We homeowners are familiar with the birds, butterflies, squirrels, chipmunks, reptiles and other critters that inhabit our yards.  However, few of us realize that many of our backyards can be home to salamanders too.  One of the reasons for this is we rarely seen them.

       The salamander this Houston County homeowner discovered is known as the marbled salamander. It is one of the most commonly seen salamanders in Georgia backyards.  However, if you are going to see one of these secretive critters it will probably be on a rainy night from September through November at this time of the year, marbled salamanders migrate from their summer homes to nearby breeding sites.  When this happens, they show up in all sorts of places such on driveways, in carports and even in gardens and lawns.

       These small (about 3 inches long), harmless creatures live in a variety of woodlands across most of Georgia.  Here they make their home in the leaf litter blanketing the forest floor, beneath rotten logs, or in root or rodent holes.  Marbled salamanders occupy a summer home range measuring only about 17 yards in diameter. 


       One of the oddest amphibians you may encounter in your backyard is the eastern narrow-mouthed toad (Gastrophyne carolinensis).

       This small critter (1 – 1.25” long) is not a true frog, as it does not have webbed feet. However, it doesn’t have warts (paratoid glands) that are characteristic of toads.  It is in a family all to itself.

       Heavy rain showers during the breeding season can trigger breeding. During such times, males and females congregate in small bodies of water such as  puddles, roadside ditches, and deep wheel ruts.

       Males call to attract females.  Their calls are distinctive sounding much like a loud electronic buzzer (weeeeeee) that can last up to four seconds.  Males often call with only the tip of their heads protruding above the water.

NARROW-MOUTHED-TOAD–Photo credit: Angela Dupree

       With the exception of the extreme northeast corner of the state, this strange amphibian ranges across all of Georgia.  In spite of this, it is an animal that Georgians rarely see.  This is largely due to its habits.  Except during the mating season, which can extend from April to October, this toad-like amphibian lives beneath the surface of the ground in burrows that up to 20 inches in length.

       The narrow-mouthed toad prefers to excavate its burrow in loamy and sandy soils. Here it hunts its prey. Some 75% of its diet consists of termites and ants.  It also dines on beetles and other invertebrates.

       You are most likely to find one around your home beneath boards left on the ground, and rocks. Recently my daughter found one hiding beneath a flowerpot. You have the best chance of finding a narrow-mouthed toad after heavy rains.

       The narrow-mouthed toad secrets a mildly toxic substance helps ward off predators. However, should you handle one of these strange critters, make sure you thoroughly wash your hands before touching your mouth or eyes.  If you do not heed this advice, you may experience a burning sensation that can last an hour or more.


        Each year untold numbers of frogs, toads, bats, rabbits, birds, chipmunks and other wildlife species are trapped in swimming pools and decorative water features with sides that are simply too steep for the animals to crawl to safety.  If they are lucky, they will be spotted by someone that can gently remove them from the water with long-handled net. However, in far too many instances the animals swim around until they become exhausted and drown.

       This past week, during a visit to the River Banks Botanical Garden in Columbia, South Carolina, my granddaughter, Anna, and her friends stumbled across a simple device that was being used to avoid such tragedies.  It seems they found 25+ toads mating in a pool surrounding a decorative fountain. Since the edge of the concrete pool was extremely steep, it was obvious the adult toads had little chance of climbing out of the pool after the female toads laid long gelatinous strings of eggs and the males fertilized them.

       In an effort to prevent the toads from drowning, several FrogLogs had been positioned along the edge of the pool.  The FrogLog is a simple device that serves as an exit ramp leading from water to dry land. If they are left in place after the adult toads hop to safety, they will serve as exit ramps for a new generation of toads.

       That is amazing when you consider the FrogLog consists of nothing more than an inflatable floating platform and fabric bag attached to a nylon mesh ramp.

       If you have a problem with animals becoming stranded in your pool, this might be a simple solution to a perplexing problem.


        Unfortunately, folktales link many of our backyard wildlife neighbors such as owls, toads, snakes, and bats to Halloween.  That being the case, with Halloween only a few weeks away, there is no better time to dispel one of the tall tales regarding one of these unfortunate animals — the toad.

        The animals associated with Halloween have a number of things in common.  For example, many are creatures of the night.  This is a time when folktales tell us these animals consort with witches and goblins.  Such associations are enough to malign any animal.  As such, it is not surprising that people fear the toad.  Although we are not afraid toads will bite us, many people honestly believe that, if you touch a toad, you will get warts.  Apparently, toads also infect witches with warts as they are often depicted with warts on their noses.  Let’s do a fact check and see if this bit of folklore is actually true.

        The origin of this belief was long ago lost in the mists of history.  However, it is widely believed this notion originated from the fact that the skins of toads are covered with lots of oddly shaped warts.  Since medical knowledge was rudimentary at that time in history, this conclusion was not disputed and took on a life of its own.  Who among us has not heard our father or mother tell us not to pick up that toad, because will give your warts?  

        The truth of the matter is warts are caused by something called a human papillion virus.  There are 150 or so viruses of this type.  They most often infect humans through a cut or scratch.  It has been suggested that one of the reasons children seem to develop warts more than adults is their roughhousing make them more prone to get scratches and cuts.  In addition, the fact that their immune systems have not yet fully developed makes them more susceptible to many infections like warts.

        I can personally attest to the fact that toads do not cause warts.  When my granddaughter was a youngster, I often accompanied her on forays into the dark to see how many toads she could capture in a single night.  On a good night, she might catch a dozen or more of the “warty” critters.  After examining and photographing them, she released them where they were captured.  During these unforgettable adventures, she never developed any warts.  However, I was left with a wealth of priceless memories.

        I hope that I have dispelled this folktale.  Unfortunately, I suspect that the belief that toads can infect us with warts will be around for many Halloweens to come.


     Whenever you see a box turtle attempting to cross a busy highway, I am sure you cannot help but be concerned the reptile can safely complete its perilous journey.  Indeed, with traffic volume increasing every year, box turtle treks across the black asphalt ribbons that crisscross the state are becoming ever more dangerous.  Not wanting to see a box turtle struck by a vehicle, whenever possible, drivers often stop and try to help turtle avoid being crushed by a car or truck.  Once a turtle is retrieved, a driver must decide where to place it in order to keep it out of harm’s way.

       I have asked two herpetologists what they would recommend in this situation.  Both agreed it is best to place the turtle on the side of the road it was headed.  While there is always a chance the turtle will turn around and walk back onto the highway, in most instances, this is not the case.

       The experts also stressed it is not a good idea to move a turtle  a mile or two down the road to a place that appears to be safer.  When released some distance from its home range, box turtles often find it difficult to find enough food to survive.  This can result in the turtles wandering about.

       If you decide to come to the aid of a box turtle trying to plod across a busy highway, please make sure you have a safe place to pull off the road.  In addition, do not walk out into the highway to retrieve a box turtle until you are absolutely certain you can do so well before a oncoming vehicle reaches you.


       If you are trying to encourage frogs to breed in your small backyard pond, it is best not to stock your pond with fish, with the exception of the perhaps a small number of mosquito fish.

       It seems many species of fish will eat tadpoles. In addition, young fish will often compete with tadpoles for food.



At this time of the year, we Georgians are spending a lot of time in our yards.  As such, homeowners and their families are more likely to encounter a snake now than at any other time of the year.  Whenever somebody does run across a snake, the first question that often comes to mind is, “Is this reptile poisonous?

       According to John Jensen, senior wildlife biologist with the Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section and one of the state’s leading authorities on snakes, “Only every once in a while is it a venomous snake.”

       It seems that only six of the 46 species of Georgia’s of native snakes are poisonous.  The vast majority of the Peach State’s snakes are not a threat to humans.  However, far too often, harmless snakes are needlessly persecuted.  This is unfortunate because snakes are valued members of the wildlife communities that live in our yards.

       One way that you can alleviate your fears that you have encountered a poisonous snake is to learn how to identify them.  Since you only have to learn to identify six snakes, this is an easy task. 

       The Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section has prepared two publications that make identifying Georgia’s poisonous snakes a snap.  These full color pamphlets are entitled, “Venomous Snakes of Georgia” and “Is it a Water Moccasin?”.  Both publications can be downloaded by visiting the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Section website at