Kelly Irwin

"Boo-Boo" befriends a female snapper.

“Boo-Boo” befriends a female snapper.

Institution: Arkansas Game & Fish Commission

My job: Boo Boo Biologist (because I’m always incurring some minor injury, I got that nickname from my parents when I was still a little kid, long before there was a Honey Boo Boo)

Real title: Herpetologist

Education: Texas A&M University, Wildlife & Fisheries Science, M.S., 1997 (but not a native Texan)

How I help save sallies: As the state agency herpetologist I am in charge of the conservation and management of the 120+ species of amphibians and reptiles that occur in the state of Arkansas. I have been working with the last remaining viable population of Ozark Hellbenders in state since 2002; and initiated a long-term population monitoring program in 2005 in an effort to track long-term population trends and in the process gather additional demographic trends data and samples for pathogen assessment. I am currently working closely with my colleagues, Jeff Briggler, Missouri Department of Conservation herpetologist and staff at the St Louis Zoo’s Ron Goellner Center for Hellbender Conservation in collecting wild Hellbender eggs for the Center’s captive propagation and headstart program. This fall (2012) we will be monitoring 39 recently installed artificial shelter/ nest boxes for the presence of egg clutches. These “Bender Huts” were developed by Jeff Briggler and MDC staff and have already proven effective as suitable nesting sites for both wild and captive Hellbenders.

Best salamander story: During the biennial 2009 long-term Hellbender monitoring survey I was working with two of my friends (Ph.D students) at one of our known Hellbender sites. I began my dive in about 10 ft of water and started working upstream along the bottom, when I came upon a large boulder with a sunken tree wedged against it on the upstream side. Rather than skirt around the sunken log I eased up over the top of the boulder, constantly scanning my surroundings for likely cover rocks to turn. As I cleared the log I glanced down so I could see up under the suspended log, when I discerned a familiar shape, it was an Alligator Snapping Turtle nestled up against the base of the boulder! I knew that this species had been reported from the Eleven Point River but I had never found one in this river before (though I have trapped many in other streams and rivers). I proceeded to grab the turtle and carried it to the surface to show my friends. It was an approximately 30 lb female. We finished taking some photographs of the turtle and had just released it when Tim spotted a beautifully patterned (adults tend to retain the bold crossbands of juveniles in Ozark populations) adult Cottonmouth crawling along the base of the rocky bluff directly behind us. I resumed my dive and proceeded to bag one Hellbender at the site. The Ozark herpetofauna seems an incongruous mix to most herpetologists, particularly when you find Alligator Snapping Turtles and Cottonmouths, which generally conjure up images of a deep south cypress swamp, associated with a clear, cool water Ozarkian stream containing Hellbenders.

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