British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

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Kyle from Carolina
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British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by Kyle from Carolina » September 30th, 2014, 12:33 am

This year I was fortunate enough to spend time in the wilds of British Columbia and Alberta. These are some of the northern amphibians and reptiles that I encountered. I’ve also included a few other landscape shots and some stuff that I liked.

Alberta

In the parkland and boreal parts of Alberta, wood frogs and chorus frogs are the most numerous amphibians on the landscape, and I would be willing to bet that they are the most numerous vertebrate on the landscape and potentially contribute the most biomass too. I recently learned that there is a species of mosquito that specializes on wood frogs, so that’s cool.

The chorus frogs start calling first in the melted margins of Carex grass surrounding the ponds. The woodfrogs start at roughly the same time, maybe a few days later.

Pseudacris maculata:
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Rana sylvatica:
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Woodfrog eggs with nocturnal tiger salamander cameo:
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Right after the melt is also a good time to find mammal bones.

Elk:
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moose:
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Towards the end of April, the ice is coming off of the ponds and the salamanders start moving in Alberta. We have only two species: Ambystoma macrodactylum and A. mavortium. Both will walk across snow to enter breeding wetlands as soon wetland margin thaws enough to let them under the ice.

Ambystoma macrodactylum:
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Ambystoma mavortium:
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Rocky Mtn Bighorn sheep:
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A little higher up and there’s still some deep snow:
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A little bit later, the toads come out. Some of the “Alberta toads” (potentially another subspecies of boreas) don’t vocalize. The ones we found do.

Bufo boreas:
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toadlets:
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Canadian toads are harder to find and always seem to be in lower numbers but we managed to get them. I’ve had to stalk each one that I’ve found.

Bufo hemiophrys:
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We went down to the true prairie in southern Alberta to get Bufo cognatus but we struck out. We did manage to get a nice young Spea bombifrons though.

Young Spea bombifrons:
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One night was drizzling and we found quite a few adults:
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In the foothills and mountain valleys of Alberta, we get the easternmost Rana lutieventris in Canada. I find the young ones difficult to distinguish from wood frogs. This is an individual from southern British Columbia, well out of wood frog range.

Rana lutieventris:
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Alberta has three species of gartersnake, all of which are abundant in the right places. The most abundant has to be Thamnophis radix. We found 2 hibernacula this year. The first one was on May 7th or 8th and we saw a breeding ball of 17+ individuals in a grassy hillside in a cattle field. The hibernaculum feature was a multi-entrance mammal burrow feature on a glacial moraine.

The Edmonton area individuals have a nice solid black background color and a vivid orange stripe. In my opinion, the prettiest snake on the praries. These colors are typical on the parkland ecoregion, which is much more forested than the prairies.

Thamnophis radix:
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The T. radix from the short-grass prairies areas of Alberta have more of an olivey-checkered background. All the ones I’ve found have been a bit smaller than the parkland individuals:
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The second gartersnake species is T. sirtalis parietalis, the red-sided gartersnake. Ian Kanda and the Alberta Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group were kind enough to invite me along to a well known densite in central Alberta where they were initiating a mark-recapture study to get an idea of population size and trends at this specific site. We counted over 760 individuals this day, not including those in the massive pile at the den entrance.

Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis:
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The third gartersnake species is Thamnophis elegans vagrans. Although they are present as far north as Edmonton in at least one site that I know of, they are more common once you hit the red deer river and southwards. This one was found in the badlands coulees in Southern AB. The Alberta individuals are stunning:

Thamnophis elegans vagrans:
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For comparison, here’s what I would consider a ‘typical’ British Columbia version of the same species. That being said, I see a good few like this in Alberta too:
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Also in the coulees are Pituophis catenifer sayi and Crotalus viridis viridis, both relatively common in the right habitat.

South Saskatchewan river hear Medicine Hat, AB:
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I managed to find a hibernaculum with both Pituophis and Crotalus last year so re-visited it again this year and found more snakes this time around.

Young Pituophis catenifer sayi (posed):
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Adult in situ:
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Crotalus viridis (posed):
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While cruising for snakes, we cruised up this great horned owlet in a snarled old prairie tree:
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My new buddy Sheri was nice enough to take me to some of her herping spots and we saw a ton of viridis! They were denning up in the slumps in the coulee’s. We easily saw over 40-50 individuals in one day. Despite the late spring, this year must have been good for them as we saw lots and lots of babies.

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British Columbia

On my way to the Okanagan in south-central British Columbia, I stopped to camp north of Revelstoke in the Columbia mtns. This range is wetter than the Rockies proper and is also the northernmost extent of Plethodon idahoensis. Despite being a supposedly easy species to find, I struck out the first two times I searched. Once September came, they became more conspicuous and I had considerable luck with them. The young ones were everywhere. They were in a splash zone in a rocky steep, just like the field guide said they would be.

Columbia mtns:
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Young Plethodon idahoensis:
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Adult P. idahoensis:
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Along with the Plethodon idahoensis, this area is close to the northern extent of Elgaria. I lucked into two while looking for slugs and flowers on a south-facing hillside. This is a species I’ve been trying to see for a while.

Elgaria coerulea:
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Pseudacris regilla are also common in BC:
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A bit higher in elevation, the wildflowers are spectacular in these parts:

Lupine:
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subalpine daisy:
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Pink mountain heather:
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Sitka valerian:
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White mountain heather:
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Western anemone:
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Pink Monkey flower:
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Common paintbrush:
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unknown:
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Fireweed:
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Oxeye daisy:
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Willowherb:
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white flowered rhododendron:
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And the Hoary marmots love posing for photos:
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The herp diversity starts to climb along with the temperatures once you drop into the Okanagan valley.

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Young Pituophis catenifer deserticola:
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Pituophis catenifer deserticola adult:
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This baby Crotalus oreganus oreganus was crossing a sandy road. It started striking at me as soon as I stopped the truck, about 15 feet away. He has sand in his lip from striking which it why it looks like he’s snarling.

Crotalus oreganus oreganus:
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And with a quarter for relative size:
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Adult:
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I met with my buddy from Victoria and we decided to try for Charina, a species I’ve struck out on in the past. We looked at the map and picked a steep forest service road along a south-facing hillside and a creek through ponderosa pine country. Within about five minutes of cruising, we got one. Strangely enough, it was before sunset and the moon was full. I ended up finding three the next night, also during the full moon…which I though wouldn’t be productive.

Charina bottae adults:
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Charina baby:
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Spea intermontana are also pretty easy to come by in the right conditions:
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Black bear with cubs:
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The next day, we went to try for Phrynosoma douglasi. They are extirpated from BC so we had to hop into Okanagan County, Washington. For no reason at all, I got nervous around the border guards and when they asked where I was headed, all I could think to say was: “USA”. They gave me a look as if to say “no shit”, then asked why I was going. Apparently “looking for snakes and lizards” isn’t a common reason to cross the border so I got questioned further. I think they were also confused as to why I was coming from that direction when my truck has North Carolina plates.

Afterwards, I got my first adult western yellow bellied racer. It was basking on pavement in 90+ degree weather. Strangely enough, it managed to sit still for a photo:

Coluber constrictor mormon:
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We busted our buts on the hills looking for douglasi and were getting a bit doubtful when one of the pebbles started running. We managed some babies, but no adults. No complaints though. It was a hot day and we offered some water to the little guys. They sat in our hand and drank it up. We definitely celebrated with some milkshakes afterwards.

Phrynosoma douglasi:
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Thanks for looking!

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jonathan
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by jonathan » September 30th, 2014, 4:28 am

No contest, this is the greatest Canadian post I've ever seen. Beautiful pictures, great encounters, great herp diversity.

I know I'm a broken record, but keep getting that stuff into the database if you can. Our Canadian records are still seriously lacking, and you touched on a lot of neat herps in a lot of places. Even the common stuff would be useful to record.


p.s. - it's awesome that there's a mosquito that targets Wood Frogs.

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Owen
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by Owen » September 30th, 2014, 12:08 pm

Very nicely done. :beer:

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Kyle from Carolina
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by Kyle from Carolina » September 30th, 2014, 7:51 pm

Thanks guys, I appreciate it.

As for the database, I do plan on entering most of these finds. I hope to find time for it before the new year. That being said, I have been entering all of my Alberta finds in the provincial database and I try to avoid entering the same records into different databases...it seems like stuff could start to get messy that way, but maybe I'm wrong. Does the HERP database associated with this forum collaborate at all with any of the state/provincial databases? It would be nice to see one centralized data collection mechanism. I imagine that many other folks are also entering data for other groups and such. Personally, I would rather do it just for one place, but I know that the provincial database uses the data too, so I dunno.

Richard F. Hoyer
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by Richard F. Hoyer » September 30th, 2014, 8:35 pm

Kyle:
Very, very nice post indeed!

Richard F. Hoyer (Corvallis, Oregon)

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jonathan
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by jonathan » October 1st, 2014, 4:05 am

Kyle from Carolina wrote:As for the database, I do plan on entering most of these finds. I hope to find time for it before the new year. That being said, I have been entering all of my Alberta finds in the provincial database and I try to avoid entering the same records into different databases...it seems like stuff could start to get messy that way, but maybe I'm wrong. Does the HERP database associated with this forum collaborate at all with any of the state/provincial databases? It would be nice to see one centralized data collection mechanism. I imagine that many other folks are also entering data for other groups and such. Personally, I would rather do it just for one place, but I know that the provincial database uses the data too, so I dunno.
Yes, the HERP database collaborates with a number of state and county databases in the USA. Unfortunately, I don't believe there have been any collaborations (or database requests) from the Canadian side yet. The greatest impetus for that to happen will be when there's enough data for the provinces to want it. Right now, with only 459 of our 190,000+ records for Canada, the Canadian data just isn't very enticing to anyone yet.

As far as stuff getting messy, I don't think that's a concern at all. Researchers looking for data know that when they grab from all the databases, they're often double-dipping. They either have ways to quickly eliminate duplicate records, or they don't care because the local/date is far more important to them than the total number of records.

All that being said, if the provincial database shares that data with any researchers who need it, then it's hard to argue with you that that's the best place to put the data. I'd like to see NAHERP continue to grow because I believe that it can capture a ton of people and data who will never be sending their stuff to a state/provincial database. But other than that desire to see the numbers and maps on NAHERP continue to look better and better, it makes the most sense to enter each record in just one place.

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mdagz
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by mdagz » October 12th, 2014, 12:27 pm

Awesome post, love the snake den and the sallies!

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AndyKraemer
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by AndyKraemer » February 17th, 2015, 4:23 pm

Let me agree with everyone else here - this is a very nice post. I especially enjoyed how you broke it up into regional sections :)

Cheers,
Andy

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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by FrogO_Oeyes » February 18th, 2015, 7:28 am

Great post!

A few notes of interest:

Pacific chorus frogs in BC haven't been studied yet, but I would bet on many interior specimens being Pseudacris sierra, which is known as far east as western Montana.
Boreal toads in Alberta seem to be one of several undescribed species in the complex. Since Canadian populations really haven't been included in studies, and there's also an oddball population near Atlin, BC, the actual verdict on what species are present in Canada will have to wait a while. The type population is from the Olympic mountains and is morphologically distinct. Several genetic, behavioral, and morphologically distinct species occur east of there, making it unlikely that true Anaxyrus boreas occurs in Canada, at least more than marginally in BC.
Long-toed salamanders are a species complex yet to be revised. Those in BC probably represent two [with another subspecies] or three species, two undescribed. Those in Alberta represent two species or subspecies [one being A.krausei, the other undescribed].
The status of A.mavortium diaboli must still be evaluated. I think it and A.m.mavortium are just regional extremes of the variation in A.m.melanostictum, but it has also been suggested that A.m.diaboli is taxonomically distinct. It's still unclear if it's present in Alberta.
While Larry Powell disagrees, I think Phrynosoma douglassi remains in BC. Although he searched extensively years ago, the habitat examined turned out to be wrong for BC populations. Published records from as recent as the 1950's and many more recent sightings indicate that preferred habitat is actually at the edges of the pine forest. Probable distribution extends many miles up two major valleys, but is almost entirely on inaccessible tribal lands.

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Kyle from Carolina
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by Kyle from Carolina » February 18th, 2015, 1:47 pm

Andy,

Thanks man! I'm glad you liked the regional breakdown. Canada is more fun to herp than it seems. Not a lot of diversity but pretty easy to find most stuff.

Frog eyes,

Thanks for the comments. That's interesting about the pacific chorus frogs. I wasn't actually aware of the split between the three species until you mentioned it. Is there much morphological support for that split too or is it all based on the 2006 molecular work? I guess I could look into myself...

As for boreal toads, I agree that work needs to be done in Canada. The extent of their distribution in Northern AB is pretty poorly known because there simply aren't that many people looking up there, or very many at living up there for that matter. As far as the species go, who knows, but many people around these parts seems at least somewhat confident that there is a difference in some of the more southerly toads in the province compared to the central portion, but if this will amount to a specific or even a subspecific designation is beyond me. There are certainly populations of non-calling individuals, which can be rather frustrating when you're looking for them on a landscape that is >40% wetland, so they could be anywhere.

Regarding tigers, they are my study species in Alberta (ecologically speaking, not genetically). I can't comment on the validity of diaboli as a subspecies but I'm not convinced that whatever exists in parkland/boreal alberta is distinct from the diaboli to the east or the melanostictum to the south. I've seen a tremendous amount of pattern variation, some of which are distinctly 'diaboli-looking', some are 'melanostictum-y' and some are even bright yellow and black individuals that remind me of some of the mavortium sub. Either way, I wasn't super convinced based on the genetic and morphological studies separating them because the representative sample from Alberta was weak, and they just seemed to extrapolate from Montana melanostictum, while in reality, I think they might be a muddled or undifferentiated mix of diaboli and melanostictum, if diaboli is valid. I think the split is a bit forced, in my honest opinion, but hey...I'm not systematist.

I don't really have the background or skill-set to comment on genetic splits because I'm not familiar enough with the techniques to be very critical.

Lastly, that's very optimistic of you to think that douglassi are still around in BC. If you find some, get a picture, or better yet, nab the bugger and bring it in. I know of a few people who have searched in recent history and they've never found anything, despite finding them just a few miles south, in OK county, WA. I'm not sure when there has last been rigorous effort to find them but it would be nice to try again. I've also heard that the original record might not have been correctly verified but I can't put confidence intervals on that statement.

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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by NACairns » February 18th, 2015, 6:37 pm

Don't know how I hadn't commented on this before. Kyle this post is outstanding, you got great coverage for the prairie provinces and in BC. Great photography as well. I'm looking forward to someone addressing some of the phylogeographic issues with Canadian herps.
Can't wait to see what you find this year. You going to visit Saskie and Manitoba this summer?
Best,
Nick

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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by FrogO_Oeyes » February 18th, 2015, 7:07 pm

There are actually two much more recent records of Phrynosoma douglassi which were published, one of which included an illustration and description of the habitat. Larry published a short paper to specifically bring these records to light. Since then, there have been something like 20 reports, one of them by an ERAS board member who observed one on what is now inaccessible tribal land. Dig up the COSEWIC report for better info and perhaps a more recent update. Knowing exactly where to look is a big battle - on my first two tries for hernandesi in Alberta, I washed out. On the third try it took me ten minutes. They're fussy...sometimes, given that they turn up right out on the prairie in Onefour! Of course, everything [all but 3 or 4 species] lives in Onefour.

As I mentioned, I also don't think there's a distinction between those three forms of tiger - both mavortium and diaboli appear to be range- and morphological-extremes on the periphery of a highly variable melanostictum. Ultimately, they would all become mavortium mavortium if I am correct, rendering the "barred" tiger more of a "blotched".

It's certainly possible that more than one species of 'boreal' toad exist in Alberta. Those in Colorado and New Mexico are [were] distinct from those in Colorado and Montana, several forms in Utah, and a bunch of species on the west coast [exsul, nelsoni, a couple distinct undescribed forms, true boreas, and perhaps the midwinter-breeding hotsprings form from Atlin]. However, it's more likely the Alberta animals are a single species shared with much of Montana and BC.

The Pacific chorus frogs were divided into a number of subspecies many years ago, but these eventually fell by the wayside. That's at least partly because morphometry is not exactly a popular method to distinguish taxa in the field. Differences seen to exist, but are difficult to use and more or less moot anyway. If they don't interbreed normally, it really doesn't matter what they look like, since they clearly don't rely on looks to choose mates! Of all the forms named, at least five are potentially recognizable, although only four are at the moment. P.regilla, P.hypochondriaca hypochondriaca, P.h.curta, P.sierra [sierra], and P.sierra [palouse].

A.macrodactylum is an interesting puzzle, and I've found animals in several problematic areas. Northern and southern macrodactylum are potentially separate species divided by the Colombia River. I've found them in Vancouver WA [just north of the river] and Portland OR [an island on the south side of the river]. Actual genetic samples are from north or south of these. Colombianum consists of two probable species, but the type locality is in the south and actually falls in the range of genetic sigillatum. That leaves the northern population unnamed. A.krausei is also distinct, and northern "colombianum" might be considered a subspecies of this. Both occur in Alberta. Between sigillatum and krausei is a population which PROBABLY includes the type locality of epixanthum, rendering the latter a probable valid species. Then there are some 'desert' isolates. I found some at Rufus OR, a location which appears close to a highly distinct and unstudied genetic isolate. A.croceum is also distinct. I count seven probable species, excluding the single-sample outliers. I found albino A.krausei in the Bow valley.

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jonathan
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by jonathan » February 18th, 2015, 11:17 pm

That's some great additional information there. Thank you for that.

I know a locale for long-toed salamanders in Portland that's about as far north as you can get without being on one of the islands. I'm guessing that it's fairly reliable for finding them because it stayed quite wet, and I immediately found 3 in 10 minutes of searching in the only time I checked the site. Just mentioning it in case anyone gets involved with the genetic sampling.

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Kyle from Carolina
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Re: British Columbia & Alberta, Canada

Post by Kyle from Carolina » February 19th, 2015, 12:21 pm

Man frog-eyes, now you got me itchin' to get down to OK/similkameen valley and find some horny toads. I still haven't gotten hernandesi in AB but I simply haven't spent anytime in their haunts.

And Nick,

Thanks for the comments. And as a matter of fact, I might (keyword is might) be working in saskie this summer. I dunno if I will make it to Manitoba but I would like to. If I don't get the sask job, I'm booking it back to the US of A.

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