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Looking out for autumn hitchhikers

Hello everyone! And happy no longer false autumn! Now that the weather is getting into what we around here would consider the REAL fall, many of us have been in the process of moving our not-so-cold hardy plants back indoors for the season. When we do this, it’s a good idea to check for hitchhikers. Obviously, we don’t want to move any bugs indoors. But, there are some scaly and slimy neighbors that might sneak into our homes on or in these plants that maybe would be better off back outside. After advising one of my neighbors about this very thing the other day, I thought it might be a good time to remind folks to have a good inspection of their plants so they can get these herpy hitchhikers back outside where they belong before the weather gets really too cold for them to survive.

So who are these hitchhikers and how do I check for them? Some of the really common animals that hitch rides on our indoor/outdoor plants this time of year are frogs, particularly treefrogs. In the case of my neighbors, they had a Cope’s gray treefrog (Dryophytes [Hyla] chrysoscelis) take a ride inside on a big leafy cactus. Green treefrogs (D. cinerea) are also common in our area and just as likely to ride in tucked into the leaf axils or on the back side of the leaves. As you bring them in, check all the nooks and crannies you can around the leaves to ensure you don’t bring one of these frogs indoors, where they are likely to not survive the winter due to the dry conditions in our homes.

Green anoles (Anolis carolinensis), also known as “American chameleons,” might also sneak in on your plants. While they aren’t as likely to dry out in the house, with the indoors being nice and warm, they will be more active, but not be able to find enough food to eat. So if you see one, again, move it on back outdoors. And even if it is on the colder side, this is okay. Like all of our native reptiles and amphibians, they are adapted to the outdoor conditions we have here in the metro ATL area.

Now, believe it or not, there are some critters that may burrow down into the lovely potting soil of our plants. Potted plants make a nice fairly stable environment. As the weather cools, these animals settle into the soil like they would in the forest understory to ride out the cold months. But once they move inside, as the soil in the plant pot warms up, so do the animals, and they may pop up for a look around. And of course, human homes aren’t ideal for these critters. So as you bring your plants in, check the first couple inches or so of your potting soil to make sure you aren’t bringing any extra friends inside.

Species that may burrow into your potted plants include American or Fowler’s toads (Anaxyrus americanus or A. fowleri), both of which are common around our homes. There are also a couple of small harmless snakes that may find your potted plants’ very comfy places to dig down in. These include ringneck snakes (Diadophis punctatus), Dekay’s brown snakes (Storeria dekayi), worm snakes (Carphophis amoenus), or either of the two species of earth snakes we have around here (genera Haldea and Virginia). All of these are harmless and can be easily handled and moved back to where they belong.

Helping these critters get back outside is one way we can all be good neighbors! I wish you all the very best for the fall and winter months!

Robert L. Hill
Curator of Herpetology

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