Ecological Musings: Lifelisting

26 Jul

I grew up there, a road that was just a couple miles long – fairly unexciting as far as herps go. Except it was pretty exciting, I just didn’t realize it until a couple weeks ago. It was raining – a little bit chilly, but not cold enough to preclude some amphibian movement. As I drove, I cracked my window to the deafening cacophony of Grey Treefrogs (Hyla versicolor) calling and breeding in the ditches not far off the road. As I drove on, I began to turn up individuals wandering from the aquatic/arboreal party – three, four, five Grey Treefrogs hugging tight to the road, looking up to me with curious eyes. There were Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica) too, and the occasional toad; all old friends that I took a moment to enjoy before moving on to meet the next one. After a while, another old friend showed up; a Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus), slowly dragging itself across the road. Nice! I thought to myself, and continued on along an old sphagnum-filled swamp.

Another salamander – this one much smaller – showed up in my headlights. A small Redback, no doubt; in my 18 years living here there had been no other Plethodontid in the area. But wait, what was this? I got out of the car and walked towards the unsuspecting Caudate. It looked like a Redback; but as anyone who comes to know an organism over many years can tell you, sometimes all the signs are right but something is wrong. This was not a Redback. And after a minute or two of me trying to figure out why it wasn’t a Redback, trying to qualify what I knew to be true, I figured it out. It was a Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylum scutatum).


This made this particular individual a “lifer” for me; that is, the first of this species I had ever encountered; and thus it would be added to my “lifelist.” Lifelisting is a superb way to go about recreation herping. It is my belief that we, as humans, have an innate need and ability to create and to achieve, and lifelisting as a way of herping can partially help fulfill this need. Now, as with any good thing, there are caveats to this. Although goals are important, they certainly aren’t everything and one of the traits I associate with a well rounded, mature herper is the ability to see the “same old” herp species again and again and still be fascinated by them.

But even so, in my herpetofaunal exploits, lifelisting has me delving ever-deeper into the new colors, patterns and ecologies of new species. It has also given me the distinct pleasure of meeting up with, showing around and being shown around by herpers from all over the globe. If you’re just getting into the pursuit of Reptiles and Amphibians, I’d encourage you to start keeping your own lifelist. It can be as easy or as complex as you’d like to make it. Some people use online databases (such as to automatically record their lifelist for them, some (I’m in this category) keep big excel documents with all the particulars of each “lifer” encountered. Whatever way it’s done, lifelisting is a great way to focus your herp outings and to celebrate your success – all that’s needed is to get out there and start recording.

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Posted by on 26/07/2013 in Ecological Musing


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