Enigmatics, Potentials, and Escapees


Alaska Worm Salamander
Batrachoseps caudatus Cope, 1889

Slender or worm salamanders of the genus Batrachoseps comprise seven or more highly variable species in the large family of lungless salamanders, Plethodontidae. Slender salamanders are confined to the Pacific coast, almost exclusively in California; there are no authenticated records noType specimen (USNM 13561) of Alaska Worm Salamander, Batrachoseps caudatus Cope 1889, supposedly collected at Hassler Harbor, Annette Island by Lt. Henry E. Nichols. (drawing from Smithsonian Institution photograph in Hodge, 1976.)rth of the Columbia River. They are slim and  small, usually less than 6 cm (2.4 in.) SVL. Their tails, easily broken off but soon regrown, are longer than the body. The hind feet have only four toes, and the sides of the body and tail have conspicuous grooves. They live underground and during rainy periods may be found on the forest floor under debris. Eggs are laid underground or under surface debris, often in communal nests. There is no aquatic larval stage.

The Alaska Worm Salamander is a long-standing enigma of Alaska herpetology. In 1889, E.D. Cope described a endemic species of worm salamander from a single specimen supposedly collected at Hassler Harbor, Annette Island, in August, 1882. Potentially a relict of former times, attempts to find additional worm salamanders on this island have been unsuccessful (Wake et al. 1998). Furthermore, the Alaska specimen appeared virtually identical with members of Batrachoseps attenuatus from near San Francisco, California, where Lt. H.E. Nichols, the collector of the Annette specimen, was also known to have visited. The likelihood that this specimen was mislabeled is reinforced by the fact that its collection date is listed as "December 1881", not "August 1882", the date given for several specimens of Western Toad and Roughskin Newt (two species known to occur on Annette Island) collected at the type locality by Lt. Nichols.

To add to the confusion, the USNM houses two additional specimens of Batrachoseps caudatus (USNM 17260, 20489), labeled as "all data questionable", supposedly from Yakutat Bay by W.H. Dall in May 1874. (Dall was in fact in the Yakutat area in 1874.) 

Garter Snake
(Thamnophis spp.)

The occurrence of the garter snake in southeastern Alaska has yet to be validated. Hodge (1976) reported several sightings of snakes on the banks of the Taku and Stikine rivers inside Alaska. A garter snake specimen supposedly collected along the Stikine River was apparently deposited in the old Territorial Museum (now the State Museum) in Juneau (or the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks, according to Waters, 1992), but was subsequently lost. All further attempts to locate this specimen or to document the presence of garter snakes anywhere in the region have been unsuccessful.

The valleys of the Stikine River and Taku River (and perhaps Unuk River) could potentially allow snakes access to the coast from interior British Columbia, however, it remains unclear if natural populations of garter snakes even occur upriver in these drainages. The herpetofauna of northwestern British Columbia is poThe Common Garter Snake has a long (over a meter), slender body, and a large head that is distinct from the neck. Coloration is highly variable, but back and side stripes are usually well-defined. This species lives near water in riparian habitats and humid forests.orly known. A preliminary search for garter snake records from major drainages that flow into coastal Alaska has come up negative. Furthermore, a resident of Telegraph Creek. B.C., stated that he could not recall anyone ever seeing a snake in the area (D. Pakula, pers. com. 2003). The Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) has been reported north of Terrace, British Columbia, in the watersheds of the Nass and Skeena rivers, and along the eastern side of the province as far north as the Peace River District (Gregory and Campbell 1984). The Western Terrestrial Garter Snake (T. elegans) is found along the British Columbia coast, including Vancouver Island, as far north as the Skeena River Basin, and east of the Rockies as far north as the Peace River District (Gregory and Campbell 1984).

Other Species

In addition to garter snakes, at least one other herp occurs close enough to the border of Alaska to warrant consideration as a "watch-for" species.The tiny (up to 5 cm SVL) tailed frog lives in and around clear, cold streams in humid forests. Its eye has a vertical pupil. The tail-like organ of males is used in reproduction. The Tailed Frog (Ascaphus truei) is a tiny, cold-adapted frog found along the coast of British Columbia as far north as the Kitlope region, Kitimat, and Terrace (Green 1999), some 120 km from Alaska's southern border.

A variety of exotic reptiles have on occasion been reported in Alaska, usually as escaped pets near populated areas. Examples include a rubber boa, garter snake, and bull snake in Juneau, and a snapping turtle near Anchorage.