Frog Friday: Oak Toad

Today’s Frog Friday spotlight is on a small but very handsome toad—the Oak Toad. The Latin name for this toad is Anaxyrus quercicus, which means “king” or “chief” and “oak leaves.” This “king of the oak leaves” has a dark-colored background with 4 to 5 pairs of spots on its back and a conspicuous stripe, typically white, yellow, or golden, running down its back. The skin has a finely roughened appearance with numerous small bumps (tubercles), many of which are red in color. The bottom of both the front and rear feet also have several red bumps/tubercles.

During much of the year, Oak Toads are associated with pine or oak savanna habitats in sandy soil. Oak Toads can be found mostly in open, grassy areas of these pine or oak savannas. Unfortunately, much of the preferred habitat of this species is either in decline or significantly altered. Throughout much of its range, Oak Toads are closely associated with longleaf pine ecosystems, which are declining throughout the southeast. In addition to the loss of longleaf pine habitat, natural stands of pine and pine-oak are also declining primarily because of development, lack of fire, and the conversion of these stands to commercial loblolly pine monocultures.

Oak Toads breed from April to September in shallow pools, almost always following a heavy rain event. The call sounds much like the peeping of newly hatched chicks and up close can be ear-piercing. Females lay up to 500 eggs in small bars or strands of 2–8 eggs each. Eggs can hatch in one day with metamorphosis occurring in 30 to 60 days.

Listen to the Call of the Oak Toad:

Oak-Toad-MapAt only 0.75 to 1.3 inches in length, the Oak Toad is considered to be the smallest toad in North America. In Virginia, this species is known from only a few locations in the southern coastal plain. The Oak Toad is considered a Tier II species in the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan. Tier II designation means that population numbers are very small and they only occur in a few locations. Conservation efforts for this species should focus on the unique savanna habitats that are important for the continued viability of populations in Virginia. Visit this website for more information on the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan.

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

  • October 2nd, 2015

Frog Friday: Southern Cricket Frog

Southern Cricket Frog. Photo by J.D. Willson.

This week we feature another tiny frog for Frog Friday, the Southern Cricket Frog (Acris gryllus). This species is just over ½ – 1-¼ inches long and looks quite similar to the Northern Cricket Frog. Like the Northern, Southern Cricket frogs are variable in pattern and in color, ranging from black to brown to reddish, to green, or gray. Also like the Northern, the Southern lacks toe pads and is “warty” in appearance.

One difference between the two species is their range. The Southern Cricket Frog is only found in southeastern Virginia, whereas the Northern Cricket Frog has a much larger range, including the Northern Mountains, the Piedmont, and the Eastern Shore. However, range isn’t always useful for distinguishing the two species. The southern portion of the Northern Cricket Frog’s range does overlap with much of the Southern’s, so it is possible in this area to find both Northern and Southern Cricket Frogs living in the same wetland.

How can you tell these two similar-looking species apart in areas where their range overlaps? Fortunately, there are some visual differences. The Southern Cricket Frog has a pointier head and less webbing on its toes than the Northern. It also has a complete dark stripe on the thigh between two well defined light stripes, whereas the Northern has a ragged edged stripe on its thigh.

Another distinguishing trait between the two species is their call. The Southern Cricket Frog’s call sounds like a rattle or metal clicker, but is somewhat similar to the Northern Cricket Frog’s sound of clicking marbles. However, the two calls do differ in pace; the Northern’s begins slow and then becomes increasingly rapid, whereas the Southern’s call is steadily rapid throughout the sequence. See if you can distinguish the two species by playing their calls below.

Call of the Southern Cricket Frog

Call of the Northern Cricket Frog

The Southern Cricket Frog lives primarily in ponds, bogs, riverine swamps and other lowland wetland habitats and is abundant along their grassy margins. Breeding occurs from April – August in nearly any shallow freshwater habitat. Females may deposit up to 150 eggs, which either attach to stems or are strewn on the bottom. The tadpoles metamorphose in 50–90 days.

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

 

  • September 25th, 2015

Frog Friday: Climate Change

Dried-up breeding site in the Cascade Mountains. Photo by Wendy Palen/Simon Fraser University.

The current and future impact of climate change on biodiversity is poorly understood, but it’s likely to result in large numbers of extinctions and substantial changes in how ecosystems function. Of the 5,743 species of amphibians known to science, nearly 33% (1,856) of all amphibian species are considered threatened with extinction. At least nine species have actually gone extinct since 1980 and another 113 species have not been found in recent years.

Cascades Frogs in amplexus. Photo by Wendy Palen/Simon Fraser University.

Although the cause(s) of these declines and extinctions are variable, climate change has been a contributing factor in many instances. As our climate continues to warm, not all of the changes in our environment are as dramatic as melting glaciers and sea level rise. Many are very subtle and less obvious. Climate change may create problems in the timing of reproduction (known as phenology) for some species. If frogs emerge too early because of warmer winters, they and their eggs may be vulnerable to a late season freeze. For others, a shift in weather patterns may not provide enough water suitable for reproduction and metamorphoses.

An example of the impact climate change can have on frogs can be found in the Pacific Northwest. Far above the raging wildfires, the severe drought affecting most of the western United States is making life very difficult for the Cascades Frog (Rana cascadae). This species inhabits alpine mountain ponds and is able to survive harsh winters buried under tens of feet of snow. But the lack of a winter snowpack and abnormally high summer temperatures has led to massive breeding failures and death to some of the adults. Although frogs have naturally occurring “boom and bust” reproductive cycles, a prolonged drought and continued breeding failures is something the Cascades Frog may not be able to survive. And when you live at the top of the mountain, there really isn’t anywhere else to go. Read more on the plight of the Cascades Frog here.

Photos by Wendy Palen/Simon Fraser University.

  • September 18th, 2015

Frog Friday: Northern Cricket Frog

Northern Cricket FrogThe Northern Cricket Frog is the topic of today’s Frog Friday. The Northern Cricket frog is one of the smallest frogs in Virginia ranging in size from ½ to 1-½ inches in length. The color pattern is highly variable with this species, but there is generally a “Y” shaped pattern on its back. This pattern may be bright green, russet, yellow, or shades of brown or gray. The hind leg is relatively short when extend and has a ragged-edged stripe on its thigh. The toes are without toe pads and only the first and second toes have extensive webbing.

The Northern Cricket Frog is found primarily in the Piedmont of Virginia, but it can be found along rivers in the Coastal Plain or locally in major valleys of the Mountain. You can typically find these frogs in the grassy, shallow margins along ponds, streams, or ditches.

Breeding occurs from April through August in a variety of grassy, shallow water habitats. The call is a short “gick, gick, gick” like two marbles being clicked together. The call starts slow and then becomes more rapid. The Latin name of the frog “crepitans” means hand rattle and refers to the short and repeated “glick” of the call. When numbers of these frogs are calling along the edge of ponds, they can easily be confused with a chorus of insects.

The Northern Cricket Frog has a spectacular jumping ability and is able to propel itself up to three feet in one jump when trying to avoid predators. For a frog only one inch in length, three feet is truly exceptional.

Photo by John White.

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

  • September 11th, 2015

Frog Friday: Don’t Flush it Down! Medications and Personal Care Products Down the Drain Spell Trouble for Frogs and Other Wildlife

If you’ve been following our #FrogFriday articles, you probably know by now that water quality is critically important to healthy frog populations, but did you know that the way you dispose of medications and personal care products can impact water quality and the health of frogs? A 2000 nationwide study found that 80% of the rivers and streams sampled by US Geological Survey were found to contain low levels of various medications. Septic systems and most wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to remove pharmaceutical chemicals from the water. Consequently, when old or unused medications get flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain, they eventually enter aquatic habitats and this has been impacting wildlife. Studies have shown that even trace amounts of pharmaceutical chemicals in the water have adverse effects on frogs, fish, and other aquatic wildlife. Some of the observed impacts on wildlife include delayed metamorphosis in frogs; altered reproductive systems in frogs and fish; delayed reproductive development and reduced fertility in fish; abnormal hormone levels; impaired immune systems; and structural and neurological damage.

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Hand soaps containing microbeads. Photo by: Chip Weiskotten, © Wildlife Conservation Society

A newly emerging water quality issue affecting frogs and other wildlife is the growing abundance of plastic microbeads in aquatic habitats. Microbeads are the tiny little plastic beads that look like colorful little dots floating in many personal care products such as liquid hand soaps, face wash, body wash, and toothpaste. They are too minute to be filtered out at waste water treatment plants, so they escape and get washed out into aquatic environments. Once in open water, microbeads resemble insect eggs and other food sources to fish and other wildlife who may consume them.  When consumed by wildlife, microbeads can damage their digestive systems, cause liver toxicity, and disrupt endocrine systems. Chemical pollutants that may be present in the water can accumulate on the surface of microbeads, so even wildlife not directly feeding on them are at risk when they consume prey that have eaten the beads and absorbed the chemical toxins into their bodies.

How to Help

Protect frogs and other wildlife from pharmaceuticals by taking these simple actions recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

  • DO NOT FLUSH unused or old medications down the toilet and DO NOT POUR them down a sink or drain! (Except in the instance that the prescription drug labeling or patient information specifically instructs you to do so.)
  • Take unwanted medications to a collection program where they will be properly destroyed.
    • Click here to find a DEA authorized collection program near you.
    • Or drop them off at a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day collection site, which occurs this year on September 26th, 10am-2pm. Visit the link above to find a location near you.
  • Safely dispose of your medicines with these 4 easy  tips from the FDA (Use if the above programs are unavailable in your area):
    1. Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag or a leak-proof container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub.

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      FDA photo by Michael J. Ermarth, illustrating proper medication disposal.

    2. Add an unpalatable substance to the plastic bag to make it less appealing for pets and children to eat, such as kitty litter, sawdust, used coffee grounds, dirt, or soil.
    3. Seal the plastic bag/ container and put it in the trash, preferably as close to pick-up day as possible.
    4. Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal information on the prescription label of medication containers before recycling them or throwing them away.

Protect frogs and other wildlife from microbead pollution by taking these simple actions:

  • Shop Smart! Avoid purchasing personal care products that contain microbeads. Look for tiny little dots suspended in the products and check ingredients labels for polyethylene and polypropylene, which mean that the product contains plastic.
  • Spread awareness about microbead pollution! Share this information with others.

For more information on the issue of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in our water, please visit the following webpages on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s website.

greentreefrog-heart4This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

  • September 4th, 2015

Frog Friday: Cope’s Gray Treefrog

Two weeks ago, we introduced the Gray Treefrog. Today, we present its doppelganger, the Cope’s Gray Treefrog. The Cope’s Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis) is physically identical to the gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor). So, how does one know which is which? Cope’s Gray can be differentiated in the field by two methods:

  1. location (in most cases), and
  2. their advertisement call.

Cope’s Gray Treefrog is limited in its range, occurring in the coastal plain and the most southwestern mountains of Virginia, where as the Gray Treetrog occurs primarily through the piedmont and the northwestern mountains (see range maps below). The call is a similar to the Gray Treefrog but is shorter and harsher with a higher frequency, often more than 45 trills per second. The melodic trill lasts for one to three seconds and ends abruptly. Listen to both calls bellow and see if you can differentiate the two species.

Call of Cope’s Gray Treefrog:

Call of Gray Treefrog

The two gray treefrog species can also be differentiated genetically.  Though similar in appearance, the species cannot interbreed.

Copes-Gray-Treefrog-01

Coloration in Cope’s Gray Treefrogs varies widely depending on their environment. The frog’s scientific name is Hyla chrysoscelis latin for “belonging to the woods” (Hyla) and golden spots (chrysoscelis) referring to the yellow or orange coloration with spots on the inside of their hind legs. Typically they have a dark “star-shaped” pattern on their back with many small warts. Background coloration varies from gray to tan or even light green. It has a white spot beneath the eye, and bright yellow or orange on the on concealed surface of the thighs.

As the name implies, they are typically found among the foliage of small trees and shrubs located along or actually standing in streams, rivers or ponds. They are thought to forage at a lower height in the trees than Gray Treefrogs. Seldom found on the ground except during the breeding season, they spend most of their time foraging on insects primarily butterfly, moth, and/or beetle larvae.

Copes-Gray-Treefrog-TadpoleBreeding season typically occurs from April – August in small, shallow water habitats like roadside ditches, beaver ponds, and woodland depressions. Eggs hatch in 4-5 days and tadpoles metamorphose in 45-60 days.

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

Photos by John White.

  • August 28th, 2015

Frog Friday: Preventing the Spread of Amphibian Diseases

Amphibians face a wide range of threats from habitat loss to pollution. But the most serious threat that has emerged over the past few decades is disease. Since the 1970’s, scientists have noticed a rapid decline and in some instances the extinction of several species of frogs around the world. Among those species that have gone extinct in recent years are Costa Rica’s Golden Toad (Incilius periglenes) and Australia’s Southern Gastric-brooding Frog (Rheobatrachus silus).

The culprit of these extinctions across the globe was identified as the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, or more commonly referred to as “chytrid” or “Bd”. This fungus has swept through areas in central America and the western United States like the Black Plague, killing thousands upon thousands of frogs in its path. Unfortunately, scientists were unable to do much of anything, so they documented the disappearance and collected healthy specimens for captive-breeding programs, such as the Amphibian Rescue & Conservation Project in Panama. Fortunately for Virginia, the disease (chytridiomycosis) associated with a chytrid infection doesn’t appear to be causing problems in the Commonwealth. However, we do have concerns about other amphibian diseases.

In the eastern United States, ranavirus infections have been attributed to localized die-offs of wood frogs and other vernal pond breeding amphibians. Ranavirus is a group of highly infectious viruses that can often be deadly to cold-blooded wildlife, particularly in the case of aquatic species, in which mass die-offs can occur.

 

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Hemorrhaging, as seen on the belly of this Green Frog tadpole (above and at left), is a sign of ranavirus infection. Photo credit: Kimberly Terrell, Ph.D

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In response, the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) participated in a 2014 regional investigation into the prevalence of this virus. Fortunately, the results of this study showed that it was not widespread in Virginia.

Collecting sample2

Sampling for ranavirus during the 2014 regional investigation. Photo credit: Scott Smith.

Processing samples

Processing of samples during the 2014 regional ranavirus investigation. Photo credit: Scott Smith.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amphibian conservationists have recently focused on a newly emerging disease “across the pond” in Europe. The Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra), once widespread and common in many parts of Europe, suddenly disappeared from large areas of its range. A newly emerged strain of chytrid known as Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans  was discovered as the culprit. With years of experience gained through researching Bd, scientists were able to quickly identify the vectors of this new strain. The identified hosts of this fungus are three species of Asian newt and salamander popular in the pet trade: Chuxiong Fire-bellied Newt (Cynops cyanurus), Japanese Fire-bellied Newt (Cynops pyrrhogaster), and  Tam Dao Salamander (Paramesotriton deloustali).

What can you do to help prevent the spread of disease?

  • Never release pet frogs or any other animal into the wild. The spread of these diseases has been largely attributed to the international trade of amphibians as pets. These exotic species have naturally evolved immunities in their native habitats. But when they are released into nonnative habitats and are carrying exotic pathogens, the impact can be catastrophic.
  • Between explorations of ponds, vernal pools, or other amphibian habitats, disinfect boots and any other field equipment used with a 3% bleach solution. Click here for a detailed cleaning procedure by Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (NEPARC). Following this protocol will help avoid an inadvertent spread of pathogens as you travel from one field site to another.
  • If you observe any amphibian die-offs, please report it the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries at  dgifweb@dgif.virginia.gov.

 

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

  • August 21st, 2015

Frog Friday: Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

With this week’s Frog Friday we introduce another of Virginia’s tree-dwelling amphibians, the Gray Treefrog. This little frog is considered medium sized for a treefrog, ranging from 1.25 to 2.5 inches in length. They are found throughout most of central Virginia including the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Piedmont.

Coloration in Gray Treefrogs varies widely depending on their environment. The frog’s Latin or scientific name is Hyla versicolor meaning belonging to the woods (Hyla) and various colors (versicolor). Typically they have a dark “star-shaped” pattern on their back with many small warts. Background coloration varies from gray to tan or even light green. It has a light spot beneath the eye, and bright yellow or orange on the on concealed surface of the thighs. The Gray Treefrog is virtually identical in appearance to Cope’s Gray Treefrog and can only be differentiated in Virginia by their call and distribution. Cope’s Gray Treefrogs are found in forested habitats in the Coastal Plain and far western Virginia.

Photo by John White.As the name implies, Gray Treefrogs are typically found among the foliage of small trees and shrubs in close proximity to water. Seldom found on the ground except during the breeding season, they spend most of their time foraging on insects primarily butterfly, moth, and/or beetle larvae.

Gray Treefrog 02Breeding season typically occurs from April–August in small, shallow water habitats like roadside ditches, vernal ponds, and woodland depressions. Tadpoles metamorphose quickly and small frogs exit these temporary water habitats in about 30 days. The call is a low frequency, melodic trill that lasts for one to three seconds and ends abruptly.

Call of the Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog photos by John White.

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

  • August 14th, 2015

Frog Friday: Squirrel Treefrog

squirrel treefrog (Hyla squirella)-2-JW

Squirrel Treefrog. Photo by John White.

Another Frog Friday has arrived! This week’s spotlight shines on the Squirrel Treefrog, a species with some fascinating behaviors and who gets its name from the squirrel-like, chattering call it makes after rain showers. These little frogs of 1 – 1.5 inches in length may be found throughout southeastern Virginia as well as the southern Eastern Shore.

Squirrel Treefrogs are extremely variable in coloration and they can even change color, like a chameleon!  They range from green to yellowish to brown. They can also be either spotted or plain. Some have bars between their eyes and some have light broken stripes down their sides. With so much variation in their appearance, it may seem impossible to distinguish it from other treefrog species. However, this can be accomplished through the process of elimination: Green Treefrogs usually have a white stripe down their sides, Barking Treefrogs are larger and have more texture on their skin, and Gray and Pine-woods Treefrogs have bright yellow or spots on their inner thighs. Like other treefrogs, Squirrel Treefrogs have enlarged toe pads that help them cling to surfaces.

This species primarily lives in coastal habitats and is most commonly found in moist, open woods near a water source, such as a ditch, pond or swamp. They also may live along streams, around seasonal wetlands, or in gardens. At night, these nocturnal animals can often be found around houses, attracted by the insects drawn by porch lights.

Squirrel Treefrog (Hyla squirella)005

Squirrel Treefrog. Photo by John White.

Like their namesake, these frogs are extremely active and often climb trees. Even though they are nocturnal, Squirrel Treefrogs will forage for insects during the day when it is raining. They may even “drop from the sky” as they fall from a perch in pursuit of an insect!

Breeding season for this species is April – August. They breed in shallow ponds and ditches. The male breeding call is described as a nasal, duck-like “waaak” that is repeated every half second. The squirrel-like call that gives the Squirrel Treefrog its name is its “rain call”; it sounds like a squirrel’s scolding rasp. Because of their tendency to call during and after rain showers, these frogs are also sometimes referred to as “rain frogs.”

Squirrel Treefrog Breeding Call and “Rain Call”:

squirrel treefrogs (Hyla squirella)-JW

Squirrel Treefrogs. Photo by John White.

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

  • August 7th, 2015

Frog Friday: Are You Habitat Aware?

Did you know that releasing plants or animals from your home into the outdoors (including aquarium plants and animals) is unlawful in Virginia? In addition, they can impact native wildlife by altering habitats, introducing disease, increasing competition for food resources, and increasing predation on native wildlife and plants.

American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)5 - JW

American Bullfrog. Photo by John White.

Frogs are a particularly vulnerable group of animals to these impacts. A frog purchased from a pet store may have originated from thousands of miles away and potentially harbor a disease that if released into the outdoors, could infect our native frogs. A deadly fungus, commonly known as chytrid, has been known to spread in this manner, and is a leading cause of amphibian population declines. While it may seem harmless to release an unwanted pet fish into local water bodies and waterways, this too can cause a variety of issues, such as the potential to increase predation on our native frog eggs and tadpoles.

If you find yourself in a situation where you must relinquish a pet, please be “habitat aware” and do not release them into the outdoors, but consider the following options:

  1. Continue to care for it. Remember, part of being a responsible pet owner is recognizing that pets are a lifetime commitment.
  2. Give the animal to someone else who would like to care for it.
  3. Return it to the place where it was purchased.
  4. Donate it to a local natural history museum, nature center, animal rescue center, etc. However, do keep in mind that oftentimes these locations may already be at capacity and will be unable to take your donation.
  5. Have the animal humanely euthanized.
Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea)001

Green Treefrog. Photo by John White.

If you would like more information about this topic, please check out the following resources:

  • Habitatitude ™ – A program created through a partnership between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sea Grant, and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
  • Don’t Turn it Loose! (pdf) – A downloadable brochure created by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation on how to handle unwanted pets and classroom animals.

 

 

 

This article is presented as part of our year-long Virginia is for Frogs campaign. Please visit the campaign webpage to learn more about Virginia’s 27 frog species and ways that you can become involved in their conservation. Are you an educator? Check out the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner for frog-related lesson plans and activities.

  • July 31st, 2015