Amphibians & Reptiles of the Credit
Amphibians and reptiles, often referred to jointly as herpetofauna or “herps”, are neat animals that do not often get the respect they deserve. Snakes in particular are often injured or killed when sighted, while many species are killed when crossing roads. Conflict with humans, habitat loss, and pollution, are issues causing population declines of many amphibians and reptiles, particularly in urban habitats. For example, spring peepers are rarely heard in the urbanized lower part of the watershed, while their spring chorus’ can be deafening in the rural middle and upper portions.
There are 29 “herps” in the Credit River Watershed: 5 turtles, 7 snakes, 5 salamanders, 9 frogs, and 1 toad. Of these, 7 are considered to be Species at Risk (Special Concern, Threatened, or Endangered). Profiles of several species of reptiles and amphibians are below.
The Blanding’s turtle is a medium-sized turtle with an average shell-length of approximately eight inches (or 20 centimetres). A distinguishing feature of this turtle is their bright yellow chin and throat. Another is that their carapace (or the upper portion of their shell) is high domed and looks like a helmet. It is also specked with many light-coloured flecks. Interestingly, the Blanding’s turtle has a hinge on the underside of its shell, which allows them to withdraw into and close their shell for protection.
The Blanding’s turtle is rare not only in the Credit River Watershed, but throughout Canada. In fact, the species is considered to be Threatened both provincially (by SARO, the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario) and federally (by COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and by SARA, the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Canada). The main reason that the Blanding’s turtle is so rare is because their preferred habitats, shallow marshes, ponds and other similar wetlands, are being destroyed. Also, because the species is slow-moving, they are often killed as they cross roads.
The bullfrog is the largest frog in the Credit River Watershed. They can grow to a size of 15 cm or more. They also are excellent jumpers, being known to leap distances of between three and six feet (1-2 metres). Bullfrogs are a totally aquatic species. As it takes at least two years for their tadpoles to become adults, they need to live in water that does not completely freeze during winter.
Unfortunately, the bullfrog is now only found in a few locations, partially because of habitat loss, but also because of over-harvesting. Bullfrogs are collected for dissection in highschool and university courses, and their meaty hind legs are often sought as a delicacy. They are regulated under the Fish and Wildlife Act, however, and receive protection during their breeding and hibernation periods. You must have a permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources to collect bullfrogs.
The Jefferson salamander is the most uncommon amphibian in the Credit River Watershed. It is also considered to be Threatened provincially and federally (by SARO, SARA), and Endangered federally (by COSEWIC). Jefferson salamanders spend most of their time underground, as they are part of the mole salamander family. They require pools of water in the spring to breed in and for the young to mature in. These pools cannot have fish in them, as they would eat the young salamanders. Spring melt water pools in large undisturbed deciduous forests suit this salamander best for breeding.
Milksnakes are considered to be a species of Special Concern both provincially (SARO) and federally (COSEWIC, SARA). As with all of the snakes in the Credit River Watershed, the milksnake is completely harmless and is beneficial in controlling rodent populations. Milksnakes are secretive and will try to escape threats rather than defend themselves. However, if they are cornered they may vibrate their tail, hiss and strike but generally they try to escape and hide in rock piles and under logs. As a result, many people mistake this species for a rattlesnake, and may try to injure or kill them.
Milksnakes are best known to occur in rural areas, and frequently live in and around buildings. They are also found in grasslands, rocky hillsides and some forest types. It is important for them to have a source of water and appropriate places to lay eggs and bask in the sun.
Mink frogs are only found in the northern part of the watershed, because they prefer cool, spring-fed bodies of water with lots of lily pads and other plants to bask on. This frog gets its name from the musky smell it produces when it is handled. Their tadpoles spend from one to two years in the water before they become adults.
Northern Water Snake
The Northern water snake is the largest snake in the Credit River Watershed. This snake is commonly found in or around small bodies of water, such as marshes, ponds, small lakes and streams. Their preferred diet is fish, frogs and crayfish.
Water snakes are one of the most persecuted snakes in the Great Lakes region. People see them swimming near the shore or diving in the water and think that the snake might attack them. It is important to remember that there are no venomous snakes in the Credit River Watershed, and that this species is quite harmless.
The snapping turtle is the largest turtle found in the Credit River Watershed. In fact, it is Canada’s largest freshwater turtle reaching sizes of 18 inches (or 45 centimetres) and a weight of 45 kg. They have large heads and powerful legs. They can be found throughout the watershed, often swimming in permanent bodies of water. They eat many different kinds of aquatic plants, as well as animals such as small fish, birds and frogs.
Snapping turtles are defensive on land, but will usually swim away if confronted in the water. In fact, an adult snapping turtle’s greatest enemies are humans and their automobiles. This is because the turtle will often try to lay their eggs in the gravel found beside roads, where they get hit and killed by passing vehicles.
Spring peepers are very sensitive to urbanization, and are not commonly found in the Credit River Watershed south of Steeles Avenue. Spring peepers are one of our smallest frogs, and get their name from the loud “peep” call that they make in the spring. They breed in both temporary pools and in marshes, swamps and ponds. After breeding, spring peepers spend most of their time in mixed or deciduous forests.