Little Grass Frog

In the comments for last week’s cricket frog post, I mentioned that the cricket frog was not the smallest frog in Florida. Then, I completely neglected to say what the smallest frog was. So, here it is: the little grass frog. It’s related to the spring peeper, in the Pseudacris genus.

They are tiny. The frog pictured above is sitting on my raincoat, which doesn’t really give a good sense of scale. Here’s one on a square of ordinary velcro, and one on the palm of my hand:

The little grass frog is another amphibian that breeds in ephemeral ponds, as well as other grassy-edged bodies of water.  I’ve only ever seen two, and I spent a great deal of time in their habitat.

It’s not particularly rare; it’s just very hard to see. Put this little guy in some dead grass, and he would disappear. These, like literally hundreds of mole salamanders, ornate chorus frogs, and leopard frogs, were captured in an attempt to catch flatwoods salamanders (more about those next week). I’ve never seen one just hopping around on the ground. If you do, what luck! Take a picture. Preferably with an object for scale, because nobody will comprehend just how tiny it is without one.

Cricket Frogs

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Go to a pond in the southeast and walk along the muddy edge, and you’ll likely see tiny frogs leaping into the water ahead of you. You’ll rarely see the frog beforehand; the first hint of its existence will be a little splash. They launch themselves many times their body length, springing from the weeds into the water as if assisted by wings. From the opposite side of the pond, you’ll hear repeated clicks, like stones being struck together.

If you can find one sitting still long enough to get a good look, you’ll see that it’s about an inch long: a slender, long-legged creature, with bumpy skin and a triangle on the back of its head. It will be some combination of brown, black, green, and gold.11-03-03_02_modified-1

There are two species of cricket frogs: northern and southern. The northern species has slightly longer legs and a slightly more rounded snout, but they are otherwise very similar. They sometimes interbreed where their ranges overlap. (Those shown in this post are the southern species or hybrids of the two.) Between the two species, they cover most of the eastern half of the US.

The breeding season depends on the local climate; in Florida they may breed year-round, while in the northern edge of their range it’s limited to spring. Adults eat insects and spiders, while the tadpoles are vegetarians and feed on algae. The tadpoles are actually longer than the adults, if you include their tails, which are long, transparent, and often black-tipped. The black tip may be useful in confusing predators into grabbing for the tail instead of the body. This is good, because cricket frog tadpoles are eaten by just about everything else in the water — dragonfly larvae, salamanders, fish, snakes, other frogs… The lucky tadpoles which survive can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks to metamorphose into adults.

Not a single cloud

Bright, vibrant colors in winter can be hard to find, but sometimes all you have to do is look up.

Rat Snake

Rat snakes are some of the most frequently seen snakes in the US, but they still cause a lot of confusion and panic. They’re often mistaken for whatever venomous snake lives in the same area. They’re relatively large snakes, and they have an intimidating defensive posture, raising the fronts of their bodies above the ground. And they can have a slightly triangular head if you’re looking at it and thinking, is that triangular? I don’t know… maybe? Kinda. Better assume it’s venomous.

It’s not venomous. Rat snakes are harmless, unless you’re small enough for them to swallow. They can even be beneficial to humans, keeping the rodent population under control. On the other hand, they’re notorious for stealing chicken eggs, which they can swallow whole. And they can clear out an entire nest of baby birds. (If you put up birdhouses, it’s a good idea to add predator guards.)

They’re also skilled tree-climbers*. If you live in the United States, and you see a snake hanging out in a tree in your yard, or from the rafters in a barn, or perched calmly on top of your doorframe as you go to open the door, chances are pretty good that you have a rat snake.

Identifying them can get a little complicated. They come in different patterns and colors, depending on the region. In peninsular Florida, they’re yellow with dark stripes:

Yellow rat snake
Yellow rat snake. © Gabriel Kamener Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike

 

Elsewhere on the Gulf Coast, they’re gray or tan with darker patches, like the one pictured at the top of this post.  And farther north, they’re black:

Black rat snake.
Black rat snake. © Matt Reinbold Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 (CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike

 

And to the west, you get this splotchy, stripey kind:

https://i2.wp.com/media.eol.org/content/2014/08/25/09/77180_orig.jpg
Texas rat snake.  © bchambers Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0) Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial

 

These are all the same species! At the edges of their regions, intergrade patterns are often found. The Atlantic coast has some olive-green ones, a mix of yellow and black. In the Piedmont, where I live, they’re mostly black but often have some faint markings.

Rat snakes are constrictors, like boas and pythons, but much smaller. A truly giant rat snake is about 7 feet long, and most adults are under 5 feet. Still, you could say they’re the closest thing the US has to pythons (except in the Everglades, where the Burmese python has become a pest).

They like abandoned buildings and other structures near humans, where the rats are plentiful. So if you see a big yellow, black, or brown snake hanging out in a tree or a hayloft, no need to panic. It’s probably just a rat snake going about its exterminator duties. Leave it alone, and enjoy fewer rats around your house.


Here’s a rat snake in action:

** Source for images (except the first one): Encyclopedia of Life

Fairytale Of New York

Totally not a nature photo, but I thought I would share my favorite Xmas song, which is to say, one of  only two I will listen to by choice. The other is Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” which is the only one I’ve ever heard that reflects my experience of the holiday.

But this is the only one I listen to in months other than December, just because I like it.

Oops!

A belated response to the Daily Press weekly photo challenge: Oops!

I am an utterly hopeless bird photographer. My camera is bad for it, but on top of that, I’m  bad at it. The only birds I have ever successfully photographed have been at the beach, where there is tons of bright light and the birds are more or less standing still.

Any other bird? It looks semi-okay on my camera’s little screen, but then I get it onto my computer and, wow. What is that, even? Is that a bird? It just looks like a blurry, grainy, underexposed mess.

This is one of my better attempts.

Harbingers of Spring

Some animals live their lives on a strict annual timetable. Migratory birds set off about the same time each year. Hibernating animals start stuffing themselves and building up insulation-fat at the same time. Many species have reproductive cycles that match the seasons.

Some are so predictable and noticeable that they can come to symbolize a season. When the sandhill cranes arrive at the lake near my parents’ house, it is fall. When I lived there, in northern Florida, the sight of a swallow-tailed kite drifting gracefully through the sky meant summer was arriving. I have always liked summer, even in Florida where many hate it, so a glimpse of a kite always made me smile, and not just because they are beautiful. Which they certainly are. I don’t have a good photo of one in flight, so here’s a video:

ARKive video - Swallow-tailed kite - overview

But long before I lived in Florida, I lived in a much colder place: northwestern Pennsylvania. That area gets a lot of snow, and while they’re used to it, everyone is pretty sick of it by March. The earliest signs of spring are important. Spring there is announced by two sounds: the calls of Canada geese flying north, and the deafening chorus of spring peepers from every creek and roadside ditch that isn’t frozen.

IMGP0774 Continue reading Harbingers of Spring

Reblog: Your Wild City – Greenshield Lichen

About Greenshield Lichen -Lichens are amazing. They’re a fusion of multiple life forms: a fungus plus an alga, cyanobacterium, or both, growing intertwined. The fungus eats the sugars that its partner makes from sunlight. Greenshield Lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata) is comfortable growing on city trees so long as the pollution isn’t too bad. It

Source: Your Wild City – Greenshield Lichen

Wolf Spider vs. Green Anole

Lizards eat small invertebrates. That’s what lizards do. Insects, spiders, ticks, grubs– all tasty morsels for your local lizard population.

When I lived in Florida, I had geckos in the house. I didn’t put them there, but they came in, and I happily let them stay. Because of them, I never had spiders on the ceiling. Lizards eat spiders. It’s the way of the world.

But sometimes… Sometimes, a spider defies its destiny.

Victory goes to the spider this time.

Springtime in a Sydney suburb

Time for another international guest post! Maddy sent me this absolutely beautiful photo essay from Australia, where it looks to be a lovely spring. I’m jealous, sitting here in the cooling, darkening US! Please enjoy her spring flowers, and then go check out her blog, Maddy At Home.


Thank you Bethany, for inviting me to post on your blog.

Springtime244When people think of Australia, they think of extreme heat, the outback, and perhaps gum trees. They may not be aware of the wonderful flowers, shrubs and trees that we take for granted as we go about our business every day in the city.

My name is Maddy and I live in an inner suburb of Sydney in New South Wales. As the Northern Hemisphere heads into the depth of winter, I wanted to share with you the colorful springtime that we are privileged to enjoy.

IMG_20151025_165505_zpsgvdg7rbvOver the last few weeks I have been having a lovely view from my kitchen window. When the afternoon sun plays on the brilliant pink bougainvillea it is a sight to behold, but the photo really doesn’t do it justice. My outlook is otherwise not the best, but in spring it really is a treat! Moving round to the small garden in the front of our units, I have another bougainvillea in deep purple that you can see in one of the photos below. I have to constantly cut it back lest it completely take over my balcony. Many people find this colorful shrub to be a nuisance because cutting it back only makes it grow quicker. The job of pruning it is not a pleasant one because it has sharp thorns all along its stems. Continue reading Springtime in a Sydney suburb