India ink egg masses

By Luther Millison

When I started this piece, I thought I was just going to draw one type of amphibian egg. I accidentally differentiated the spacing a little between the first and second clump and decided I would roll with it. Though improbable in the real world, I thought it would be cool to see Wood Frog, Spotted Salamander, and Northern Leopard Frog eggs all on the same twig in a vernal pool. So, with this piece I mean to represent that: Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) on the bottom, Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) in the middle, and Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens)

Art by Luther Millison. Shared with permission.

I enjoy working in this medium and also think it lends itself to this piece well. When I see amphibian eggs I immediately think of dark ink, and I also feel some complimentary nature between wet brush strokes and the wet jelly that surrounds these eggs. I hope you enjoy this piece.

Portraits of the nighttime chorus

Natalie Albrecht is a Spring 2020 graduate of the Rubenstein School and is an Environmental Studies minor. Her art project for Field Herpetology consisted of 4 watercolor and pen drawings of some of her favorite “nighttime chorus” species, including a spring peeper, wood frog, American toad, and a green frog.

Natalie writes,

“Some of my earliest and most cherished memories are of lying in bed at night with my windows open, fresh warm air coming through my window screens, and the hum of the nighttime chorus filling the room.”

“Spring peeper” by Natialie Albrecht. Shared with the artist’s permission.

“During the day, I played in the woods searching for critters and treasures and always came home when dusk began to settle and the chorus began.”

“Wood frog” by Natialie Albrecht. Shared with the artist’s permission.

“Spring peepers, wood frogs, American toads, and green frogs were the calls I could identify first.”

“American toad” by Natialie Albrecht. Shared with the artist’s permission.

“The American toad’s long musical trill; the spring peeper’s like the jingling of sleigh bells; the wood frog’s soft, duck-like cackling; the green frog like an un-tuned banjo string.”

“Green frog” by Natialie Albrecht. Shared with the artist’s permission.

“The meaning of this chorus has changed for me throughout my life. When I was young, it was bell to go home and my what put me to sleep at night. When I moved to Vermont, it became my promise that warm weather was finally coming. And when I went far away, it’s what I’d listen to when I was missing home late at night.”

Hoping this resonates with others who may be far from home, or just craving the familiarity or simpler times of childhood. If you keep your ears open, the sounds might just give you what you need.

Herpetology comics

Sophie Kogut is a Spring 2020 graduate of the University of Vermont. Sophie turned to humor for this project, and skillfully integrated herpetology concepts, art, and comedy. We hope these bring you a chuckle, or that your learn something new!

The Watering Hole
In this scene, an artistically liberal green tree frog is shown sitting in a puddle of spilled beer. This demonstrates that frogs (and other amphibians) do not drink via their mouths. Instead, many amphibians adopt a particular water conserving conformation, which involves flattening their underbellies against a moist surface in order to absorb water through their skin; this frog is transitioning into that position. Some species, including many toads, have a segment of skin near their pelvic region that is specially adapted for this purpose, called a drinking patch.
Who is in My Bathtub?
In this scene, an unsuspecting mole comes home to find a visitor taking advantage of the amenities in his home. The culprit is a spotted salamander, the largest of the 3 species of mole salamanders in Vermont. These amphibians earn the designation of mole salamander because they overwinter in the tunnels and burrows dug by other animals, including moles. The salamander here has decided to overwinter in the tunnel of a mole and use his bathtub. The mole is confused about why the salamander is in his house.
Happy Mother’s Day
            In this final scene, a female copperhead snake is seen talking to a smooth green snake. The smooth green snake remarks that the baby copperheads look just like their mother; the female copperhead retorts that not only do they share the same looks, but also all of their genetic material. This is an allusion to the fact that some copperheads reproduce via parthenogenesis, or a form of asexual reproduction where an egg develops without fertilization; many reptiles, amphibians, and birds are known to reproduce in this way. Offspring produced via parthenogenesis are genetic clones of the female.  Many species, including the copperhead, are able to switch between parthenogenesis and reproduction via fertilization.

Herps: the heart of the ecosystem

Sarah Clarke is a recent graduate of UVM’s Rubenstein School, and is a true lover of herps.

She writes, “I decided to paint this because I love herps, not to be cheesy or anything. I also think these lower trophic levels play a huge role and are the heart of ecosystems, yet many people don’t even realize it. Eastern red-backed salamanders can have greater biomasses than birds, wood frogs can freeze themselves solid, and spotted salamander embryos can have symbiotic relationships with algae. These really are fascinating creatures! “

“This is an acrylic painting of an anatomical heart that is painted as a cross section of a tree trunk. On the extended branches there are frog eggs, spotted salamander eggs (characterized by the green tint of algae), and a wood frog. The frog eggs do not have an outer gel layer like the salamander eggs. There is also a spotted salamander, ring-necked snake, and eastern red-backed salamander. Coming out of the top are real, pressed flowers. The edges are bordered by scientific names of amphibian and reptile species in Vermont.”

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!