Conserve Wildlife Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Amphibians’

Raising Awareness for Amphibians

Thursday, May 16th, 2024

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Supporters who follow Conserve Wildlife Foundation across our social media platforms may have noticed that our channels became a bit less feather-y and more froggy in early May. This “takeover” was not just an acknowledgment of frogs and salamanders resuming their activities after winter brumation; however, you can expect the greatest diversity in the evening chorus this month with all native species besides mid-Atlantic coast leopard and wood frogs regularly calling. Rather, our shift in theme was in support of two international campaigns, Salamander Saturday and Amphibian Week, which aim to raise awareness for the most globally threatened class of vertebrates. 

The Foundation for the Conservation of Salamanders (FCSal) began the Salamander Saturday initiative in 2015 and has annually encouraged other organizations around the world to help “Keep the World Slimy” through outreach events. This year, several zoos, nature centers, parks, museums, and even a brewery joined in the festivities by offering interactive exhibits, walks, crafts, and more for their patrons on May 4th. In addition to live activities, FCSal urges the use of #SalamanderSaturday on Facebook and Instagram to disseminate information far and wide. 

While CWF’s work focuses on large-bodied mole salamanders, New Jerseyans are lucky enough to share the landscape with 16 species ranging from the tiny four-toed salamander (~2”) to the Eastern tiger salamander (~8”).  Of these, nine are currently being monitored as endangered, threatened, species of concern, or species of interest, largely due to habitat loss and fragmentation. While you may not see them often, salamanders do a lot for our planet. They play an important role in the food chain as both predator and prey, contribute to carbon sequestration, aerate the soil, and more. Salamanders are also fascinating creatures. Though they do not coexist peacefully within flames as myths and legends suggest, they do share something in common with embers in that they “glow”. Scientists have not cracked the code on why but have found that many species bio fluoresce under different wavelengths of light. The bright colors and patterns frequently featured on their skin can be indicative of toxins and they are experts in regeneration, which could hold clues for medical advancement. Check out the infographic we created for this year’s celebration. 

Infographic created for CWF’s Salamander Saturday Celebration

Amphibian Week was started by the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) in 2020 and spans the first full week of May each year (the 5th– 11th in 2024). Activities occur in virtual and live capacities but are inspired by a unique theme that is selected in advance by PARC. In recognition of the upcoming summer Olympics in Paris, this year’s concept was Extreme Athletes: Amphibian Edition. Daily prompts included an opening ceremony, a warm-up day, aquatic, gymnastic, and track & field “events”, awards, and a closing ceremony. 

CWF’s Amphibi-Olympics opened with the recitation of our amphibian anthem by a Fowler’s Toad (we knew that scream would capture your attention) and the torch lighting by a legendary fire salamander.

CWF interns, Connor and Nikki, had fun getting creative with the theme and sharing all the knowledge and admiration that they have for frogs and salamanders with our followers on Facebook and Instagram during our Amphibi-Olympics. After an evaluation of the adaptations our native amphibians have evolved to excel at life in water, on land, and in the trees, the bullfrog, Pine Barrens tree frog, and spring peeper took home the gold in the aforementioned “sports”. To add to the fun (and to accurately represent our life in the field where dad-jokes are applauded), each day included an amphibious pun. See our social media (@wildlifenj) for all the knee-slappers but here’s a curated selection:

  • What do you call a hard-working female carpenter frog? Rosie the Ribbiter!
  • Why was the Eastern spadefoot late to work? His vehicle was toad!
  • What did the frog driving school instruct their students before getting behind the wheel? Cricket or Ticket!
The medalists from the Track & Field event take to the podium, with the spotted salamander taking bronze, the wood frog securing silver, and the spring peeper getting gold.  

While Salamander Saturday and Amphibian Week are fun and entertaining excuses to share the trivia and photos we amass throughout our field seasons, they are rooted in a not-so-fun and entertaining truth: over 40% of amphibians worldwide are currently on a path toward extinction. The amazing adaptations that enable them to inhabit both water and land make them more sensitive than other types of wildlife to changes in our environment… and our environment is changing. Decline is rapid and very concerning. But you can help! Become an Amphibian Ally by instituting small changes that can add up. Here are some ideas:  

  • Drive cautiously during the migration seasons.
  • Leave piles of leaf litter around in the fall.
  • Reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides you apply on your property- they can change the chemistry of breeding pools and reduce or eliminate reproductive potential.
  • Enjoy ATVs on trails – not by driving through pools and puddles!
  • Celebrate amphibians from a respectful distance unless you are actively assisting one in crossing a road or have to touch them for scientific research.
  • Report rare sightings and any sightings that occur on roadways to NJDEP’s Wildlife Tracker App:
  • Spend time hiking along streams/fishing? Decontaminate your shoes and gear to prevent the spread of diseases. Check out PARC’s guide on how:
  • Talk about amphibians! Educate your friends, family members, students, neighbors, etc.
  • Interested in donating toward conservation efforts? Consider specifying amphibians as the beneficiaries as they are incredibly difficult to find grant funding for.

Want to learn more? In addition to following along with CWF’s work, PARC is a fantastic resource to stay up to date on amphibian and reptile news. Sign up for their newsletter here:

Nothing makes our Herp Team (L-R: Staff Intern Connor Zrinko, Wildlife Biologist Christine Healy, Senior Intern Nikki Griffiths) happier than the quonk of our gold medalist in the Gymnastics division, the Pine Barrens tree frog! 

Every week is Amphibian Week for our Herp team. We’re grateful to FCSal and PARC for putting a larger spotlight on these animals and to all of you, who took the time to learn and spread the message this month.

Pints with a Purpose

Thursday, July 6th, 2023

by Christine Healy, Wildlife Biologist

Complete the lyrics: Nothing else matters in the whole wide world when you’re in love with a…

If you said Jersey Girl, then you’d be correct! Coincidentally, that’s also where volunteers and supporters alike gathered last month to show their love for amphibians. Jersey Girl Brewing in Mount Olive, that is.

Two years ago, we partnered with Jersey Girl to host a trivia event to raise awareness for our Amphibian Crossing Project, an initiative that seeks to reduce mortality among populations of frogs and salamanders whose migratory pathways are bisected by roadways. We chose the location based on its proximity to our largest crossing site, Waterloo Road, in the hopes that many of our hardworking volunteers could attend. We had a great turnout and a lot of fun. Following several requests, we decided to bring it back this year for round two.

Participants, including former CWF intern, Nicole Bergen (who helped write and host our first trivia event) pause during answer deliberation to smile for the camera.
Lots of familiar faces were in the crowd at Jersey Girl, including CWF’s Founder, Linda Tesauro, trustees Steve Neumann, Rick Weiman, and Amy Greene, former amphibian crossing leads MacKenzie Hall and Allegra Mitchell, former CWF intern, Morgan Mark,  and many new and seasoned volunteers, like Barb and Rick McKee, without whom, this project could not succeed.

Frozen Frogs

Friday, March 24th, 2023

We’ve made it to the final “super species” in our “superhero” series though, like in the last post, we’re spotlighting an adaptation that aligns with one of the more notorious residents of Gotham City. Our local frog has all the chill, while this DC villain needs to chill… quite literally, as his sub-zero body temperature must be maintained to ensure his survival. Cryogenics expert, Dr. Victor Fries- better known as Mr. Freeze, had admirable intentions when he began his experimentation with ice. Unfortunately for him, accidental exposure to chemicals altered his physiology, necessitating the use of an air-conditioned suit and spurring a life of crime motivated by tragic desperation. The compound responsible for his transformation is thought by some to be glycerol, which also happens to be the key to the winter survival strategy of our favorite early breeding anuran- the wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus).

Animals living in temperate climates must find ways to cope with the cold temperatures and reduction of food resources, characteristic of the winter season. Some species deal with winter by not dealing with winter… instead they migrate to milder conditions farther south. This is a path commonly taken by birds. Other animals have adapted to have a large body mass. This reduces their surface area and enables them to hold onto heat more efficiently. As a former moose biologist, I’m happy to give them a quick nod here. Many strategies exist across the natural world to increase the odds of persistence, but we’re here to talk about amphibians and, it’ll probably come as no surprise to you that they aren’t employing either of the aforementioned tactics.

Wood frogs are a vernal pool obligate species; they must have access to these temporary wetlands in order to breed and complete their lifecycle, but they don’t live in them all the time. Therefore, we do refer to them as migratory, but they only cover about ¼ to ½ mile during this annual pilgrimage, so temperature differences are negligible. Most frogs and salamanders in New Jersey endure the colder months by entering brumation- the “cold blooded” equivalent of hibernation. In this state, animals can drop their body temperature and metabolism to conserve energy. Some species burrow and use the ground as insulation. Others brumate in streams and ponds since water cools at a slower rate than air. Wood frogs cover themselves in leaf litter (for camouflage) and spend the winter comfortably as frog-cicles. That’s right- they essentially freeze solid and thaw once air temperatures become favorable again.

Under normal conditions, when a cell freezes, ice crystals form internally. These solids can then expand, which damages organelles and ultimately ruptures cell membranes. This leads to cell death. Compounded by damage incurred in blood vessels and dehydration, this would be a fatal situation for most animals. Wood frogs have found a hack to get around these devastating consequences.

A recently thawed wood frog huddled beneath a leaf. Photo credit: Nikki Griffiths.

As temperatures drop, wood frogs continue to produce urine but cease voiding it. Instead, the urine is concentrated into urea, which floods the frog’s bloodstream.  The liver also goes into overdrive, manufacturing vast quantities of glucose, which causes their blood sugar to skyrocket as high as 100x normal levels (a better understanding of how this frog can avoid negative health effects under such conditions could certainly contribute to diabetes research in humans). The urea and glucose create a mixture that acts almost like antifreeze. Once ice crystals begin to form around the blood cells and internal organs, this homemade antifreeze infiltrates, allowing  for the retention of water and protecting the frog’s cells from desiccation and explosion. They can maintain this state for up to 8 months.

This brumation strategy earns wood frogs the “northernmost amphibian in the western hemisphere” superlative as they can be found up past Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska.

The 2023 Amphibian season has begun! Drive carefully one upcoming rainy nights. Photo credit: Nikki Griffiths.

That’s a wrap on Mr. Freeze and our Super Species! The Amphibian Crossing is now in full swing. If you are going to be driving after sunset along roads that border ponds in the upcoming rains, watch out for migrating frogs and salamanders. Collisions with motor vehicles can decimate local populations rapidly so please slowdown!  

That’s a Wrap for the Pilot Season of a New Collaborative Project with NJDEP Focusing on Pine Barrens Tree Frogs

Friday, August 12th, 2022

by Christine Healy

CWF intern Connor Zrinko inspects a large tadpole he collected while dipnetting.

At quick glance, Pine Barrens tree frogs (PBTF), with their vivid green backs, deep purple sides, and vibrant yellow thighs, might put folks in mind of Central and South American rainforests. Based on their visage, they could, theoretically, be at home beside red-eyed tree frogs and poison arrow frogs – the poster children of amphibian diversity. They have occupied that spotlight themselves. In fact, in his 1983 Endangered Species series, American pop artist Andy Warhol chose to immortalize the PBTF in silkscreen as the lone representative of herptiles. But these tiny beauties do not favor the tropics. Occurring in three disjunct populations across the eastern United States including the Florida/Alabama panhandle, the Carolinas and, naturally, New Jersey, PBTF are habitat specialists. They reside in seepage bogs where the water is relatively acidic, due to the presiding vegetation. Sadly, as is the case with many animals reliant on very specific landscape features, habitat loss and fragmentation pose a concern for the persistence of this species, which is listed as threatened in New Jersey.

CWF is very excited to be partnering with NJDEP, Division of Watershed Protection and Restoration on a long-term study aimed at better understanding the effect of development on vulnerable species. We will measure abundance, adult health and survival, and larval growth of Pine Barrens tree frogs within a population impacted by encroaching construction to evaluate whether current wetland regulations, including buffer size, are sufficient for species conservation.


CWF in the News: Volunteers help salamanders cross NJ roadways

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2021

by Ethan Gilardi, Wildlife Biologist
A volunteers handles a spotted salamander. Photo by Mackenzie Hall

The Conserve Wildlife Foundation has been partnering with NJ’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program (ENSP) since 2002 for the annual Amphibian Crossing Project. On warm, rainy nights in the early Spring, we work with a fleet of incredible volunteers to hustle amphibians across the road at three key rescue sites. Still groggy from their winter hibernation, roads can be incredibly dangerous for the slow moving frogs and salamanders trying to reach their breeding grounds.

Over the course of this project, we’ve crossed an estimate 14,000 individuals at the Byram Township site alone!

Commenting on last Thursday’s crossing, the first of 2021, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator Christine Healy had the following to say:

“We were a little unsure of what to expect, since the temperature was a little on the cold side, but we crossed 1,215 amphibians at Byram Twp., 1,132 at Stillwater, and 963 at Liberty Twp.

I’d call that a success! Really proud of all the volunteers who made it happen.

Conditions look like they could be good toward the end of this week for round two!”

Christine Healy, Amphibian Crossing Project Coordinator

Bruce A. Scruton of The New Jersey Herald recently spoke with Christine to discuss the Amphibian Croosing Project and its storied history.

You can read the profile over on to learn more about what it takes to help hundreds of our amphibian friends hop and meander across dangerous roadways.

Click here to read more.

Spotted salamander on a log
A spotted salamander peeks over a log. Photo by Mackenzie Hall.