Citizen Science

Record Your Reptile & Amphibian Sightings for Conservation

March 22, 2016

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Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in forest on Mount Porte Crayon. Photo © Kent Mason
Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in forest on Mount Porte Crayon. Photo © Kent Mason

To badly misquote Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being an amphibian. Or a reptile. But your observations can help!

For many of us with natural history inclinations, spotting reptiles brings up memories of childhood: watching a bright flash of a lizard on the side of a building. Catching a glimpse of a toad as it hops through your yard. Jumping a bit at the surprise of a snake.

You can recapture those moments for yourself and for the children in your life while lending conservation a helping hand by sharing your observations through HerpMapper.

“Unfortunately herps [reptiles & amphibians] are facing many threats,” says Christopher Smith, wildlife biologist and a Project Administrator for HerpMapper, “including but not limited to habitat loss, road mortality, pollution, over-collection for the pet and food trades, and climate change.”

When you see a reptile or amphibian (anywhere in the world!) take a picture or record a sound file and share it directly through HerpMapper’s mobile app or, if you’re not using a smart phone, upload it when you get home and share it online.

Spot-legged Poison Frog (Ameerega picta) from Peru. HM 78571 by Mike Pingleton
Spot-legged Poison Frog (Ameerega picta) from Peru. HM 78571 by Mike Pingleton

HerpMapper shares the information with partner organizations that research and protect threatened herps.

Why is HerpMapper Important? 

Impacts of habitat loss and disease on amphibians have been particularly dire; the most recent International Union of Conservation analysis of amphibian data found that 32% of the world’s amphibians are known to be threatened or extinct and at least 42% are declining in population.

Many of the threats to reptiles and amphibians are poorly understood and need more research. Your HerpMapper data help those who are working on these issues to find study populations and learn about other population trends.

Here’s one example: reducing reptile roadkill. We’ve all seen it – a snake or turtle smashed on the road, but what can be done to prevent these collisions? The answer is surprisingly simple – well-placed turtle tunnels.

“There is a really great project in Minnesota that uses HerpMapper turtle data inform wildlife underpass placement,” Smith explains. “Roads are a significant threat to many turtle populations, and these citizen-collected data are having real on-the-ground conservation impact.”

Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) from Porter County, Indiana. HM 98961 by John Burris
Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) from Porter County, Indiana. HM 98961 by John Burris

Threats like climate change are hard to see, but your data can make them visible, revealing correlations between changing climate and changes to reptile and amphibian populations.

“The Snapshots in Time Project initiated by The Orianne Society is a long-term Citizen Science project aimed at mobilizing people to monitor the timing of Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) and Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) breeding,” Smith says. “The purpose of this project is to use the data collected by on-the-ground citizens year-after-year to investigate possible effects of climate change on the timing of reproduction.”

Keep an eye out for herps when you’re walking or driving. Even if a species seems common to you, information about the timing and location of your sighting can be useful to science – especially when that data is combined with the observations of thousands of participants.

“I really hope people realize that through the power of numbers, taking a few extra seconds to document their observations can really have positive effects on herp conservation,” Smith explains. “One of the most basic needs of conservation and research organizations is access to high-quality data for where species occur. Amphibians and reptiles (‘herps’) are no exception.”

How Can You Get Involved?

If you’ve got a smart phone, you can quickly capture and submit your observations with HerpMapper’s app Mobile Mapper.

If not, you can still take pictures with a digital camera, upload them, and enter information about the date and location online. There are easy to follow step-by-step instructions.

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) from Montgomery, Missouri. HM 34717 by Justin Michels
Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos) from Montgomery, Missouri. HM 34717 by Justin Michels

Location is required because this information is very valuable to researchers, but is not available to the public. HerpMapper has taken this precaution so that people looking to collect wildlife for the pet trade cannot use this data (over-harvesting is a threat to some herps that are sought after pets).

From frogs to snakes, from turtles to salamanders, herps need our help. The small effort of taking a picture to share online can have a big impact on conservation. Your photo will help ensure that future generations will have a chance to marvel at the mysteries of reptile and amphibian life.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa Feldkamp is the senior coordinator for new science audiences. She loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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4 comments

  1. saw 3 red bellied cooters today on the abandoned highway in fairview alabama

  2. Thanks for this article Lisa! Stumbled upon your blog few hours ago and am already loving it! I’d like to write a new article about conservation too on my reptile blog ( http://ReptilianZone.com ) I’ll link to your blog as soon as it is done! 🙂