Fred Scheuler and his wife Aleta Karstad with the Michael Rankin Distinguished Herpetologist Award plaque . Source: Facebook

A local naturalist has been recognized by the Canadian Herpetological Society (CHS) for a lifetime of work studying amphibians and reptiles in Canada.

Bishops Mills resident, Fred Schueler, has been studying reptiles and amphibians for over 50 years. Although he started out as a birder, Fred was drawn to the field of herpetology by a professor he had in his undergrad at Cornell University, who was himself an ant specialist; but was also interested in oviducts in male Leopard Frogs. “A bunch of us undergraduates said well why don’t you get us a state car and we’ll drive around and see what Leopard Frogs are doing in New York State and Pennsylvania,” Fred remembers. “And so, we spent the spring sort of ineffectually driving around catching Leopard Frogs.”

When he came to the University of Toronto for his graduate studies in 1970, Fred decided to switch gears from studying birds to focusing on the geographic variation of Leopard Frogs for his PhD thesis. Specimens that Fred collected during his studies ended up in the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa and the DNA from the specimens was used for further research over 30 years later.

Fred has continued to contribute greatly to the field of herpetology, studying not only Leopard Frogs but many other species of reptiles and amphibians including turtles, snakes and salamanders. He has authored and co-authored over 30 peer-reviewed papers of scientific research and natural history notes, as well as many government reports, magazine articles, newsletter articles and local newspaper articles contributing to the conservation and collective knowledge of reptiles and amphibians in Canada. He is passionate about public education, and he and his wife Aleta Karstad have been hosting Mudpuppy Nights in Oxford Mills for over 25 years where they invite the public to see the giant salamanders who live in the creek below the dam. “The only type of herpetology he hasn’t been actually working in is lizards,” Aleta says. “There is some kind of a curse on me that lizards don’t show up when I’m around,” Fred adds.

The pair’s long-time friends, colleagues and Oxford Mills residents, Amanda Bennett and Matt Keevil, were the ones who nominated Fred for last year’s Michael Rankin Distinguished Canadian Herpetologist Award from CHS. Amanda, who is the secretary of the board for CHS, says the award is not only presented to someone who has had a long career in herpetology, but also someone who has contributed to the growth of the field. “They’re very community-minded,” she says about Fred and Aleta. “I think that’s also sort of a big part of the award, how much support for building the next generation and future generations of herpetologists they offer.”

Fred was officially presented with the Michael Rankin Distinguished Canadian Herpetologist Award before CHS’ online conference in September. Fred says it was a big surprise, especially since he was focused on honouring his own mentor, Francis Cook, with a posthumous award for his dedication to the field at the conference. “I thought we were just going to present Francis’ award to [his wife] Joyce, when Amanda sprang the Rankin plaque on me,” he says.

It is clear that Fred’s dedication to herpetology will be life-long. Even after half a century of studying amphibians and reptiles, he is always busy helping with projects and collecting his own data which he compiles electronically in his database. This spring, he is focused on helping a researcher at the University of Ottawa address the declining population of Chorus Frogs by creating a colony to be released into specific habitats in Eastern Ontario. “It’s sort of Aleta and my responsibility to catch the frogs he’s going to need to start this colony with Ontario stock,” he says.

Through hard work and dedication to the field, Fred has become an elder of herpetology in Ontario, if not the entire country. He often uses Facebook to liaise with other herpetologists, and he and Aleta have also created the Eastern Ontario Nature List where anyone can share observations and get help identifying species. Amanda says with all his papers, books, community outreach and unfettered passion for the field, he definitely deserved to be recognized. “His curriculum vitae is long enough, he certainly warrants a lifetime-of-achievement [award],” she says.


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