A funny thing about reptiles and amphibians, or “herps” as we call them in the herpetology field, is it’s easiest to find them when looking around your feet. As an educator, I find that children often discover these creatures before adults see them.
In early summer, what looks like crickets are usually young toadlets that have just emerged from the ponds. The small black tadpoles with gold flecks at Mystery Lake have grown up and are now looking for homes in the forest. When walking on a trail that passes a wetland, please be especially mindful where you place your feet, as youthful toads are hopping toward the forest. They are extremely fragile, so please do not pick them up.
Mystery Lake and Boardwalk Pond are home to numerous Painted and Snapping Turtles. If you’re lucky you might even spot a Blanding’s Turtle, which are a Species of Special Concern in Wisconsin. Blanding’s are known by their bright yellow chin and helmet-shaped shell.
Being ectothermic, turtles are only as warm as their surroundings. They can be seen sunning on logs, sometimes on top of one another. Unlike humans, who receive our energy from food, turtles acquire 70% – 80% of their energy from sunlight. Thus, they bathe themselves in sunlight, and the turtle on top receives the majority of the sun’s energy.
Garter Snakes, which live all over the Center, use the sun the same way as turtles do. The best place to find snakes is near a southern-facing wall, which absorbs and radiates the sun’s heat. Walls and asphalt stay warm after the sun goes down, so it is common to see snakes “sunning in the dark” on certain areas of the parking lot.
Later on in summer, the majority of the frogs in the ponds will be Green Frogs and Bullfrogs. They look a lot alike, but there is one secret to tell them apart: the Green Frog has two raised lines, which run down each side their back, known as dorsolateral ridges.
This summer, spend a little time with your eyes toward the ground and you’ll discover the creatures that hop, wriggle, and crawl through Schlitz Audubon.
Written by Jim Hyatt
Schlitz Audubon Family Programs Manager