Hunting for Herps

Sally O’Byrne, Teacher Naturalist

Earlier this summer, our Herp Hunters camp for 9 to 12 year olds enjoyed a week of herpetiles, herps for short (reptiles and amphibians), and the interesting places that they live.  It was not the best weather for herps, without much sun for basking snakes and lizards, but the campers seemed thrilled with the frogs and tadpoles they found everywhere.  We traveled from the Piedmont sites of Bucktoe Creek Preserve, Ashland Nature Center, and Burrows Run Preserve to the Coastal Plain sites of Blackbird State Forest and Olde Hope Farm on the Chesapeake.  We were fortunate to see lots of transforming frogs, especially at Blackbird, where we saw at least 4 different kinds emerging from vernal pools.  At Bucktoe Creek Preserve, we had our first glimpse at Green Frogs and American Toads.

Our first Green Frog.
Our first Green Frog.

The highlight at Ashland Nature Center the next day was finding the Eastern Box Turtle that is fitted with a radio transmitter.  We weighed and measured it and wrote all of the information in the Ashland turtle log.

This Eastern Box Turtle at Ashland Nature Center has worn the transmitter for about a year.  We tracked it down in its small territory in the woods.
This Eastern Box Turtle at Ashland Nature Center has worn the transmitter for about a year. We tracked it down in its small territory in the woods.

We headed to Blackbird State Forest on Wednesday to explore the wet woodlands and a Delmarva Bay, which is a small pond that has water sometimes, and none at other times.  Newly transforming frogs were everywhere.  We saw very tiny Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, and Southern Leopard Frogs.  Fowler’s Toad, the toad species on the Coastal Plain, was common and we took time to sort out the differences between them and the American Toad, found in the Piedmont. 

A Fowler's Toad, which is the type of toad you find on Delaware's Coastal Plain.
A Fowler's Toad, which is the type of toad you find on Delaware's Coastal Plain.

Thursday, we went to Olde Hope Farm near Earlville, MD to explore a pond and forest along the Bohemia River.  Mr. Tom Harkins, an entomologist with the US Army, but a herp expert himself, helped us dissect a log.  We found lots of Bess Beatles that make tunnels where snakes can be found – the Herp Hunter group that came here later in the week found a group of Worm Snakes here.  We missed them!

We dissected a log to see what critters live inside.
We dissected a log to see what critters live inside.

Sarah, my co-leader, and I seined the pond for turtles.  The kids gently beat the edges of the pond to drive critters into our net, but other than a tire, we picked up tadpoles…lots and lots of them.

Seining for herps in a pond was exciting!
Seining for herps in a pond was exciting!

On Thursday night, Nate Nazdrowicz, who has a doctorate degree in herpetology, set a turtle trap for us at Burrows Run Preserve (don’t worry, this trap is only to observe them, not kill them).  We met him the next morning to see what he caught.  We were pleased to find an Eastern Painted Turtle had been lured by the sardines placed in the trap.  Nate also took the group to a small stream and helped them find a Northern Red Salamander and a Two-lined Salamander to add to our week’s list.  It was a fantastic week in the field, watching kids get excited about wildlife, and catching lots of things that crawl, slither, hop, and swim.

Nate, who is a Herpetologist, trapped a turtle for us overnight.  We got to weigh it, measure it, and release it back to the wild.
Nate, who is a Herpetologist, trapped n Eastern Painted Turtle for us overnight. We got to weigh it, measure it, and release it back to the wild.

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