Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas (mara) Training Handbook

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Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas


Training Handbook

Maryland Department of Natural Resources


Natural History Society of Maryland

February 2010

Handbook compiled by: Rachel Gauza and David Smith

Table of Contents


Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas i

(MARA) i

Training Handbook i

Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Block
Data Sheet 19

United States Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 49

Patuxent Naval Air Station, Environmental Department 49

University of Delaware 49

Delaware Nature Society 49

Towson University 49

Towson University 49

Smithsonian Institution, National Zoological Park 49

Introduction to the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas
Thank you for your interest and participation in the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas (MARA)! The purpose of this document is to provide instruction and written standard operating procedures for data collection as part of the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas.
History of the program
The Natural History Society of Maryland (NHSM) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) are conducting a five-year atlas of the amphibians and reptiles of Maryland starting in January 2010 and ending in 2014. The project will map the distribution of all amphibians and reptiles within the state, using mostly volunteer help. Planning for the statewide atlas began in summer 2008. It was decided that a pilot study should be used to test survey methods and quantify the effort needed to effectively and efficiently document herpetofauna effort before launching the effort statewide. Data collection was limited to Anne Arundel County and occurred from spring through late fall 2009.
Amphibians and reptiles, collectively known as “herpetofauna” or “herps,” have roamed the earth for over 300 million years. While today’s collection of herpetofauna pales by comparison to the diversity and abundance of these creatures during their heyday, their persistence to the present day is a testament to their overall success. However, the increasing challenges that amphibians and reptiles face – in no small part resulting from human-induced causes such as habitat loss, introduced species, over-harvesting or collecting, and environmental pollution – raises concerns for their continued success and even survival. Worldwide declines in amphibian and reptile populations have been occurring at an accelerated rate over the past twenty years, threatening many species with extinction.
There is a recognized global, national, and regional need to determine the scope and severity of the problems and causes of declines in herpetofauna populations. Observed declines highlight the need for documenting current amphibian and reptile populations in Maryland. In the 1930s and 1940s, the NHSM published distributional surveys of reptiles. However, it was not until 1960 that the curator of the Department of Herpetology at the NHSM, John E. Cooper, published a paper on the distribution of amphibians and reptiles for the state. In 1969, Herb S. Harris Jr. published the first distributional survey of every amphibian and reptile known to occur in Maryland. Harris updated the survey and range maps in 1975. Although distributional data have been collected dating back to the 1930s, no systematic and replicable survey of all herpetofauna has been conducted in Maryland.

The general purpose of MARA is to systematically document the present distribution of amphibians and reptiles throughout Maryland using a grid-based system. The current amphibian and reptile atlas will update the work that was done by Harris in the 1970s. Information gained during this atlas effort will establish a baseline for future efforts to detect change in statewide distributions. Understanding patterns of change at the statewide scale is necessary for land managers, regulators, and citizens to make choices to conserve the herpetofauna of the state.

Volunteer role and involvement
This project relies nearly exclusively on volunteers to conduct fieldwork and document the roughly 90 species of amphibians and reptiles known to occur within the state.
Each county is assigned at least one volunteer county coordinator (provided in the appendix of this document). The principal roles of the county coordinators are to:

  1. Recruit and motivate fieldworkers

  2. Act as a liaison between fieldworkers and the statewide atlas coordinator and steering committee

  3. Provide technical assistance to fieldworkers (such as providing training or aid in species identification)

  4. Keep track of progress and coverage within the county

  5. Assist steering committee with data verification

County coordinators will direct observers to cover specific geographic areas that will serve as the basic unit of area covered (See: Basic Unit of Coverage – Grid System). Observers will work to document the presence of the amphibian and reptile species within these geographic units of area. Volunteers can select quads by indicating the nearest towns or areas of interest to the county coordinator.

  • All MARA volunteers must fill out and send in the data sheet and record their time involvement in the project.

  • Materials for distribution to land owners and other interested parties are provided in the appendix of this document.

The participation and enthusiasm of volunteers is critical to the success of MARA. Please note that fieldwork is strenuous by nature. All participants should be aware of the physical demands and associated risks when conducting MARA activities. There is no volunteer age specification associated with this project.

Basic unit of coverage – Grid system
The atlas project is conducted on a grid-based geographic scale using U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 7.5-minute quadrangle (quad) maps equally divided into six blocks of approximately 10 square miles each. Within each quad, blocks are referenced by their directional orientation (Northwest = NW, Northeast = NE, Center-west = CW, Center-east = CE, Southwest = SW, Southeast = SE). An example of the numbering is shown in Figure 1. Blocks that overlap counties will be assigned in their entirety. Blocks that overlap other states will only be covered within the limits of Maryland.

Figure 1. Example of quad block numbering system. Six blocks compose one USGS quadrangle.

There are 260 quads in Maryland, each named after a major town or geographic feature on the map. Quads that encompass multiple counties will be assigned to the county containing the greatest portion of the quad. This grid system is the same one used by the Maryland and District of Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA) Project. MARA will only cover portions of grids within the state of Maryland; the BBA covered the portion of atlas blocks that occurred within neighboring states.

General information
For more information about MARA or any information presented in this handbook, please contact:
Natural History Society of Maryland Maryland Department of Natural Resources

PO Box 18750 Wildlife and Heritage Service

Baltimore, MD 21206-0750 580 Taylor Avenue, E-1 Annapolis, MD 21401

A map of Maryland Counties and list of County Coordinators are provided in the appendix.

Instructions: Data Collection and Data Submission

Study Design
Survey season
Atlasing can be done at any time during the year that amphibians and reptiles are active. Herpetofaunal activity will generally begin and end earlier in the eastern part of Maryland than in the western portion. Therefore, it may be possible to encounter a species in the lower Eastern Shore starting in January and not document the presence of that same species until April in the western mountains.
Different species of amphibians and reptiles will be more easily detected during different times of the year. Some, such as amphibians that breed in seasonal pools, will be most easily documented during their migrations to breeding ponds or immediately after egg-laying. As indicated above, this generally begins quite early in the year, often with the first warm rains. Other, more terrestrial species may be active in the spring and fall, but difficult to find during the heat of the summer. And for other herpetofauna, particularly snakes, activity is greatest during the summer months.

It is important to plan surveys throughout the year to maximize your chances of encountering as many different amphibian and reptile species as possible.

Amphibians and reptiles are ecothermic (“cold-blooded”) animals, meaning that their internal temperature is regulated by the ambient environmental temperature. Therefore, searches are generally most successful later in the day when temperatures have warmed sufficiently for herps to become active. However, many amphibians and reptiles may be encountered at any time of the day within protected refugia by turning over cover objects such as logs or rocks. Still other species, such as vernal pool-breeding amphibians, generally move to breeding ponds under the cover of darkness. Some frogs, toads, and snakes may become active at night, particularly after or during warm rain events.

More detailed information is provided later in the handbook (See: How to find amphibians and reptiles). Calendars of Peak Herpetofaunal Activity (phenologies) for specific groups of species will be provided as an addendum to this handbook.

Survey effort
Within each of the 23 counties in Maryland, the number of possible amphibian and reptile species present ranges from less than 50 to greater than 60. Lists of the potential amphibians and reptiles within each county in Maryland are provided in the appendix. Based on this county list, most Maryland atlas quads should have at least 30 species of amphibians and reptiles. Some could exceed 60 species while those with considerable open water or urban areas may contain fewer than 30 species.

  • Observers should attempt to document at least 25 species per quad and 10 species per atlas block.

  • A minimum survey time of 25 hours per quad should be spent over the five year atlas.

Many species will be encountered within the first several outings to the quad. As you approach the 25 species per quad and 10 species per block threshold, it may become more difficult to add new species; however, don’t give up! Be sure to cover all available habitats within the quad/block and use the search techniques described in this handbook (See: How to find amphibians and reptiles). Plan to visit quadrangles throughout the year, at different times of day, and in different conditions. Optimal times will vary with species, habitat, and time of year.

Once the 25 species per quad and 10 species per block thresholds have been reached, you can continue to add new species to your quad/block, but a useful rule of thumb should be approximately 30 hours of effort to get 30 species for the quad. Once this threshold has been met, more time should be spent atlasing in other quads so that statewide coverage can be obtained within the five-year survey period.

How data are collected
Survey in any and all suitable habitats (See: Habitat classification system). Searches include actively looking for amphibians and reptiles (e.g., walking/searching habitat, turning over cover objects such as rocks and logs, etc.) as well as more passive approaches (e.g., listening for calling frogs and toads, cruising / road surveys). The time a fieldworker spends engaged in these activities is to be recorded (See: Filling out the data sheet). Incidental or opportunistic reports (i.e., encounters with individuals while not actively searching for amphibians and reptiles) will also be included in the atlas, as will any dead herpetofauna encountered. All reports, even those outside of assigned quads and in a different county, are to be submitted. Submit any and all herp sightings.
Species documentation will be reported on standardized data sheets, one each per block per year (See: Filling out the data sheet). Two levels of documentation confidence are possible for detected species:

  1. Species that are observed or heard only will be considered “reports

  2. Species observations supported by verifiable evidence (photographs, recordings, vouchered specimens) will count as “verified records.”

On the data sheet, an asterisk appears beside the name of each amphibian and reptile species that requires verification before the report can be accepted as a verified record. Verification is encouraged for all other species, but is not required (See: Species verification)

The verification form is provided in the appendix.

Working with USGS Quadrangle (Topographic) Maps
Obtaining a quadrangle map
Each county coordinator will have a copy of the inclusive quadrangle maps to distribute to volunteer quad leaders for their use in locating suitable habitats within each block.
Free electronic (.pdf) versions of USGS topographic maps can also be obtained by visiting and using the Map Locator tool.

  1. Click the Map Locator link (in left navigation bar area)

  2. In search field, type: “Maryland” and click “Go”.

  3. Zoom or pan to see your Quad Name and click on it

  4. When the red balloon marker appears, click on it

  5. Click on the Download link that matches the Quad Name and save the file

To divide the quad map into the six atlas blocks:

  1. Measure half-way across the quad map from east to west and draw a line down the middle of the map from north to south.

  2. Locate the four crosshairs (+) on the map. Two crosshairs are located 1/3 of the way down from the top of the map, and two crosshairs are located 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the map. They are about six inches in from the sides of the map.

  3. Draw two parallel lines from east to west through the two sets of crosshairs.

  4. Older versions of quad maps do not have the four crosshairs, so measure the length of the map from north to south and subdivide it into three equal lengths. Draw two east-west lines dividing the map into three equal subdivisions.

  5. When completed, the quad should be divided as in Figure 1.

Tips and considerations for map use

  • The scale of the print copies provided to County Coordinators is 1” = 2,000 feet, as indicated by the scale on the map.

  • Contour lines represent elevations.

    • The closer the contours, the steeper the slope; an absence of contours indicates the ground is relatively level.

    • V-shaped contour lines indicate flow and are often associated with streams / stream valleys. The point of the “V” is oriented upstream / uphill.

  • The majority of quad maps have not been updated since the 1970s and landscape features may have changed dramatically.

  • Fieldworkers are encouraged to use other maps and aids (e.g., ADC index maps, Google Earth, aerial images) in conjunction with USGS quad maps.

Visit the USGS website for more information on how to read and interpret topographic maps:

Land Access and Legal Issues
Land access
Respect landowner rights! Participation in this project does not allow you to trespass on private land – permission must be obtained to access private land. It is illegal to trespass and you do NOT have the right to step foot on private property without permission from the landowner.
Land owned by a company or organization (e.g., CSX Railroads, Baltimore Gas and Electric, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, etc.) is also considered private land and legal permission must also be obtained before entering and conducting MARA activities.
The appendix includes a Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas Letter to Landowner and Landowner Release Form. A Windshield Sign is also provided for display in your vehicle.
Before conducting atlas survey work on private property, the landowner release form should be completed by the property owner. Please be respectful of the wishes of private property owners and be sure to leave the property as you found it.
Surveying on public lands (such as those owned by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources or County parkland) requires that you obey posted property rules (e.g., park hours, parking and access restrictions) as well as those set forth by the land manager. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will announce the project to park and state land managers, but it is the responsibility of the fieldworker to make contact with the individual land manager and discuss any intentions. In addition to preventing any rule violations, working with the land manager may help the fieldworker to locate potential survey areas and allow access to areas during peak herpetofauna activity.

  • Remember: MARA fieldworkers are considered the “general public” and do not receive any special exemptions from Maryland Law.

A discussion of legal issues pertaining to the collection of Maryland herpetofauna and collection permit requirements is presented in the Vouchering and retaining of live and deceased individuals section of the handbook.

Collecting and possessing amphibians and reptiles in Maryland
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources adopted permitting regulations concerning the possession, breeding, and sale of reptiles and amphibians native to Maryland in 1993. Generally, a permit is not needed to look for, pick up, hold, photograph, etc. any native Maryland herpetofauna as long as it is immediately released where captured. You may NOT trap without a permit. Trapping includes any method that relies on the use of a device to restrict the movement of an animal and does not allow it to move freely about the environment and come and go on its own. Examples of trapping methods that require a permit from the State of Maryland include installation of drift fences, pitfall traps, funnel traps, and conducting electrofishing surveys.
The use of artificial cover or “sucker boards” is not considered trapping and thereby does not require a permit. However, land access rules and other considerations (e.g., illegal dumping regulations) still apply.
Additionally, there are restrictions to the number of live individuals or remains of individuals that may be collected and possessed. Maryland law allows for the collection and possession of a limited number of certain reptile and amphibian species from the wild without a permit. Species are placed on three different lists (A, B, or C) depending on their conservation status.

Number of individuals of each species that may be collected and possessed:

  • List A: No more than four individuals of each species

  • List B: No more than one individual (with some exceptions)

  • List C: None

For more information about Maryland’s amphibian and reptile regulations and lists, please visit

Under no circumstances should live or deceased individuals or remains of the following (List C fauna) be removed from the location where found or retained (Table 1).

Table 1. List C herpetofauna identified by MDNR. These species may not be possessed, bred, or sold and may only be held in accordance with a Scientific Collection Permit or an Endangered Species Permit issued by the Department of Natural Resources.



Bog Turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii)

Common Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus maculosus)

Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica)

Eastern Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis alleganiensis)

Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)

Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum)

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)

Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum)

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Wehrle’s Salamander (Plethodon wehrlei)

Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)

Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus)

Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata imbricata)

Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad (Gastrophryne carolinensis)

Eastern Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera spinifera)

Mountain Chorus Frog (Pseudacris brachyphona)

Northern Coal Skink (Plestiodon anthracinus anthracinus)

Barking Treefrog (Hyla gratiosa)

Eastern Smooth Earthsnake (Virginia valeriae valeriae)

Carpenter Frog (Rana virgatipes)

Rainbow Snake (Farancia erytrogramma erytrogramma)

Northern Scarletsnake (Cemophora coccinea copei)

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen)

Note that no non-native amphibians or reptiles are to be released into the wild.

More information on the regulations and a permit application may be obtained online at or by writing, calling, or e-mailing:
Wildlife Permit Coordinator

Maryland DNR – Wildlife & Heritage Service

580 Taylor Avenue, E-1

Annapolis, MD 21401


Violations of these regulations or permit restrictions can result in fines, permit revocation and/or confiscation of animals, and is a misdemeanor under Maryland Natural Resource law.

Please keep in mind that many herp species are endangered, threatened, rare, or declining. Individual animals and their associated habitats must be respected and protected if populations are to persist. It is best to take only photos and leave animals and habitats as you found them. Harvesting and collection for the pet trade and other purposes are a major threat to herpetofauna species; please be mindful when sharing findings and locations with entities outside of MARA.

Atlasing Ethics

Proper handling of amphibians and reptiles
Care and discretion should be used when handling amphibians and reptiles. Only handle an animal if it is needed to make a positive identification and is safe to do so. Remember that handling can cause stress, injury, and even mortality to amphibians and reptiles.
Please abide by these general procedures:

  • When possible, try to photograph the animal in the field with the least amount of handling possible.

      • Photodocumentation procedures and tips are provided in the handbook.

  • Do not handle dangerous herpetofauna (e.g., snapping turtles, large or venomous snakes).

      • A net, snake hook, sizeable stick, or similar tools can be used to facilitate capture.

  • Always use wet hands that are free of lotions, chemicals, etc. to handle amphibians.

  • Use a clear plastic bag or other container to aid in viewing herpetofauna and taking photographs, particularly for larval and early life stages.

  • Clasp small individuals within both hands.

  • Hold large frogs at the pelvis with legs fully extended to prevent injury and fractures.

      • This restraint technique should prevent the frog or toad from kicking and twisting.

      • Apply only gentle pressure/resistance – take care not to squeeze too hard.

  • Do not grab salamanders or lizards by the tail.

      • Although the tail can be regenerated, tail autotomy creates potential for infection and loss of an important fat reserve.

  • Support snakes at multiple points along the body.

      • Gentle pressure can be applied behind the head of the snake to reduce the potential for a bite.

      • Do not handle an agitated snake.

  • When capturing a snake is necessary, place in a pillowcase to reduce stress to the animal.

  • Lift or roll cover objects towards your body.

      • If the cover object is particularly heavy, make sure herps are clear from underneath before returning the cover object to its original position.

      • If a herp was removed, return it so that it is oriented facing the cover object so that it may return on its own.

  • Amphibian eggs should not be handled unless it is absolutely necessary to obtain a picture.

      • If that is the case, simply place hands gently under the eggs mass and keep them suspended in water.

      • Return egg mass exactly as it was encountered.

      • Using an umbrella or other method of shading is recommended to reduce glare on the eggs when capturing a photograph.

  • Do not disturb reptile nests or hibernacula.

Vouchering and retaining of live and deceased herpetofauna

The collecting, killing, and preserving of amphibians and reptiles is not encouraged. Photographic vouchers should be the main technique for the verification process. If live individuals are captured for positive identification, release them as soon as possible to the location of collection. Maryland law restricts the species and numbers of amphibians and reptiles that may be taken from the wild, and no herp should be retained for greater than 30 days
(See: Collecting and possessing amphibians and reptiles in Maryland)

  • The utmost humane treatment of animals should be utilized when conducting MARA fieldwork.

  • Photographic vouchers should be utilized whenever possible.

  • As long as photographs of key features are captured, that is all that should be needed for positive identification (see Photodocumentation).

Remains of organisms can be retained as part of the verification process if a photovoucher cannot capture the diagnostic features needed to determine the species. Any remains should be taken to the County Coordinator as soon as possible. All vouchers should have an accompanying voucher label with the following information: Date, Quad, Block, Site Name, Lat/Long Coordinates (if known), and Collector. A map marked with the location of collection may also be submitted, and should be if GPS coordinates are unavailable.

In order to maintain the condition of the specimen, please consider these procedures and discuss methods with your County Coordinator:

  • Any voucher that is freshly dead or in the decomposition process (i.e., fleshy parts still intact), should be transferred to a refrigerator or freezer or preserved using formalin or ethanol, if available.

  • Snake skins should remain dry and can be stored in a ziplock bag.

  • A turtle shell with scutes intact may be shellacked to retain its quality, though that is not required.

Remember to abide by the guidelines outlined in the Collecting and possessing amphibians and reptiles in Maryland section of this handbook.

Disinfection procedures

Chytridiomycosis, ranavirus, and other diseases are among the growing threats to amphibian populations. Respiratory and other infections also pose a major risk to turtles and other reptiles. Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), in particular, has been identified as the cause of decline and extinctions of hundreds of frog species worldwide. Like other invasive organisms, Chytrid spreads easily; it is transferred from amphibian to amphibian as well as in water and on damp materials. Therefore it is critical to disinfect boots, gear, and any items that come in contact with rivers, streams, wetlands (especially seasonal pools), and moist leaf litter.

How to

The disinfection procedure consists of soaking or rinsing boots and all equipment in a 10% bleach solution for at least one minute. Equipment with a smooth surface can be scrubbed with a scrub brush using a 10% bleach solution. Wear lug sole boots only– felt sole boots/waders are major disease vectors and will not be treated under this disinfection protocol. After soaking and scrubbing have been completed, rinse with freshwater. The disinfection procedure can be easily accomplished with two spray bottles – one with a 10% bleach solution and one with freshwater. It is easiest to prepare these at the beginning of your field day and leave them in a vehicle before moving on to another site.

Skin that comes in contact with herpetofauna or water during search activities should be cleaned with alcohol-based hand sanitizer as part of the disinfection procedure. Use plastic bags only once per field day – they can be disinfected and re-used for the next visit.
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