EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 23, 2013

On the hunt

Public asked by Fish and Game to record amphibian, reptile sightings

By Alex Lippa

---- — The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is worried about the future of several species of reptiles. They’re enlisting the help of the public to help find them.

The department is asking people to submit sightings of reptiles and amphibians to help track those populations.

“Our primary goal is to develop a baseline for where the populations are at,” said Mike Marchand, wildlife biologist at New Hampshire Fish and Game. “We want to evaluate where the best remaining places where certain animals might live.”

Marchand said around 250 people sent in sightings last year. The department has an online form on its website which allows people to upload photographs and provide information about the species and the location. A biologist then reviews the photos and matches them with a species.

“We are trying to fill in the gaps in certain locations,” he said. “We want to know where each species are located and the types of habitats they frequent. Those can then determine which sites could be appropriate for sampling.

The department has received more than 9,000 reports of sightings since the program started in 1992. They received 448 reports last year, up from 392 in 2011.

The department is looking specifically for endangered species. Southern New Hampshire residents should be on the lookout for the gray-and-black marbled salamander, which is on the state’s most critical list of endangered species. None were found in New Hampshire last year.

“It’s a very rare species,” said Leo Kenney, president of the Vernal Pool Association, an independent environmental protection group based in Reading, Mass. “But I could see them being found around Southern New Hampshire near the Massachusetts border.”

Another species which Marchand asks residents to watch for is the Eastern hognose snake. There were eight reports of the species last year, some very close to this area.

“It is a species that primarily occurs in the sandy soils around the Merrimack River in Southern New Hampshire,” he said. “But they don’t have a lot of habitat remaining.”

Marchand said the snake is often confused with a cobra, due to the way it can snap its head and hiss at someone.

“They’re a harmless species. When they’re threatened, they like to play dead,” he said. “I know a lot of people often fear snakes. But we ask people to just respect them and walk away.”

Other snakes to watch for are the black racer, which to date has only been spotted as far east as Hudson, and the ribbon snake, a yellow-and-green striped snake. None of the snakes are poisonous.

One of the primary focuses for the department in recent years has been the Blanding’s turtle, which is on the state’s endangered species list. After receiving many sightings from the public, the department was able to catch and mark more than 100 turtles last year, including many in Southern New Hampshire.

“Reporting is something that we can do that is proactive,” said Chris Bogard, a licensed turtle rehabilitator from Epping. “Once you know there has been a sighting in one area, there may be a population. It’s something I make sure I keep an eye on.”

The department also tracked 125 black racer snakes with microchips. To sign up to volunteer, visit wildlife.state.nh.us/Wildlife/Nongame/reptiles_amphibians.htm. Photos of all species can also be submitted via email at RAARP@wildlife.nh.gov or they can be mailed to NHFG – Nongame Program, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, 03301.