Banff National Park of Canada
Natural Wonders & Cultural Treasures
How to Survey
Using the Species Descriptions | Surveying Safely
Surveying Carefully| When and where to Survey
Using the Species Descriptions
Read through our descriptions for each species’ distinguishing features. You should be able to narrow down your choice quickly by accepting or eliminating the features. Try using one of the suggested field guides as well. The more you see amphibians and reptiles in various poses, colour variations, and conditions, the more familiar you will become with their unique features, and the easier it will be to identify them accurately.
Vocalizations are different for each species. Familiarize yourself with the local amphibian calls before you go out. Other websites that have recordings are Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network and Canadian Nature Federation’s Frogwatch, and other links here.
Egg masses are easiest to identify when they are fresh. Embryos will soon start to grow, and as egg masses break apart they are harder to identify.
Hatchlings may be difficult to identify on their own, so look at the shape of the egg mass from which they have come. Frog and toad hatchlings will have small gills, so don’t assume they’re salamanders! They will transform into tadpoles fairly quickly, in 1 - 4 days. Frog and toad tadpole gills are covered and invisible, whereas salamander gills are large and visible.
If you are having problems identifying eggs or tadpoles, try to identify the adults in the area by looking or listening. Write down a good description of the unknown eggs or tadpoles, and note the difficult features. If there is an accurate site description, someone returning to the site may later see juveniles.
There are basic precautions to take wherever you survey, but especially in the national parks.
Always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return, and dress for all possibilities of weather.
You are in herptile habitat, but you are also in carnivore country. Fortunately the mountain national parks still have the large carnivores.It is your responsibility to be aware of carnivore activity and your safety around these predators. Amphibians will call in late afternoon and evenings, so for safety, survey during daylight. Always survey with another person, and observe your surroundings. Make noise as you enter an area and if you are near running water.
You will have more success if you leave your dog at home. Dogs will frighten amphibians and reptiles and could attract carnivores.
If you are unsure of the safety of your survey area, do not continue. Please make a note on the survey form if you end the survey for safety reasons.
Careful observation and listening for vocalizations are good ways to survey for amphibians and reptiles in the mountain national parks. Even chance sightings are important to report.
Intrusive methods, like wading in wetlands or tramping more than necessary along the shoreline, may harm habitat and animal alike. Siltation and other forms of habitat disturbance may affect survival of eggs, tadpoles and juveniles. Wading can be dangerous, and you could scare the amphibians.
Amphibians and reptiles should not be handled. Amphibian skin is fragile and may absorb toxins from mosquito repellant or sun screen from your hands. Reptiles may bite and some amphibians may secrete an irritating poison from their skin or from special glands.
When and Where to Survey
Amphibians begin calling in the early spring in small and large wetlands. Some begin to call even before the ice is completely gone from the water. The first spring rains trigger others to begin calling. Amphibians and reptiles generally are more active later in the day, when the air and water have warmed.
If you are actively searching, slowly walk and scan the area. Although not necessary, ideally you would record the start and stop time and distance travelled for your active search. This standardizes information so we can compare sites, and the same site over time. You may have a random amphibian or reptile sighting as you are hiking or exploring an area. Report these sightings because they are important too.
Binoculars will help you to identify amphibians and reptiles without disturbing them. If your approach to an area frightens the animals, they will stop calling or move away. If you remain still and silent, they may begin calling or become visible again.
If you can, measure the air and water temperature with a waterproof thermometer. Look in habitats where you would expect to see amphibians or reptiles. See the species accounts for habitat information.
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