It’s Not Easy Being Green


Ellin’s relationship with frogs
began almost thirty years ago when she bought a house in Chicago. Her daughter,
who was three at the time, said that she wanted a pond in the backyard. “Then
she wanted flowers,” Ellin said, “and she wanted frogs—she wanted nature,
basically. She’d been watching too much nature TV.”

They took a trip to the country in
search of nature. “We found some frogs,” Ellin said, “and some turtles, and
some water lilies. Very irresponsibly, we brought it all home and dumped it
into the pond, and only the turtle survived. I felt really guilty about those

To learn more about frogs, she took
her daughter to a couple meetings of the Chicago Herpetological Society. She
learned a lot, her daughter got along with the other kids, and pretty soon,
they were regulars. The Society asked her if she’d like to write a column for
them, and she agreed. For the last 18 years, she has written a monthly round-up
of amphibian-related news
—a kind of “News of the Weird” for the cold-blooded
crowd. Recent features include this Quote of the Month: “[Reptiles] are
wonderful pets for a busy lifestyle. Plus, they don’t bark and wake up the
neighbors.” There was also a story about a German man who was arrested at an
airport in Lima with 450 tropical frogs in his luggage. He claimed he wanted to
start a zoo back home. Ellin’s headline read, “Noah Only Needed Two of Each.”

Her work with the Chicago
Herpetological Society led her back to school, where she completed a master’s
degree in geology and studied the decline of the amphibians and the rise of
reptiles 250 million years ago. That led to a guidebook for a museum exhibit,
and that led to a phone call from a publisher—Firefly Books—who asked her if
she’d like to write a book about frogs.

The result is a big hardcover book
full of brilliant photographs of frogs and Ellin’s clear and useful
explanations of their lifestyles and habits. You’ll learn about the world’s
smallest frog, which can perch comfortably on your fingernail and still have
room to stretch out, and you’ll meet green tree frogs with ruby-red eyes that
you can’t help but fall in love with.

Ellin is an advocate for
frog-friendly landscaping. She says that there are only two things gardeners
need to do to attract frogs. First, stop using chemicals. (Let me
repeat that for emphasis: Stop. Using. Chemicals.) Second, think like an
amphibian. That means asking yourself some basic frog questions: Where can I hide? What do I eat? Will I mate
on your property or somewhere else?

Once you know the answers to those
questions, you’ve got a frog garden. Create frog hiding places like upturned
pottery or low-growing shrubs, and for tree frogs, hang little plastic tubs
(like butter tubs) from the shrubs and keep a little water in them. If you’re
near coastal toad habitats, just leaving a few inches of water in a plastic tub
will give toads a place to breed. As the water level drops, little toads will
hop out. (Toads reproduce in five to six days, so if eggs don’t appear right
away, you can dump the water so you don’t attract mosquitoes.)

“I love gardening for frogs,” Ellin said. “That’s what
got me into it—gardening for animals in the middle of the city.”

Got frogs?  Anybody?


  1. I have been told that frogs will come to my pond of their own accord, but I’m doubtful.

    Even if you don’t have frogs, your phone can sound like a frog. The Center for Biological Diversity has free endangered species ringtones on their site and there are TONS of frogs.

  2. I have frogs but no pond. Just the usual swampy Houston yard with just enough low spots and rocks and dark spaces and neglected corners. That’s where I always see the little guys. I like to hear them croaking at night. We also have tons of bright green lizards, too. I wouldn’t be so amazed if we had a normal yard but our is so tiny and so urban, it delights the heck out of me to see things surviving without any coaxing or effort on my part. Including the plants. 🙂

  3. One of the first websites I ever did was for Peter Ducey, a herpetologist at SUNY Cortland. I just checked and probably 10 years later, it’s still online. Nice little key for amphibians and reptiles in the Northeast, in case you ever want to ID what you’ve found:

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