Readers’ wildlife photos

May 26, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from Larry Powell of Calgary; his captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Here are some photos of amphibian and reptile species that are found in Alberta. Most of our species are widely distributed through western North America, and reach their northern (or eastern) range limits here. We don’t have a very diverse herpetofauna, and the species we do have must deal with long cold winters.

Some of these (Prairie Rattlesnake, Greater Short-horned Lizard, Long-toed Salamander) are species that I’ve conducted ecological research on in Alberta, and the others are individuals that I’ve come across during various field projects.

Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) – A large and amiable salamander found over much of Alberta’s prairies, but seldom seen, as it spends most of its time underground. This one was found right at the western margin of its Alberta distribution, at the eastern edge of the Front Range:

Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) – This is our other salamander species, found in the mountains. It’s much smaller than the Tiger Salamander, but also spends most of its time underground:

Three Long-toed Salamanders from the same population in the Front Range, showing the great variability in dorsal colouration and pattern. This species exudes a toxic secretion from glands in the skin, and from a ridge of glandular tissue down the dorsal side of the tail, that is both sticky and irritating, so the bright yellow blotching is presumably warning colouration:

Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) – This is a cold-adapted species found in the boreal forest across Canada. It overwinters by allowing its extracellular fluids to freeze, and limits damage to cellular structures through cryoprotectants. This individual was found in the Front Range:

Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens) – This species was formerly widespread and abundant in the Alberta Prairies, but almost disappeared in the late 1970s. There doesn’t seem to be any satisfactory explanation for this. They are still locally common in spots, however – this individual was found in a dugout in the deep southeast of the province, in relatively undisturbed short-grass prairie:

Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus) – A handsome and charming toad that reaches its northern limits in southeastern Alberta, where it occurs in great numbers in spots (mainly the sandy areas around the South Saskatchewan River). The breeding call sounds like a miniature jackhammer, and breeding congregations are audible for a long distance:

A Great Plains Toad in the hand:

Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi) – Bullsnakes are found over the short-grass prairie region of southeastern Alberta, mainly near rivers. They are unusual in being oviparous – most Alberta reptiles are viviparous. This specimen was encountered by the South Saskatchewan River, north of Medicine Hat. Bullsnakes spend a lot of time underground, hunting rodents in their burrows – note the large rostral scale, thought to be used in burrowing:

Prairie Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis) – Another species of the short-grass prairie in the southeast of the province. Like Bullsnakes, their distribution is associated with drainage channels – they hibernate communally in the bedrock exposed in these situations, and travel considerable distances during the warmer months to and from their dens. This individual is a subadult, encountered on a road at the edge of the Cypress Hills:

Greater Short-horned Lizard (Phrynosoma hernandesi brevirostris) – This is our only lizard, found in scattered locations across the southeast corner of the province. They are remarkably cold-hardy. This is a large adult female I’m holding – males are quite a bit smaller. The species’ viviparity is probably part of the reason for this sexual size dimorphism:

Another Greater Short-horned Lizard – this individual is a member of the northernmost population of this species in the world, located about 30 km north of Medicine Hat. It’s a subadult female:

8 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. A very interesting set! I was not familiar with that horned lizard. If people encounter a bullsnake, be prepared to learn that it’s a pretty good rattlesnake mimic.

  2. This was great, thanks! I learned a lot here. With the wide distribution of Jerry’s readership, it would be wonderful to have others do something similar for their states/provinces/small countries.

  3. Anyone else here who wanted to be a herpetologist while the other boys were saying “football player” and “race car driver”? I suspect so!

  4. Pretty amazing herp diversity for the cold northern latitudes! And even a horned lizard – that really surprised me. Thanks for the great photos.

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