Where the wild things are

Liz Copeland, Fermilab Natural Areas volunteer wildlife monitor, poses with a bullfrog. Photo: Ryan Campbell, FESS

As Fermilab’s site ecologist, it is part of my job to know which plants and animals are here and where on site they live. Lately, our focus has been on reptiles and amphibians. Not only does having this data help mitigate environmental impacts during project construction and day-to-day operations, but it helps tell a greater story about the habitat and heritage of the Fermilab landscape within the greater Chicago region.

We regularly collaborate with members of the Chicago Wilderness Alliance to better understand how land management methods and ecological monitoring at Fermilab can meet some of the most important conservation goals for Midwestern ecosystems. Some monitoring efforts at Fermilab have been longstanding, such as the extensive bird survey project that began in 1987, while others are more recent.

This past spring we completed extensive trapping and netting across a swath of wetlands and woodland ponds looking for frogs, toads, snakes, turtles, salamanders and newts. The last time this was done was in 1989. The results, which pointed to a healthy and diverse animal population, were encouraging, but we did not find anything unusual. We were able to strengthen our distribution data for many known species across the site, but questions remain for other rare or secretive species. For example, the state-endangered Blanding’s turtle was once regularly observed on the east side of site but has not been recorded since the year 2000. Is it gone or have we just not gone looking?

Well, we need your help. Fermilab Natural Areas has provided volunteer monitors, but there are many more that read Fermilab Today than join us for our forays. Perhaps in your travels of the Fermilab site you have taken a photo of a snake basking on the road or have seen an unusual-looking turtle or even heard a strange-calling frog. We want to know about it. Learn more about our target species of interest and email me your photos or observations. Or get involved with Fermilab Natural Areas’ volunteer program. You never know — your sightings may help us in our ecological frontier of discovery.

Special thanks go to Tom Anton and Tristan Schramer for helping survey and compile species photos and information.

Ryan Campbell