Green and Growing: More small ways to be a good neighbor to small creatures

April offers many opportunities to do little things that make a big difference for the small creatures that share the shoreline with us. Last week, we looked at bumblebees. This week, consider the little green and scaly creatures we find in quiet places: Frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles and snakes.

Frogs, toads and salamanders are hungry for mosquitoes and other insects. But they play more than one role in the local landscape, according to environmental scientist and herpetologist Dennis Quinn from Plantsville.

“Frogs and toads are critical in natural food chains,” Quinn said. “Yes, they are predators of insects, but they are also prey for a variety of species.” (Owls, for instance, dine on these critters.) “Furthermore, at the larval stage, frogs feed on algae and help maintain water quality in the aquatic environments where they spawn.”

Frogs also alert us to contaminants. “As amphibians, frogs have permeable skin. This makes them great barometers of environmental quality, especially for the water we drink and air we breathe,” Quinn said.

Salamanders are also reliable environmental indicators, according to Quinn.

“They play a crucial role in food chains, with one distinct difference from frogs,” he said. “As aquatic larva, salamanders do not feed on algae, but on insects such as the aquatic larvae of mosquitoes. They play a large role in managing spring and early summer mosquito populations.” “If your property is adjacent to a wetland or woodland, leave the edge unmowed. Plant native low-growing vegetation. Reduce or eliminate pesticides and herbicides,” Quinn said. “You’ll provide a safe haven for them all, a place where they can forage for food and bask in the sun.”

Turtles are appealing, and their presence in back yard and community landscapes is often welcomed, according to Quinn.

“Yet, when we use our lawnmowers, we create one of the biggest threats to turtle populations,” he said. “It’s particularly true in May and June when the females move around to find their egg-laying locations.”

In addition to eating snails, beetles and grubs, turtles play a role in cleaning up the environment by scavenging dead animals. They also eat mushrooms and fallen fruit.

Quinn said it’s okay to move a turtle across the road if you find one in the middle of the road.

“But never move turtles far from where you found them or turn them in a different direction. They have strong geographic ties to their homes and often do not fare well if moved to a new location,” he said, adding, “Please, never lift a turtle by its tail. This can do irreparable damage to its spine.”

Snakes, unlike turtles, come up short on charisma with most people.

“That doesn’t minimize their role in a balanced ecosystem,” Quinn said. “Timber rattlesnakes, an endangered species in Connecticut, feed primarily on small rodents. Research shows that where this snake lives, there’s a reduced incidence of Lyme disease. Nonvenomous snakes, such as the eastern ratsnake, also feed on small rodents and probably have the same impact.”

The appeal of tick reduction is hard to deny.

To make life a little easier for snakes, eliminate the use of synthetic netting and mesh in gardens and around fruiting shrubs.

“Snakes get entangled in these products, which often leads to their death,” Quinn said. “Remember, snakes are docile and are not out to hurt or startle people, if you give them their space and do not harass them, they make really great neighbors.”

If you are ready to encourage frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles and snakes, the steps are remarkably straightforward. To help the public better understand the state’s reptiles and amphibians, Quinn publishes CTHerpetology.com, a photographic atlas for reptile and amphibian identification, as well as a related Facebook page.

Kathy Connolly is a landscape writer and speaker from Old Saybrook. Reach her through her website, SpeakingofLandscapes.com.

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