Herp Update: Amphibians moving, December reptiles – December 11, 2023

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Recent Herp Activity

Amphibians still on the move

Herpers, Preston Turner and I checked Morgan Road last night. It had been raining most of the afternoon and temperatures were close to 50 F. In our 15 minute walk over and back through the crossing area we found three Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, three Blue-spotted Group Salamanders, and a single Four-toed Salamander. The Eastern Red-backed Salamanders were all headed up hill. However, the Blue-spotted Salamanders appeared to be moving downhill. This is a bit hard to tell, since Blue-spotted Salamanders are active and aware enough that they try to get away as we approach. Still, it looked like they were headed downhill.

Earlier this month on December 1, my granddaughter and I checked the same crossing and found 14 Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, one Blue-spotted Group, and one Four-toed Salamander.

Reports coming in from the public so far this month include only an Eastern Red-backed Salamander moving on the surface in Bristol on December 1, and a Spotted Salamander on the surface in Royalton on December 10.

December reports of reptiles

Vermont has a total of 19 native species of reptiles not including three hypothetical species. Of the three hypothetical species (Eastern Box Turtle, Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, and Blanding’s Turtle, I personally suspect that the first two are actually native species, although very limited in range. Back to my original point though, of these 19 known native reptiles, only nine have been reported actively moving on the surface (out of water) in December since we began gathering records 29 years ago.

Common Gartersnake (7), Common Watersnake (1), Eastern Milksnake (3), Red-bellied Snake (1), Ring-necked Snake (1) and even a Smooth Greensnake (1) have all been observed on the surface in December. For most of these snake reports, it appears that their denning sites were disturbed by a predator or human activities. Many turtles are periodically active under the ice, but Painted Turtles (3), Snapping Turtles (2 reports), and Wood Turtles (2) have all been seen on the surface in December. The Painted Turtles were basking on warm sunny days (clearly no ice). One of the Snapping Turtles was disturbed by flooding in its home river, the other Snapping Turtle report is of a group of hatchlings that had emerged from their underground nest very late. The two Wood Turtles were basking on the shore by their wintering stream.

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