AARC Blog #2 – Amphibian Gardening
Dr. Teresa Bousquet
Exotic Animal Veterinarian and AARC Board Member
I am an avid gardener, and I don’t know about you, but the appearance of patches of dirt emerging from under the Alberta snow has got my fingers itching! I can hardly wait to get planting. With wild amphibians being threatened worldwide, here are some suggestions on planning an amphibian-friendly garden. Some of these can be helpful, even if no wild herps ever hop on by
- Water feature – Of course, a pond is a good way to attract amphibians, who need a body of water in order to breed. Aim for a depth of 60-90 cm, though chorus and wood frogs may be satisfied with less, and a gradual slope up and out. You want some nice plants around the edges so that amphibians have somewhere to hide and bask without being excessively exposed. The plants also provide perching spots for dragonflies, which helps to control mosquito numbers (amphibians prefer non-moving bodies of water, but so do mosquitoes). Bat boxes placed near your pond will attract bats, which is another natural method of pest control! If you are trying to attract amphibians, do not stock your pond with fish, as they absolutely will act as predators, eating a feast of eggs and tadpoles.
- Provide nature shelter – piles of rocks or logs provide an excellent hiding place for snakes, frogs and toads. They can bask as they wish, but can also quickly and easily escape predators that may be flying by. These piles can also be utilized as a hibernation site for some species. Place the shelter pile near the borders between habitats to increase usage. You can increase the attractiveness of your shelter to humans by surrounding it with native mosses and plants. Over time, logs will decay, adding nutrients back into the soil (remember, decay is a part of nature!)
- Artificial shelter – If you consider log piles or rock piles unsightly, then there are still other options. You can build frog/toad huts that look like tiny cabins. Place your hut under foliage to keep it cool during the daytime hours. Clay pots placed on their sides, or with small doors cut into them are also popular hidey holes. They can also be painted in attractive designs with water-resistant paint.
- Avoid the use of pesticides and other chemicals – This cannot be stressed enough. Amphibians have very specialized skin, which is a major site of oxygen exchange and nitrogen excretion in their bodies. However, one of the side effects of this special skin is that they also are more prone to environmental toxins than reptiles, birds and mammals. There is plenty of evidence that shows that exposure to pesticides can predispose amphibians to infection and death from chytridomycosis (see Blog #1).
- To avoid the spread of disease, never release captive animals into your pond or garden, and do not bring animals from distant sites to your garden. You don’t want to run the risk of introducing a disease, like chytrid or ranavirus, into a population that previously didn’t have it. It is better to wait and let the amphibians find you, rather than try to introduce them
- Keep the kitties inside! Domestic house cats will hunt and kill all sorts of wildlife, from birds to amphibians. For the safety of your garden visitors, and for the safety of your cats, it is best to keep them indoor-only, or only allow them outside on leash with direct supervision.
For more information on Amphibian gardening, please check out these resources:
NatureScape Alberta – Creating and caring for wildlife habitat at home, Myrna Pearman and Ted Pike, Red deer River Naturalists and Federation of Alberta Naturalists, 2001.
The Illustrated Practical Guide to Wildlife Gardening, Christine and Michael Lavelle, Anness Publishing Ltd, 2011.