A Tale of Green Inspirations

Green River Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Green River
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

In one of my first childhood books I met a washerwoman hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy-winkle who lived on a hilltop higher than the clouds that had a spring, peculiar rocks, and mysterious footmarks. Its author had studied and recorded both in words and watercolor detail in her sketchbooks everything from bird eggs and bees to caterpillars and cornflowers to water lilies and Flopsy Mopsy rabbits with naturalist precision.

What if children’s book author Beatrix Potter would have known Utah the way she captured interesting elements of places she visited while on her family holiday outings in the English Lake District, North Wales, and Scotland? I wonder how her mind might have played with our minty Green River, sometimes in Utah’s history known by the names Rio Verde and Seedskeedee. What would she have done with its Gates of Lodore or Desolation Canyon?

Green. Everywhere I look outside I see green. Perhaps that is why green is my favorite color. Nothing stops me in my tracks like chartreuse wolf lichen clinging to the bark of conifer trunks. What stories would Potter spin with that had she wandered through Utah’s forests? It is said that her favorite organism was actually fungi like the Amanita gemmata or jeweled deathcap, so much so that her naked-eye and microscope-enhanced renderings led her to compose an essay about spore germination for the Linnean Society in 1897.

The world knows her best for her Peter Rabbit tale, yet because she was such an observant nature artist, spinning fantastical stories about creatures in the wild and pairing them with companion pencil and watercolor illustrations begs little of the reader in the way of imagination.

Few may know her, though, for her beautiful nature journals. Her entry of a painted lady butterfly, zooming in specifically on the wing scales, or magnified studies of a ground beetle’s leg and elytra reveal hours she spent noticing. I marvel at how long it must have taken her to know amphibian structures and behaviors to craft a tale with such specificity. In “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher,” she portrays a frog punting like on the River Cam, fishing, and nibbling butterfly sandwiches. She draws him dipping his foot in the pond, swimming, and leaping across the meadow in his tattered macintosh. What would she have imagined the Northern Leopard frog thinking as it zigzagged through my lawn last summer? Why did it have to come from the far-away canal across concrete and road to my home before I noticed its distinctive snoring and clicking croak or learned to appreciate its tenacity?

Potter found equal perfection in “the highest and the lowest in nature,” aware and eager to capture it all with imagination and detail. As our world greens this spring, I hope we take time to sit and sketch the wonders, even if we don’t have the courage to eat “roasted grasshopper with lady-bird sauce.”

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & ©
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Drost, Charles. Status of Northern Leopard Frogs in the Southwest. December 15, 2016. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/southwest-biological-science-center/science/status-northern-leopard-frogs-southwest

Larese-Casanova, Mark. The Call of Springtime: Utah’s Frogs and Toads. March 22, 2012. https://wildaboututah.org/the-call-of-springtime-utahs-frogs-and-toads/

Lear, Linda. About Beatrix Potter. 2011. The Beatrix Potter Society. https://beatrixpottersociety.org.uk/about-beatrix/

National Park Service. Northern Leopard Frog. https://www.nps.gov/articles/northern-leopard-frog.htm

Northern Leopard Frogs. Biokids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species. https://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Lithobates_pipiens/

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. 1906. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15077/15077-h/15077-h.htm

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle. 1905. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/15137/15137-h/15137-h.htm

Strand, Holly. Last Blank Spots on the Map. October 29, 2009. https://wildaboututah.org/last-blank-spots-on-the-map/

Thomson, Keith. Beatrix Potter, Conservationist. May-June 2007. https://www.americanscientist.org/article/beatrix-potter-conservationist

Beatrix Potter, Author and Conservationist, Born (1866), Day by Day in Conservation History, Today in Conservation, July 28, 2017, https://todayinconservation.com/2020/04/july-28-beatrix-potter-author-and-conservationist-born-1866/

U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Lichens. https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/lichens/didyouknow.shtml

Victoria and Albert Museum. Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature. 2022. https://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/beatrix-potter

Webb, Roy. Green River. Utah History Encyclopedia. 1994. https://historytogo.utah.gov/green-river/

Wilkinson, Todd. Utah Ushers Its Frogs Toward Oblivion. High Country News. May 27, 1996. https://www.hcn.org/issues/60/1858

Woolley, Ralf R. The Green River and Its Utilization. United States Department of the Interior. 1930. https://pubs.usgs.gov/wsp/0618/report.pdf

The Call of Springtime- Utah’s frogs and toads

The Call of Springtime- Utah’s frogs and toads: Click to view larger image of , Photo Courtesy US FWS, Katherine Whittemore, Photographer
Single Chorus Frog
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Katherine Whittemore, Photographer

Click to view larger image of Columbia Spotted Frog, Photo Courtesy US FWS
Columbia Spotted Frog
Photo Courtesy US FWS

Click to view larger image of Woodhouse’s toad, Photo Courtesy US FWS, Gary M. Stolz, Photographer
Woodhouse’s toad
Photo Courtesy US FWS
Gary M. Stolz, Photographer

Hi, this is Mark Larese-Casanova from the Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.

For me, nothing rings in the arrival of spring like a chorus of frogs and toads at the nearby wetlands. Male frogs and toads emerge from hibernation in spring to establish territories along the edges of wetlands, and the females return to find mates and lay eggs.

The most common native frog that can be heard in spring is the western, or boreal, chorus frog. It’s our western equivalent of the spring peeper in the east. The call of this tiny frog is unmistakable- just run your fingernail along the teeth of a comb.

[boreal chorus frog call]Courtesy Western Soundscape Library Copyright 2009 Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections

The introduction of the American bullfrog west of the Rocky Mountains has contributed to declines in native amphibian populations. Adult bullfrogs are voracious eaters, consuming nearly anything that will fit in their mouths. Other tadpoles, smaller frogs, insects, and even mice make a tasty meal for a bullfrog. Their great ability to outcompete native frogs has contributed to their abundance among Utah’s wetlands statewide. Their low, humming call seems to fill the air in springtime.

[bullfrog call]Courtesy Western Soundscape Library Copyright 2006 Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections

Northern leopard frogs were once quite common in Utah, but it’s thought that they are in decline. As one of the largest native frogs, it has perhaps suffered the most from competition with bullfrogs. Still, leopard frogs can be found throughout Utah. Keep an ear out for their low tapping call.

[northern leopard frog call]Courtesy Western Soundscape Library Copyright 2005 Gary Nafis

The two most common toads in Utah are Woodhouse’s toad and the Great Basin spadefoot toad. Since toads are usually more terrestrial than frogs, they can often be found further away from water. The call of Woodhouse’s toad is enough to put anyone on edge in the middle of the night!

[Woodhouse’s toad call] Courtesy Western Soundscape Library Copyright 2005 Gary Nafis

Spadefoot toads are very common at lower elevations in Utah’s deserts. But, they spend most of their time buried in the soil, emerging to breed only during spring and summer rainstorms.

[spadefoot toad call] Courtesy Western Soundscape Library Copyright 2005 Gary Nafis

Less-common species include the boreal toad and Columbia spotted frog among wetlands in the mountains, and southern Utah is home to the canyon treefrog and red-spotted toad.

The best time to listen for frogs and toads is just after sunset in an area close to water. To learn more about Utah’s frogs and toads, and to join a volunteer frog monitoring program, get connected with Utah’s Chapter FrogWatch USA on Facebook, or visit wildaboututah.org.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Mark Larese-Casanova.

Images: Courtesy US FWS images.fws.gov

Text:     Mark Larese-Casanova, Utah Master Naturalist Program at Utah State University Extension.
Additional Reading:

Utah Conservation Data Center https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/ucdc/

FrogWatch USA. Field Guide for Northern Utah. Utah’s Chapter FrogWatch USA. Suzanne Zgraggen (szgraggen [at] hoglezoo.org)