Polk County Conservation

Reptile and Amphibian Questions

  • I was fishing with my dad and we saw a snake swimming in the water. He thought it was a water moccasin and said we should be careful. Are these snakes really dangerous?

    If you were in Iowa when you saw this snake, it was not a water moccasin. Water moccasins, also known as cottonmouths, are not found in Iowa. Their range extends across the southeastern portion of the United States, including southern Missouri. Water moccasins are venomous and their bite can potentially be fatal. You should always observe venomous snakes from a safe distance.

    Any snake can swim, but most likely you saw a northern water snake. These snakes can be found in streams or ponds across most of the state except in northwestern and north-central Iowa. Northern water snakes are not venomous and eat fish, frogs, and salamanders. You should never handle a snake. They may perceive you as a threat and will bite to protect themselves.

    Sources: The Snakes of Iowa by J.L. Christiansen and R.M. Bailey (published by Iowa Department of Natural Resources); Snakes of Missouri by Tom R. Johnson (published by Missouri Department of Conservation)

  • I've had lots of garter snakes in my yard so far this spring and summer. What can I do to make my yard unpleasant for them; I'd like them to move on to someone else's yard. Does the snake repellent you can purchase at Earl May work? Any help is appreciated.

    Often the best way to remove snakes from your yard is to remove their food source. Garter snakes love to eat insects and small rodents. Clear debris like brush or wood piles, in which rodents and insects might occur, away from the vicinity of buildings or human-use areas. Trim shrubs and trees to create a space of at least 6 inches between the ground and the first branches. This removes hiding spots for the snakes and their prey. Keep grass short throughout the yard. The larger the mowed area, the lower the chance of having snakes near the house. Some snakes may be attracted to your property because of cracks or holes in your house foundation. Garter snakes go into these holes to find a warmer place to overwinter. Most snakes can fit through a ½ inch wide crack. Sealing these cracks eliminates this problem.

    Moving the snakes from your yard into someone else's yard is not a good solution because they just become someone else’s problem. Most snake repellents simply don't work and may contain ingredients that can be hazardous to your health. Good luck!

  • My son LOVES turtles. Every summer he finds a turtle and keeps it in a small pond he built in our yard. He releases the turtle at summers end wherever he found it to begin with. This year he has yet to find a turtle. I'm wondering if it would be ok to buy a turtle and release it at the end of the summer or if store bought turtles shouldn't be released. I just want some advice. Thanks!

    Absolutely under no circumstances should a store bought turtle be released into the wild. Your pet turtle may unknowingly carry fungal diseases that could be transferred to wild turtle populations. These kinds of diseases can be detrimental to native turtle populations.

    Another reason not to release them is that turtles sold in pet stores don’t normally live in Iowa. When an animal is introduced into a region where it’s not typically found, the balance of the habitat is altered. The introduced turtles may out compete the native turtles for food and shelter and eventually kill off the native populations. Also many "pet store" turtles are not adapted to survive the winters in Iowa.

  • My son loves frogs and has spent a lot of time trying to catch them. He wants to know why frogs jump so much. He also wanted to know if you can get warts from touching toads.

    I love catching frogs too! Frogs are tricky little things to catch because they are slippery and always jump away from you. You don’t think it’s a coincidence do you? A lot of animals like snakes, turtles, birds, and even humans, would love to eat a frog for supper. Since frogs don’t have sharp teeth or claws to defend themselves, one of the best ways to avoid being eaten is to jump away when a predator approaches. When disturbed, frogs often jump into a puddle or pond where they can hide underwater. Some kinds of frogs can jump distances up to 20 times their own body length in a single leap. Their erratic zigzag jumping on land also serves to confuse potential predators.

    Don’t worry! You will not get warts from touching a toad even though toads have warty looking skin. The large bumps behind a toad’s eyes contain a poison that not only taste bad but also irritates the mouth of any predators that try to eat toads. You should always wash your hands after handling any frogs or toads.

Contact Us

Administration Office
12130 NW 128th St
Granger, IA 50109

P: (515) 323-5300
F: (515) 323-5354

Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

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