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Reptiles & Amphibians of River Bend Last updated January 11, 2013
Reptiles and amphibians (aka "herps") are some of the more elusive animals to be found around River Bend Nature Center. Some, like the Painted Turtle and Garter or Brown Snakes are relatively abundant and frequently spotted, while others, like the Wood Turtle and Spiny Softshell Turtle are only found by the most patient, as there are not only less common but they are also shy and well camouflaged.

Many thanks to Jim Gerholdt of Remarkable Reptiles for providing most of the amazing photos for this page!
If are interested in an event or program involving live reptiles, check out his website or call (952) 652-2996 to learn more.

Click on one of the categories below to find out more about the reptiles & amphibians of River Bend.

Frogs Salamanders Snakes Turtles
Frogs &

Snakes &



Frogs & Toads

Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens)
  Most commonly found frog at River Bend

Habitat: Wet meadows and open fields near ponds or lakes, with grass not more than 12 inches tall.

Food: Insects, with the occasional small frogs, worms and snails.

Appearance: Green or brownish with two to three rows of dark spots on back. Legs have dark bars. Belly is white and there is sometimes a light yellow on underside of legs. 2-3.5 inches long.

Call: A low snore sound mixed with grunts and squeaks. Best chance to hear them is April until mid-May.

River Bend Hot Spots: Turtle Pond and ponds on the South side.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry

Green Frog (Rana clamitans)
  • Probably a green frog Probably a green frog

Habitat: Wetlands with permanent water and emergent vegetation or lakes and ponds with shallow margins.

Food: Assorted insects, with the occasional frog, crayfish and small fish.

Appearance: Ranges in color from green to dark brown. White belly. Adult males often have a yellow throat. Webbing on hind feet is incomplete, only goes to second digit of longest toe--this differentiates from a bullfrog.

Call: A single "plunk" sound . Best time to hear them is mid-June to mid-July.

River Bend Hot Spots: Turtle Pond, Prairie Pond, south side ponds.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry

Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)
  Largest frog in Minnesota

Invasive species that is not native to Minnesota

Habitat: Permanent bodies of water with thick emergent vegetation and open access to water.

Food: Anything that fits in their mouth. insects, frogs, ducklings, snakes, small mammals.

Appearance: The brownish green skin varies in shades by the size of the frog and the air temperature. The webbing on their hind foot is complete (unlike the Green Frog).

Call: A deep sounding call "jug-a-rum". Best time to hear them is the mid-late June.

River Bend Hot Spots: Not common here, but they have been found in Turtle Pond.  Do not introduce bullfrogs or their tadpoles anywhere. They can completely disrupt the natural system of things in an area.

Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata)
  First frog to call in spring at River Bend

Habitat: Waters that don't have a fish population.

Food: Emerging aquatic insects, beetles and other insects.

Appearance: Slender, with a pointed head. Can be found in a range of colors from light brown to various shades of red, gray or green. Three stripes run the length of its back and its belly is tan with no markings.

Call: A clicking sound, like running your finger down the teeth of a comb. Speed varies with the temperature. They will stop calling if approached. Best time to hear them is from late March until the end of April.

River Bend Hot Spots: Prairie Pond in spring.

More Info: Upper Pond chorus frog song video, Prairie Pond chorus frog song video & Naturalist Notebook entry


Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

Habitat: Live in moist areas, frequently in burrows underground.

Food: Earthworms, insects, small mice and other amphibians.

Appearance: Can reach 7-13 inches in length. Sides and back are darkly colored with lots of yellowish colored spots and blotches. The belly is a lighter color.

River Bend Hot Spots: Only found above ground in greater numbers during heavy spring and fall rains as they migrate to and from their overwintering areas. Otherwise, the occasional one is most likely to be seen on a damp or humid night.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook Entry

Tips for Finding and Identifying
Reptiles and Amphibians

  • Walk slowly, quietly and avoid sudden movements.
  • The best time to view turtles is in spring or fall on a sunny afternoon. Too hot and they will stay in the water to regulate their body temperature. That's why summer isn't the best time to view gets too hot!
    • You will occasionally see turtles roaming about in June as they go to lay their eggs. If you see them doing that, please don't disturb them!
  • If you're wanting to hear frogs or toads, spring is the prime time. Different frogs sing in different months and at different temperatures, so just pick any day in April or May and come visit, you're bound to hear something. Even later, you may hear toads and some frogs if the weather is right!
  • When identifying any herp, focus on the size, color and patterns.
    • Is it itsy-bitsy or is it two feet long? Some herps never get big, so that can help.
    • Does it have stripes, spots, blotches or is it a single solid color? If it has any special patterning, note where on the body it is (i.e. mask around the eyes, stripes on its legs, etc)
  • Bring a notebook along to make observations or drawings while you are observing the herp. Once the animal has left or you are at home, then you can look it up according to your descriptions.


Useful Terms to Know

Reptile: usually scaly, dry-skinned, cold-blooded animals (in species class Reptilia). Most are hatched from leathery eggs, although young of some species are born live.

Amphibian: smooth-skinned, cold-blooded animals (class Amphibia). Most start life in water and later metamorphose in a land-dwelling (terrestrial) adult.

Carapace: upper section of shell on a turtle

Plastron: lower section of shell on a turtle

Scute: the individual segments on the carapace of the turtle


Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
  • Credit Jim Gerholdt Credit Jim Gerholdt

Habitat: Forested areas.

Food: Eat insects such as beetles and caterpillars.

Appearance: Can be gray with dark blotches that have black borders, but most commonly found to be green at RBNC. They can change between the two. Inner legs bright yellow.

Call: A melodic trill that is made from a tree at least 10 ft. off the ground; Said that they call before thunderstorms. Best time to hear them is from mid-May to mid-June.

River Bend Hot Spots: Found on the sides of buildings and trees.

More Info: Gray treefrog song in Prairie Pond video & Naturalist Notebook entry

Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica)
  • Credit Jim Gerholdt Credit Jim Gerholdt
  • Credit Jim Gerholdt Credit Jim Gerholdt

Habitat: Moist forests containing marshes or ponds .

Food: Flies and beetles.

Appearance: Light tan to dark brown in color, with a black mask on face and several dark brown lines (solid or dashed) on their back. 2-2.75 inches.

Call: A duck-like quack. Best time to hear them is late March to early April.

River Bend Hot Spots: Turtle Pond in spring, under logs in the forest, Kids in the Wild play area.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry

Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
Spring Peeper

Habitat: Found in woodlands near wetland.

Food: Feeds on small insects and invertebrates.

Appearance: Skin color is light brown to gray and dark brown. Temperature affects the color of the frog with cold making it darker, and increased warmth going lighter. Have distinctive X on backs. Belly is light tan.

Call: Ascending "peep, peep, peep" similiar to a baby chick. Best time to hear them is late April and early May.

River Bend Hot Spots: Marsh area, Prairie Pond.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook Entry

American Toad (Bufo americanus)
American toad & albino American toad

Habitat: Uses many habitats, including bogs, coniferous forests, prairies and wooded areas.

Food: Terrestrial (not flying) insects and worms.

Appearance: Body normally a brown color, although it can vary, even appearing somewhat reddish or greenish. They have variable splotches of white and black, with the black often containing the "warts" that toads are known for.

Call: High pitched, rapid trill lasting 20-30 seconds on a single note. Best time to hear them is mid-May to mid-June.

River Bend Hot Spots: Prairie and Upper Ponds.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook Entry


Snakes & Lizards

Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)
  Most commonly encountered snake in Minnesota

Habitat: Lives in a variety of habitats.

Food: Eats amphibians, earthworms, fish, and nestling birds.

Appearance: Dark brown, gray or black with 2 stripes running down sides and 1 down the middle of the back.

River Bend Hot Spots: The rock amphitheater (near Honor Point), anywhere sunny.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry

Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)
  Minnesota's smallest snake

Habitat: Woodland areas, often near marshes or water sources.

Food: Eats slugs and earthworms.

Appearance: Very small! Not more than 7-10 inches long (not much larger than a very big worm). Gray, brown or black back with a crimson belly.

River Bend Hot Spots: Not seen very often so you may just need to search! They like to hide under rocks and rotted logs. You may sometimes see them come out in the evening on the trails.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry

Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)
  Member of the kingsnake family
Eastern Milk Snake

Habitat: Rocky hillsides, grasslands bordering woodlands, especially near waterways.

Food: Mice, reptiles and amphibians, reptlie and bird eggs -- they are constrictors.

Appearance: Highly variable coloration. Blotched pattern is consistent regardless of whether they are gray, brown or rusty red colored. May reach 24-52" but are of a slender build.

River Bend Hot Spots: Very secretive, rarely found in the open. Spend time under rocks, logs, or debris.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry


Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
  Minnesota's largest turtle

Habitat: Lakes or rivers with muddy bottoms and lots of vegetation. Highly aquatic and not likely to be seen on land except in June for egg laying.

Food: Omnivorous...not very picky, will eat almost anything, alive or dead.

Appearance: Very large turtle! (Carapace averages 8-14 inches and can be larger). Carapace is rough and dark colored, often covered with algae or mud. While their upper shell is very solid, the plastron is much smaller, and provides very little protection.

River Bend Hot Spots: Upper or Prairie Pond, near the river. Also, during June they may be seen on roads and wandering in search of a place to nest.

More Info: Snapping turtle on River Bend lawn video & Naturalist Notebook entry

Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera)
Spiny Softshell

Habitat: Primarily a river turtle but may inhabit large lakes if conditions are right. Likes mud or sand bottoms, with gravel or sandbars/beaches without lots of emergent vegetation or rocky bottoms.

Food: Distinctly carnivorous—primarily eats crayfish and aquatic insects, but also fish, frogs, etc.

Appearance: Oval-shaped, olive green to tan, flat leathery shell with black markings. Long, pointy snout has a yellow stripe. Carapace may be up to 17 inches in females but males are generally no more than half that.

River Bend Hot Spots: The Straight River.





Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi)

Habitat: Found in moist environments like woodland edges and forests.

Food: Eat earthworms, slugs, snails, and small fish.

Appearance: Fairly small snake. Generally not longer than 14”
Grayish to reddish brown with light stripe down its back.

River Bend Hot Spots: Sunny patches on rocks or trails.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry

Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis)

Habitat: Found on prairies, in meadows and on the edges of mixed hardwood forests.

Food: Eats spiders, slugs, crickets, and grasshoppers.

Appearance: Emerald green with yellow or white belly. Has a red tongue with a black tip. Can be 14-20" in length.

River Bend Hot Spots: Not seen very often, so you may just have to hunt for them!

Fun Fact: When green snakes die, they often turn blue, causing people to think they are seeing a different species of snake, called a Blue Racer.

Fox Snake (Elaphe vulpina)
  Often mistaken for bullsnake or rattlesnake
Fox snake & juvenile fox snakes (last two pictures)

Habitat: Found in river bottom forests, upland hardwood, and prairies.

Food: Eats chipmunks, ground squirrels, and mice, killing them by constriction.

Appearance: Brown or tan with black blotches and a yellow belly
Medium to large snake, ranging from 36-54" in length.

River Bend Hot Spots: The big rocks at the back of the Amphitheater.

Don't be tricked! The Fox Snake is known to shake its tail in dry leaves to mimic a rattlesnake. We don't have rattlesnakes at River Bend, so don't fall for their trick! See the video below.

More Info: Fox Snake Tail Wag Video & Naturalist Notebook entry

Northern Prairie Skink (Eumeces septentrionalis)
Northern Prairie Skink

Habitat: Prairie areas near marshes. Seem to like rocky areas.

Food: Small invertabrates- crickets, spiders, beetles. Food is chased down.

Appearance: Five to 8.5 inches long. Scales smooth and uniform making lizard appear shiny.Tan or brown on back, darker on sides.

River Bend Hot Spots: They aren't seen very frequently, but if you want to search, look in their habitat...maybe you'll be lucky! And be sure to let us know if you see one!

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry

Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta)
  Minnesota's most prevalent turtle species

Habitat: Any body of freshwater where there are soft bottoms, lots of aquatic vegetation and good basking spots.

Food: Forages in water along bottom, and among surface vegetation. Eats snails, crayfish, insects, tadpoles, cattail, duckweed, etc.

Appearance: Small to medium in size (Carapace averages 3.5 - 7 inches). Carapace relatively smooth, dark colored. Plastron is orange or red with a design of black, gray, tan and yellow. Head and legs are striped with black and yellow.

River Bend Hot Spots: Turtle Pond basking on logs and southside ponds.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry

Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)
  Minnesota's most terrestrial turtle
Wood Turtle

Habitat: Rivers with a narrow floodplain and a distinct rise to mostly wooded uplands.

Food: Finds most of its food on land, unlike the more aquatic turtles. They eat many things including succulent forbs, mushrooms, earthworms, slugs and insects.

Appearance: Carapace varies in color from a light to dark brown. Each scute (section) on its shell has a slightly domed shape, formed by distinctive growth rings. The plastron is yellow with large black blotches. The skin closer to the shell is yellow, while the extremities are a dark brown with some occasional flecks of yellow. Carapace is between 5.5 and 8 inches long. Males are larger overall than females, have a concave plastron and longer, thicker tail.

River Bend Hot Spots: This turtle is a Threatened Species! And its quite rare here, so your chances of seeing them are slim. But they are said to prefer being within 100 meters of their river.

More Info: Naturalist Notebook entry


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