Volume 1 • Issue 7 • December 2007

Slipping and Sliding Underfoot:

Amphibians and Reptiles of Oklahoma's Wildlife Management Areas

When we think of Oklahoma’s Wildlife Management Areas, the first image is of a 5-point buck, a record-size large-mouthed bass, or a spectacular tom turkey.  As nearly every hunter or fisherman will tell you, a remarkable diversity of reptiles and amphibians can be found under foot in the WMAs.  Oklahoma is situated on one of the largest habitat gradients in the United States, and as a result, habitats of the many WMAs differ geographically, as do species of amphibians and reptiles.  To the east, WMAs such as the Cookson Hills WMA contain amphibians and reptiles characteristic of the Ozark Mountains and the deciduous forests of the eastern United States, including cave salamanders and spring peepers.  To the west, WMAs like Packsaddle and Sandy Sanders, contain a western fauna, including such gems as long-nosed snakes and prairie rattlesnakes.  In the southeast, Red Slough WMA and others contain alligators, mudsnakes, and the bizarre lesser sirens (salamanders that are totally aquatic and have tiny front limbs and gills.)

The colorful mountain boomer is the state reptile of Oklahoma.
For the past two years, we have been surveying amphibians and reptiles of some of the WMAs in an attempt to determine species composition and relative abundance of amphibians and reptiles in these relatively undisturbed areas.  At Packsaddle WMA, we found 6 turtle species in 4 families, 8 lizard species in 5 families, 21 snake species in 3 families, 8 frog species in 5 families, and one salamander species.  We suspect that a few other species occur there as well.  About a dozen species were new records for Ellis County, and several were well out of their known ranges.  Our results are summarized on a web page that can be accessed at: http://www.snomnh.ou.edu/personnel/herpetology/vitt/WMA/index.shtml

The web page includes a description of the area, photographs of all species, and individual web pages for each species that provide information on natural history, how to observe the species, and for frogs, even their calls.  We provide some useful tips on identifying species, including photographic keys to turtle and lizard heads.  We are in the process of developing a similar web page for the Atoka WMA.

Why do we need to know what species of amphibians and reptiles occur in the WMAs?  First and foremost, maintenance of the natural fauna and flora are an integral part of maintaining WMAs and other natural areas so that future generations can enjoy them.  Moreover, monitoring the natural fauna allows us to determine if and when major changes take place, as has happened globally with disappearances of many amphibians.  To date, we have not seen reductions in amphibians that have been observed elsewhere, but now we have data that will allow us to detect such changes.  With the growing interest in natural history and conservation, our surveys provide a stepping stone for naturalists as well as for hunters and fisherman interested in learning about the animals that they so often see.  Finally, the natural fauna of the state is part of our natural heritage and we should cherish it.  Few places in the United States contain the diversity that we have, jumping, crawling, sliding, and swimming around us.  With 160 species and subspecies of amphibians and reptiles, Oklahoma has more of these animals than all but a few larger states in the country.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grants Program. The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal cost-share money to every state and territory for cost-effective conservation aimed at preventing wildlife from becoming endangered. This program is administered by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and continues the long history of cooperation between the federal government and the states for managing and conserving wildlife species.  For more information, visit www.teaming.com.

Laurie Vitt is a George Lynn Cross Research Professor and Curator of Reptiles and Janalee Caldwell is Professor and Curator of Amphibians in both the SNOMNH and the Department of Zoology at OU. Both conduct research on the ecology, evolution, and systematics of amphibians and reptiles. 


Winter months are perfect to visit this gem of a management area.

The Beaver Creek arm on Kaw Lake is just one of the distinguishing features of water that draws bald eagles to the lake.
Kaw WMA is located in north-central Oklahoma northeast of Ponca City and is managed by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Kaw has just over 16,000 acres and has a unique combination of upland and bottomland forests and tallgrass prairie. The WMA encompasses the upper two-thirds of Kaw Lake.

Many different activities can be experienced at the WMA. One extraordinary activity occurring each January is the Kaw Lake Eagle Watch.  Over 60 bald eagles winter at Kaw Lake from November through February. These eagles are visible from numerous sites around the lake but opportunities to view them peak in January. This activity has been bolstered by the increase in eagle numbers thanks to the release of 275 southern bald eagles from 1984 to 1992 that were raised by Sutton Avian Research Center and released into several southeastern states. Between 1985 and 1990, ODWC’s Wildlife Diversity Program assisted Sutton Avian Research Center with the release of 90 eaglets in eastern Oklahoma, including 59 birds in 1990 alone. This has led to the recent removal of the bald eagle from the endangered and threatened species lists. This is truly a wildlife success story and we have the opportunity to observe this success of our national symbol right in our own backyard! Contact Biologist Ron Folks at (405) 823-7936.

Brett Cooper is a MS student at Oklahoma State University, Cooperative Extension Service.

Winter Bird Survey

With cooler temperatures come the winter birds!

Thank goodness for the cooler temperatures; they bring the winter birds!  The 2008 Winter Bird Survey will run from January 10 to January 13.  You can participate by picking any two days in this time period.  Watch your feeders a few times each day and record the highest number of each type of bird that visits your feeders. 

One of the easiest ways to attract birds to your yard is by providing a food source.  In order to attract the highest variety of species, there should also be a high variety of food.  The four primary groups of bird feeds are: seeds, fruits, suet and sugar water.  Some birds will take advantage of more than one type of food source, while others are quite particular in what they eat.

Another way to have birds frequently visiting your yard is to have feeders placed at various areas and levels.  This will promote better foraging behavior due to the fact that it mimics nature.  When a bird has only one option for a feeding location, it is more likely to be uneasy or not even visit that locale.

Fresh water is also a resource that should not be overlooked.  A source of water for drinking and bathing is a vital ingredient to attract birds, even in the winter.  It should be far enough away from vegetation to allow clear sight paths, but close enough to seek refuge if it is needed.

For help identifying backyard visitors, log on to www.okwinterbirds.com   This interactive birding tool identifies 52 species that frequent Oklahoma in the winter time and provides pictures, descriptions and ID tips for them.  Good luck and enjoy!

Lesley B. Carson is the Wildlife Diversity Information Specialist for the Department of Wildlife.

Our Mission:

The WILDLIFE DIVERSITY PROGRAM monitors and manages the state's wildlife and fish species that are not hunted or fished.