What Are Herps?

From the Latin word that combines the Greek herpeton (meaning creeping thing) and fauna (Latin for animals of a particular region), herpetofauna is a classification of animal life comprising amphibians, including frogs, toads and reptiles, including snakes, lizards and turtles.

Herpetofauna – or, simply, herps – are important organisms in many ecosystems. They generally pose no threat to humans, but are skilled predators of rodent populations and other unwanted pests. Importantly, because herps are extremely sensitive to changes in their environment, studying significant trends among their populations often provides insight to help predict future changes within the ecosystem as a whole  – changes that may already be taking place. As such, the health status of a local herp population is generally considered to offer a prognosis of the future health of the entire ecosystem.

Healthy Herps Mean a Healthier Biosphere

Increasingly, environmentalists are learning to understand more about the importance of herps and the unique contributions they bring to ecosystems in forests, marshes and other wetlands. After having successfully survived throughout more than 300 million years of evolution, only recently have the increasing declines in their populations – most often due to the encroachment of humans into their natural habitats – led to herps becoming a subject of environmental concern.

That makes the well-being of herps a concern to all of us in the soil/water management industry who work – whether literally or figuratively – ‘in the trenches.’ Unlike jokes about chickens crossing roads, acknowledging and protecting herps whenever mankind encroaches on their habitats is a very serious concern that needs to be thoroughly addressed at every construction site.

However, ongoing assessment of a species’ conservation status is not just a quantitative measure of its remaining population but, rather, an overall expression of increases or decreases in population, over time, along with other factors, such as breeding success rates and status changes among other species that are a herp’s natural predators or prey, and other known, external threats.

Awareness and Understanding Demand Better Practices

As we in the industry develop a deeper understanding of the dangers presented by some of our traditional practices, we must all become more vigilant and more diligent in our considerations regarding the ways in which the presence of our crews and machinery – as well as the resultant changes effected by the installation once it is completed – might negatively affect the quality of life and health status of herps and other animals living there.

According to Conservation Priorities for the Amphibians and Reptiles of Canada, a 2000 study undertaken by David and Carolyn Seburn, on behalf of World Wildlife Fund Canada:

Canada’s amphibians and reptiles face a number of serious threats. Habitat loss, particularly the loss of wetlands is the greatest threat to most species. The increasingly fragmented landscape has resulted in fewer populations that are more widely separated and more completely isolated. Habitat protection itself has not always been effective… Deliberate killing, combined with traffic mortality, takes a heavy toll on many species. Elevated populations of raccoons and other nest predators reduce recruitment in many species of reptiles. Global climate change and particularly increases in ultraviolet radiation may limit breeding success in many amphibians.

According to CSPI Director Emeritus, Dave Penny, general awareness of the importance of protecting herps is increasingly evident at infrastructure sites across Canada. That motivated him to consider how the CSPI might help contribute to reducing animal deaths near CSP culvert sites.

“For me, it started quite some time ago. It was at Pacific Rim National Park, on Vancouver Island, where I witnessed that  many fences had been built at the sides of the roads using plastic sheeting and empty coffee cans,” he explains. “When I inquired what they were, I was told that they are to rescue frogs from ending up as roadkill. They explained that, each night, they would come and remove the frogs trapped by the coffee cans and carry them safely to the other side.”


A few months later, Penny was onsite at a new industrial park being developed in Guelph, Ontario. At night, environmentalists and local citizenry, concerned about frogs and other wildlife living near the construction zone, began showing up at night to direct traffic and protect the creatures at the site.

“Their actions may have made it a little safer for the creatures they were trying to protect, but civilians directing gravel trucks and traffic around a site at night certainly made the situation potentially dangerous for the humans involved,” says Penny. “And when someone found a dead Jefferson salamander – a protected herp – that had been run over by a truck, the level of public consternation increased dramatically. I explained the coffee can fences that I had seen on Vancouver Island, and the City built and installed similar ones around the proposed industrial subdivision site. In doing so, they managed to understand the populations and movements of many species of herps, eventually saving many, although they never did see another Jefferson salamander,” adds Penny.

Penny’s third experience in his herp awareness trifecta happened later, as he drove from Toronto to Parry Sound via Highway 69. On that trip he couldn’t help but notice the very visible signs of efforts intended to facilitate safer crossing for animals.

“They were installing crossings for long-nosed snakes and rattle snakes,” says Penny. “In fact, worry about the safety of animal life on that project, was so prevalent, it almost halted the development of the highway 69 extension to Sudbury,” he adds.

CSPI’s “Near Perfect Herpetofauna Eco-Passage”

Roads in Canada have expanded significantly over the past two decades and will continue to do so. Currently, there are more than 1.4 million km of domestic roads, as well as over 72,000 km of functioning railway track. Development of northern areas for natural resource extraction will soon expand road networks even deeper into isolated areas and further decrease the amount of unspoiled land.

A great many of Canada’s roads currently feature CSP culverts and other steel structures to help facilitate the flow of rivers, creeks and streams. In that capacity they already serve, to a degree, as passageways for fish, herps and other types of wildlife.

“We live in such an enormous country, with such a diverse population of wildlife, that overcoming national problems can at first seem pretty daunting,” says Penny. “I always looked at developing answers one step at a time, and the most important step in any journey is always the next one. And, no matter how daunting the problem may seem, taking the first step is a critical initiative to success,” he adds.

After being involved with corrugated steel pipe for decades, Penny put his mind to work to see what could be done with CSP to design and build a better, safer eco-passage, specifically for herps.

“I knew intuitively that an 800mm pipe was likely ideal for this use, as with only 300 mm of top fill it will safely support any road or rail loads running above it; plus, it was the minimum approved size cross culvert for many highway departments,” explains Penny. “But open bottom steel box culverts and arches are also available in virtually any size required,” he adds.


“The 800 mm pipe size is also large enough to facilitate easy inspection and maintenance, and also to let in plenty of light. Plus, with the available variants of CSP – including Galvanized, Aluminized Type 2 and Polymer Laminated – the passage can be manufactured to maximize its field performance and longevity,” says Penny.

The ‘Near Perfect Herpetofauna Eco-Passage’ was the result of this CSPI initiative, which carefully considered the needs of many types of herps. For instance, even with 150 mm of natural soils and debris serving as an interior infill which effectively creates a herp ‘crawlway,’ the passage was designed to ensure that its ceiling height could easily accommodate even the highest herp jumper – the Ranid tree frog (500 mm jump height).

To find out more about CSPI’s ‘Near Perfect Herpetofauna Eco-Passage’ design, click the link below.

Tech Bulletin 16 - Taking Road Kill Out of the Cycle of Life Equation