The uncommon turtles of Vermont

Beth Carroll is a spring 2020 graduate of the Rubenstein School, where they double-majored in Natural Resources and Wildlife and Fisheries Biology. Beth illustrated a poster of turtles for their project.

Beth writes, “I drew the 5 uncommon, threatened, or endangered turtle species of Vermont: the Stinkpot, the northern map, the wood, the spotted, and spiny softshell turtles. The populations of these turtles have mostly been impacted by human encroachment, habitat degradation, and mistreatment, especially within the pet trade.”

The great migration

Laura Pinover graduated from UVM in Spring 2020, with a degree in Environmental Studies from the Rubenstein School. She created a poster about Big Night — one of the most dangerous journey’s some of our amphibians take.

Laura writes, “One can see three species crossing a road at night in the drawing/collage. The picture depicts “Big Night”, a time in the spring when the amphibians migrate. The temperature reaches above 40 degrees, just enough for the world to begin to thaw. Rainy nights are a perfect time for amphibians to begin their journey from freshwater pools to their preferred land habitats. The species depicted in this piece are: the Blue Spotted Salamander, the Yellow Spotted Salamander, and the Northern Leopard Frog.”

Ephemeral amphibian photo essay

Michael McGuire is a recent graduate of UVM’s Wildlife and Fisheries Biology Program. He is a talented photographer that has given us a frog’s eye view of the spring migration. Check out more of this work at

Michael writes, “The beginning of spring is cold and appears to be lifeless. The snow has stopped falling and has been replaced with cold April rain. Though many of us wait for those showers to bring May flowers, amphibians are mobilizing in the hundreds under our feet. They emerge out of their winter burrows and travel to temporary pools formed on the forest floor to mate and lay their eggs. This brief event occurs every year almost like clockwork with temperatures above freezing and sustained nighttime rain.”

Regardless of the political climate, the color shirt you wore that day or the presence of a global pandemic. In fact, the reality of most of us being holed in our houses spells good things for these slimy critters. Each year many are killed on the roads by cars during that warm April rain. Since the majority of us have had nowhere to go, amphibian populations will get a peaceful respite from the threat of vehicles. An unlikely silver lining I suppose.

“The world of the vernal pool is alien. It is a world free of fish, a temporary oasis for larval insects and developing amphibians. These ephemeral ponds show us the beauty and fleeting ecology of some of the most secretive creatures.”

They show us a symbiotic relationship between larval spotted salamanders and a species of algae. These algae develop within the egg turning it green and feed off the waste of the developing amphibian, while the larvae gets the necessary oxygen through the algae’s photosynthesis. There is beauty and complexity in the smallest things, despite the uncertainty of current events, enjoyment in nature’s hidden gems fills us with joy and hope for a better tomorrow.

A haiku photo journal

Cooper Peterson is a senior at UVM majoring in Biological Sciences. Cooper combined photos and poetry to tell the story of a complex Vermont ecosystem.

Cooper writes, “For this piece I wanted to capture what I consider to be the important dynamics of herping as both a discipline and a passion. I begin with a slight scientific perspective and paint a picture of an ecosystem; the image of a tranquil stream and the juxtaposition of an innocent testudines’ eggs and the looming threat of the predator. From here I try to capture and conjure up the more abstract feelings of mystery and excitement that one has when questing through the woods. There is a certain wanderlust in going out and trying to find the creatures hidden under rocks and logs. It is from these underlying emotions that I chose to work solely within the haiku. The confined expression of the haiku phrase prevents the audience from getting every detail, there is an unknown mystery and they must read between the lines in order to understand. In the same light, a herper does not immediately know what is out there in nature, but they must search for the minutiae that can lead them to their quarry.”

Athena’s cage

Ashley Novella is a recent graduate of the UVM Rubenstein School where she majored in Environmental Science and a concentration in Conservation Biology. She is a herp enthusiast and a responsible snake owner. For her art project, she showcased her corn snake, Athena, along with some tips to help new snake owners.

Ashley writes, “Here I’ve showcased my corn snake Athena’s tank. I’ve numbered a day to day caring guide to keep your pet snake happy and healthy. I pinpointed fundamental features of a tank (see guide at the bottom of the document), since there’s more than what meets the eye.”

“I’ve had Athena under my care for three years now, and there’s some things I’ve learned about corn snakes along the way. They are very active snakes. Athena seems to be an anomaly, only being active when held rather than in the tank. She likes to hide out under the cool bath 95% percent of the time.”

They are usually very docile. Athena was born into captivity and has been held her entire life. I feel very comfortable letting even my little cousins handle her with proper instruction. I’ve also come to be more in tune with snakes in general from Athena.

When she is shedding, fluid rushes to the surface creating a barrier from the new and old skin. During this time, her skin becomes a dull, milky pink rather than vibrant red and orange. During the entire shedding process, her vision is cloudy, making her insecure in her tightening skin. I do not attempt to feed her during this time. Another trick during her weekly feeding of a small frozen rat is to thaw the rat thoroughly with warm water in a container and then wiggling the rat to entice her.”

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a corn snake owner, and I hope this visual and guide highlights how manageable and fun it actually is to learn and care for Athena!

Amphibians are awesome!

Gretta Stack is a recent graduate of UVM’s Wildlife and Fisheries Biology program. She created an educational poster to help others appreciate amphibians and to understand the threats that they face.

Gretta writes, “I drew an educational art piece that demonstrates why amphibians are AWESOME! Many amphibians are not exactly considered “charismatic species”, so it is sometimes hard to convince people to care about or protect them (especially compared to charismatic species like elephants). My hope for this art piece is to have the viewers appreciate amphibians in a new way! I think it is very important for kids, especially, to learn about amphibians from a young age so they become amazed by them rather than grossed out.”

I included Frog and Toad in my art piece because I read those books when I was younger, and because of that, I was never scared of or disgusted by my amphibian friends who lived in my pond and vernal pool. I also wanted to show how amphibians are in trouble and need our help. So, in the corner, I included some current threats to amphibians. This should help people understand that this is a serious issue and amphibians are faced with several threats, that combined can be devastating. This introduces the viewers to the idea of synergisms- when multiple factors interact to create an effect that is larger than the independent sums of their parts. Finally, I drew a couple local VT species (the pickerel frog and the spotted salamander) to just give examples of the species that can be found here and to give the viewers a visual of what I hope will be their new friends!

An artistic herp field notebook

Recent UVM graduate Eli Estey combined the idea of a herpetology field notebook with art! What a great way to observe, document, and learn about the natural world.

Eli writes, “This field journal entry is focused around my finding of several Eastern Red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), including a yearling, in a semi-permanent wetland behind my parent’s property in southeastern Massachusetts.”

“The wetland is settled in a section of mixed deciduous and coniferous forest. Where the water table rises above ground-level, it rarely exceeds two to three inches in depth. Today, the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) was just beginning to bloom, and filled the air with such a familiar aroma, and one that never fails to flood my memory of past visits to the wetlands of my life so far. The forest surrounding this wetland is a mix of forested hillside, a pleasant yet frustrating tangle of hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) and witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) shrubs, and a fair amount of downed woody debris surrounding the water. A beautiful place to search for salamanders.”

“This field journal entry is focused around my finding of several Eastern Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens), including a two adults, and (I believe) a larval stage individual, though they were quite a speedy little fella, and successfully evaded my clumsy hands. They were truly a pleasure to observe swimming through the water like a single species line Lotka-Volterra model!”

“These newts were found in two different settings in the same river floodplain (that of Mills Creek in Jericho Vt). One adult was found in a slow-moving pool directly attached to the main channel of the stream, though mostly separated by the buildup of silt along the upstream side of an active beaver dam. The second adult, as well as the potentially larval stage individual, were found in a shallow, well vegetated pool further into the floodplain. The pool was also (just barely) connected to the main channel by a narrow strip of centimeter or so deep water. I say that one individual may have been larval stage largely due to its small size, and more yellowish coloration. I was not able to see if external lungs were present or not in the short window I was able to view the individual.”

“As you might have been able to tell by the entry above, I haven’t quite dialed in my egg mass identification skills quite yet! Below I’ll dive in a bit more to what my thoughts are on those eggs found in the field, and what ideas I have about who the culprit might be.”

“When I spotted these egg masses my first thought was to see if there was a thick exterior lining of gel, typical of several native salamander species, or if the eggs individual outlines were easily distinguishable on the exterior of the mass. After looking at them for a while, getting stuck in the muck, and truly wishing that I could have managed to get a hand on one of the masses, it certainly appeared to me that there was an exterior layer of gel. This sent my mind down the path, of “what salamander species would lay these, here in a small, vegetated pool in the floodplain of Mill Creek?”. I’m sad to say that I’m still a bit uncertain about the answer to that question. Hopefully you’ll be able to provide some insight Brittany!”

“After establishing that I believed the eggs to be those of a salamander, though I was not certain of that to any extent, I began to take additional notes on the characteristics of the masses that might aid in their identification. I noted first that one was in the open water, and the second was under the cover of grass, though neither appeared to be attached to any sort of structure (twig, blade of grass or otherwise). Next I noted that the masses were both about 3inch by 3inch orbs, and that they didn’t appear to be freshly laid. I noted that each individual egg had a blackish embryo that appeared to be uniform in color as best as I could tell, and that the clear portion of each egg was about as wide as the embryo on either side. Once I was able to jot down as many notes as I could think of, I began to ponder possible species. First I tried to think of what Caudata species would be most likely to be present in the habitat. The following came to mind: Spring salamander, Eastern Newt, and Northern Dusky salamander… none of which quite fit the characteristics of the eggs.”

“All in all, I left the field still a bit perplexed as to what species might have laid the eggs, and wished that I could have felt more confident towards any one species, or even one Order for that matter. I’m still a bit confused as to who would have been the most likely culprit in this scenario, and would love to hear any insights you might have Brittany! Thoughts on what I could have done better in trying to ID the masses, steps I might have forgotten in my process, or any other words of wisdom!
… with that, here is my Herpetological Field Journal of the past several weeks, I look forward to flipping rocks, and logs, turning bark, and monitoring road crossings as the weather continues to warm!

Best Wishes, Eli”

Watch for our four-legged friends!

Hannah Ladner is a recent graduate of UVM’s Animal Science program. She created a poster of a spotted salamander crossing the road that highlights one of the threats our northeastern amphibians face.

Hannah writes, “I painted a poster of a spotted salamander crossing the road. I wanted to show the dangers that our native amphibians face during their annual migrations to their breeding pools. I thought that the phrase “four-legged friends” brings up the image of “cuter” animals like cats and dogs and hopefully a member of the public would see this and hopefully come to associate the term more with the “creepy crawlies”. I was thinking that it would be good for raising awareness of the dangers of road crossings as well as make the group more likable in the eye of the public.”

Species sketchbook

Geena Zick is a recent graduate of the UVM Rubenstein School’s Wildlife and Fisheries Biology program. She combined a field notebook and art project to create profiles for three Vermont species.

Geena writes, “I decided to combine a little bit of the field journal with the art project. I drew 2 species I found and one species that I didn’t find. I included notes about identification and tried to draw as much detail as possible.”

Herping sing-along

Spring 2020 UVM graduate Rose Nixon decided to merge her love of music and herpetology for her class project. Rose wrote new lyrics to Ariana Grande’s song, “Side to Side”. Check out the video and lyrics below to Rose’s rendition: “Site to Site”.

Check out the video and lyrics to Rose’s rendition: “Site to Site”.

Site to Site

Site to Site
I’ve been here all night (Ambystoma)
I’ve been here all day (Lithobates)
And oh, got me walkin’ site to site
(Let them toads know)

I’m hoppin’ to ya
See you swimming over there in that wetland
Feeling like I wanna get to egg laying
And we just gotta think ‘bout crossin’ (‘Bout crossin’)

I’m crawlin’ at ya
First we gotta make sure that it’s rainy
Can’t be drying up, you know that I’m brainy
And we just gotta think ‘bout crossin’ (‘Bout crossin’)

These cars keep drivin’ way too much
Might squish us in the mud
Can’t steer clear no, ‘cause I

I’ve been here all night
I’ve been here all day
And oh, got me walkin’ site to site
I’ve been here all night
I’ve been here all day
And oh, got me walkin’ site to site (Site to site)

Been tryna hide ‘em
If a predator finds out they’ll be snacking
And the offspring that would be will be lacking
So I’ll lay a bunch and be stealthy (Be stealthy)

And now I’m crusin’
‘Cause tonight I’m movin’ far from the forest
And I know it’s gonna be herps galore
So I’ll move real quick and be stealthy

These cars keep drivin’ way too much
Might squish us in the mud
Can’t steer clear no, ‘cause I

I’ve been here all night
I’ve been here all day
And oh, got me walkin’ site to site (Site to site) x 2

I’ve been here all night
I’ve been here all day
And oh, got me walkin’ site to site (Site to site)