University of Massachusetts Amherst

Massachusetts North American Amphibian Program

About the Atlas

The goal of the Herp Atlas Project of 1992-1998 was to collect scientifically credible data to serve as a benchmark for monitoring the decline, recovery, or shift in distribution of amphibian and reptile populations in Massachusetts.

Consistent with other Mass Audubon Atlas projects (Breeding Bird Atlas, Butterfly Atlas) the state was divided up into 186 quads based on USGS topographic quadrangles.

quad map

Each quad was then divided into six “blocks” or “cells.”

cell map

Volunteers were recruited to adopt specific quads and to document as many amphibian and reptile species as possible in each of their quad’s six blocks. Many volunteers adopted quads; others collected records across the state whenever they had the opportunity. Organized field days were occasionally used to collect data from areas of the state that were not well covered. About midway through the project the emphasis was changed from documenting species for all blocks to making sure that we had the best coverage possible at the quad level.

Consistent with the sampling protocols, the vast majority of records were accompanied by some form of documentation that could be used by the project coordinators to verify the species identification. These included photographs, audio and video tape recordings, and specimens (primarily roadkill). Based on the evidence submitted, the coordinators assigned a confidence level to the species identification for all records. For generating maps two confidence levels were used.

Confirmed: for records that were accompanied by identifiable specimens, photos, or audio/video recordings.

Reliable/Unconfirmed: for records with relatively high confidence in the identification but short of a positive ID. These include records where the documentation was not bad but somewhat inconclusive as well as records that lacked documentation but were from contributors who were knowledgeable about the species.

Records for which species identification could not be confirmed with relatively high confidence were not included in the distribution maps. For all records included in the distribution maps, species identification was confirmed by at least two of the project coordinators.

The Herp Atlas Coordinators were:

  • Scott Jackson, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Alan Richmond, University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Thomas Tyning, Massachusetts Audubon Society (currently at Berkshire Community College)
  • Christopher Leahy, Massachusetts Audubon Society


UMass Extension logo
UMass Extension logo