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Herp Atlas Newsletter Autumn 1995

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


Where We Stand

Well, atlasers, another field season has passed. Hopefully, you have all turned in the survey cards you so tediously filled out this summer. If not, please do! We have tabulated some preliminary results for the year and for the project to date. As of the printing of this newsletter, the database holds a grand total of 11,000 species records and about 5,500 survey cards (current and historic combined). This year we received about 4,000 new records. That may sound like a lot of records (and it IS), but our goal for 1995 was to receive 10,000 new records. We fell significantly short!

But, but, but, you say, why was the goal for 1995 so high? Was this unreasonable? We don't think so. The province of Ontario is also conducting a survey of amphibians and reptiles which has been ongoing since the mid-1980's and continues today. Since the beginning of their study, the Ontario atlasers averaged 10,000 records per year. We figured, if they can do it, why can't we? Well?? Why can't we? There's no reason. Although we fell short of our goal this year, there is always next year. AND, we can do it!! Be sure to read about wintertime herping in this newsletter (Winter Vacation - a look at overwintering herps) and see what you can find after the snow begins to fall.

Check out our New Logo!!

As we promised in the first newsletter, here is the result of our logo contest. The new Herp Atlas logo was created by atlaser Lynn Webb of Pine Plains. It was chosen from several great entries. The new logo will be incorporated into a letterhead and we hope to make T-shirts available in the future. Thanks very much to all of those atlasers who sent in ideas for the logo.

NY Natural History Conference

The New York Natural History Conference IV is scheduled for April 24-27, 1995 at the state museum in Albany. We plan to be there to present a poster on the Atlas. We invite you all to stop by for a chat.

Top Atlaser Identified

A report produced in the spring of 1995 listed the number of survey cards that have been submitted by each of the volunteers. We learned that Rich Kelly of New Hyde Park has submitted about 175 survey cards. This is the most cards submitted by any non-DEC volunteer. Here's a quick biography on Rich.

Rich Kelly grew up in New Hyde Park (Nassau County) and currently lives there with his wife Pat and son Brian. After graduating from Shalmut High School in Mineola he went on to study Economics and Business at Hofstra University. He currently works for NYNEX, forecasting telephone lines in Manhattan. While at Hofstra, Rich took a class in ornithology with Paul Buckley. Observing birds and butterflies are two of his hobbies, along with looking for herps. His primary interest, however, is studying and collecting shells. He reports having a collection of over 3,600 species of marine shells from North America and Hawaii, as well as a couple hundred species of land shells from North America.

Rich's herping experience began when he found a hatchling snapping turtle on a trip to Maine when he was a child. He continued this hobby through boy scouting and later in life through friends who shared his interest. Al Lindberg of Muttontown Preserve first introduced Rich to the Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project. How does Rich manage to submit so many survey cards? "PPerseverancequot; he says. His favorite spot to look for wildlife is Pound Ridge in Westchester County.

Map of the number of species reported by quadrangle in New York from 1990-1995 data

The New Map is Here

The map on this page shows that we've made significant progress in 1995. So far this year we've added 4,000 species records to the database, but that falls well short of the 10,000 records we had hoped to get. There is still time to submit your records if you've been hoarding them; please do this as soon as possible.

We now have at least one species reported from 72% of the atlas blocks. But what that means is that for 279 blocks no one has submitted a report even for the most common species. No bullfrogs, green frogs or spring peepers? No garter snakes, painted turtles or snapping turtles? It shouldn't take much effort to get 5 species in every block. By next spring we will have a more complete status report available for every atlaser so that you can quickly see where the gaps are, and then get out there and start filling them.

Many atlasers have asked what is "completing a block." To date, the block with the most species is the Rosendale Quadrangle in Ulster County with 37 species. Even there we believe additional effort will result in finding a few more species. But we expect different parts of the state to have different numbers of species. Long Island has several species not found elsewhere in the state, but overall it has a low species diversity. The Adirondacks, Tug Hill and the St. Lawrence River Valley also have a low diversity. The lower Hudson River Valley and the Alleganies have the richest herpetofauna in the state. In very general terms the expected number of amphibians and reptiles for each county are depicted on the following two maps. Individual atlas quads are expected to have slightly fewer species, but lets work toward "completing" blocks by recording at least 80% of the expected number.

We have four more years to reach this goal. Just because the weather is getting cooler doesn't mean we have to stop looking for herps and wait for next spring; there are records in the database for every month of the year. Following a warm, late October rain a group of us atlased 16 species during a 2 hour search. Another time we had a warm rain the last week of December and found green frogs and bullfrogs on the road. And my daughters came inside last January to tell me the spring peepers were peeping! We had a lot of response this year when we "Focused on Frogs." There are still gaps, of course, but overall we have made real progress. In 1996 let's continue to work toward completing the frogs while we set additional goals. More on that in the next issue.

Completing a block... these maps indicate how many species occur in each county. Our goal is to report 80% of the expected number.

State Map of Expected Number of Reptiles by County
State Map of Expected Number of Amphibians by County

Winter Vacation
a look at overwintering herps

Throughout autumn and into the first weeks of winter, we can readily observe the activities of wildlife around us as they respond to the cooler temperatures and shorter days. We are familiar with the activities of most mammals, but what happens to the turtles, snakes, salamanders, frogs and toads which we've been observing for the past months? How do they avoid the rigors of winter? Do they hibernate, or are they active beneath the ice on the pond and the frozen ground? The answers to these questions cover a wide variety of possibilities from true hibernation to no change in behavior at all.

As temperatures fall and days shorten, snakes move to sheltered areas such as rocky outcrops, quarries, mammal burrows or basements. Timber rattlesnakes, copperheads and black racers may hibernate together at historic den sites, along with an occasional milk snake. Once snakes arrive at the den they may linger for weeks, sitting in shallow retreats on cold days, emerging on warm days, and finally retreating deeply for an extended winter stay. Fissures extending deep into the ground at den sites provide protection from freezing temperatures. It is unknown just how deep various species of snakes go and what their activity level is during the winter. Water snakes normally spend the winter in the mud at the bottom of the pond or inside muskrat or beaver lodges.

Unlike snakes, a few turtles remain somewhat active through the winter. Painted turtles and snapping turtles can sometimes be seen through clear ice swimming or crawling on the bottom of the pond. Only very cold temperatures cause them to burrow into the soft mud on the bottom. Spotted turtles, on the other hand, are not seen very much from July through late March or early April. Their attempt to gain refuge from mid-summer heat seemingly blends right into retreat from the cold in autumn and winter. Wood turtles hibernate communally in muddy stream bottoms, beneath trees whose roots have been exposed or in complexes of fallen trees along streams. Some turtle hatchlings spend the winter in the nest and emerge the following spring rather than in the fall. This may occur when the summer has been especially dry and the ground is very hard, or when nesting occurs later than usual.

Most amphibians spend the winter tucked safely underground, below the frost line. Green frogs and bullfrogs, however, use muddy pond or stream bottoms for winter protection. On warm winter days, though, they may be seen swimming beneath clear ice along with red-spotted newts. Newts remain active all winter, as do mudpuppies and hellbenders. The most fascinating cold weather adaptation occurs in spring peepers and treefrogs. These species spend the winter under the leaf litter, roots, rotting logs and bark on the surface of the forest floor where temperatures can drop to 10 to 15 degrees F! Spring peepers and treefrogs deal with this harsh environment by actually allowing their bodies to freeze. They are even able to freeze and thaw and freeze again, several times, without sustaining damage to their tissues. Peepers can do this because they have glucose in their system which acts as an antifreeze, protecting the cells from damage and limiting dehydration. Adult treefrogs have large amounts of glycerol in their blood, while juvenile treefrogs have both glycerol and glucose. Wood frogs are also capable of this freezing trick.

Now you know.... you CAN find herps in the dead of winter, if you just look. So, when the first frost comes (hasn't it already?!), and the snow begins to fly, don't put those herp survey cards away. Make sure you take them with you on those winter adventures and send us records year round! If you would like to read more, check the Stokes Nature Guide to Amphibians & Reptiles by Tom Tyning.


In addition to funding from New York State, support for the New York State Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project has been provided by the following:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Federal Aid to Endangered Species (Section 6) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partnerships for Wildlife
Return a Gift to Wildlife Tax Checkoff Andrew Sabin
New York Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Cornell University
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This issue of the newsletter was printed courtesy of the Sabin Conservation Fund.

NYS Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Project
Bureau of Wildlife
625 Broadway
Albany, NY 12233-4754

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