Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris)

I crouched down by the stream where a frog had jumped in. There it was! Under a leaf, thinking it was completely camouflaged. Silly frog. I placed my left hand a little in front of it in the water and poked one of its legs with my right, causing it to swim into my open palm. I quickly cupped it with both hands and got a secure hold on the legs. Lo and behold: a pickerel frog!

Pickerel frogs (Lithobates palustris) are medium sized frogs found in most of the eastern united states except for large chunks of most of the southern states (practically doesn’t occur in FL) and in large portions of KY, IL, TN, and AK. It’s a very hard range to describe.

Their call sounds like a really low, drawn out snore. Pickerel frogs start calling late January and end early May. They are calling absolutely everywhere on my college campus day and night, but it is more pronounced during the evening and into the night.

L. palustris eats invertebrates such as spiders and insects, but occasionally mollusks as well. They also react to movement. If it moves, it’s food. You might recall the T-rex in the first Jurassic Park movie who reacted to movement when investigating the tour trucks – same thing just less terrifying.

A really fascinating feature of this species is its toxins. One book I have tells me it is poisonous and gives no further details. Another tells me that some people have had pickerel frogs that will kill other frogs it is bagged with due to the toxins, while others have not had any problem. Its toxicity is not well studied. We do not know if L. palustris has toxins in only parts of its range or if it’s due to diet or if it only occurs during certain parts of its life cycle. We just don’t know. We also don’t know much about their behavior and life history. Do they establish territories? How long do they live in the wild? These frogs should be studied more – especially their toxins.

Lo and behold: a pickerel frog. Photographed by Matthew Anthony.
Lo and behold: a pickerel frog. Photographed by Matthew Anthony.

Thank you for reading! Please check out my other posts if you enjoyed this one!

I used “Frogs & Toads of the Southeast” by Mike Dorcas and Whit Gibbons and “A Guide to the Frogs and Toads of Virginia” published by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. To hear their call, please follow this link.

The Virtues of a Field Herper: the Etiquette of Field Herping

Because it is February in NJ and at least three weeks away from being warm enough to search for any ambystomatidae, plethodontidae, bufonidae, or ranidae, I would like to begin a preliminary series of articles regarding what I am calling, “The Virtues and Etiquette of Field Herping.” This series will begin with the following article and will be followed by at least one more article. It may end there or may be updated again and again. This material may be redundant or obvious for many of you. In spite of this, because of the fact that many young herpers are gaining most of their information from the Internet, I believe that it is important that they are aware of some very basic “rules” while field herping. This series will provide what I consider to be some of the basic information that all young and new field herpers should follow. Of course, I recognize that my word is certainly not the only or the most authoritative. Therefore, if there is any information that I am lacking, please, make me aware and I will do my utmost to see to it that the information reaches its proper audience.

Most herpers have fond memories of their first wild snake, frog, turtle, or salamander; nostalgic episodes of the past that solidified their interest in these amazing creatures. At a young age there is often a strong desire to keep these animals and remove them from their natural habitat, a desire that may extend into adulthood. Unfortunately, as we enter the Anthropocene Epoch every move we make has the potential to tremendously affect, either positively or negatively, these incredible animals which we affectionately call “herps.” I would like to provide an overview of some of my own field experiences which have instilled in me what I call the “virtues and etiquette of field herping,” along with some of my own and others’ techniques to avoid disturbing species’ critical habitats and environments, in addition to the species themselves. As someone who is extremely passionate about wildlife and nature, especially reptiles and amphibians, I feel that we all have a duty to each other and future generations to provide the proper education to ensure that these animals continue to persist.

Respect for the Species & Its Habitat

Timber rattlesnake, in situ, NJ
Timber rattlesnake, in situ, NJ (Copyright Matthew Perez).

Over the last four years, many of my frequent herping haunts have begun to exhibit the signs of anthropogenic disturbance. I categorize anthropogenic disturbances into four categories, ranking from least invasive to most invasive:

  1. Human generated litter – This refers to waste that has been left behind by hikers, runners, bikers, and/or off-roaders. In most cases, whenever I encounter any plastic bottles, aluminum cans, whole glass bottles, or food wrappers, I simply pick them up and place them into my carry-all. Of course, there are some human waste items that make excellent herp microhabitats, some of which are deliberately placed to attract herpetofauna. These items, mainly cover boards and tin, are always a great way to attract local herpetofauna. My only advice, with respect to this, is to make sure that you are not disturbing the integrity of the habitat in which you place the items (cover boards and tin are best placed in open areas that receive sunlight for part of the day for reptiles, and in darker, cooler, moister areas near permanent or temporary bodies of water for amphibians).
  2. Displaced rocks, logs, and leaf litter – This drives me crazy! I cannot emphasize enough that this is not proper field herping etiquette. If you ever move a rock, log, or leaf litter in search of herps, please, always return the rock, log, or leaf litter to its original positionThese microhabitats do not solely serve the purpose of providing shelter for reptiles and amphibians. They also provide microhabitats and shelter for other animals which herps may prey upon. Therefore, it behooves one to replace the debris in order that either a herp, or its prey item may return to and utilize this space. Moreover, it is important for other non-prey species as well. Reptiles and amphibians are part of an intricate and fragile web in their ecosystems. They depend upon other species, just as other species depend on them. Always keep this in mind when rummaging through the field.
  3. Removal of species – In the case of certain hyper-common or common species, whose removal may not appear to pose a threat to the integrity of the population, please limit the number of specimens you take. Reptile and amphibian populations can be difficult to gauge. Always air on the side of caution, even when removing “common” species.
  4. Removal of rare, threatened, or endangered species – This is by far the worst thing you can do as a field herper. Unless you have been granted a special permit by the proper authorities, in most cases for research, this is an offense that may carry legal penalties. Never remove rare, threatened, or endangered species, and always be aware of the species in your range that are categorized as rare, threatened, or endangered. Despite many species being ostensibly commonplace in one location, their overall status in your state may not be what it appears. If you do encounter animals that are categorized as such, either deliberately or accidentally, minimize physical contact as much as possible, even entirely, if doable, and use discretion and acute judgment when photographing these animals. Make an attempt to limit the stress level of the animal, especially during times of critical importance for the species, such as: spring emergence, mating, egg laying, and fall/winter ingression.

Following up bullet 4, I would like to mention the importance of keeping the critical habitats of rare/endangered species and these species’ localities as ambiguous as possible. Never provide information regarding the whereabouts of rare, threatened, or endangered species, unless you are confident that the person with whom you are sharing this information is a trustworthy individual. Again, air on the side of caution and use your most acute judgment. Word of mouth travels quickly, even more so with our connectedness to the Internet, our smartphones, and tablets. Due to loose lips, a once secret safe haven for your most beloved herp species may disintegrate, unintentionally, over one herp season.

If these basic guidelines can be practiced by the majority of the field herping community, it will ensure that we all have access to these incredible animals. Furthermore, it will ensure that these animals have a place to thrive and that future herpers will have the opportunity to view them in their natural habitats, not just in books, museums, zoos, or private collections. It is important to promote awareness and respect for reptiles and amphibians and the ecosystems that they inhabit. Because the herping community is constantly advocating on behalf of herps to non-herpers, we may forget that the herping community may occasionally need to be given a friendly reminder to respect herps and their habitat, too.


HerpMapper (HM) is a relatively new global herp atlas and data hub project that receives “catch and release” data from the general public, herpers, other citizen scientists, and professionals. HM data are only viewable to county-level to the public, but HerpMapper does make these data freely available to HM Partners – groups that use these recorded observations for research, conservation, and preservation purposes. More more information see our F.A.Q. page.

HerpMapper Wants You!

  • Data contributors
    • Citizen scientists
    • Herpers
    • Professionals
  • Data Partners (view our current list of Partners).
    • National, regional, and local units of government
    • Non-governmental conservation groups
    • Existing herp atlas projects
    • Researchers
    • Other conservation partners
  • Promoters – share our flyer (English, Spanish, Chinese).
    • Website administrators
    • Conservation organizations
    • Herpers and other naturalists

Share with Confidence!

  • Public does not have access to detailed location information (example)
    • County-level only in United States
    • Similar scale for other countries that do not use counties
  • Can choose to completely restrict public access to specific observations
  • Maintain access to data you have submitted
  • Export your data in a wide variety of formats (more upon specific request)

Data is Available!

  • Free access for research, conservation, and preservation purposes
    • Supports one-time requests and continuous access
  • Shared data available at multiple scales
    • City to international-level access
    • Species-specific access
  • Photo or audio vouchers for all observations
  • All observations have a HM accession number (example: HM 39316)

Easy to Use!

  • Easy web interface that extracts voucher metadata when present
  • FREE Mobile Mapper app (Android and Apple) that allows multiple configurations
  • App does NOT need cell signal to work in the field!
  • Options to bulk import existing data sets! See importing data

For more information about contributing or receiving data, or for questions and concerns, contact: info@herpmapper.org

Don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook, follow us @HerpMapper on Twitter, or comment on Field Herp Forum!

Where We Are and Where We are Headed.

Today I just want to take a moment to let everyone know where Herper’s Guide is and where we are headed.  We are working on several projects at the moment.  I am hoping everything will be enjoyed by all of you.  I will touch on a few of the major projects and let you know where we are in them.

Project 1

The “Did You Know” Facebook post.  Hopefully each day, we will be posting a column on our Facebook page entitled “Did You Know”.  It will be filled with short little facts I think are worthy of comment.  I hope you guys enjoy.  If you do, PLEASE let us know by liking and sharing our stuff.  Share it on your timelines, your pages, and the Facebook groups you are part of.  Be sure to let us know you like.  This is a great way to make sure we keep it up.  Encouragement is the best way to keep us moving along.

Project 2

Post a Species Profile every week.  It takes a little time to prepare the profile post.  I start by writing out what I know.  I then do some research to make sure my opinions are up to date with the latest findings.  Someone has to review the content behind the author, pictures have to be gathered, and it all has to be laid out on the post.  All this takes time.  Thanks for your support so far.  I have been blown away by those who support what we are trying to do.

Project 3

Gear Review.  I have been in touch with a few gear manufacturers.  We hope to be reviewing soon.  It may be spring before this really gets moving.  I would hate to do I review that hasn’t been properly tested in the field.  Let us know if there is any gear you would like to see reviewed specifically in the comments below!

Project 4

The 2015 Herping Challenge!!!  This will be my big project for the year.  I already have my project laid out and it is ready to go!  I will be announcing the 2015 Herping Challenge January 1st of 2015.  Hope you will enjoy as we Herp it Up 2015!

Even with all this going on, I want to be sure to give you guys what you want or need. If there is something you would like to see on the site, please let us know in the comments below.  Thanks again for choosing Herper’s Guide and thanks for the support so far!!

Phillip Laxton