Canada 150 National Parks Blog #1 - Waterton Lakes National Park
Dr. Teresa Bousquet

In honor of Canada's 150th birthday, we are going to be running a series of blogs highlighting the herping opportunities in the National Parks within Alberta. First up, Waterton Lakes National Park:

Waterton Lakes National Park is one of Canada’s smaller National Parks, at 505 square kilometers. The park is located in the southwest corner of Alberta, along the border with Montana. It is connected to Glacier National Park, and together, they were designated as a the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (IPP) in 1932, as a symbol of peace and goodwill between Canada and the United States. The IPP was established as a World Heritage Site in 1995. Waterton Lakes National Park is considered the core area of the Waterton Biosphere Reserve, established in 1979.

Waterton Lakes National Park is home to six species of amphibians and four species of reptiles. These include: Long Toed-Salamanders (Ambystoma macrodactylum), Boreal Toads (Anaxyrus boreas), Columbia Spotted Frogs (Rana luteiventris), Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma mavortium), Boreal Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris maculata), Leopard Frogs (extirpated/re-introduced)(Lithobates pipiens), Wandering Garter Snakes (Thamnophis elegans), Red-Sided Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), Bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer), and Plains Garter Snakes (Thamnophis radix). In 2015, a Rocky Mountain Tailed frog (Ascaphus montanus) was found in a creek just south of the American border in Glacier National Park, but in spite of environmental DNA testing, this species has yet to be identified in Waterton Lakes National Park.

In Wateron Lakes National Park, the best place to see herps is often along roadways. Wandering and Red-sided Garter snakes like to bask on the parkway on sunny spring and summer afternoons. On rainy spring and summer evenings, various amphibians such as Boreal Toads and Tiger Salamanders take to the roadways near Driftwood Beach and the Bison Paddock. Watch for wandering Boreal Toads as you hike the park’s trails. Linnet Lake trail is another good spot to visit in the spring and fall. There are four special underpasses in this area, that allow long-salamanders to cross from the slopes of Crandell Mountain, where they over-winter, to the lake, where they breed. These underpasses have been found to reduce salamander roadway mortality.

Special Notes: There is an on-going project within the Park to re-establish the extirpated Northern Leopard Frog. The frogs are being released in specially selected locations around the park that are ideal Northern Leopard Frog habitat. The exact sites are not being made public, to try to reduce stress and give the frogs as much undisturbed space as possible. However, if you happen to come across Northern Leopard Frogs, please contact Parks Canada staff and report your sighting. This helps them track how the frogs are doing and if they are moving within the Park. Sightings of all other herps are also of interest to park staff – ask the Visitor Reception Centre staff for forms to record your observations, and contribute to the monitoring of these important populations!

Parks Canada works hard to protect national parks against aquatic invasive species, such as quagga mussles and whirling disease. Please also note that whirling disease, which is an infectious disease of finfish, is now in Alberta, though it has not been detected to date in Waterton Lakes National Park. To help protect the park’s ecological integrity and avoid cross-contamination between infected and uninfected water bodies, please avoid wading into the water. If you see fish swimming in a whirling pattern, please contact Parks Canada staff immediately.

Thank you to Kimberly Peason and John Stoesser for your input and assistance!

External link opens in new tab or windowWaterton Lakes National Park - Salamander Crossing
External link opens in new tab or windowWaterton Lakes National Park - Herptiles