Authored by Stephen Spear
On the evening of January 1, The Orianne Society received an e-mail from one of our Snapshots in Time participants, Alan Cameron. Alan, who lives in western North Carolina, was reporting multiple instances of Wood Frog and Spotted Salamander breeding as well as active Green Salamanders and calling Mountain Chorus Frogs and Spring Peepers. This was all happening at a time when many people in the mountains of North Carolina might be hoping for a white Christmas. In that area, amphibians shouldn’t be breeding until February. Similarly, in the mountains of North Georgia, our CEO Chris Jenkins was reporting Wood Frog breeding.
Of course, anyone who spent their holidays in much of the eastern United States this winter was probably not surprised. For example, Alan reported warm rains with temperatures of 75°F. But at the end of his observations, he posed a really important question: What happens when it finally gets cold? Might we lose a whole year of amphibian breeding to eggs or larvae freezing in cold weather events? And that cold has come in its most extreme form when a large snowstorm hit much of the eastern United States.
This unusual weather is part of what is likely to be the new normal under climate change—really variable weather patterns that might go from unseasonably warm to unseasonably cold in a matter of days. At this point, we really don’t know what this means for amphibian populations—will they adapt and have more breeding events to hedge their bets, or will they lose generations of reproduction? These questions highlight why we first launched the Snapshots in Time program and why it is so important for participants to contribute their observations not only on an annual basis, but if possible, several times throughout the year.
This year is a great example. We want to know if there will be successful reproduction or if all the eggs will die when the weather gets cold. That’s why we urge our members to keep being citizen scientists and monitoring your neighborhood breeding spots throughout the spring. Do you still see eggs, and if so, does it look like they have hatched or have died? Do you see Wood Frog tadpoles or Spotted Salamander larvae? Such observations could help us learn if breeding has been successful, even with the extreme weather.
This is also a good time to mention a change in how we are collecting Snapshots in Time data. As you are probably aware if you regularly read our e-mail newsletters, we have partnered with HerpMapper to store our reptile and amphibian observations, and we are also extending this to programs like Snapshots in Time. Previously, we used a web form only available on The Orianne Society website.
The advantage of HerpMapper is that it not only includes a web interface but also has a mobile app. You’ll find that the data entry layout is slightly different than our Snapshots in Time datasheet, but it contains most of the same information and there is a comments page to put in additional information. The most important thing to remember about using HerpMapper is that there are two essential data requirements: an exact location and a photo voucher. The exact location is not displayed to the public, but only to data partners like The Orianne Society. If you are using the mobile app, it automatically prompts you for location and photo, but if you are submitting observations later, please make sure that you take location data as well as a photo. If you have questions about using HerpMapper for Snapshots in Time, please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, and we look forward to another year of your amphibian observations!