Saturday, March 26, 2011

Herps

I promised some follow-up posts last week, so here goes.

My life has been full of herps lately, and no, I didn't misspell a word.  What are herps?  Well, if you ask my students now, they can tell you.

Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians.  (And in case you were wondering, that word comes from the Greek word, herpeton which literally means creeping thing).

Our class has spent the last few weeks working our way through the various orders of herps and we've supplemented our class time with a couple of great outings.

Davidson College Lab of Herpetology

Our visit to the Herp Lab at Davidson took me waaaaaay back to my undergraduate biology days.  I walked in the Biology building and lots of memories came flooding back: genetics lectures, botany practicals, animal behavior labs, zebra finches, dissections, and so much more.  There was no herp lab when I was there, but it's a busy place these days.

We spent our entire hour and a half visit in the lab, learning about the specimens they keep.


Everybody loved the spotted salamander and the rat snake.  




The woods out back


Two days after our visit to Davidson, my students were eager to hit the woods and creek in search of herps.  They spent a happy hour and a half, turning over rocks and digging in rotted logs.


We found three species of frogs (bullfrog, Northern cricket frog, and spring peeper) and we heard Upland chorus frogs.  We also found several of what we think are dusky salamanders, tiny little creatures that blend with the mud of the creek and move quickly to elude capture.  We did manage to catch and get a good look at a couple of them, though, before releasing them back to the creek.


The wildflowers in the woods are starting to come out and we found these round leaf hepaticas (note the distinctive leaf shape)...



and these little brown jugs - the flower of the wild ginger that grows all over the woods out back.


When we returned, we sat on the porch with field guides, trying to identify what we'd seen.  I love seeing my students poring over the Audubon guides and discussing various options, looking up range maps, reading descriptions, searching, discovering!

I find myself wanting, as the weather warms up, to spend more of our few remaining class times out in the field.  Maybe I'll even do what my Davidson botany professor did every time we went on a botany field trip.  Dr. Daggy, who in his 70's at the time could still outwalk any college student, rewarded us at the end of every long walk in the woods with congo bars.  Think I'll have to mix up a batch for my students for the next outing!

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