At 12:30AM on a Friday morning, the Mother Lode Field office is a peaceful place. Coming back after a late-night survey, motion activated lights lit the way back to my cube in an otherwise dark and quiet office. Between the coolness of the outside air and the tranquility of the empty office, my coworkers and I agreed that the night shift really wasn’t so bad.
We had gone out to do a survey of California red-legged frogs, a federally endangered species found on the coast and in the Sierra Nevada foothills. As a plant person, I knew very little about the frog, and decided I should do some googling before heading to work that evening. I read up about the ecology and distinguishing features of the red legged frog. But what stuck with me most from my crash course was that the red legged frog is California’s official state amphibian. I hadn’t realized that official state amphibians existed in the first place, and there I was about to get a privileged glimpse at California’s own in its natural habitat.
As it turns out, 20 states have official state amphibians, and two have unofficial amphibians. The list is dominated by frogs and salamanders, with newts and toads making the occasional appearance. The momentum to give the California red-legged frog this distinction began with an after-school program at an elementary school where students learned about how bills become laws. They made posters and buttons for the red-legged frog, and initiated a considerable letter writing campaign.
On June 29, 2014, Governer Jerry Brown signed a bill into law designating the red-legged frog as the state amphibian. On January 1, 2015, the designation became official. On June 30, 2015, after a quick lesson in frog handling, I got to have a photo-op with one of California’s amphibian ambassadors.