07/25/18

‘Save All Frogs’ Initiative Launched!

Save All Frogs‘ Initiative Launched!

Matt Ellerbeck – Frog Advocate & Conservationist

Frogs are one of the most diverse forms of herpetofauna in the province of Ontario, boasting more species than turtles, lizards, or salamanders. Yet, there is no outreach education effort solely devoted to these amphibians within the province.

This is unfortunate as many frog species are threatened with extinction. Furthermore, the endangerment of frogs is not exclusive to regions outside of Ontario. Several of the province’s native species are in serious decline.

The Great Lake/St. Lawrence population (east and north of Toronto) of the Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) is listed as Threatened under the federal Species at Risk Act. The Fowler’s Toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) is even more at risk, being listed as Endangered. Worse still, the diminutive Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans) is considered extinct from Ontario.

More of Ontario’s frogs could also be disappearing, as many species have not yet been properly assessed.

This is what inspired me to launch my Save All Frogs project. With this effort I will be educating individuals throughout the province on why frogs are disappearing, what roles they play in the environment, and most importantly how they can help.

I will be emphasizing as I visit schools, camps, conservation areas and other venues that individuals can become involved with the recovery of frogs via behavioral changes, informed decision making, environmental stewardship actions, and habitat management efforts.

Education has been noted as an effective conservation tool by numerous groups and organizations. The Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy (ARC) states that it recognizes the need to increase awareness, appreciation, and understanding of amphibians, reptiles and their habitats, which can then enhance conservation actions and stewardship practices. The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust also proclaims that education is one of the most important tools in the long-term conservation of amphibians and reptiles. By raising awareness, enhancing knowledge and encouraging people to take action, real steps can be made towards conserving amphibian and reptile species.

This is why I am committed to educating the public on the plight of frogs!

Save All Frogs - Matt Ellerbeck
 

04/1/15

Blotched Tiger Salamanders in Oregon

This report comes from Frances in Southern Oregon.

Tiger Salamander in Southern Oregon

My two year old pond seems to have attracted these salamanders. I am in Southern Oregon, near Klamath Falls, and on the California border. I have been told they are Tiger Salamanders, but they do not have any bright coloring.

They are mottled and striped, and the largest one I have seen in my leaf trap was about 14″ long. The pond is about two and a half feet deep, so I can’t see how many there are, and if there are any of my goldfish left. Some of the fish were about 6 – 8 inches long when I last spotted them in late summer.

The salamander in the photo was on my driveway in early February of this year. I am pretty sure they are eating all the frogs we had. I am not hearing any croaking, and the two that frequented the rim of my hot tub are not around now. I am not sure if there is anything that can be done to balance things a bit, or if some of them are becoming permanent pond dwellers and not losing their gills, as I understand happens sometimes. Do you have any suggestions or ideas? Thank you. If these are some kind of hybrid, I don’t know how good they are for the environment.

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I sent this query along to a few experts and here are their responses:

Matt Ellerbeck – The Salamander Man says:

Your email/inquiry about salamanders was forwarded to me from Susan Newman at Frogs Are Green.

The salamander in the photo you sent is indeed a Tiger Salamander. They are variable in color, so if you Google searched them, it is possible that you came across images that didn’t resemble this individual salamander. Tiger Salamanders are native to Oregon so pose no environmental threat. On the contrary, salamanders are indicators of a healthy environment!

You also mentioned some concern for your frogs. Tiger Salamanders may occasionally take frogs, however, they primarily feed on insects and invertebrates. In fact, Tiger Salamander tadpoles (or larvae) prey on mosquito larvae and therefore help keep the number of these pests down! As such, I wouldn’t consider them a real threat to the frogs.

Due to the benefits they provide I hope you will accept the presence of these salamanders. If you want to learn about things you can to do help them (as they are both amphibians such efforts will also benefit frogs too) please visit the following: Save The Salamanders – How You Can Help

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I asked Matt why the frogs may have disappeared?

He replied:

Frances mentioned she didn’t hear the frogs croaking – perhaps the frogs are indeed still around but merely not singing at this time. I believe most frogs sing seasonally, or only at certain times. I have a backyard pond with frogs, and sometimes I may not see them for days on end, and suddenly they will reappear.

I have also read that cats will kill frogs, so they, or other predators (birds, snakes), may have taken them.

These are all plausible causes, however, I can’t say for certain. The reality is, any backyard pond (whether natural or human-man) that has animals in it will also attract various predators.

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Keith Gisser, Herpetologist and founder of Herps Alive! says:

Blotched Tiger Salamander. Pretty dull-colored animal normally compared to other (sub)species.

While pretty voracious eaters, rare (in my experience) for them to eat frogs or fish (although they will eat fish when in larval form) – they prefer invertebrates.

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Sara Viernum, Founder of The Wandering Herpetologist says:

Agreed! It’s a Blotched Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortuim melanostictum). There is a small, known population (native) in southern Oregon near the border. Like all tiger salamander species these will eat anything that fits in their mouths including invertebrates, lizards, mice, snakes, frogs, tadpoles, small fish, and other salamanders. Since they are a native predator in your area they may initially cause a decrease in the local frog population but once they become established in your pond their numbers will most likely balance out with the frogs.

This site has some good info about the western tiger salamander group. California Herps – Salamanders

06/18/13

SALAMANDERS IN CRISIS! An Overview of Why Salamander Conservation is Needed

Guest blog by Matt Ellerbeck, founder of Save the Salamanders

Although they are rarely given much thought, and often overlooked when they are, salamanders are in a terrible crisis. Around half of all the world’s salamander species are listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These species are all facing a high risk of extinction. A further 62 species have been designated as near-threatened with populations rapidly dwindling. This means they are quickly getting closer to threatened status and to the brink of extinction. Sadly for some salamanders it is already too late, as both the Yunnan Lake Newt (Cynops wolterstorffi) and Ainsworth’s Salamander (Plethodon ainsworthi) have already gone extinct.

save the salamanders Salamanders have been on the earth for over 160 million years, and the terrible state that they now find themselves in is due to the detrimental acts of humans. Even those species that are not experiencing population declines deserve attention and conservation to ensure that they remain healthy and stable.

One of the biggest issues affecting salamanders is the loss of their natural habitat. Many areas that were once suitable for salamanders to live in have now been destroyed for developmental construction and agriculture. Habitats of all kinds are being lost at an alarming rate. Wetlands are drained, forests are logged and cut down, and waterfronts are developed. Salamanders are literally losing their homes and they are losing them rapidly. The expansion of urban areas threatens the suitable habitats that still remain.

Where natural habitats do still exist, they are often fragmented or degraded. Fragmentation occurs when healthy areas of habitat are isolated from one another. These fragmented areas are known as habitat islands. Salamander populations are affected since gene flow between the populations is prevented. This increases the occurrence of inbreeding, which results in a decrease in genetic variability and the birthing of weaker individuals.

Fragmented populations where inbreeding occurs often ends in a genetic bottleneck. This is an evolutionary event where a significant percentage of the population or species is killed or otherwise prevented from reproducing. Habitat fragmentation is also harmful because it often eliminates crucial requirements in the area which are critical to the survival of salamander populations. Such areas include spaces that can be utilized for thermoregulation, prey capture, breeding, and over-wintering. Without such habitat requirements populations dwindle.

Breeding sites, often in the forms of vernal pools are particularly important. The loss of such areas in the form of habitat destruction can negatively affect the entire population and its reproductive output. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), there is some evidence that certain salamander species have individuals that return to the pond in which they were born once they reach maturity. Therefore, destruction of a breeding pond may result in loss of the entire population returning to that site. Habitat complexity is also important as it offers shelter to salamanders from both predators and human persecution.

Degradation occurs when the natural habitat has been altered and degraded to such a degree that it is unlikely that any remaining salamanders species would be able to survive. Developments and agriculture near fragmented habitats put salamanders at serious risk. As amphibians, salamanders have extremely absorbent skins. Industrial contaminants, the introduction of sedimentation into waterways, sewage run off, pesticides, oils, and other chemicals and toxic substances from developmental construction sites and human settlements can all be absorbed by salamanders. This can quickly lead to deaths. They can also cause widespread horrific deformities to occur. A study conducted at Purdue University found that out of 2,000 adult and juvenile salamanders 8 percent had visible deformities.

save the salamanders

According to Save The Frogs, Atrazine (perhaps the most commonly used herbicide on the planet, with some 33 million kg being used annually in the US alone) can reduce survivorship in salamanders. Many products are sold with the claim that they are eco-friendly. However, these should be viewed with caution. For example, according to N.C Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Roundup and many other surfactant-loaded glyphosate formulations are not labeled for aquatic use. When these formulations are applied to upland sites according to label instructions, the risk to surfactant-sensitive species is considered low. While this may be the case for fish it does not necessarily apply to amphibians. Salamanders that breed in water also routinely use non-aquatic areas and could easily be exposed to glyphosate formulations that contain harmful surfactants through direct application and not just incidental drift.

Habitat destruction and degradation can also effect the availability of prey items, causing unnatural declines in appropriate food sources.

Habitats are often isolated and cut off from one another by the roads and highways that now run through them. Countless numbers of salamanders are killed on roads and highways every year when they are hit by vehicles. Salamanders that are migrating to breeding and egg-laying sites often must cross over roads to reach such areas. Here many of the mature members of the breeding population are killed. Removing members of the breeding populations greatly limits reproductive output, this makes it incredibly hard for salamander numbers to rebound.

Roads present an additional problem because they represent a form of habitat loss. The roads that run through natural areas also fragment the existing populations, drastically making them smaller in size. This limits the gene flow and genetic diversity between the isolated populations on either side and this greatly increases the chances of extirpation. When salamanders attempt to cross roads to travel between the populations, or to critical breeding/birthing sites it greatly increases their chances of being hit and killed by vehicles.

save the salamanders

The Wetlands Ecology and Management (2005) population projections for spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) life tables imply that an annual risk of road mortality for adults of greater then 10% can lead to local population extirpation. Unfortunately, it is estimated that mortality rates can often be as high as 50 to 100%, which means populations are at extreme risk of extirpation and extinction due to road mortality. Wyman (1991) reported average mortality rates of 50.3 to 100% for hundreds of salamanders attempting to cross a paved rural road in New York State, USA. Given that this figure pertains to a rural area from over a decade ago, it is fair to assume that even higher mortality rates occur as their has been in increase in cars and roads over the years. Reducing road mortality is paramount to preserving salamander species.

Being hit and killed by vehicles is not the only threat that roads create for salamanders. Chemical run-off from vehicles contaminate roadside ditches and pools. These sites are often utilized by salamanders for breeding and birthing. According to Steven P. Brady (2012) survival in roadside pools averaged just 56%, as compared to 87% in woodland pools. Thus, an average of 36% fewer individual embryos survived to hatching in roadside versus woodland pools.

Salamanders are also threatened when they are harvested from the wild. Salamanders are taken for the pet trade, for food markets, and for use as fishing bait.

There is much about salamanders that scientists do not know. Aspects of the biology, ecology, and lifestyles of many species is a mystery. This undoubtedly means human interference is negatively affecting salamanders in ways in which we don’t even know. The intricate relation between all species and the vital roles they play within eco-systems is also being altered. Such alterations can have serious consequences to not just salamanders, but many other animals as well (including humans).

To find out how you can help please see: www.savethesalamanders.com

Matt Ellerbeck - Save the Salamanders

About Matt Ellerbeck and Save the Salamanders:

Over the years he has observed hundreds of salamanders in their natural habitats. This interest eventually led to Matt becoming a Salamander Advocate and Conservationist.

Matt also has considerable experience and expertise in regards to salamanders and their care. He has cared for and observed numerous species. These include forms belonging to the genera Plethodon, Ambystoma, Necturus, Notophthalmus, Hypselotriton, Pleurodeles, Taricha, Salamandra, Hemidactylium, Eurycea, Pseudotriton, Amphiuma, Siren, and Paramesotriton. Matt is also in possession of a license to keep Specially Protected Amphibians in Captivity for the purpose of education, which has been granted by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Along with wildlife preservation, Matt also believes in the ideals of Environmentalism, Deep Ecology, Biocentrism, Ecocentrism, and anti-Speciesism; and draws from these various movements to help salamanders.

Matt is committed to continuing his efforts to help salamanders. His love and concern for these animals is second to none! 

02/11/13

Eco-Interview: Matt Ellerbeck, Save the Salamanders

In this post, we are pleased to feature Matt Ellerbeck, a salamander advocate and conservationist, who created the Save the Salamanders project.

Matt Ellerbeck, aka The Salamander Man, is a man with a mission: he is striving to raise awareness of the threats that salamanders face, and to educate people on effective actions that they can take to help alleviate these threats. The actions include behavioral changes, land stewardship, and habitat management efforts. To bring his message of salamander conservation and protection to the public, Matt utilizes several platforms: media appearances, awareness campaigns, social networking, the distribution of informative fact sheets, and educational presentations/lectures.

Matt also aims to help salamanders by diligently collecting observational records of these animals in the wild. These records are sent to various organizations to help gain a better understanding of salamander populations, ranges, and habitats.

He hopes that through awareness and education, people will develop a sense of empathy and concern for salamanders, and in turn will have a desire to become active in their recovery. For those who do want to contribute to the conservation & protection of salamanders, his site contains much information on how to become active.

As Matt describes his mission:

Everything that I do, I do because I sincerely believe it will help contribute to the conservation & betterment of salamanders, which is my ultimate goal and ambition! Salamanders are the focal point of my life. There is not a day that goes by that I am not doing something salamander related, whether it’s presenting educational lectures on salamander conservation, writing articles, giving interviews, or collecting observations of salamanders in the wild. When I am not doing such activities I am planning and prepping for such efforts. A good portion of every day also goes towards the care of the many salamanders that I live with.  These salamanders take turns accompanying me during my lectures and presentations to act as education animals and ambassadors for their kind.

Below is a video interview with Matt in which he discusses his mission: