New field guide to Minnesota's amphibians and reptiles

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2014 - 5:56 PM

Amphibians and reptiles aren’t the state’s most visible critters, but they make a great introduction to wildlife. Now a new field guide helps Minnesotans identify the frogs, snakes, turtles and lizards that live in our midst.


John J. Moriarty, at left, and Carol D. Hall pose with some of their favorite critters at French Regional Park in Plymouth. Moriarty and Hall co-authored the new book "Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota."

Some have a high ewww factor. Others produce fear.

But Minnesota’s “other’’ wildlife — turtles, snakes, frogs, toads, lizards and salamanders — more often inspire awe from those who know them.

These critters that slither, hop or swim often are overshadowed by high-profile species like deer, wolves or bald eagles, but they are an integral and fascinating part of the ecosystem and, for many people, provide an early introduction to wildlife.

They did for John Moriarty and Carol Hall.

“I kept turtles and snakes when I was a little kid, and I never grew out of it,’’ Moriarty said the other day as a captive bullsnake wrapped itself around his arm.

Hall grew up on the Mississippi River in Brooklyn Center.

“I remember vividly picking up a prairie skink, and I ended up with just its tail in my hand, still wiggling,’’ she said. The skink’s tail detaches as a defense against predators, and they grow another.

Both Hall and Moriarty pursued wildlife careers. Moriarty is senior wildlife manager at Three Rivers Park District and Hall is a field biologist for the state Department of Natural Resources. They’ve co-authored a book that celebrates the critters that make some folks squeamish.

“Amphibians and Reptiles in Minnesota’’ is a full-color guide to the state’s 22 species of frogs, toads and salamanders, 17 species of snakes, 11 species of turtles and three lizards — including those skinks that can sacrifice their tails to save their lives.


“We hope the book gets people excited about these animals,’’ said Hall, 57, of Marine on St. Croix. “They are unique, and part of Minnesota’s natural heritage.’’

Said Moriarty, 56, of Shoreview: “Lots of people don’t like snakes, but everyone likes turtles and most people like frogs. They are entry level animals that get kids interested in wildlife. Kids might see a deer run through the woods, but a child can hold a toad in their hand.’’

And adults can find them fascinating, too. Consider:

Frogs: brought back to life

“Wood frogs, tree frogs and spring peepers go into leaf litter and freeze in the winter,’’ Moriarity said. Solid.

“They develop a type of glucose in their blood that keeps ice crystals from forming and rupturing blood cells. Leopard frogs go into lakes at the end of October and sit at the bottom in the winter. Their heartbeat goes way down and they transpire across mucus membranes to get oxygen from the water.’’


  • related content

  • Green frogs live in the state’s eastern half.

  • The longest of Minnesota’s snakes, the gophersnake is a powerful constrictor known also as a bullsnake.

  • A rare sight in Minnesota, wood turtles are found primarily in midsize rivers.

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