Talks and Walks
Strategy for Summer 2002
Progress and Outlook
A Herp Friendly Yard
Herp events started early this year. Both the South Shore Naturalists and the Pictou Naturalists hosted herp talks. The talks, held on March 13 and May 7, were well attended with about 20 people present. The herpatlas held a workshop in Yarmouth on May 18 and one in Wolfville on May 26. The pouring rain in Yarmouth did not deter the ten hardy souls who came out to look at the large population of redback salamanders in Ellenwood Lake Provincial Park. In Wolfville, Jim Wolford led us to Goshawk Woods and Bleakney’s Pond where we found redback salamanders, yellow-spotted salamander adults and eggs, green frog adults and tadpoles, and adult spring peepers. We were also invited to lead a walk for the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalist’s Meeting on June 1 at Mt. Uniacke. Fred Scott, John Gilhen, Sabrina Taylor, and 20 walk participants found pickerel and mink frogs, a toad, a red eft, yellow-spotted salamander eggs, wood frog tadpoles, and ringneck, redbelly and garter snakes. Welcome new atlassers!!
Summer Workshop Schedule
Although most of the workshops are over, there are still a couple left!
Where: Sherbrooke Village Nature Centre
Saturday June 9 at UCCB
Don’t forget to bring your rubber boots and please remember that INSECT REPELLENT is POISONOUS to herps!!
It’s hard to believe, but this is our second last year! Fortunately, the Habitat Stewardship Programme and the McLean Foundation have generously funded the Herp Atlas this year, so Sabrina Taylor has resumed her duties as coordinator, and Derek Potter has been hired to look for herps in squares that appear to be especially troublesome for people to reach. Sonja Teichert has kindly agreed to give workshops in Cape Breton and to help coordinate atlassing effort there, and from time to time John Gilhen and Fred Scott will also do some atlassing. Of course, the bulk of our sightings come from atlassers, so keep sending in all those great records!
This summer we want to concentrate on finishing as many target squares as possible in case we don’t receive adequate funding for next year. The map on page two shows the current status of all priority target squares – if you can, please hit these squares first if you are going out to atlas. Note that many of these squares need only 1 to 3 species for completion. Incidental records are also very welcome, for targeted squares as well as any others, and if you have any old records hanging around, send them in too – we need them! Finally, prompt data entry will ensure that all atlassers know right away when a square has been completed. This is important because it prevents other atlassers from duplicating your efforts. If the database is up to date, atlassers can concentrate on the squares that really work.
You may notice that the number of species required to finish a square has changed for many squares. Over the winter, Fred Scott and John Gilhen re-examined how many species they could reasonably expect in each target square. The number was raised in a few squares and lowered for most others to reflect a more realistic expectation of species diversity. With this adjustment, and with the new records entered over the winter, the relative completion of the target squares has improved considerably (see page 2 for a breakdown). Several supplementary squares were also added to fill in gaps in our coverage. This has brought the total number of target squares up to 114.
There are now 41 target squares that are at least 60% complete. By the end of the summer, we are hoping to have at least 90 squares fully completed. Thank-you all for the large number of records you have already entered!
Table 1. This table shows the number of records submitted from 1999 to May 14, 2002 for each group of reptiles and amphibians.Because frogs can be identified both by sight and sound, their records are a majority of the total.
Table 2. This table gives a detailed breakdown of the number of records entered for each species. As expected, there are fewer records for starred species (*) than for common species. Mink Frogs and Northern Ringneck Snakes continue to be under-represented.
If you want to increase the diversity of herps in your yard, there are a couple of things you can do to make it more suitable. If you are very ambitious, small ponds are great for attracting frogs and breeding salamanders. Hiding places are another big hit with herps and require less effort. For example, toad houses among your flower beds are likely to make the toads decide to stay. You can use overturned terracotta plant pots or buy the deluxe houses from Lee Valley Tools. Snakes and salamanders are partial to hiding under rocks or logs. Incorporating these items into your landscaping scheme will increase the chances that a herp will take up residence. Finally, eliminating pesticides will improve the conditions for all herp life, especially amphibians. Amphibians can be seriously harmed by pesticides, which are readily absorbed through their skin.
Redbelly Snakes versus Ringneck Snakes
Redbelly and Ringneck Snakes are often confused because they can both have grey backs and orange or red bellies; occasionally Redbelly Snakes have their two pale neck spots expanded into a complete ring. To reliably tell them apart, take a look at a couple of other characteristics. Redbelly Snakes have a pale stripe along their side where the color changes from brown or grey to orange or pink; ringneck snakes do not have this stripe. Redbelly Snakes also have keeled scales; there is a little ridge down the centre of every scale. These make the grey on the back look rather dull and feel rough, like fine sandpaper. In contrast, Ringneck Snakes do not have keeled scales, so the grey on their backs is very smooth and has a noticeable sheen, like silk or satin.
Blue-spotted Salamanders versus the leadback phase of Redback Salamanders
Generally, the blue spots on a Blue-spotted Salamander are a dead giveaway. However, the triploid female Blue-spotted Salmander has very few spots or none at all. Small Blue-spotted Salamanders might be confused with the all-dark or leadback phase of the Redback Salamander. Leadback-phase animals are finely sprinkled with whitish dots that can only be seen up close, but they never have pale blue patches or blotches. The easiest way to tell these two species apart, regardless of color, is to look at their proportions. Blue-spotted Salamanders are at least twice as thick through the body as Redback Salamanders of the same length (see silhouettes).
Bullfrogs versus Green Frogs
Although large adult male Bullfrogs are easily distinguishable from Green Frogs just by their extremely large size, Bullfrogs and Green Frogs sometimes overlap in size, especially young female Bullfrogs and large male Green Frogs. Luckily, there is one characteristic that is completely failsafe for telling these two species apart. Both have a ridge that extends from behind the eye and curves down around the eardrum, or tympanum. In the Green Frog there is an extension of this, called the dorsolateral ridge, that runs straight back along the body to the hip (see diagram) This ridge is absent in bullfrogs.
Ribbon Snakes versus Garter Snakes
These two species are frequently confused because they both have stripes. Ribbon snakes have three equally distinct yellow stripes, one down the middle of the back (mid-dorsal stripe) and one on each side (lateral stripe). Each stripe is two scales wide. The area between the mid-dorsal and lateral stripes is always solid black (never grey, brown or checkerboard patterned). Garter Snakes have a weakly-defined mid-dorsal stripe that is never bright yellow (it is usually tan, grey or whitish) and is not sharp-edged or even in width.There is a distinct checkerboard pattern on each side of the mid-dorsal stripe. For individuals with a dark belly there may be a slightly paler stripe on each side just above the belly scales, but it is much further down from the top of the back than in a Ribbon Snake. The snakes have to be either sitting still or actually in your hand for most of these features to be seen clearly. There are good photographs of these and other differences on our website (photo gallery > snakes > comparisons). Bear in mind that a Garter Snake that is moving fast always looks more distinctly striped than when it is still. Its body is also much thicker in proportion to its length than a Ribbon Snake.