The green anole (Anolis carolinsis) is a common backyard resident throughout much of Georgia.  Green anoles are most active during the spring and fall.  However, once cold weather arrives, they simply disappear. Have you ever wondered where to these fascinating modern dinosaurs go in frigid weather?  If so, here is the answer.

       Remarkably, in Georgia, green anoles remain active throughout the entire year.  They do not hibernate, however, when it is very cold these cold-blooded animals remain inactive for days at a time.  During these periods, they often shelter themselves under fallen logs, under boards, and tree bark, tree cavities and the like. Such spots are often much warmer than places out in the open.  I suspect some of the green anoles living in my backyard retreat under the deck at the rear of my home.  In some instances, these small lizards will wait out cold weather in groups.  Then, when we have an uncommonly warm winter day, they awake, magically reappear and begin basking in the sunlight and looking for food.

       Although it might not sound like a big deal to some folks, I have long considered being able to see these remarkable creatures every month of the year is one of the perks of living in Georgia.



       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.


         Countless species of animals live in Georgia yards. However, when we think about the animals that inhabit our yards we often focus on large animals such as birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects.  However, there are far smaller creatures such as earthworms, centipedes, mites and the like, that also live out their lives just outside our door.  One of the most fascinating is an earthworm (Diplocardia longa). Like many invertebrates, it does not have an official common name; however, some simply refer it as the Hawkinsville glow worm.  However, what makes this earthworm so special is that it is one of only 37 species of luminescent earthworms known to exist worldwide.

         The reason we associate Diplocardia longa with Hawkinsville. Georgia is an American zoologist named John Penny Moore was the first to document the existence of this earthworm.  His description is based on worms first collected in Hawkinsville, Georgia in 1904.

       This is large earthworm is 11 or more inches in length and has a diameter of 0.20 inches.  The ends of its body are brown while the majority of the worm is colored salmon red.  The body is translucent which allows the animals veins to be visible.  The worm also displays a club-shaped swelling near its tail.

       What sets this earthworm apart from the vast majority of other earthworms is when the critter is disturbed a luminescent slimy substance that glows blue oozes out from its pores on the dorsal side of its body, as well as its mouth and anus.

       Biologists are unsure what role the sticky goo plays in the life of the Hawkinsville glow worm.  However, some zoologists theorize the eerie blue substance scares off potential predators such as moles.

       We know very little about the worm’s abundance, life history, and distribution. About all that is known is you have the best chance of digging one up in the sandy soils found in Georgia’s Coastal Plain.

       While I personally have never heard anyone talk about finding a Hawkinsville glow worm, I suspect that backyard gardeners throughout the region unearth it from time to time.  If you have happened across one of these odd creatures, I would love to hear about your experience.



        Whenever we spend some time in our yards there is always the chance that we will encounter a snake.  Consequently, what is to best way to react when you do see one?

       To begin with, according to the state herpetologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Daniel Sollenberger, chances are the snake you see will not be poisonous.  The reason for this is that out of the 47 species of snakes native to Georgia only 7 are poisonous.  In addition, the copperhead is the species that is usually found in suburban areas.

       When you see a snake, here is what the Georgia Department of Natural Resources recommends that you do.

       Do not attempt to handle it. Give the reptile a wide berth. If possible, take a photo of the snake.

       If you cannot identify it, a good source of information can be located at snakes.

       Remember, state law protects our native nonpoisonous snakes. In addition, federal law protects the eastern indigo snake.

       Since the snakes in your yard are trying to hunt down prey such as insects, small mammals, amphibians and even other snakes, they should be allowed to escape into nearby cover.  However, if you locate a potential poisonous snake that poses a potential danger to you, your family, or pets, do not try to remove it yourself.  Instead, your best course of action is to contact a private wildlife removal specialist.  You can obtain a list of them by going to

       If you have any questions regarding snakes, contact Daniel Sollenberger, senior wildlife biologist – (478) 994-1438;




        If you live in the suburbs or a rural area, there is a good chance that rabbits appear from time to time in your backyard. However, since four species of rabbits live in Georgia, which species of rabbit inhabits your yard?  If I had to guess, I would say it is the eastern cottontail.  Here’s why.

       The Appalachian cottontail, eastern cottontail, marsh rabbit and swamp rabbit all occur in the state.  However, the rabbit most often seen in Georgia backyards is the eastern cottontail.

       Eastern cottontails are 14-17 inches long and can weigh from two to four pounds.  One of the easiest ways to identify it is to look at the color of the nape of its neck.  The eastern cottontail has a cinnamon-colored nape.  None of the other species of rabbits that inhabit the state displays this characteristic.

       Although I do not know of anybody that hosts a marsh rabbit or Appalachian cottontail, I know a couple that feeds swamp rabbits in their yard.  The swamp rabbit is our largest rabbit (3.5-6 pounds).

       The marsh rabbit is our smallest rabbit. This rabbit weighs only 2.5-3 pounds.   It lives in in the Coastal Plain and prefers marshy areas, wet bottomlands, and swamps.

       The Appalachian cottontail is our rarest rabbit.  This is because its range extends only into extreme Northeast Georgia.


       Whenever you encounter the eastern Hercules beetle (Dynastes tityus), you may be astonished at it size and perhaps fear it might bite you. 

       The eastern Hercules beetle is indeed large, in fact, since it can attain a length of around 2.5 inches, it is probably the largest beetle you will see in your backyard.

       However, while it appears dangerous, it will not bite or sting.  It much prefers to eat rotting fruit or the sap exuded from ash trees than human flesh.

       Both male and female eastern Hercules beetles range in color from olive green, to tan and gray.  Their exoskeletons display multiple black spots. No two beetles have the same number and distribution of spots.  Consequently, researchers use the spots to identify individuals.

       As you can see from the photos that accompany this blog, males sport two pronotal horns that some described as looking like the horns of a rhinoceros. The males use these horns when fighting for the opportunity to mate with females.  Females lack horns.

       Although they are found throughout Georgia, the homeowners that are most apt to find one of these giant beetles are those have yards that feature scattered hardwood trees, especially those where rotten limbs have be allowed to remain on the ground.  Eastern Hercules beetle larvae feed on rotting wood, especially oak.

       Since eastern Hercules beetles are nocturnal, it is unlikely that most of us spot one unless it is drawn to an outside light.

       The strength of eastern Hercules beetles is legendary.  Perhaps that is the reason we sometimes refer to it as the ox or elephant beetle.  It is said that it can lift an object 850 times its own weight.  This is the equivalent of a human lifting nine fully-grown elephants.

       I hope you will have the opportunity to spot this gentle giant in your yard.  It represents one of the countless animals that are hiding in plain sight in our backyards.



        From spring into fall, leopards stalk our backyards.  I am not talking about the feline variety.  I am referring to the giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia).

        However, like the predator, that roams the wilds of Asia and Africa, the giant leopard moth also has spots.  The spots on its wings vary from black to blue.  Some spots might even have white centers.  Once you see one, you will have no problem understanding why we call it the leopard moth.  Nevertheless, I think you will agree with me that it would have been more appropriate to name it the Dalmatian moth.

       The female leopard moth is smaller than the male. Males have a wingspan of 3.6 inches whereas the female’s wingspan is only 2.25 inches.

       The leopard moth has a variety of host plants including male, cherry, willow, sunflower, cabbage.

       If you want to see one of these handsome moths, the best strategy you can employ is to have the moth come to you.  Fortunately, leopard moths are attracted to lights.  Armed with that tidbit of information, just pull up a lawn chair near an outside light and wait.  (Lights with shorter wavelengths work best.)  If there is a giant leopard moth nearby there is a good chance it will appear.

       When a leopard moth finally shows up chances are will be a male.  For some reason, females do not visit lights as often as the males. 

       As you might expect, some folks will attract more leopard moths than others will.  I have never been able to attract more than one leopard moth at a time to my lights, nevertheless, some homeowners report seeing upwards of a dozen or more.



       The chances of finding a poisonous snake in a Georgia backyard are low.  However, if one does appear, throughout most of the state, it will be a copperhead. One reason for this is the snake is ranges throughout the Peach State except in that portion of the southeastern Coastal Plain below the Altamaha River.  Another reason is copperheads appear to be more tolerant of human development than other species of poisonous snakes.

       While nobody ever wants to find a poisonous snake in their yard, if one does appear, probably the one that you want to see is the copperhead.  It is not an aggressive snake.  As such, more often than not, copperheads will only strike when they are disturbed or folks try to pick them up.

       Unfortunately, copperheads do bite humans. An average of 2,920 copperhead bites occurs annually. The good news is, since copperhead venom is the least potent of any poisonous snake found in North America, copperhead bites are rarely life-threatening.  In fact, only 0.01 percent of these bites are fatal.




        A gray squirrel’s front teeth are constantly being worn down. If this was not the case, they would quickly wear down and lead to the animal’s premature death.  This fate is prevented because they are constantly growing at a rate of approximately six inches per year.


     Captain John Smith, a leader of the Jamestown Colony, is widely credited with naming the opossum. 

     Supposedly, Captain Smith came across an opossum while in the company of a member of the Algonquin Tribe.  When Smith asked the man what this strange looking animal was called, his companion told him it was an “aposum.”  The Native American name referred to the long-tailed animal’s white face.  However, as luck would have it, as the man uttered the word “aposum” he grunted.  This led Captain Smith to believe he said possum.  Is this story true?  We may never know for sure.  What I do know is the opossum is indeed an odd animal.