Lizards, Snakes, and Frogs for the Garden
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What is considered a “good” reptile and amphibian will depend on where you live. There are a variety of lizards, snakes, and amphibians that are good for your garden.
By Nigel Robert Reptiles and amphibians are known to be beneficial for your garden, but how do you know which species are good and which ones aren’t? There are thousands of different species in North America alone, and it can be difficult to determine which ones you want to have around. Luckily, it is usually pretty easy to find out which animals you should encourage to make their homes in your garden.
It is also relatively easy to encourage these animals to hang out in your garden. Adding shady areas to hide, readily available water sources, and even basking spots can help attract reptiles and amphibians. Providing the right conditions will make sure that your garden is a utopia for any and all herpetofauna.
Are Reptiles and Amphibians Good for Your Garden?
Reptiles and amphibians are a great addition to any garden. These animals have proven to be great at controlling pests and often are considered an alternative for synthetic pesticides. In particular, toads, lizards, frogs, slugs, caterpillars, moths, and even spiders. On the other hand, snakes are great for controlling mammalian pests like mice, rats, and even some larger invertebrates.
Not only do reptiles and amphibians prevent pests from taking over your garden, but they are also not a threat to your garden itself. Snakes, frogs, and toads are considered true carnivores and do not eat any form of fruit, vegetables, or leafy plants. Because of this, you don’t have to worry about reptiles and amphibians targeting your plants for food. Many common wild lizards in North America are considered omnivores and will occasionally eat plant material, though they primarily feed on insects. Even though lizards are omnivores, they pose little danger to your plants, and the pest control they provide still makes their presence in your garden a positive thing.
How to Attract Reptiles and Amphibians
Generally, if you want to attract reptiles and amphibians to your garden, you should make it a hospitable environment. The first way to do that is to create shelters. This can be rocks, logs, dense plants, or even overturned pots. Creating shady shelters will ensure both reptiles and amphibians feel safe within your yard. Another way to attract these animals is by having water readily available in bowls or water dishes throughout your garden. For amphibians, this is particularly important as they need moisture to keep their skin healthy and to breed. For reptiles, providing large rocks that they can use to bask will help them utilize your garden space as well.
Good Reptiles and Amphibians for Your Garden
What is considered a “good” reptile and amphibian will depend on where you live. Thankfully there are plenty of harmless reptiles and amphibians across North America that would be happy to call your garden their home. Generally, almost all reptiles and amphibians are considered good for your garden. For amphibians, toads like the American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) are common across the United States in a variety of environments. They are generally brown in color with prominent bumpy skin and a lighter colored line down the center of their back. Tree frogs in the family Hylidae are also very common in the U.S. and are usually bright green and easy to identify.
For reptile species, there are a variety of lizards and snakes that are good for your garden. Mostly small, insect feeders will be ideal lizards for your garden. This includes species like Anoles in the genus Anolis and Fence lizards in the Sceloporus genus that are very common across North America and perfect for pest control. In fact, you have likely seen these species around your home already! Anoles are usually green with a brightly colored (usually red, pink, blue or orange) flap of skin called a dewlap on their chin that they can flair out. Fence lizards are usually brown, black, and tan patterned with spiky scales and patches of blue or green on their underbelly or neck.
Snakes may be scary to see in your garden, but most species are completely harmless and will help you keep rodent populations in check. Rat snakes, in the genus Pantherophis, are a very common species seen across North America and as their name suggests, they primarily eat rodents — especially rats. These snakes can get three to five feet long and are usually dark brown or black in color with a light cream underbelly. If you have a problem with rodents, seeing a rat snake in your garden is the perfect solution. Corn snakes, ring-necked snakes, and brown snakes are some other very common species that mainly eat pests and will be wonderful to have in your garden.
Bad Reptiles and Amphibians for Your Garden
There is a very limited list of reptiles and amphibians that are considered “bad” for your garden, and the list almost entirely consists of dangerous or invasive species. For reptiles, snakes that are venomous are not ideal for your garden. Though they usually do control pests as well as their non-venomous relatives, the danger that they pose toward humans makes their presence unwanted. Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and Coral Snakes are the only venomous snakes present in North America and if seen in your garden, you can call a specialist to remove and relocate the animal safely.
As far as “bad” amphibians, the list is even shorter. Most amphibians are harmless and effective in pest control. There are a few invasive species of toad that while not harmful to your garden directly, are extremely harmful to the surrounding animals and environment. Cane toads (Rhinella marina) are a large, aggressive, invasive species of toad that has made its way into the U.S. and are currently established in Florida. These toads get five to nine inches long and are usually brown in color with a cream-colored underside. They also usually have very large, raised parotoid glands behind their heads. If an invasive species is found in your garden, it can be removed from your garden and killed.
Keeping the “bad” reptiles and amphibians out of your garden will be a bit difficult as any measures you take to keep them out will also keep out the “good” species. Usually, the easiest method of keeping the “bad” species away is by relocating them far away from your garden when found.
Amphibians and reptiles are some of the best animals to keep in your garden. Not only is simply seeing an adorable wild frog or a group of fence lizards a joyful occasion, but they also provide valuable pest control services for your garden. These species are relatively easy to coax into your garden by providing suitable shelter, water, and basking spots.
Generally, most species of reptiles and amphibians are good for your garden though there are some to look out for. Venomous or invasive species are some of the few species that you won’t want to hang out in your garden and luckily relocation of the individual by a professional can often solve the problem.
What species are you looking forward to seeing in your garden?
NIGEL ROBERT is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant. He has kept many reptile species including Leopard Geckos and Ball Pythons and has had hundreds of encounters with wild species. His goal is to provide trustworthy and comprehensive advice to anyone who may encounter wild or pet reptiles.