Indiana Herp Atlas provides info on state’s reptiles, amphibians People also can contribute to science by reporting where they see the animals.

If you see slimy or scaly creatures while out hiking in area parks or camping at an Indiana state park and don’t know what they are, now there’s a way to identify them.

Biology professor Bruce Kingsbury of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne worked with two other scientists who were pursuing doctoral degrees at other universities to create the online Indiana Herp Atlas, a guide to the herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) that call Indiana home.

People can go to http://inherpatlas.org to see photos of 93 creatures ranging from the eastern tiger salamander and American toad to the alligator snapping turtle and massasauga rattlesnake.

By clicking on an animal’s photo, you can view all kinds of information about the creature, including where it was found historically in Indiana and where it has been observed now. An animal’s current range may differ significantly from its past distribution.

Kingsbury and the other researchers launched the website this spring because of another feature of the website – it invites the public to upload data to report where they have seen reptiles and amphibians. The public input will help scientists gather more information about where a species is living in the state, said Kingsbury, who also is associate dean of IPFW’s College of Arts and Sciences and director of the university’s Environmental Resources Center.

The citizens science portion of the project is done in conjunction with HerpMapper (www.herpmapper.org), an organization that collects data on reptiles and amphibians around the world, Kingsbury said.

“The idea is for them to collect enough observations that we can look at patterns of diversity, patterns of decline,” Kingsbury said. Rarely, they see an animal’s population increase.

If you see a reptile or amphibian you can’t identify, you still can take a photo of it and send it in, where an expert will identify it and add the information to the HerpMapper database, Kingsbury said.

“The hope is people will find things in new areas,” he said.

The Indiana Herp Atlas does include some safeguards to protect species from poaching and from encroachment by people eager to see them: Members of the general public using the website can see only the county in which an animal has been found, Kingsbury said. However, scientists and the person who submitted the data can see the exact location, he added.

“Overall, it’s a nice citizens-science tool,” Kingsbury said. <br>

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To check out the Indiana Herp Atlas, go to http://inherpatlas.org.