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Herp Atlas Newsletter Autumn 1997

Herp Atlas Logo
Herp Atlas Logo


New York State
Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project

Department of Environmental Conservation
Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources


Send Us Your Survey Cards!

Herp Atlas Project Address - text box image

Now that the field season is coming to a close, we want your survey cards! Each fall and early winter we try to enter all of the data from the survey cards of the current season. We hope to have all of the current data entered by the end of January, but we can't enter your data if we don't have your survey cards! We now have over 2,000 reports entered in the database with about 4,800 more reports waiting to be entered. When sending in records, don't worry about whether it has been reported already from that particular block. It is easier to let the computer separate that information later on.

Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions regarding how to complete your survey cards. Also, if you do not have a copy of the new volunteer handbook (light green with an amphibian holding the world on the back cover) and would like one, let us know.

Sometime early next year we hope to produce interim reports using the data that have been collected since the Herp Atlas began in 1990. These reports allow us to see the progress that is being made and focus our atlasing efforts. Last year we saw that there were many places in the state that had not been surveyed very well. We assigned atlasers to survey these areas in an attempt to fill in the gaps. These "block busters" have done a great job. The new interim reports should reflect very few blocks without any species reports, but half the blocks will still have fewer than 15 species, our target number for each block. With the support of our DEC regional staff from the Cortland office and several colleges in central New York, we have raised our goal in central New York to 20 species per block.

Thanks to All of The Block Busters Who Worked So Hard to Help Fill Those Gaps!!

Changes to Names of New York State Herpetofauna

The fourth edition of "Standard Common and Current Scientific Names for North American Amphibians and Reptiles" by Joseph T. Collins was recently published and there have been some changes that involve New York State species.

Most of the name changes to the list involve a subspecies becoming recognized as a species. The genus of one of our snake species was also changed. These changes are listed below.

  1. Ambystoma t. tigrinum has been elevated to A. tigrinum. All of the other subspecies of tigrinum are now subspecies of A. mavortium, which does not occur in New York.
  2. Desmognathus f. fuscus is now D. fuscus.
  3. Necturus m. maculosus is now N. maculosus.
  4. Bufo woodhousii fowleri is now B. fowleri.
  5. Rana u. utricularia is now R. sphenocephala utricularius.
  6. Scaphiopus h. holbrookii is now S. holbrookii.
  7. Pseudemys r. rubriventris is now P. rubriventris.
  8. Opheodrys vernalis is now Liochlorophis vernalis.

To purchase a copy of this publication contact Robert D. Alridge, Publications Secretary, Department of Biology, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO 63103.

Photographic Documentation - a useful tool

Let's face it... identifying amphibians and reptiles isn't always easy. Almost everyone knows that toads have warts and frogs do not, but how do you determine whether the toad is an American toad or a Fowler's toad? If you need a little extra help, why not send us a photo of the species in question? We'd be happy to help you to figure it out. The purpose of this article is to let atlasers know the importance of focusing on the specific characteristics needed to identify each of the herp groups. In the case of the toad, the back, the belly and the top of the head are the important areas to photograph. There are two critical elements of successful photographic identification: (1) include a scale - lay a ruler, coin, pen, etc. next to your subject, and (2) clearly capture the identifying characteristics of the animal in the photo.

In New York we have three species of frog with spots on the back: the northern and southern leopard frogs and the pickerel frog. There is a difference in the shape and pattern of the spots, but in some cases these differences are not always distinct. The color of the inner thigh is the more reliable characteristic to separate pickerel frogs from leopard frogs while the white spot on the tympanum separates the two leopard frogs. Most photographs do not show these important areas. Use your field guide to learn which body parts need to be focused upon.

Most of the adult salamanders can be identified with a simple photograph of the dorsal and ventral sides (how many other parts of a salamander are there, anyway?). The color in the photograph must be true. Many larval salamanders and tadpoles are, unfortunately, almost impossible to accurately identify using only a photograph.

When photographing turtles, make sure you include the extended head and neck (this may take some patience!). Measurements also help. Turtle measurements include only the shell and not the body. The easiest way to measure the carapace (top of the shell) is to place the turtle on a piece of paper and draw a line at the front and back of the shell. Remove the turtle and measure the distance between the lines. The plastron (bottom of the shell) should also be measured from tip to tip, front to back. A third measurement is the shell height, which can be important in identifying box turtles.

In general, the markings on the belly and back of New York's snakes are fairly distinctive. Markings on the head are important in some cases, as when trying to tell a (greenish) brown snake from a (spotted morph) garter snake. In some species (water snake, garter snake), each scale on the snake's body has a distinctive ridge down its center; these are referred to as "keeled" scales. Also, the scale immediately before the cloaca, the anal plate, can be either divided (ringneck snake) or single (ribbon snake). Venomous snakes have vertical pupils and a pit on either side of the face.

This is just a sampling of the characteristics you'll need to consider when making a positive identification; your field guide can provide you with more details. Don't forget: when identifying species, you also need to consider the geographic location where it was found, but that is another whole article...good luck!

The Herp Atlas Hits the Web

This summer we worked with the New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit at Cornell to produce a poster showing the status of the Herp Atlas. You can view this poster at http://www.dnr.cornell.edu/gap/herppost.html. We are also working on a website with SUNY Cortland that will focus on involving school kids with amphibians and reptiles and the Herp Atlas. The web site address is not yet available, but all sites will be linked to the DEC home page.

Herp Atlas Project Staff - text box image

This issue of the newsletter was printed courtesy of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY.

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