You may have seen our booth at the Columbia County Fair. (We’ll be in front of Brad’s World Reptiles every day through July 18th.) Here’s how you can take part in our research.
Why this project?
Columbia County has received little attention from wildlife biologists, thus we don’t know how our wildlife is faring. Matt and I decided to produce an all-encompassing study of Columbia County’s reptiles and amphibians.
We’re mapping the county to show where each species can be found. We want to determine how many species reside in the county, which species are widespread, and which are limited to certain areas.
You can help by recording the animals that you find. Every sighting matters, whether it is the most common garter snake or the rarest salamander. For more information on our goals, see: Why your data matters.
How can I participate?
Joining the project is easy. All you have to do is find a reptile or amphibian, take its picture, and upload it to iNaturalist. I’ll break it down step-by-step.
Step 1: Creating an iNaturalist account
iNaturalist is the world’s most popular website for nature observations. To sign up, just go to inaturalist.org and create an account. I recommend installing the free iNaturalist app on your phone because it’s simple to use and makes entering data easy. But if you don’t have a smartphone or don’t want to install the app, you can still enter your data using a camera and computer.
Step 2: Finding the animal
From time to time we get lucky and run across a frog in our yard or spot a snake crossing the trail. But there’s much more to be found if you actively look. Our advice is to search around water bodies, check the edges of fields and forest, and carefully look under objects near water or habitat edges. Avoid weather that’s too hot or too cold – most local species prefer it in the 50s to 70s.
For details on searching for reptiles and amphibians, read these illustrated posts:
Step 3: Entering the data
If you downloaded the iNaturalist app then data entry is simple. Once you’ve found a reptile or amphibian, all you have to do is open the app, hit the + sign to add an observation, choose the “take photo” option, and take the photo! If the photo is good then you press the check mark to approve the photo, give your phone 4-5 seconds to find the location, and then hit the check mark to finalize the entry. And you’re done!
If you don’t have the iNaturalist app, just take a photo with your camera or phone. Transfer the photo to your computer and go to the iNaturalist.org website. There you’ll see an “upload” button for making new entries. Click on that button, then drag-and-drop the photo or click “Choose files” to pick it out of a folder. Once the photo loads, click on “location” to add the location where you found the animal, then add its name if you know it. Hit submit when you’re done.
That’s all you have to do! There are options to add more information if you want, but none of that is required. If you leave the species blank, someone from the iNaturalist community will identify it for you. You can also use our website’s wildlife guide at https://wildcolumbia.org/wildlife-guide/.
What happens to my data?
Every time someone enters a reptile or amphibian from Columbia County into iNaturalist, Matt and I add it to our database. We’ve divided the county into 100 equal-sized sections, and we’re marking whenever a species is found in one of those sections.
When the project is over, we will write and publish a paper on our findings. The paper will list how many reptiles and amphibians were recorded and include maps showing how many sectors each species was found in. We will not publish the exact locations of any finds, just the filled-in sectors to make maps like this:
Everyone who participates in the study will be credited in the paper. If you enter data, we want to recognize your contribution!
Do you have any questions you want to ask? Feel free to leave a comment on this post and we’ll try to answer it. Both Matt and I would also be happy to talk with you over email or phone.
Thanks for your interest in the project, and happy herping!