Snapping Turtles

I like Snapping Turtles. They’re big and have a prehistoric appearance. With a long, alligator-like tail, elephantine legs, fierce disposition, and powerful jaws – they’re a reminder of when reptiles ruled the earth “back in the day.” Today was a particularly good day for seeing these turtles. Most of their time is spent at the bottom of shallow waterways. They are generally not aggressive when in the water. In the springtime they occasionally bask. This one was particularly large.

A little further down the path, these two males were having a territorial dispute. Here’s one of them on the lookout for the submerged male nearby.

The two individuals would face each other and then slowly and then deliberately lunge forward, like sumo wrestlers. They would scratch, kick and bite each other. Occasionally one would roll the other over in the water. It’s not often that one can see wild behavior like this occurring.

Snapping Turtles have large heads which cannot be withdrawn into their small shells. This turtle, which I saw a week ago, displays the long tail and jagged top shell.

They have a very small bottom shell, which exposes their legs. It is for this reason that they are thought to be so defensive when out of the water. Here’s a cute little one that I found while herping five years ago.

These turtles are the largest in Ohio (and much of the northeast), sometimes weighing 35 pounds. The biggest one I’ve ever caught and measured had a 14 inch shell. Though I’ve seen some that I’m pretty sure were bigger. A few years ago my friend Dale and I went fishing and he caught a Snapping Turtle. For some reason he did not want to hold it, but he let me hold it and took this picture with his cell phone.

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This delicate wildflower is one of the plants that ushers in spring in late winter and then fades quietly away as the heat of summer arrives. Bloodroot is aptly named. When the root is cut, the stem exudes a red sap that looks just like blood. In addition to having a single, white flower – each plant has only one leaf.

Research has reported that Bloodroot contains some very interesting and important chemical substances, like sanguinarine, which has anesthetic properties.

Research has also confirmed that the Bloodroot plant contains chemical substances that help Bloodroot to work effectively as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and antiseptic agent.

Many cultures have used this plant’s red juice as a dye and as insect repellent.

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Blanding’s Turtles

I was exploring this beaver marsh not far from my home, and saw my first wild Blanding’s Turtles ever. These are large turtles, about the same size and shape as an army helmet.

Although essentially aquatic, the Blanding’s Turtle often wanders about on land, but seldom far from water. Unlike other species of pond turtles, this large but very timid turtle has no difficulty in swallowing food out of water.

Blanding’s turtles make extensive movements across land in search of suitable nesting areas, as well as traveling among wetlands.

Until recent years, the Blanding’s Turtle was thought to be gone from Ohio. The Blanding’s – named after it’s discover, naturalist William Blanding – is distinguished by its yellow-colored throat and is native to most of the Great Lakes region, but is either threatened or endangered in many states.

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Green Stink Bug

“Stinkbug” is the common name for a family of insects. There are thousands of species, found in most parts of the world. Stinkbugs are so named because they secrete a foul-smelling liquid that is repulsive to most predators. Most stinkbugs are dull in color, usually gray or brown, but some are such colors as brilliant green – like this one I saw today.

These insects are also sometimes known as “Shield Bugs,” because of their shape. Adult stink bugs hibernate in order to survive the winter. In the fall I often see Brown Stinkbugs sunning themselves on my house and shed, catching the last warm rays of sun for the year.

Like a skunk, a stinkbug will only give off a very bad smell if it is bothered. To most predators, a stinkbug tastes as bad as it smells.

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American Toad

The Cuyahoga River floodplains are breeding areas for several types of amphibians. Walkers and bike riders on the Canal Towpath can hear up to 10 different species calling throughout the spring and summer.

The long, musical trills of American Toads could be heard a few feet off the Towpath today. I decided to check it out. It’s an odd sensation to be in the middle of a chorus of dozens of calling amphibians. The short movie below will give you an idea of what it sounded like.


It takes some careful and concentrated scanning of the area to actually see the toads, but if you stay long enough and remain still, they will emerge from their hiding spots and resume their calls. This one happened to be right below my feet.

American Toads are considered to be “explosive breeders,” with large numbers arriving at a pool within a very short time. The entire breeding process is over in a week or two.

Toads don’t cause warts. The bumps on their skin contain poison glands. It’s the defense mechanism for a relatively slow-moving amphibian. Toads are harmless to humans (unless you try to eat one). Another defense is to inflate themselves with air. By “puffing up,” the toad appears bigger.

American Toads are extremely helpful to people, especially in gardens where they will eat huge numbers of pests, including insects and slugs. They can live up to 30 years.

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Walking through the brown, still getting ready for spring woods, it’s hard not to notice a vibrant, yellow wildflower that looks very much like a dandelion. Though it has many common names, I was taught this plant as being Coltsfoot.

It is often found in colonies of dozens of plants. The flowers appear in early spring before dandelions appear. The leaves, which resemble a colt’s foot in cross section, do not appear usually until after the seeds are set. So the flowers often appear on stems with no apparent leaves, and the later-appearing leaves then wither and die during the season without flowers.

Coltsfoot is not native to the United States, but it has been here a long time. It was most likely brought here by settlers as a medicinal item. Coltsfoot has been used in herbal medicine for its purported cough-suppressing effects. The plant has been used historically to treat lung ailments such as asthma as well as various coughs.


Its Latin name is Tussilago farfara; “tussilago” itself means “cough suppressant.” It was so popular in Europe at one time that French pharmacists painted its flowers on their doorposts.

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Western Chorus Frog

Hiking through the Metroparks today, I heard the sound of frogs calling off in the distance. I had not been to the spot I was exploring in the springtime and was unaware that there were vernal pools deeper in the woods. The frog calls were not the “peeps” of Spring Peepers or the chicken-like sounds of Wood Frogs. They weren’t even the long, melodious trills of American Toads – they were from something different. As I approached the woodland pool, here’s what it looked like.

It was the sounds of a frog I have not seen for five years. This frog’s call resembles the sound made by rubbing one’s finger over the teeth of a hard plastic comb; a long cr-e-e-e-e-e-k. It was the Western Chorus Frog, which is about the same size as the Spring Peeper. It can be identified by its three distinctive dark stripes which normally run down the back, and a dark stripe on each side. Since it was still daylight, I needed to use quite a bit of stealth to locate one – they are quite wary. Here’s a short video with the sounds I heard.


Western chorus frogs are widely distributed throughout Ohio. They become rare in northeastern Ohio east of Cleveland. It took some time, but I was finally able to spot this male calling.

These frogs feed on a variety of small invertebrates including beetles, ants, flies, leaf hoppers, and spiders.  Their only defense is their small size which they use to attempt to conceal themselves from the many birds, mammals, garter snakes, and other larger frogs which all enjoy preying upon them. Here’s what a female carrying eggs looks like.

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Herping with High School Students

Last night I accompanied a group of high school students into the floodplains of the Cuyahoga River to see what we could turn up. Usually we go later in the year, but it’s been warm and the frogs have been calling. Often we catch the tail end of Spring Peeper season and the beginning of American Toad and Leopard Frog season. There do not appear to be any salamanders breeding in the pools. We started out at a small pond getting some practice in listening to and locating Spring Peepers.

There’s a bit of a contest between the students as to who can locate the first one (it’s not as easy as you might think). This year Andy found the first one. He had a bunch of good finds last night.

After the students got an understanding of the challenge and were given the basic overview of why frogs call, satellite males, breeding competition, etc., it was time to head into the valley.

We could hear the long trills of American Toads as well as the occasional “snores” of Leopard Frogs through the constant calling of Spring Peepers. This wasn’t a herp, but it is one of my favorite invertebrates – an Eastern Toebiter – we also saw a few Water Scorpions.

We’ve never found reptiles on previous trips to this location this early in the year, but last night was different.

Northern Brown Snake

Then Andy started catching turtles; a few turned up in the floodplains yesterday.

Can I get a closer picture of that Midland Painted Turtle, Andy?

Spring Peepers were what the students were finding the most of, but bigger frogs were caught as well.

Northern Leopard Frog

Megan caught the second snake of the night.

Eastern Garter Snake

Although they are rather loud, Spring Peepers are very small. It can be a frustrating experience to locate one, even if it’s only a couple of feet away and calling. This photo gives an idea of how tiny they are.

There’s no time like Toad Time, and a fair number of American Toads were found, though they were not calling in full force yet.

Most of the twenty-something students found and/or caught an amphibian.

My 10 year old nephew Max and I were bent on catching a Western Chorus Frog. We heard a few calling, but they eluded us. We had a pretty good time anyway.

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Spotted Turtles

Today I went on a quest for a reptile I’ve never seen in the wild before. Here’s what the habitat (a place that I have never been to) looked like.

It was quite warm for mid-March today – 80 degrees. I was beginning to think that maybe I should have went when it was still cooler outside. But wait, what’s that movement over there in the water?

Spotted Turtles breeding. These are a small, black turtle with distinctive yellow spots on the shell. The head of the spotted turtle is often colorfully adorned with reddish-orange to yellow blotches on the sides and chin. The forearms may also be bright orange.

This handsome turtle shows a preference for shallow, sluggish water – especially marshes and bogs where vegetation is abundant. Spotted Turtles are extremely rare throughout Ohio.

The spots on spotted turtles vary greatly throughout their range. Some can have over a hundred spots, while others have no spots at all.

It was a great day for herping – I also saw my first Green Frog, Eastern Garter Snakes and Northern Brown Snake of the year.

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Alison Holds Amphibians

I never thought I’d see the day, but today it happened. Don’t believe me? Then read on.

Alison and I took a boy named Evan out to see some signs of spring (which officially is only a week away). We heard frogs calling from woodland pools, so we stopped to check it out.

All those ripples and swirls are from Wood Frogs swimming around, looking for mates.

There were a few Wood Frogs on land too, heading for the water. This one was pretty colorful.

So we caught it, to check it out more closely. These amphibians can be easily identified by their “robber’s mask.”

Evan decided that further investigations were in order.

A bit of log turning revealed a Spotted Salamander.

They spend most of their life underground, but head to the pools in March to lay eggs. Then they return back to the woods.

Of course Evan would hold it, but the big question was would Alison hold it?

She did!

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