Long Point Environmental Folio, Chapter 11 J.G. Nelson and K.L. Wilcox, Editors, 1996

The Herpetofauna (Amphibians and Reptiles) of Ontario, with Special Emphasis on Long Point and the North Shore of Lake Erie*

Anthony E. Zammit

*This chapter is largely derived from Zammit, A.E.. 1994. "A Preliminary Bibliography for the Herpeofauna of Ontario, with Special Emphasis on Long Point and the North Shore of Lake Erie" Long Point Environmental Folio Series. Technical Note #3. Heritage Resources Centre, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario.

Amphibians and reptiles, or herpetofauna, are examples of the many species that are beginning to receive more attention from environmental planners and managers (Figure 1).

Figure 11.1 Species of Amphibians and Reptiles in Southwestern Ontario that are in Need of Conservation and Management (Illustrations adapted from Johnson, 1989)

A growing concern for loss of global biodiversity at the genetic and species levels -through rapid declines in population numbers and increasing rates of species extinction - has inspired implementation of monitoring and other programs aimed at protecting, and in some cases rehabilitating, individual populations or species as well as entire communities and ecosystems. Whereas several northern populations of frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes, and turtles are likely to fluctuate naturally, some species seem to be rapidly declining as a result of accelerated human modification of their habitats.

Amphibians and reptiles are believed to be good indicators of ecosystem health. In addressing problems associated with biodiversity planning and management in Canada, research and monitoring efforts must examine the various environmental stresses and their impact on vulnerable species, especially those which are currently in danger of extirpation from Canada.

Herpetology refers to the study of amphibians and reptiles, and generally pertains to the analysis of extant or living species. According to Cook (1984), the Class Amphibia is represented by two orders in Canada, the Anura (frogs and toads) and the Caudata (salamanders and newts). These two groups of species represent separate lines of evolution whose history, or phylogeny, is distinct from that of reptiles. The Class Reptilia includes the Order Squamata, which comprises the Sub-Orders Lacertilia (lizards and skinks) and Serpentes (snakes), and the Order Testudines (turtles and tortoises). Not counting confirmed hybrid species, there are records for some 52 species and subspecies in Ontario alone (Figures 2-7). The known taxa and their phylogentic groupings are listed according to Cook's (1984) classification (Table 1). This list is based on Gartshore, (1987). Scientific names follow Collier (1990).

A combination of natural and human stresses is expected to affect populations of amphibians and reptiles in Ontario and so in Long Point, including climate change, increased ultraviolet radiation, flooding, and high rates of depredation by natural predators such as skunks and raccoons whose populations are kept artificially high by human garbage. Land use pressures such as accelerated residential and industrial development, agriculture, and recreation and tourist activities, have contributed either to the fragmentation of forests or the drainage of wetlands in southern Ontario, promoting the deterioration of valuable amphibian and reptile habitat. This is especially evident in coastal areas of the lower Great Lakes basin and is known to have occurred in the Long Point area. Road mortality is common among amphibians and reptiles and already is recognized as a problem on the Long Point Causeway.

Amphibians and reptiles in Ontario do not attain the large size of some of their relatives to the south, nor do they pose a serious threat to humans as they do in other parts of the world. They do not play much of a direct role in Ontario's economy. Bullfrogs and Snapping Turtles have been harvested, or regulated by OMNR - and this may still continue to some extent.

Logier (1952) put forward the economic value of amphibians in terms of human food or as food for animals useful to man. He cited their role as predators and as biological controls of agricultural pests. He also noted their use as scientific, medical, and educational specimens. Although they are largely undesirable to many residents living in rural areas, reptiles, especially snakes, are beneficial predators of unwanted domestic pests such as mice and rats. Species and subspecies may also be of general scientific interest owing to the fact that many local populations may be genetically unique and may provide scientific information about tolerance to particular climatic or habitat conditions (Cook, 1977).

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has identified 14 species and subspecies of herpetofauna that are in danger of being eliminated from Canada. Seven of these designations, three amphibians and five reptiles, involve populations in Ontario that have declined or continue to decline in abundance and/or distribution (see Box 1).

Box 11.1 Status of Canadian Species (from Zammitt, 1994)

Box 1: Status of Canadian Species

"Canadian Species at Risk"- amphibians and retiles considered vulnerable ("...particularly at risk because of low or declining numbers, occurances at the fringe of its range or in resticted areas, or for some other reason, but is not a threatened species"), threatened ("...likely to become endangered in Canada if the factors affecting its vulnerability do not become reversed), or endangered ("...threatened with immediate extinction through all or a significant portion of its range, owing to the action of man") by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)

Endangered:

Blue Racer Snake ( Coluber constrictor faxi) Lake Erie Water Snake ( Nerodi sipedon insularum), Leatherback Turtle ( Dermochelys coriacea), and Blanchard's Cricket Frog ( Acris crepitans blanchard)

Threatened:

Eastern Massassauga Rattlesnake ( Sistrusus caternatus caternatus) Blanding's Turtle ( Emydoidea blanding)+ Eastern Spiny Softshell Turtle ( Apalone spinifera spinifera)++

Vulnerable:

Eastern Short-horned Lizard ( Phyrnosoma douglassil brevirostre) Northen Prarie Skink ( Eumeces septentrionalis) Eastern Yellow-bellied Racer ( Coluber constrictor faviventris) Spotted Turtle ( Clemmys guttata) Pacific Giant Salamander ( Dicampton tennebrosus), Smallmouth Salamander ( Amystoma texanum) Fowler's Toad (Rufo woodhousei fowleri)

Populations located in Ontario are underlined
+ Nova Scotia population designated
++Eastern Ontario population designated

Some are not found anywhere else in Canada. They are also considered rare in Ontario because of low population numbers or because they are very restricted in their geographical distribution. Yet they are actually locally common on Long Point, or uncommon but widespread throughout the immediate surrounding area (Table 1).

Table 11.1 Status of Herpetofauna in the Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk. RC, RO, RR respectively indicate whether a species is rare in Canada, Ontario, or regionally* (From Gartshore, 1987)

RC RO RR Uncommon Common Local Widespread Extirpated
Mudpuppy* Necturus v. virdescens - - - X - X - -
Red-Spotted Newt Notophtalmus v. viridescens (LP) - - - X - - X -
Blue-Spotted Salamander Ambystoma laterale (LP) X X X X - - - -
Jefferson Salamander Ambystoma jeffersonianum - - X - - - - -
Spotted Salamander Ambystoma maculatum - - - X - - X -
Four-toed Salamander Hermidactylium scutatum (LP) X - - - - X - -
Red-backed Salamander Plethodon cinereus(LP) - - - - X - X -
American Toad Bufo a. americanus(LP/BC) - - - - X - X -
Fowler's Toad Bufo Woodhousei fowleri(LP/BC) X X - X - X - -
Gray Tree Frog Hyla versicolor(LP) - - - - X - X -
Spring Peeper Pseudacris triseriata(LP) - - - - X - X -
Chorus Frog Pseudacris crucifer - - - - X - X -
Green Frog Rana clamitans melanota(LP/BC) - - - - X - X -
Wood Frog Rana sylvatica(BC) - - - - X - X -
Northern Leopard Frog Rana pipiens(LP/BC) - - - - X - X -
Pickeral Frog Rana palustris(LP) - - - X - X - -
Bullfrog Rana catesbeiana(LP/BC) - - - - X - X -
Snapping Turtle Chelydra serpentina(LP/BC) - - - - X - X -
Stinkpot Stenotherus odoratis(LP) - - X - - X - -
Midland Painted Turtle Chryemys picta marginata(LP/BC) - - - - X - X -
Map Turtle Graptmeys geographica(LP/BC) - - - X - X - -
Spotted Turtle Clemmys guttata(LP/BC) X X - - X X - -
Blandings Turtle Emydoidea blandingi(LP/BC) - - - - X - X -
Eastern Spinysofteshell Turtle Apalone spinifera spinifera(LP) X X X X - X - X
Garter Snake Tamnophis sirtalis(LP/BC) - - - - X - X -
Northern Ribbon Snake Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis(BC) - - - X - - X -
Water Snake Nerodia sipedon sipedon(LP/BC) - - - X - - X -
Red-Bellied Snake Storeria o. occipitonaculata - - - X - - X -
Northern Brown Snake Storeria dekayi(LP) - - - X - X - -
Smooth Green Snake Opheodries vernalis vernalis - - - X - - X -
Eastern Hognose Snake Heterdon platirhinos(LP/BC) X X - - X X - -
Black Rat Snake Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta(BC) X X X X - X - -
Eastern Fox Snake Elaphe vulpina gloydi(LP/BC) X X - - - - - -
Eastern Milk Snake Lampropeltis t. triangulum(LP) - - - X - - X -
Queen Snake Regina septemvittata X X X X - X - -
Eastern Massassauga Sistrurus caternatus caternatus X X X - - - - X

LP and BC denote species found within the Long Point and Big Creek National Wildlife Areas (McKeating, 1983; McKeating and Dewey, 1984; and Weller and Oldham, 1988). *Regional rarity assessment was given to a species recorded from 5 or fewer sites in Haldimand-Norfolk since 1972 (i.e, between 1972 and 1986).

For instance, the rare Fowler's toad, (Bufo woodhousei fowleri), and Spotted turtle, (Clemmys guttata), both considered vulnerable in Canada by COSEWIC, and the threatened Eastern Spiny Softshell turtle, (Apalone spinifera spinifera), are still commonly found on the Point.

Three large snakes, Eastern Hognose snake, (Heterodon platyrhinos), Eastern Fox snake, (Elaphe vupina gloydi), and the Black Rat Snake, (Elaphe obsoleta), all considered rare in Ontario, are also found in the Long Point area. The Eastern Hognose snake is locally common, whereas the Black Rat snake is regionally rarer than it was once historically.

Table 1 summarizes the status of amphibians and reptiles found in the Regional Mun