The Toad Seekers

Here in the dusty sagebrush  of southern Wyoming, my co-intern Brandon Fessler and I have become just what the title of this post suggests. It took some time to accept that we would find any amphibians in this unkind environment, but once the snows of spring had melted our spirits had begun to improve.

Catch of the day - tiger salamander larvae, yum!

Catch of the day - tiger salamander larvae, yum!

menace

menace

The bulk of our time has been spent driving for hours around the Rawlins BLM field district in search of amphibians wherever they may reside. During these expeditions, ever under the relentless and menacing stare of antelope, we have witnessed the miraculously swift metamorphosis of great basin spadefoot toads in tiny puddles of water and we’ve found tiger salamanders flourishing in the most isolated high desert springs.

A puddle of spadefoot toad tadpoles - hope they live!

A puddle of spadefoot toad tadpoles - hope they live!

Throughout the summer we have had the pleasure of assisting the Fish and Wildlife Service with Endangered Species Act related research. Foremost of these is the wyoming toad (Anaxyrus baxteri) reintroduction program. The endangered Wyoming toad is a close relative of the more common woodhouse’s toad, but is isolated to only a handful of plains lakes just west of Laramie.

Toad surgery (PIT tag being inserted subcutaneous)

Toad surgery (PIT tag being inserted subcutaneous)

Our work with the Wyoming toads involved helping conduct surveys for individuals around these lakes. They were quite scarce, but we managed to come upon a few, including an adult male that Brandon had the privilege of PIT tagging for future identification. Wyoming toads have been thought to abstain from breeding in the wild, but one our co-surveyors did happen to find a young of the year toadlet during our last effort. Perhaps there is still hope for the toads.

Timothy C. R. Barwise
Amphibian Monitoring Intern
BLM – Rawlins Field Office
Rawlins, Wyoming

swabbing for fungus, more fun than it sounds.

swabbing for fungus, more fun than it sounds.

This week Tim and I had the pleasure of being part of an inter-agency toad force, searching in the Snowy Mountains for the declining Boreal Toad (Anaxryus [Bufo] boreas boreas). Joined by our boss, Fisheries Biologist Shawn Anderson, we went out with Wyoming Game and Fish State Herpetologist Zack Walker and his Herp Tech John. Being in the pine forest was a nice change of pace from our usual surveys in the sagebrush flats that make up the majority of the Rawlins field office (even though most of the forest is dead, as a result of a pine beetle infestation, so we just pretend it’s autumn and conifers turn colors… ). To our surprise we found some toads, they were little ones, young of the year, which indicates that at that location the toads are breeding.

Surprise, I'm not extinct!

Boreal Toad - Surprise, I'm not extirpated!

The boreal toad (also know as the western toad) was formally a common amphibian in the west, frequently seen in mountain lakes and wet meadows. Due to a skin fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatitis) and habitat degradation, the toads have been experiencing a severe decline across their range, especially in the Southern Rocky Mountains. In addition to the toads we also found a number of wood frogs, another high elevation amphibian which has been declining in this area, though not nearly as drastically as the boreal toad.

Northern leopard frog

Northern leopard frog

We also spent time this week in the office aggregating our survey data to send to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The leopard frog (Lithobates [Rana] pipiens) is being considered by the USFW for listing as a threatened species in the western part of its range.

Big ol' tiger salamander - tried to bite Tim, but soon gave up

Big ol' tiger salamander - tried to bite Tim, but soon gave up

During our general amphibian surveys this season we came across a number of leopard frog sites and so we took these occurrences from our database, mapped them in GIS, wrote a report and sent it all off. It’s very cool helping with this sort of process, it would be nice knowing our efforts contributed, if only in a minor way, to the protection of these beautiful frogs. This internship has been such an amazing experience, I hope to continue working with wildlife and habitat management in the future.

Brandon Fessler
Amphibian Monitoring Intern
BLM – Rawlins Field Office
Rawlins, Wyoming

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