By Bailey Cooke
Bailey Cooke is a second-year University of Ottawa student in environmental science. This winter, Bailey is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning program.
Ontario is home to 15 species of snakes, 8 turtles, 1 lizard, 13 frogs/toads, and 11 salamanders. But, with approximately 35% of Ontario’s amphibians and 75% of its reptiles listed as species at risk, chances of spotting some of these rare, hidden jewels are quickly decreasing. Threats, such as habitat loss, traffic mortality, and persecution are putting great pressure on these populations and are quickly leading to declines, and even extirpations.
David Seburn, an Ottawa-area atlas coordinator, came to discuss the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (or Herp Atlas) at the OFNC monthly meeting, Tuesday, March 10 at the Central Experimental Farm’s K.W. Neatby Building. The Herp Atlas, a program of Ontario Nature, seeks to document the status and distribution of the province’s amphibians and reptiles. It follows up on the Ontario Herpetofaunal Summary which began in 1984.
The Herp Atlas uses 10 X 10 km grid squares to map sightings of amphibians and reptiles, reported by interested citizens. Online maps are colour coded to illustrate which areas have recent sightings (green) and which areas have historical sightings (black dots).
Although the atlas is still actively collecting data, some preliminary trends have been noted. A few species appear to have increased their known range (based on the number of grid squares they have been reported from) like the Eastern Foxsnake (8%); this improvement was great news. However, the increased distribution of some species, like the Red-eared Slider (82%), was not as positive. Exotic to Canada, this turtle is most recognized as the typical “pet shop turtle” and is identified as one of the world’s 100 most invasive species. This increase in range is the result of pet owners dumping the turtles into local waters, which may affect native species through competition or the spread of disease.
Unfortunately, a number of species have been reported from fewer grid squares than historically. Both the Queensnake and the Blue Racer appear to have declined by about 70% and many other snakes and most salamanders have apparently declined by approximately 50%. Such declines, if real, are very disturbing news about the health of our amphibian and reptile populations. It is possible that these species have not declined so dramatically, but are just underreported, but without more observations it is hard to know for certain.
The data used to build the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas flow from a variety of partner organizations, researchers, and citizen scientists. In fact, the project is very dependent on sighting submissions from people in the Ottawa community. To contribute, you can report observations (past or present) of amphibians or reptiles online, via email, or by phone. You can also easily submit your data through an app on your smart phone. It is important to remember, however, when participating to respect the wildlife, park rules, legislation, and private property. Although much of the information is available to the public, the atlas does not share exact locations of species at risk with the public.
Telephone: 1-800-440-2366 (extension 243)
App: Ontario Nature – Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas (easy to locate if you search for Ontario reptile in iTunes)
Coming soon: Keep an eye out for Google Fusion Maps, which will overlay the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas maps and allow you to discover which species have been spotted in individual 10 x 10 km grid squares across the province.
By Bailey Cooke
Bailey Cooke is a 2nd-year University of Ottawa student in biology and geology. This winter, Bailey is volunteering with the OFNC through the Community Service Learning program.
Tuesday, February 10, the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club held their first monthly meeting of 2015 at the Central Experimental Farm’s Neatby Building, situated at 960 Carling Avenue. After a short social, the meeting kicked off with a poem read by OFNC’s long-time member and resident poet Murray Citron. The fantasia-themed poem, inspired by the line “if a flute could be a flower, it would be a trillium” set the tone for what turned out to be a delightful evening.
Jakob Mueller presented the main talk of the night. Jakob is a member of the OFNC’s Events Committee and has previously led several club excursions, such as turtle watching at Petrie Island and a winter birding trip to Amherst Island. He will also be leading the club’s Snowshoeing in Stony Swamp excursion on Saturday, February 28 at 10 a.m.
Jakob has visited Cuba three times and has taken a keen interest in the island’s wondrous wildlife. Most people know Cuba for its warm weather, picturesque beaches, and enticing culture. Many can’t help but also notice the breathtaking countryside throughout the island. As Jakob pointed out in his presentation, naturalists see beyond the countryside: they see the many living things inhabiting it. Jakob took us on a voyage that gave us a sneak peak at the diverse wildlife the island has to offer.
Birds, reptiles, butterflies, insects, amphibians, and much more – Jakob showcased a wide variety of fauna and flora through a picture presentation while providing the audience with brief insights on the organisms he captured on film. He told us of the Greater Antillean Grackle whose melodious chirping is intriguingly coupled with rolling its eyes to the back of its head. Jakob also talked about the Black-throated Blue Warbler with whom he played peek-a-boo as he tried to get a picture.
One of the most curious stories came from Jakob’s last days in Cuba on his most recent trip. Despite having encountered numerous creatures throughout his stay, Jakob explained how he had yet to spot an indigenous lizard he had been longing to find: the Cuban green anole. What was so interesting about the story was what Jakob witnessed after coming across the lizard on his last day. He described an especially fascinating feature of this creature: when tense, the anole folds the skin on its back into a crest.
Some other sightings made by Jakob included:
Birds: Greater Antillean Grackle, Cuban Blackbird, Tawny-shouldered Blackbird, Northern Mockingbird, Turkey Vulture, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Common Ground-Dove, Brown Pelican
Butterflies: Mangrove Buckeye, Great Southern White, Zebra Heliconian
Amphibians/reptiles: Brown Anole, Cuban Tree Frog, Curly-tailed Lizard, Cuban Iguana
Jakob made it quite clear that Cuba has a vast variety of wildlife, and any naturalist would revel in the opportunity to come face to face with it. He plans to return to Cuba again in the near future. The only question that remains is what unnoticed wildlife lurks throughout the island awaiting to be discovered?