Can’t Find the Perfect Herping Spot? Make the Perfect Habitat!
The Story of My Wife and I Making the Perfect Herp Habitat.
This article is the story of how my wife and I made the perfect herp habitat. It is nice to be able to go Herping in your back yard. Keep in mind, things that work for me may not work for you. Even the same species may act differently in a different location. I encourage each of you to share some ideas in the comments section of this article. You can read through the article and decide for yourself what works for you.
I am writing this article in November for a reason. Preparing a reptile ready habitat starts in late fall and runs through winter. The idea would be to get things ready by spring. You want the things ready before the Herps start moving.
The planning everything out is very important. Here are some things you want to cover.
- What resources do I already have access too?
- What Herps did I want to attract to my property?
- What kind of habitat do I need to recreate?
- Are there any cost?
What Resources did I have access too?
When my Wife and I bought our home, one of my first projects was to make it herp friendly. The property is an acre of land that sits up next to the woods and is off the highway. The woods are quite swampy and have several canals traveling through it.
On the property, there was a small fish pond about the size of a bath tube. The pond was overgrown with a lot of aquatic plants. So over grown in fact, you couldn’t even put a single fish it. There was also another pond of about the same size that had been converted to a flower bed. There was a large flower bed on the property that had also been overgrown.
What Herps did I want to attract to my property?
The property is in the coastal plains of NC. It is on the immediate coast and is only about 8-9 feet above sea level. The land is very flat. There are lots of waterways surrounding my property. I decided it would be easiest to focus on aquatic and semi-aquatic herps. I decided to focus on lizards, frogs, toads, and fossorial snakes. They are all really easy to accommodate. Most of the larger reptiles need these smaller ones around as food. I knew that if I got it right the bigger herps would come. And with enough time, they did….
What kind of habitat do I need to recreate?
I was working on the whole aquatic, semi-aquatic herp approach so it stands to reason I would need water. My wife and I began by clearing out the overgrown pond enough to allow water to be standing in it. This became the perfect habitat for southern leopard frogs and pickerel frogs. I then began digging up the pond that had been converted to a flowerbed. The dirt was moved to another location on the property and I will come back to that later. We placed a liner in the pond and filled it up. We added some vegetation to the pond. You will need to find out what grows best in your area. Make sure you have under water plants, floating plants, and plants that are rooted but grow out of the water.
After the plants came the fish. This process was a little time-consuming. We added a few each week to allow the bio filtration time to keep up. We added 2 species. Koi and eastern mosquito fish. The koi really get the biology of the pond moving. The mosquito fish are used to keep populations of mosquito at bay. It is important to note that a lot of vegetation is needed so tadpoles have a place to hide from the mosquito fish.
With healthy plant life and lively water source, the next step was to place plants and rocks around the pond. We have southern leopard frogs, pickerel frogs, and a bull frog that are permanent residents at the pond. I have an eastern mud turtle that visits regularly. He will be gone for a few days then he is back for a few. I have also found several neonate mud turtles chilling in the lilies. I have pulled out 2 snapping turtles over the 3 years I have had the pond. One of the snappers was a neonate. There are a few spotted turtles that live just inside the woods that occasionally wonder over to the pond when we have a lot of rain.
I have seen several species of snake near the pond as well. I have seen black racers come for a drink. I have had a few redbelly water snakes stop in for a few days. The occasional garter or ribbon will stop by for a quick drink as well. The mosquito fish is an excellent food source for the snakes. The shrubs and plants around the pond are a frequent place for anoles to hide. This year, I had a nest of eastern glass lizards hatch in the fossorial garden(discussed below) and the young are regulars at the pond.
As I mentioned before, all the dirt from the pond was taken to a spot next to the woods. I call it my fossorial garden. The dirt was spread out over a small area and boards were placed over it. This creates a perfect habitat for the fossorial (ground dwelling) snakes. The boards were of all different sizes and shapes. For more information on how to place the boards see, “The Art of Flipping”.
We placed the garden just inside the woods for 2 reasons. 1. The snakes are in the woods and 2. It doesn’t take away from the visual of the yard. The most common snake found in my little fossorial haven are rough earth snakes. I have found as many as 9 in the 10’x10′ habitat. I also regularly see Ringneck, Dekay’s Brown, and Redbellies. I have found the occasional salamander as well.
With the pond being near the fossorial site, it makes a perfect one, two, punch. Each year I add to the project. This last winter I cleared the woods out a bit and added some fallen trees and a few wood piles. This has really excited the anoles and five-lined skinks. It is all slowly coming together.
Are there any cost?
The cost was very minimal. There was a cost for the liner we placed in the pond. I had to purchase a pump for the fish and I have to buy the food they eat. I did have to buy a machete for the woods. The rest was found in scrap yards or donated by friends. Here is a break down.
- Liner for pond $80
- Pump for pond $50
- Machete for woods $30
- Dirt and wood for Fossorial Garden were either found on property or donated by friends.
The habitat around our home was slowly modified over the years we have lived there. Each year we spend a little time to add to it. The pond and the plant life around it look like any other garden any other person would have in their yard. The fossorial garden is discreetly placed near the woods and behind my garage. So for very little money and a lot of tender love and care we have ended up with an awesome habitat for the creatures my family and I enjoy so much. Do you have a “Habitat” you have prepared for your native herps? Do you have any pointers are ideas you would like to share. Please take the time to post them below for others to enjoy.