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Creatures of GVSU: See what an outdoor class discovered in the ravines

  • This Eastern garter snake was an early find in the outdoor lab.
  • Moving logs, veering off the beaten path and getting dirty is all part of finding the creatures.
  • A red-backed salamander was an early discovery during this class and a common find.
  • This was the reaction when a student picked up a snake and then realized that it was eating a frog.
  • Blue-spotted salamanders were a bit unusual to see, said Jennifer Moore, assistant professor of biology. She explained that most of the time, what observers are seeing ar all-female populations, called unisexuals, that are essentially clones of themselves
  • This is a wood frog, which freezes solid to endure the cold temperatures, according to Jennifer Moore, assistant professor of biology.
  • This woodcock, which was likely migrating, was unusual to find, said Jennifer Moore, assistant professor of biology. Moore added that this is "technically a reptile, evolutionarily speaking."
  • Camera phones are always at the ready during the outdoor lab to capture images of creatures such as these American toads.
  • There are countless teaching moments like these along the way for Jennifer Moore, assistant professor of biology, whose class is infused with her enthusiasm for the exploration.

Posted on October 18, 2019

A patch of sun deep in the ravines beckoned to a Grand Valley herpetology student on the lookout for the creatures that make that beautiful part of the Allendale Campus home.

The hunch: A snake might find that sunny spot appealing.

The payoff: Movement.

With that, Hannah Clarida, whose major is natural resources management, hurried downhill carrying the Eastern garter snake that had indeed chosen a spot on a slope with a slice of sunlight.

Jennifer Moore, assistant professor of biology, immediately observed that this particular snake wasn't releasing musk as the reptiles normally do when caught.

After a few moments of surveying the snake, it was time to venture further downhill along the muddy path, strewn with fallen trees, to discover more critters.

"It's like a little treasure hunt," Moore said.

Venturing outdoors in this way allows students to see the diversity of amphibians and reptiles with whom they share the campus, allowing them to build an appreciation for these animals, Moore said. They also learn important skills such as surveying techniques.

"It's more meaningful if they can see the real animal in their habitat," said Moore, who added that one of the strengths of Grand Valley is this outdoor classroom experience next to the Grand River.

On this day, as the time period for outdoor labs was waning because of cooler weather, a variety of creatures awaited discovery by the students — including some surprises.

Browse the photos above for more on these creatures of Grand Valley.