Frog or toad?

frog or toad

Frog or toad?

Toad or frog?

Here’s how to tell:

Think about where they live and how they behave. Frogs live in or near water, they’re good jumpers, and they swim. Toads are born in water, but mostly live on land and walk more than jump. So,

frogs have slimy skin (moist environment), long legs (jumping), webbed feet (swimming), and bulging eyes on top of their heads (peeking above water while their bodies are submerged);

toads have dry, bumpy skin (dry environment), shorter legs and toed feet (walking), and flatter eyes (no need to peer out from underwater). Toads are also generally wider than frogs.

Other cool things to know: touching a toad won’t give you warts, and toads have fewer predators than frogs, because their skin tastes bad.

If you like frogs, visit Save the Frogs, a really cool website frog conservation. It has news, events, and froggy facts.

So, what do you think this guy is? Frog or toad?



Notes from a botany hike at Preddy Creek

Preddy Creek is a newish park north of Charlottesville with hiking and biking trails.


Guttation is sort of like plant sweat: if the ground is wet at night, a plant’s roots could continue pumping in water while the stomata are closed–meaning no transpiration to release excess water. Some plants handle the overflow by squeezing the water out of special pores called hydathodes. Great explanation here. Here’s what it looks like:


Very pretty.

Pine Spittlebugs

If you see this on pine trees:
you are seeing young pine spittlebugs, which feed on the tree and cover themselves with the “spittle” for protection. Photo from

Grasses vs sedges vs rushes

To remember the main difference among the three types of plant, a poem about stems:
Sedges have edges
Rushes are round
Grasses are hollow
Like holes in the ground 

Pink ladyslipper orchids

They only flower every 5 to 10 years, and needs to coexist with a certain type of fungus. More on that symbiotic relationship here.

Running cedar

Way back before the dinosaurs, Running Cedar used to be huge trees. Now it’s a low groundcover plant. Be careful cutting it back, because the expanse of Running Cedar you see is actually just one single organism. Details here.
Photo from Running cedar would make a lovely Christmas wreath, but don’t do it: when dried, it’s extremely flammable.

Corn salad

The name cracks me up. It’s an invasive species, considered a weed by some. More info here.


Corn salad is dichasal. A branch splits into two branches, which each split into two branches, which each split into two branches… The symmetry is satisfying.


It has a pretty purple flower, but more interestingly, it’s the plant you get when you buy shamrocks at the store for St. Patrick’s Day. Gorgeous leaves:

Venus looking-glass

The arrangement of leaves on the stem of this plant is fantastic. They spiral down in bunches, directly attached to the stem.

Maidenhair fern

These ferns have delicate fronds, arranged in a semi-circle on fine, black stems.

Photo from

Barred Owl

A hiker and her dog alerted our group to an injured owl on the trail not too far back. She said it was large and flopped around on the ground as if its wing was injured. A few of us went back to help it, and found a big Barred Owl in a tree across the creek, peacefully watching us. Apparently it had swooped in to grab a treat and wrestled with it, or was faking injury to escape the woman and dog. The owl was big and beautiful, with a gray-brown body and lighter face, and hooted hello at us. Here is more information about Barred Owls. It was too far away to get a good picture, but here’s one from


What’s the deal with fireflies?

Why do they flash?

Romance. Adult fireflies use flash patterns to identify members of same species and opposite sex. Females of two species have been shown to prefer males with higher flash rates and stronger flash intensity, but otherwise not much is known about the flash patterns.

How do they flash?

A chemical reaction in the firefly’s light organ causes bioluminescence when oxygen can reach the photocyte cells. The photocytes are deprived of oxygen by neighboring mitochondria, which consume all the oxygen present, leaving the light cells dark. When a nerve signal instructs cells to produce nitric oxide, the mitochondrial respiration is halted and the oxygen present is free to be used in the bioluminescence reaction.

(Fun fact: I was first introduced to mitochondria as a child in the book A Wind in the Door.)

What else is cool about fireflies?

  • There’s a place in the Smokies where a species called synchronous fireflies flash at the same time. It’s not known why they’re synchronous: it could be competitive — if I flash first, the girls will notice me; or it could be collaborative — if our group flashes together, we have a better chance of getting the girls’ attention. Here’s a video. It’s a little bit creepy. Peak flashing in the park is late May to mid June.
  • Adults fireflies only live about 21 days, and don’t eat.
  • One species has a bluish light.
  • Females flash too but don’t usually fly.

Fireflies and lightning bugs are the same critters. Which do you say? I say both, but probably more often use “lightning bug.”


Scientific American

National Park Service

Tufts Journal