My love for reptiles and amphibians began when I was a small child in the late 80s and early 90s. I would spend my free time in a stream behind my parents’ house in rural upstate New York. Although my identification skills were not yet developed, I would try as hard as I could to learn as much as possible about these marvelous creatures. It was that small stream, the memories it helped create, and all the beautiful animals I found, that stayed with me into adulthood and shaped my career and personal goals of getting as many people as possible interested in herpetofauna. I am currently perusing a bachelor’s degree at SUNY Brockport where I am majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in wetland ecology.
First, how do you do it, and where and when do you go? Herping is a fairly inexpensive hobby requiring only a field guide, headlamp, snake hook (this item is optional and can be found at most pet stores), a first aide kit, rain gear and warm clothing.
The next question one should ask before herping is, how should these delicate animals be handled, if they are to be handled at all? Amphibians breathe through their skin, and because of this, are susceptible to toxins from pollution. It is okay to handle them very gently. I recommend that the best way to do so is to wash your hands in the wetland first to make sure you don’t transfer any toxins to them. If you smoke or put on any hand sanitizer, you should refrain from handling them, because the toxins on your hands could potentially kill them.
How do you find specific snakes, lizards, and turtles? This is a tough question to answer, because it largely depends on luck along with knowing the habitat of the target species. The best time to search for turtles or snakes is early in the morning around 7am until 1 or 2 in the afternoon throughout the breeding season, although some, like painted turtles, will stay active beyond that. Many of the more secretive species will be hard to find after that point. Mornings that reach temps in the early to mid 60s with lots of sunlight are great for getting outside and seeking out the turtles in your area. Many species will begin to bask once they emerge from hibernacula, and can easily be spotted as they purge their system of the lactic acid that has built up over the winter. If targeting snakes, one can try to manipulate the habitat a bit by putting large objects around the area for the snakes to hide under. Checking these locations every couple of days should yield great results, and you’ll begin to be more conscious of the species located around you that perhaps you had no idea existed.
If a child asks to take any of these animals home as a pet, what should the response be? It should always be NO! In New York State, all of our native species are protected, and it is illegal to take any of them from the wild. If the child is interested in having a pet, please do some research and consult a pet shop. Beyond that, these animals are also important members of their local ecosystem, and it’s extremely important that they remain there for others to enjoy. Currently, herpetofauna are experiencing a huge decline due to habitat loss, fragmentation, invasive species, chemicals, climate change, and poachers. These species are very important to scientists as they are viewed as environmental indicators, meaning their presence in a wetland will show what kind of condition their environment is in. If the area is severely degraded, these species will be absent.
Please keep all of these things in mind when herping. It’s important to have fun, and also to recognize the importance and aesthetics these animals have. If looking to become more familiar with frog and toad calls in your area, I have posted a link that will get you started: USGS Frog Quiz. I have also included links to books and audio CDs that aide in identification: The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State and The Frogs and Toads of North America.
Thanks for reading, and of course happy herping!
*All comments and questions will be relayed to James!