Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall Herp Survey at Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve

This fall the Cornell Herpetological Society conducted our annual herp survey at Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve on September 16. A group consisting of 18 students, alumni, and members of the Ithaca community went to the preserve with the Finger Lakes Land Trust to see what reptile and amphibian species we could find there.

Lindsay-Parsons contains a wide array of habitats, making it home to many different species.



A beaver pond


We started our searching near Coleman Lake. There, we saw a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) basking on a log and a good-sized water snake (Nerodia sipedon).

(Really, there's a painted turtle in this photo. It's the tiny speck left of the avian reptiles.)

The water snake was about to shed, as you can see by the blue-ish eyecap. Since he couldn't see very well, he was probably extra cranky, and did what water snakes do best: strike at and poop on people.

A demonstration of the snake's stinky defense mechanism.

We also found a green frog, Rana clamitans.

After Coleman Lake, we headed on to an abandoned shed known to shelter black rat snakes, Pantherophis obsoletus. While we didn't find any live snakes there, perhaps because they had already gone out to sun themselves, we did see snake vertebra.

Once in the woods and near the streams, we began to find more amphibians.

Flipping a log to look for salamanders.

An American toad, Bufo americanus

 A juvenile red-spotted newt, a.k.a. a red eft (Notopthalmus viridescens)

Betsy had a permit to collect some red efts and red-backed salamanders for educational purposes.

Two for one: this streamside rock hid both a green frog and a red eft.

We were surprised by the lack of salamander species other than red-spotted newts, but after lunch they began to appear. The group saw mountain dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus), red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), slimy salamanders (Plethodon glutinosus), and spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum).

Our final species count:

Painted turtle, Chrysemys picta- 3
Water snake, Nerodia sipedon- 1
Green frog, Rana clamitans- 21+
Spring peeper, Pseudacris crucifer- 3
Red eft, Notopthalmus viridescens- 21
American toad, Bufo americanus- 1
Redback salamander, Plethodon cinereus- 45
Slimy salamander, Plethodon glutinosus- 9
Mountain dusky salamander, Desmognathus ochrophaeus- 13
Pickeral frog, Rana palustris- 1
Spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum- 2

Photos: Jessica Tingle.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hellbender Trip 2012

The herp club started off the year with the hellbender trip, as always. This year was different that usual, however. In addition to finding and collecting data on hellbenders already in the stream, we also released twenty five young hellbenders that had been raised in captivity at the Buffalo Zoo.

Hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) are giant aquatic salamanders from eastern North America. We're talking really giant here: up to a couple feet. They don't have anything on their Asian cousins though. If you want to see humongous salamanders, check out Andrias japonicus and A. davidianus. But we digress. For more information on hellbenders, check out

These incredible creatures are currently in decline over much of their range, and has been labelled a species of special concern in New York. As populations age, not all of them have continued to reproduce themselves. Enter the Buffalo Zoo headstarting program. Several hundred eggs collected in western New York found their way to the Buffalo Zoo, where most of them hatched. Keepers then raised the baby benders in captivity until they put on enough size to hopefully have a better chance at surviving in the wild. This year was the first batch to go back into their native watershed, and we were honored to be there for their release. Many thanks to Ken Roblee and the Buffalo Zoo for letting us take part.

Disinfecting boots before heading into the stream. Due to chytrid fungus, we must take extra care not to spread pathogens between bodies of water.

Carrying a cooler full of hellbenders to the first release site.

Young hellbenders.

We fished the hellbenders out of the cooler one at a time with a net, then gently took each to a suitable large, flat rock for its new home. This part of the stream previously had few appropriate rocks, but couple years ago the herp club spent a day helping with the efforts to place more of them in this location. It was exciting to place hellbenders under the now-ready rocks. You can read more on the initiative to create more hellbender habitat on the Department of Environmental Conservation website.

After releasing the young'ns, we headed to a different part of the stream that had some established hellbenders. The goal was to find and catch hellbenders, collect data on them, and tag them if they did not already have a tag so that they could be individually identified in the future.

The stream.

Two hellbenders under the first rock!

Taking a length.

And a weight.

Swabbing for chytrid.

Inserting a PIT tag.

All told, we found fourteen wild hellbenders, way more than usual. This year was strange compared to previous years in that most of the ones we saw were out walking on the bottom of the stream rather than hidden under rocks. We speculated that a possible reason for their being out was the impending breeding season. It was only August 26, normally early enough to not interfere with breeding, but who knows.

Next year we'll head back to see how the headstarted young ones are doing!

Photos: Jessica Tingle