There isn’t much complexity to finding reptiles and amphibians in Columbia County. Three rules will tell you most of what you need to know.
#1. Search habitat edges
#2. Look under stuff
#3. Go out at the right time
Searching habitat edges
Reptiles and amphibians tend to spend their time at the edges between two habitats, so you’re unlikely to find them in the middle of the forest or the middle of a meadow. Instead, you have to look at the boundary. For example:
- In a field, snakes and lizards will often be in the short grass between the road and the denser vegetation. Here are some examples of edge habitats where Red-spotted Garter Snakes were found.
- Near water bodies, frogs, turtles, and snakes will often be just barely on land or just barely in the water. Here are some examples of edge habitats in water where Northern Red-legged Frogs were found:
So the first lesson is easy. If you check the edges of fields, roads, forest openings, and water bodies, you’ll see a lot of reptiles and amphibians.
Looking under stuff
The next essential place to look is “under things”. Reptiles and amphibians like to hang out under objects because it holds in moisture, keeps them warm, and gives them a place to hide. All of our reptiles and amphibians other than turtles are sometimes found under objects.
- Salamanders and some frogs are found under things that hold moisture. For example, here are some objects I’ve found Long-toed salamanders under:
- Some amphibians are also found under objects in or on the edge of water. For example, here are places I’ve found Dunn’s Salamanders:
- Snakes and lizards, on the other hand, tend to be found under objects that get some warmth from the sun. Here’s some spots I’ve found rubber boas:
- Even stuff lying around your yard can produce reptiles and amphibians. These things were just sitting outside our home – a decorative log, some black plastic in the garden, and sagging fencing material. Can you match the object to the reptile/amphibian that was found under it?
By looking under objects with the right moisture or access to warmth, you can find a lot of “herps”.
If you use this method to search for reptiles and amphibians, it’s important to remember not to damage their habitat. When you pick up an object, do it very carefully so you don’t harm anything underneath. Any living animals should be removed before you set it back, so you don’t crush them. Set the rock or log back very carefully exactly how you found it, so that the habitat remains undisturbed and stays nice and moist. Then if you removed an animal from under it, you can take a picture to document your find, and then release it right on the edge of the log or rock so it can find its way back underneath easily.
The ideal time to find herps
In my experience, the #1 reason people fail to see reptiles and amphibians is because they’re not looking at the right time. Every species has its individual preferences, but some general rules will increase your chance of success.
- Reptiles need some warmth, but not too much. When temperatures start getting into the 50s, that’s a good time to possibly find them under cover. If temperatures are in the 60s and low 70s, you can find them out and about. But once it gets into the 80s or 90s they tend to go deep where they can’t be seen.
- Reptiles like a little humidity. The best days to find them are often when it’s a little bit overcast or the day after a good rain. However, if it’s been cold or wet a lot recently, a bright sunny day will work well too.
- Salamanders are most active during wet periods in the spring and fall. It’s easiest to find them under objects when it’s been raining recently and temperatures are in the 40s or 50s.
- Many herps love to be active at night! Warm rainy nights in the 40s and 50s can be great for frogs and salamanders, while warm spring and summer nights in the 60s and 70s can bring snake activity.
So those are our tips – search habitat edges, look under stuff, and make sure you look during the right weather conditions. Follow those rules and you’ll find a lot more reptiles and amphibians!
Feel free to ask any follow-up questions in the comments, we’d love to help.