News Room

Rare spring creatures need your help

Apr 16. 11

Three rare animals are about to make their spring appearances in Greater Victoria and the Habitat Acquisition Trust is looking for citizen scientists to help in the search for sharp-tailed snakes, blue-grey taildropper slugs and western painted turtles.

"We know so little about sharp-tailed snakes and the blue-grey taildropper slug that citizen scientists are often providing us with new science," said Todd Carnahan, HAT land care co-ordinator.

Looking for the tiny sharp-tailed snake, which is often mistaken for a worm, is like looking for a living needle in a haystack, Carnahan said.

"You're more likely to find one dead after being run over by a car or a bike in the dark," he said.

"If you have alligator lizards on your property you might have sharpies. It's about the size of a toonie [curled up] and has a small head without a neck."

The slug, which varies from greyish to vivid, speckled blue, is often found among leaves in Garry oak meadows and Douglas fir forests, and, as with the other species, Carnahan wants property owners to send photos to HAT so their habitat can be documented.

Western painted turtles are too frequently seen dead -a trend Carnahan is hoping to reverse and he wants anyone driving in wetland areas, such as Beaver Lake Road, to be on the lookout.

"The loonie-sized hatchlings are especially slow and difficult to see and adults are about the size of a dinner plate, but not a whole lot faster," Carnahan said.

Turtles mature over decades and the loss of one breeding female can send an entire population into a decline, he said.

Sometimes the three species are found by accident on properties, under rotting logs or among broken rocks, but HAT is encouraging property owners to use special "boards" to find out whether they have snakes, slugs or turtles.

Sharp-tailed snakes like to hide under asphalt shingles, which are heavy and warm, blue-grey taildropper slugs can sometimes be found by putting out a piece of corrugated cardboard and pegging it to the ground and, if someone has a pond with natural edges, western painted turtles may be found by anchoring a basking log in the water.

"This way we can prevent the researcher from destroying the habitat," Carnahan said.

Lifting a rotting log might reveal all sorts of life, but it will not be the same habitat once it has been exposed to the sun, he said.

As citizen scientists send in photographs of the endangered species, it will help HAT map habitat and populations and, if property owners are willing, HAT staff will help them protect the habitat.

For more information go to

By Judith Lavoie, Time Colonist
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