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Herping by Ms. Bailey
Welcome to day three of our week of our naturalist grab bag. What is herping? Well let’s break it down, the shorthand term “herp” refers to any animal that falls within the study of herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians. So, if you were to go out into your backyard in search of these creatures then congratulations, you are now herping! Herping is a fun activity for any age and can be accomplished during the spring, summer, and fall (considering winter is when many animals are dormant). Herping can be done in many ways, such as looking under rocks and logs while hiking, locating them by ear, and can be done during the day or at night. You can often find skinks, lizards, and snakes around rocky outcroppings and rock piles. Turtles and tortoises can be spotted crossing roads and basking alongside them.
So what’s all the excitement about, anyway? Picture this, you and your best friend have been hiking and searching for a nice rolling log, and this is it! You’ve found a perfect log alongside the edge of the trail. You both grab an end and begin to slowly roll the log towards yourselves. The anticipation begins to build as the underside of the log is exposed, and ta-da! Underneath the log is a tiny Ozark zigzag salamander (Plethodon angusticlavius).
After properly placing this little one back at its home you continue along the trail. After walking a little way, you both freeze because you hear something small scuttling through the leaves to your left. Quickly looking around the area you spot the animal responsible for the noises, a prairie lizard (Sceloporus consobrinus) out basking in the afternoon sun.
Then after a long and exciting day out herping, you head back towards the vehicle to head home. But as you're leaving, you spot one animal alongside the edge of the road and another attempting to cross it. After parking and exiting the vehicle for a closer look, you discover a three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triuguis) on the move with some lunch still in her mouth, and a common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) enjoying the afternoon sun alongside the edge of the road. Yet another successful herping trip has been brought to a close.
But before you head out on your herping expedition you’ll want to grab some gear and make sure you check in with your parent or guardian. We recommend sunscreen, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and a pair of pants is preferable in brushy areas and will help keep ticks off. Also, a good backpack field guide is very helpful with identification once you’re in the field, especially if you don’t have access to cell service. Never attempt to handle any venomous snakes while herping, or any snakes that you are unable to identify. (Added note: If you are young and/or unfamiliar with herping, it is best to go with someone with more experience.) Also, we want to treat every animal with as much respect as possible, so always leave all these animals in their homes. Wear gloves when handling animals and always limit handling as much as possible, especially amphibians who can breathe and absorb things through their thin skin. Protecting the habitat for these creatures is also a very important consideration when herping, so try to stick to marked trails instead of venturing off path to protect vegetation, and always practice Leave No Trace.
To find out how to safely flip a log, and what to do with the animals you find, watch this video:
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