07/4/13

Frogs Crossing the Road in the Rain

Rio Grande Leopard Frog by Sara Viernum

Rio Grande Leopard Frog by Sara Viernum

A frog fan, Brian, emailed about the frogs in his area crossing the road when it rains, and I asked a few experts to advise him. We all agreed to share this content so you can know what to do in your own area.

Brian asks:
To reiterate our conversation, there is an ecosystem in and around the Salt Pond community in Bethany Beach DE, which subsequently is intertwined by a few roads. There is one particular stretch of about two blocks where, like clockwork, when it rains the frogs cover the street. It seems to be two species doing this; the bull frogs and little peepers. I did a rough estimation of about 125 of these frogs are being killed by car traffic every time it rains. That’s roughly 4000 per summer season. What is it about the rain that draws these frogs to the pavement?  And what practical solution can be done to lessen the slaughter?

Best regard, Brian H.

Bullfrog by Sara Viernum

Bullfrog by Sara Viernum

Two responses from the experts:

Hi Susan and Brian,
Happy for others to chirp in as well, but the frogs are not so much attracted to the pavement, but the rains signaling the fact that its time to breed!  So when this happens the frogs migrate from where they live their everyday lives to a suitable breeding site, which hopefully still exists.  I’ve seen cases where the traditional ponds have been turned into carparks or shopping malls and all the frogs turn up and say “WTF?” And inevitably die.  There is another explanation and that depends upon the size of the frogs – if they are adults then the above explanation is probably true, however if they are metamorps or juveniles then its quite likely this is a mass migration AWAY from the breeding site of newly developed froglets to find a good place to live and the only way they can avoid drying out on the hostile pavements is to travel when it rains.

OK – what can be done to save them?

People try many things, during rainy days you can get volunteers to help the frogs across the roads, you can put signs up to warn motorists and tell them to be careful, you can close the roads – all these have differing successes depending on manpower, but the best solution is to advocate for some frogs tunnels and drift fences to be installed.  Essentially you erect a barrier, which for these species would need to be carefully constructed as peepers can climb very well and bullfrogs can jump very well, and these barriers prevent the frogs from crossing the road and direct them to an underpass where they can cross the road safely (obviously the same needs to happen on the other side so that they don’t get squashed coming back).  Having said all this, both the species mentioned are fairly common species and are not under threat (although it would be good to get their ID professionally confirmed) and are not in decline – at the moment, so it would be difficult to motivate city councils or governments to take action for a fairly common species.  But its great that Brian wants to do something an it would be great if Kerry Kriger (Save the Frogs) or I can help.

All the best

Phil Bishop
Associate Professor
Chief Scientist
Amphibian Survival Alliance
asa logo

 

 

Ranid Eggs by Sara Viernum

Ranid Eggs by Sara Viernum

Brian,

Susan with Frogs Are Green forwarded your e-mail to me.  Roadways are a huge problem for herpetofauna as you’ve found out.  The frogs are mostly likely coming out on the roads during rainy nights to move to breeding grounds or in search of food.  Frogs love rainy nights and move around a lot during them.  Some possible solutions to help save the frogs are to petition the city and or your local Fish and Wildlife/Dept of Natural Resources office to install frog crossing signs and get the speed limit lowered and/or to install fencing that diverts the frogs to an under road crossing (if one is nearby).  If this is a little used road you might asked that it be closed during certain seasons like the famous snake road in the Pine Hills in Southern Illinois that is closed twice a year to allow rattlesnakes to migrate.  Another possibility is to start a citizen group that devotes time to cruising the roads on rainy nights saving the frogs.  I’ve heard of a few areas in the US where people do this.

Thanks for being concerned about the frogs.

Cheers!

Sara Viernum, The Wandering Herpetologist

Spring Peepers by Sara Viernum

Spring Peepers by Sara Viernum

05/22/11

Frog Paparazzi – Photographing Amphibians this Summer

This summer we’d like to encourage you to get out and photograph amphibians while on vacation or near home, even in your own backyard! The beauty of photographing frogs and other amphibians is that you don’t have to go on a safari or travel to someplace exotic to photograph them.

Here are a few tips from the book Frogs: A Chorus of Colors by John and Deborah Behler, which has a chapter on photographing these well-camouflaged creatures:

• Try to learn about the animal first. What is its habitat? When are they active?
• Walk slowly and stop frequently [it helps to have someone with you who is less than 3 feet tall and has sharp eyes]. Frogs and toads blend in so well that they are hard to find. Be alert for subtle movements.
• In summer, you might find the sit-and-wait frog predators hanging out on the edges of ponds and lakes.
• Be aware of the position of the sun. Avoid taking pictures at midday on bright sunny days. In the morning, face east and it will keep sunlight from coming into your lens and washing out your photos.
• Don’t necessarily put the subject in the middle of the photo. Keep the whole animal in the photo, but compose the picture so the background tells a story.
• Bracket your photos, i.e., take the same shot with different settings. Also, try taking a flash photo. Without a flash, animals in photos may look lifeless and poorly lighted.
• Try to be on the same level as your subject.
• State parks, bird sanctuaries, and wildlife refuges are good places to find amphibians.

You don’t need a fancy camera to get interesting shots. I took this photo of a  spring peeper in low light with a Kodak EasyShare camera on the Flower Setting (might be called “close up” on your camera). When we were traveling in Virginia, my husband stopped the car so that we could listen to the peepers. Although peepers are often heard with their distinct high-pitched “peeps,” they are seldom seen. My son spotted the peeper below, but it took my husband and I about five minutes before we were able to see the inch-long and extremely well-camouflaged frog. Once we spotted it, the frog sat stock still for a few minutes to allow all three of us to behave like amphibian paparazzi (we took a dozen pictures before the frog had had enough and hopped off).

I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy photographing frogs: they have a survival behavior that causes them to freeze when they sense danger, in order to avoid detection from predators (unlike mammals like rabbits, deer etc, which will hop or run off long before you’ve even focused) so that it’s possible to get some great pictures of them.

spring peeper, photo by Mary Jo Rhodes

For inspiration, we recommend taking a look at the book Frog: A Photographic Portrait, a gorgeous collection of photographs by wildlife photographer Thomas Marent, who traveled to rainforests all over the world to photograph unusual amphibians. As he says, “The variety of colors, shapes, and sounds of frogs is truly spectacular, and a wildlife photographer’s dream….!”

Don’t forget to submit your best amphibian photograph to our 3rd Annual Photo Contest!

FROG: A PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT by Thomas Marent

03/3/11

Celebrating Spring Peepers! Tiny Frogs with a Mighty Voice

Now that it’s March, it’s almost time for the peepers to usher in spring!

Renowned science writer Carl Safina describes spring peepers so beautifully in his new book The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. I enjoy reading anything by Safina, who usually writes about the ocean, sea animals, or birds. He’s won many awards for his work, including the MacArthur “genius award.” Safina’s writing reminds me of Rachel Carson’s—very lyrical, yet not sentimental. In this book, he writes mainly about a year he spent in a cabin on Long Island. In the chapter, ”March: Out Like a Lamb, “ he writes this about spring peepers:

I open a window to let in the season’s lushest, most delicious sound. It’s from tiny tree frogs that come to water to go a-courting—Spring Peepers. So far, these little amphibians remain abundant. And for as long as they’ve been, and as long as they are, their singing makes the difference between the night of winter and the breath of spring…

Hearing them is easy. Seeing them takes some effort. But even after I step into the shallows as deep as my boots allow, even though I hear calls coming from the half-submerged vegetation right around me—well within the halo of my flashlight—they’re all but invisible. They’re smaller than the tip of your thumb, colored like dead leaves. The majority of my neighbors—even many who were raised here— have never seen one. Many people assume the callers are crickets. But the sound and the season are so different, one might logically assume the moon is just the sun at night.

Safina goes on to describe how as a teenager he taught himself how to find spring peepers by following the sound into the woods at night, but they were very elusive. He finally found one and

…when that tiny movement caught my eye, I saw the littlest frog I’d ever seen, his bubble-gum throat puffed almost as big as his body, calling his heart out. That mighty sound from that tiny body appealed to my teenage sensibilities. His was a strong, clear voice, defiantly undaunted about being so small a soul in so big a world.

Spring peepers Safina writes are a “strong and joyous life-affirming presence” and he would

…gladly suffer a chilly bedroom just to open a window in spring when the peepers are at their peak, and let the exuberant trilling chorus resonate in my chest. “We’re alive,” they seem to say, “and time is short.” No sound in our region is so welcome and welcoming, so revivifying, as peepers in full spring chorus. Or so seemingly unlikely. Out of dust, God is said to have made one man. But here, out of mud, such song!

To celebrate peepers and spring, Susan created a poster for Earth Day 2011, with a wonderful photograph by Richard D. Bartlett. Enjoy!

09/20/10

Creating a Nature-Friendly Garden or Backyard – Guest post, Marlene A. Condon

We’re so pleased that Marlene A. Condon offered to share her expertise about creating wildlife-friendly gardens and backyards. Marlene is a nature writer and photographer with a passion for creating wildlife habitat around homes.  A field editor for Birds & Blooms since the magazine’s debut in 1995, she has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines and is the author of The Nature-Friendly Garden: Creating a Backyard Haven for Wildlife, Plants, and People (Stackpole Books).

With fall upon us, the majority of gardeners are thinking about cleaning up the garden and putting it “to bed.”  But this year, leave the garden alone.  Numerous kinds of wildlife are getting ready for winter.  Your hands-off attitude in autumn will benefit them and they will repay you next year when you begin a new gardening season.

Japanese Maple with its leaves raked around it to provide hibernation cover for numerous kinds of wildlife, including tree frogs.

The falling leaves that pile up along your garden fence create a haven where Gray Treefrogs and Spring Peepers can hibernate.  Next spring, as temperatures rise and these two kinds of treefrogs awaken, they will climb up into your trees and shrubs to feed upon insects and spiders.  Peepers, which usually stay within two to three feet from the ground, might also be found on your herbaceous (non-woody) plants.  But no matter where they feed, these amphibians help to limit the populations of invertebrates to numbers that your plants can sustain without incurring serious harm.

Some species of spiders and insects are taking refuge within your dying and drying garden plants to try to survive the winter in an inactive adult state.  Other species will soon perish, leaving behind eggs, larvae, or pupae on or within plants to carry on the line—if they survive the searching eyes of numerous predators still active in cold weather.

Praying Mantid egg mass on Purple Ruffled Basil. Dried plant stalks contain the eggs of numerous critters essential to the functioning of the garden.

Watch your garden throughout the winter and you will see birds, such as Downy Woodpeckers and Carolina Chickadees, clinging to and poking your brown plants.  They are looking for the tiny insects and spiders, in whatever form, that provide our avian creatures with the fat and protein they require to survive the harshest time of the year.

American Goldfinches feeding in winter on Purple Ruffled Basil seeds.

If there are plants and food aplenty during the winter for them, birds that are permanent residents of the area may want to build nests next spring in your yard.  As winter comes to an end, you simply need to cut up the old plant stalks a bit and let them lie where they fall.  Many kinds of birds, such as Carolina Wrens, need such old stems, along with those dried leaves that sheltered the treefrogs, to construct their nests.

Carolina Wren chicks leaving nest made of plant debris.

The dried plant material that the birds don’t take will be recycled into the soil for the benefit of your growing plants.  As snails and slugs become active, they will be delighted to find their favorite food (decaying plant and animal matter) waiting for them to feed upon.  When these unusual organisms are provided with such a fine smorgasbord, they don’t bother your growing plants.  Instead, they help to fertilize them—which is exactly what their function in your garden is supposed to be.

Snails feeding on plant debris and sickly plant that need to be recycled.

In other words, when you allow natural processes to occur as they are meant to happen, you don’t bring about the problems that most gardeners assume they are destined to encounter.  As numerous kinds of wildlife go about their everyday activities in your yard, they limit populations of other kinds of wildlife, thus eliminating overpopulations that are usually the sources of people’s gardening difficulties.

By creating a nature-friendly garden, you save money, time, and effort by not needing chemical pesticides.  By avoiding the use of pesticides, you don’t interfere with “Mother Nature’s” system of checks and balances that exists to keep the environment functioning properly.

You also don’t inadvertently harm wildlife that is not injurious to your plants.  Any insects or spiders poisoned by pesticides are easy prey for all of the other kinds of animals that feed upon them which means those critters can be poisoned as well.  And plants sprayed with herbicides pose an extreme danger to our helpful insect-eating amphibians, such as salamanders and toads, which have very absorbent skin.

Therefore, to avoid garden problems, help wildlife to survive in your yard.  You’ll get to enjoy the lovely songs and beauty of birds, the sights and sounds of numerous kinds of wildlife, and a more relaxed and thus more satisfying manner of gardening.

Please  visit Marlene’s website to learn more about her information- and photo-packed book.

All photographs copyright Marlene A. Condon

11/4/09

Frog Call of the Week: Spring Peepers

Can you tell the difference between crickets and spring peepers? I used to get confused sometimes between the sound of crickets chirping and frogs calling. Some frogs have bird-like calls. In anticipation of next spring, and in hopes of becoming better Frog Watchers, we are highlighting one frog call per week. We’ll start with familiar frogs in North America, but will also feature frogs from around the world. Below you’ll hear spring peepers and crickets so you can learn to tell the difference. Actually, it’s kind of fun to play the videos at the same time, too!

Spring peeper calling:

Crickets chirping:

If you would like us to highlight a particular frog call, please let us know!

10/29/09

Winter Turns Frogs into Frogsicles

This past Sunday, my husband and I went for long hike in Harriman State Park in New York. In late March and early April, the sound of the spring peepers is deafening. But the other day we heard only one or two peepers. I did a little research to find out what happens to the peepers in the fall and winter. What exactly do they do from now until early spring?

Wood Frog

Wood Frog

Frogs and toads have evolved strategies to survive freezing temperatures. Wood frogs and spring peepers actually become a “frogsicle,” as Larry Lyons explains in his article, “All the Frogs Will Soon be Frogsicles” in the Niles (MI) Daily Star. The frogs will soon find a place under the leaf litter or in a crack in a log or rock to settle for their winter nap. They’ll slowly begin to freeze as soon as temperatures reach the freezing point. The frog’s blood stops flowing, its lungs, heart and muscles stop functioning, and ice fills the body cavity. As Niles writes, “We now have a frogsicle in suspended animation.”

About 65% of the frog is frozen. It manufactures large amounts of blood sugar that serve as anti-freeze, preventing ice damage to its organs. When spring temperatures are consistently above freezing, they begin to thaw out and break out in a chorus of frog calls (as mating season begins).

What about other frogs and toads? Toads dig a burrow under the frost line, where they go into a mild state of hibernation. Their metabolism slows down and they no longer need food or water. Aquatic frogs such as green frogs go into what’s called a state of torpor. They descend to oxygen rich deep water, find a hiding place, and don’t move around much until the spring comes.

Perhaps we are more like animals than we care to admit. I know I slow down in late fall and hibernate until spring!