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.

February 2015 Featured Herper – Noah Fields

February 2015 Featured Herper

Noah Fields


This month we take a look at a young herper from Newnan, Georgia.  There are many reasons Noah is a good candidate for the Featured Herper Highlight.  Noah, although young, has shown that hard work, focused study, and determination can lead to positive results.  Noah has already established himself as a positive influence among the herping community.  Noah is a 17-year-old Herper who like many of us, has been herping since he was old enough to walk.  He feels that the last 3 years he has really come to know what he is doing.  He got into the photography side of things around the 3 year mark as well.

Noah has done most of his herping in his home state of Georgia.  In 2015, He was able to visit Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Tennessee.  When asked about his favorite place to Herp, Noah replies “Oooh, that’s a tough one”.  He goes on to speak of the gorgeous habitat, awesome snakes, and his familiarity with the central Georgia Sandhills.

If Noah could go anywhere in the world to herp, he says he would likely go to Mexico/Central America or Australia.  Mexico and Central America have amazing species all around so Noah wouldn’t be picky about where to go specifically.  Noah would love to find some Australian elapids!

Noah with a Beautiful Pigmy
Noah with a Beautiful Pigmy

When asked about his most memorable find so far since becoming a herper, he says he can vividly remember most of his first finds of each species.  He says that his most memorable species would be the Eastern Hognose.  According to Noah, he really didn’t know what he was doing back then but he took the initiative to research them and put in the miles of hiking to finally find one stretched out.  Noah feels his best find to date would likely be discovering a population of Carolina Pygmy Rattlesnakes in his home county.  He found a road killed one back in 2013.  This find lead Noah to set a goal in 2014 to find a live one.  He was able to find 3 live specimen!

“There was a lot of luck involved in that ordeal, but I worked really hard for those snakes and was able to share those encounters with close friends as well.”

I did ask Noah about what herp he felt he understood the most about.  I couldn’t help but respect and appreciate the response he gave me.  I couldn’t do it justice without a direct quote from Noah.

“Every herp is a mystery still. Seemingly perfect conditions and habitat can line up and I’ll still strike out from time to time. To pick one I have really researched and learned the most about through experience, I’d have to say either hognose snakes or one of several species of salamander. But I’m young and in the big picture still inexperienced, so I guess I should also say that I have much to learn about them, and all herps really.”

I couldn’t help but sense a true humbleness about his response.  Noah obviously knows his herps, understands their habits and their habitat, and knows where to find them yet, he claims to be inexperienced and really wanting and needing to know more.  For those of you who plan to pick up this hobby, are just getting started in this hobby, are a veteran of this hobby, or even those who have turned this hobby into a career, there is a lot that can be said about Noah’s response to my question.  He responded like a true scientist.  This is one reason, among many, for Mr. Fields to be the February Featured Herper.

Noah with a Spotted Salamander
Noah with a Spotted Salamander

When asked about his goals, Noah also responds like a true herper.  LOL!  I should have just copy and pasted a list of herps found in North America.  He has a list that includes; Pine snakes, Mud Salamanders, Tiger Salamanders, Rainbow snakes, more Lampropeltis and of course Hognoses and Pygmies.  Sounds like a plan to me!  I wish Noah the best of luck and I hope he finds every thing on his list!

Noah will be a senior in high school next year.  He has plenty of time to figure out what he plans to do after school.  He will start applying to colleges where he will be studying to become some form of field biologist.  I have all ideas he will be a good one.

Noah is a member of the Orianne Society.  Noah gives this organization credit for helping him establish connections and learn about field studies first hand while doing great conservation work for vulnerable species.  If you would like to know more about the Orianne Society and their mission, Noah and I both would like to urge you to visit them on their website at www.OrianneSociety.org

 

Noah with an Indigo
Noah with an Indigo

For more from Noah Fields, visit his Instagram @noah_fields or visit his Facebook.  Noah is also a member of the “HerpersGuide; Herping 2015!” team.  You can watch Noah and the rest of us share our Herping Adventures by subscribing to our YouTube Channel.


HerpersGuide.com Logo
HerpersGuide.com Logo

HerpersGuide.com will be selecting one person each month in the year 2015 to feature on our site.  If you know someone you think should be featured please let us know.  Email Phillip at plaxton@HerpersGuide.com with a means of contact and the reason you think they should be featured.

Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei)

Brown Anole

Anolis sagrei


The brown anole, Anolis sagrei, is an invasive species in the United States, originating from the West Indies. They have become established all throughout Florida and in neighboring states – even in Texas and Hawaii.

When I was in Florida, I saw A. sagrei absolutely everywhere. The first picture at the bottom of this article is one of many brown anoles along City Walk in Orlando. I saw them with at least one green anole at Osceola Schools Environmental Study Center and I managed to catch one at a putt-putt course.

Most populations of brown anoles are observed in heavily populated areas and around road sides, leading some to think they are spread by traveling vehicles. Other causes of the distribution of this species are thought to be shipments of lumber, plants, and building products.

Brown anoles occupy the same niche as our native anole, the green anole, and are therefore competing for food and habitat. It has been observed that green anoles retreat to habitat with more vegetation while A. sagrei stick to densely populated areas. Research done by Todd Campbell, a biology professor at University of Tampa, said that brown anoles can displace green anoles by preying on their young and out-competing them for food sources.

An anole behavior I’ve really wanted to see was performed for me by a brown anole at Ready Creek Swamp. It had zoomed out of reach when it looked me in the eye and displayed its dewlap. The dewlap display can be to attract mates and to declare territory. When this was preformed to me, I took it to be the anole saying, “Come at me bro,” but I couldn’t scale a tree to come at my anole bro, as it well knew!

Thank you for reading! I used “Lizards and Crocodilians of the Southeast” by Whitt Gibbons, Judy Greene, and Tony Mills and “Endangered and Threatened Animals of Florida and Their Habitats” by Chris Scott for this article. Edited by Matthew Anthony.

Anolis sagrei on City Walk
Anolis sagrei on City Walk

 

Brown anole at a putt putt course
Brown anole at a putt putt course

 

The Santa Cruz Black Salamander

 

bestscblack

 

All photographs taken by the author. http://www.zacharge.tumblr.com and Instagram @zacharge

Morning dew clung on green blades of grass, soaking my boots, as I hiked up a hill towards a cluster of rocks. The cool, brisk air offered a stark contrast to the slowly increasing warmth that the November sun was offerring. Blotched with the greens and teals of moss and lichen, the dark grey rocks studded the hillside of oak and buckeye. I have found red, black, and white montane snakes here earlier in the year and was hoping that a late season individual would be resting under a stone. I lifted up a dinner plate sized rock, half expecting the vibrant coils of a Coast Mountain Kingsnake. Instead of a brightly colored, ringed serpent, a jet black, legged amphibian laid waiting.

scblackrock

(Large adult from Santa Cruz County, CA)

Species Account

The Santa Cruz Black Salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus niger)* is a medium sized caudate in the genus Aneides (the climbing salamanders). As suggested by their common name, A. flavipunctatus niger is predominately jet black in coloration, with some specimens being a very dark charcoal gray. Unlike the Speckled Black Salamander (A. flavipunctatus flavipunctatus) of Northern California, Santa Cruz Black Salamanders do not have any white spots or flecks as adults. However, neonate and juvenile Santa Cruz blacks, like most, if not all, species in the genus Aneides, are jet black and covered with flecks ranging in colors from white, hints of blue and/or gold. Neonate and juvenile flavipunctatus (both niger and flavipunctatus) have a greenish tinge over their bodies- this distinguishes them from neonate Arboreal Salamanders (Aneides lugubris).

scblackgreentinge

 

(Juvenile with speckles and greenish tinge from Santa Cruz County, CA)

herpersguidescbaby

 

(Juvenile transitioning to jet black adult from Santa Cruz County, CA)

Range and Habitat

schabitat

(Oak/Buckeye clearing with rock outcropping in Santa Cruz County, CA)

schabitatcreek

 

(Creekside habitat in Santa Clara County, CA)scblack

(Charcoal colored adult found the creek pictured above)

The Santa Cruz Black Salamander occurs in the San Francisco Bay Area from southern San Mateo County, through Santa Clara County, and into Santa Cruz County. This range represents an extreme disjunction from that of this species (flavipunctatus), which is typically found in Northern California. Within their range, Santa Cruz Blacks can be found in a variety of different habitat types such as rock quarries, buckeye/oak clearings, grasslands, and in forested creeks. The presence of rocks, as well as semi-permanent to permanent water source, in the form of a creek, spring, or stream, seem to be the common factor within these habitat types. In drier habitat types, such as in grasslands and oak clearings, these salamanders are typically under rocks in or around rock outcrops or under logs. In creeks, SC Blacks typically favor rocks very close to the water- not submerged completely but close enough as to the soil being constantly damp to near saturated underneath. Santa Cruz Blacks range and share their habitat with a variety of other caudates, such as the California Slender Salamander, Ensatina, California Newt, Rough-skinned Newt, and Arboreal Salamander.

Conclusion

Like most other amphibians in the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Cruz Black Salamanders can be found year round if conditions are optimal. Wet and cool conditions are ideal. These salamanders are a species of special concern and are protected by law from collection.

*Some herpetologists recognize the Santa Cruz Black Salamander as its own distinct species Aneides niger.

Without Wild Things – John Vanek “A Must See”

Without Wild Things

John Vanek


 This article written by editor and owner of HerpersGuide.com

It was not requested by Mr. Vanek.  I choose to endorse his work because I truly find value in the work Mr. Vanek is doing.

© J. Vanek, IN
© J. Vanek, IN

Many of you may know John Vanek from his articles here on HerpersGuide.com.  He helped me and my readers by writing two great articles; Eastern Hognose and Timber Rattle Snakes, both of which were enjoyed by our readers.  He is compassionate about what he does and he does it well.  He is considered a friend of HerpersGuide and his contribution to our site is much appreciated.  John is always welcome to write for HerpersGuide.

John has recently started a blog.  He intends to use his blog to record his “ecological musings in more than 140 characters” as well as present himself professionally.   I have looked his site over and see he is off to a great start.  I could recommend his website to you in hopes of you visiting his site but, if you have read his articles here, I am sure you do not need my recommendation.  Regardless, I would like to formally recommend John Vanek’s personal blog to my readers.

withoutwildthings.com

Please take the time to visit his site and follow him as he adds another notch in his belt.  John is a high-class writer.  I have enjoyed everything I have read from him.  Be sure to check out his first blog entry, where he fact-checks a show I watch with my 3-year-old son.  He looks over “The Wildlife Thornberrys”.  It is a fun read.  I also learned how accurate the show is!  I am going to continue to encourage my kid to watch it.  There isn’t much out there.

Thanks again to John for your work on our website and your continued conservation efforts in other ways!

To the readers; thanks again for stopping in.  I can’t share with you enough how much I enjoy being able to offer you this website.  Be kind to one another.  Be kind to the environment.  Be sure to catch and release.  Happy Herping!

Phillip