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 & Toads
Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens) Most commonly found frog at River Bend
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.
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.
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.
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 them...it 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Wood Turtle(Glyptemys insculpta) Minnesota's most terrestrial 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.