June 11, 2021
A Turtle and a Toad
By: Sharon Bazant
At the end of a very hot week, in the middle of a very hot day, Coral sets out from her home to walk along the edge of a sunny field and wonders what she will discover today.
Not far away from her little mouse-house, a lumpy, bumpy gray and brown toad suns himself on a large rock. Coral recognizes him as an American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus), the most common variety of toad in Minnesota.
Even though Mr. Toad does not appear in the mood for chatting today, Coral is very glad to have seen him in her neighborhood. Adult American toads are carnivorous (meaning they eat animals instead of plants). They dine on insects, spiders, worms, and slugs and help keep these creatures from overpopulating an area! They are valuable creatures to have around.
Leaving the silent toad to enjoy his sunny rock, Coral meanders further along the edge of the field until she reaches a small group of Spruce trees, planted by the farmer as a windbreak on his farm.
On such a hot day, a shady Evergreen is especially appealing to a tree-loving mouse. Coral scrambles up the trunk and onto a branch. Coral feels as though she’s flying as she leans out to catch a cool passing breeze.
Spying movement in the grass beneath her Spruce, Coral is surprised to see the dark green shell of a Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) below!
Painted Turtles are by far the most common type of turtle in Coral’s area, but she doesn’t see them in fields very often. Painted Turtles love marshes, bogs, and muddy ponds. They do sometimes lay their eggs, though, in the sandy prairie near Coral’s farm, so she wonders if this is a female turtle crossing the field to reach the prairie beyond where she’ll dig a nest for her eggs.
Meanwhile, the turtle below is still ambling by in the shade of the tree. Wanting to greet her before she crawls away, Coral quickly scampers back down the scratchy trunk of her Spruce.
She removes her hood and cape and stashes them by the trunk (it’s much too hot this evening for an active mouse to stay bundled up), and steps towards the turtle.
When Coral approaches, this turtle hides in her shell. Like so many other wild creatures, she’s a bit shy. But in a few moments she’s peeked out again to meet the little mouse.
A quick chat, a quick good-bye, and the two part ways. The turtle heads toward the prairie at a steady turtle-pace, and Coral waves as she watches her go.
Painted Turtle mothers lay 4-10 small white eggs in soft, sandy burrows then leave the eggs alone, never to return. After hatching, baby turtles need to get to water where they have the best chance of survival, though many of them will be eaten by predators like birds, fish, and other turtles.
Coral wonders if her new turtle friend is indeed on her way to make a nest, and she wishes the best for any future hatchlings.
Starting her walk once again, Coral keeps an eye out for small spring flowers that grow in the grass on the path she likes to follow. Sure enough, two lovely wildflower varieties are close at hand.
Coral first identifies a light purple bloom with an orange center: Smooth Fleabane (Erigeron glabellus). The petals on this plant are not completely open yet, but Coral knows they are a beautiful disk shape when done blooming. She always loves seeing the daisy-like Fleabane flowers in her field.
Hiding on the petals of the American Vetch is a small brown beetle that fascinates Coral. She leans in to see it better. Can you see the tiny insect on the purple petals? Click on the photo and zoom in to see him better.
This little guy is a Maculated Dung Beetle (Aphodius distinctus)! If you’re not sure what dung is . . . ask your parents! All Coral knows is that she is VERY glad to have healthy, hungry, active dung beetles living near her farm. Dung beetles eat dung, and farms have lots and lots of dung. Coral gets the dung beetle’s attention and helpfully points in the direction of Rennwood Farm’s sheep barn. Maybe the little beetle will find everything he needs in that direction.
As she crosses the last few steps of her field, Coral glances towards the large farmhouse, where the farmer and his family are gathered for their evening supper. Freshly planted Marigolds in wooden window boxes look so bright and appealing, and she dashes towards the house for a look. A quick hop onto the porch, and Coral takes a moment to enjoy the cheery flowers the farmer’s daughter sets out each year.
~ Have you found toads near your home? Did you know they are helpful creatures to have around?
~ Have you ever walked through a large field filled with flowers? Did you collect wildflowers for a bouquet?
~ What is the largest turtle you have ever seen? What is the smallest turtle you have seen?
~ Do you like to climb trees? (And, if so, what is your favorite tree to climb?)
~ Does your family plant flowers near your house? Or do you have a neighbor who plants flowers near you?
Resources to explore:
~ Learn more about the American Toad.
~ Learn more about the Maculated Dung Beetle.