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Lizards & Snakes


Lizards & Snakes


Cortland Herpetology Connection

Surveying Tips

Here's how to find the reptiles and amphibians you're looking for while preserving their habitat.

Remember: The primary goal of this program is to conserve and protect our populations of amphibians and reptiles. So it's extremely important to disturb their habitats as little a possible when you survey them. Always replace any surface objects that you turn over. Always release an animal as soon as possible and in exactly the same location as it was found. Many of these animals have territories or home ranges. If you release them away from these areas they may try to migrate back and may be killed along the way.

There are more surveying tips below. But first be sure to read the Cautions box below before you hit the field. New York's wild areas are relatively safe, but you need to be aware potential dangers so that you can prevent accidents.


To prevent accidents in the field, take measures to avoid the following dangers:

Falling: Falling, tripping, or slipping are the major sources of injuries to people working in the field. Always watch where you are about to step. On hillsides or on rocky slopes, be careful about rolling objects down onto people lower on the slope. Never wade in waters alone or when you cannot see the bottom.

Venomous snakes: Three species of venomous snakes are native to New York: copperhead, massasauga, and timber rattlesnake. Caution should always be taken because their bites can be very dangerous. Wear sturdy hiking boots and always watch where you step. Turn logs or rocks using a tool rather than placing your hands under objects where a snake could be hiding. Never handle a snake unless you are absolutely certain that it is not a venomous species. If bitten by a snake of unknown identity, get medical help immediately and try to be able to describe the snake to the authorities.

Other reptile bites: Most snakes and turtles may bite when handled. Snapping turtles and softshell turtles bite fiercely and can cause serious tissue damage. The bites of non-venomous snakes can hurt and may result in infected wounds. Before handling any snakes, learn how to identify them properly and how to hold them so they won't be as likely to bite you.

Arthropods: Insects, ticks, and spiders cause more health problems than venomous snakes. Insect stings are painful and potentially dangerous to some individuals. People searching for amphibians and reptiles often uncover wasp or hornet nests that were hidden beneath boards. logs, or stones. The angered insects will sting. Always watch carefully before and during the turning of any objects. Get immediate medical attention if you are allergic to insect stings, have a severe reaction, or receive multiple stings. The bites of spiders and aquatic insects can also be a problem for some people. Watch where you put your hands!

Ticks carry microorganisms that cause diseases (for example, Lyme disease). Tick-borne diseases have become a major concern in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Consult with your local Dept. of Environmental Conservation or county health department to find out whether ticks and/or Lyme disease are a problem in your area. Officials at these agencies may also have suggestions for avoiding tick bites. Insect repellents with the ingredient DEET may help. After spending time in the field, everyone should carefully inspect their clothes and bodies to remove ticks before they can cause disease.

How to find reptiles and amphibians

Streamside amphibians. Many salamander species, and some frogs, snakes, and turtles frequent small woodland streams. The salamanders are most often seen beneath stones along the edges of such streams. Frogs are most often found in weedy areas. Remember important microhabitats take time to form beneath the stones, so put all stones back exactly as you found them.

Locating frogs and toads. One of the best ways to locate populations of frogs and toads is to listen for their calls. Most call in the evening or at night. Many species call in spring (mid to late March through June), while a few species call in midsummer. Learn to identify the species in your area by their calls using the audio tape provided with your educational materials. You can report frog calls to the Atlas, even without actually seeing the frogs, if you are certain of your identifications. However, it is always preferred that you actually see the frogs.

Select point sampling. Most terrestrial amphibians and reptiles are found by people searching likely-looking spots (e.g., beneath logs, stones, or other objects) in forests, fields, and along bodies of water. Salamanders and frogs are more likely to be found under objects that are shaded much of the day, but snakes are more often found in sunny areas. Use care not to be bitten by snakes or stung by insects. Please remember that the habitats beneath the objects take a long time to become suitable for reptiles and amphibians. Be sure to replace logs and stones as you found them, so that our populations can thrive.

Using nets. Dip nets can be used along the weedy shorelines of ponds and lakes to capture frogs and aquatic salamanders (such as red-spotted newts). Farm ponds that don't get to much livestock use are good places for the newts and several frog species. Be careful while dip netting during early spring when the nets could damage the amphibian egg masses that are laid in the water.

Traps. Professional studies of amphibians and reptiles often use a variety of traps that capture the animals unharmed. However, we do not recommend that you use any traps without first checking with Al Briesch, Project Director of the New York Amphibian and Reptile Atlas or your local DEC officials.


Dr. Peter Ducey, Project Director
Biology Department, SUNY Cortland
Email: duceyp@cortland.edu
Craig Cramer, Webmaster
Email: cdcramer@clarityconnect.com

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