Snakes, Lizards, and Toads

Scaly Creatures

Slithery, skittering, even slimy, reptiles and amphibians are creatures most of us would rather not have close contact with. They have just as much right to be here as we do, though, and they can be good soldiers in the fight against harmful insects. In all but the most urban areas, some or all of the native snakes and lizards can survive and thrive to our benefit. Toads and frogs are a little more demanding in that they need fresh water to survive and reproduce. All are susceptible to the effects of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and will flee gardens where those are in use. If you haven’t made the switch to less toxic methods, here’s one more good reason to do so.

Most people would not willingly harbor the potentially deadly rattlesnake in their gardens. Only those gardening on the fringe of the city have to worry about them. Gopher snakes, however, should be welcomed by anyone. This carnivore favors mice, rats, voles, and moles-even rabbits. On cool nights, snakes may seek warmth such as that generated by your active compost pile. Make some noise before you turn the pile if you don’t want to be surprised by their presence.

Local lizards are mostly small and fun to watch as they bask in the sunny parts of the garden. Their presence assures that a wide variety of flying insects is being continually munched. Their ability to regrow their tails has fascinated children of all ages.

Toads and frogs need not spend their whole day in water, but will need a constant source of it nearby. After their forays into the shrubbery to snatch insects from the air with their prehensile tongues, they must take a soak to absorb oxygen from the water as well as complete their mating cycles. Providing a permanent pond or bog-even just a large, shallow container of water situated near a hedge or other suitable vegetation to provide cover-may attract and support a frog or toad (or two). Be sure to take measures to prevent mosquitoes by supplying it with small fish or using Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) dunks.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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