Nova Scotia Herpetofaunal Atlas

Spring Swamp (photo courtesy of Jim Wolford)
Atlasser's Guide

This guide will provide you with information on how to become an atlasser, what herp species we have in NS, and what data must be recorded for what species. Also included is conservation status information, terms for describing habitats, and how to contact us.


Nova Scotia Mapbook
Coverage Goals
Getting Started
NS Herp Species
Recording Information
Starred Species or Forms
Conservation Status
Contact Us

The objective of the Nova Scotia Herpetofaunal Atlas (NS Herp Altas) is to determine the current distribution and abundance of Nova Scotia's amphibians and reptiles (herps). The project will run from 1999-2003 and will conclude with the publication of a hard-copy atlas in 2004. The information collected by volunteer atlassers will provide important data for use in the development of land use and management plans and in conservation strategies for our Nova Scotia herps. This data will also provide a baseline from which to measure changes in the distribution and abundance of species now and in the future.

Data collected will be recorded within 10 x 10 km mapbook squares from the mapbook A Map of the Province of Nova Scotia. The province is divided into 744 10 x 10 km squares which fall on 45 mapbook pages (see the map of NS on page 4). The objective is to record what species are present in as many squares as possible.

In Nova Scotia we have thirteen species of amphibians and nine species of reptiles. Some species or colour forms are of particular interest because of their rarity or limited distribution. These species or colour forms are referred to as starred (*) species or colour forms, and for these more specific information must be recorded (see the section on page 6).

The Herp Atlas has a website, where you can find additional information about the NS Herp Atlas project, the text of this Atlasser's Guide, information on the biology and status of each species of herp, a good illustration of each species, playable recordings of the amphibian calls, and an Atlas Database. The database contains the 3081 historic records from the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, as well as other historic records, and all new data submitted for the duration of the atlas. The website address is:


This map provides an overview of the 45 mapbook pages and the 744 mapbook squares covering the province.
[Click the image to enlarge] 


Ideally at the end of the atlassing period (i.e. 2003) every mapbook square in the province would be atlassed. Recognizing the difficulty of this we have set an absolute minimum goal of 3 non-adjacent mapbook squares per page. To locate a target square for searching, click here. Non-adjacent means not touching at the sides or the corners.

This diagram represents a mapbook page from the book A Map of the Province of NS. The black mapbook squares are non-adjacent whereas the grey mapbook square at B1 is considered adjacent to the black mapbook square at C2.

To consider a square adequately sampled a minimum of 75 % of the species expected for that square must be recorded, where the species expected are all non-starred species. For most squares this will be 13 of 17 non-starred species. We will keep track of this and inform all atlassers when a square is complete.

Becoming an Atlasser
You can register as an atlasser online at our DATABASE or by mailing in an atlas card. You will be assigned an Atlasser Number that can be used in future data entry and correspondence.

Simply familiarize yourself with the identification of the amphibian and reptile species of NS and follow the steps in this guide, begin to collect data, and submit your sightings to the NS Herp Atlas.

Any and all herp sightings are important data for the atlas. You can record data as an incidental sighting if you just happen to see a herp while you are out doing other activities. For instance, a dead Snapping Turtle seen on the highway on your way to the airport is a valuable record, and should be reported, but since it was not actively looked for it is incidental. However, if you are able to go out specifically in search of amphibians and reptiles, this is truly "atlassing".

Where to Go Atlassing
Go where you know there are herps, or where you know there is suitable habitat for them. Check out potential breeding ponds in spring, and check roads (dirt or paved) on rainy nights for migrating amphibians. Turn over (and always replace) rotten logs or rocks in almost any habitat at any time in spring, summer or early fall for snakes and salamanders.

Season Length
The herp season is actually quite long. It starts in very early spring with the first calling of Northern Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs, and extends to mid or late fall (November) when Redback Salamanders activity has been reported and the last Maritime Garter Snakes enter hibernation.

Choosing Your Squares
To determine which squares to search in the province, go to the mapbook square "search screen" on the web site. This will enable you to search for squares, pages, or species and will provide a list showing you where the gaps in the atlas coverage are. Or you can visit the "mapping screen" which will plot the results of your search on the atlas map of NS. The "help screen" will explain how to conduct this type of search. If you do not have access to the internet, contact us and we will get you the information.

When searching the database to choose squares do not select historic records, as they do not count as atlas records (i.e. current records). In the early stages of the atlas virtually every square needs atlassing.

Recording Your Data
Data can be entered on an atlas card or on-line at our web site. Data records should be submitted for each visit to a square by a person. If several people go into a square at the same time they should enter data separately unless they act as a single observer and all see/hear exactly the same things. For such a group, fill in the name, address and phone number of the person submitting the data.

Web Site Record Entry
There are two separate entry screens: one for the common species and one for the starred (*) species or colour forms. Every "entry screen" has a HELP button. Please read the "HELP screen" before entering data, to ensure that you know what should be entered, and how it should be formatted.

The following is a list of all of the amphibian and reptile species of Nova Scotia. The starred (*) species or colour forms are of special concern because of their rarity or limited distribution. For these species additional information must be recorded (see page 6).

Identifying Species
The data acquired by this atlas will be used for conservation and management plans and it is important to obtain reliable data. Therefore, if you aren't reasonably certain or positive about what species you saw or heard, don't submit that data. If uncertain, try to get a better look or listen, or revisit the spot later if you can.

To aid in species identification all atlassers are provided with a water-proof species identification guide with colour illustrations of all herp species and the status of those that are rare or threatened. Also, see our web site for more information on each species.

John Gilhen's Amphibians and Reptiles of Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia Museum 1984) is an excellent source of information and illustrations of NS herps, including illustrations that show the variations in the forms and colour phases. It is available in most libraries, and from the NS Museum of Natural History gift shop.

Frogs in NS are easily identified by their calls. You can listen to these calls at the following NS Museum web site (following the links to this site off our web site).

Most amphibian eggs and larval stages are not easy to identify to species without experience; however, if you are certain please enter the appropriate species information.

The following is a list of all of the amphibian and reptile species that may be encountered in Nova Scotia. The starred (*) species or colour forms are of special concern because of their rarity or limited distribution.

  Salamanders and Newts
  * Blue-spotted Salamander
       * ALSO triploid female
  Yellow-spotted salamander
  Red-spotted Newt / red eft
  Eastern Redback Salamander
       * ALSO all red phase
  * Four-toed Salamander

  Frogs and Toads
  Eastern American Toad
  Northern Spring Peeper
  Bull Frog 
       * ONLY Eastern Mainland & and Cape   Breton Island
  Green Frog
  Mink Frog 
       * ONLY Southwestern Nova Scotia
  Wood Frog
  Northern Leopard Frog
  Pickerel Frog

  * = species or forms of rare or 
  limited distribution

  Common Snapping Turtle 
       * ONLY Eastern Mainland & Cape Breton Island
  * Wood Turtle
  * Blanding's Turtle
  Eastern Painted Turtle
       * ONLY Eastern Mainland & Cape Breton Island
  * non-native turtles
  marine turtles (not listed here)
  Please report any marine turtle sightings to the Nova Scotia 
  Leatherback Sea Turtle Working Group:  1-888-729-4667

  Northern Redbelly Snake
  * Northern Ribbon Snake
  Maritime Garter Snake
       * ALSO melanistic phase
  Northern Ringneck Snake
  Maritime Smooth Green Snake

             See map of Nova Scotia on page 4 for Eastern 
             Mainland, Southwestern NS and Cape Breton Island 
             regions for * species.

Life Stage Terms
Most life stages are evidence of breeding, so it is important to record the life stage when you can. Life stage terms include: adult, juvenile, newly-transformed juvenile, hatchling, larva, tadpole, polliwog, red eft, egg mass, egg, eggs in nest.

Some of them are not self-evident: "tadpole" refers to the tailed larva of any frog, with or without developing limbs; "polliwog" is the very small black tadpole of the American Toad. In salamanders, the "larva" is the aquatic juvenile stage that has external gills.

Once the salamander has lost its gills and come onto land it is called a "juvenile" as long as it is smaller than adult size.

In frogs and toads, "juvenile" refers to the fully-formed adult-shaped young after they have transformed but before they have reached adult size. The "newly transformed juveniles" are the smallest.

"Red eft" is the bright red/orange terrestrial juvenile stage of the Red-spotted Newt and is sometimes misidentified as a Redback Salamander.

Counting and Estimating
Counts are extremely valuable, so please count whenever you can. Even rough estimates of numbers, however, are better than nothing at all. The card and entry screens have a box for either a count or an estimate for each category (seen alive, seen dead or heard).

Live and Dead
We ask you to distinguish between live and dead specimens because amphibians suffer high mortality on roads and this data on road kill numbers could provide very useful information in the long term.

Mapbook Square
The square name is a combination of the page number, the column and the row. The page number is the number in the upper left or right corner, NOT the number circled on the middle of each edge. Each square on a page is designated by a column letter (A-E) and a row number (1-5). For example, 14A2 or 23C4. Single digit page numbers are preceded by a zero (09B1, 04A3) so that they will sort in the proper order.

If you are not certain of the mapbook square please include a description of the location and email or call us and we will help determine the mapbook square.

Most Prominent Feature
As an error check, record the most prominent piece of text in the square; the one in the largest or boldest type, or closest to the middle of the square.

Person Hours vs. Incidental Records
Person hours is the amount of time spent searching for herps in any mapbook square. If more than one person searches an area but remain together the entire time and see exactly the same things then this must be submitted as a visit by one observer. If no species are found but you have spent time searching please report this too. It is important for the atlas to know the total amount of time spent searching regardless of whether species were found or not. Incidental Records involve no searching time. These are records of things seen in passing or by accident, for which there was no active searching. This data is important; however, it must be noted as incidental to separate it from the records where search time was involved.

For the starred (*) species or colour forms the additional information below must be recorded in the shaded area of the atlas card or on the starred species entry screen on the web site.

Precise Locality
Describe the location as precisely as you can, in terms of exact distance in km or meters in two directions from a reference point like a town, a highway junction, river crossing, highway exit number, etc. -- not the edge of a lake or an island. For example: 1.8 km north and 0.2 km east of Birch Hill or 850 m north and 30 m west of Exit 12 on Highway 102.

This will enable someone to return to the exact location and provide us with an error check for the specific coordinates recorded.

Topographic Map Information
Accurate UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinates (easting and northing) which are similar to a latitude and longitude cannot be determined from the mapbook A Map of the Province of NS because the scale is too small. Therefore easting and northing must be obtained from a topographic map.

Please Note: If you do not have access to topographic maps or are uncertain of how to determine an easting or northing please call or email. We can send you a photocopy of the topographic map for your area and you can simply mark the location on the photocopy and send it back to us.

UTM Easting and Northing
Detailed instructions for determining both numbers are given on the right margin of the topographic map sheet.

Map Sheet Number and Year
The map sheet number is given in the lower right margin of the map sheet: e.g., 11D/4, 21A/6. Year is the year of publication found to the left of the sheet number.

Visit Time
Record the time of your sighting using a 24 hour clock. Enter as a 4-digit number with no separators, for example: 0925 or 1540.

If photos were taken, give details of what they show (whole specimens, close-ups of specimens, habitats, etc.), what kind of film (slide or colour print), and who has them. If there is any question of the identity of the species sighted please make copies available to the Herp Atlas.

If specimens are collected for any special reason (casual collecting is not encouraged) they should be deposited at the Acadia University Wildlife Museum or the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History in Halifax.

Breeding Evidence, Abnormalities
For all starred species, record any evidence of breeding (nests, eggs, egg masses, larvae, juveniles) and any breeding behaviour (nest-digging, calling males, egg-laying females). Also keep a special lookout for any signs of deformed, extra-limbed or unusually coloured herps.

Also for the starred (*) species or colour forms, the additional information below must be recorded in the shaded area of the atlas card or on the "starred species" entry screen on the web site.

Use the terms below, or combinations of them, to describe the habitat in which starred species or colour forms were found. For instance, a water body can be within a bog, a woodland, a wet meadow, or a barren. When appropriate, use qualifiers like "small", "old", "narrow", "shallow", etc. If it was on any kind of road, give the habitat the road passes through (by itself, road is meaningless). If a herp was found where two habitats meet, or where one habitat is enclosed by another, make it clear which is which; e.g. "found in temporary pond surrounded by hayfield" or "found in power line corridor through mature mixed forest". If no term here seems to fit your case exactly, describe it in your own words.

Lake / Pond shallows or edge
Lake / Pond open water
River / Stream shallows or edge
River / Stream open water
Roadside pond/ditch
Permanent Farm Pond
Gravel-pit/Quarry pond
Swamp: woody vegetation (trees or shrubs) 
              growing in standing water
Marsh: non woody vegetation (cattails, reeds,
            sedges, etc.) growing in standing water
Bog: shrub/tree
(either type may contain lakes, ponds or streams)
Natural Seasonal Ponds (usually present only in spring; can be in low-lying fields or wooded areas)
Fen: seasonally flooded natural grass or sedge meadow

Dry Terrestrial Habitats:
Cultivated Cropland
Oldfield: any pasture or hayfield that has been 
               uncut/unmowed for several years; any 
               cropland that has been abandoned long 
               enough to be vegetated.
Forest: Hardwood
(classify them as young, mature or old)
Power line Corridor
Recent Clear cut
Recent Burn
Sawdust pile
Urban or Suburban residential area


The conservation status is given for each species in the pocket guide, with the agency responsible for each ranking. The agencies are:

COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) is the national body that evaluates and assigns status rank to species at risk in Canada. At present only two of our species (Blanding's Turtle and Wood Turtle) have been ranked by COSEWIC.

NS General Status (Wildlife Division, Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources) has evaluated all Nova Scotian vertebrates, and assigned them to one of three colour ranks (red, yellow, green) after scoring each in the following categories:

population size
population trend
geographic distribution
distribution trend
number of occurrences
threats to population
threats to habitat


any species known to be, or believed to be, at risk of extinction or extirpation. May include COSEWIC ranks of ENDANGERED and THREATENED.


any species known to be, or believed to be, particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events. May include the COSEWIC rank of VULNERABLE.


any species known to be, or believed to be, not at risk from human activities or natural events.

Please mail cards, and direct any comments, suggestions or questions regarding the Nova Scotia Herp Atlas to:

NS Herp Atlas Project
c/o Biology Department,
Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia
B0P 1X0


NS Herp Atlas Project
c/o NS Museum of Natural History
1747 Summer St.,
Halifax, Nova Scotia
B3H 3A6

Project Coordinator: 
(902) 585-1313

Steering Committee Chair:
Fred Scott
(902) 585-1720

There are seven partners contributing in-kind and financial support to the NS Herp Atlas including:

o Acadia University's Wildlife Museum
o Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre
o Atlantic Cooperative Ecology Research Network at Acadia University
o Center for Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Acadia University
o Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists
o Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History
o Wildlife Division of Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources

Illustrations by Fred Scott and Ron Merrick courtesy of the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History.


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