Conserve Wildlife Blog

Archive for the ‘Reptiles’ Category

Expanding CWF’s Turtle Portfolio

Wednesday, November 15th, 2023

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Etiquette tells us that we shouldn’t have a favorite child. I sometimes wonder if the same rules apply to biologists with regard to our study species. If so, my manners fall woefully short, at least where reptiles are concerned.

Conserve Wildlife Foundation has been partnering with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on bog turtle conservation initiatives for years. We do this using a multi-faceted approach. We connect landowners with qualifying habitat with federal funding opportunities and technical support that can preserve and restore significant wetlands. We assist the state and nonprofit partners with visual surveys to better understand the status of historic populations. Finally, we suit up with USFWS personnel each fall and winter to remove invasive species and woody vegetation that are shading out nesting spots, rendering bogs and fens inhospitable to turtles. We applied to continue this work for the next few years but decided to shake things up a bit by adding in tasks targeting the protection of the bog turtle’s closest living relative… the wood turtle, a state threatened species that is currently under consideration for federal listing. 

CWF biologist Christine Healy with a wood turtle, found during a spring survey.
Photo Credit: Connor Zrinko

The Double-edged Sword of Reptile and Amphibian Accessibility

Friday, August 11th, 2023

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Although I spend much of my time thinking about reptiles and amphibians, if you were to ask me if I could be classified as a “herper”, my immediate answer would be no. When I go for hikes, my objective is to reach the summit and take in the view- I’m not generally looking to offroad and go slow. I recently compiled a list, however, of all the herps that I have found during my outdoor adventures this year and was shocked to realize that I’ve encountered 31 species of wild turtles, snakes, frogs, and salamanders. Of those, I had the intention of locating 13 as part of my seasonal field assignments for CWF- the rest were all incidental finds. Moreover, despite the period in question being rather lengthy, it was very easy for me to parse apart which species were really 2023 observations versus some other year.  And I can recall where I was and what the individual was doing in each case.

Christine’s Reptile/Amphibian list for 2023.

A Partnership of Herpetologists

Tuesday, August 8th, 2023

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

It’s always fun to learn the collective names for groups of animals. For example, in the amphibian and reptile world, we have an army of frogs; a congress of salamanders; a bale of turtles; and a lounge of lizards. I wonder what quippy term could describe a group of herpetologists- the folks who spend their lives studying the armies, congresses, bales, and lounges? Perhaps… a partnership?

In that case, a partnership of herpetologists from as far south as Virginia all the way up to Maine descended upon Middletown, Connecticut last month. Not to cross some rare species off their life list (though coincidentally, I crossed two off mine), but rather to attend the annual Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (NEPARC) conference, hosted at Wesleyan University.

CWF biologist, Christine Healy, holds a ribbon snake that was located during a NEPARC field trip along a powerline.

Happy World Snake Day!

Friday, July 15th, 2022

by Christine Healy

An eastern garter snake stands out amongst fallen beech leaves. Photo Credit: Nikki Griffiths

July 16th is World Snake Day! This day of recognition was established to increase awareness
and raise appreciation for these most polarizing of creatures. People tend to have an extreme
opinion when it comes to snakes; They are loved and revered by some, loathed and vilified by
many. Mythology, religion, and pop culture are riddled with snake imagery and, though these
media sometimes align them with healing, transformation, and fertility, they often proliferate a
connection between them and evil intentions. Whether learned or not in Greek legend, the
Medusa, with her living locks, is universally recognizable and her beheading is counted among
the greatest achievements of the hero, Perseus. Norse stories give us Jörmungandr, the
serpent son of Loki, hated by and responsible for the death of his uncle, the beloved god Thor.
The Bible symbolizes the devil himself as a snake in the Garden of Eden and, in this form,
provides the temptation responsible for original sin in Christian teachings. More recently, we
watched as ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) became the Achille’s heel of everyone’s favorite
archeology professor, Indiana Jones, and read about how the ability to communicate with
snakes was a defining characteristic of Lord Voldemort, the most notorious dark wizard of all
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that works such as these are responsible for a negative public
perception of snakes. Rather, I think they capitalize on a rampant unease associated with
snakes to encourage their audience to sympathize with the protagonist. The truth is, snakes can
be dangerous, particularly if they are venomous. Snakes can and do kill people, sometimes
stealthily, which defies our view of humans as the universal apex predator. This, naturally,
instills anxiety. But it’s also not the full story.


Uncovering Urban Reptile and Amphibian Diversity

Monday, November 8th, 2021

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Coverboards are typically placed along ecotones, where species diversity is expected to be greatest. The corrugated tin board, pictured above, was positioned along a forest edge where larger deciduous trees meet a more open, sandy landscape.

How do you survey for animals that spend most of their time hidden under leaf litter or wedged between fallen tree limbs and rocks?

In the case of reptiles and amphibians, the answer is to use coverboards!

Coverboards are materials that are intentionally placed within a potential habitat, often along ecotones (where different habitat types- e.g., wetland and forest, field and forest, etc. come together) that trap moisture and retain heat, creating favorable conditions for our “cold-blooded” (ectothermic) friends. Researchers often arrange coverboards in long transects or arrays and collect data on the diversity of the community underneath the boards as compared to the surrounding environment. This technique was used by NJDEP Division of Fish and Wildlife to survey for herptiles in 17 wildlife management areas in the early 2000s (Golden, 2004). A total of 30 species were recorded during the first year of the study, including long-tailed salamanders, pine barrens tree frogs, and northern pine snakes, all of which are listed as threatened in New Jersey.