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)

A magical transformation

Juniper Nardiello-Smith is a recent graduate UVM Rubenstein School’s Wildlife and Fisheries Biology Program. Juniper decided to use watercolors to paint the life cycle of a green frog (Lithobates clamitans).

Juniper writes, “My decision to display their life cycle comes from how fascinated I have always been at the ability for frogs and some herps to live both an aquatic and terrestrial life. They undergo a transformation that is so unique that it made me, as a young child, believe in magic.”

“The three stages I painted include the egg/larval stage where you can see the black embryos of the green frogs resting among the vegetation in a murky pond.

“Next you will see a young green frog tadpole, spending most of its time inactive near the even murkier bottom of the pond.

Lastly there is an adult green frog, likely a male because of its yellow coloring on its belly, enjoying life outside of the pond.

Herp linocuts

Erica Leiserowitz is a recent graduate of the Rubenstein School and is an Animal Science major and Wildlife and Fisheries Biology minor. As part of her art project for Field Herpetology, Erica created 4 linocuts of species that were either native to Vermont, or to her home state of California.

Erica writes, “I decided I would make four linocuts for four different species. I chose Rana sierrae, because it was the subject of my popular science article, Eastern Newt, because I did it for my presentation, and then Spotted Turtle and Ring-necked Snake because I just liked them, and I thought they would be easier to do on this medium.”

“With linocuts, you can either cut or carve around the subject so that when you stamp it, only the subject shows up, or you can carve out the subject, so that when you stamp it, the negative space makes up the shape. For the Eastern Newt, Spotted Turtle, and Ring-necked Snake, I cut around them, but for the Rana sierrae I carved out just the outline.”

Linocuts turned out to be a lot more work than I anticipated, which always happens whenever I do a creative project for a class. … Luckily, now we have 4 extra linocuts to make cards, so watch out friends and family, because you’re getting Christmas newts and Hanukkah Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs.”

Herpetology haikus and drawings

Connor McCarthy is a 2020 graduate of the Rubenstein School, where he majored in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology.

Connor writes, “I drew four species that we learned about in class, the spotted salamander, the painted turtle, the timber rattlesnake, and the wood frog. Spotted salamander, wood frog, and painted turtle were selected because I have seen them more than any other species this spring and timber rattlesnake was selected because it was the species I did my. 5-minute presentation about.

“I included a short haiku describing some of the life history of each since the images themselves do not say much about species range, diet, or life cycles. Haikus seemed like the simplest way to get information across without filling the page with text.”

The drawings were inspired by Zentangled designs along with indigenous art form the Pacific Northwest and much of my mother’s artwork.”

I suppose this was one upside to the pandemic, if that had been under normal circumstances I would not have had the time to draw much more than stick figures.

From fear to fascination

Emil Assing is an Environmental Sciences major at the University of Vermont. He used pen and colored pencils to create the images below. Emil writes,

“These drawings demonstrate how amphibians and reptile species have adapted to use their unique coloration and markings to camouflage themselves in their environment. I hope that, by sharing my artistic depiction and personal experiences, I can help to remove the stigma around these incredible animals. Amphibians and reptiles have historically been persecuted by people who consider them to be vile, creepy, and even dangerous. In my experience, however, these are gentle and charismatic fauna that deserve our love and respect.”