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Refuge Neighbors Discover Reptiles

USGS Biologist Chris Brown shows visitors a Gilberts skinkForty-three people of all ages came to discover the native reptiles and amphibians on the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), during the monthly themed interpretive program, “Hike with a Ranger.” It was the highest turnout of the year for the program.  

 
The hike featured two biologists, Carlton Rochester and Chris Brown from the U.S. Geological Survey, who have been surveying for reptiles and amphibians (herpetiles), for about 20 years. Their work around the San Diego area included the exact area of the refuge where the visitors were hiking that day.
Carlton and Chris graciously gave their Sunday morning to help educate the folks at the event about the native snakes, lizards, turtles, and amphibians on the refuge, and their backyard. The visitors were enthusiastic and excited to meet the live reptiles that Chris and Carlton had brought with them to share. The children gathered around the display table, while the adults crowded around them, as each snake and lizard was delicately lifted out of its enclosure.
The visitors were given close-up views of a California kingsnake, San Diego gopher snake, and a somewhat rare California glossy snake. Refuge Manager Jill Terp also brought along the refuge snake, “Rosy” the rosy boa, who didn't seem to be bothered one bit by all the people. Along with the snakes, a young Coast horned lizard that had been recently caught, was on hand to view and learn about.  The lizard exhibited beautiful rust-red and brown shades of color, blending right into the leaves and sand it was being kept in. Carlton also brought out a very squirmy and shiny Gilbert’s skink, which everyone enjoyed touching to see how it's scaly and smooth skin felt.
Carlton and Chris talked to the visitors about other native and rare amphibians, such as the federally endangered Southwestern Arroyo toad, and extremely rare – but not listed – Southwestern pond turtle. It was important to educate the folks about the threats to herpetiles such as invasive species and habitat degradation. Alteration of the hydrology of waterways such as the Sweetwater River on the refuge and other lands, has significantly changed the way rivers flow, thereby changing the types of habitats and the species that are supported by them. Many of the visitors expressed concern about these threats, and reminisced when they used to see species such as the arroyo toad and pond turtle on their public lands in East San Diego county.
After checking out the reptiles, the visitors went on a hike to “hunt” for some themselves. It was a very hot day, so they didn’t get too far before needing to turn back. However, the reptile hunting prevailed, and two hatchling horned lizards were spotted on the trail. The hikers also got to see the horned lizard’s main food source: a colony of harvester ants.
A turkey vulture soaring overhead signaled it was time to head home, but not before the visitors received a collector item refuge pin with the coast horned lizard mascot on it. What a fun and educational day about the native herpetiles on the refuge!
More information about these reptiles can be found on the web at  the USGS Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Coastal Southern California.
 
Click here for the photo gallery!
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2013
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