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Service Produces Online Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Alaska

Whether you’re a student curious about the existence of the rumored Alaska worm salamander or a biologist eager to add to our scant knowledge of the state’s reptile and amphibian species, a new electronic field guide could be the tool you’ve been waiting for.

The Juneau Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working in partnership with the Alaska Natural Heritage Program and a wide range of private individuals, state and federal agencies, and museums, has produced an electronic field guide to the amphibians and reptiles of Alaska. Authored by S.O. MacDonald, the electronic volume is titled Amphibians and Reptiles of Alaska: A Field Handbook. MacDonald is a Research Associate and former employee of the Terrestrial Vertebrate Collections at the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks.

The handbook provides the first comprehensive distribution atlas of Alaska’s reptiles and amphibians. It covers our state’s twelve known amphibians and reptiles, as well as two "enigmatic" species, the Alaska worm salamander and the garter snake. Though sightings of both have been reported in this state, the author explains that neither have been verified to exist here. In addition to providing color photographs and descriptions of the natural history and conservation status of each species, the book also offers detailed Alaska distribution maps. In fact, MacDonald reviewed virtually every important museum collection in North America that contains specimens of Alaska’s reptiles and amphibians while researching the handbook.

A chapter on handling live amphibians tells amateur naturalists how to safely examine these delicate creatures without harming them, and provides information on determining the sex of a specimen and taking scientifically valuable measurements. Since it is illegal to collect wild amphibian, even for scientific purposes, without a permit from Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the handbook includes a chapter describing how to take "voucher photographs," which can be used by scientists to verify the identify of a species that you might encounter.

"Amphibians and Reptiles of Alaska is a valuable tool and should contribute much to our understanding of these important components of Alaska ecosystems," said the Service’s Alaska Regional Director, Rowan Gould. "Though larger, more dramatic animals sometimes steal the scene, reptiles and amphibians have much to tell us about the changing nature of our world."

Although the electronic field guide is available to the public, many of its users will likely be field scientists, including those whose work does not typically focus on reptiles or amphibians, who can use it to document chance sightings of these species. In addition, the Service’s Southeast Alaska Coastal Program is working with the Juneau School District and Alaska Department of Fish and Game to develop an amphibian curricula for schools in Juneau and rural Southeast Alaska. One of the goals of the program would be to involve students and teachers in the documentation of amphibians in Southeast Alaska, the identification of amphibian habitat features and the investigation of possible causes of the decline of these species. Amphibians and Reptiles of Alaska will, it’s hoped, become an important part of this program. A hard-copy version will be available in the future, and the current version can be downloaded to a color printer. The book can be found at

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 542 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.


For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,visit our home page at




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