By Leslie Anthony
No one will be surprised to hear that Whistler has plenty of reptilian characters. But they might be surprised that these don't include the abundance of lounge lizards, slimy developers, corporate dinosaurs or real-estate snakes hoping to cash in on the Olympics.
Many have seen small, striped Garter Snakes darting across the Valley Trail or Alligator Lizards scrambling over a rock in the backyard, but others are genuinely surprised to hear that reptiles of the scaly kind lurk in the glacier-rimmed valleys of the Coast Mountains. In fact, those of us who know of them know little about what species are here, where they like to hang out, their abundance, or how they handle the climatic rigours of Whistler given that snakeskin ain't no Gore-Tex.
Are some species as common as ski bums? Others rare and getting rarer? Adaptive generalists or specialists associated with threatened habitat? We'd like to know, and that's where the Reptile Survey of the Whistler Biodiversity Project comes in.
In an effort to answer these and other questions, a two-year study got underway this August. The first year aims to establish presence/absence of certain species in the RMOW and gain preliminary data on distribution patterns, while the second year will seek to more fully delineate distributions of various species in both the RMOW and Sea to Sky corridor, and understand more about their populations and life history in the area.
To gather as much data as possible on the what, where and when of Whistler's reptiles, the community is being asked (begged, actually) to help augment the direct observations of researchers on these generally secretive creatures: the more eyes the better. Post your sightings and digital photos (helpful for identifications-see below) at www.whistlerbiodiversity.ca.
And what exactly are we/you looking for?
As advertised, the Northern Alligator Lizard, Elgaria coerulea , resembles a miniaturized version of what might happen if an alligator could actually mate with a lizard. Its body is covered in square-ish, non-overlapping scales but if you're looking to make a briefcase or pair of shoes, forget it — it's no longer than 20 cm, tail in.
The eyes are brown and ground colour somewhere in the grey-brown continuum, its usually darker flanks checkered with still darker square-ish blotches and bars, and the belly whiteish. Pattern-wise, some have rows of dark spots down the back while others sport dark crossbars.
More tolerant of damp, cool environments than most, this truly northwestern reptile associated with coniferous forests still requires a few sunny clearings to make its day. Look for it in rock, wood and brush piles around the edges of meadows, road-cuts, abandoned buildings, and anywhere human activity has opened the tree canopy (even mountain-bike trails attract it). In such areas it's found under logs, bark, rocks and other cover, and especially inside decaying logs. It's often spotted sitting in the open, but usually dashes to the safety of rocks or brush.
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