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 A focus on frogs

Monitoring Utah’s native amphibians

Chris Crockett
Chris Crockett is an aquatic biologist who specializes in native amphibians. When he isn’t working, Chris enjoys fishing for native cutthroat trout, hunting forest grouse and kayaking with his wife, Emily, on the Great Salt Lake.

DESPITE A SLOW START, it looks like spring is finally here. Some frogs and toads emerged several months ago, but cold weather kept most of them in their winter refuges. They typically spend the coldest months under logs, in burrows and buried in wetland sediments.

Photo

Western Chorus Frogs are tiny, but they have a loud, distinctive call.

Now, warmer temperatures and spring rains have brought many of these creatures out of hibernation, and they’ve begun their nightly chorus to attract mates.

One frog in particular, the Western (or Boreal) Chorus Frog, is especially vocal. This common frog is only around one to two inches in length but has a call that can be heard from hundreds of yards away. The call is a loud series of “preeps” and has often been described as the sound of someone stroking the small teeth of a pocket comb.

Utah has 14 species of native frogs and toads. Most of those species are very secretive, and the only clue to their presence is their nightly chorus. You can hear more of Utah’s frogs online at amphibiaweb.org.

Photo

A Columbia Spotted Frog keeps an eye on its surroundings.

As a child, I spent many days and nights catching these fascinating creatures. Most summer evenings, I could be found at the pond near my house, covered in mud and holding a bucket full of tadpoles. Luckily my mom, a science teacher, didn’t mind the mess and usually let me back in the house. Little did she realize I was honing my skills for a future career working with amphibians.

As an aquatic biologist for the DWR, I conduct annual monitoring surveys of Utah’s amphibian populations. We use different methods of surveying, depending on the species and the project goals.

We found this Columbia Spotted Frog on the Diamond Fork River.

For example, we just recently finished our annual monitoring of Columbia Spotted Frog populations along the Provo River. These frogs are seldom seen, so instead of trying to count adults, we count the egg masses they deposited during the breeding season. The number of egg masses we count gives us an idea of the total population (one mass equals one female and one male frog).  The gelatinous egg masses are about the size of a baseball and can contain up to 1,000 tiny embryos. Typically, less than five percent will grow up to be adult frogs.

I’m often asked about why amphibians are important. Frogs and toads actually fulfill several roles in the ecosystem. Their diet consists primarily of insects, many of which are considered a nuisance to humans. The amphibians, in turn, are eaten by other species, including fish, birds and otters.

Northern Leopard Frog

An adult Northern Leopard Frog is about four inches long.

What may be a surprise is the role that amphibians play in protecting and preserving human health. Many of the medicines we rely on today are based upon enzymes found on frogs and toads.

Recently, scientists developed a drug for the treatment of brain tumors based on an enzyme contained within the eggs of Northern Leopard Frogs. These frogs are native to Utah and found in most counties. The cure to cancer may very well be a frog in your backyard!

If you’d like more information on Utah’s amphibians or you’re interested in assisting with surveys in your area, please send an e-mail to frogs@utah.gov or contact your local DWR office.

22 Responses to A focus on frogs

  1. Chris,

    Your blog is terrific. I hope I get to see some of these guys one of these days!

    Therese

  2. Good job Chris! When are you and Emily coming down to visit?

  3. Thats a great blog hopefully they will be the answer to the cure for some cancer that would be great!
    Bob Read
    outdoorexcitementstore.com

  4. Excellent post. And yes, you’re absolutely right with the role of amphibians. People usually think they’re useless and disgusting , but the truth is that they’re really important in the ecosystem.
    And surprisingly, the role of amphibians protect the human health? Now that’s an interesting fact. I truly believe that people should become more aware of what’s around them…thins would help nature and eventually us.

  5. I remember one time when I was a kid my family went to some lake up Beaver canyon and it was completely surrounded with hundreds of frogs, as a kid it was soo cool.

  6. We found a toad or frog in our living room. It is a baby and was wondering what species it is and if we should release it. We are feeding it because there aren’t any suitable release areas near our home. We think it came in on the sod our neighbors recently installed. Can you identify the species from a picture?

  7. There is no creature I admire most. One of my favorites is the Dart frog, with all of their amazing colors. And yes, it’s true if found in the wild these tiny little guys have quite a toxin that could make sick or even kill someone, but when kept in captivity, it’s our hands that are toxic to them. In fact, so many things we do are toxic to them such as strong smells like candles.

    Just absolutely amazing little creatures. Thanks for the post. i’m going to look into a few more of the types found in Utah and hopefully search them out!
    Dr. Oz

  8. As a child, I found many frogs and excitedly brought them home. Today my children do the same – it is great to see that excitement in their eyes.
    Greta blog!
    Kind regards.

  9. Anthony Washington

    Frogs are an amazing amphibian, so many intricacies that people don’t know about. Aside from helping us with the bug population, as you pointed out “Recently, scientists developed a drug for the treatment of brain tumors based on an enzyme contained within the eggs of Northern Leopard Frogs”
    they have other distinct characteristics that can help us in the science field.

  10. Search License Plates

    As a child growing up in California, I had the opportunity to attend the Calaveras County Frog Jumping Championship one year. I had no idea how big of a deal it was back then.

    After moving to Tennessee, I noticed several species of frogs in the area. I can even name at least two communities that are called “Frog Jump”. One is right down the street from a town called “Skull Bone”. I just wonder where Tennessee comes up with those names.

  11. so glad to locate info about frogs . I have had this summer many small frogs in the flower pots here. ( St. George ).. I have little information on them; I did see that Boreal Tree Frogs are in BC, so perhaps that is not what I have here. I do have some photos I could forward, perhaps/ thanks for any info……..Pat

  12. just heard you w/ katie noble’s this green earth….good job!

    I feel compelled to tell you about a chorus of frogs heard when biking the ‘flat’ eastern section of the Glendwild mt. bike trail.

    It is a seasonal wet land area abutte to Bitner road just prior to the Glendwild Residential entrance. Mountain trails has built board walks over this area. Crossing this area May 20th’11, about 3pm I was amazed and delighted to hear numerous frogs ‘croaking’. I did not know they could exist there.

    I realize this indicates a healthy environment, gives me hope for this community.

    regards,
    tina
    Park City,UT

  13. Hi Chris,

    I came across this post when looking for info on Utah frog populations. Such fun to read! I sent an email to help with the surveys. Hope I hear back.

  14. we been over run by what apears to be columbia spotted frogs. Does anyone know why so many and why now?

  15. I have a large pond in my backyard and would love to attract native frogs. Is that possible? Do they need more to their habitat than the pond and pond plants?

  16. We saw a frog while hiking Taylor Creek. I have a photo if there is someplace to send it. Would like to know what it is. It was different looking. Very light colored with red spots – sort of.

  17. Can some if the frogs hide in windowsills ? In st. Goerge??

  18. I live in an hoa in st. George. We have ponds in the complex. In these ponds are a two critters. One is a toad that has a loud scream. The other is a frog that makes a more typical ribbit sound. What are these two amphibians?

  19. I have found some wild pond frogs and i do not know what kind of frog it is they are pale green with little orange dots on their back, can any body tell me what kind it is?

  20. I have found some wild pond frogs in Tooele and i do not know what kind of frog it is they are pale green with little orange dots on their back, can any body tell me what kind it is?

  21. I love our frogs…our daughters and a friend captured 5 large tadpoles out of a stream a couple of months ago and now I frequently see 3 frogs with tails sitting on the lily pad in my small pond in my garden. I love nature and especially the “little things” like frogs, birds, fish etc…thank you for your blog, I enjoy reading it.

  22. i cant find the frog i’m looking for

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