Black Warrior Waterdog – Field Notes from Mississippi

For the past few years, staff at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden have been conducting population surveys of the endangered Black Warrior Waterdog (Necturus alabamensis). They are also involved in a phylogenetic study that involves collecting tissue samples from waterdogs in all major US drainages (from North Carolina west to Texas, and south to northern Florida).

In November 2011, myself and some colleagues planned a trip to three drainages in central Alabama. Due to rain, we switched our plans and decided to travel to Mississippi and southern Alabama. If it rains 2-3 days prior to a trip, water levels of the rivers and creeks rise, making conditions difficult for finding waterdogs. It takes at least two days for the water level to drop back to normal.


Day 1:
We left the Zoo at 6:30 a.m. and headed south to Mississippi. We arrived at 4 p.m. Since it was still light outside, we decided to survey the first drainage on our list, the Big Black River Drainage. We drove to at least four different creeks in west central Mississippi. As we were gearing up in our waders and heading down to a creek, dip-nets in hand, a local stopped on the road and asked us what we were doing. We told him we were conducting salamander surveys and he was fascinated. He also made sure to let us know that “Mr. No Shoulders” was around and to be careful. We had no idea what he was talking about so he finally clarified that “Mr. No Shoulders”  referred to cottonmouths. We definitely learned a new term for snakes in the south!

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet “Mr. No Shoulders” on this trip. Some of the creeks we came across looked promising, but we had no luck. After we were done checking the creeks we headed further south to the Homochitto National Forest to set up camp. It was about 9 p.m. by the time we got there. Since we don’t get to that part of Mississippi often, we decided to look for Southern Red Salamanders. Interestingly enough the Southern Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber vioscai) was named after Percy Viosca, who described N. louisianensis, N. alabamensis, N. beyeri, and N. lödingi. While we didn’t have any luck that night, we decided to try in the early morning – and we found seven specimens!