Reptiles & Amphibians
A total of 15 species of amphibians and reptiles have been recorded over the years on the premises of the Morgan Arboretum of McGill University. Taken altogether, these species represent 70% of the total number of species found on the Island of Montreal, indicating how important and varied are the habitats found within the Arboretum.
Please note, all of the following species are extrememly sensitive to disturbance and should under no circumstances be held or collected. Amphibians have permeable skin which can be seriously damaged if they encounter bug spray, sunscreen, or other hand care or skin care products. If an amphibian HAS to be moved (i.e. on a dangerous roadway) please make sure of your own safety first, and then assure the safety of the animal by wetting your hands with water before making physical contact.
As we say in the outdoors: Leave only footprints, and take only photos!
The species found in the Arboretum are:
Salamanders and newts are tailed amphibians and belong to the Order Caudata
Blue-Spotted Salamander (photo: Chris Cloutier)
*All frogs in the genus Lithobates were, until recently, within the genus Rana (older references may still be using the name Rana)
Frogs and toads are tailless amphibians and belong to the Order Salientia (formerly Anura)
Turtles occur very rarely in the Morgan Arboretum due to a lack of suitable aquatic habitats. Although, due to surrounding wetlands not far away, some turtles do make their way to the Arboretum on occasion, either simply passing through on their way to a better pond elsewhere, or to use our gravely roads as nest sites. The first report of a Snapping turtle was made on May 19, 2011.
Turtles and snakes are reptiles and have a scaly skin and, except for snakes, true claws.
Of course, all of these species have something special about one part or another of their life cycle, morphology, anti-predator mechanisms, hibernation methods, or one of many other incredible adaptations that could be stated about these fascinating creatures!
Reptiles and amphibians of all sorts call the Arboretum their home. They can be found in a wide array of habitats from the old growth deciduous forests to the wide open fields and ponds scattered around the property. Spring represents the best time for the casual observer to view these cold blooded critters, as most of them migrate to breeding ponds or into their summer habitats on the warmer days of April, May and June.
Snakes can sometimes be observed along the forest edges on sunny mornings where they can be seen sunning themselves in order to get their muscles in motion for the day ahead. The Arboretum does not have a large diversity of species, but the ones we do have are quite beautiful. Look for them in open sunny spots along the trails, and don't worry, there are no venomous varieties here!
Turtles are rarely seen in the Arboretum, but there have been sightings in the past. Turtles are built for the aquatic life, so the best places to maybe get a glance of one would be the standing water areas within the forest. With luck you might be able to stumble upon one of these elusive reptiles.
Common (or Eastern) Garter Snake (photo: Chris Cloutier)
Amphibians are much more common on the grounds of the Arboretum. These wet-skinned relatives of the reptiles include the frogs, toads, salamanders and newts. Most amphibians begin their lives in the water as tadpoles, and only come onto land once they have completed their metamorphosis. Because amphibians lack scales, they face the potential for drying out and must remain moist, thus are tied to water their entire lives. So a good place to start looking is always by the water's edge. You can often see several species of frogs hanging out by the ponds, especially on sunny days. If you are around in the spring and summer, keep an ear open for their wonderful songs, and remember, as is the case with spring peepers, the loudest songs don't always come from the biggest frogs, so take a good look in the surrounding vegetation for these tiny vocalists.
Toads are also quite common and are seen regularly in many different habitats. They too will breed in standing water, but once they emerge, tend to live the high life...well, on high ground anyways. Toads are not as tied to water as are frogs, their skin is more water tight and are thus more resistant to drying out. Toads are mostly nocturnal, but can be seen clumsily hopping around in any given corner of the Arboretum in their endless search for insects to munch.
Salamanders and newts are also amphibians, and don't let their appearance fool you; they are not lizards. Salamanders are much more secretive creatures than other amphibians, and spend most of their time concealed under moist leaves and debris in the forests. They can sometimes be seen walking about after a warm spring shower, but don't get your hopes up too high of seeing many. Newts are similar looking to salamanders but have a slightly different life history. Whereas adult salamanders live on land, adult newts are aquatic... the newts that we sometimes see walking around are juveniles, often referred to as "red efts". These curious creatures are an intermediate stage between larval and adult stages. Their bright colours are a warning system for predators not to eat them, and just like toads, these tiny creatures pack a powerful poison in their skin which will certainly leave any predator with an awful taste in its mouth.
Green Frog (photo: Chris Cloutier)
... and then we have earthworms:
Neither reptiles nor amphibian, but worthy of placing on this page if only because they are eaten by the species that the page was intended for.
Earthworms have earned their reputation as beneficial animals through their tireless efforts at breaking down organic materials. Earthworms are extremely abundant in the soils of hardwood forests and other locations where the soil hovers around a neutral pH. Worms play a key role in aerating the soil, mixing nutrients, improving drainage and recycling organic materials. Because they are so plentiful, many animals rely on earthworms as a staple food source, for instance many birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals feed on worms. Worms, just like amphibians must remain moist in order to breathe and drink through their skin. However, they can easily drown if their burrows are flooded, thus the worms you see crawling along the paths in the spring, have probably been evicted by water.
Insects & Spiders
The Arboretum is simply teeming with insects, and we don't just mean mosquitoes!!!
Around the world, insects represent more than half of all the known species of plants and animals on our planet. The number of different beetles alone is more than all the varieties of mammals, fish, birds, and reptiles combined!
Insects have become so abundant in form and function because they were some of the first organisms who ever ventured onto land. This, along with their small size, varied feeding habits, hard exoskeletons, wings and elaborate life cycles, allowed them to branch out and evolve into the near 1 million varieties found around the globe today. Of course, there are not that many at the Morgan Arboretum, and certainly the true number is hard to estimate, but there are still studies on going that allow us to get a better idea of the total diversity of these creatures all around us! Every corner of the Arboretum is home to one species or another, often several.
Insects occupy almost every available niche and are essential not only in the diverse food webs of the arboretum, but also are important players in nutrient release into soils, the pollination and subsequent proliferation of wild flowers and other plant species, and are of course often beautiful to photograph or admire.
Biodiversity monitoring of Butterflies and Odonates (Dragonflies and Damselflies) was conducted in 2010 and 2011. The total species identified within each group are listed below as well as some of the "highlight" species.
Butterflies: 41 species: Hackberry Emperor, Eastern Pine Elfin, Milbert's Tortoiseshell, Bronze Copper, Banded Hairstreak, Acadian Hairstreak, and Striped Hairstreak. 2011 summer highlights: Baltimore Checkerspot
Odonates (Dragonflies and Damselflies): 39 species: Stream Cruiser, Horned Clubtail, Midland Clubtail, Swamp Darner, Arrowhead Spiketail, Powdered Dancer, and Aurora Damsel. 2011 summer highlights: Spot-Winged Glider, Black Saddlebags
Please visit our nature blog by clicking on the green "Nature Blog" button just at the left-hand side of this page for more information and images to the various species observed
Spiders are a common sight here at the Arboretum, and whether we are terrified of them or fascinated by them, they always seem to amaze us. We can possibly take comfort in knowing that there are no dangerous varieties of spiders found in this area, so there is no real danger in encountering them. As a matter of fact, without these little arachnids, the summer months would simply be unbearable with the number of biting insects that would be present.
In a way, whether we love them or hate them, spiders do us a huge favor in acting as natural mosquito control, as well as providing a food source for the Arboretum's many bird species. With several hundred species found throughout the Arboretum, spiders are second only to insects in terms of diversity of species. There are web builders and hunters, big ones and small ones, but all are equally fascinating in their own way. From the tiny big-eyed jumping spiders to the masterful architects, the black and yellow argiopes, the Arboretum is an excellent home for spiders and presents a great opportunity to witness them and learn more about their curious way of life.
For more information on these fascinating animals and the studies that are underway in this area and others please view this link - http://insectecology.mcgill.ca/
Note: On your next spring time visit, stop by at the gatehouse before heading out on a walk and pick up a handout describing the common spring flowers of the Arboretum
Mother's Day Spring Blossoms Walk:
Are you looking for a great way to celebrate Mother's Day? The Morgan Arboretum will be hosting a FREE Mother's Day walk on Sunday May 8th (French: 11:00-12:30) (English: 1:00-2:30). Anyone can attend. Please let us know if you are interested by calling the gatehouse at 514-398-7811.
The flowers are an integral part of our forest - particularly so in the spring when the forest floor is carpeted with Trilliums, Bloodroot and many others that take advantage of the light just before the trees put out their leaves.
Flowers of the temperate forests
In the mixed deciduous forest of the Arboretum, herbaceous plants and wildflowers are in a perpetual race against the trees. Once the canopy is fully grown, the life-giving sunlight will no longer penetrate and our beautiful spring blossoms will disappear. Thus, our spring flowers are very fast growing and come into flower early in the spring before their sunlight is gone. This means that their life cycle is rapid and short lived. Often these flowers are referred to as “spring ephemerals”, the term ephemeral meaning “short-lived”. Most of these plants are around only for a couple weeks, and if you go out even just a week too early or too late, you will miss them altogether. Some flowers like Trout Lilies and Spring Beauties have all but disappeared even before the end of spring, with only their perennial underground tissues surviving into the next year.
(Above: left; Glory of the Snow / right; Trout Lilly) (photo: Sue Bishop)
(Below: Spring Beauties) (photo: Fred Parkinson)
The temperate forests of Southern Canada are constantly changing. Also referred to as a seasonal forest, this area is characterized by four distinct seasons. In the winter, much of the life seems to come to a halt, awaiting the melting snow and longer days of spring. Despite the cold temperatures and skeleton-like trees of winter, many of our plants and wildflowers rely on this season’s freezing temperatures in order to survive. Freezing triggers growth in many species, and without it, seed and flowers may not develop for many of our flora.
Purple (or Red) Trillium
With an abundance of sunlight and moisture in the spring, life seems to once again emerge from the cold, dark winter months. Life has begun again, seemingly from nothing, but nature always seems to surprise us. Take a walk through any forest stands during the months of April and May and you will be amazed at the total diversity of flowers which “pop” up around the woods.
Bloodroot (photo: Chick Taylor)
A handout describing spring flowers is available from the office.
There are approximately 30 species of mammals thought to be living in the Morgan Arboretum, making it one of the most species diverse areas on the Island of Montreal. With a keen eye, you should be able to spot quite a few of them or signs of their presence, depending on the season and the time of day.
Shrews are very small animals, rarely exceeding 5 inches in length. They have long pointed snouts and short legs, and their eyes are reduced in size. Shrews remain active in the winter, although mostly beneath the insulating snow. The most you are likely to see of them in this season are the small 5-toed tracks on the snow surface between burrow entrances. The star-nosed mole is unmistakable due to the star on the tip of its snout, which consists of 22 short, pink tentacles. This mole builds its burrow system in lowland wet habitats, and hunts for food in the water.
These bats are insectivorous, hunting their prey at dusk and during the night while in flight, and resting within their roosts in the day. All of these species rely on echolocation to find their food. They do this by creating many high-pitched chirps which bounce back from objects in front of them. The signal that returns to the bat's funnel-like ears is assessed based on angle, intensity, direction, and time between chirps to identify whether it is predator or prey, or simply a tree limb in their path. Look for their silhouettes fluttering by overhead at dusk as they snatch up any mosquitoes flying by. During the winter, they hibernate in roosts.
The brownish grey cottontail is most common in younger forest stands and adjacent meadows. Like most rabbits, it is active in the hours between dusk and dawn, feeding on fresh greens in the summer, and twigs and bark in the winter.
Woodchucks are most often seen in open areas and along forest edges. They excavate complex underground tunnel systems, and in winter, create deeper burrows for their deep hibernation. Eastern chipmunks also live in underground burrow systems. In the summer and autumn, they collect seeds and nuts from the forest floor to sustain them through the winter, athough during their sleep (known as Torpor) they rarely eat.
Eastern Chipmunk (photo: Frans Lecluse)
The grey squirrel, red squirrel and northern flying squirrel do not hibernate and are active year-round. The sometimes seen black-colored squirrel is a color-morph of the grey squirrel (same species). The territorial red squirrel is more likely to be heard before it is seen, as it warns would-be territory competitors with a series of rattle and bark calls. The northern flying squirrel is a nocturnal animal, and is found mainly in coniferous forests. It glides from tree to tree by extending a fold of skin that runs from the wrist to the ankle.
Mice and voles are primarily nocturnal, and are active year-round. The deer mouse is a true generalist: it can be found in a variety of habitats, from deciduous and coniferous forests, to meadows and grasslands, to human habitations. These small creatures can be hard to spot, but look for their tiny four-toed tracks in the snow. Like all true mice, the long tail also leaves a distinctive print in the snow, so have a look for the distinct four feet as well as a long straight line between them.
Jumping mice have large hind limbs and long tails which make them expert jumpers. They are larger than regular mice, reaching up to 10 inches in length. Jumping mice are most active at night, and hibernate during the winter months.
Contrary to popular belief, porcupines cannot throw their quills. Quills usually become embedded in the flesh of attackers (or curious dogs) when they get too close. Porcupines do not hibernate, but remain close to their dens in the winter. They feed primarily on the branches, bark and buds of tree species such as the poplars and birches.
Coyotes live in small packs dominated by a single breeding pair. They are opportunistic feeders, eating a wide range of food items. Their diet consists mostly of rabbits, squirrels and other small rodents, as well as the occasional deer, birds, frogs, fish, insects and fruits. Red foxes are solitary animals, and like coyotes, will eat pretty much anything they can find, although they prefer animal matter. The red fox is seldom found in dense forests, preferring forest edges or more open meadows and clearings.
Coyote print (photo: Chris Cloutier)
The omnivorous and highly adaptable raccoon is a familiar inhabitant of suburban areas, where its tendency to loot trash (thanks to its great manual dexterity) has given it a bad reputation. Nonetheless, raccoons are intelligent animals with strong learning and problem-solving abilities. These generally solitary animals sometimes den in groups to conserve heat during the winter months, when they enter a state of light hibernation. They can often be seen lounging up high in the trees during the day. They particularly like the old sugar maple stands which offer them a limitless supply of tall trees and an adequate amount of tree holes to roost in.
A fisher captured on film by an infrared trail camera (Feb, 2012) (photo: Morgan Arboretum)
Weasels are among the smallest carnivores, eating primarily small rodents but also occasionally reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects. While the least weasel and ermine typically hunt small burrowing mammals on land, often taking over their preys' burrows, the mink is more specialized for a life near the water. This animal is an excellent swimmer due to its partially webbed feet.
Discovered in the Arboretum early in 2011 from diagnostic tracks in the snow, the fisher is our third largest carnivore, ranking behind the coyote and red fox. The fisher is a denizen of mature hardwood forests, where it subsists on anything from insects all the way up to ruffed grouse and porcupines. That's right, porcupines! The fisher is one of the few animals skilled enough to regularly prey on these spiny herbivores, and consequently has developed a reputation for being quite ferocious. Although fishers are excellent hunters, they are far from ferocious, and avoid contact with humans at all times. The elusive fisher is incredibly hard to locate and observe.
The striped skunk hardly needs an introduction, as anyone who has smelled its spray is not likely to forget it. Skunks can spray relatively accurate streams of fluid from distances as great as 5 meters, so make sure to keep a safe distance if you encounter one. The highly omnivorous skunk will eat anything it can find, but insects are especially important. This nocturnal animal does not hibernate, although it does spend much of the winter underground in an insulated burrow.
The white-tailed deer is a mostly solitary animal, with social groups generally limited to a mother and her fawns. This deer is very shy and nervous, and can run with great speed and agility through dense forests. It prefers areas with thickets in which to hide, and can be found within the forest and at its edges. In the winter, it relies on trails of hard-packed snow for foraging and escaping predators. Look for its tracks in the snow along the Arboretum's new snowshoe trail and ski trails.
White Tailed Deer (photo: Chris Cloutier)
See what the students of the St. Lawrence Ecosystems class have to say about small arboreal mammals (Macdonald Campus of McGill University, fall of 2012).
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an arboretum is defined as 'a place where trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes'. Each Arboretum tree and/ or shrub is carefully planted in an area large enough to permit the specimen to achieve its maximum height (in the specific climate) and width. Detailed information is collected for each specimen including: name (genus, species, variety, cultivar, etc.), place of origin, location planted, and year planted.
The purpose of an Arboretum includes ex-situ conservation of species, provision of early warning signals of potential diseases, display of local growth habits of various tree species and varieties (helpful when picking out trees for urban plantings), and provision of valuable information regarding trees' abilities to adapt to potential climate change.
The Morgan Arboretum has 18 different Collections of trees and shrubs from around the world. These collections are described on a map called Discovery Map that is available for purchase ($2.00) at the Arboretum gatehouse.
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