Burmese pythons, alligator turtles, spring salamanders; none of the animals are native to this area, yet all have been found in nearby Howard County.
“We have now found 13 species statewide that are non-native,” said Sue Muller, Howard County Coordinator for the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas, a project to document amphibian and reptile populations across the state.
Most recently, a resident sent Muller a picture of a squirrel tree frog found near his patio.
“They’re a Coastal Plains species found from Texas all the way up through North Carolina and just into the tip of southeast Virginia,” Muller said. “So Columbia, Maryland is out of their range.”
Alan Green snapped the picture of the bright green amphibian near Gwynn Acres Pathway in Ellicott City. He had been at a presentation Muller gave at the library last month and, she said, “By the time I'd gotten home, he had already emailed me a picture of the frog.”
Muller, who works for the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, said that there are several ways non-native amphibians and reptiles find their way to Howard County. The frog, she said, may have been transported here with nursery stock. They’re tiny – ranging from 1- to 1.5 inches, according to the University of Florida’s Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation – and can easily escape notice in a nursery or even houseplant.
Or, the frog could be someone’s released or escaped pet.
“We try to educate people about what to do with their unwanted pets,” Muller said. That’s probably how an alligator snapping turtle found by her team wound up loose in Howard County. And unlike the squirrel tree frog, the turtle was huge – “They grow to be 200 lbs.”
As part of the Atlas project, Muller works with groups of volunteers, scouring the earth looking and listening for creatures that crawl, slither and hop. She also gives presentations, educating people about what to look for and how to look.
“When you’re out there and you roll over a log to look for snakes,” she said, “Don’t just roll it over and leave it there. It’s like a hurricane blowing your roof off. Put it back.”
In April, trained volunteers will be returning to the area where Green snapped the picture of the frog to see if there is a breeding population or if he happened upon one wildly lost animal.
Muller encourages anyone interested in the outdoors to attend a presentation and sign up as a volunteer.
“HerpSearch,” as she calls it – short for herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles – can be addictive.
“Before they know it,” she said, “People are saying ‘now I can’t go by a log without rolling it over.’”
Muller encourages people who spend time outdoors in other counties to keep their eyes open and send her any pictures they may have of reptiles or amphibians, too. The Atlas is, after all a state-wide project.
“Especially Baltimore County and Carroll County” she said, “Those counties don’t have nearly the number of volunteers that I have.” In Howard County alone, she works with several hundred volunteers."
If you are interested in learning more about the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas, email Muller at: Smuller@howardcountymd.gov. Se also encourages people with pictures of unidentified amphibians or reptiles to email her with the photos for identification and inclusion in the survey.