The search for Ohio’s reptiles and amphibians
Wild Toledo participates in a lot of conservation work with native reptiles and amphibians on Zoo grounds and around northwest Ohio. With the development of on-grounds native habitats, Wild Toledo biologists are monitoring the reptiles and amphibians found in these areas by providing cover objects such as fallen trees, logs and sheets of plywood. Biologists routinely lift these objects to see which animals are using them to regulate body temperature. So far in our native prairies, Wild Toledo biologists have seen red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), five-lined skinks (Plestiodon fasciatus), brown snakes (Storeria dekayi), common water snakes (Nerodia sipedon sipedon) and Butler’s gartersnakes (Thamnophis butleri).
In addition, Wild Toledo works with fox snakes off grounds, monitoring local populations by microchipping individuals and tracking their activities.
Recently, researchers at the Toledo Zoo have joined statewide efforts to assess the status of the Kirtland’s snake (Clonophis kirtlandii). These snakes typically inhabit wet prairies and are extremely difficult to find because they appear to spend the majority of their time underground in crayfish burrows. Typical cover object surveys have proven successful for finding Kirtland’s snakes, but the periodic flooding or drying of the wet prairies can make this method unreliable. To overcome this obstacle, Wild Toledo researchers have partnered with Dr. Andrew Gregory at Bowling Green State University to use environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect these elusive snakes. As snakes move through their environment, they leave behind traces of DNA in the form of skin or feces, hence eDNA. Taking water samples from crayfish burrows and surface water requires much less effort that repeatedly monitoring cover objects and could reveal unknown populations of Kirtland’s snakes.
In addition to conducting surveys for Kirtland’s snakes, Wild Toledo researchers have begun tracking the movements of these small snakes using radio-telemetry. This is a difficult task given the size of the animals and transmitters, but the data gathered so far has shed new light on these snakes.
Northwest Ohio reptile and amphibian distribution
We can learn a lot from a photo. Distribution data for reptiles and amphibians in Ohio is an essential tool for the management and conservation of these important components of our ecosystems. Unfortunately, reptiles and amphibians are often difficult to find, many times only observed by chance encounters.
Naturalists, birders and other outdoor enthusiasts are a tremendous resource in providing quality records to help catalog the current status of Ohio’s reptiles and amphibians.
For example, a Zoo volunteer submitted a picture of a Kirtland’s snake at a location where this species was previously undocumented. In spite of repeated survey efforts with cover objects, Wild Toledo researchers could not confirm the presence of Kirtland’s snakes. Eventually, another resident happened across a Kirtland’s snake at the same location and alerted our staff. Following the second sighting, our researchers were able to physically confirm there were Kirtland’s snakes at the site and even found young-of-year snakes, indicating there is a breeding population.
You have the opportunity to help Wild Toledo biologists and the mission of the Toledo Zoo by taking pictures of the reptiles and amphibians you encounter while exploring your favorite metro park or in your backyard. Click the button above to learn more about this program and Citizen Science.
Elusive Mudpuppies in Lucas County
Currently, there is little data about the distribution of mudpuppies in Lucas County and the Toledo Zoo is on a mission to learn if they still live here and where. With this information, the Zoo can determine what type of habitat served as a refuge for them and how to manage their populations in the future to hold on to our dear mudpuppy. During the colder months of the year, between November and March, Wild Toledo biologists go out in search of the elusive mudpuppy. In order to trap for them, holes are broken in the ice and minnow traps are deployed into the water baited with chicken liver and trout to entice the salamander to enter the trap for a meal.
To test the methodology, several hours of trapping occurred out at South Bass Island in the middle of January to trap a known population of mudpuppies. Doing so ensures that the trapping methods used in Toledo actually work. During trapping, a mudpuppy was recovered which demonstrates that current trapping methods could catch mudpuppies elsewhere.
After 2,283.03 trapping hours in Lucas County, not a single mudpuppy has been recovered by this study.