A Flash of Blue

June 17th, 2011

During June and July, eggs of the Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) hatch, producing tiny black and white striped offspring with metallic blue tails. These small lizards are often common in yards, on logs in the forest, and on the sides of trees. When approached, they rapidly disappear into leaf litter or under a log. What we often see is just a blur of blue.

Juvenile Five-lined Skink

Juvenile Five-lined Skink

The black and white stripes fade as the skinks get older, and just after they reach sexual maturity, their tails fade to match the brown body coloration. Why are the juveniles so brightly colored in the first place, and why do they lose this coloration?

Adult female Five-lined Skink

Adult female Five-lined Skink

If you watch a young skink for a while, it will go in and out of leaf liter looking for small insects. When its body goes into the leaf litter, it will move the tail back and forth on the leaf litter. If a bird or other predator has been watching the lizard, the blue tail signals that the skink knows a predator is near and that it likely can escape if attacked. If the bird attacks anyway, it may get the tail but the lizard will escape and grow a new tail. Losing a tail doesn’t cost a young skink very much in terms of energy. So this is the answer to the first question. The bright coloration distracts a predator away form the body of the skink to the tail, which can be re-grown if lost.

As these skinks grow and lose their juvenile coloration, they tend to become cryptic. That is, they match the background colors of the forest and are much more difficult to see. They are also more experienced because they are older. Adults store fat in the tail, and that fat is used by males for reproductive related behavior, and by females, to produce eggs. As a result, losing a tail as an adult is expensive energetically and it can affect their ability to reproduce in a given year. They also can grow back their tails if they should lose them, but they might have to skip a year of reproduction. Consequently, the tail in adults is an important fat storage organ, so good reasons exist to not attract attention to it.

Small Yard Snakes

June 17th, 2011

Especially during Spring and Fall, we often see very small snakes, either on the sidewalks in morning or afternoon, or in our landscaping, often under rocks and other surface objects. We are talking about snakes about as big around as a pencil and usually less than one foot long. What the heck are they, and what are they doing in your yard?

The answer to the first question varies with where you live. In the immediate vicinity of Norman, Oklahoma and in most of the eastern half of the state, those small snakes are usually adults of several possible species. The first, and easiest to identify, is the Ring-necked Snake (Diadophis punctatus). It is dark gray or bluish on top with a narrow orange or yellow ring around its neck. If you bother it, it will coil its tail and turn it over exposing bright red to yellow underparts. The entire underside of the body is red to yellow with some black specks running down the belly. Ring-necked snakes eat small invertebrates, such as earthworms, spiders, and insect larvae, but they can take very small vertebrates.

Ring-necked Snake—note the obvious orange ring around the neck

Ring-necked Snake—note the obvious orange ring around the neck

If it is not a Ring-necked snake, the next thing to look for is some sort of pattern on the back of the body. If it has a pattern, then it most likely is a Brown or DeKay’s Snake (Storeria dekayi). Although the body color can vary from light tan to brown or even reddish, a lighter colored stripe will run down the midline of the back and the head will be darker than the rest of the body. However, look closely at the head and the tip of the tail, because the possibility exists that it may be a juvenile Pigmy Rattlesnake (Sistrurus miliarius). If the head is triangular shaped and it has a tiny rattle on the end of its tail, then is it a Pygmy Rattlesnake and you should leave it alone. Brown Snakes mostly eat earthworms.

Brown or DeKay's Snake

Brown or DeKay's Snake

This leaves two small snakes, both of which are solid gray on top, with no obvious markings. One will have a slightly flattened (but not diamond-shaped) head that is a tad darker than the body. It will also have very small, beady black eyes, and if you turn it over, it will have a pinkish belly. This is a Flat-headed Snake (Tantilla gracilis). These eat centipedes.

Black-headed Snake—look for the pink belly

Black-headed Snake—look for the pink belly

The last common small snake is the Rough Earthsnake (Virginia striatula). These can be very common, often several under a single rock. They are gray, brown, or reddish with no obvious markings and the belly is a light tan (never pink). These eat earthworms, slugs, and insect larvae.

Rough Earthsnake

Rough Earthsnake

So, the next time you see a small snake while working on your landscaping, give it a close look and then come back to this blog. You should be able to identify it and assure yourself that it is something that belongs in your yard. And remember, these are all about as big around as a pencil, or less!

Coachwhips—Fast as Lightning?

June 16th, 2011

Most snakes are slow compared with how fast a person can walk. As a result, running from a snake means that you can easily put some distance between you and the snake if you are afraid of snakes. A few snakes, like coachwhips and racers are pretty fast, and they are very alert when they are warm. Coachwhips in particular, can be intimidating snakes, even though they are completely harmless.

Adult coachwhip—note the braid-like tail

Adult coachwhip—note the braid-like tail

Several years ago, a large coachwhip was spending the night in a hole inside of a shrub bed alongside of our house. When I would walk out on the porch, I would hear the bushes moving as the snake headed into the hole. I finally was able to sneak up on the snake and sure enough, it was a five-foot long coachwhip. The snake hung around for about a month, rustling about in the shrubs every time we walked by. As time passed, we noticed that we were not seeing very many lizards or frogs in our yard, most likely because the coachwhip was eating them. It finally wandered off, either looking for a mate or for more food.

Adult coachwhips vary considerably in color. Some are tan, some black, and some are almost neon orange, with no obvious pattern. They get their name because their tails look like braided whips used to regulate the speed of horses drawing coaches. Juvenile coachwhips have a barred pattern, but they are fast just like adults. Coachwhips have very large eyes and good vision, so they usually see you long before you see them. Often, by carefully looking across the top of grass in uncut fields, you can spot the neck and head of a coachwhip sticking up above the grass. They use their head like a periscope to look around as they move through the grass.

Juvenile coachwhip—note the large eyes

Juvenile coachwhip—note the large eyes

If you decide to chase one down (assuming that you are quick enough), keep in mind that they can and will bite. For the naïve naturalist, it can be quite a surprise to grab a large coachwhip only to have it chew up and down your arm while you are trying to get it under control. Again, they are not venomous, the bite really doesn’t hurt, and the needle-like teeth do not do much damage. Moreover, unlike dog or cat bites, it is highly unlikely that any infection will follow. If you don’t touch the coachwhip, it won’t bite, contrary to what you might think, so perhaps it is best to just observe it.

Finally, coachwhips have been the object of some fascinating wives’ (or perhaps husband’s) tales. This is one of the snakes that some people believe will bite their tail and roll down the hill like a hoop (hence, “hoop snake”). They don’t really do that, but it does make for a good tale!

“Kingsnakes”

June 16th, 2011

Kingsnake is one of those snake words that is thrown around a lot. One of the most common things we hear about “kingsnakes is that they are cannibalistic because they eat other snakes. Technically speaking, kingsnakes are snakes in the genus Lampropeltis, and many species exist. They include Speckled Kingsnakes (L. getula), Prairie Kingsnakes (L. calligaster), California Mountain Kingsnakes (L. zonata), Arizona Mountain Kingsnakes (L. pyromelana) and even Milksnakes (L. triangulum).

Oklahoma has Speckled and Prairie Kingsnakes as well as Milksnakes, and all three occur across most of the state. Speckled Kingsnakes are black with yellow “speckles,” usually one on the back edge of each black scale. Prairie Kingsnakes have a background color of brown and have distinct blotches in the western part of Oklahoma but are often very drab with only a faint hint of blotches in eastern Oklahoma. Both of these can reach 3 feet in total length or more. Milksnakes have red, white, and black bands that do not extend across the belly. They usually do not exceed 2 feet in total length. These brief descriptions and the photographs in this blog, should make it rather easy for you to identify the three kingsnakes in the state.

An adult speckled kingsnake from eastern Oklahoma

An adult speckled kingsnake from eastern Oklahoma

An adult prairie kingsnake from central Oklahoma

An adult prairie kingsnake from central Oklahoma

A sub-adult milksnake from southeastern Oklahoma

A sub-adult milksnake from southeastern Oklahoma

So, what about cannibalism? It is the case that most kingsnakes eat other snakes as well as lizards, mice, and even frogs occasionally. However, the various species of “kingsnakes” usually do not eat their own species, so technically speaking, they are not cannibals any more than you or I are cannibals because we eat beef. All species of kingsnakes can discriminate between their own species and other snake species by use of a highly developed chemical sensing system. They touch other snakes with the tips of their forked tongue, bring chemicals into their mouths, and deposit those chemicals on the surface of a large and highly developed chemical sensing organ known as the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ. This organ transmits information to the snake brain (yes, snakes have a brain!), where the information is used to identify whether the other snake is a species that they want to eat or whether it is one of their own species. This same chemical sensing system is used to locate and identify mates during the breeding season.

The Plot “Thickens”

May 17th, 2011

If you have ever had the misfortune of turning over a log or rock in eastern Oklahoma and grabbing a black salamander with white spots, you know that washing off the thick, sticky liquid that they secrete from their skin in defense is no easy matter. Imagine being a small predator like a snake, biting the salamander, getting a mouthful of that sticky stuff, and then trying to rub it off in the leaf litter ending up with a mouthful of leaves stuck to your mouth! These salamanders, which look pretty much the same from mountain ridge to mountain ridge, and even resemble a lowland salamander, form a complex of species whose identities and relationships are just beginning to be understood. To the layman, these are known as the “slimy” salamanders.

The salamander Plethodon ouachitae, occurs along several ridges in the Ouachita Mountains and is commonly known as the Rich Mountain Salamander.

The Rich Mountain Salamander (P. ouachitae) occurs along several ridges in the Ouachita Mountains.

Dr. Don Shepard, a former graduate student from the University of Oklahoma, has combined field studies with DNA sequence data to unravel relationships among these species. Until recently, these salamanders have been considered as four species. One, Plethodon albagula, appears to be widespread in lowlands and the Ozark foothills of eastern Oklahoma, extending up into Missouri. Three other species, P. caddoensis, P. fourchensis, and P. ouachitae, each occur on their own mountain ridges in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma and southwestern Arkansas. If only it were that simple!

By combining DNA sequence data with known rates of evolutionary change for specific genes, Don has discovered that not only have some of these “species” experienced divergence into genetically different populations, the causes of divergence differ among species. For P. ouachitae and P. fourchensis, genetically different populations are associated with mountain ridges, indicating that populations were isolated on mountain tops as the climate slowly changed over geologic time. Why would they become isolated? The answer is that these salamanders require a specific set of environmental conditions to survive. These include relatively cool temperatures and high humidity, usually associated with mountain tops. The salamanders appear unable to adapt to warmer and drier conditions so they simply live in the same kind of microhabitats that they lived in historically. This inability to adapt is referred to by scientists as “niche conservatism.”

For P. caddoensis, diversification is associated with stream drainages. Four distinct lineages within P. caddoensis have been identified from each of the following four streams; lower Caddo River, Upper Caddo River, Brushy Creek, and Cossatot and Little Missouri Rivers. Diversification in this “species” appears tied to more recent climatic change and specialized niche characteristics of the salamanders, primarily related to thermal and humidity variables associated with stream drainages.

The Western Slimy Salamander, Plethodon albagula, occurs from Missouri south to extreme southeastern Oklahoma and into Texas.

The Western Slimy Salamander (P. albagula) occurs from Missouri south to extreme southeastern Oklahoma and into Texas.

Dr. Shepard is now beginning to examine the lowland and widespread “species” P. albagula. No doubt this species has undergone some interesting divergences in the past, but what the pattern is and how it occurred remains a mystery to be unraveled. So, the next time you pick up one of these so-called “slimy salamanders,” reflect on their evolutionary history and what they tell us about past events underscoring the remarkable diversity that we see today in eastern Oklahoma. Oh, and if you have been slimed, try WD-40 followed by soap and water. WD-40 seems to be a universal solvent and will clean many things!

Dodging Turtles

May 17th, 2011

With the days getting warmer, box turtles begin moving around, often finding themselves on paved highways as they search for mates and good areas to feed. Not to be confused with rocks, box turtles will squish when run over. Similar to most other reptiles (and, interestingly Opossums and Armadillos), box turtles are oblivious to traffic. This might seem surprising, considering that turtles in general have excellent sight. For example, if you try to sneak up to a bunch of sliders basking on a log in a pond, you will be lucky to get within 100 yards of the turtles before they “slide” into the water. Of course, box turtles cannot slide into the water because they spend most of their time on land. Nevertheless, they see you from a long distance when approaching. When a box turtle detects something moving within the range of its eyes, it remains perfectly still, with its head up in a periscope-like fashion as shown in the first photo below. Box turtles are difficult to detect in their natural habitats if they do not move. If you are lucky enough to see one, by the time you get your camera set to photograph it, the turtle will likely pull its head and legs into the shell and close it.

Ornate Box Turtle with head up, remaining motionless in an attempt to be overlooked.

Ornate Box Turtle with head up, remaining motionless in an attempt to be overlooked.

Oklahoma has two species of box turtles, the Ornate Box Turtle, which is most common in western Oklahoma, and the Three-toed or Eastern Box Turtle, which is common in central and eastern Oklahoma. Both species occur in central Oklahoma, but the Ornate Box Turtle is less common. Like most animals, box turtles usually know where they are going when they head out across a highway. Given that an adult box turtle might be 40 years old or older, the highway may not have even been there when it hatched from an egg. Even if the highway is older than the individual turtle, neither highways nor cars are in the evolutionary history of box turtles. From the perspective of a box turtle, a highway is just a strange piece of ground that they have to cross to get where they are going.

Three-Toed Box Turtle caught in the act of feeding on some vegetation along the edge of a small pond. Three-toed Box Turtles are highly variable in coloration.

Three-Toed Box Turtle caught in the act of feeding on some vegetation along the edge of a small pond. Three-toed Box Turtles are highly variable in coloration.

How can you help? The best thing that you can do to help box turtles, is to watch for them on roads when either driving or sitting in a car. When you see one, the first thing to do is avoid running over it. If there is no traffic, you can stop and help it across the road. If you do stop and move a turtle (of any kind) be sure to set it well off the road and on the side it was heading for. However, keep in mind that roads and highways are dangerous for people as well, and you should not stop if doing so puts you in harm’s way. Simply paying attention and doing your best to avoid running over turtles goes a long way in helping them out. In addition, tell everyone that you know to start watching for and avoiding turtles on the highway.

Three-toed Box Turtle upside down with the shell completely closed. The lower shell (plastron) has two hinges which allow the turtle to close itself in the shell. Most turtle species cannot completely close the shell. Box turtles close the shell immediately when first disturbed and often remain this way for an hour or more. When they do come back out, they first partially open the front of the shell and peek out to see if they are safe.

Three-toed Box Turtle upside down with the shell completely closed. The lower shell (plastron) has two hinges which allow the turtle to close itself in the shell. Most turtle species cannot completely close the shell. Box turtles close the shell immediately when first disturbed and often remain this way for an hour or more. When they do come back out, they first partially open the front of the shell and peek out to see if they are safe.

Why should we care about turtles? First and foremost, turtles are part of the natural biodiversity of the planet, and as such, they play important ecological roles as grazers on fruits and predators on certain insects and other invertebrates. Second, they were here first. The first turtle fossils appeared in the mid Triassic, about 225 million years ago. Box Turtles are in the family Emydidae, which also includes Sliders, Painted Turtles, and Map Turtles, to mention a few. The family Emydidae dates back to at least the late Cretaceous, some 75–80 million years ago. The family that we belong to, the Hominidae, dates back only about 15 million years, and modern man (Homo sapiens) as we know it, dates back less than 200,000 years. Box turtles certainly have been in Oklahoma long before the influx of Europeans and even long before Native Americans settled the land. So, as Woody Guthrie sang in 1940, “This land is your land, this land is my land…”—we share the land with box turtles and all other native animal and plant life, and we should do our best to maintain that relationship.

What’s Buzzin’?

August 11th, 2010

During July and August, near ear-splitting calls of cicadas fill the air during the day only to be replaced by the incessant buzzing of katydids at night. People in the south call cicadas “July flies,” with the accent on the “u” of July. Male July flies and katydids call to attract mates, and they all call at once in their frenzy to attract females carrying the most eggs. A few snakes are also “buzzers.” Rattlesnakes “buzz” for a very different reason, and they are more likely to rattle when it is hot, simply because their body temperatures are high and thus they are very active.

Adult Western Diamondback Rattlesnake coiled

Adult Western Diamondback Rattlesnake coiled

Rattlesnakes rattle when they are disturbed, and the loud sound has several defensive functions. One of course is simply a warning—“stay away because I am dangerous.” This function is similar to bright coloration of poison frogs and some mushrooms, warning of impending danger. From the perspective of the snake, if it wards off a potential attack, then it has saved the snake some energy defending itself. The sound also directs the attention of a potential predator away from the vulnerable parts of the snake (head and body) so that if an attack does ensue, the snake may be partly down a hole or under a rock by the time a predator figures out that the sound-producing end is the tail. The rattle is composed of overlapping rings of dead skin. Each time a rattlesnake sheds its skin, it adds a rattle. Rattles sometimes break off, so a large snake might have a short rattle. Some wives’ tales (perhaps more correctly, old drunk husband’s tales!) are that rattlesnakes get a new rattle each year and that rattlesnakes have to rattle before striking. Neither is true.

Rattlesnake rattle, showing the overlapping rings of skin that rub together to make the sound

Rattlesnake rattle, showing the overlapping rings of skin that rub together to make the sound

Science often goes through wives’-tale stages as well. Rattlesnake rattles were first believed to attract cicadas, which they supposedly ate. However, they don’t eat cicadas, so that was false. They were thought to attract mates, but snakes do not have ears, and we don’t hear choruses of male rattlesnakes during the breeding season, so that too was proven false. The nice thing about scientific theories, no matter how ridiculous they may seem, is that once proven false, they are usually discarded. Many non-scientific myths are not only passed on from generation to generation, they are usually embellished with time, often to the point that people believe them no matter how ridiculous they might be.

So, if you should have the fortune of hearing a rattlesnake while out hiking around, first move away, keeping in mind that the snake is letting you know that you are too close. Once you are a safe distance, see if you can locate the snake and add it to your life list of interesting sightings.

The Heat is On!

August 11th, 2010

Summer in southeastern Oklahoma can be hot and dry, hot and humid, or hot and wet, with “hot” being the constant variable. This year it has been mostly hot and humid. As you know, amphibians can lose a lot of water through their skin, often in a very short amount of time. Of course they gain water through their skin as well, as long as water is available. Toads and many other frogs gain water through a patch of skin on their ventral surface known as the pelvic patch. They simply press this part of their body against wet ground and absorb water.

The dark area on the skin of the underside of this Red-spotted toad is the pelvic patch, where rapid water uptake can occur.

The dark area on the skin of the underside of this Red-spotted toad is the pelvic patch, where rapid water uptake can occur.

Most reptiles do not gain or lose as much water through their skin as amphibians, and as a result, they can better tolerate drier conditions.  To avoid the increasing temperatures during summer, a lot of amphibians, such as Pickerel frogs and Spotted salamanders, simply become inactive, seeking refuge underground, inside of trees, or under leaf litter. Others, such as Southern leopard frogs and Bullfrogs, spend most of their time in water. If enough rain has fallen to fill temporary ponds, amphibians such as Gray treefrogs and Eastern narrow-mouth toads breed through the first half of the summer. One of the most common frogs, the Northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) seems to defy the “rules” of nature, often hanging out along the shores of ponds where surface temperatures exceed 100° F during much of the day. We will come back to this, but first, why would Northern cricket frogs hang out on the hot shoreline when they could simply lie in the cooler water all day? Ponds are filled with things that eat small frogs, including snakes, fish, and predaceous insects (dragonfly larvae, giant waterbugs, and predaceous diving beetle larvae). Consequently, it appears that they minimize risk of being eaten by staying out of the water.

This Northern cricket frog is only about one inch in total length.

This Northern cricket frog is only about one inch in total length.

Closer examination of Cricket frog behavior reveals that they are not defying the rules of nature, but rather, they are using a combination of behaviors and physics to maintain rather constant body temperatures while spending some of their time on hot shorelines. In a sense, what they do is not a lot different from what you might do if you were to visit a Florida beach during summer, especially if the beach that you chose happened to have a lot of sharks just offshore! You would lie on the beach and lose water through your skin and by breathing out moisture-laden air. Evaporation of water (sweat) from your skin would help to cool the surface of your skin. Evaporation causes a cooling effect because the change of state of water (liquid to gas) uses energy (technically called the latent heat of evaporation). This energy is taken from your body in the form of heat, thus causing a cooling effect. After you have used up some of your water keeping your body cool, you get thirsty and resupply your body by drinking water or Gatorade.

Cricket frogs fill themselves with water in the pond and then bask on the hot “beach” where they live, thus avoiding all of the predators waiting for them in the pond. They continually lose water by evaporation, resulting in loss of heat from their bodies, allowing them to maintain body temperatures lower than temperatures of the surrounding beach. When they run out of water, they jump back in the pond for a brief time period, refill, and climb back out on shore. One final point, Cricket frogs are very small, about an inch or so in total length. Again, from basic physics, remember that the amount of body surface relative to volume (or weight) increases as size decreases. In other words, a very small frog has a lot of surface relative to its weight compared to a huge frog like a Bullfrog. This means that the relative amount of skin (surface) available for water loss is large. As a result, the cooling effect by evaporation must be quite good, but at the same time, when small frogs run out of body water, they risk drying rapidly for the same reason. This is why you rarely see Cricket frogs very far from water when summer temperatures are at their hottest.

Cricket frogs are not the only frogs that do this. For example, the Canyon treefrog of the desert southwest lives on rocks in small streams. The rocks can be very hot during the day, but the streams can be dangerous because of the presence of gartersnakes, which eat the frogs. Canyon treefrogs jump into the streams for short time periods taking up water. They then crawl up on the hot rocks and cool themselves by evaporating water off of their skin until they run out of water. The cycle is then repeated.

Amphibians and reptiles have many other ways to deal with water loss, some of which we will discuss in future blogs. The next time that you see a frog sitting in the sun, visualize water evaporating from its skin helping to cool its body. If you watch long enough, it will jump back into the pond for a fill up!

Slimy Salamanders and Bigfoot

June 15th, 2010

Southeastern Oklahoma harbors an interesting set of reptiles and amphibians, dominated by species typical of southeastern deciduous forests. However, a small group of related salamanders are endemic to the east to west chain of mountains collectively known as the Ouachita Mountains. Also known as the Interior Highlands, these are the only mountains between the Appalachian Mountains to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the West. Each mountain has a name (e.g., Kiamichi Mountains, Winding Stair, Boktuklos, Rich Mountain), and almost all have their own endemic salamander species. The salamanders have been collectively called “slimy salamanders” and are in a large group of salamanders known as lungless salamaders (Family Plethodontidae). They are “slimy” because they produce a viscous liquid from glands in the skin that is first slimy, but then sticky. They are “lungless” because they do not have lungs, but rather breath entirely through their skin!

The lungless salamander, Plethodon sequoia

The lungless salamander, Plethodon sequoyah

Slimy salamanders of the Ouachita Mountains have recently been studied in detail by Dr. Don Shepard, formerly a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma and here in the Sam Noble Museum. One of the salamanders is shown above and a future blog will detail what Don has discovered about these interesting salamanders.

Another interesting point about southeastern Oklahoma is a growing interest in Bigfoot, the large, hairy, man-like beast that purportedly runs wild in the forests near the tiny town of Honobia. A fall festival (the Bigfoot Festival) occurs each year in which various groups attempting to gather evidence of Bigfoot’s existence meet and discuss their findings. Honobia is remote and located equidistant from Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Shreveport. Limited lodging is available at Dancing Rain Ranch and the Honobia Creek Country Store, with additional lodging in Talihina. Each year, Bigfoot researchers claim to have gathered additional evidence, but firm verifiable physical evidence that Bigfoot exists has still not been presented to the public. Perhaps in the next few years, Bigfoot will step on a slimy salamander and lose some hair so that DNA can be collected and analyzed—but please, don’t hold your breath, unless you are a slimy salamander!

“Hunting” Amphibian and Reptile Information

May 18th, 2010

Hello readers of the Herpetology blog at the Sam Noble Museum. We thought we would make you aware of a couple of websites that provide detailed information about amphibians and reptiles of Oklahoma. The Herpetology Department has been working with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) to determine the species of amphibians and reptiles that occur at some of the ODWC’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMA’s). We usually think of these as places to hunt or fish (which they are), but they offer much more to people with a more general interest in nature. To date, we have surveyed three WMA’s, Packsaddle (western Oklahoma), Atoka (southeastern Oklahoma), and Cookson Hills (northeastern Oklahoma.

All of the WMA’s share some species of amphibians and reptiles, but each has its own unique set of species as well. More importantly, because these are effectively protected from development, they provide some of the best natural habitats for amphibians and reptiles that can be found in the state. These are accessible to the public during non-hunt seasons, and can be accessed during hunting seasons as long as you have hunting licenses. It should not surprise you that many people who hunt also have a deep interest in nature and often have seen many of the species of amphibians and reptiles that we have observed.

Packsaddle WMA—Located in far western Oklahoma along the upper reaches of the Canadian River, Packsaddle WMA harbors an amphibian and reptile fauna typical of the western plains, including species like the Long-nosed snake, which is active at night and feeds largely on other reptile eggs. You can learn more about the amphibians and reptiles of this region by going to:

http://www.snomnh.ou.edu/personnel/herpetology/vitt/WMA/Packsaddle.shtml

Atoka WMA—Located in southeastern Oklahoma near Atoka, the Atoka WMA has an amphibian and reptile fauna typical of the southeastern deciduous forests, including species like the Southern crawfish frog, which breeds in late winter and disappears underground for most of the rest of the year. You can learn more about the amphibians and reptiles of this region by going to:

http://www.snomnh.ou.edu/personnel/herpetology/vitt/WMA/Atoka.shtml

Cookson Hills WMA—Located in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains to the east, the Cookson Hills WMA has an amphibian and reptile fauna typical of eastern deciduous forests, including species like the Cave salamander, which lives in crevices in limestone outcrops as well as caves in the region. You can learn more about the amphibians and reptiles of this region by going to:

http://www.snomnh.ou.edu/personnel/herpetology/vitt/WMA/Cookson.shtml

We will soon be adding more WMA’s to our website so be sure to visit it frequently.