EEOB 5910

EEOB 5910 is a intensive course on Field Herpetology taught by Greg Lipps and Kristin Stanford. Half the course took place at Old Woman Creek Nature Reserve in Huron, Ohio, and half at Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island near Put-in-Bay. This was truly a field course. Every day we spent all day in the field looking for snakes, salamanders, turtles, and a very odd creature called unisexual ambystoma, a type of salamander that picks up sperm from multiple other subspecies and uses that to reproduce.

Some people in the class were very good at catching these animals in the wild. I’m not going to lie — I wasn’t one of them. I am much better at writing, research, and policy matters. But I did enjoy getting out into the field, and I do think it’s imperative for policy people to get out into the field regularly, because that’s where the rubber meets the road in understanding the environment.

One of the highlights of the class was the story of the Lake Erie watersnake. This snake is found only in the Lake Erie islands, but it was so persecuted — killed in large numbers by people building homes and businesses on the islands — that it landed on the endangered species list. Through public education and preserving habitat, Kristin Stanford and the staff at Stone Lab were able to help the population recover enough to be removed from the list. The Lake Erie watersnake is one of only 23 species to be taken off the endangered species list due to population recovery.

Here’s the outline of where we went when and what we did:

Day Description
Sunday Arrive at Old Woman Creek

Orientation. Van ride to town to pick up groceries

Dinner (on your own)

Monday Breakfast (on your own)

Travel to Oak Openings Region, Henry and Lucas Co.

The Oak Openings Region is an ancient beach ridge encompassing several rare habitats and herp species. In the morning, we’ll search a restored wet prairie and woodland vernal pools for Spotted Turtles, Blanding’s Turtles, Ribbonsnakes, Ambystoma sp. salamanders, and more.

Associated Readings: freshwater turtles (folder) and keys (folder)

Travel to Sandusky Bay Fishing Access

This old bridge across Sandusky Bay is now an access site for public fishing.  From 2001-2004, the snake community was studied here as part of a graduate project.  We’ll break into groups to conduct area-constrained searches, capturing and processing the snakes we find and compare our findings to those of the previous research.  Of particular interest here is the Queensnake, which is rare in northern Ohio and disappeared from the site during the earlier research.

Associated Readings (folder): Snake key (in keys folder)

Travel back to Old Woman Creek. Clean and disinfect gear and equipment.

Dinner (on your own)



Breakfast (on your own)

Travel to Sheldon Marsh Nature Preserve, Erie Co.

This preserve contains one of the last undeveloped shorelines within Sandusky Bay.  We’ll be joining researchers here conducting surveys of freshwater turtles, specifically targeting Blanding’s Turtles.  We’ll be checking aquatic funnel traps and processing turtles that are captured, including marking, measuring, weighing, and recording abnormalities.

Associated Readings: Freshwater_Turtles (folder)

Travel to Resthaven Wildlife Area, Erie Co.

Explore the herps of this inland tall grass marl prairie located only a few miles from Lake Erie. Likely finds include the Kirtland’s Snake, Eastern Foxsnake, and Five-lined Skinks. Rare finds would be the Wormsnake and Massasauga. Listen for the calls of the Cricket Frog, released here to bolster declining populations in the region. Identify local species and their life history characteristics.

Travel back to Old Woman Creek.  Clean and disinfect gear and equipment.

Dinner (on your own)



Breakfast (on your own)

Travel to Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Wyandot Co.

Killdeer is the largest remnant of the prairie peninsula in Ohio and boasts more rare and listed snake species than any other area in the state, including Eastern Massasaugas, Plains Gartersnakes, Smooth Greensnakes, and Kirtland’s Snakes.  We will be assisting researchers and staff of the OH Division of Wildlife in an intensive survey focused on capturing and marking snakes in order to better estimate population sizes.  Of particular interest is the Eastern Plains Gartersnake, which has been the focus of a captive-breeding and release program for several years at Killdeer, the only known extant population in the state.

Associated Readings: Massasauga (folder), Plains Gartersnake (folder), Godley_2012 (in techniques folder)

Travel to Mohican State Forest, Ashland Co.

 The target here will be the incredible amphibian diversity found in the headwater creeks, seeps, and springs. We’ll conduct a survey of an historic amphibian collecting site, looking for salamanders of the Plethodontidae family, as well as other local amphibians and reptiles.

Associated Readings: Salamanders (folder) and Salamander key (in keys folder)

Travel back to Old Woman Creek. Clean and disinfect gear and equipment.

Dinner (on your own)



Breakfast (on your own)

After checking out of the dormitories at Old Woman Creek, we’ll travel to Port Clinton (Catawba) and leave personal vehicles at the Miller Ferry parking lot before boarding the ferry to South Bass Island, then to Gibraltar (Stone Labs).

Lake Erie Watersnakes: Research, Recovery and Conservation. Learn about LEWS including life history, past and current research and outreach objectives. Participate in capture-mark-recapture and life-history studies; pit-tagging, scale-clipping, measuring, weighing, and diet analysis. Learn about federal recovery plans, habitat conservation plans and other management plans to conserve endangered or threatened species. Identify local species and their life history characteristics.

Associated Readings: Lake_Erie_Watersnake (folder)

Dinner (provided by Stone Labs)

Using keys to examine preserved specimens in the lab.



Breakfast (provided by Stone Labs)

We’ll be transported by boat to Kelly’s Island where we’ll explore mark-recapture, genetics, and reproductive modes of unisexual salamanders. Other target species are the Eastern Hog-nosed Snake and Blue Racer.  Learn about the Unisexual Ambystoma complex, their unique methods of reproduction and how they differ from the other species of salamanders found on Kelleys Island and in northern Ohio. Learn techniques for finding and identifying local salamanders and their habitats, proper collection of tissue samples for genetic analyses and marking amphibians. Identify local species and their life history characteristics.

Associated Readings: Unisexual_Ambystoma (folder)

Dinner (provided by Stone Labs)

Study Time!



Breakfast (provided by Stone Labs)

Hand in field notebook and question packet. Final exam and lab practical.

Here are some photos from the week

Blanding’s Turtles look like ET. They are one of the oldest species on the planet.

Here’s how the Painted Turtle got its name.

Catching salamanders from under a tin shelter. These shelters are placed so researchers can study the salamander and snake population.

Five-lined juvenile skink. The juveniles have a blue tail so adults don’t kill them.

Wildlife officials capture a massasauga, one of only three venomous snakes in Ohio. It’s found only at Killdeer Plains state wildlife preserve.

The aptly named long-tailed salamander.

The slimy salamander relies on slime to make it unappetizing to predators.

The Pickerel Frog is sometimes confused with a Leopard Frog, but it has squares instead of spots.

A bunch of baby Lake Erie watersnakes.

Kristin Stanford measures a Lake Erie watersnake as part of a population study at Stone Lab.

Tiger salamander on Kelly’s Island. Salamanders have a lot of habitat in the old quarries there.

Unisexual ambystoma are a type of salamander that breeds by picking up leftover sperm from several other sub-species of salamanders.