Amidst Mountainous Peaks
Canada 150 National Parks Blog #2 - Reptiles and amphibians amidst mountainous peaks – Jasper National Park
Ian Kanda RVT
Alberta Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy Co-Founder
Exotic Animal and Wildlife Technician, Oklahoma State University
Jasper National Park is nearly 11,000 km2, is the largest of the national parks in the Canadian Rockies and has approximately 2 million visitors each year. Named after fur trader Jasper Hawes, the park was established in 1907 and given national park status in 1930. Jasper National Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. Parks Canada is the world’s first national park service and in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday admission to all national parks is free throughout 2017.
When exploring Jasper National Park, there are nearly 1,000km of trail to hike or bike your way through the back country. Picturesque mountain lakes dot the landscape, as well as the Sunwapta and Athabasca rivers. The alpine peaks and extreme elevations found in Jasper National Park are the primary limiting factors when looking to enjoy its herpetofauna. Montane regions in valleys and the lower elevations (985m) near the east entrance on Highway 16 offer home to some of the world’s most cold tolerant herpetofauna. Perhaps the most commonly encountered amphibian in the park is the western toad, Anaxyrus boreas. It has been observed regularly on nearly every hiking trail and will be most readily encountered after dark during warm summer evenings. In the spring, watch for them and their long strings of eggs along the shallow edges of wetlands. In doing so, you may also the other common amphibians in the area. Northern long-toed salamanders, Ambystoma macrodactylum krausi and Columbia spotted frogs, Rana luteiventris inhabit small, fishless wetlands and have been observed primarily along the highway 16 corridor and the northern, lower elevation of the highway 93 corridor. Another commonly encountered frog, the wood frog, Lithobates sylvaticus is common along the trails in northern half of the park. Watch for them in the evening, or basking along wetland edges on sunny mornings. In the spring, you may hear them calling from the water, often described as a soft duck call, and you may also see their round egg masses attached to aquatic vegetation.A frog common throughout Alberta, the boreal chorus frog, Pseudacris maculata, can be found along the Athabasca River floodplain and the many wetlands found along highway 16 out, and east of the park.
Reptiles are uncommonly encountered in Jasper National Park. The terrestrial garter snake, Thamnophis elegans, is widespread in the lower elevations and may be encountered along wetland edges looking to feed on amphibians, small fish, and invertebrates. Another garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis, or the red-sided garter snake has rarely been documented. It is common east of Jasper National Park in the foothills and boreal forest.
Jasper National Park is amongst the world’s most beautiful, picturesque areas and a Canadian treasure. Amidst the mountainous peaks, green valleys, vibrant blue lakes and wetlands is opportunity to enjoy wildlife that ranges from woodland caribou, to massive bear, elk and moose, to the tiny and peculiar frogs, toads and snakes that make western Alberta their home.