Living a double life


– by Cheryl Morris-Putman for MVFN

On Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 pm., the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host the fifth presentation of the season, reflective of the theme “Wild Creature Close-Ups”. This event will take place in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte, Ontario.

The guest speaker for the evening is an experienced naturalist, gifted painter, and author, Mr. Peter Mills. His presentation is entitled “Metamorphosis: Changing The Way We Look At Amphibians”.

He has worked professionally as a naturalist in Algonquin Park over the past nine years and is currently studying at-risk salamanders by using mapping technology to plot where different species are found and how they interact with one another. Using photos and videos, Peter will be speaking about a two-year journey that he undertook to write and illustrate a unique field guide, dedicated to enhancing our knowledge of the critical, developmental first half of the lives of frogs, toads, and salamanders. Up to that point, the available resources outlined in detail only the adult lives of amphibians. His masterful book, published in 2016, is entitled “METAMORPHOSIS: Ontario’s Amphibians At All Stages Of Development”. It is an in-depth illustration of how these specific amphibians develop into the adult, land-living forms that we are familiar with. Most people know little about, let alone have observed, the aquatic larval stages that precede essentially all adult amphibian forms. In the creation of his book, Peter maintained his focus on the amphibians found within Ontario’s borders in order to describe and illustrate in detail the great variability among the immature forms (larvae) of these same species over the broad ranges that they occupy.

The word “amphibian” means “living in and out of water”. It is a creature with two modes of existence  (i.e.“a double life”). Who among us has not paused on a warm summer evening as dusk quietly settles over the shimmering surface of a pond to hear the song of the frogs who call the water and its surrounding land their home? We are comforted by this chorus and yet what do we really know about these creatures who sing their praises to all who would listen? The salamander species represent small-tailed amphibians of the order “Caudata”. They possess porous, scaleless skin, usually two pairs of limbs of equal size, and are found chiefly in northern temperate regions. A more ‘romantic’ depiction of the salamander in classical, medieval and renaissance folklore and legend is that of a mysterious creature generally resembling a lizard and believed capable of “living in or withstanding fire”.

In his presentation, Peter Mills will briefly talk about amphibian biology, but his focus will be on the process of creating this book. The project began in 2014 and included tireless hours dedicated to “swamp sleuthing”, the careful raising of delicate larvae, his detailed and artistic illustrations, the combing of  literature, and learning the details of formatting and self-publishing. The finished product is an inspired intertwining of art and science.

 Please join us for this interesting and informative evening. The door will be open at 7 pm. for those wishing to socialize until the start of the presentation.  Refreshments are available then and during the evening. A discussion will follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. There will be no charge for youth 18 and under. Copies of the book “Metamorphosis” will be available for purchase ($30 total, cash or cheque). For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at



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