas. I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce myself.
I received my Honours B.Sc. from the University of Victoria in 1995 on speciation in garter snakes. Since then, I worked for three years on a variety of projects, mostly dealing with birds and conservation biology. After that, I returned to school and completed a M.Sc. on Peruvian Humboldt penguins at Dalhousie in Dec. 2000. It is a great pleasure to return to herpetological work as the new coordinator of the herp atlas and I look forward to taking part in this great project. I am impressed by the atlassers' dedication and the area that they have already atlassed!
My position lasts until late December and then resumes again in March, pending funding. During the last few months, I have written several grant proposals, verified the records entered since Sonja left, produced this newsletter, and, together with the Steering Committee, assessed which areas to focus on in the next field season.
If there are any updates between now and April, we will let you know in March when the coordinator's position continues.
Until then, be ready for those first spring peeps! Depending on your area's climate, amphibians and reptiles will start emerging from late April to late May.
Your comments and questions are very welcome - please feel free to contact me.
It's that time of year - time to assess how we've done. The short answer is: very well. Four target squares are now complete and volunteer numbers have risen from 121 in 2000 to 200 in 2001. The number of records submitted has also increased from 1459 in 2000 to 2918 in 2001. It's gratifying to watch the Atlas's progress.
We have spent some time examining the new data to determine our goals for the next two years, and have concluded that we really need to focus our efforts on completing target squares. Although the number of volunteers and submitted records has increased, most of the target squares (>75%) are less than 60% complete (see figure below). In the third year of data collection, all of our target squares should be at least 60% complete (or 60% of the squares should be finished). We are probably behind because the number of squares visited has also increased each year (see below) and so we have achieved a rather diffuse effort across a large number of squares rather than a focused effort on the target squares.
Squares with some data
Over the course of the next two years, we need to direct our efforts to completing the 98 target squares so that we can get representative coverage of reptile and amphibian distribution across the province. On the next page, we have included a list of target squares. If you can get to any of these squares next year, please visit them to look for herps. It will make a big difference to the success of the project and we only have two years left!!
A big thanks to all of you for your incredible work so far. It's been very worthwhile - at the end of five years, we'll have a really excellent database that can be used to locate reptile and amphibian populations and protect critical habitat. I can't wait to see the end product!
In order to help everyone focus their efforts on square completion, we have included a complete list of the target squares, their relative completion, and some obvious missing species in the squares that are very close to being finished (80-99.9% complete). Finishing off these target squares is a top priority, if you can visit them, please do!!!
Squares 80-99.9% complete
Target Square Fraction Complete Some common missing species
Target Fraction40-59.9% complete
Target Fraction Target Fraction
The map below shows the number of species recorded per mapbook square as of November 19, 2001. The number inside the circles is the number of species recorded for that square. Solid circles mean that only one species has been sighted. Squares 09C3, 20E5, 22B5, 23A2, 33C5, and 38E5 are each overcounted by one species because they include both morphs of blue-spotted salamanders, redback salamanders, and maritime garter snakes, or they contain non-native turtles.
Table 1. This table shows the increase in the number of
records and the number of atlassers for each year of the project. We
have made considerable progress, the numbers have risen for both
records and atlassers.
Figure 2. This graph shows the number of hours spent searching for herps by month and year. Note the huge increase in the number of hours spent searching in 2001 and the shift in peak hours between 2000 and 2001. The increase and shift in hours probably reflects the success of the workshops.
Because our website is available to anyone with an internet account, the database is vulnerable to bogus records entered by bored and mischievous individuals. We have been expecting database sabotage for some time, and it finally happened. Over 90 reasonable-looking but completely fake records were submitted in mid-November: these records were easily detected and deleted by our screening process. Remember that we will not accept any records if we cannot contact the atlasser, so please, always use your atlasser number and password. If you forget them, re-register and provide your contact information. The coordinator will be able to sort out multiple atlasser numbers for the same person.
Figure 1. The proportion of atlassed vs incidental records is given below for all current records (1999-2001). For the first time, the number of atlassed records exceeds the number of incidental records. This was another positive development for 2001 because atlassed records give us some measure of the effort required to find individual species.
Figure 3. This figure shows the proportion of manual vs online record entry. The large number of online entries is a definite plus. Some other atlas projects are 1-2 years behind because they enter all their data manually although they don't have the staff to do so.
Table 2. This table shows the number of records submitted (1999-2001) for each group of animals. Clearly, we are very good at finding frogs and toads, probably because we can locate and identify them by using their calls, unlike the silent salamanders and reptiles.
Finding some of the more elusive herps can be very
Blue-spotted Salamander: Same as for the
Yellow-spotted salamander, except that Blue-spotted salamanders are
usually restricted to regions with sandstone, conglomerate, limestone
or gypsum bedrock. Eggs are laid singly.
Red-spotted Newt: From spring to early fall, the
best way to find them is at night with a good flashlight. Check ponds
and stream stillwaters, especially where there is a lot of aquatic
Mink Frog: Avoids areas with Bullfrogs.
Preferred habitat is the deeper parts of ponds or slow-moving streams
with emerging or floating vegetation, especially water lily pads, on
which they like to sit. If Bullfrogs are present, Mink Frogs tend to be
found in areas that Bullfrogs avoid, such as shallow vegetated coves
Northern Ringneck & Redbelly Snakes: Both of
these snakes are nocturnal. During the day they hide, so look under
rocks and discarded trash such as shingles, planks, tarpaper, boards,
and metal roofing. Ringneck snakes are a woodland species and are
largely restricted to "hard rock" regions (granite, slate, and
quartzite). Look for them at woodland edges, especially roadsides with
a lot of cover. Redbelly snakes prefer grass and low shrub habitat near
water, as well as roadsides, abandoned fields, blueberry heath and
Maritime Smooth Green Snake: Look in any grass
or low shrub habitat, especially along road and railroad shoulders, in
hayfields, old fields, or blueberry fields. They hide under rocks and
trash such as planks or tarpaper.
Table 3. This table is more detailled and shows the number of records submitted for each species. Not surprisingly, the starred species (*) are more difficult to find. Interestingly, relatively few records have been submitted for some of the more common species, such as Mink Frogs and Northern Ringneck Snakes.
Wood Turtle: Slow-moving, meandering rivers and
streams with sand or gravel banks/bars for nesting, and deep pools for
Common Snapping Turtle: These turtles are
easiest to find in June and July when they are nesting. Check gravel
roads, especially the banks of bridges. Morning and evening seem to be
the best time to find them.
Eastern Painted Turtle: Look in lakes and ponds
with protruding rocks and logs where they bask in sunny weather.
All three turtle species: Check all bare soil,
road/railway shoulders, gravel pits, and sawdust piles near lakes or
ponds for evidence of nesting e.g. digging marks and eggshells.
The committee held its last meeting of the 2001 season at
Acadia University. Discussion focused on four issues:
Funding: There is some money left from
Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Shell Environmental Fund, but not
enough to ensure a coordinator next year. We are applying to a variety
of organizations for funding and will keep you posted on the outcome.
Progress Update: Sabrina provided an update to
the committee on atlas activities including funding targets, current
progress, and ideas to help complete squares in the next two years.
Mapbook: Because the new Nova Scotia mapbook is
not particularly useful to the Herp Atlas, we will look into finding
additional copies of the old mapbook for emergency use or to lend to
field trip leaders.
Publication of the Herp Atlas: Ideas for the
format of the Herp Atlas were briefly discussed, including an updated
summary of the reptiles and amphibians of Nova Scotia. We're
considering this option as long as the extra information does not
compromise timely publication. A meeting to discuss publication issues
will be scheduled for the spring.
By Fred Scott
We have been asked countless times whether the new mapbook
everyone was eagerly awaiting would be usable for atlassing, and we
couldn't really say because we didn't know enough about it. It's now
out, and many of you have probably already bought a copy of The Nova
Scotia Atlas, Fifth Revised Edition, as it is now called. The format is
radically different from that of the previous (4th) edition on which
the Herp Atlas Project is based, and this seriously limits its
usefulness for atlassing (see the last paragraph). However, it does
show greatly increased topographic detail.
Each page in the new mapbook corresponds to a complete
1:50,000 National Topographic Series (NTS) map sheet and is designated
by the same system (e.g, 21H16 for the Amherst sheet, 11D13 for Mount
Uniacke, etc.) as well as a mapbook page number. It is shown at
one-third the size of the original topographic sheet, or a scale of
1:150,000 (1 cm = 1.5 km). This is 66.6% larger than the old mapbook,
which was 1:250,000 or 1 cm = 2.5 km.
Each page is divided into 25 squares, as in the old mapbook,
but they are 5 x 7.5 km and correspond to the 1:10,000 topographic map
series (basically a black-and-white aerial photo mosaic overprinted
with contour lines and place names). The squares on a page are
designated by a column letter (V through Z) and a row number (1 through
5). So the square names are essentially the same system as in the old
mapbook (9Z1, 59W4, etc.) but because of the different letters they
cannot be confused with the old squares.
The relief information is approximately the same, with a
contour interval of 25 metres (82 feet), compared with the contour
interval of 100 feet in the old mapbook. Everything else is shown in
much greater detail, including all roads of any kind longer than 200
metres, which makes planning access for atlassing much easier, though
it is not always possible to tell if back roads are paved; black ones
are loose-surfaced but the thin red ones could be either, according to
the map legend. Many more of the small lakes, ponds and streams are
both shown and named than on the old maps. Unfortunately the names
themselves are sometimes very small and are difficult to read when
printed over other information, as often happens. Crown lands and all
types of protected lands are also shown.
Now for the crucial issue: YOU MUST STILL USE THE OLD MAPBOOK
WHEN REPORTING YOUR SIGHTINGS. The UTM 10-km squares are not printed on
the new mapbook pages, though the tick marks for them are on the map
edges and you can rule them in yourself. I have done this on a few
random pages and they are visually easy to confuse with the printed
black grid unless you use a very different colour or a much thicker
line. They also do not align with the printed 5x7.5-km grid because the
maps use different projections, but that can be ignored. However, I did
find that the 10-km squares indicated by tickmarks are shifted both
south and west by about 200 metres (about 1/8 inch) from the old
squares at the west end of the province, by about 150 metres in the
Amherst area, and seem to correspond exactly in the Mahone Bay area and
at the eastern end of Cape Breton Island. The discrepancy is most
likely to have been an error in the old maps. In any case it isn't
significant unless you are atlassing within 200 m of the square
boundaries. You will still have to go to the NTS 1:50,000 maps to get
UTM references for starred species records. Using a transparent overlay
with 1-km divisions that you could superimpose on your ruled 10-km
squares to estimate northing and easting would not give accurate
results because of the much smaller map scale as well as the offset
problem mentioned above.
One of the Herp Atlas's most powerful tools is the search
feature of the database. This search feature allows all of us to
monitor the progress of the project, locate squares that need more
searching, check out where different species are located, and monitor
our own progress. A bug in the program had been causing the number of
species to be overcalculated in some squares. This overcalculation was
produced for two reasons. First, some common names had been entered
with a space at the end of the name. The computer recognized
"name+space" as a different species from "name".
Second, any species with more than one colour phase or morph
gets counted as two separate species. Mapbook squares are only affected
when both morphs are spotted in the same square. The following species
Blue-spotted Salamander/triploid female
Non-native turtles also inflate the number of species observed
but do not count for square completion.
We have fixed the first problem by removing all the extra
spaces at the end of the common names. We still need to account for
overcounting in all squares where both morphs of one species have been
spotted. Please continue to double check that your square is really
complete by checking for both morphs in the table.
Some money is left over in the Shell Environmental Fund. We
plan to use this money for more workshops and field trips next spring.
If you would like us to come to your area, send in a request!
Annual Meeting October 2001
The Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network
(CARCNET) held its annual meeting this October in PEI to discuss herps
across Canada. People spoke about recovery plans for species at risk,
species diversity and richness in various habitats, herp health and
disease, and reproductive success. There was also an afternoon session
on herp atlasses, which included talks about atlasses in PEI, Vermont
and, ours truly, Nova Scotia. The response to the NS Herp Atlas was
very good and elicited so much interest that some people with questions
had to be cut off. Most discussion centered around whether location
data for species at risk should be available on a website, whether
people were asked to report times they searched but didn't find
anything, and whether we were collecting precise locations for all
species, not just starred species.
Providing location data for species at risk is controversial
because unscrupulous people illegally harvest species at risk for
profit. For example, one professor ordering snapping turtle eggs from a
biological supply company in the US and was asked if he knew where wood
turtles lived. The supplier told him that he would pay $70 per turtle
and that it would be best if he found their hibernaculum so that he
could get all the turtles. The NS Herp Atlas Steering Committee was
aware of problems with poaching when the project began, which is why
location data is only obtainable on the website at a scale of 10 X
10km. However, be aware that unprincipled people exist and if a
stranger asks for location info about a starred species, please refer
them to the coordinator or the steering committee.
Other people at the conference wondered whether we had asked
atlassers to report the times they searched but did not find anything.
As you are all aware, we do ask people to provide this information
because it's important for calculating search effort.
Finally, I was asked why we didn't require exact UTM locations
for all species sightings even though precise location data is often
needed to prevent population declines. For instance, high mortality can
sometimes occur in specific areas, such as a section of roadway across
which frogs migrate to reach a breeding pond. While it is true that
precise information is very helpful, it imposes a large burden on
atlassers, who seldom have access to topographic maps. We chose to ask
for locations at a coarser scale in order to balance useful information
with feasibility. However, if you are able to provide more detailed
information, please feel free to do so. Many of you have always done
this and it is much appreciated.
Presenting at the CARCNET meeting was a very useful acid test
for the acceptability of the Herp Atlas across Canada - I'm pleased to
report that the project was very well received.
Check out websites for herp atlasses across North America and link to sites discussing reptile and amphibian conservation issues! If there are in any other sites you would like to see included, drop me a line.
Distinguishing Leopard Frogs from Pickerel
Most of the time these two species are easily distinguishable
by their colour - Leopard Frogs are usually green and Pickerel Frogs
are usually brown. But, be on your guard, there are a few brown Leopard
Frogs and green Pickerel Frogs out there. Here are a few clues from
John Gilhen for telling them apart. First, check the spots between the
lateral folds - those two long ridges that run along a frog's back from
the eye to the hind legs. Spots on the Leopard frog are oval here and
will be bordered with pale green even if the rest of the frog is
brownish. Spots on the Pickerel Frog are rectangular and sometimes
adjacent spots blend together. Second, if you get a chance to see the
underside of the frog, the groin area in Pickerel frogs will be
tangerine orange in colour.
Reptiles and amphibians have evolved many fascinating
behaviours, which we seldom see because herps are so secretive. This
new section of the newsletter will be devoted to articles on cool herp
behaviour. If you have any ideas or interests, let me know!
The croaks, whines and wheezes of frogs are very conspicuous
to many of us and are also intriguing little devices used for a variety
of reasons. Most commonly, frogs call to attract mates, defend their
territory, or to alert an amorous male that they are not mate material.
What we most commonly hear are the mating and territorial
calls of frogs. Males call to attract females and to defend their spot
of the pond. Courtship and territorial signals may be incorporated into
a single call, or may be entirely separate calls. For instance, male
Puerto Rican frogs sing "coqui" but elicit a response from females only
during "co" and from other territorial males during "qui". In contrast,
bullfrogs use distinctly different calls for courtship and territorial
In many species, females are usually attracted to larger
males, which they can identify by their deeper voices. Some of the
smaller frogs with higher, unattractive calls are unable to entice a
female, so they do not bother calling at all. Instead they quietly lurk
next to a large male and try to intercept any females that approach.
These small, quiet frogs are known as satellite males. Although their
attempts to intercept and mate with a female don't often work, this
alternative mating strategy is thought to be more successful than
calling with a wimpy voice.
Release calls are also part of a frog's vocal repertoire and
are used to prevent mating mistakes. When frogs mate, the male usually
hugs the female from behind in a position called amplexus. Sometimes,
males accidentally grab other males, or females that have already laid
their eggs. When this happens, the amplexed individual uses a release
call and vibrates its body to warn the male that they are not an
appropriate choice. People investigating the function of release calls
have observed males hugging experimental water balloons for days,
presumably because the balloon didn't use a release call!