Welcome to my inaugural blogging venture for HerpNation! Here I’ll be discussing a wide range of topics: conservation issues facing our beloved herps, field techniques for photography and travel, gear reviews, and photographic updates from my never-ending international adventures.
Let’s kick this off with a little discussion on the marriage between field herping and conservation.
We all love going out on the weekends and appending our life lists with that long-sought species or bragging about a new county record, but what if you want more? What can you do to continue your passion and help those belly crawlers at the same time? Luckily the answer is a lot of things!
The easiest option is to simply make your data available to scientists, which instantly catapults you into the ever-growing community of “citizen scientists.” The most widely used method to accomplish this is through iNaturalist.
iNaturalist began as a student’s Master’s project back in 2008 and is now owned by Cal Academy of Sciences. With mobile apps and numerous collaborations including Google, Facebook, and Flickr, it’s the easiest and most comprehensive citizen science tool. It’s also not limited to reptile and amphibian observations. So all those weird bugs or mushrooms you find can go into the scientific cloud as well.
A separate repository exists called HerpMapper. As the name suggests HerpMapper is restricted to observations of herps but its area resolution is equally surmountable: worldwide. It also provides mobile apps for android and apple devices but does not offer the collaborations that iNaturalist has acquired.
Both are sound decisions for pursuing your basic citizen science agenda. They cover your everyday observations. Every time you road cruise, hike, or commute to work and find a DOR, you can contribute to science. What if you find something unusual though? What if you find a species where it’s never been found before or hasn’t been seen for decades? Maybe you’ve come across a species exhibiting maternal care or consuming something unusual. Any of these situations likely interests one or several researchers, but you’d (rightfully) want some credit for your hard work and dedication right? This is where you submit a natural history note, forever solidifying that you made the discovery.
Many are put off by this step. Write a publication? That’s for people with advanced degrees right? No. Not true. Anyone can submit Geographical distribution or Natural History Notes. Simply go over to Herpetological Review and follow the instructions. Photographic vouchers are allowed but they must be deposited in a University or Museum Collection. Literature reviews are also necessary to ensure your observation is truly novel.
This is obviously a more involved process than simply uploading to iNaturalist with a few data points. For this reason I will be going over the process, in detail, in a subsequent post to help you break that barrier and become a published author!
Right, so we’ve glanced over the options you have to report, and make available, your findings to the scientific community. Now the question becomes, where can you go to make these scientifically significant observations? The United States is pretty well scoured but that’s not to say discoveries can’t be made. Quite a bit more work and luck is needed to discover something in America than a country like Bangladesh, where education and research efforts are severely lacking. Couple that with the more complicated biome mechanics of a tropical area and you have a recipe for discovery!
Nearly every time I visit a tropical area, I observe something not noted and published by anyone else. It’s what keeps me going back! Good luck discovering a novel species in the states, but go to a military controlled island off Vietnam and good luck NOT discovering one.
Unfortunately, even though international travel is easier than it has ever been, people are still dissuaded by sensational media hype and financial constraints. Careful planning can significantly reduce the stress and monetary burden. For example, I will be traveling to the states of Quintana Roo and Chiapas, Mexico next month for 15 days, all for less than $800 including airfare. That’s pretty reasonable for a 2 week vacation, especially if you compare it to the amount of money you spend living in the states for 2 weeks or, more starkly, at a beach resort anywhere. Different areas do tend to require vastly different strategies for successful and cheap herping. But this topic too requires an in-depth discussion, so let’s revisit this topic soon.
Lastly, one of the most helpful things you can do is volunteer your time as an assistant to the numerous graduate students and research groups that desperately need qualified help. Put those herping skillz to use! Go to your local university and visit the bulletin boards or visit them online, and you can really make a difference. You don’t necessarily have to limit yourselves domestically though, think big!
If you have the funds, there are ample opportunities to make international research a reality. Our own Bangladesh Python Project workshop welcomes any and all enthusiasts regardless of field experience. Come to learn a wide variety of lab and field techniques or even come to endeavor on your own independent research project!
Not all of us have the mounds of time or experience necessary to properly analyze data or apply for grants to elucidate one of Nature’s myriad mysteries. I know most of you have more field experience than many academics I know, and thus have that key skillset required to render you valuable to any field research initiative. I can’t begin to count the number of horror stories I have heard from researchers about poor quality undergrad assistants and thrown out data. And I can’t help but wonder why more of our community doesn’t dedicate their field knowledge and expertise to the academic world. We all want the same things: to experience and preserve the nature around us. Both parties can benefit greatly from each other’s skillsets so let’s make it happen.
That’s it for now but come back week after week for new posts and photos from whichever country I may find myself in!