Week 10, Day 5: Frogs

Canyon treefrogs are common on the Pajarito Plateau, but they don’t spend much time in trees! Look for these frogs blending into rocks or near water in places like Acid Canyon. (Photo by Beth Cortright)

Welcome to Take It Outside! This week, we are getting to know our local reptiles and amphibians, collectively known as herptiles — or herps!

Earlier this week, we met one of our rarest amphibian species, the Jemez Mountains salamander. Today, we meet a more common amphibian on the Pajarito Plateau, the canyon treefrog.

Next week, we are taking a break from creating new Take It Outside content. Instead, we’ll be sharing some of the great online content other New Mexico museums and organizations are creating! Tune in to our website or check PEEC’s social media pages to see who we’re featuring.

Be sure to keep an eye out for a survey next week to give your feedback on what you’d like to see from PEEC for future online content. Have a great weekend!

Upcoming Event:

Tonight at 7 PM, to cap off our week about reptiles and amphibians, astrophysicist Rick Wallace examines competing theories about what really killed the dinosaurs in his live-streamed astronomy talk. His presentation brings in paleontology, atmospheric modeling, explosive hydrodynamics, geology, volcanology, biology, and environmental science! Register here to listen to the talk.

Blog Post:

PEEC’s resident herpetologist and board member Jennifer Macke discusses how canyon treefrogs have adapted to live in our dry climate here in New Mexico. Check it out here!

Craft:

Invite frogs and toads to your yard by building a habitat just for them. Make sure to choose a safe, cool, place, and keep it moist. Then wait and see if any toads or frogs find their new home! Let us know if they do!

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Get outside and pretend to be a canyon treefrog! Hop around your yard or along a nearby trail and search for the following resources that you’ll need to survive as a frog on the Pajarito Plateau:

  • Food: Can you find insects like beetles, flies, or moths to snack on?
  • Water: As we learned in the blog post, frogs absorb moisture through their skin instead of drinking it. Can you find a puddle, stream, pond, or even damp soil?
  • Shelter: During the hot summer months, canyon treefrogs often hang out in cracks and crevices to avoid drying out. They are masters of camouflage and can blend in perfectly with rocks. Can you find some habitat like this to hang out in?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Canyon treefrogs blend in with their surroundings! Their coloring can change depending on where they live. Our Forest Explorers club found this canyon treefrog blending in to a rock in Acid Canyon last fall. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Since frogs and salamanders must blend in well to avoid predation, they are very hard to see. But they are often easier to hear. In our area, most frogs will wait until monsoon season to mate. At that time, you can go to water bodies and hear their calls.

Listen to the calls of the western chorus frog and the canyon treefrog.

Then, as the season progresses, visit ponds such as retention ponds, stock ponds, and canyon bottoms, and listen for these sounds. If you get really interested, you can join the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ citizen science project FrogWatch USA to contribute to amphibian conservation.

 

Want to Learn More?

  • This week we’ve learned about reptiles and amphibians. Most of the critters at the Los Alamos Nature Center fall into one of these categories! Take our “Which Los Alamos Nature Center Critter Are You?” quiz to find out which of our residents you are most like!
  • Do you know how to tell the difference between a frog and a toad? We have both frogs and toads here in New Mexico and they are both amphibians. Check out this video for some tips for noting the general difference between frogs and toads!
  • Learn more about the different frogs, toads, and salamanders found in New Mexico in this list of amphibians from the New Mexico Herpetological Society.
  • Play this jumping frog game and try to get your frog through traffic, across a river, and to a tasty fly to eat! This game is mostly just for fun, but it does bring up an important obstacle to many amphibian species: habitat fragmentation, where human development interrupts the natural ranges of wildlife. This is an important reason for individuals and communities to include areas hospitable to wildlife within our neighborhoods.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what you learn about our local reptiles and amphibians this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Week 10, Day 4: Snakes

Rosa is the New Mexico milk snake that lives at the Los Alamos Nature Center. These snakes have not been documented in Los Alamos County, but are found at nearby lower elevations, like the Rio Grande Valley. (Photo by Elena Giorgi)

Welcome to Take It Outside! This week, we are getting to know our local reptiles and amphibians, collectively known as herptiles — or herps!

On Monday, we learned about rattlesnakes. Today, learn more about our nonvenomous snakes!

Upcoming Event:

Tune in for today’s Critter Chronicle video to meet Foxxy the Western Hognose Snake! PEEC staff member Ashleigh Lusher will introduce Foxxy via YouTube livestream from 11 – 11:15 AM and answer your questions in the live chat. Tune in here.

Blog Post:

Today on the blog, Garth Tietjen tells the story of a Sonoran gopher snake’s life on the Pajarito Plateau. Read his post here.

Craft:

Snakes are reptiles, a special class of animals with scales. Find out more about what makes a reptile unique.

Then, collect nature items, or things that remind you of different animals, to compare the outer coverings (feathers, scales, and fur) of birds, reptiles, and mammals. Find ideas here.

Outdoor Challenge:

Foxxy is the Western Hognose Snake at the Los Alamos Nature Center. These snakes get their name from their upturned snouts. Learn about Foxxy in today’s Critter Chronicle! (Photo by Elena Giorgi)

Snakes are well known for their slithering! Learn more about the math and engineering behind slithering in this video from the National Science Foundation.

Then, go outside and observe animals in motion! If they move across a surface, do they hop or walk? If they walk, do they walk at a steady pace, or stop and go? Do they walk in a straight line, or zigzag? If they fly, do they flap their wings all the time, mostly soar, or flap-flap-flap-soar? If you’re lucky enough to spot a snake, does it lift part of its body off the ground as it moves?

Try to mimic some of the animal motions you see outside. Hop like a bird, slither like a snake, walk like an ant! Send us your observations by using the form below, emailing us, or commenting on social media!

Want to Learn More?

  • Why do snakes stick their tongues out? Because it helps them to smell! Snakes stick their tongues out to pick up chemical particles. When a snake flicks its tongue back into its mouth, it touches something called the Jacobson’s Organ, which helps it to smell. They use this to find meals and pick up pheromones from potential mates! Learn more about the Jacobson’s organ here.
  • Snakes shed their skins for a couple of reasons. One is to allow them to grow, and the other is to get rid of parasites. Learn more about why snakes shed their skins in this article from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
  • The New Mexico Herpetological Society has a list of snakes found in New Mexico.
  • The New Mexico State Extension Service has information for homeowners about snake biology and controlling snake habitat near your home.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what you learn about our local reptiles and amphibians this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

On the final day of reptiles and amphibians week, we’ll learn more about amphibians — including local frogs! Check it out tomorrow!

Week 10, Day 3: Lizards

This baby whiptail lizard is probably either a New Mexico whiptail or a plateau striped whiptail! (Photo by Beth Cortright)

Welcome to Take It Outside! This week, we are getting to know our local reptiles and amphibians, collectively known as herptiles — or herps!

In today’s post, explore some of the lizards that live here in Northern New Mexico.

Blog Post:

Anthony Sena, Emeritus Professor at Northern New Mexico College, looked at some of the lizards you might find in Northern New Mexico and their unique features. In particular, he wrote about our state reptile, the New Mexico whiptail lizard. Read his blog post here.

Dr. Sena will be the next Featured Naturalist at Los Alamos Nature Center. Look for his exhibit shortly after the nature center reopens.

Craft:

Lizards are experts in camouflage. Check out the many different shapes and colors of lizards here.

Then, color your own camouflaging lizard! Cut out a lizard shape, color it, and then place it outside in a spot to camouflage. Play a game of hide and seek with your craft! Can anyone in your family find the lizard?

 

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Flash is one of the fence lizards that lives at the Los Alamos Nature Center. (Photo by Jennifer Macke)

Go on a lizard behavior scavenger hunt! Can you find a lizard …

  • Sunning itself on a rock?
  • Cooling off in the shade?
  • Doing head bobs or push-ups?
  • Trying to catch an insect to snack on?
  • Crawling up a wall or big rock?
  • Chasing another lizard?

Let us know what you observe!

 

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

We have quite a few species of lizards on the Pajarito Plateau. Go outside and see how many different kinds of lizards you can find today. Depending on where you’re looking, you may be more likely to see some species than others. The species are listed below roughly according to how common they are, with the fence lizard being by far the most common species in Northern New Mexico.

 

Want to Learn More?

  • If you missed our last lizard-themed blog post by PEEC volunteer and biologist Jennifer Macke, check it out here to learn more about the lizard species you might find in Northern New Mexico.
  • In last week’s Critter Chronicles video, we featured Hazel, the Chihuahuan Spotted Whiptail Lizard, at the nature center. If you missed the livestream, you can watch that video here.
  • Be sure to check out PEEC’s online Reptiles and Amphibians Nature Guide to help you identify lizard species you find!
  • Explore how some lizards — like the New Mexico whiptail — are able to reproduce asexually in this Scientific American article.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what you learn about our local reptiles and amphibians this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Tomorrow, we’ll learn about snakes!

Week 10, Day 2: Jemez Mountains Salamander

The Jemez Mountains salamander only lives in New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains. It has been found in parts of Los Alamos, Sandoval, and Rio Arriba counties. (Photo by Mark Watson)

Welcome to Take It Outside! This week, we are getting to know our local reptiles and amphibians, collectively known as herptiles — or herps!

We have our very own endemic species of salamander in the Jemez Mountains: the Jemez Mountains salamander. This species is found nowhere else in the world! Learn about this elusive and endangered creature in today’s post.

Blog Post:

Los Alamos National Laboratory wildlife biologist Chuck Hathcock gives us a look into the life of the Jemez Mountains salamander, and discusses some of the threats facing this small amphibian. Read his blog post here.

Craft:

The Jemez Mountains salamander is a lungless salamander that breathes through its very thin, permeable skin. It’s crucial for this salamander to maintain moist skin, clear of chemicals and pollutants. Try this experiment demonstrating how pollutants can enter the skin of an amphibian. It uses hard-boiled eggs to model amphibians’ permeable skin.

Think about how environmental conditions can impact the survival of this endangered species.

 

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Terrestrial amphibians like the Jemez Mountains salamander require moist soil to survive. Moist soil isn’t easy to come by here on the Pajarito Plateau! Go outside and see if you can find moist soil. Is it easier to find at the tops of hills or mesas, or at the bottoms of canyons and dips? Do you have to dig? How far down can you find moisture? Can you find it at all?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Titus is one of the two tiger salamanders that live at the Los Alamos Nature Center. Like Jemez Mountains salamanders, their skin needs to stay moist at all times. (Photo by Beth Cortright)

The Jemez Mountains Salamander is very rare and endangered, but there is another native salamander that is quite common in our area: the tiger salamander. Tiger salamanders have both aquatic and terrestrial life stages, and can be found in and around wetlands and small ponds throughout Northern New Mexico. The Los Alamos Reservoir is an example of a place where you can reliably see tiger salamanders during the aquatic part of their life cycle.

See if you can spot a tiger salamander! Send us a picture if you find one!

 

Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what you learn about our local reptiles and amphibians this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore some of our local lizards!