Monday, June 3, 2013

Put frogs, toads and turtles in your pockets

With most schools just ending for the summer break, perhaps some of you will get help from children or grandchildren in your garden or your yard. It is great to nourish this interest and now many schools have their own gardens. Our Iowa City Public Library has a garden on the walking mall and, of course, even the White House is raising its own vegetables and flowers.
The University of Iowa Press has just published two laminated foldout guides that I think will pique children’s interest and adults, too. It’s all about frogs, toads and turtles in our Midwest.
“Frogs and Toads in your pocket” and “Turtles in your pocket” have just been published by the University of Iowa Press. Terry VanDeWalle is the author of both guides and Suzanne L. Collins has photographed the subjects in their natural habitats.
The guide for frogs and toads has at least 16 colorful pictures of frogs and about eight toads, plus a plethora of information about each one. Yet the guide folds up and is easily held while you search for these remarkable amphibians.
Toads are my favorites, and I look for them just outside our garage in a damp area and among the mums we have planted there. Of course I jump when they jump, but I really do admire them. They take care of all the pesky bugs each night while I am sleeping.
The American toad probably is the one I have seen most. They are gray, brown or reddish brown and warty, the guide says with dark spots on the back and a mottled chest and belly. They like prairies, forest, marshes, ponds, ditches and urban areas to live and breed.
Poisonous substances that spray from the warts on their back are their weapons to defend themselves from small animals. They also can inflate their bodies with air making it hard for another animal to swallow them.
The Great Plains Toad is gray, brown or greenish also with warty skin but with very distinctive large spots outlined in white and cream, the author says, and also has an unspotted belly. The large spots hold the warts that are their defensive mechanisms.
Frogs are so like toads that we get them mixed up. This wonderful guide will show and tell you all the differences.
An interesting statement on the back of the guide says, “Frogs and toads have become canaries in the coal mine when it come to conservation, as the discovery of malformed frogs has brought increased attention to global habitat loss.” The loss of agricultural ground had greatly affected their decline.
As to the turtles in your pocket, this guide gives descriptions of the many Midwest species. It’s colorful, filled with information regarding turtle habitat, what they eat, how they behave and where they keep their young. Did you know that during dry periods, like last summer, they survive by burying themselves in the sand?
Even if you have been hanging out by the water or fishing for years I think you will learn something new about turtles and be able to identify them if they cross your path or fall off a log in the water.
Both these guides, as well as one about snakes, can be purchased at, and each is $9.95. Send for these, put on your old clothes and muck around in the water and dirt for some different summer fun.
Judy Terry is a freelance garden writer. Questions or comments should be sent to her at Iowa City Press-Citizen, P.O. Box 2480, Iowa City, IA 52244-2480; faxed to 834-1083; or emailed to

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