VFF’s Latest HCC Course Explores Vermont’s Reptiles

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This spring has been a bonanza for spending time in the wilds with herpetologist and all-round amazing naturalist Jim Andrews. We’ve been completing the field portion of his 2020 Conserving Vermont’s Amphibians course, which was halted by Covid, while also completing the field studies for his 2022 course, Conserving Vermont’s Reptiles. Both extensive courses (24- and 27-hours of course instruction, respectively) were offered through VFF’s Hogback Community College (HCC).

During our reptiles field studies, we met many of Vermont’s turtle and snake species up close in their home grounds. As with Conserving Vermont’s Amphibians, we learned about practices that can help conserve reptile habitat, which is the key to conserving reptile abundance and species diversity. The photos below offer a glimpse of our explorations.

With Jim’s instruction, we set up several turtle traps and checked them the following day.
Several painted turtles were lured into the traps, allowing us to see their beautiful markings up close.
The traps also yielded a single Eastern musk turtle.
The scent of sardines in the turtle trap also lured this northern pike, which we carefully released back into the lake, along with everything else we caught.
Ring-necked snake, with tell-tale golden collar.

One way to offer safe respite for snakes on your land is by building a “snake hotel” like this one, made with open layers of slab wood topped with a black rubber cover. For turtles, safe, high-quality habitat for egg-laying can be hard to come by. Jim noted that a load of sand on a south-facing slope near a wetland or pond on your land can provide the kind of loose, sun-warmed soil that turtles seek out.

Always good to check your kayak for snakes before you climb in! These three common gartersnakes were warming themselves in the bow of one of the kayaks.

Thank you, Jim, for this wonderful class!