Frogs and toads are creatures that we come to recognize from a young age. No one hops like a frog, croaks like a frog or has the huge, bulging eyes of a frog. We even have games named after their leaping ability! They are also creatures that are not so ubiquitously common in our busy city lives that we notice when they aren’t there. We see them, we hear them, we recognize them and once they are out of sight, we tend to forget about them.
Frogs and our other amphibian neighbours may not be obvious in our day to day lives, but they are certainly worth our curiosity and attention! Take their winter habits for example. The majority of the winter months, frogs and other amphibians of Vancouver Island will hibernate. Many will find refuge under insulating layers of dead leaves, or under logs. Some will remain burrowed in the debris and mud in the bottom of lakes and ponds. One species of frog, the Wood Frog, is native to British Columbia but not Vancouver Island. This unexpected creature has been found as far north as the Arctic Circle, a seemingly impossible feat made feasible with sugars in their blood preventing it from freezing despite temperatures well below 0 degrees celsius. Essentially, they have an antifreeze kind of blood!
There are reasons to care about the success of these mucusy critters beyond just their curious habits and biology. Amphibians have long been considered environmental indicators. The ability of frogs to breathe through their skin is an adaptation that perfectly sets them up for life aquatica, or at least a semi-aquatic life. The double edged sword of such absorbent skin is that it does just that: it absorbs everything it is exposed to. Fluctuations in pH, minerals, oxygen and chemicals in an aquatic environment will be felt first by the amphibian community. By monitoring the health of amphibian populations, the health of the entire ecosystem can be observed. For this interaction with amphibian populations and their environment, amphibians are considered indicator species.
As the frogs begin their courtship calls in February, relish their presence! If you are feeling as though you would like to contribute to the science surrounding amphibian populations, you are encouraged to familiarize yourself with the calls and appearance of native amphibian species.
Try to record the date, time and location, along with the species and the number you saw, or how many egg masses. With that information in your back pocket, you can add your observations to Frogwatch BC! If you are able to take photos without intruding on their space, you can also upload that information to iNaturalist. Citizen science is approachable and accessible for everyone, and you can feel great about ensuring the longevity of amphibian populations in your area.
Remember, if you are fortunate enough to come across an amphibian, give it space! Despite perhaps not always feeling so, you are a giant compared to these creatures, and even the best intentions can cause harm to a group of animals that needs support more than anything.
Handling these animals for even a brief time can allow for chemicals and other potentially harmful substances on our skin to enter their body through their permeable skin. Not to mention, it is illegal to handle or transport B.C.’s native amphibians!
Don’t wait until their absence provides a stark silence on summer evenings. Ensuring these iconic creatures are protected for future generations requires work, but they are more than worth protecting.