Monday, August 31, 2009

Northern Utah Herping

With Devin back from summer employment, and me (Jeff) back from my study abroad, we reunited in Utah to get some end-of-summer herping in before fall sends the herps back into hibernation. With only a few days before school starts for the both of us, Devin and I spent some time along the Wasatch Mountain Range in northern Utah searching for anything that might be found. We saw a few species we had wanted to find, while others we were looking for still remained elusive and will have to wait for another season. Here, though, are some of our finds from northern Utah:

The deserts just west of Utah Lake have good habitats to find several species. Going out there this time didn't prove extremely successful. Side-blotched lizards, like this tiny hatchling, were abundant and by far the most common reptile.

We also discovered several sagebrush lizards which share habitats in the west desert with side-blotched lizards, but canyon bottoms and foothills of the Wasatch Mountains make ideal places, also, to see these. Western whiptails, like the tiny one shown below (with still blue tail), can be found in both areas.

Western fence lizards and Great Basin collared lizards have also been found by Devin and me in the deserts around Utah Lake, but none were documented this time. As far as snakes, we only found two DOR Great Basin gopher snakes (one of them only dead a matter of minutes).
Utah isn't really known for turtles, and in fact, doesn't have any native species. Tortoises, yes, but only in the extreme southwest of the state. Spiny softshell turtles have been introduced into the Virgin River of southern Utah, and snapping turtles have appeared in a pond or two. The most common introduced turtle, though, is the red-eared slider. Several were found basking in a pond in Provo, Utah.

The weather during our time out herping was absolutely ideal, and we decided to make our way up into the mountains in hopes of finding some mountain-dwelling herps. Devin and I spent about one hour in a mountain clearing in the morning and came away with two snake species. First, we found about 4 or 5 Western terrestrial garter snakes (wandering garters) that were patrolling the field and streamsides for prey. After a while we stopped bothering with them and would just watch them speed away across the ground around us. A quick identification was all that was necessary, just in case it happened to be a different specie.
This proved to be wise since a new specie was soon seen trying to quickly and quietly move through the green mountain grass. Devin and I were excited to have found a smooth greensnake.

This first one was the largest, maybe 20 inches, but we would soon find two more hiding under stones.
The second one (pictured above) was a little darker since it was about to shed, and its length was only about 2 inches shorter than the first. The last one was small, only about 10-12 inches, but a brilliant green color.After photographing and releasing them again, we went out in search of tiger salamanders that I had seen before several times in a field up in that area. As it turned out, the water had disappeared too long prior to our visit and no salamanders were found this time. Other than several meadow voles running for cover under our feet, the only creature found was a boreal chorus frog hopping around some boulders. The recent rain two nights before must have encouraged him to come out. We wanted to see a rubber boa before fall and winter would take all the herps out of activity, so the two of us spent a lot of time turning rocks, rolling logs, and walking along stream edges. None were seen out in the open in their habitat, but as we were finished and driving home I braked my car, pulled off to the side of the road, and yelled, "Devin, rubber boa, back up the road, your side!" I didn't know if it was alive or dead, but he hopped out, ran up the road, and saw him bend down and pick up a healthy, large rubber boa. We photographed it and released it back in the same location.The next day we went to even higher elevation. We walked through a field, found a small, trickling creek and found a racer shed around some rocks. A little while further we saw a juvenile racer sitting in the tall grass, but as I prepare to move in for a catch it disappeared among the vegetation. Disappointed, we moved on, but our emotions were buoyed again as we encountered two Great Basin rattlesnakes (one large female, and one small specimen probably only about two years old).
Some fine specimens were found during our searching, but there are still a few species that are on our list and await our discovery another day.


  1. I love seeing what ya'll catch! LOVED the green snake, just a pretty color!!!

  2. I live in northern Utah what is the best herping spot you know of to find stuff. My favorite is lake mantaua there are bull frogs leopard frogs and several species of snake.

  3. im a thirteen year old girl who absolutely LOVES snakes lizards frogs and such please give me a few herping areas good ones


  4. Hi Brandt and Dakotah, for some good spots, it would depend on what species you are after. Shoot me an email, and I'll do the best I can to assist.