HerpMapper: Taking Amphibian and Reptile Citizen Science to the Next Level



Introduction by Stephen Spear

One of the major objectives of our Citizen Science Initiative efforts is to get people involved in documenting the diversity of reptiles and amphibians found in their area. This can range from getting important individual observations of rare species to helping monitor the status of more common species over time. At The Orianne Society, we have initiated some of these efforts to monitor Spotted Salamander and Wood Frog breeding (Snapshots in Time) as well as collecting observations of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes and Southern Hognose Snakes for habitat modeling work.

However, collection of observations requires both a good database to store those observations, but also an easy-to-use interface for people to send in what they find. We had a submission form on our website, but we were limited in storage space and it didn’t include a mobile app. As we were realizing our database limitations, we were presented an opportunity to partner with a group that had recently built a database that could hold many observations (and their photos) and had a user-friendly way to submit observations. That group was HerpMapper, and this year, we officially decided to partner up to combine our efforts to increase citizen science involvement overall, as well as to take advantage of HerpMapper for enhancing Orianne Society conservation efforts. In the coming months, expect to see additional Orianne Society initiatives and projects announced that use HerpMapper. Because we are excited about our new partnership, we invited the HerpMapper project team to tell everyone a little bit about how HerpMapper works.

Authored by Don Becker, Mike Pingleton, Christopher E. Smith


One of the most basic needs of conservation and research organizations is access to high-quality data for where species occur. Amphibians and reptiles (“herps”) are no exception, and fortunately there are many “herpers” who are in a position to record their field observations, in addition to many non-herpers who may incidentally observe amphibians and reptiles in the course of other activities.


The volunteer-driven global HerpMapper project was launched in September 2013 to provide methods for recording and sharing herp observations. The HerpMapper toolset allows users to create records of past observations via web browser or in real-time using a mobile device app (Mobile Mapper). Users must first create a HerpMapper account, and then their recorded observations are added to the central record database.

One of the challenges in citizen science is keeping large numbers of people interested and engaged in long-term projects for more than short periods of time. HerpMapper project leads are working to address that issue by making the tool equally useful to the people using it. Users retain access to all the records they create and thus are able to use HerpMapper as a personal reference repository. Users can easily display their data points in Google Earth and are provided with a profile page that has statistics on their finds and links to their most recent records.

Just-for-fun features include an auto-updated life list based on recorded observations and achievement badges for reaching certain levels (number of records, number of species, etc.). Of great benefit to all is the project website (www.herpmapper.org) which lets everyone view all contributed herp observations from around the world as they are recorded (specific locality data are blocked from view).

In return, HerpMapper users agree up-front to make their records freely available to HerpMapper’s data partners, vetted groups who use the data for research, conservation and preservation purposes. Only the contributing user and HerpMapper partners have access to all data within a record, and HerpMapper partners only have access to data that falls within their geographic work area and project scope.


Other users of HerpMapper and the general public can only see very basic information in submitted records—they do not have access to exact locality data. These observations, whether from targeted searches or incidental encounters, can provide valuable insight into species’ distributions, habitats occupied and activity patterns.

In just two years, HerpMapper has teamed up with more than 30 data partners, including governmental organizations, state agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Data are used by agencies and NGOs to compile species distributions and species-status reviews, to prioritize amphibian and reptile conservation area (PARCA) designations, to inform agency survey efforts, to influence land management activities and much more. For example, The Orianne Society is using HerpMapper to collect data for the Places You’ve Never Herped events as well as the Snapshots In Time project.

In Minnesota, HerpMapper has teamed up with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, volunteers from the Minnesota Herpetological Society and other agencies to implement the Minnesota Turtle Crossing Tally and Count project. The project documents road crossing and mortality hotspots with the specific goal of implementing data-driven mitigation strategies to help conserve Minnesota’s turtles and other small wildlife species. As a result, one wildlife underpass (“Turtle Tunnel”) has already been installed, and other projects are in the works. Learning from these experiences, HerpMapper is ready to expand the road crossing and mortality hotspot projects to other areas.

Moving forward, the HerpMapper project will continue to develop its base of citizen science contributors, to develop innovative applications for data collection and management, and to seek out new collaborative opportunities with conservation and research organizations.

For more information about HerpMapper, please visit www.herpmapper.org or email info@herpmapper.org. And be sure to follow HerpMapper on Facebook and on Twitter via @HerpMapper!