Ohio Reptile Research & Conservation Conference

2010 Reptile Conference
Registration Form
Program and Agenda

March 13, 2010. Ohio Department of Transportation Hilltop Conference Center . Columbus, Ohio.

Keynote Presentation:
Living in the Trees: Ecology of Rough Green Snakes

Michael V. Plummer, PhD
Box 12251, Department of Biology, Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas 72143

A professor of Biology at Harding University, where he has worked since 1975, Dr. Plummer is well-known for his in-depth studies on the ecology of snakes and turtles. Utilizing undergraduate students and techniques such as mark-recapture and radiotelemetry, his research has provided rare insights into the natural history of species such as Green Snakes, Hog-nosed Snakes, and Softshell Turtles, for which he has published 49 peer-reviewed articles and notes. He is also the co-author of The Amphibians and Reptiles of Arkansas (2004), and has contributed to numerous other books, including Snakes: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (1987), Urban Herpetology (2008) and, Courting the Wild: Love Affairs with Reptiles and Amphibians (2009).

Dr. Plummer spent most of his childhood growing up in Massillon, Ohio and received his PhD from the University of Kansas in 1976, where he studied with the late herpetologist Henry Fitch. For more information, see: http://www.harding.edu/plummer/

(photo from: http://www.harding.edu/plummer/)

Opheodrys aestivus (Rough Green Snake) is a small to medium-sized diurnal arboreal snake that prefers heavily vegetated shrubby edge habitats where it feeds on insects and spiders. Long-term mark-recapture and radiotelemetry studies in Arkansas have made O. aestivus one of the ecologically best known snakes. In late April, O. aestivus ascends leafed-out trees and shrubs where, except for gravid females, they remain until descending in mid-October. In June, gravid females descend from their normal summer arboreal habitat and migrate terrestrially to larger hollow trees for nesting. Tree hollows containing current nests often contain O. aestivus eggshells from previous years. Both the pre-nesting and post-nesting legs of the average 5 d nesting migration expose females to an increased risk of predation from birds and other snakes. As much as 50% of the total annual mortality may occur during the 45-d nesting period. Drought results in snakes being in poor body condition, which presumably contributes to higher mortality and lower population size. In non-drought years, O. aestivus may occur in densities that are among the highest reported for any snake species.

In laboratory studies, gravid females choose to nest communally in moist nesting sites. Hatchlings obtained from laboratory egg incubation are marked and released in the field as part of long-term demographic studies. Growth rate is rapid in hatchlings and decreases steadily throughout life. Compared to other snakes, the life history of O. aestivus is characterized by early-maturation, annual reproduction, low adult survivorship, low longevity, and short generation time. Males first breed in their 2nd year and females first breed in their 2nd or 3rd year. Survivorship follows the Type 2 pattern. Life tables indicate a maximum life span of 7-8 years for females and 5-6 years for males.

Foraging Ecology of the Queen Snake: An Extreme Dietary Specialist
R. Mark Waters (watersr1[at]ohiou.edu)
Ohio University Eastern Campus, 45425 National Road, St. Clairsville, Ohio 43950

Queen Snakes (Regina septemvittata) are dietary specialists that feed exclusively on freshly molted crayfish. Although relatively common in lotic systems throughout the eastern United States, few studies have examined the foraging ecology of this species. Over the past few years we have been studying a population of queen snakes located in southeastern Ohio as part of a larger effort to understand the foraging strategies of this specialized predator. A variety of methods were used to collect data including GPS, radiotelemetry, and direct observations of snake behavior and movement. Snakes were relocated most frequently out of the water in a variety of microhabitats and within 2 meters of the water. Snakes located in the water were predominantly found moving in areas containing small to large rocks. Snakes moved along the substrate (underwater) directly from one rock to another, typically surfacing after they had located a rock. When encountering a rock snakes either moved under the rock or briefly poked their head under it before moving to the next rock. When these observations were combined with data collected on the distribution of the crayfish within the creek, Queen Snakes were found to be frequenting those habitats that were most likely to hold the highest densities of crayfish. This suggests that queen snakes do not randomly search the creek, but focus movements in areas that increase the probability of encountering suitable prey.

Copper-bellied Watersnake Ecology and Conservation
Bruce Kingsbury (kingsbur[at]ipfw.edu)
Professor and Chair, Department of Biology, Indiana - Purdue University, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805-1499

Ohio's populations of the Copper-bellied Watersnake, Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta, are listed as federally threatened and state endangered. Recent research has clarified many of the ecological requirements of the copperbelly, provided insights into why they are so imperiled and what is needed to protect them. Copperbellies require large landscapes composed of numerous shallow wetlands imbedded in a safe terrestrial matrix. Aspects of these landscape requirements relate to diet and foraging behavior. Copperbellies feed predominantly on anuran larvae and adults, so require habitat suitable for good amphibian reproduction. They move frequently from wetland to wetland, and also can make extensive use of uplands for foraging and other behaviors. They consequently need uplands that are suitable for their activities, but also which are not fragmented by roads and other barriers. Conservation efforts will need to focus on creating the required landscape via shallow wetland restoration, linkage of wetlands via suitable uplands, removal of barriers, on a relatively large scale (square miles).

Growth and Population Size Estimates of the Eastern Fox Snake in Ohio
Kent Bekker1 (kbekker[at]gmail.com) and Kristin Stanford2
1The Toledo Zoo, PO Box 140130, Toledo, Ohio 43614
2F.T. Stone Laboratory, 878 Bayview Drive, Put-in-Bay, Ohio 43456

The Eastern Fox Snake, Pantherophis gloydi, is a unique member of the Ohio snakes. It has a limited range situated along the western Lake Erie marshes and lake plain prairies. Over the last five years several populations of Eastern Fox Snakes have been closely monitored through mark-recapture techniques. Unlike other studies within this species range, many individuals have been caught and recaptures have spanned several years. Estimates of population size have been undertaken affording some insight into possible densities of this large constrictor. Recaptured individuals have also provided valuable data on this species growth. The Eastern Fox Snake appears to occur in higher densities than previously reported. Despite their large size they grow relatively quickly and appear to reach maturity in about five years.

Population Genetic Structure and Gene Flow in the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake: Effect of Drift in a Highly Fragmented Species
James E. Chiucchi (chiucchi.1[at]gmail.com)and H. Lisle Gibbs
Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210

Understanding how the effects of genetic drift and migration act to shape the genetic structure of isolated populations is a critical component to evolutionary and conservation biology. Eastern massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus c. catenatus) are threatened taxa that occur in a series of populations many of which are isolated due to human-mediated impacts on habitat. Here, we assess levels of genetic diversity, differentiation and gene flow in 19 populations throughout the range of the eastern massasauga rattlesnake using 19 microsatellite loci. Key findings are that: 1) Populations showed almost an order of magnitude variation in genetically effective population sizes which reflect standing levels of genetic variation. This analysis identifies populations that are significant reservoirs of genetic variation for the species as a whole and those which are genetically impoverished. 2) Massasaugas show high levels of genetic differentiation (overall Fst = 0.21) and a Bayesian clustering method suggests each population represents a unique genetic cluster. Surprisingly, both contemporary and historical migration rates among populations were low and similar, even for populations located ~7 km apart. This suggests that populations have experienced a long history of isolation even prior to European settlement of North America. 3) Finally, the impact of genetic variability on fitness in these snakes may be limited as we find significant variation in body condition among snakes in different populations but this is not related to population levels of heterozygosity. Overall, our study shows how the integration of genetic analyses with ecological information can provide useful information for developing management plans for an endangered snake on a range-wide basis.

Unraveling the History of the Short-headed Gartersnake in Ohio
Raymond Joseph Novotny (raynovotny [at] yahoo.com)
Mill Creek MetroParks, Ford Nature Center, 840 Old Furnace Road, Youngstown, Ohio 44511-1470

Garters are the most abundant and widespread snake genus in North America. One species, however, Thamnophis brachystoma, the Short-headed (or Shorthead) Garter Snake, has one of the most restricted ranges of any snake in the United States: northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York State. Populations are also found outside of the classic range in each of these states. Because they are generally in urban areas, they are considered to be introductions. Youngstown, Mahoning County, in northeastern Ohio, is close to the Pennsylvania border. In 1989, a single specimen was found here. If Dr. Jack McCoy, of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and I declared it as a new species for Ohio too soon, we didn't have to wait long for a confirmation, as sizable populations were discovered in 1990 and 1994. I gave these serpents only casual and sporadic attention since. The upcoming multi-author "Herps of Ohio" book sparked my interest again. Fieldwork has shown that though the population at the 1990 site has declined, the 1994 one thrives. Youngstown's short-headed garter snakes are certainly a part of Ohio's "urban herpetology." Will we ever be able to determine whether they are introduced, native, or have they expanded their range here? To add to the intrigue, I will also offer evidence that T. brachystoma existed in Youngstown in 1976, but was overlooked!

Relocation Success of the Lake Erie Watersnake During a Large-Scale Development Project
Kristin Stanford1,4 (theislandsnakelady[at]yahoo.com), Keith Hanson1,2, and Amy Kruzer3,4
1Green Frog Environmental, LLC, 2College of Charleston, 3Baldwin-Wallace College, 4F.T. Stone Laboratory, 878 Bayview Drive, Put-in-Bay, Ohio 43456

Species relocation is often necessary as a result of anthropogenic disturbance. With many species of reptiles, relocation has proved detrimental to individual organisms within a population. This can be a major concern, especially when dealing with listed species such as the federally threatened, state endangered Lake Erie Watersnake (Nerodia sipedon insularum). In 2008, Lake Erie Watersnakes were removed, relocated and excluded from a large marina development project (Ottawa Co, Middle Bass Island, OH) using silt fencing buried 6 inches into the ground and extended 3 vertical feet. LEWS were captured within the "snake fence" via hand-capture, floating minnow traps or funnel traps and subsequently relocated to an area approximately 1 km away. The success of snake relocation and the extent of site fidelity was examined using radio telemetry and capture-mark-recapture methods. Telemetry data demonstrated that female snakes display high site fidelity, often returning to the construction site immediately after release. Multiple relocation efforts were necessary to permanently relocate the telemetered female LEWS, whereas telemetered male LEWS stayed at or near the relocation site. Mark-recapture via PIT tagging and visual chalk marks additionally allowed for comparisons between the number of males and females that were relocated multiple times, as well as the number of relocated animals that could be subsequently captured at the relocation site. Census data from the relocation site also confirmed relocated animals were present. Our results indicate that relocation coupled with exclusion was a successful conservation strategy for reducing mortality of watersnakes during this development project.

The Importance of Field Logs to Reptile Research & Conservation
Doug Wynn (Sistrurus[at]aol.com)
The Ohio State University, Visiting Scholar

Field logs have long been an important tool of biologists. Most notably was Joseph Grinnell's development of a standardized format during his career at the University of California's Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley. Grinnell emphasized that field logs should be written for use by others and developed a standardized format that has been in use for over a century by dozens of scientists. As one would expect there are countless modifications that people make but some basic similarities occur in user friendly logs. Grinnell proposed three major types of field logs. A catalogue is a list of specimens that have been collected and includes dates, locations, and other information. As specimens are donated to recognized collections this information is transferred to the catalogue maintained by that museum. A species account is a description that was made of an animal or plant and quite often is a behavioral observation. A journal account is essentially a diary of one's daily experiences and is the type of log that is most commonly kept. Most field herpetologists utilize some type of data sheet and it's this type of information that should be included in the journal account. Too often however that data sheet only reflects the requirements of a specific contract or a graduate degree project. It is critical to recognize that one can seldom predict how important their work might be to someone in the future. Thus one should include as much data as time permits. Unfortunately Grinnell predated the computer age. Now, all types of field logs can be put on a data base where the information can then be easily retrieved. There are many field herpetologists in Ohio - both professionals and amateurs. Their potential contributions to the knowledge and conservation of Ohio's herpetofauna are incalculable - and even more so if they simply take good field notes.

Updated Distribution of Softshell Turtles in Ohio
Jeffrey G. Davis (anura[at]fuse.net) and Paul J. Krusling (pkrusling[at]gmail.com)
Cincinnati Museum Center - Fredrick and Amye Geier Research and Collections Center, 1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio 45203-1130

The geographic distribution of Ohio's reptiles was summarized by Wynn and Moody in the Ohio Turtle, Lizard and Snake Atlas (2006. Ohio Biological Survey Miscellaneous Contributions Number 10. iv + 81 p.). They reported the most current record for each species by county. Twelve species of turtles were represented by 408 county distribution records. Of those, only 37% represented specimens collected since 1976. Two species in particular were of interest. The Midland Smooth Softshell (Apalone m. mutica), a species of apparent limited distribution in Ohio, had only been documented in nine Ohio counties and five of those (55.5%) records were more than 50 years old. The Eastern Spiny Softshell (Apalone s. spinifera) had been confirmed in 55 of Ohio's 88 counties, but 71% of its Ohio distribution records were more than 30 years old. The paucity of recent distribution records prompted us to conduct a survey for these species. We present the results of statewide surveys conducted during 2008 and 2009 for both softshell species as well as incidental records of significance for other turtles.

Eastern Box Turtles in Northern Ohio: Distribution and Landscape-scale Habitat Use
Gregory J. Lipps, Jr. (GregLipps[at]aol.com)
1473 County Road 5-2, Delta, Ohio 43616

"We shall never know the exact natural ranges of many of our turtles, thanks to mankind's propensity for carrying these reptiles about and releasing them wherever it suits his fancy."
Indeed, this observation about Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina) in Ohio is as true today as it was when written nearly 60 years ago by Roger Conant in his revisionary addenda to The Reptiles of Ohio. A review of occurrence records in northern Ohio will be presented in an attempt to understand the past and current status of the box turtle in this region. In northwest Ohio's Oak Openings Region, the Eastern Box Turtle is well known, and believed to have persisted on this ancient beach ridge that once was surrounded by the Great Black Swamp. Observations of box turtles in this region have been compiled over the past 3 years and analyzed using GIS to determine landscape-scale attributes associated with its occurrence and results of these analyses will be discussed. Even within protected areas, turtle populations may still suffer from the three R's: roads, raccoons, and restoration activities (specifically fire). Piecing together the data on historic and current distribution with what is known about habitat needs and threats, we can begin to answer the question: Does the Eastern Box Turtle have a future in northern Ohio?

Habitat Use by Map Turtles in the Scioto River
Willem M. Roosenburg1 (roosenbu[at]ohiou.edu), Kathy Temple-Miller2, and Matthew White1
1Center for Ecology and Evolutionary Studies, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio 45701
2 Hocking College, Nelsonville, Ohio 45764

We studied the distribution and abundance of the Ouachita Map Turtle (Graptemys ouachitensis) and Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) in Ohio’s Scioto River. We used GIS based survey methods, radio telemetry, and mark-recapture to evaluate habitat partitioning and resource needs of these two species. Visual surveys revealed that G. geographica is a generalist and its populations are spread evenly throughout the Scioto. Whereas, G. ouachitensis occurred throughout the river as well but are concentrated in three areas; between Chillicothe and Circleville, north of Waverly, and an area of the river near Lucasville. G. ouachitensis was found more frequently in wider areas in the river in closer proximity to bars whereas G. geographic prefers habitats closer to tributaries. Radiotelemetric and habitat data of both species in the area north of Chillicothe revealed that G. ouachitensis preferred finer substrates and deeper water than G. geographica which did not differ in habitat from randomly selected points along the river. A localized convex hull analysis revealed that the two species marginally overlap in their habitat use during the summer. Although these populations appear to be stable, shoreline modification and its effect on hydrodynamics and river structure could potentially alter habitats and render them less suitable for the turtles.

Investigation of Blanding's Turtle Ecology in Ohio and Results of Captive Head-start Efforts at the Cleveland Metroparks
James C. Spetz1 (jimspetz[at]hotmail.com), Terry Robison1, Richard Spence1, and Christopher Sheil2
1Cleveland Metroparks, 4101 Fulton Parkway, Cleveland, Ohio 44144
2John Carroll University, University Heights, Ohio 44144

The Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) is a long-lived, late-maturing species which appears to be declining throughout most of its range. Of the 15 U.S. states where this animal is known to occur, it has garnered state conservation status ranging from Endangered to Species of Concern in all but one. With a limited range in Ohio, restricted primarily to the Lake Plains region of the state, Blanding's is listed as a Species of Concern. Its discovery in a Cleveland Metroparks reservation in 1999, led to the initiation of a small scale head-start program and radio telemetry study aimed at conservation of the species. In order to better understand the ecology of this species in the Ohio Lake Plains region, a population in Ottawa County was chosen for an investigation focused on habitat use, diet, and reproduction. Habitat use varied seasonally, with palustrine emergent marsh (PEM) being the dominant habitat utilized in all seasons, but particularly during the active feeding period. Feeding activity occurred from April through September, with peak feeding from May through July. Diet was comprised of approximately 75% snails with decreasing contributions from insects, crayfish, leeches, and fish. Trapping data coupled with characteristics of nest site availability and suitability suggested that recruitment in this population may be extremely low, with the population at risk of eventual extirpation. A decade after the initiation of a small head-start program, recapture of captive reared individuals suggests a relatively high rate of survival and eventual growth for individuals surviving their initial release and subsequent acclimation period.

When Habitat Protection Isn't Enough: Raccoon Management on a Turtle Nesting Beach
Steve Harvey (Steve.harvey[at]dnr.state.oh.us)
Ohio Division of Wildlife, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus Ohio 43215

Blanding's turtles, like many other reptiles, have seen a significant decline in population numbers. Habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, and collection for the pet trade have all lead to the decline. However, even in areas of good protected habitat we are finding Blanding's turtle numbers are decreasing due to predation on turtle nests by raccoons. Raccoons have long been a predator on turtle nests but the raccoon population in Ohio has exploded with estimates of an increase of 800% in the last 20 years (Ohio Division of Wildlife). With this increase of predators and the decrease of turtle numbers, we are seeing very little if any turtle recruitment. At Sheldon Marsh State Nature Preserve, we observed virtually 100% predation on turtle nests. Since 1990, only one neonate Blanding's turtle has been observed and the number of adult turtles seen has declined. In 2006, the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves along with the Ohio Division of Wildlife decided to implement a raccoon trapping program to help protect the state listed Blanding's turtle. Preliminary results have proven very effective with 17 neonate Blanding's turtles observed in 2008.


The Ohio Reptile Research and Conservation Conference is sponsored by the Ohio Division of Wildlife and the Ohio Biological Survey, in conjunction with Midwest PARC.