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

07/25/12

Guest post: A Herpetologist Chases Frogs with Tails

We were so pleased to receive a guest post from Sara E. Viernum, a herpetologist with over 10 years of experience chasing snakes and salamanders around the U.S. When she’s not chasing reptiles and amphibians in the field, Sara is blogging about them on her website The Wandering Herpetologist, which is devoted to all things reptile and amphibian related. She currently resides in San Antonio, Texas, with her wonderful husband and her pet milk snake, Nyarla The Crawling Chaos. Sara also has a Facebook page.

For two field seasons in 2010 and 2011 I had the pleasure of hunting for aquatic amphibians in the Tillamook State Forest in Western Oregon. I was helping a friend with her graduate research focusing on the effects of fish passable culverts on aquatic amphibians. We spent many, many fun-filled hours crawling around in streams in the forest looking for Pacific giant salamanders (Dicamptodon tenebrosus), Columbia torrent salamanders (Rhyacotriton kezeri), and Pacific tailed frogs (Ascaphus truei).

Male Pacific tailed frog showing his "tail". Photo courtesy Sara Viernum.

The tailed frogs were such interesting amphibians. I had never seen these strange little frogs before we started the stream surveys. The tadpoles have specialized sucker mouths that they use to hold onto the rocks in the fast-flowing currents of the streams. They will also adhere to a collection bucket and your hand. If that’s not strange enough the adult males have a little “tail.” The “tail” is actually an extended cloaca that is used for internal fertilization. The Ascaphus frogs are the only frog species that have internal fertilization.

Pacific tailed froglets showing color variations. Photo courtesy Sara Viernum.

Tailed frogs are members of the Leiopelmatidae family (Tail-wagging frogs). There are only two species in this family found in North America – the Pacific tailed frog and the Rocky Mountain tailed frog (Ascaphus montanus). The family is considered to be one of the most primitive. The frogs cannot vocalize (call) and they do not have an external ear or a middle ear bone. Their closest relatives are the Leiopelma frogs from New Zealand which are also considered to be primitive frogs too.

Pacific tailed frog tadpole suctioned to Sara's hand. Photo courtesy Sara Viernum.

The Pacific tailed frogs could be quite common in some of the streams and were always a treat to find, although it was sometimes difficult to get to tadpoles to let go of your hand.

Pacific tailed frog tadpole showing its sucker mouth. Photo courtesy Sara Viernum.

06/11/12

Remarkable Frog Dads of Papua New Guinea

This is an updated repost of a Father’s Day post from 2009.

Most animal dads aren’t too involved with their offspring (human dads, excepted of course). But two species of frogs, Liophryne schlaginhaufeni and Sphenophryne cornuta, in the microhylid frog family are devoted dads, and in fact, carry their their brood of up to 25 froglets piggyback style through the rain forest of Papua New Guinea. The frogs were discovered by evolutionary biologist David Bickford.

While most frogs start their lives as tadpoles, these frogs undergo “direct development.” They bypass the tadpole stage and go straight from larvae to miniature versions of adults while still inside the egg. This is an adaptation that allows the frog to reproduce in regions without bodies of water nearby.

After the mother frog lays the eggs, she hops off while Dad watches over the clutch, warding off predators, and keeping the eggs moist for about a month.

copyright David Bickford

copyright David Bickford

After the froglets hatch from the eggs, they hop on Dad’s back. He carries them by night through the leaf litter in the rain forest. The froglets have a free ride until they grow up a bit and can live independently (hmmm…sounds familiar).

This is an updated repost of a Father’s Day post from 2009.

05/31/12

Learning about Nature in the Concrete Jungle

Recently we received an email from Kelly Rypkema, a New York area naturalist who is the producer and host of the video series Nature in a New York Minute. Kelly has just released an episode about the Amphibian Crossing Project in New Jersey, a volunteer-based effort to conserve amphibians in the Northeast.

In the Amphibian Crossing episode, we learn about the manmade obstacles that frogs, toads, and salamanders face each spring as they attempt to migrate, obstacles that threaten their very survival. Kelly joins a team of biologists and volunteers who are working to save these animals by taking matters into their own hands – literally.

If you’re a city dweller with an interest in nature around you, please take a look at Kelly’s site. For nature-oriented news and events, you can follow her on Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to her blog.

04/4/12

How Does a Toad Cross the Road? With a lot of Help from their Friends

As the days are getting longer and the sun is getting warmer in the Northern Hemisphere, a young male toad’s thoughts turn to love – it’s mating time for amphibians. Unfortunately this springtime ritual is often fraught with danger for frogs and toads. As we were looking for stories for this week’s post, we noticed a lot of stories about how people in Britain and the U.S. are helping toads make this important but dangerous journey. Here are a few:

Great Britain

Blades of glass rustle as hundreds — if not thousands — of toads spring forth from hibernation, each one a bloated, wart-ridden, writhing mass of arms of legs. Then, wide-eyed and kamikaze-like, they fall from the high kerb [curb] before making a desperate dash across the road, determined to reach their hereditary breeding ground. (As reported by  in the Henley Standard, Henley-on-Thames, England)

Unfortunately the toads in Henley must contend with a human-created challenge — rush-hour. Local toad patrols, however, are helping the toads cross the road. This year they’ve saved 7,500 toads from road death.  The toad patrols can’t stop traffic, but motorists slow down when they see their toad crossing signs and their high-visibility jackets.

Henley Wildlife Group Toad Patrol, courtesy of the Henley Standard, Henley-on-Thames, England

Volunteers spent every night of the past month helping toads by carrying them in buckets. The Toad Patrol happens every year and saves about 80 per cent of the migrating population of toads.

The BBC reports that in Northhampshire, England, hundreds of toads make a yearly one-mile journey from a woodland across a number of roads to an area that is now a housing development in the village of St. Crispins, to the south of Northampton.

Many toads are squashed by cars and dozens more fall into drains as they try to get back to where they were born. But those that do make it alive will find that the pond has been replaced by buildings. Donna Robins, a toad patroller, was quoted in the article as saying: “My house is on the woodland where they used to live, I feel responsible. I see them getting killed every night on the road.”

In Edinburgh, Scotland, the Historic Scotland Rangers are helping out with the toad annual ‘Watch Out, Toads About,‘ which helps toads migrate. Early every morning Rangers carry out patrols to check the nooks, crannies, and drains in Holyrood Park to make sure each toad gets to its destination safely.

In winter the toads live around Arthur’s Seat [the beautiful small mountain right outside the city] and Dunsapie Loch. In order to get to where they spawn, they must cross a public road with high curbs. When the toads are tired and hungry they can become disoriented and may be unable to make that last leap to safety. Volunteers are needed to help the roads cross the road safely.

United States

As reported in the Roxborough (PA) Patch.com, frogs and toads are on the move and in an annual tradition,the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education has helped them along.

photo courtesy The Schuylkill Environmental Center

The environmental group coordinates volunteer shifts to aid the toads crossing roads. There’s lots of information about volunteering on their site. After the toads breed, the toadlets, about the size of a fingernail, make their move from May 15 to June 30 and hop back to the woods, so volunteers can pitch in later, too.

Recently, according to the Provincetown (MA) Journal, the Cape Cod National Seashore issue an announcement that beginning this spring and continuing through October, certain local roads will  be closed at times, particularly on rainy nights, to protect the spadefoot toad, which is listed by the state as a threatened species.

These unusual toads, one of 12 species of amphibians found within the Seashore, use shallow, temporary ponds for breeding, and the surrounding uplands to feed. They migrate to and from these ponds on rainy nights, especially when the water table is high and temperatures are above 48 degrees.

The toads must cross paved roads, and during such crossings many of these well-camouflaged creatures are unfortunately killed by moving vehicles. Thus there is a need for carefully timed, strategic, temporary detours.

The Province Lands area of Cape Cod is one of the last strongholds for the eastern spadefoot toad in Massachusetts, and the public’s cooperation — and forbearance — is urged in the effort to ensure their survival.

As reported in the article [and mentioned as a difficult issue in some of the other articles cite above], sometimes the public isn’t very enthusiastic about the measures to help amphibians:

A related challenge to protecting these elusive creatures is raising the public’s consciousness about their importance environmentally. By their very nature, spadefoot toads do not attract the throngs of admirers that, say, whales do. Because of their size, habits and habitat, the toads are hard to find and quantify, and are challenging to study. Further, by most standards, they are not very glamorous — except perhaps to herpetologists.

While their tiny, almost invisible close “cousins” the spring peepers can claim status for their joyful, lilting songs that herald the arrival of spring on the Cape, the pained dyspeptic croaking of a spadefoot induces no similar elation. However, in the larger environmental scheme of things they are important marvels of adaptation….

The public can listen in on recordings of frog and toad calls, as well as discussions on amphibian ecology, via links to podcasts and videos on the Seashore’s website. At Frog are Green, we’d like to wish these toads “safe travels” and applaud all  the Toad Patrols in the US and the UK who are helping them along on their journeys.

03/11/12

Become a FrogWatch USA Volunteer: Listen to your Local Frogs

In the U.S., frogs and toads are beginning to wake up from their winter hibernation and soon we’ll be hearing the calls of spring as the amphibian breeding season begins. This a great time to become a Frog Watch USA volunteer, where you will make a commitment to monitor a local site for 3 minutes at least twice a week throughout the breeding season.

You don’t have to be an expert to become a volunteer, but you might find it helpful to attend a Frog Watch training session hosted by zoos, aquariums, and conservation organizations nationwide. Here’s a list of the upcoming training sessions:

Connecticut
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History
March 16, 2012; 6:00-8:00 pm
March 20, 2012; 6:00-8:00 pm

Florida
Brevard Zoo
April 11, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
April 14, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
May 23, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
June 20, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
July 25, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
August 22, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
August 25, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm

Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, Gainesville, FL
March 17, 2012

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo
April 5, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (volunteer training)
May 3, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (call identification and certification)
June 7, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (volunteer training)
July 5, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (call identification and certification)
August 2, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (end-of-season wrap up/pot luck)

Indiana
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
March 13, 2012; 5:30-9:30 pm
March 17, 2012; 1:00-5:30 pm

Monroe County Parks and Rec
March 22, 2012; 6:00-9:00 pm

Michigan
Detroit Zoo
March 11, 2012; 1:00-4:00 pm
March 18, 2012; 1:00-4:00 pm

Missouri
Saint Louis Zoo
March 24, 2012; 10:00 am-12:30 pm
March 28, 2012; 7:00-9:00 pm (certification)

New Jersey
Jenkinson’s Aquarium
March 21, 2012; 6:00-8:00 pm

Rhode Island
Roger Williams Park Zoo
March 24, 2012; 10:00am-12:00 pm
April 12, 2012; 6:00-8:00 pm

Tennessee
Chatanooga Zoo
March 31, 2012

Utah
Utah’s Hogle Zoo
March 17, 2012; 2:00-4:00pm

Virginia
Virginia Zoo, March 18, 2012; 5:00pm

At a recent training session at the Lynchburg (VA) Public Library, for example, volunteers listened to the calls and then tried to connect them to a recognizable sound. Here’s one of the frog calls these volunteers tried to identify. Does the call of this Pickerel frog sound to you like a squeaky door – or like a snore?

More information:

The FrogWatch site includes a Frogs and Toads by State list and a link to the U.S. Geological Survey Frog Quiz of frog calls.