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Herp Inventory of Riverside Park and Milwaukee River Corridor

By Kathleen Manke, Urban Ecology Center A herp is a term for any reptile or amphibian. Both play an important role in the food web, preying on small insects and becoming food for larger animals. The Urban Ecology Center is conducting a comprehensive reptile and amphibian (herp) survey of the park and river corridor between North Avenue and Capital. The survey consists of three parts: frog call, snake cover board, and turtle basking surveys. The goal of the study is to determine what types of reptiles and amphibians live in this area and to generate land management recommendations for increasing their diversity within Riverside Park. The frog call survey allows us to determine what species of frogs live in our neighborhood by listening to their calls. Sudden disappearances of a species from an area are usually indicators of an environmental change. Many researchers in Wisconsin and throughout the rest of the country conduct annual call surveys to compare data to previous years, looking for trends in the populations. Typically an increase in species is welcomed while a lack of calls in a once “hopping” location is cause for concern. During this survey, we will visit local wetlands to listen for different frog calls. Another type of survey is the cover board survey. Many snakes take cover under objects at night to stay warm. Salamanders often take refuge from the hot sun under objects during the day to stay moist and cool. By placing marked boards throughout Riverside Park we hope to find snakes and salamanders under the boards. Surveying at pre-dusk increases our chance of finding both salamanders and snakes underneath our boards. Turtles bask in the sun on a log in the early spring to warm up their body temperature. The best way to look for these reptiles is to look along the river or pond’s edge for turtles basking. Throughout the course of the spring and early summer we will be watching for turtles. After we have completed the survey, we will look at how we can improve the habitat within Riverside to enhance it for herps. One possible future project is the creation of a vernal pool for breeding frogs and salamanders. We are looking for any child or adult to help us with our surveys. If you are interested in herps, you can contact the Center at 964-8505 to find out when the surveys will be held. Also, we are interested in any observations that you make of herps in the area.
by Kathleen Manke, Urban Ecology Center June 2002