Share Your Yard With Amphibians

We share Michigan with 13 frog and toad species, which play a beneficial role to both humans and wetland ecosystems. With their charming choruses and appetite for virtually any pest that crosses their path, frogs and toads can be a major benefit to yards and gardens. It is even estimated that one cricket frog devours 4,800 insects in one year.

Like many of Michigan’s amphibians, frogs are small and camouflage easily among grasses, trees and soil. But with the right tricks, you can encourage these sometimes small and cold-blooded critters to come out of hiding and take haven in your backyard.

Take advantage of natural resources
A well-groomed yard may be aesthetically pleasing, but it isn’t supportive to wildlife. Frogs and toads are attracted to native ground cover, like tall grass and wildflowers. To welcome amphibians, leave leaf litter, logs and rock piles under trees and shrubs that provide natural shelter.

Build a toad house
Provide a safe place for toads to take shelter by building a toad burrow or toad house. Create a depression in soil beneath shrubs or flowers. Layer stones along the side and top of the depression, about 6-8 inches high. Or, reuse an 8-inch flower pot by creating a hole big enough for a toad to fit and placing it upturned in a shady area in your garden.

Build your own backyard pond
Add diversity to your yard by creating a pond, which is an easy ways to attract frogs, toads and other forms of wildlife. Recreate their natural habitat with vegetation like water lilies, cattails, fallen logs, ferns, wildflowers and tall grasses, which attract insects and other food for frogs as well as provide cover. Native plants and rocky areas outside of the pond serve as retreat areas for toads.

When seeking the ideal spot for your pond, choose an area on low ground and away from potential threats such as raccoons or runoff from fertilizer and pesticide use.

Ponds are best supported by clay soils and should not be built in dry, sandy soil. Ponds should be at least 12 feet long and 6 feet wide, with space for amphibians to bask along the edges of the water. Make sure the water is slow moving and shallow, about 1.5 feet deep, so that it is ideal for pond-breeding amphibians to lay their eggs.

Almost all of MNA’s 170 sanctuaries support amphibians. Visit wetland and forest type habitats for a glimpse of one of 13 species of frogs and toads. For more information about MNA and sanctuaries, visit our website.

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The Dirt on Earthworms

By Tina Patterson

Like Rodney Dangerfield, the lowly earthworm gets no respect. Yet, this seemingly unimportant lumbricid is an indicator of soil health, and can dramatically impact soil structure, water movement, nutrient dynamics and plant growth. There are 21 different species of earthworms in Michigan, and 50-300 worms can be found in a square yard of cropland nutrient-rich soil.

Earthworms are made up of many small segments, each segment with many small hairs that assist the worm in movement, aided by a slimy mucus that it produces. Without a skeletal system, the worm is heavily muscled. The blood circulating through its system gives it a reddish color. Earthworms can live up to eight years, but most do not survive more than a year.

Moist soils are necessary for earthworms to thrive, and the majority of worms are found in the top meter of soil, most often just below the surface where there is plenty of decomposing plant material. Earthworms consume dead and decaying plant material and are prey to robins, red-winged blackbirds, crows and other ground-feeding birds as well as foxes, shrews, skunks, moles and garter snakes. During droughts or winter freeze, earthworms may go deeper than the top meter of soil. Worm tunnels have been found at depths of 16 feet.

Earthworms promote a healthy environment in the following ways:

• Worms eat microorganisms and produce organic matter in their feces or casts that becomes plant food.

• Casts help move large amounts of soil to the surface and carry organic matter to the lower strata.

• Earthworms help with soil drainage, acting as a conduit for rain, especially after a heavy downpour. These burrows minimize soil erosion and increase porosity and drainage.

• By fragmenting organic matter and increasing soil porosity, earthworms increase soil water retention ability.

• Channels made by earthworms are rich in nutrients and provide space for root growth. This makes it easier for plants to set a deep root base.

• As earthworms eat the plant and crop residue, the castings they leave behind provide nutrients to the upper soil levels and the surface residue is pulled into their burrows.

Earthworms are more than good fish bait; they play an integral part in keeping soil rich with nutrients and maintaining a healthy environment for farms, fields and forests. So the next time you see a worm crawling on the sidewalk after a heavy rain, give it some respect.

ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Wood Turtle
By Angie Jackson

Turtles have leisurely roamed the earth for more than 200 million years, making them one of the oldest surviving members of the animal kingdom. A fascinating species with the ability to defend itself by withdrawing into a shell, turtles are revered in many cultures as a symbol of longevity, wisdom and stability.

One species in Michigan, the wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta), is listed as a species of special concern due to activities such as reduction of nesting areas, water pollution, sedimentation and the commercial pet trade.

Physical Appearance:
Wood turtles are medium-sized with a brown, rugged looking carapace (outer shell) marked with distinct yellow and black lines on the ridges. The turtle’s upper head, neck, legs and tail are black, and the rest of its body is yellow or yellowish orange. The entire carapace ranges from 6-10 inches long, and is characterized by raised, pyramidal growth rings on each scale. Young wood turtles are gray or brown with circular, one-inch carapaces and long tails.

Preferred Habitat:
Wood turtles prefer streams, rivers, herbaceous vegetation and sandy nesting places. They can be found near clear, running water in floodplain habitats. Turtles prefer partially shaded and sandy areas with wet herbaceous vegetation such as raspberries, grasses, algae and strawberries. Nesting habitats include cutbanks and sandbars, and when these habitats are not available, wood turtles are known to nest in gravel pits, yards, gardens and even highway bridge crossings.

Life Cycle:
Michigan wood turtles are active from April to early October and they spend most of these months basking on logs, muddy stream banks or forest openings, and feeding. They live in aquatic habitats from fall through spring, when they then move into nearby terrestrial habitats for the summer months. Mating occurs in shallow water during the active season, most frequently in the spring. Wood turtles generally nest in June after sunset, and females produce a clutch of 5-18 eggs each year. The hatchlings are born in late August.

Wood turtles hibernate in mid-October and overwinter in streams with flowing water, often nestling their way into beaver lodges, muskrat burrows or under overhanging roots. Turtles are known for slow growth and long life spans of up to 50 years.

List Status:
In Michigan, wood turtles are listed as a species of special concern. They also occur in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Though wood turtles occur in many counties throughout Michigan, these turtles require specific habitats and may only live in small portions of each county.

Throughout the past 30 years, wood turtle populations in Michigan have significantly declined due to poaching and collecting by the public. In addition, human construction, stream channelization and timber harvesting have led to turtle habitat loss.

Wood turtles are resilient, however. They can thrive with moderate levels of human disturbance and in some cases can even benefit from these activities. Yet, the best way to protect this species is to leave it alone.

Protection Efforts:
In Michigan, regulations on the Take of Reptiles and Amphibians deem it unlawful to take a wood turtle from its habitat unless authorized by a permit. The turtle is also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora treaty, which prevents commercial trade of the species and requires illegal collection of the species to be reported to authorities. Human disturbance at nesting sites during the active season should be limited.

MNA protects a number of turtle species at sanctuaries throughout Michigan, including box turtles (Terrapene) and Blanding’s (Emydoidea blandingii). To find turtles, you might visit Lyle and Mary Rizor Memorial Nature Sanctuary, Dauner-Martin Nature Sanctuary, Timberland Swamp Nature Sanctuary, or any of our numerous floodplain and/or wetland properties.

How You Can Help:
MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.

ENDANGERED!

At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.

Indiana Bat
By Brandon Grenier

While we do not often see bats, they play an active role in the environment. With an appetite for bugs such as mosquitoes, moths and other pests, bats help manage insect populations. They also aid in the pollination of plants and seed dispersal of fruits and nuts.

First listed as endangered in 1967, the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is only found in the eastern United States and there are only about 400,000 individuals left in the world. It is believed that the population of bats is now less than half of what it was in 1967, according to 2009 estimates.


Physical Appearance:

The Indiana bat is incredibly light, weighing only seven-to-eight ounces, roughly the weight of two sugar packets. It has a wingspan of 9-to 11-inches and usually is about five inches long. It has dark, grayish brown fur, with pink undersides and a dark petagium (wing membrane). Its ears are short and rounded. While it can sometimes be difficult to tell it apart from its relative the little brown bat, the Indiana bat has tri-color hairs that make it easy to distinguish upon close inspection.

Preferred Habitat:
The Indiana bat has a very specific habitat, with 85 percent of the current population found in only seven caves. The largest caves support 20,000-50,000 bats. In Michigan at the northern end of their range, Indiana bats prefer savanna habitats with sun-exposed trees for maximum warmth. In the winter, bats hibernate in large caves in Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri. However, a relatively new hibernacula (a cave where bats hibernate for the winter) has been found in northern Michigan at the Tippy Dam spillway. Because of their hibernation habits, Indiana bats are incredibly vulnerable to human disturbances.

Throughout the past decade, there have been reported occurrences of the bat in Calhoun, Cass, Washtenaw, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties.

Life Cycle:
In the spring, Indiana bats leave their hibernacula, sometimes travelling hundreds of miles. In early fall, Indiana bats flock the entrance of caves or mines and mating takes place. Sperm is stored in the female’s body until the eggs are fertilized in the spring. One bat is born to each female in late June, and it can fly within one month. Indiana bats generally live to be 14 years old.

List Status:

As human activity increases in the areas where Indiana bats hibernate, their delicate habitat shrinks. The bats are protected federally and are listed as endangered in Michigan. Commercialization of caves, the logging of dead trees and the use of pesticides and contaminants contribute to the decline of this species.

The Indiana bat is also threatened by a disease called white nose syndrome. More than one million bats have died from it since its discovery in 2006 in New York. The name refers to a white ring of fungus found on the faces of infected bats.

The presence of white nose syndrome has been found in more than 25 different caves and mines so far, and a moratorium has been placed on caving activities in those areas. Fortunately, the disease has not yet been found in Michigan.

Protection Efforts:
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is collaborating with state, federal and local government officials as well as university researchers and bat conservation groups to develop a response plan to white nose syndrome that prevents the disease and minimizes its impact on the species.

Indiana bat’s habitat can be protected by protecting mature forests, leaving dead trees standing to promote habitat and refraining from using insecticides.

How You Can Help:
To help protect this rare species, abstain from demolition and land clearing such as canopy removal and clearing snags. Cutting down trees significantly reduces bats’ habitat. However, if you must remove trees, you can build a bat house. Bat houses mimic the space between a tree trunk and bark and provide warmth. To learn how to build your own bat house, click here.

MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.