Entries tagged with “toads”.

USGS Study Confirms U.S. Amphibian Populations Declining at Precipitous Rates

Posted: 22 May 2013 01:59 PM PDT

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The first-ever estimate of how fast frogs, toads and salamanders in the United States are disappearing from their habitats reveals they are vanishing at an alarming and rapid rate.

According to the study released today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, even the species of amphibians presumed to be relatively stable and widespread are declining. And these declines are occurring in amphibian populations everywhere, from the swamps in Louisiana and Florida to the high mountains of the Sierras and the Rockies.

The study by USGS scientists and collaborators concluded that U.S. amphibian declines may be more widespread and severe than previously realized, and that significant declines are notably occurring even in protected national parks and wildlife refuges.

“Amphibians have been a constant presence in our planet’s ponds, streams, lakes and rivers for 350 million years or so, surviving countless changes that caused many other groups of animals to go extinct,” said USGS Director Suzette Kimball. “This is why the findings of this study are so noteworthy; they demonstrate that the pressures amphibians now face exceed the ability of many of these survivors to cope.”

On average, populations of all amphibians examined vanished from habitats at a rate of 3.7 percent each year. If the rate observed is representative and remains unchanged, these species would disappear from half of the habitats they currently occupy in about 20 years. The more threatened species, considered “Red-Listed” in an assessment by the global organization International Union for Conservation of Nature, disappeared from their studied habitats at a rate of 11.6 percent each year. If the rate observed is representative and remains unchanged, these Red-Listed species would disappear from half of the habitats they currently occupy in about six years.

“Even though these declines seem small on the surface, they are not,” said USGS ecologist Michael Adams, the lead author of the study. “Small numbers build up to dramatic declines with time. We knew there was a big problem with amphibians, but these numbers are both surprising and of significant concern.”

For nine years, researchers looked at the rate of change in the number of ponds, lakes and other habitat features that amphibians occupied. In lay terms, this means that scientists documented how fast clusters of amphibians are disappearing across the landscape.

In all, scientists analyzed nine years of data from 34 sites spanning 48 species. The analysis did not evaluate causes of declines.

The research was done under the auspices of the USGS Amphibian Research and Monitoring Initiative, which studies amphibian trends and causes of decline. This unique program, known as ARMI, conducts research to address local information needs in a way that can be compared across studies to provide analyses of regional and national trends.

Brian Gratwicke, amphibian conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, said, “This is the culmination of an incredible sampling effort and cutting-edge analysis pioneered by the USGS, but it is very bad news for amphibians. Now, more than ever, we need to confront amphibian declines in the U.S. and take actions to conserve our incredible frog and salamander biodiversity.”

The study offered other surprising insights. For example, declines occurred even in lands managed for conservation of natural resources, such as national parks and national wildlife refuges.

“The declines of amphibians in these protected areas are particularly worrisome because they suggest that some stressors – such as diseases, contaminants and drought – transcend landscapes,” Adams said. “The fact that amphibian declines are occurring in our most protected areas adds weight to the hypothesis that this is a global phenomenon with implications for managers of all kinds of landscapes, even protected ones.”

Amphibians seem to be experiencing the worst declines documented among vertebrates, but all major groups of animals associated with freshwater are having problems, according to Adams. While habitat loss is a factor in some areas, other research suggests that things like disease, invasive species, contaminants and perhaps other unknown factors are related to declines in protected areas.

“This study,” said Adams, “gives us a point of reference that will enable us to track what’s happening in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Read FAQs about this research

The publication, Trends in amphibian occupancy in the United States, is authored by  Adams, M.J., Miller, D.A., Muths, E., Corn, P.S., Campbell Grant, E.H., Bailey, L., Fellers, G.M., Fisher, R.N., Sadinski, W.J., Waddle, H., and Walls, S.C., and is available to the public.

Read a USGS blog, Front-row seats to climate change, about 3 other recent USGS amphibian studies. For more information about USGS amphibian research, visit http://armi.usgs.gov/


Attention Homeschoolers, teachers, parents, and curious naturalists! Frog activity will start to stir come the first week or two of March –  Here is a great  resource to add to use as we head into this season: Hop Into Action.

The author, David Alexander, joined us one spring for our amphibian monitoring program kickoff and spring pools explorations.  He was great to have along and really knows his stuff. His book is available through Amazon.

Hop Into Action, Book Review by Jessica Kratz
Looking to have your students leap from the sidelines to participating in citizen science? To spring forward from awareness to action? David Alexander’s fun and easy-to-follow curriculum guide Hop Into Action [NSTA Press, 2010] is a fantastic way for educators, youth leaders, and naturalists to become informed and involved with frogs, salamanders, and other amphibians.

Alexander leaves virtually no stone [or log] unturned, approaching the subject from nearly all angles, and all disciplines. He provides information on the ethical, practical, and logistical considerations for the field and the classroom, from handling techniques to finding or creating an appropriate amphibian habitat. There is an extensive resource list of related age-appropriate books and materials, a thorough glossary and index which is immensely helpful for building science vocabulary, and an elaborate matrix correlating the 20 activities to the North American Association for Environmental Education [NAAEE] Guidelines for grades K-4. Alexander also offers ways to adapt the lessons for our youngest naturalists.

Alexander’s 20 activities are clearly written, require few additional materials [which are easy and inexpensive to obtain] and easy to follow. A friendly frog appears on the introductory page of each activity. This familiar character instantly welcomes you to each lesson, dressed and posed to provide a quick and amusing introduction. From artist to businessman, from diner to singer, our multi-faceted guide is a welcoming host and reflects how enjoyable and interdisciplinary the guide is. The clear illustrations and clever comparisons [i.e., comparing the size of a frog to a tennis ball] make both teacher and student more comfortable with measurement and help both ease into scientific procedures. Alexander also offers fresh approaches to familiar activities [i.e., "Lily Pad Venn Diagrams"] and fun, modern ways of expressing and exploring ideas, such as “Herp, Herp Hooray” [amphibian conservation plans] and “Frog Pond Lifeguard” [aquatic invertebrate survey and ecological health assessment.

With nearly 1/3 of amphibian species known to be threatened or extinct, and at least 42% of amphibian species declining in population for reasons such as habitat loss, climate change, and fungal disease, according to the 2008 Global Amphibian Assessment [...], it is important to guide children to understand and appreciate amphibians before it is too late. It also provides an opportunity for students to connect to a global extinction issue closer to home, using species they can observe nearby.

Hop Into Action is a fantastic vehicle for getting elementary school teachers more comfortable with and involved in science. It is also a convenient reference and source of activities for camps, youth groups, nature centers, and other non-formal settings. Its lessons can be used individually, as a building block for a unit, or a foundation for a year-long investigation. Hop Into Action also makes a fantastic gift for the educators in your life, and is truly a gift to amphibians everywhere.


We had our last of three amphibian monitoring program kickoffs this past Saturday.  This one was held at Algonkian Regional Park and it held some really great sightings!

To start the morning, Casey Pittrizzi, the naturalist at Algonkian Regional Park, let everyone have up close looks at a Wood Frog, Spotted Salamander, American Toad and Gray Tree Frog, that NVRPA has temporarily for education purposes. This was a great way to start off the program and start learning about our amphibians!

After our classroom session, where I basically gave everyone the run down on the different habitats amphibians use (forests and wetlands) and talked through the 25 different species we have here in Loudoun, we headed out into the field. [check out the photo album]

Our first stop was the little man-made pools at the mini-golf course.  To our excitement, we spotted numerous strings of American Toad eggs. 

That was special since we haven’t really heard the toads calling yet but they have obviously had an opportunity to get to the pools for breeding.

We also saw spotted salamander egg masses and hundreds of wood frog tadpoles, already hatched from their eggs.  We also spotted a newt in one of the pools, possibly eating frog or toad eggs.

From there, we headed out along the trails to look at the different wetland habitats – both vernal pools and swamp areas.

Here, we found an adult American Toad, obviously very cold and still in hibernation.  We also did a little dip netting and found lots of FAIRY SHRIMP! This is an obligate species for vernal pools and is only the second documented occurrence here in Loudoun.

Many thanks to all the participants for being a part of the day and to all the new volunteers for jumping in to the amphibian monitoring program this year!

Algonkian Regional Park is definitely one of our great places here in Loudoun.  Casey has some fun nature hikes and other programs lined up through the spring and summer, and we look forward to partnering on more events together!


Be a Citizen Scientist – it’s really fun

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy offers many opportunities to participate in programs that promote the collection of important environmental data. Training and 2011 kickoffs for many of these programs start up in February – check the Programs Calendar for information.

Stream Monitoring
Interested in what you might find in a stream near you?  Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy monitors our local streams for all types of bacterial and invertebrate life to assess and track water quality.

Sign up on our Stream Monitoring page to join a team in the search and identification of species that tell the tale of the quality of Loudoun’s streams and habitat.

Monitoring occurs three times a year between April and November and takes about 4 hours each time. It’s a great way to learn about water quality in our local streams.

Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring
Bluebirds, some of our most beloved songbirds for their beautiful colors and cheerful songs, need our help to thrive.  2010 was a very hard year for Bluebirds as significant numbers perished in the winter storms we had. Through monitoring last summer, we saw the effects of the hard winter. In 2011 we look forward to seeing their numbers rebound.

Join Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Nestbox Monitoring program and observe the nesting behavior of this magnificent species as well as other beautiful songbirds that use the boxes like the Tree Swallow and House Wren.

As a nestbox monitor, you provide valuable census information on the local population of bluebirds. Visit our Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring page to become a part of this rewarding experience. Monitoring takes place from mid-March through August. The season kickoff is taking place in February and you can sign up now.

Amphibian Monitoring
Frogs, toads, salamanders and newts – They are all important natural indicators of the health of our habitat and they have fascinating lifecycles.

In order to gauge just how well these fascinating creatures thrive in Loudoun County, we launched the Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program (LAMP).

Help monitor the health of our amphibious population through call surveys, site surveys, and migration mapping.

You’ll learn to identify frog and toad calls, know when and where to look for egg masses and how to identify different species in different cycles of their lives. To volunteer for any of these subsets of our amphibian monitoring program, or for more information, visit our amphibian monitoring program page. Monitoring takes place from March through about July although you can monitor into the fall as well if you want to. Our season kickoff is happening in March if you’d like to sign up.

Bird Atlas
Participate in Loudoun County’s unique bird atlas program, in which volunteers track and record the species and numbers of birds found in Loudoun. We have a number of blocks throughout the county where no one is collecting data — we really need your help.

The county is divided into 75 blocks, and each of these 10 square-mile blocks is assigned to a different individual or group to ensure countywide coverage. The atlas has been an ongoing project since 2009, and is set for publication in 2014.

We need your help across Loudoun to document our bird species!  It’s easy and fun. For more information, please visit our Bird Atlas page.

Other monitoring activities
In addition to the programs listed above, we also do one-day events that are a lot of fun.  There’s the Annual Butterfly Count (August), the Christmas Bird Count (December) and the International Migratory Bird Day Count (May)

Join us for some monitoring fun!


Earlier in October, I was reading through the digest version of the Virginia herps listserv and saw a posting that made me fall out of my seat!  Eastern Spadefoot Toad found in Loudoun!!

The toad was found at Algonkian Park and while over the past 10+ years, we have had two reports of the species in different parts of Loudoun, we had never had a documented sighting (i.e. with photos). 

As part of our Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program, we are partnering with Algonkian Park naturalists in order to monitor the area and hopefully encounter the breeding activity next spring.

We’ll keep you apprised of developments in this but for now, we just wanted to share the excitement.  It also offers hope that we will find other populations across the county.

If you are interested in frogs, toads and salamanders, keep an eye on the programs calendar for the Amphibian Monitoring Program kickoff and classes that I’ll be leading this coming March.


Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy offers many opportunities for citizens to participate in nature programs that promote the collection of important environmental data across the county.

Stream Monitoring

Interested in what you might find in a stream near you?  Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy works alongside the Loudoun Watershed Watch in monitoring our local streams for all types of bacterial and invertebrate life. Sign up on our Stream Monitoring page to join a stream team in the search and identification of species integral to monitoring the quality of Loudoun’s streams. Requires a commitment of 3-4 hours at each of three monitoring sessions between the months of April and November.

Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring

Bluebirds, some of our most beloved songbirds for their beautiful colors and cheerful songs, need our help to thrive.  Join LWC’s Nestbox Monitoring program and observe the nesting behavior of this magnificent species, while at the same time providing valuable census information on the local population of bluebirds. We have trails across the county – from Leesburg to Ashburn and Sterling to Neersville, Purcellville and Waterford. Requires about 2 hours per month from April through August on a public trail or you can register your home nestboxes with us and report your data. Visit our Bluebird Nestbox Monitoring page to become a part of this rewarding experience.

Amphibian Monitoring

Amphibians are wonderful natural indicators of the health of wetlands and forests. In order to gauge just how well these fascinating creatures thrive in Loudoun County, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy launched the Loudoun Amphibian Monitoring Program (LAMP). Help monitor the health of our amphibious population through frog and toad call surveys, amphibian site surveys, and migration mapping. Time commitment can be as little as a few hours in each of the four monitoring windows from February through July or more if you really get into it. To volunteer for any of these subsets of LAMP, or for more information, visit our Amphibian Monitoring page.

Bird Atlas

Participate in Loudoun County’s unique bird atlas program, in which volunteers track and record the species and numbers of birds found in Loudoun. The county is divided into 75 blocks, and each of these 10 square-mile blocks is assigned to a different individual or group to ensure countywide coverage. The atlas has been an ongoing project since 2009, and is set for publication in 2014. Volunteer while you can – more eyes on the ground mean better data for the atlas!  You can sign up as a helper for a block or a block owner, or just sign up to report incidental sightings. All birds count so this is a great activity for people of all experience levels. Time commitment can be as much as you like.  For more information, please visit our Bird Atlas page.


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I went out in search of trilling toads and while they trilled away when I first found them the day before, they stayed silent throughout my podcast. Lips were sealed!  The photo here is of one of them, clearly just waiting me out :)

Nonetheless, Episode #17 is all about our most common toad here in Loudoun, the American Toad – some pretty cool facts to learn about these backyard visitors.

They breed through March and April so this time of year you can see them in shallow ponds and as long as you don’t plan to record them, you’ll likely hear them trill.

I’ll continue to try to get a recording but in the meantime, here are some recordings by others of our American Toad.

Source for much of the material for this podcast was found on The Animal Diversity Web – a great source of animal information!

To listen to this episode, click the play button at the top of this post and it will play now or Right Click Here to Download (select “Save as Target”).


For those interested in Amphibians this will be an exciting week!  I was just checking the weather and there’s a chance of rain Wednesday through Friday and the temps are supposed to be around 50 degrees!!  PERFECT!!

We still have room in our Amphibians Afoot Class and Field Trip so if anyone is interested please sign up soon. If it rains those nights we’ll definitely be doing a night excursion and perhaps a road crossing assist.

So what’s the big deal about the first spring rains in March? Man, if the typed word could only show my excitement! I’m about to jump out of my seat on this and can barely catch all my typos!

The first warm rain in March is when Wood Frogs, Spring Peepers, toads, Jefferson Salamanders and others make their move! Imagine them in their forest homes, under logs, in burrows, nestled in the cushion of fallen leaves….the winter slumber is over and it’s time to breed!  They can’t leave their havens without some rain because their skin will dry out and they can’t move during a daytime rain because predators are out. So they wait……then it happens! Nighttime falls, the rains come and they migrate in force! 

They’ll migrate from as far away as 1/4 mile to get to the vernal pools and other wetlands where they were born in order to meet up with their fellow species to mate, stay a few days and then return to the forest. Wow – it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it! Here’s an interview I did with Mike Hayslett when he was here with us last year: Spring Wetlands Interview

This special spring rain sets the season off and is also why we get our amphibian monitoring program going this time of year.  We have these big events and the amphibians are most visible from March through about June/July. Oh it is just so much fun!

So, watch the weather and if you’re out at night when it’s raining, watch the road – what you may think are leaves blowing across the road may actually be frogs, toads and salamanders trying to cross!  Let us know what you encounter!

And please do check out the Amphibians Afoot Class mentioned above – there’s a small fee for this one to help cover some of our costs but it’s well worth it!


Seven of us went out to Bles Park in Ashburn, Virginia on Saturday night for a fun night hike to look and listen for frogs.  This is just the second of such night hikes that we’ve done so far but they’re so much fun that we’ll definitely be doing more starting next spring when the frogs and toads are really out in force.

Pickerel_Frog_Bles_Park_8_8_09For our walk last Saturday, we started by gathering in the parking area, discussing the possible species that we would encounter and listening to recordings of their calls. Through past nature walks at Bles, we’ve identified at least six species of frogs and toads that are definitely at Bles, but due to the time of year, we were most likely to only hear three of them (Green Frog, Gray Tree Frog and Bullfrog).

So, off we went along the trail. Bill Roberson from the county’s Parks and Recreation dept came out as a resource for us in case of anything which was great since it allowed us to just focus on wildlife. The park certainly looks different at night but donned with headlamps and flashlights, we were able to spot all sorts of great creatures.

As we walked along, we encountered numerous (at least 20)  juvenile American Toads (toadlets) out hunting for dinner -  hopping across our path and hunting through the grasses. There were also quite a few millipedes out hunting along with some really interesting beetles.

We were hoping for a slight drizzle to get the frogs to call but it missed us and the frogs stayed pretty quiet except for a lone Green Frog that called from along the river. As we explored along the river, we saw a bat or two hunting over the water. By the size of it, I’m guessing a Big Brown Bat.  We’ll have to bring the bat detector next time. We also had Great Blue Herons flying over just as the sun was setting.

The big fun of the evening was spotting the many Pickerel Frogs along the river.  They would have been breeding in the early spring time so it’s no surprise that they were not calling out their funny snore but it was great to spot them and practice some night photography.

We wrapped up our hike at 9pm.


So we held our first evening amphibian foray into the woods last night.  The plan was to enjoy the Gray Tree Frog chorus at the Blue Ridge Center, since in past years, the chorus was in full swing this time of year. The Gray Tree Frogs, however, must have missed the note because they stayed quiet all evening.

That was ok though, since lots and lots of American Toads and Green Frogs, as well as one Bullfrog, were out andGreen_Frog_July_25_2009 about.

We started the evening with a short talk about amphibians and Gray Tree Frogs in particular, looked at photos of the frogs (including the egg and tadpole stages as well as frog scat!) and listened to a recording of the Gray Tree Frogs calling so we all knew what to listen for. 

We had 18 people on the walk with us, three of whom were burgeoning (6-8 year old) herpetologists. As we headed out along the trail, it didn’t take long to find our first American Toad crossing the path.  The three young boys hopped into action and caught it so we all could see.

We stayed at the pond near the visitors center for a bit as we listened to the Green Frogs calling and swimming through the green duckweed. We then headed down to Piney Run stream to see if we could hear some other species….like our elusive Gray Tree Frogs. Along the walk, we must have encountered at least 15 more American Toads – of all shapes and sizes. We had just had a light rain and it was humid so they were no doubt out hunting for their dinners.

Along Piney Run, we listened for a bit, observed some bats feeding just over the tree tops, and scanned the trees for any eyes watching us. After a pause here, we headed back to the pond. By this time, it was dark and the Green Frogs, with their banjo twang, were in full song. We used our headlamps and flashlights to scan the pond and saw lots of eyes reflecting back. It was great to see so many of them.

We wrapped up a little past 9pm and headed back to the visitor center where we found another toad hunting around the house. It was fun doing a nightime nature walk and we look forward to doing it again. Keep an eye on the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy Programs Calendar for more events like this.