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Find Reptiles and Amphibians during annual Great Herp Search - May 3, 2015

    They slither, they crawl, they walk, they swim, they hop, and they are all over the place on Delmarva. What am I talking about? Reptiles and amphibians of course! Herptiles, or reptiles and amphibians, are an amazingly diverse group of animals that have found niches in almost every ecosystem not only on Delmarva, but throughout the world. Herptiles, or “Herps” for short, play a crucial role in local ecosystems and help make the Eastern shore a truly unique place.
 
    The word Herptile actually dates all the way back to the original classification of species by Carl Linnaeus in the 1700s, when he originally grouped reptile and amphibians in the same class. Of course, today we know that these two groups of animals are quite different and require different classifications, despite having numerous similarities. 
 
    One similarity that amphibians and reptiles share is that they are ectothermic, meaning they are cold-blooded. Cold-blooded animals, like herps, require external sources of heat to help regulate their body temperature unlike warm-blooded animals like mammals that regulate their body temperature internally. Ectothermic animals require less food to sustain them compared to warm-blooded animals, however due to the need for external heat sources, cold weather and frost can be very detrimental.     
 
    Although both reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded, they differ in key aspects morphologically and in their respective life cycles. 
 
    Amphibians have two major stages in their life cycle, the first being in water and the second on land, undergoing a metamorphosis between stages to accommodate the different ecosystems. Adult amphibians will lay eggs directly in the water or near a water source and will fertilize the eggs externally. After some time the eggs will hatch into the larvae form of the animal, like a tadpole, and will have gills at this point instead of lungs to allow for breathing under water. After feeding and growing for some time, eventually the larvae will morph into its adult stage, gaining lungs to breathe in atmospheric oxygen, and leave the water in search of land, food and mates.  
 
    Reptiles on the other hand, do not undergo metamorphosis, internally fertilize their eggs and will generally hatch as a juvenile form of the adults. Unlike amphibians, reptiles do not need to lay their eggs in or near water, as the eggs have a leathery or calcareous shell and are amniotic, fully capable of sustaining the embryo until it hatches.  
 
    Another major difference between reptiles and amphibians is their skin and external coverings. Amphibian skin is usually smooth, moist and permeable to water. Their thin skin allows for gas exchange through the skin, and this allows adult amphibians to use respiration under water. To compensate for their thin and delicate skin, amphibians have evolved mucous glands to help keep the skin moist and avoid drying out.
 
    Reptile skin is actually rather thin compared to that of mammals, however most reptiles are covered in epidermal or dermal scales and scutes made of keratin. The protective scales and scutes make a watertight protective “armor” that allows reptiles to live on land and protects their thin skin. Turtle shells are actually made from fused scutes and bones, such as the spine and ribcage, making their shell a crucial part of their morphology.
 
    Due to their adaptations, herptiles have spread across the globe and can be found in almost every ecosystem. We currently know of over 6700 species of amphibians and over 9000 species of reptiles worldwide. In Worcester county alone, there are approximately 19 species of snakes, 15 species of frogs and toads, six species of salamanders, 13 species of turtles and four species of lizards. In order to better understand these animals and the crucial roles they play in our ecosystem, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Salisbury Zoo, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Salisbury University are sponsoring the 15th annual Great Worcester Herp Search.
 
    The 15th annual Great Worcester Herp Search will take place Saturday, May 9 and kicks off at 9 a.m. at the Coastal Bays Program office at 8219 Stephen Decatur Highway, a quarter-mile south of Frontier Town. The search helps to provide data to DNR scientists so they can better understand population trends in these groups and help maintain our unique local bio-diversity. 
 
    A brief pre-search training session will feature live turtles, snakes, frogs, and salamanders and explain ways to identify them in the wild. It is free to the public and will be held to prep volunteers for searching three sites in the morning and one in the afternoon in the northern and central part of Worcester County.
 
    Last year more than 80 reptiles and amphibians representing 15 species were the result of the search. Finds included ringneck snakes, racers, kingsnakes, box and mud turtles and four different species of frogs and toads. No animals are harmed or removed from the wild during the search.    
 
      Participants should bring a sack lunch and drinks. Groups will return from the field around 12:30 p.m. for lunch then search again until approximately 5 p.m. All children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Sunscreen, mosquito/tick repellant, greenbriar proof-pants, bright clothing, and boots are recommended.
 
    For more information call the Coastal Bays Program office at 410-213-2297 ext. 102 or email Dave Wilson at dwilson@mdcoastalbays.org.  
 
 
Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator at the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 
 


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