An Amphibian Foray!

There we were.  About 20 or so adults— some college-aged, a handful of 30-somethings, some 40-50ish year-olds, and maybe even a few folks in their 60s.  We were all dressed in fishing waders, positioned waist-deep in a wetland on the edge of a massive meadow, savoring the pleasantly sunny skies on an early-Spring Saturday morning.  

Some of The Amphibian Monitoring crew, excited to explore on a sunny day!

Each of us intently scanned the water as we waded, searching and pointing and counting and searching.  Perhaps we looked kind of funny from an outsider’s perspective.  But we were just a bunch of nature dorks, curiously combing the area for none other than the fascinating Spring phenomenon of amphibian egg masses!  

We were led by Vikki Jackson, wetland ecologist and program manager of the Whatcom County Amphibian Monitoring Program.  Armed with nets and clipboards and thermometers, we were on a mission!  A mission to see how many frog and salamander egg masses we could find.  Not just because they’re cool-looking.  Not just because stumbling upon an slimy glob of eggs is a kind of a magical experience.  But also because amphibians have so much to teach us!

Amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders and newts), with their double lives—first in water and then on land—and their permeable skin, are naturally such sensitive creatures.  They can tell us a lot about how things are going in the natural world.  They are excellent indicators of environmental health.  They eat pest insects, which benefits agriculture and helps to minimize the spread of diseases.  And their skin secretes substances that help them fight off microbes and viruses.  These substances could potentially offer cures for human diseases!  

Basically, amphibians are amazing.  And truly fascinating.  And fun to catch!  (Especially with children!)

Unfortunately, amphibians are vulnerable to loss of habitat due to urbanization and other human activities.   Our native amphibian species (especially the sensitive Oregon Spotted Frog) are being impacted by invasive non-native predators such as American Bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus) and Green Frogs (Lithobates clamitans).  As our cities and suburbs expand and encroach upon precious wetland habitat, it is vital that we monitor amphibian populations and create solutions so that these beautiful and unique creatures may thrive indefinately. 

For the Whatcom County Amphibian Monitoring Project we’ve been focusing on looking for the egg masses of still water breeding amphibians, specifically the Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla), the Northern Red-Legged Frog (Rana aurora), the Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile), and the Long-Toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum).  Although our first amphibian foray with WCAMP was on one of the very first warm days of the season, we were able to successfully locate lots of egg masses and quite a few mature adults as well!  Just during that day alone, amongst the 20 or so adults doing the monitoring , we located 367 Pacific Chorus Frog egg masses and 23 adult Pacific Chorus Frogs, 53 Red-legged Frog egg masses, and 3 Northwestern Salamander egg masses!  

Although we didn’t find any Long-toed Salamander egg masses on that day in particular, later on that week as Pat and I were teaching our Owl Eyes After-school Program at Fairhaven Park, we stumbled upon a few Long-toed Salamander egg masses over in the wetlands area at “Frog Swamp Flats”.  One of our students excitedly pulled out his journal and started drawing these egg masses, just in time for some dogs to come along and muddy up the water!  Eek.  Fingers crossed that the eggs survived okay!  We're grateful to have spotted them when we did!

Just yesterday we were able to locate a couple of Northwestern Salamander egg masses with our Fox Walkers Forest Kindergarten students in a wetland area in the Chuckanut Community Forest.  The look of awe and amazement of on the faces of our 4, 5 and 6-year old companions as they gazed at and touched these incredible globs of amphibian eggs for the first time was truly EPIC!

As you can see we're pretty excited about amphibians and their egg masses at Feather and Frond Forest School.  They're just another reason why Springtime is so special! 

We'd love to hear from you about your experience with amphibians.  Have you and your family spotted any amphibian egg masses lately??  Or any adult frogs or salamanders??   Now is the perfect time to get out your waders and nets and go a-huntin' for some!  Let us know what you find!  And if you're interested in getting involved with the Whatcom County Amphibian Monitoring Project, check out what they're up to HERE!





Northwestern Salamander egg masses are super firm and quite large!

Northwestern Salamander!

Pacific Chorus Frog egg masses are tiny packets of eggs.  They are generally found attached to soft vegetation.

Red-legged Frog egg mass.  Not nearly as firm as the egg mass of the Northwestern Salamander.

Long-toed Salamanders lay very small groups of eggs.  Their egg masses are found attached to soft vegetation.

Northwestern Salamanders like to lay their eggs on a brace such as a stick.

A female Pacific Chorus Frog, full of eggs.

Here's a Red-legged Frog that we found the first week of Fox Walkers, back in September!

A Long-toed Salamander that we found with our students today!