Status of Amphibians and Reptiles in SD State Parks & Recreation Areas

Project background

There is limited information on the distribution and abundance of amphibian and reptile species in South Dakota. Members of the public occasionally encounter amphibians and reptiles (collectively called herps); thus, they can be a source for additional observational records. This project is designed to leverage observations of citizens that visit South Dakota’s State Parks and Recreation Areas each year. In 2022, the park system had over 7.8 million visitations.

iNaturalist (link here) is a citizen science initiative in which participants record their observations of organisms they encounter outdoors to the entire iNaturalist community which currently consists of more than 2.5 million registered observers. iNaturalist allows anyone with a phone or camera and an Internet connection to upload and identify photos of living organisms. The iNaturalist database currently holds more than 133 million observation records. Most observers utilize the iNaturalist phone app which is free, easy and fun to use.

How to use iNaturalist app and submit your observations

First you must join iNaturalist and set up an account (link here). The iNaturalist website has a Getting Started page and a Video Tutorials page. You will record your observations and then submit them to iNaturalist in one of two ways: 1) do it directly while making your observations in the field or 2) take photos on your phone (or camera) and upload them later to the iNaturalist app, or website. Both options are covered in the videos. For frogs or toads heard calling you can record a sound clip to upload to iNaturalist.

How to observe amphibians and reptiles safely

Most amphibians and reptiles are harmless, but it is best to observe them from a distance whenever possible. Try to observe and photograph them from a distance, and slowly approach them to try to take closer pictures. Most individuals are shy and will flee into the water, tall grass, or a burrow when approached. South Dakota has only one species of venomous snake, the Prairie Rattlesnake, which is primarily found across the western half of the state and along the Missouri River, which should be left alone and photographed only from a safe distance away. All species of snakes can bite if picked up, and they often release a foul-smelling musk when harassed. Amphibians generally can be safely picked up, photographed, and then released. Most species of amphibians have sensitive skin, so do not handle them if you have types of sunscreens, insect repellant, or lotions on your hands. As a defense many amphibians may urinate when picked up and several species of toads can release skin compounds that can irritate the eyes and sinuses when they come in contact. Therefore, cleaning your hands prior to and after picking up amphibians is strongly encouraged. Moving turtles off roadways in the direction they were headed is a great way to interact with wildlife but beware of long necks (especially in Snapping Turtles), strong jaws, and powerful claws as you move turtles off roadways.

Amphibians and Reptiles of South Dakota website

The Amphibians and Reptiles of South Dakota website was developed by Drew R. Davis as a tool to provide information about South Dakota’s 45 species of amphibians and reptiles and to assist in their identification. Species accounts are helpful with its identification descriptions (and photos) and its range maps showing where each species has been observed to date by county.

Observations outside state parks and recreation areas

This project is focused on the states 63 designated state parks and recreation areas, but you are encouraged to make and submit herp observation from anywhere in South Dakota.

Need help?

You can contact the protect director Bruce Eichhorst via email at: [email protected].