Tag Archives: herps

Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell

Take 5: Gray Treefrogs

If you’ve been spending many of your pleasant summer evenings in a wooded area, perhaps sitting in your backyard or a local park, you may have heard a short, high-pitched trill pierce the stillness and thought, “What on Earth kind of bird is that?!” That’s no bird! It’s the Gray Treefrog.

These minute masters of camouflage clock in at just 1.25″–2.25″ in length, with the females often slightly larger than the males. They can change their color based on their environment, ranging from green to gray to brown, but young frogs are typically bright green.

Found everywhere in Massachusetts except the islands, Gray Treefrogs can be heard (but difficult to spot) around dusk from spring through summer as they look for mates and establish their territories.

Enjoy these five fabulous photos of Gray Treefrogs from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Don’t forget to submit your own nature photography, as the 2020 contest is now open!

Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell
Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell
Gray Treefrog © Aimee Grace
Gray Treefrog © Aimee Grace
Gray Treefrog © Francis Morello
Gray Treefrog © Francis Morello
Gray Treefrog © Anne Whitaker
Gray Treefrog © Anne Whitaker
Gray Treefrog © Bryan Gammons
Gray Treefrog © Bryan Gammons
Garter Snake © Larry Manning

Take 5: Gutsy Garter Snakes

The most widespread of all snake species in Massachusetts, the Eastern Garter Snake can frequently be spotted out sunning itself on rocks and logs in sunny forest clearings, grassy meadows, backyards, and in freshwater habitats.

While garter snakes are basically harmless, they may release an unpleasant-smelling secretion when they are handled so, as with all wildlife, it’s best to leave them to their business and admire them from afar. Snakes that are sunning may have just eaten, so handling them may cause them digestive problems. Conversely, snakes that are hiding may be getting ready to shed, which can affect their vision, so they may be more defensive if they cannot see well. It suffices to say that it’s better for both snakes and people if we can avoid harassing them by attempting to handle them.

Garters lack fangs or, strictly speaking, venom glands, although they do have a small amount of toxin in their saliva that is only dangerous for amphibians and other small prey animals. Far more interesting than its offensive capabilities is the snake’s chemical defense strategy: Not only are garter snakes resistant to naturally occurring poisons from their toxic prey (including newts and toads), but they can also retain the toxins in their bodies, thereby becoming toxic themselves and deterring potential predators. Amazing!

Here are five photos of our amazing official state reptile from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2020 photo contest is now open, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!

Garter Snake © Larry Manning
Garter Snake © Larry Manning
Garter Snake © John Gounarides
Garter Snake © John Gounarides
Garter Snake © Brendan Lynch
Garter Snake © Brendan Lynch
Garter Snake © Pamela Kelly
Garter Snake © Pamela Kelly
Garter Snake © Amy Severino
Garter Snake © Amy Severino
Snapping Turtle © Mark Renehan

Take 5: Snapping Turtles

Every year in late spring and early summer, adult female turtles cross the roads of Massachusetts in search of nest sites. One of the biggest (literally) culprits is the Snapping Turtle.

Found in all sorts of water bodies, from rivers to lakes to marshes, the Snapping Turtle can grow up to 19” long. It has three ridges on its carapace (the top half of its shell), a spiky tail, and a decidedly “dinosaur-ish” look, with good reason—The first turtles appeared over 200 million years ago, making them even more ancient than their reptilian cousins, snakes and lizards.

Many people assume that something is wrong when a turtle is crossing the road. With best of intentions, they mistakenly attempt to return it to water, take it home, or take it somewhere that seems safer to release it. But the best thing to do is leave it alone or, if threatened by traffic, move it to the side of the road in the direction it was already heading. The turtle knows where it wants to go and may have been nesting in the same spot for many years—or even decades.

But remember, Snapping Turtles can be aggressive and have powerful jaws that can deliver a painful bite if threatened (possibly because their small lower shell or “plastron” leaves them vulnerable) and their neck can stretch the length of their shell. Never grab one by the tail—you could seriously injure the turtle. Simply give her space and let her mosey along on her way.

Here are five photos of these amazing creatures from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Learn more about the turtles of Massachusetts on our website.

Snapping Turtle © Jim Morelly
Snapping Turtle © Jim Morelly
Snapping Turtle © Mark Renehan
Snapping Turtle © Mark Renehan
Snapping Turtle © Mary McDonough
Snapping Turtle © Mary McDonough
Snapping Turtle © Paul Malenfant
Snapping Turtle © Paul Malenfant
Snapping Turtle © Richard Welch
Snapping Turtle © Richard Welch
Red Eft © Allison Bell

Take 5: Red Efts

After a spring rainstorm, it can seem like the forest is carpeted with fiery-orange Red Efts as they emerge from their hiding places under logs and leaf litter. Efts are actually the juvenile, terrestrial stage of the Eastern Newt’s unusual 3-part life cycle: They begin their lives in the water as tadpoles, shed their gills and spend several years on land as Red Efts, and eventually (for reasons that scientists are still trying to understand) return to the water as adults, transformed to an olive green color with a yellow belly. They are said to be capable of living up to 15 years!

Red Efts are not exactly masters of camouflage: Their striking color, which can range from yellow-orange to brick red, is an example of “aposematism” or warning coloration—it sends a signal to potential predators that they don’t make a very good snack, due to their toxic skin secretions.

Although their toxic skin protects them from most predators, it is also very porous, making them susceptible to environmental toxins, including sunscreen and bug spray. So if you happen upon a Red Eft in a vulnerable place and want to move it to a safer spot, avoid touching it directly with your hands.

Enjoy these five photos of Red Efts/Eastern Newts from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest and learn more about salamander species of Massachusetts on our website.

Red Eft © Allison Bell
Red Eft © Allison Bell
Red Eft © Anna Mitchell
Red Eft © Anna Mitchell
Red Eft © Emerson Booth
Red Eft © Emerson Booth
Red Eft © Jenn Janaitis
Red Eft © Jenn Janaitis
Red Eft © Criss Nickoloff
Red Eft © Criss Nickoloff

Wood Frog © Jane Parker

Take 5: Wonderful Wood Frogs

Warming spring days trigger amphibians like Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders to migrate to vernal pools to breed, often in great numbers, on the night of the first soaking rain above 45°F—a phenomenon known as “Big Night.”

Vernal pools are temporary, isolated ponds that form when spring rain and meltwater from ice and snow flood into woodland hollows and low meadows. These pools provide critical breeding habitat for certain amphibian and invertebrate species—since most vernal pools eventually dry up, they are inaccessible and inhospitable to predatory fish.

Wood Frogs are one of several species that rely on vernal pools to breed and reproduce. As you approach a vernal pool in early spring, you can hear a chorus of wood frogs “quacking” their breeding calls.

Learn more about vernal pools and their unique inhabitants—including a list of sanctuaries with vernal pools that you can visit—on our website and enjoy these five photos of wonderful Wood Frogs.

Wood Frog © Jane Parker
Wood Frog © Jane Parker
Wood Frog © Amanda De Rosa
Wood Frog © Amanda De Rosa
Wood Frog © Maureen Duffy
Wood Frog © Maureen Duffy
Wood Frog © Lucas Beaudette
Wood Frog © Lucas Beaudette
Wood Frog © Mass Audubon/Ryan Dorsey
Wood Frog © Mass Audubon/Ryan Dorsey
Eastern Milk Snake (juvenile) © Ashley Gibbs

Take 5: Snake My Day

We’ve given snakes some love on this blog before, but they’re just so cool it seemed like time for a redux. This time of year, as young people everywhere are heading back to school or leaving home for college, the young of many species of snakes are also setting out on their own in the world.

Some species, like Ringneck, Milk, and Eastern Hognose snakes, lay eggs during the summer that hatch in August or September while others, such as Copperheads and Northern Red-bellied Snakes, give birth to live young anywhere from mid-July through September, even into October in the case of Eastern Garter Snakes and Northern Watersnakes.

Massachusetts’s 14 species of native snakes can be found everywhere from wetlands to woodlands, from rocky hillsides to stone walls, and from forests to fields. You might even find an Eastern Garter Snake or Eastern Milk Snake hanging out in your basement, generously helping to remedy any rodent problems you might be having!

Enjoy these five photos of native snakes, all submitted to our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Submit your own wildlife photography to this year’s contest and learn more about snakes on our website.

Eastern Ribbon Snake © Kathy Diamontopoulos
Eastern Ribbon Snake © Kathy Diamontopoulos
Northern Copperheads © Mark Lotterhand
Northern Copperheads © Mark Lotterhand
Eastern Hognose Snake © Patrick Randall
Eastern Hognose Snake © Patrick Randall
Eastern Milk Snake (juvenile) © Ashley Gibbs
Eastern Milk Snake (juvenile) © Ashley Gibbs
Northern Water Snake © Holland Hoagland
Northern Water Snake © Holland Hoagland
Common Garter Snake © Catherine Luce

Take 5: Garter Snakes

The Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), one of the most commonly seen snakes in Massachusetts, is also the official state reptile. They sport long, yellow stripes down the length of their bodies, which are typically green, brown, or even black, and average about 20-22″ in length, but can grow up to 54″ long.

You may be startled to encounter one while out for a walk in the woods, basking in a patch of warm sunlight, but there’s no need to worry; garters are non-venomous and generally shy. More than likely, it will quickly dart away into the brush to escape. This quick retreat can make it difficult to differentiate a Common Garter Snake from the much rarer Eastern Ribbon Snake, which has additional burgundy stripes and a white eyespot, but if you’re unsure, garter snakes are much more common, and likely your best bet.

Garter snakes eat amphibians, fish, small mammals, earthworms, and sometimes insects. People often mistakenly call this snake a “garden snake,” because it can sometimes be seen in gardens. However, the name “garter snake” comes from the old fashion of wearing garters—strips of fabric that hold up stockings.

Here are five photos of our state reptile from past entrants to our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2018 photo contest is now open, so submit your beautiful nature photography today!

Common Garter Snake © Carole Rosen

Common Garter Snake © Carole Rosen

Common Garter Snake © Evan Morley

Common Garter Snake © Evan Morley

Common Garter Snake © Dominic Poliseno

Common Garter Snake © Dominic Poliseno

Common Garter Snakes © Michael Onyon

Common Garter Snakes © Michael Onyon

Common Garter Snake © Catherine Luce

Common Garter Snake © Catherine Luce