David Rodrigue, Executive Director of the Ecomuseum Zoo, just recently published with Éditions Michel Quintin the second edition of the « Amphibiens et reptiles du Québec et des Maritimes» field guide with co-author Jean-François Desroches. We’ve conducted a brief interview with him to find out more about the book but also about his passion for reptiles and amphibians, or herpetofauna.
The first edition of the field guide was published in 2004. What are the major differences between the two editions of the book?
Fourteen years have passed and of course we’ve learned more about our indigenous species and their distribution throughout the provinces has changed. A certain number of updates were therefore required. However the major change is in the visual appeal. In the first edition there were 238 photos. In this second edition there are 569 – a notable increase! Some of the most interesting things about reptiles and amphibians are the color variations among individuals of a same species. For instance, the Garter Snake has between 20 and 25 different colorations!
We’ve also added a segment on education and conservation. There is a whole section that provides tips and tricks to observe reptiles and amphibians in the wild. The number of graphic images was doubled to encourage and facilitate such observations.
Where does your passion for herpetology come from?
From a very young age I was drawn to the groups of animals with which direct interactions were possible. There were insects, snakes and frogs. I can remember being 6 years old and catching snakes with a friend in the forest. It was that feeling, that direct contact with them, which got me hooked. It’s probably the most important factor that lead me to the career I’ve chosen and love.
Why should people be interested in these animals?
Precisely because they are so misunderstood. People often say of a bird or a mammal that it is beautiful, interesting or fascinating but they have preconceived notions and prejudices about reptiles and amphibians. Yet when they take the time to closely observe them they discover a beauty that’s different from that of a bird for example. They surprise themselves with the discovery of this charm and their own interest in learning about something so different from the rest.
We must raise awareness about wildlife in our children and reptiles and amphibians are an excellent vehicle for this. It’s difficult for a child to observe a bird in flight through binoculars for an extended time. The result is far away. But bringing a child to look for snakes or frogs is something quite concrete. The result is right there in their hand.
What is your favorite species?
I have three! The Garter Snake, for its numerous color variations. The mountain dwelling Spring Salamander, as it is so mysterious and rarely seen despite being quite large and pink. And finally I find the Grey Treefrog’s personality most endearing!
If someone wants to take the family for a walk to search for snakes, turtles, frogs or salamanders where should they start?
It’s really quite easy to do at first. It becomes a good excuse to go for a hike in a setting more natural than the city or the burbs. It gives the hike an objective. It can be done in urban and nature parks, or one can take the opportunity to get out into the forest. Often areas most accessible for frog observations are waterfronts. Otherwise, a leisurely hike in the forest to show children how to turn over rocks or logs to find salamanders. For young impressionable minds turning over rocks and logs to find snakes and salamanders is a learning experience that is completely different than seeing a frog in the water for example. It’s easy and accessible … you just have to do it!