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Turtles & Frogs

The Wildlife Hotline doesn’t get many calls about turtles or frogs on an average day.  No one is calling the hotline with “Help!  There’s a turtle in my attic.” or “These frogs keep getting in my trash.”  Normally, frogs and turtles don’t cause us much trouble.  However, there is a time period in early summer each year when turtles come in to rehab clinics in droves.  This is the season when turtles try to cross roadways to get to their female counterparts.  Year after year we are amazed at how many kindhearted people will stop to assist a turtle in this endeavor.  Most of us, as kids, all picked up a turtle or a frog at some point.  If you didn’t, your kids will bring them in the house when you least expect it.  Our resident turtles and frogs tend to keep to themselves, but just in case, here’s some information about the calls we sometimes get.

Turtles on the Road

This behavior happens every summer and it is usually our native box turtles, or on occasion a red eared slider turtle. You’re driving down the road and this little shape in the distance slowly becomes a turtle, desperately trying to cross the road, oblivious to oncoming traffic.

Turtles often make this perilous journey to get to a good, sunny location with loose soil in which to lay eggs, and to return back to familiar territory—be it a woodland, pond or burrow.

It is in just this situation that so many turtles lose their status as wild animals and are consigned to an unnatural, and unnaturally short, life in a back yard. By all means, help that turtle cross the road in the direction she (or he) was heading, if you can do so safely. But then leave her in the wild where she belongs.

The collection of turtles by passersby seriously contributes to the ongoing population declines in many species. Turtles and tortoises are particularly vulnerable to collecting, since they are slow-moving and generally non-aggressive.

Likewise, their populations are vulnerable as well. As is typical of long-lived animals, turtles are slow to sexually mature. They lay relatively few eggs, and mortality of eggs and hatchlings is frequently very high. In addition, their habitat is increasingly fractured by roads and carved up into housing developments and shopping centers, causing local extinctions. Thus every turtle who survives to adulthood is critical to his population.

Turtles are said to make good pets, yet they have specific dietary and habitat requirements and can pass diseases, such as salmonellosis, to humans. What’s more, their attempts to escape from backyards and return to familiar territory puts them at tremendous risk of being crushed in the road.  In addition to all of this, all of the species of turtles in the state of Missouri are legally protected except for the common snapping turtle.  (These are considered game, but only hunted with approved methods – See MDC)  This means that picking up a turtle and taking it home is not only hurtful to the species, but is also ILLEGAL.  You can be fined for removing the turtle from his original area and relocating him to another.  It is perfectly legal to help him cross the road, or even walk him over to a more wooded area, but that’s about it!

Instead of catching and making turtles your pets, learn about our native turtles and support them living in the wild.  There are many places across Missouri and Illinois where you can go to see turtles in the wild.  Take your children to a nature center to see them in their natural habitat instead of bringing one home.

Missouri Department of Conservation has a very nice downloadable PDF file about Missouri’s turtles.
Some information from Lakeside Nature Center on Box Turtles.

Injured Turtles

If you find a box turtle, the first thing to do is determine whether or not it is injured. If it is, call the hotline or a wildlife rehabber immediately. Put it in a cardboard box, close the lid so it’s dark, and leave it in a quiet area so it’s not overly stressed until you can get it to someone. Rehabbers can assist with turtle injuries even when they look terribly bad.  You’d be surprised at what a turtle can survive.  You will not get the animal back, but they will ask for location found so they can have it released to the same location when healed up.

If you’ve determined that the turtle is not injured, next determine if it is indeed a native box turtle. If it’s a species that is native to your area then by all means release it back to the area that it was found. If crossing a road, then put it in the closest woods in the direction it was heading. If not headed to the woods, put it there anyway, it’s safer than the roadway. DO NOT TAKE IT HOME. DO NOT RELOCATE the turtle. Box turtles have a homing instinct and they will try to get back to the area they came from. If you move it far from it’s home you will cause it to likely get killed trying to get back to it’s home, so leave it in the area found, do not bring it to a nicer park.

Kids Catching Frogs & Toads

Nope, not really.  Toads and frogs are not going to give you warts, or really any other disease either.  There are some species of frogs and toads that can secrete a foul tasting substance out of their pores to trick predators into not eating them.  Plus, there are other toads that can produce a secretion that burns the eyes and mouth of predators – including us!  The thing to remember here is that if you or the kids are handling frogs, toads, or really any animal for that matter, please practice proper hygiene.  Wash your hands!  Don’t let family pets lick, sniff, or play with wild animals, and keep an eye on the kids so that they don’t decide to go ahead and try out the “Kiss a Frog” idea!

The toads and frogs native to Missouri & Illinois are a valuable part of our outdoor heritage. Most people probably do not give them much thought, but we need these amphibians to control destructive insects and to add their voices to the sounds of spring and summer nights. Just hearing or seeing them adds to our enjoyment of the outdoors.

Toads & Frogs of Missouri
For everything scaly and slimy, please visit the St. Louis Herpetological Society 

If you’re home or property is home to frogs, consider yourself lucky.  Many frog species are on the decline due to loss of habitat and poor soil quality.   There are a few things that you can do to keep the frogs in your area safe and healthy:

If you regularly see frogs around your home, be careful when you close windows and doors. Check to see there are no frogs in the way before you shut that door or window.

Herbicides and insecticides can be deadly to frogs and tadpoles. Don’t use them. Instead, let the spiders, geckos and the frogs themselves kill those pesty bugs. Teach your family members about weeds and how to identify them by letting them help you pull out those weeds by hand instead of using chemicals.

Many people keep dogs for security as well as companionship but dogs are surprisingly good at finding and injuring frogs. Control your dog and teach it not to attack or disturb wildlife.

Many cat owners insist that their cool and aloof feline doesn’t attack any wildlife but their neighbors often witness the truth. Keep your cat indoors at night where it can keep YOU company instead of the ‘locals’. Even more importantly, WORM your cat regularly. One of the problems the sick frogs are having is severe parasite infestation. The worst parasite is a tapeworm called Spirometra erinaceii. The immature worm can live in many different host animals but, according to researchers, it only reproduces in ONE animal: the cat. We now know that cats can kill frogs even if they never come within a car length of each other. The problem is the cat’s feces. The tapeworm breeds inside the cat and the huge number of eggs are deposited in the faeces. From there, the eggs are washed into waterways or picked up by insects which are then eaten by frogs.

Be on the lookout for any frogs you may see in your yard or elsewhere which might be injured or sick. A frog with lumps, ulcers or holes in the skin, blotchy colours (when the skin is normally a solid colour), difficulty moving, sitting in the sun during the day, emaciated or bleeding needs to be examined right away. Keep them in a clean ice cream container (with a secure lid with airholes punched through it) with a small amount of water and dirt, or grass, leaves, twigs in the bottom, for the frog to sit or lie on.  Do not use so much water that the frog has to swim around.  They do not need that much water.  It should be enough water to cover their feet a bit, but not swim in.  Keep the container in a very warm place away from family pets until you can reach an expert to help.  Contact the hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP or a local rehabber right away if you do see a frog which might have a problem.

Water and shelter are crucial for frogs and the Midwestern states are losing large amounts of both. Vegetate your yard as much as possible and have a couple bird baths in shady spots so frogs have water during the dry season. Keep a compost pile in a corner of the yard to attract bugs – insects are in short supply during the dry season which causes ‘environmental stress’ which in turn causes the frog to lose its resistance to diseases.

Most importantly, if a frog is uninjured and not in need of help, leave the frog alone!  Do not try to relocate the frog to a ‘better’ area.  Better to you might not be better to the frog.  Don’t let your kids bring the frog inside to make a pet.  If the kids want a pet frog, go to a pet store and get one with all of the correct supplies.  Our native frogs are not meant to be pet frogs.  Please don’t make them that.

Tadpoles found when emptying a bird bath or pond

From time to time frogs will lay their eggs in a spot that wasn’t the greatest choice.  But the frog didn’t know that you were going to

Frog Eggs

empty that pond or bird bath at the time, so it seemed like a good idea.  If at all possible, leave them be and empty the water source after the tadpoles have become frogs and move on.  This time period is extremely long though.  Eggs can take from 6-12 weeks to go from egg to tadpole, then it can be an additional 6-8 weeks or 6-8 months before they become frogs.  It all depends on temperature, and what kind of frogs they are going to be.  If you need to empty the water source now and can’t wait out the tadpoles, you can transfer them to a aquarium or fishbowl, kiddie pool, even a plastic water tight plastic tote or bucket.  Use as much of the water as possible from the original source, and don’t add any tap water.  You can add tap water later if you need to, but you will have to leave the water out in the sun for 5-7 days before it is usable.  The sun will eliminate the chlorine from the water, but that takes time.  If you don’t have that much time, you can buy de-chlorinating drops at your local fish-carrying pet store. But at least leave the water out overnight, even after using the droplets.  Even a little chlorine is deadly to tadpoles.  Just in case, it is always a good idea to keep a little de-chlorinated water on hand.

Place your new tadpole farm in a warm place away from predators like birds.  A garage or shed usually works just fine.  A place in the yard during spring or summer is fine as well, just make sure you provide at least 3/4 of the container in the shade.  Now we have to feed them every few days.  The simplest food for tadpoles is lettuce.  Buy the dark green leafy kind though, not iceberg lettuce.  Kale, mustard greens, romaine lettuce are all just fine.  Boil the lettuce for 10-15 minutes and then drain it.  Rinse with cold water and chop it up some.  Lay it all flat and put in a ziploc bag in the freezer.  Every day you can grab a pinch or so out of the freezer, or more depending on how many tadpoles you have.  Remember though, too much food will get the water all dirty, and too little will make the tadpoles get

Tadpole

nutty and go after each other. If your water gets dirty really fast, slow down on the feeding…and be sure to replace the dirty water with some fresh spare water.

When the tadpoles start getting close to developing legs, they will need some sort of perch so they can get out of the water. Floating water lily leaves and branches are ideal, but you can also create ledges using stones or even tilting slopes of plastic in tanks.  The tilt of the ledge may be important depending on what type of frog you have. Young tree frogs can climb smooth vertical surfaces such as the plastic pond liners and glass, but the ground dwelling frogs will need a rough slope when the time comes to climb out of the water.

At this point, if they aren’t big enough to eat crickets but are too large to eat lettuce, you can try starting them off with small insects. A good substitute is bloodworms (live is best) which are usually found in pet stores that carry fish. You can try feeding them to the frogs by taking the lid of a jar and turning it upside down. Fill the cap with a bit of warmish water and lay a bunch of the gross wiggley worms in and usually the frogs will find them. Or you can put the worms directly into their water.  Also, in addition to crickets and meal worms, in the froglet/young frog stage, aphids (super tiny little bugs) are a good food source. They are easily found on a dandelion, so just snip off a stem and place it in the water, and the tadpoles have a feast!

Baby Frogs, So Tiny!

Once your tadpoles really start looking more like frogs, and are spending a lot more time on top of the water instead of in the water, it is time to start thinking about release.  If you weren’t rearing the tadpoles outdoors, you’ll need to move them outdoors now.  Somewhere near a garden, or moist area of vegetation is best.   Keep the area or garden well watered and well vegetated. Young frogs will need a lot of ground cover to hide. There is not much point in rearing frogs in a totally hostile environment.  As long as your container is quite full with water and has plenty of floaty spots for the frogs to perch, it will be no time at all before they start jumping right out of your container.  They will release themselves when they are ready.  All you have to do is keep feeding and caring for them until they have all moved on.  Don’t just pour it all out and force them to leave.  They know when they are ready.  Just make sure that they CAN get out when they are ready and they will leave.  Congratulations!  You have saved many little precious lives, and if you have kids, this can be a really rewarding educational experience to help children understand how we can help our environment and the animals that live in it.

As always, if you are in need of more assistance, or just want to discuss your situation please feel free to call the Wildlife Hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP to speak with a wildlife specialist.