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.