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Herps: masters of disguise

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You’ve probably walked on a forest path or even a secondary road this summer in the morning when it was still cool and spotted bright red or orange newts on the trail or roadway. These are the commonly found red efts, or the immature stage of the red-spotted newt. Almost a florescent orange, they look as if they want to be found. For a predator that eats newts, however, this is a warning; the red eft secretes toxins that would make it a bad choice for a meal.

Many herps—the word is short for herptile, a term that includes both reptiles and amphibians—are much harder to find than the red eft, because they are in hiding much of the day in tall grass, rock crevices, or in burrows. Some of these animals are out and about, but are difficult to see because nature has given them some very effective camouflage.

One example of this is the grey tree frog, Hyla versacolor, which despite its visual unobtrusiveness can frequently be heard. The “versacolor” of its scientific name comes from the fact that it can change its color in a short period of time to blend in with its surroundings. Grey is its usual color, as this species is frequently found on trees, blending in with the grey shades of tree bark.

Many reptiles and amphibians are equipped with color and pattern adaptations to help them blend into their habitat and make them almost invisible to predators and us. On the next hike, keep an eye out and you may spot some of these masters of disguise. Happy herping!

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