Attracting amphibians with a little H2O
You’ve got the water, you’ve got the plants, you’ve got the fish, but something just doesn’t seem right in your aquatic paradise. Something seems to be missing … something that made every childhood vision of a lily pad complete. What natural ecosystem would be complete without frogs and other amphibians?
Well, besides being just plain cute, there’s a valid reason why you would want frogs and other amphibians visiting your pond every year. They play important roles in the ecosystem – in fact, the number of amphibians in your pond can be a good indicator of the health of your pond. Ecologists are constantly monitoring the frog population to make sure everything is running smoothly in nature.
Say So-Long To Harmful Insects
Amphibians are instrumental in keeping the undesirable insect population to a minimum. This is certainly a good thing for your neighboring garden, but also for those lazy summer nights when you want to sit on your deck and not have to worry about pesky bugs bothering you and your guests. Frogs and toads will keep the mosquito population in your yard at bay, and will also help with other annoying garden pests. Amphibians can be very handy when it comes to keeping slugs and rodents away as well. And what about those earwigs? Well, you can kiss them goodbye (if you want to get that close to them) because a toad can eat over 1,000 earwigs each summer!
Having these wonderful animals around reduces the need for harmful pesticides that conflict with Mother Nature! In fact, if you do decide to lure these wonderful creatures to your pond, it would be wise to stay away from fertilizers or pesticides that might harm them.
Almost any expert will admit that water attracts amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts. Mostly, they flock to water because they need a place to breed and lay their eggs. Since tadpoles need water to live, it seems only natural that a pond is a great place to raise a frog or toad family.
Tadpoles and fish can be a deadly combination though, because those tadpoles can be a great snack for your Koi. Water features are often built with a place where the eggs can hatch and mature out of the reach of the hungry Koi. Something like a small, upper pond separated by the main pond with a stream, would do the trick. Just make sure that the force of the waterfall doesn’t push the eggs and tadpoles over the edge toward your fish and mechanical filtration system. The force of the pump inside the skimmer could pull your tadpoles straight into it. While tadpoles have been known to make it through the pump unharmed, it can be a wild, shocking ride for them.
Certain species of salamanders also need water in which to breed and raise their young (referred to as larvae). So, come breeding time, you may see these salamanders by your pond as well.
Newts spend half of their lives in water and then, as adults, retreat to land. These part-time pond inhabitants have an interesting way of caring for their unborn. When the eggs are laid, the female wraps each sticky-coated egg in a leaf or other similar material using her hind legs. With as many as 600 eggs per year, it may take her as many as two months to produce her annual clutch.
Doing A Little More
Amphibians are complex and need a little more than water to make your pond their permanent home.
Boggy Areas: Biologists suggest a boggy area full of native grasses and ferns to keep them safe and happy in your yard. Local wetlands are great places to check out when looking to mimic the right environment for your little visitors.
Aquatic plants: Plants are very important because they provide food and shelter for both tadpoles and adults, and a breeding site for adults. Additionally, the native grasses planted beside your pond will grow to be tall and flowing, providing excellent shelter for your aquatic creatures. If you let areas of your garden grow wild, it will also provide a shady place for amphibians to relax and cool off.
Permanent Shelter: A well-located rock pile can also lure toads, salamanders, and newts to your pond. They can be made out of, well, rocks … as well as bricks or broken concrete. The rock pile should receive both sun and shade, and where you put it depends largely on your climate. For example, if you live somewhere with hot summers, you’ll want to put the pile in a mostly shady spot.
A “Toad”ally Bright Idea!
Some frog and toad lovers suggest using a light to draw these adorable creatures to your pond at night. Some people put lights up in their yard to accentuate their evening landscape or to keep animals away. For frog and toad enthusiasts, the exact opposite is true. The light should be set no more than 3 feet above ground, and placed near the garden. Insects are attracted to the light, giving your toads and frogs a great place to feed at night.
If You Build It, They Will Come … And Stay
It is very important that your pond get the right amount of sunlight and shade for your new inhabitants. They need a little of both to keep their body temperatures in check. Since all of these animals love playing around in muck and debris, a perfectly manicured lawn is not their cup of tea. Letting your lawn grow a little longer than usual will give them a place hide from predators while traveling from pond to pond. Leaving some tree, shrub, and garden litter out so that they have something to burrow through will help keep them safe as well.
Safety Is Key
While they need damp conditions, some frogs can actually drown in water. Make sure that your pond has shelves, complete with rocks and gravel, so you don’t have steep edges. Remember, once they take a dip in the pond, you want to make sure they have a way out and steep edges can be deadly to them. A piece of driftwood hanging in a shallow portion of the pond can make a great dry resting spot for your favorite creatures too. And if you have a larger pond, a floating platform in the middle of the pond anchored to something is a great idea. Salamanders and newts are especially fond of cool, damp spots under logs.
Be cautious when handling these creatures. Some species of amphibians have poison in their skin glands, which can be harmful to you, your children, and your pets. Our touch can be a danger to them as well. The oils and lotions we have on our hands could be harmful to certain amphibians.
You Can’t Lead A Frog To Water
It’s great to want frogs, toads, and salamanders in your pond to complete an ecosystem, but you should be patient. Don’t go to a store and purchase these animals to put into your pond. In many places, it is illegal to release certain species into the wild because they are detrimental to native plants and animals. Chances are that they will not stay at your pond, and they may not survive in the wild. And by no means do we suggest that you go to a local pond or wetland and catch these animals to bring back to your pond, either – it’s not a good idea to remove them from their habitat because they will undoubtedly try to return to their place of origin and get killed along the way.
Creating A Winter Wonderland
In the winter, frogs are attracted to water and they will even over-winter in your pond. Now, one of the myths out there is that frogs need to be in water that is at least 6 feet deep in order to hibernate. Not true! As long as you have mud for them to burrow in, whether it is a deep plant pocket or a potted plant, they’ll be just fine. Make sure the pocket or pot is deep enough to keep them away from cold temperatures. If your pond is shelved, they’ll probably go for the pot or pocket on the deepest shelf.
So, how do they keep from freezing? Simple … they are ectotherms – regulating their body temperatures largely by exchanging heat with their surroundings. The soil in the plant pocket or pot keeps the frogs nice and warm throughout the winter.
As with fish, it is important to keep a hole open in the ice through the winter to allow harmful gases to escape and for oxygen to circulate. This can be done with a submerged re-circulating pump bubbling at the water’s surface, or combination of that and a floating de-icer, depending on just how cold it gets in your area. When spring comes, and it’s time for the spring cleanout, gently wake them from their winter slumber.
It’s always helpful to read up on any animals that you are trying to attract to your backyard paradise, so be sure to stop at the bookstore or library and pick up some materials. The more educated you are, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Get ready, because once you get these creatures in your yard, you’re never going to want to let go!