by Joe Crowley

Threatened by habitat loss, urban sprawl and busy roads, Ontario’s reptile species are becoming disturbingly scarce (see “The way of the lizard,” Winter 2008/09). Moreover, the populations that remain can be extremely difficult to locate. During Ontario Nature’s Reptiles at Risk project, which was launched last year and focuses on the organization’s nature reserves in Grey and Bruce counties, several new populations of rare reptiles were discovered. This suggests that the whereabouts of many populations of reptiles have yet to be documented. “It’s critical that we find out where our reptile populations live,” says Mark Carabetta, conservation science manager for Ontario Nature. “If we don’t have that information, it is very difficult to identify potential threats, assess local status and abundance, and promote habitat protection and stewardship.”

To address this issue, Ontario Nature, in partnership with the Eastern Ontario Model Forest, the Natural Heritage Information Centre and other governmental and nongovernmental groups, has begun work on the Ontario Herpetofaunal Atlas Program. This summer, volunteer citizen scientists can submit their sightings of reptiles and amphibians spotted anywhere in the province. The information collected will improve our knowledge of the distribution of reptiles throughout Ontario and ensure that land-use planning decisions, stewardship activities and status assessments are based on the most current information available.

“Ultimately, our goal is to produce something comparable to the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario,” says Carabetta. “A reptile atlas will draw on volunteer efforts and report on the range, status and abundance of all of Ontario’s amphibians and reptiles.”

For more information about the herpetofaunal atlas or to submit your observations, visit Ontario Nature’s website (www.ontarionature.org) and click on the link “herpetofaunal atlas.”