Field Herping Etiquette
AARC Blog #7 – Field Herping Etiquette
Exotic, Wildlife and Zoo Animal Health Technologist and AARC Board Member
Field herping is the act of seeking out reptiles and amphibians in the wild. “Herp” comes from herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians. The small and secretive nature of these species makes this a very different experience than searching for birds or large mammals. It also makes for a different set of challenges to do so without negatively affecting the flora and fauna of where you trek.
It is no secret that humanity negatively affects the environment. Most of the threats facing wildlife are human in nature, so how do we enjoy it without ruining it? This is never more apparent when your target animals are reptiles and amphibians. A simple foot step can literally crush their world! I have put together some recommendations for you and organized them according to how they affect the herp’s you are searching for.
Walk slowly and carefully, and ideally on a path or short vegetation. Herp’s are masters at hiding and can often do so right in the open. At night it is even harder to avoid them as you hike.
Handling animals can be a fun aspect that sets herping apart from other nature activities. I do recommend to minimize or avoid handling. Keep it to a short experience, and you need not handle every animal you encounter. It is stressful for these animals that think they have been caught by a predator. Amphibians have delicate, permeable skin that is easily damaged. Cold animals need to remain cold during much of the year and warming them up with your hands may be detrimental.
Do not remove animals from the wild. They fare best where they are familiar with their surroundings and can continue to contribute to the native population.
When flipping rocks or logs to see what may be living underneath follow a few simple rules but the main thing is to remember is that you are entering their homes, so return things back to the way they were. First, only flip what you can comfortably hold with one hand, in order to have a free hand to remove any animal underneath before replacing the object. We don’t want to accidently crush any animals! If you are rolling or flipping a log and it begins to fall apart; discontinue and try to return it back to its original position. Once the animal is removed, carefully replace the object in the exact position it was found in. If there is any debris or soil that was pushed aside, replace it as well to recreate the “moisture seal” that makes hiding under these objects so appealing. Once you have repaired their home, you can return the animal next to the object and watch them crawl back underneath.
While on the topic of flipping cover objects, I think it is important to recommend that some animals be left hidden. Let them win some times and find them another day. What I am getting at is that if you systematically flip every single rock and log in an area, you have not only maximized your chance of finding your target animal, but you have maximized your disturbance of the habitat and thus any effects of your presence.
Clean your shoes and any equipment when moving from location to location. Diseases in wildlife are a big problem for both reptiles and amphibians. We need not contribute spreading pathogens from place to place. Washing with a 10% bleach solution is ideal, but most important is to remove any mud and plants, and then to thoroughly dry in the sun for a day.
Again, do not remove animals from the wild, but even more important is to not release animals (both native and non-native) into the wild. Once in captivity animals can come across a plethora of pathogens that absolutely must not be introduced into the native populations. Invasive species are also a big concern in many areas.
Reporting your observations to Fish and Wildlife or a conservation database can help with future protection efforts. However keep sensitive areas somewhat secretive. Sharing exact locations in public places like the internet can lead to severe damage as many people travel to see what you have seen. This can also draw the negative attention of people that seek to pillage or destroy a population.
We impact the herp’s we love whether we are seeking them out or not. Environmental change, like pollution, deforestation, urbanization, or another human impact have all led to species declines worldwide. As individuals we can’t expect to cure any of these problems, but we can do our part, as one of 7 billion people, to reduce our negative impact. So direct your litter to the appropriate garbage can, reduce, reuse and recycle, turn of the power, and use less fuel. Spread the word, so a greater number of the billions might do their part too.