Hidden away in Southern Illinois is one of Nature's masterpieces.
Herping gets its name from "herpetology," the study of reptiles and amphibians. Although members of different classes, reptiles and amphibians are grouped together in the same field of study. The name derives from the Greek “herpeton," which means “creeping animal." Reptiles and amphibians are collectively referred to as "herps" by field herpers. “Field herping” might be defined as searching for and observing reptiles and amphibians in the outdoors. The folks who engage in this activity usually refer to themselves as "herpers" and it's an outdoor activity that is rapidly gaining in popularity.
Herping Terms and Ethics
Aside from hiking along and hoping to run across herps, herpers often engage in a number of activities to increase their odds. Rolling over rocks, logs or manmade debris is often called "flipping" by field herpers. Ethical herpers always try and return a rock or log as close as possible to its original position. By overturning such an object, a small, but highly utilized, microhabitat is being disturbed, and ethical herpers try to leave as little disturbance as possible. Flipping may be illegal in certain areas (such as nature preserves). "Road cruising" involves slowly driving back roads looking for herps crossing the road. Herpers may often road cruise with the windows down, listening for calling frogs.
Years ago, herping often involved collection of herps from the wild for keeping in captivity. Thankfully, the hobby has evolved from this time and collection is no longer a focus of the majority of field herpers. The Friends of the Cache, and most field herpers for that matter, do not endorse collection of wild herps. Raising, and potentially breeding, herps in captivity is referred to as "herptoculture" and is best done with captive bred animals. In Illinois, field collecting herps requires a current Illinois Fishing License and herptoculture requires an Illinois Aquaculture License. For the laws regarding those activities, click here.
Herping the Cache Watershed
With its high biodiversity of reptiles and amphibians, the Cache River Watershed is a Mecca for herpers throughout the U.S. and Canada. More than 30 amphibian and 40 reptile species have been recorded in the Cache basin. For information on the natural history and ranges of Illinois herps, we recommend checking out the Illinois Natural History Survey website. Accounts of all the species known to occur in the state are available.
Each year, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sponsors Frog and Toad Call Surveys. If you would like to volunteer as part of the survey, call the Cache River Wetlands Center, 618-657-2064.