DEEP: Book Introduction

Introduction

Almost a decade has passed since the publication of the first edition of this checklist (Klemens, 1991). This new, revised edition includes descriptions of all native species, both the common, widespread forms as well as the uncommon species that were featured in the first edition. Distributional information has been updated, and the conservation status of each species is discussed. Although amphibians and reptiles are still among the most poorly known of our native fauna, public interest and appreciation of these animals is on the rise. Popular culture has expanded the definition of "wildlife" to encompass not only mammals and birds, but a host of fascinating creatures including insects, arachnids, amphibians, and reptiles. Although some individuals still hold a deep-seated aversion to reptiles and amphibians, especially snakes, there are many who share a fascination of these attractively patterned and often cryptic denizens of Connecticut's woods, wetlands, and meadows.

Old prejudices, however, die hard. Each year hundreds of harmless snakes are killed in the mistaken belief that they are venomous. Likewise, snapping turtles are too frequently destroyed because of unfounded fears for human safety and exaggerated reports of their depredations on game fish and waterfowl. The greatest threat to Connecticut's amphibians and reptiles is the increasing fragmentation, degradation and loss of their habitats. The state's amphibian and reptile fauna still contains all the species that were native to Connecticut when Europeans settled here over four centuries ago. This is in marked contrast to mammals and birds where species have disappeared from the state through extinction (e.g., passenger pigeon) or extirpation (e.g., timber wolf). Extirpation is extinction that occurs over a portion of a species' range, but does not eliminate the entire species. As we enter the twenty-first century several species of Connecticut's herpetofauna are in imminent danger of disappearing forever from the state. While not threatened with extirpation, over half of the remaining species are in the midst of a long-term, noncyclical decline, while a smaller number of adaptable species (also known as generalists) are actually increasing. Overall, the biodiversity (species richness) of Connecticut's amphibians and reptiles is declining, while the biomass (actual number of individuals) of a small number of adaptable species is on the rise.

Not surprisingly, many amphibians and reptiles are quite secretive. Diurnal species are often superbly camouflaged, whereas other species escape detection by their nocturnal or subterranean lifestyles. In fact, as a group, amphibians and reptiles are far more widespread and abundant than most people realize. There is scarcely a patch of open space within Connecticut that does not house a few hardy, adaptable species. Although amphibians and reptiles are found throughout Connecticut, many species are localized and restricted to specific habitat types. Unfortunately, when these habitats are destroyed the amphibians and reptiles found there disappear too. With few exceptions, amphibians and reptiles have poor dispersal abilities. This means that when their habitat is lost, they are unable to find a suitable habitat to which to relocate. Even if suitable habitat is located nearby, migration to that habitat is very difficult in a landscape that is increasingly criss-crossed with roads.

Amphibians and reptiles serve as excellent barometers of general environmental health. Overall habitat quality is often reflected in the diversity and abundance of species present in any given area. This checklist serves as a brief introduction to Connecticut's amphibians and reptiles. Those wanting to pursue this topic in more detail should consult Klemens, 1993: The Amphibians and Reptiles of Connecticut and Adjacent Regions, Bulletin 112, State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut.

Connecticut's terrestrial and freshwater herpetofauna is composed of forty-five species: twelve salamanders, ten frogs, eight turtles, one lizard, and fourteen snakes. In addition, several species of pelagic marine turtles have been reported from the Connecticut portions of Long Island Sound and are discussed in this text. Of the forty-five freshwater and terrestrial amphibians and reptiles, eighteen species (40%) are commonly found throughout Connecticut. Twenty-seven species (60%) are irregularly distributed, and often absent or very rare in at least one of Dowhan and Craig's (1976) ecoregions. Scientific and common names used in this paper follow Collins (1997).

Babbitt (1937) and Lamson (1935) mentioned nine additional species as potentially occurring within Connecticut. Craig et al. (1980) eliminated the eastern mud turtle from Connecticut's herpetofauna. After intensive field surveys, coupled with a search of museum collections, Klemens (1991, 1993) reported that there was no real evidence to support the natural occurrence of the nine species listed in Table 2. reptiles. Those wanting to pursue this topic in more detail should consult Klemens, 1993: The Amphibians and Reptiles of Connecticut and Adjacent Regions, Bulletin 112, State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut.

Connecticut's terrestrial and freshwater herpetofauna is composed of forty-five species: twelve salamanders, ten frogs, eight turtles, one lizard, and fourteen snakes. In addition, several species of pelagic marine turtles have been reported from the Connecticut portions of Long Island Sound and are discussed in this text. Of the forty-five freshwater and terrestrial amphibians and reptiles, eighteen species (40%) are commonly found throughout Connecticut. Twenty-seven species (60%) are irregularly distributed, and often absent or very rare in at least one of Dowhan and Craig's (1976) ecoregions. Scientific and common names used in this paper follow Collins (1997).

Babbitt (1937) and Lamson (1935) mentioned nine additional species as potentially occurring within Connecticut. Craig et al. (1980) eliminated the eastern mud turtle from Connecticut's herpetofauna. After intensive field surveys, coupled with a search of museum collections, Klemens (1991, 1993) reported that there was no real evidence to support the natural occurrence of the nine species listed in Table 2.

Amphibians and Reptiles in Connecticut