How to find our reptiles and amphibians

There isn’t too much complexity to finding reptiles and amphibians in Columbia County. Two rules will tell you most of what you need to know.

#1. Search habitat edges

#2. Look under stuff

Let's start with searching habitat edges. Reptiles and amphibians tend to spend their time at the edges between two habitats, so you’re unlikely to find them in the middle of the forest or the middle of a field. Instead, you have to look at the boundary. For example:

  • In a field, snakes and lizards will often be at the edge of the road or in the short grass between the road and the denser vegetation. Here are some examples of edge habitats where Red-spotted Garter Snakes were found. When possible I try to photograph the snakes as they sit without picking them up, but you can be assured that all Columbia County species of snake are non-venomous.

  • In a lake, pond, or stream, you will find frogs, newts, and turtles at the edge of the water, either sitting just barely on land or floating just barely in the water. Here are some examples of edge habitats where Northern Red-legged Frogs were found. Amphibians are sensitive to touch so it’s best to just photograph frogs as they sit without disturbing them or their habitat.

Walk slowly and carefully at these habitat edges and pay as much attention as possible to the ground in front of you. Some more alert animals may try to hide as you approach, so you’ll want to scan ahead frequently so you can see them before they disappear. Walk in the grass just to the edge of the road, or alongside the long grass in a meadow, or along the edges of a pond, and see what you find!

The other primary way to find reptiles and amphibians is by looking under stuff. The reptiles and amphibians which you can’t see are often hiding under something. Reptiles usually hide under objects that help them to stay warm (though moisture is also important), whereas amphibians are more concerned with staying moist. Some examples of places to look:

  • Snakes and lizards will usually be found under flat objects near habitat edges. A board, tin, or tarp lying on the edge of a field is the perfect place to find them. You want something that warms in the sun but not too warm. Here are some examples of objects that I’ve found Northern Rubber Boas underneath. After you've looked under an object, it's very important to replace it exactly how you found it so the snake’s habitat remains intact!

  • Terrestrial salamanders and frogs will often be found under logs or rocks in the forest or artificial objects near homes. They are looking for places that are moist but not soaked. Here are a few logs where I’ve found Western Long-toed Salamanders hiding. Important – never destroy or break apart a log when looking for salamanders – you’ll destroy their habitat! Only lift up any loose part without breaking anything and then return them carefully exactly the way you found them.

  • Semi-aquatic salamanders can be found under logs or rocks at the edge of the pond or stream. Some species will even be found under rocks that are right there in the stream. Here I'll show you where I’ve found Dunn’s Salamanders underneath the rocks. Remember to always pick up rocks carefully so you don’t crush the salamanders underneath, and then replace them exactly how you found them!

As I keep emphasizing, the most important thing to remember while looking for reptiles and amphibians is that we must not damage their habitat. If you pick up an object, do it very carefully so you don’t harm anything underneath. Any living animals should be removed before you set it back, so you don’t crush them. Set the rock or log back very carefully exactly how you found it, so that the habitat remains undisturbed and stays nice and moist. Then if you removed an animal from under it, you can take a picture to document your find, and then release it right on the edge of the log or rock so it can find its way back underneath easily.

Reptiles and amphibians can become disturbed and stressed easily, so we only handle them as long as it takes to get an accurate photo. If you can get a photo without touching the animal, it’s that much better. Amphibians in particular can dry out from handling and are bothered by the oils on our skin, so let them get along on their way ASAP.

That’s all you need to know to start looking for reptiles and amphibians in Columbia County. Walk the habitat edges, look under boards and other objects in places with a little sun, look under logs and rocks in places with a little moisture, and always put everything back just like you found it. Good luck getting some data!

Posted on March 05, 2020 05:35 AM by jonhakim jonhakim


Awesome journal entry, Jon! :)

Posted by sambiology over 3 years ago

Thanks Sam! Hope people can find something useful here.

Posted by jonhakim over 3 years ago

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