California Reptiles and Amphibians - Part 1

Newt posing for picture

When I read about a workshop called "Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Francisco Bay Area" a little while ago, it just sounded so fascinating that I had to sign up. The workshop was being offered by the Jepson Herbarium in Berkley, so Mr. Mouse and I started early on a Saturday for the drive.

We were welcomed by coffee and treats, and then our instructor jumped right in and started talking about amphibians in California and in the Bay Area:

  • California: 71 amphibian species (27 frogs and 44 salamanders)
  • Bay area: 14 amphibians and 27 reptiles
Considering our summer dry (and sometimes winter dry) climate, that is a very respectable number! The first half of the morning we learned about the different amphibians here in the area, but then, as a special treat, we got to see preserved frogs, lizards, and newts, that had been waiting in the class room all along: 

This treasure trove of specimens is part of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and they've been collected for a long time to help scientists learn more. 

Each specimen is carefully labeled with the time and place of collection and other information. The museum loans specimens to researchers working on a project, but we were lucky to be right there. 

Our instructors put some specimens in trays with some alcohol, and we looked at them and learned more in three groups. This was a great antidote to the Powerpoint because we could really look and learn, see differences between species that looked similar, and ask questions. 

It was interesting to see the animals in different stages of their life cycle, and to see different sizes. The coloration is, regrettably, washed away by the alcohol fairly quickly, but enough contrast remains to see the pattern. 

After a short lunch - outside and away from the jars - we came back for a tour of the museum and learned about the collection and how the museum preserves species. We even had a chance to visit the bone room, which included bones from large marine mammals and the bones of the bear whose picture is on the California flag (these are the body bones, the head is elsewhere & I forgot where). 

We then spent the afternoon learning about Bay Area reptiles which include, amazingly, the Northern Rubber Boa (Charina bottae) and several other snakes - some of them living primarily in lakes! Some of the details went a little bit over my little mouse head, but since this class was for both biologists and the general public, I didn't mind. And I perked back up when we were able to examine the specimens from a different set of jars of snakes, lizards, and skinks. It was impressive how well the instructor and her assistants had prepared everything -- and how many different animals of each species they had on hand. 

At the end of that first day, we were excited and amazed that there are still so many of these special creatures right here in the Bay Area - and very curious what we would see on our second day, the field trip day. That's for the next post -- but the photo below gives a hint....

Pacific Chorus Frog (Hyliola regilla)


Peigi McCann said…
Love the blog. Some of those specimens are quite old. When my grandfather was a physics prof at UCB and then UCLA he would accompany his biology friends out into the mountains and field to help collect species samples for the universities. I took wildlife bio at UCB in the 70s and I swear some of those stuffed birds were the same ones he'd collected in the 1910s and 20s! They're probably still used only hopefully now for genetic studies!
Country Mouse said…
Sounds like a great class - loved all those bottled beasties!