Categories: AdventuresCentralHabitatWork

A focus on frogs

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

View Comments (27)

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • We have a water feature in our back yard. Last year we had one frog croaking out there, now this year it sounds like we have 3 or 4. Since we live in Southwestern Utah - in the desert - this seems unusual to hear this group serenading during the night. The sounds are more akin to what we would associate with a Florida swamp. We have recorded the sounds.

  • years back about 10 years ago in st george Utah i seen alot of small frogs around where i live i followed them to a now dry pond and i seen a 12 inch or so toad that made thump plop sound that was relative to its weight. well i have not seen it but it looked like a arizona toad but was much more bigger than anything i had seen ever in size of frogs

  • Wow! This was soon helpful. I'm here in Salt Lake and went for a walk near the airport. I thought I heard frogs, but was confused since I am in the high desert. I Googled frogs in Utah and I clicked on your site and found the frog based on the sound you listed.....the chorus frog. Keep up your great work, you're a natural "Davie Crocket"!

  • I am now 57 years old but as a boy growing up in Kamas I spent a lot of time in the Uintas and one thing I remember was that there were frogs and toads everywhere in the high Uintas but now when I go there i seldom if ever see or even hear a frog. Also as a young man I remember that it rained EVERY single day almost in the uintas and now it seems like rain is few and far between. What happen to all the frogs in the Uintas? Is there loss another impact of global warming? Or am I wrong about there demise?