Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SciFri: Where should I report any herpetofauna I’ve seen?

Picture this, you’ve been out and about in the woods walking your dog and whilst bending down to pick up the stick your furry friend has become fond of, you spot a frog. What do you do with this casual record? The world of recording wildlife is a strange and complex one with different groups having custody over ‘their’ data when really to benefit conservation everything needs to be freely accessible. Without having access to records to show a species is present you can’t protect it and you may inadvertently destroy their habitats. Neither of these things are good news so casual sightings like the one you’ve just made can be valuable in the long run.

With the frog sighting, you should enter the data onto the Record Pool. This is a collaborative portal for collecting casual records run in collaboration with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) and the Amphibian and Reptile Groups UK (ARG UK). With over 35,000 records of herpetofauna in the UK, it is the single largest database dedicated solely to the recording of amphibians and reptiles in the country. It’s extremely user friendly and you can submit records with or without a photo. You can also add comments to give additional information to the verifier. This can be useful if you’re not 100% sure on the species identity and you we’re able to get a photo.

This is all well and good if you’re based in the UK, but what about elsewhere? In that case there are a number of similar recording schemes in each country. I won’t list them all here as it would take forever. However there are ways around this such as using a recording like iRecord or iNaturalist. Personally I prefer Herpmapper as it has both a mobile app and a desktop version so no matter where you are, you can input your data. There is however one catch, you need a photo to submit a record so if that frog got away before you could get a snap then unfortunately HerpMapper is not the one for you.

So we’ve covered the living, what about the dead? Knowing when and where amphibians and reptiles have turned up dead is important for understanding the dynamics of some diseases such as Ranavirus. In the UK, if you find any dead or sick wildlife (be it frogs, snakes, hedgehogs or birds) the best course of action is to report it to Garden Wildlife Health. This is another collaborative project and if the dead animal you’ve reported is fresh enough or of interest then it may be requested for a postmortem examination. If you do submit a record through Garden Wildlife Health, also submit one through Record Pool and add a note that you’ve done so. Being able to link things up helps to no end in the future when someone comes to analyse all the data.

Finally, what about the tracks and signs of amphibians and reptiles? What about them? When it comes to reptiles, if you find their sloughed skin it should be carefully collected and submitted to the Reptile Genebank run by ARC. Our native reptiles are potentially suffering from inbreeding due to isolation from other nearby populations and so the flakes of skin you collect may be able to help with answering this. If you want to find out more about how to collect sloughed skins and submit them effectively, all of the information you’ll need is on the Reptile Genebank website.

So we’ve got this far and I’ve assumed all this time that you’ve been able to identify the frog that crossed your path. If you’re knowledge and identification skills of British amphibians and reptiles aren’t as pinpoint as you need, don’t worry ARC and ARG UK are back again to save the day. They’ve produced both a handy amphibian identification and a reptile identification guide for you to use. Personally I quite like these guides and carry a handful of laminated sets for when I’m conducting training workshops. I’d recommend you use them until you’re comfortable with your identification skills.

Hopefully through this hypothetical situation you’ve learnt how to record reptiles and amphibians you find in the local area, what to do if you find a dead one and how as a citizen scientist you can help our understanding of herpetofauna in the UK. If you’ve got any questions then please do ask.

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