BACK TO THE WILD!

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Reptiles, Amphibians, and Insects


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THE AMPHIBIANS, REPTILES, AND INSECTS!

<turtle on back>

For some visitors, there is a great opportunity to meet some of our native reptiles and amphibians here at the center, for others, there is a definite lack of interest in this area. Reptiles, namely, the snake, are probably one of the most misunderstood of all our wild inhabitants on this earth. Its very appearance sends many humans fleeing. In most situations, this fear is a learned behavior, and is unwarranted. Snakes are another of our beneficial predators in the food chain, a creature whose life is interconnected to all others in the web of life. They consume large numbers of rodents and seldom cause injury to humans. In most situations, if we humans are harmed by a wild animal, it is our fault and not the animalšs. We need to learn to leave them alone, provide enough habitats for them and learn to co-exist with them. Each year, this center receives many injured or displaced snakes, turtles, frogs and salamanders. Snake species most often seen here are usually the Eastern Fox Snake, Black Rat Snake, Hog-nose Snake, Eastern Garter Snake, Milk Snake, Northern Brown Snake, Red-bellied Snake and the Northern Water Snake. Turtle species most often brought in are the Common Snapping Turtle, Midland Painted Turtle, Blandings Turtle, Eastern Spiny Soft-shell, and the Eastern Box Turtle. Amphibians include many species of salamanders, leopard frogs, bullfrogs and toads. Most have been lacerated by weed-eaters, lawn mowers, caught in nets, run over by cars or hit by boat propellers. Some snakes fall victim to rodent poisons and glue boards. Turtles, snakes and amphibians are often kept as pets until they become ill from dietary deficiencies and the stress of captivity. Man-related injuries far outrank natural predators for these harmless and important reptiles.

A portion of our educational program introduces children to the world of reptiles and amphibians. There is a large, outdoor enclosure here at the center, made up of several butterfly and hummingbird gardens. This habitat, enclosed, offers a perfect natural, recovery area for over 30 eastern box turtles, which are mostly terrestrial. The children view the turtles as they forage for insects and berries or lie hidden in their "forms" they have dug out beneath the shade of bushes and plants. Some classes attending programs here have even observed a female box turtle laying eggs or hatchlings just emerging from beneath the soil. A garden pond demonstrates aquatic turtles basking in the sun on driftwood, as leopard frogs and bullfrogs leap from the edges into the water for safety. There are dragonflies, water striders, and other aquatic life to observe and study.

These activities offer a hands-on learning experience for visitors, where they can learn about the food chain, beginning with the sun, plants and insects and ending with the creatures at the top of the chain ­ birds of prey, large mammals and man. Visitors realize that a disturbance at the beginning of the food chain intensifies at each succeeding level, with catastrophic consequences in the end. Our goal is to instill a sense of appreciation, respect and personal responsibility in children, especially, in how we treat our natural world. We are all part of a whole; all living things are interconnected and play a necessary role in the circle of life.


SPOTTED SALAMANDER

This is one of our amphibian patients here at the center, a Spotted Salamander. This species of mole salamanders can grow to 8" or more in Ohio. Spotted Salamanders prefer hardwood forests and breed in semipermanent ponds without fish. Salamanders are amphibians and undergo metamorphosis as they develop into their adult forms. Salamanders live their juvenile or larval stage of their life in the water, where they are called "waterdogs". Their gills gradually disappear and lungs develop enabling them to live and breathe on land.

Amphibians do not have scales, as reptiles do, instead, they are slippery and slimy, having porous, smooth skin. The Spotted's coloration allows him to blend in perfectly with the muddy water, pebbles and dead leaves in his habitat, protecting him from predators. Salamanders and other amphibians are extremely sensitive to environmental pollution and toxins, and serve as great environmental indicators warning us of problems in an ecosystem. Amphibians often secrete toxins through their porous, glandular skin and are distasteful to many predators. They are also capable of replacing severed limbs and tails - regeneration!

Other salamander patients here at the center have been Jefferson Salamanders, Tremblay's, Tiger, and Marbled Salamanders, and we have even admitted several endangered Blue-spotted Salamanders. Many have been returned to the wild into appropriate, healthy habitat!

Another Amphibian, the American Toad! Capable of some pretty amazing things! This particular species is capable of producing enough neuro-toxin through his paratoid glands, located behind his eyes, to kill a large-breed dog or other predator who doesn't have enough sense to spit him out! Most predators will quickly change their mind once they have tasted the toad's bitter skin secretions, but many young puppies and cats need quick medical attention after playing with a toad, or they may die. The toad has a long, sticky tongue attached to the front of the mouth, to snatch up unsuspecting insects, worms, small mice and other prey.

In hot dry weather, toads will burrow into the mud, under dead leaves, or wherever it stays cool and moist. Here they "estivate" or become semi-dormant, waiting for evenings and damper weather, where their skin will not dry out. Toads are more terrestrial than frogs. Both begin their larval stage in the water, and develop lungs as adults. Both can breathe on land, even frogs, but the frogs are more aquatic, choosing to spend most of their lives in and near ponds and lakes. Frogs can leap long distances; toads hop rather than leap. The Fowler's Toad can also be found in Ohio.

For some visitors, there is a great opportunity to meet some of our native reptiles and amphibians here at the center, for others, there is a definite lack of interest in this area. Reptiles, namely, the snake, are probably one of the most misunderstood of all our wild inhabitants on this earth. Its very appearance sends many humans fleeing. In most situations, this fear is a learned behavior, and is unwarranted. Snakes are another of our beneficial predators in the food chain, a creature whose life is interconnected to all others in the web of life. They consume large numbers of rodents and seldom cause injury to humans. In most situations, if we humans are harmed by a wild animal, it is our fault and not the animal's. We need to learn to leave them alone, provide enough habitats for them and learn to co-exist with them. Each year, this center receives many injured or displaced snakes, turtles, frogs and salamanders. Snake species seen here are usually the eastern fox snake, black rat snake, garter snake, milk snake, northern brown snake and the northern water snake.

Turtle species most often brought in are the common snapping turtle, midland painted turtle, eastern spiny soft-shell turtle, and the eastern box turtle. Most have been lacerated by weed-eaters, lawn mowers, caught in nets, run over by cars or hit by boat propellers. Some snakes fall victim to rodent poisons. Turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders are often kept as pets until they become ill from dietary deficiencies and the stress of captivity. Man-related injuries far outrank natural predators for these harmless reptiles.

A portion of our educational program introduces children to the world of reptiles and amphibians. There is a large, outdoor enclosure here at the center, made up of several butterfly and hummingbird gardens. This habitat, enclosed, offers a perfect natural, recovery area for over 30 eastern box turtles, which are mostly terrestrial. The children view the turtles as they forage for insects and berries or lie hidden in their "forms" they have dug out beneath the shade of bushes and plants. Some classes attending programs here have even observed a female box turtle laying eggs or hatchlings just emerging from beneath the soil. A garden pond demonstrates aquatic turtles basking in the sun on driftwood, as leopard frogs and bullfrogs leap from the edges into the water for safety. There are dragonflies, waterstriders, and other aquatic life to observe and study. These activities offer a hands-on learning experience for visitors, where they learn about the food chain, beginning with the sun, plants and insects and ending with the creatures at the top of the chain; birds of prey, large mammals and man. They realize that a disturbance at the beginning of the food chain intensifies at each succeeding level, with catastrophic consequences in the end. Our goal is to instill a sense of personal responsibility in our treatment of the natural world. All living things have a place, a role in the circle of life.

These are our "non-bird" residents, but equally as interesting and important as the birds! As Kit & George Harrison put it, in their wonderful book America's Favorite Backyard Wildlife, "At no time in the history of this country have so many people lived in such close proximity to ordinarily wary, secretive wild animals. In most urban, suburban and rural housing developments, wildlife has literally taken up residence at our doorsteps." Their book is extremely entertaining and informative; leading us to discover that wildlife is closer than you think . . . often in your own backyard! They have captured the perfect descriptions and personality of each of these interesting and unique animals, in some instances, I have used information from their book in an effort to give a well-rounded description of the animal I am writing about. This book is an excellent source of biological accuracy of North American wildlife, as well as great enjoyable reading!

CIRCLE OF LIFE

One of our favorite events at Back To The Wild in the summer and fall is to take an active part in the miraculous, wonderful life cycle of the Monarch Butterfly. Many visitors at the center witness Monarch's eggs hatching, hundreds of larva devouring Milkweed, grown caterpillars spinning their chrysalises and butterflies actually emerging from the chrysalises! Kids watch in wonder as their crumpled wings unfold and expand to dry. We have over 25 Butterfly Bushes on the grounds here, and these captive raised butterflies are tagged for research and quickly released to begin their new life of nectaring on private gardens and on fields of wildflowers!

Children learn how critical the simple Milkweed plant is to the existence of the Monarch Butterfly. It is this butterflys only food plant. The female Monarch lays her eggs on the Milkweed leaves, usually depositing one or two eggs on a single plant, and then leaving to find another. She may lay as many as 200 eggs! The caterpillar hatches in 3-4 days and immediately eats his eggshell, for important nourishment. He literally becomes an eating-machine and consumes leaf after leaf of the toxic milkweed plant he was born on. He is immune to this toxin, but becomes poisonous to birds and other predators that might try to eat him. What an adaptation for survival! After shedding his skin four times, the caterpillar finally stops eating and leaves the plant to find a safe place to pupate. Here he spins a pad of tough silk that attaches him securely to a branch, plant or other shelter, hanging upside down in the shape of the letter "J". Many hours later, the caterpillar performs an amazing act! Right before your eyes, his skin splits once more and a beautiful jade green pupa, or chrysalis emerges, marked with golden spots. Here, the caterpillar hangs protected, for about two weeks. Finally, the chrysalis splits open and the damp, crumpled up butterfly emerges. How truly amazing! He no longer resembles the caterpillar in any way. No chewing mouth parts, instead he has a "proboscis" or coiled up tongue to sip nectar. His antennae are different and his legs are long and slender. And most amazing of all are the beautiful wings, which will carry him up and over fields and mountains and deserts.

The Monarch Butterfly is so unique in the butterfly world, because it actually migrates south, like birds do, when fall arrives. In fact, all Monarch Butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains, and even those up in Canada, make this incredible journey south each year, all the way to a specific forest in Central Mexico! How they achieve this incredible feat still has science looking for answers! By tagging these butterflies with tiny, adhesive numbered tags, much important research has been documented and scientists have discovered amazing things. Our early and mid-summer Monarchs do not make this journey to Mexico. Their life spans are quite short, 4 or 5 weeks or so, but their offspring that emerge in the fall, are equipped with extra fat cells, to enable them to make this journey. Since they have never been there before and no butterfly is alive to lead them there, it seems a miracle that they appear by the millions each year, without fail, in the Oyamel Fir Forest in Mexico! These fall offspring then live for several months in the protective cover of the forest. As spring approaches, the butterflies begin to leave the forest, heading northward, looking for flowers to nectar on along the way. After breeding, they fly just a couple hundred miles northward, laying their eggs on milkweed plants along the way. They soon die, leaving their offspring to continue the journey all the way back to the northern U. S. and Canada! By the time we see Monarchs again in the summer, they are a few generations removed from the ones who left us in the fall.

The sad news is that this very special, exclusive forest that this butterfly depends on, is being illegally logged. Many conservation groups and efforts are doing what they can to stop the logging and protect this important habitat. Millions of butterflies die each year there, of natural causes, but millions more die from pesticides and clear-cut openings in the forest, which are changing the temperatures and safety that the butterflies need to survive. How can we help? Become active supporters of conservation groups. Even in your own backyard, help provide wildlife with natural food and shelter areas by planting what they need. Help your children and friends learn how to respect and appreciate this wonderful natural world of ours! Butterflies and birds, especially, are like winged jewels and add so much color and life to our world. If we let them, they will bring excitement, wonder and meaning to our lives.


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BACK TO THE WILD wildlife rehabilitation center in Castalia, Ohio.

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