By Margaret ZifferDecember 5, 2019
Armed with over 30 volunteers, Fort Riley's Environmental Division set out to complete their annual herpetological survey May 3.
What is a herpetological survey, you might ask? Herpetology is the branch of zoology concerned with the study of amphibians (including frogs, toads, salamanders, newts etc.) and reptiles (including snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises, etc.).
And the survey conducted on Fort Riley every spring involves lots of employees and volunteers scouring the expanses of the installation in the hopes of finding those types of critters. Yes- on purpose.
"We've been doing this since 2002 on an annual basis," said Mike Houck, threatened and endangered species biologist, Environmental Division, Department of Public Works.
"The main reason we're doing this is to look at the biodiversity of our reptiles and amphibians. So we're monitoring these species to see what we have," said Houck. Houck explained that the survey isn't necessarily about getting population numbers, rather, the focus is on identifying what types of species are on the installation.
"It helps us see if we have any of these species where there's population decline,' said Houck. "Maybe there's a species that's going to be listed as threatened or endangered, and this way we have an idea of what we have on the installation."
Knowing what species live on post is important because it can impact what training can be permitted, and where.
"We look at threatened and endangered species sometimes as a limiting factor in training, so that's why we're monitoring these species closely," said Houck.
Volunteers from an array of different organizations and agencies turned out to assist with the survey. Because it's a one-day event, the Environmental Division depends on the extra help to be as thorough as possible.
"I like being outside and I've always been fascinated with snakes, even from the time I was a little kid," said Jason McCurry, a volunteer from Manhattan, Kansas.
Now on his second year volunteering, McCurry said his knowledge about the species he encounters on post has grown.
"I can identify a lot more things than I used to be able to, and I'm a lot less scared of some things than I used to be," joked McCurry.
Critter encounters found during this year's survey included lots of the more common species like the ring-neck snake, Blanchard's cricket frog, and Great Plains skink, as well as some species less common on Fort Riley like the slender glass lizard, lined snake, and Woodhouse's toad.
"We're always looking for rare species," said Houck.
This year's survey produced 1115 individual reptiles and amphibians belonging to 28 different species.
"I look forward to the herpetological survey every year," said Livvy Jones, a volunteer from Manhattan. "I love reptiles and amphibians. I like getting to be outside. I also don't get to come on base very often, so that's fun."
"I think it's a good way for civilians to appreciate Army bases," said Jones. "People forget that they're conservation lands, too. They're used for training, but for the most part they're left in their natural state.
Things like frogs and snakes and turtles can still exist out here without being bothered by development."