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Volunteers Sought For Critter Census
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The state has an abundance of creepy, crawly critters, but exactly which ones and in what numbers are questions the Mississippi Herpetological Atlas wants to answer.
This atlas is seeking to document where reptiles and amphibians are distributed throughout the state. Bird surveys are common, while atlases of reptiles and amphibians -- known as herps -- were not until recently when biologists documented the decline of amphibian numbers.
Marsha Williams coordinates the herpetological atlas for Mississippi and is looking for volunteers to make the counts. The program is a joint venture of Mississippi State University's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Mississippi Gap Analysis Program and the Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
"We want to know what is the current distribution of these animals in Mississippi," Williams said. "A lot of species haven't been collected since the 1950s and we know they're out there, but no one has bothered to document them since then. The landscape has changed a lot, and we want to know where these animals are now."
Completing the atlas is a five-year project that started in February, and the survey needs volunteers to go out and find these animals. No experience is required.
"A lot of people think they can't help because they don't know their reptiles or amphibians, but if they take good photographs or clear sound recordings, a lot of times we can identify the species," Williams said.
Those interested in volunteering can call a toll-free number to get information telling them how to start, and giving search tips, charts to record findings and permits for the work.
Documenting an animal requires filling out a written record and taking either photographs, video or audio recordings, or turning in the actual specimen if it is already dead, as in the case of road-killed animals. Just as important as documenting the species is noting where it was found.
"We ask for town, range and section, which scares some people, but if they give good map directions, I can find this information for them," Williams said.
The survey is looking for all reptiles and amphibians in the state, not just the rare ones. All volunteers are wanted, whether they document one species or stay for the entire project.
"Every contribution, no matter how great or small, is appreciated," Williams said.
Ike Raley is a herps atlas volunteer and special education teacher at Boswell Regional Center in Sanatorium. He is also an amateur outdoor photographer.
"Helping out with the survey seemed right up my alley because I was already taking photos of wildlife," Raley said.
Raley does most of his searching in Simpson and Covington counties, but has been on two herpetological outings with the survey group to the Noxubee Wildlife National Refuge and Tishomingo County. To date, he has recorded about 15 to 18 species for the atlas.
"It's a five-year program and I'll probably send things in all five years," Raley said. "It's not really hard work and I have found several areas where they have quite a few species of reptiles and amphibians."
Once the state has been completely surveyed for reptiles and amphibians, results will be stored in the Museum of Natural Science in Jackson. Williams said the information will be useful to land managers and others.
Anyone interested in helping the Mississippi Herpetological Atlas record the state's reptiles and amphibians can call 1-888-920-0015 for an information packet to get them started. The rest is up to the individual as they go in search of the state's herpetofauna.