Volume 2 • Issue 11 • November 2008

Reptiles and Amphibians of Black Mesa

A Herpotological Study in Northwest Oklahoma

Most college students look forward to the summer so that they can take a break from school and have fun at the lakes. But for three summers in a row, while working towards his master’s degree, Tim Periard spent the majority of his time doing a survey of reptiles and amphibians in Oklahoma’s Black Mesa region.

 “We really didn’t know what to expect, since no one had done any research like this out there before,” Periard said. “It’s still really wild there and there is not much agricultural going on.”

The survey was done in the Black Mesa region in the extreme northwestern part of Cimarron County. This region is the highest and driest of Oklahoma, and no other place in the state has the same type of habitat that is found there. During the summers of 2005, 2006 and 2007, data from 1,920 specimens were collected on such herps as the Texas horned lizard, prairie rattlesnake, Western coachwhip snake, Western green toad, New Mexico spadefoot toad and many others (35 different species altogether).

Periard’s advisor, Dr. Stanley Fox, regents professor and curator of reptiles and amphibians at Oklahoma State University, “Although we did find some things that were a little on the rare side, there wasn’t anything that hadn’t been found before,” said. Some of the rarer species included the Texas longnose snake, the checkered whiptail lizard, the lesser earless lizard and the red-spotted toad.

Periard used a variety of methods to capture the herps such as drift fences with pitfall and funnel traps, visual searching, cover boards, road cruising and amphibian nocturnal call surveys. Each specimen was measured for weight, length, sex, body temperature and the date, time and place of the sighting. Some environmental factors were also recorded such as air temperature and humidity level at the time of capture.

The Texas longnose snake is a species of special concern in Oklahoma.
Periard also was hoping to find the roundtail horned lizard- a very small lizard that that has been sighted only a couple of times before in the Black Mesa region (and nowhere else in the state). They were never able to find this rare species during their time at Black Mesa, but Fox’s theory is that this lizard is found in Oklahoma only during exceptionally good reproductive seasons in New Mexico.

Collecting data wasn’t always a simple matter for Periard. He used radio transmitters on the Texas horned lizard to learn more about its habitat use, movements, survival and demography, but there were some unexpected situations that took place during the study.

Periard remembers once when he was trying to track down a horned lizard that had a transmitter. “I was looking around for it and I knew that I was really close,” he said. “All of a sudden I turned to my right and there was a Western coachwhip snake that had just eaten the horned lizard.” Periard wanted the transmitter, so he captured the snake and kept it until it expelled the antenna.

The whole project was funded by the State Wildlife Grants program. Logistical support and some equipment were provided by the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit as well as the Zoology department of OSU.

According to Fox, as a result of the survey “we now know a lot more about relative abundances and habitat use of the region’s reptiles and amphibians.” This has been helpful in providing insight into making proper wildlife management decisions to ensure that the species found in this fascinating corner of the state continue to thrive.

Written by Ryan Carini. Ryan attends Patrick Henry College and majors in journalism. Ryan interned with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

This project is funded by the State Wildlife Grants Program.  The State Wildlife Grants Program provides federal 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.

The Great Plains Trail

Traveling the High Plains of Oklahoma

A visit to the High Plains Loop on the Great Plains Trail of Oklahoma will expel the perception that the Plains are flat!  The vistas and rolling hills in this Loop, uniquely positioned between the Cimarron and Beaver rivers, combines the characteristics of desert streams with those of the humid East. Along the rivers narrow strips of cottonwoods tower over scrubby willows in the understory.  Here you will find red-headed woodpeckers, wild turkeys and porcupines. 

Shinnery oak is a habitat type that abounds in northwest Oklahoma. It is characteristic of the High Plains region.
On the north side of Beaver River bands of sand dunes are covered with a shrub community of sand plum and fragrant sumac (a.k.a. skunkbrush).  Combine sand dunes with bluffs topped by shortgrass prairies along with scattered playas (one of the most important wetlands on the great plains) and the traveler can anticipate this diverse topography yielding up diverse wildlife-viewing opportunities:  orioles, Bell’s vireo and painted buntings breed in the sand dune shrubbery; prairie dog towns with their dependent wildlife such as burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, badgers and Texas horned lizards live in the shortgrass prairies; and waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds enjoy plankton productivity in the playas after a rain. 

Recommended one day outings include visiting Beaver Dunes State Park, Beaver River Wildlife Management Area and Doby Springs Park, located near the town of Buffalo.  Four guest ranches offer spectacular viewing opportunities as well as some Old West hospitality – the Edgecreek Ranch, Hackamore/ Maple YL Ranch, the Lotspeich Ranch and the Tres Venados.  The recommended birding route on this loop includes shortgrass prairie, prairie dog town, sand dune topography, spring-fed lake, riparian areas and playas. 

Written by Melynda Hickman. Melynda is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Eagles Soar in Oklahoma

Watch One This Winter

This winter come watch bald eagles soar at an eagle viewing event near you.  Each winter, as northern lakes freeze over, thousands of bald eagles migrate to warmer, southern waters. Oklahoma is visited by 750-1,500 eagles annually. According to the National Wildlife Federation, Oklahoma is one of the top ten states in the nation for winter eagle viewing.

Events are hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, state parks, lake management offices and local conservation groups, according to Mark Howery, wildlife diversity biologist for the Wildlife Department.

 "There are plenty of opportunities to view bald eagles in the wild,” Howery said.  “This winter there are more than 60 viewing events all across the state!”

Most events are free or have a minimal charge and occur on weekends during January. Many begin with informative bald eagle programs led by naturalists and biologists. At all events, people will be on hand to assist visitors with viewing wild eagles.

To view event descriptions, locations, dates and times, click here.

Written by Lesley B. Carson. Lesley is the wildlife diversity information specialist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

Our Mission:

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