Frog Friday: How to Help Frogs in 2016 and Beyond

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Squirrel Treefrog. Photo by John White.

As 2015 winds to an end, so too must our Virginia is for Frogs campaign and Frog Friday. Throughout the course of the year, we profiled all 28 species of Virginia’s native frogs, showcasing the diversity of frogs inhabiting the Commonwealth. Not only are these frogs fascinating to observe, but we are very fortunate to have them living around us. Frogs provide valuable pest control services by consuming countless insects, they are an important food source for a variety of other wildlife, and they are excellent indicators of our environmental health and water quality. In this final Frog Friday article, we’ve summarized all of the many simple actions you can take to help Virginia’s frogs thrive in 2016 and beyond.

How to Help Frogs and other Amphibians

Protect Water Quality – Clean water is critically important to healthy frog populations.

  • Reduce your use of pesticides and fertilizers. – When it rains, these chemicals wash off of lawns and gardens and travel into waterways and wetlands where they can contaminate frog habitat even miles away from your home.
  • Responsibly dispose of unused medications. – Septic systems and most wastewater treatment plants can not remove pharmaceutical chemicals from the water, so eventually they enter aquatic habitats where they’ve been found to have adverse impacts on the health of frogs, fish and other aquatic wildlife. For safe disposal practices, refer to FDA.gov.
  • Avoid purchasing personal care products containing plastic microbeads. – Once these tiny beads wash down the drain, they eventually enter our waterways where they accumulate chemical pollutants on their surfaces and may be consumed by fish and other wildlife that mistake them for food.
  • Pick up pet waste. – Just as pesticides and fertilizers can wash away into streams and wetlands after it rains, so too can the bacteria and viruses found in pet waste.
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American Toad. Photo by John White.

Never Release Pet Frogs (or any other animal) Into the Wild – The release of a disease infected pet into the wild can have catastrophic impacts. The spread of the deadly fungus, “chytrid,” as well as ranavirus and other amphibian diseases, has largely been attributed to the international trade of amphibians as pets. While it hasn’t appeared to be a problem in Virginia, chytrid, is one of the primary causes of amphibian population declines worldwide.

Enhance Frog Habitat

  • Create a frog pond. – Most frog species are dependent upon some form of water to carry out their lifecycles. It’s where they lay their eggs and where their tadpoles develop into adults. Find out how to build your own frog pond here.
  • Create a rain garden, full of native plants. – Rain gardens provide habitat for frogs and other wildlife and keep local waterways healthy by filtering the chemical pollutants found in stormwater runoff. Find out how to build your own rain garden here.
  • Leave Your Leaves – Some species of terrestrial frogs seek out leaf litter as a place to hibernate over winter. By keeping fall leaves on the ground, instead of bagging them up and tossing them, you may be helping to provide local frogs a winter hibernating spot.
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Green Treefrog. Photo by John White.

Participate in Citizen Science. – Knowing where various species of frogs are found in Virginia can help guide conservation and land management decisions. You can contribute to this knowledge by volunteering for the Virginia Frog and Toad Calling Survey or FrogWatch USA. Or simply record your own frog observations into the Virginia Wildlife Mapping project.

Contribute to DGIF’s Non-Game Fund to support the conservation of frogs and other non-game wildlife in Virginia.

Purchase a “Virginia is for Frog Lovers” t-shirt at the DGIF e-store to share your love of frogs with others and to support conservation projects and programs in Virginia.

Continue Learning about Frogs and Sharing Your Knowledge with Others. – Find more information about frogs at our Virginia is for Frogs webpage. Lesson plans and activities for educators can be found in the Virginia is for Frogs Teacher’s Corner, which now features a new frog listening lesson plan!

A Look Back at Some Images from the Virginia is for Frogs Campaign

Virginia is for Frogs exhibit booth at the Virginia Living Museum. August 8, 2015. Virginia Master Naturalists who attended the April training assisted at the exhibit booth to share information about Virginia’s native frogs and the campaign. Children were also engaged in viewing live frogs and a frog coloring activity.

Members of the Historic Rivers Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists who attended the April Virginia is for Frogs training, worked with York County High School students to create this frog pond on the school’s grounds.

Virginia is for Frogs training for the Virginia Master Naturalists. April 1, 2015. Master Naturalists who attended the training later volunteered to educate others about frogs and the Virginia is for Frogs campaign or work on frog habitat projects.

Virginia is for Frogs exhibit booth at the Virginia Association of Science Teachers Professional Development Institute. In addition to the exhibit booth, a Virginia is for Frogs session was held where a presentation on Virginia’s native frogs and how schools can help them was delivered to approximately 45 teachers and a frog listening lesson plan was distributed.

 

 

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 28 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.

 

  • December 18th, 2015

Frog Friday: Where Do Frogs Go in the Winter?

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An example of “winter kill.” Photo by Julie Kacmarcik.

As the cold winter months approach, have you ever wondered how a “cold-blooded critter” like a frog can survive? Fortunately, they have evolved special behaviors and physical processes to survive winter. Aquatic frogs such as the Southern Leopard Frog (Lithobates sphenocephalus) and the American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) typically hibernate underwater.

A common misconception is that they hibernate like an aquatic turtle and bury themselves into the mud at the bottom of a pond or stream. But unlike a hibernating turtle, a frog does not have the ability to slow down its metabolism so drastically that it can survive on the limited oxygen supply found in mud. Hibernating aquatic frogs must therefore be near oxygen-rich water and spend a good portion of the winter just lying on top of the mud or only partially buried. They may even occasionally slowly swim around. But if the frog emerges too soon, it can result in disaster. “Winter kill” occurs when a frog is lured out of its hibernating spot by an early warming period followed-up by a quick freezing drop in temperatures.

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Wood Frog. Photo by J.D. Willson.

Terrestrial frogs normally hibernate on land. American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) and Eastern Spadefoots (Scaphiopus holbrookii) burrow deep into the soil, safely below the frost line. Some frogs, such as the Barking Treefrog (Hyla gratiosa) and the Mountain Chorus Frog (Pseudacris brachyophona), are not good diggers and instead seek out deep cracks and crevices in logs or rocks, or just dig down as far as they can in the leaf litter or under root mats. Frogs have also been known to use rodent burrows to hibernate.

Although these hibernating spots are not as well protected from freezing temperatures, frogs typically do not die. During this period, the liver produces large amounts of glucose to increase blood-sugar levels, which functions like an “antifreeze” by limiting the formation of ice crystals. Without this physical process, the ice lattice would damage tissue resulting in the frogs death. Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus)  best exemplify this phenomenon. They can almost be completely frozen with no brain activity or heartbeat. When outdoor temperatures begin to warm and their hibernating spot warms above freezing, the frog’s frozen portions will thaw, and its heart and lungs resume activity. Check out the following YouTube video to actually see a Wood Frog “thaw-out” and come back to life!

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 28 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.

 

  • December 11th, 2015

Frog Friday: Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad

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Photo by John White.

The Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad, Gastrophyne carolinensis, is not actually a “True” Toad, but instead belongs to family Microhylidae, the Narrow-mouthed Toad family. This is the only species of Microhylidae living in the Commonwealth. It is most commonly found in the southern coastal plain and southern eastern shore, but may also be found in the southern Piedmont and the extreme southwestern counties.

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Photo by Paul Sattler.

The Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad is a small frog of 1 – 1-½ inches in length. It has a flattened body, a small pointy head, small eyes, and a fold of skin stretching across its heads, just behind its eyes. These frogs vary in color from gray to reddish and their backs are dusky-looking with tiny light blue spots and speckled throats. Their bellies are a dusky bluish-white. It’s possible for these colorations to change depending on the color of the frog’s environment, sort of like a chameleon. Narrow-mouthed Toads don’t have parotoid glands or warts, which are found on “True” Toads, nor do they have webbed feet, which are found on the hind feet of “True” Frogs.

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Virginia range of the Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad.

Narrow-mouthed Toads live a secretive life. They spend much of their time underground in burrows, but it is possible to find them in woodlands by carefully overturning logs, rocks, and cover boards. They can be found in pine flatwoods, pine woods, bottomland hardwoods, and cypress swamps. While their diet includes a variety of invertebrates, they are especially known to eat ants and termites.

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Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad tadpole. Photo by Ronn Altig.

Breeding occurs from May – September in roadside ditches, flooded farm fields, interdunal swales, sinkhole ponds, pine and hardwood forests and wet grassy areas. Females lay eggs in packets, typically containing around 850 eggs. Their tadpoles metamorphose in 20-70 days.

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Packet of Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad eggs.


The abrasive call of the Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad, “beeeeeeeeeee,” sounds like the bleat of a lamb or like an electric buzzer. It may be confused with the call of the Fowler’s Toad.

Call of the Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad:

Be careful if you handle this species. Rubbing or touching your eyes after touching this frog may result in a mild eye irritation.

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 28 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.

  • December 4th, 2015

Giving Tuesday

IMG_0047Today is #GivingTuesday, a global movement dedicated to giving back to local charities and to those in need.  In the spirit of Giving Tuesday we ask that you to consider supporting wildlife conservation in Virginia by giving to the Virginia Nongame Fund.  We hope that our Frog Friday campaign over the past year has provided some insight for you concerning the need for conservation of these important species as well as many others that are listed as species of greatest conservation need in Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan.  For those still looking for holiday gifts and also interested in supporting conservation, you can check out the Virginia Wildlife eStore. There you will find some great items for outdoor enthusiasts including our Virginia is for Frog Lovers t-shirt. Proceeds from the Virginia Wildlife eStore go toward wildlife education and connecting people to the outdoors.

  • December 1st, 2015

Frog Friday: Pine Woods Treefrog

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Photo by Paul Sattler.

The Pine Woods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis) is a small, slender frog of 1–1-½ inches in length and is commonly deep reddish brown in color, but may also be gray or greenish gray. It has grayish white, orange or yellow spots on its inner thighs, which is how it received its scientific name femoralis, which means “pertaining to the hind leg.” The markings on its back do not form an “X,” which is a distinguishing characteristic found on Spring Peepers.

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Inner thigh markings of the Pine Woods Treefrog. Photo by J.D. Willson.

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Virginia range of the Pine Woods Treefrog.

Pine Woods Treefrogs are found in the  southeastern Coastal Plain of Virginia, which forms the northern limit of its range. They live in pine and mixed pine-hardwood forest habitats and spend much of their time in trees. Sometimes described as “arboreal acrobats,” these frogs have been known to climb up to 30 feet high into the canopy of a tree!  It’s also not uncommon to find them at night hanging around porch lights chasing insects. Pine Woods Treefrogs are particularly active after heavy summer rains.

This species breeds from April–September in grassy temporary pools, roadside ditches, cypress ponds, Carolina bays, flooded forests or swamps. The females deposit up to 2,000 eggs in clusters of 100 or more. Tadpoles may take up to 3 months to metamorphose.

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Photo by Steven M Roble.

The call of the Pine Woods Treefrog is a series of low pitched notes that sound like the dots and dashes of Morse Code. It also is occasionally described as “getta” or “get it” in rapid succession.

Call of the Pine Woods Treefrog:

 

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 28 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.

 

  • November 20th, 2015

Frog Friday: Barking Treefrog

The spotlight for today’s Frog Friday is on the Barking Treefrog. The largest of Virginia’s treefrogs, the Barking Treefrog ranges in size from 2 to 2-¾ inches in length. The frog can be found in both a gray or green phase, but typically ranges from pale green-gray to a bright green. The back is typically covered with dark circular markings. These markings are variable and can change with the background color of the frog. There is a light stripe that extends along the edge and the belly is white or yellowish white.

Barking Treefrogs are generally found in willow oak-black gum forested wetland and pine savannas in the Coastal Plain. They spend much of their time high among the foliage of trees; they find refuge during hot dry weather by burrowing into sand or beneath roots or clumps of grass. They’re the most active in late spring and early summer when heavy rains trigger their migration to suitable breeding ponds.

Breeding occurs from May through August in shallow, temporary pools like cypress ponds, sinkholes, and forested depressions. Males arrive at the breeding sites prior to females and begin calling from the treetops to establish calling territories. As females arrive, males move to the water and call while floating on the water’s surface. The characteristic “barking” call which consists of 8–10 syllables resembles the sound of hounds barking in the distance. Females deposit small clusters of eggs that are attached to emergent vegetation and return to their arboreal home within a few days. Depending on temperature, eggs can hatch in a few days and metamorphosis occurs in 45–70 days.

Listen to the Call of the Barking Treefrog:

Except for two locations in Chesterfield County, this species is know only to occur in the Coastal Plain. The Barking Tree Frog is considered a Tier II species in Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan. Barking Treefrog MapTier II designation means that population numbers are very small and only occur in a few locations. Conservation efforts for this species should focus on preservation and restoration of suitable breeding habitat in order to maintain a viability of populations in Virginia. Visit the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan website for more information.

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 28 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.

  • November 13th, 2015

Frog Friday: Leave Your Leaves

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Fall leaves used as mulch in a planting bed.

Fall is arguably the most beautiful time of the year in Virginia. The leaves are changing and there’s a crisp feel in the air. This is also the time of the year when many species of frog begin to move away from aquatic habitats into the surrounding forested areas in preparation for winter. Leaf-litter is an important component of this habitat and it serves several purposes for frogs and a diversity of other amphibians. Some species even favor particular leaf-litter types as the decomposition process can influence the pH of the soil. Leaf-litter also provides shelter from predators, an abundance of insects for food, and thermal cover for hibernation. It’s not just frogs and other amphibians that benefit from leaf-litter; box turtles, butterflies, insect-eating birds, and many other wildlife all benefit from this mini-ecosystem.

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Weller’s Salamander prefers acidic soil. Photo by Kevin Hamed.

This fall, consider taking it easy with the rake and leave your leaves behind for wildlife. Still want a neat and tidy yard? Try using the leaves as mulch by raking them into your garden or landscaping beds to create rich soil for next spring. Another option is to rake a couple small leaf piles off into an out-of-the-way corner and allow them to decompose naturally and then re-use the compost as rich soil for planting in the spring. If you are one of those folks that enjoy burning your leaf piles, it is best to do so immediately upon creating them. Otherwise, you may accidentally kill some critters that crawled into the leaf pile seeking shelter, and never burn leaf piles in the spring that have sat over winter. By following these tips, you will create less yard work for yourself this fall while helping to make a difference for the frogs and other wildlife in your neighborhood.

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 28 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.

 

  • November 6th, 2015

Frog Friday: Green Frog

By Brian Moyer, VDGIF Recreation Program Manager. Photos by John White.

The topic of today’s Frog Friday spotlight, and one of my personal favorite frogs, is the Green Frog. I’m probably not supposed to have a favorite, but this species has a few qualities that I find rather appealing. First, the very distinct “pluck” . . . “pluck” call can be heard as one note or in a series of two, three, or four notes that sound increasingly softer. The call resembles the plucking of a banjo string and is very distinctive and easy to identify. Second, green frogs are considered the most active of Virginia’s frogs and can be seen or heard at almost any body of water, temporary or permanent, that has some forested cover. In fact, there is a green frog that lives in the semi-permanent pool of water under my driveway in the culvert pipe. I’m met almost every evening from May through August with the distinct startle call or “yelp,” a flash of legs, and a splash as the frog jumps from the edge of the ditch near the mailbox into the small pool of water trapped under the driveway.

Green Frogs are large frogs, up to 4-¼ inches in length, brown or greenish in color with two distinct ridges (dorsolateral folds) that extend from just behind the eye to near the groin. The belly is white to gray and often has small, dark, worm-like markings. The throat is a faint yellow to a bright yellow in breeding males. Tadpoles are light green in color and large, ranging in size from 2-½ to almost 4-inches in length.

Green frogs are considered one of the most active and widespread frogs in Virginia. They can be found throughout Virginia in a variety of both temporary and permanent wetlands that are surrounded by forestland. They are closely associated with water and rarely move far from the water’s edge. They can typically be found in the grassy edges of ponds/lakes or along the margin of swamps and marshes. Breeding begins in May and can extend through August. Depending on the age and size of the female, she can lay anywhere from 1,000–4,000 eggs in a thin sheet on the surface of the water. Tadpoles typically metamorphose in 90 days; depending on when breeding occurs and water temperature, some tadpoles may not metamorphose until the following spring.

Listen to the Call of the Green Frog

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 28 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 30th, 2015

Frog Friday: American Bullfrog

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Photo by John White.

The American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) ranges in size from 3.5 to 8 inches, making it the largest native species of frog in North America. This very large frog can be found throughout the Commonwealth. Although they are a commonly found frog, they are far from ordinary and have many interesting features and behaviors.

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Photo by John White.

Size is just one of many ways to identify the American Bullfrog. They range in color from dark green to olive to brown and have a green and yellow throat and a whitish to yellowish belly. The belly is often heavily mottled with small dark blotches. The American Bullfrog’s dorsolateral folds (ridges located on the top/ back of many frog species) are unique in that they do not extend down the length of the body, but rather turn downward just behind the tympanum (the external circular ear located near the frog’s eye). Like other “true” frogs, their back feet are fully webbed.

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Photo by John White.

American Bullfrogs will breed in almost any permanent body of water, including lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. Rarely will they inhabit an ephemeral wetland. They are voracious predators and will eat just about anything that can fit into their mouths including small mammals, birds, fish, snakes and even other frogs! Unfortunately, they have been introduced into many areas outside of their native range where their voracious appetite has had significant impacts on native species.

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Photo by Jason Gibson.

The males are very territorial and establish their territory through calls, postural displays, and fighting. They breed from May – August, during which time females deposit up to 60,000 eggs in thin floating sheets, which may be up to 3 feet wide! The eggs hatch in approximately 5 days. The tadpoles take up to 2 years to fully develop into a froglet and will usually overwinter in ponds. So next spring, if you see a very large tadpole swimming in a pond, it could very well be a 1 year old American Bullfrog tadpole!

The deep, drawn out calls of the American Bullfrog, “vrrr-rooom” or “jug-a-rum” are classic sounds of summer and are often described as sounding like the distant roaring of a bull. Click on the sound file below to see if you recognize the call of the American Bullfrog.

Call of the American Bullfrog

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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 28 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 23rd, 2015

Frog Friday: Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog

Back in August, we announced the possibility that a new species of frog had been discovered in Virginia. The genetic results are in and we do indeed have a new species: the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog (Rana kauffeldi)! Although we only began studying this species two years ago, we have learned quite a bit about it.

The Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog has been found at multiple locations in the southeastern Coastal Plain, but most likely ranges throughout the Coastal Plain in Virginia. To date, it has been documented in Charles City, New Kent, Sussex, Surry, Southampton, and Isle of Wight counties and in the cities of Suffolk and Chesapeake. Watersheds include the Northwest, Nottoway, Blackwater, and Chickahominy rivers.

A side-by-side comparison of the two species. (Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog on the left and Southern Leopard Frog on the right.) Photo by J.D. Kleopfer.

This species is a medium-sized frog that is very similar in appearance to the Southern Leopard Frog. It has 2 or 3 rows of brown or green irregularly placed dark spots between conspicuous dorsolateral ridges. However, with careful observation there are a few visual ways to tell the two species apart. The snout of the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog is more rounded than that of the Southern Leopard Frog, which has a pointed snout. The Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog also has a more muted pattern. The white spot on the center of the eardrum is much duller in the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog than in the Southern Leopard Frog, on which it is often a prominent characteristic. An additional characteristic on the Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog can be found on the inside of its thighs, which have a reticulated yellow or green pattern on a dark to black background.

The Atlantic Coast Leopard Frog appears to be more of a habitat specialist in comparison to the Southern Leopard Frog. It has been found in forested riparian wetlands where it primarily feeds on insects. Much like the Southern Leopard Frog, it becomes highly terrestrial in late summer as wetlands begin to dry. At this same time of year, they may also appear much darker.

Mating season begins in late February and probably continues until early April. However, vocalization may occur again in the early fall as the rains return. The voice is a quack-like call similar to a wood frog. In some areas, hybridization is occurring with the southern leopard frog, which may produce intermediate phenotypes and vocalizations creating problems with accurate identification.

Photos by J.D. Kleopfer.

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 28 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 9th, 2015