Frogs, toads, and salamanders… oh my!
It goes without saying that amphibians are truly amazing! Making their way into the world through the swirling lull of underwater sound, amphibians are destined for lives defined simultaneously by change and balance. Beginning as larvae, many amphibians begin their life cycle in water, eventually transforming into semi-aquatic or terrestrial animals. As adults, amphibians such as frogs and salamanders seek an intricate harmony on land and in water to regulate body temperature and maintain enough moisture on their permeable skin.
With such distinct habitat needs, protecting amphibians presents conservation challenges as species face habitat loss and degradation, among other threats. #AmphibianWeek celebrates the important role amphibians play in sustaining biodiversity and raises awareness of the peril facing amphibian species in the wild.
This week also recognizes the ongoing collaborative conservation efforts in place to provide a hopeful future for amphibians. Here’s what we’ve been up to:
North America’s largest salamander, the eastern hellbender, can reach almost 30 inches from head to tail! They are found in shallow streams between southern New York and northern Georgia, with some populations as far west as Kansas and Oklahoma. These huge salamanders need fast-moving, well-oxygenated water in order to survive, so when humans modify stream environments with dams and channelization, it can be devastating for hellbender populations.
ARC is partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Defenders of Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Southwestern Hellbender Conservation Initiative to protect hellbenders by creating new nesting habitats on private lands and educating community members through the Cumberland plateau of Tennessee about these important salamanders.
The lifecycle of the gopher frog embodies amphibian versatility; as tadpoles they swim through flooded wetlands, but as adults they hide out in dry holes and burrows underground. This species also depends on seasonal rainfall – if it doesn’t rain enough, the tadpoles will be unable to survive, but if it rains too much, aquatic predators can invade their habitat.
To give gopher frogs the best chance at survival, ARC and partners transport gopher frogs into protected care during the most vulnerable of their life stages – while they are still eggs. A multi-agency collaboration that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is working on these head-starting efforts to increase the gopher frog population. In 2019, the first year of the program, 243 froglets were safely released back into their natural habitat. The most recent gopher frog season saw Bears Bluff National Fish Hatchery at full capacity with gopher frog eggs!
In order to protect the diversity of amphibian life, it is critical that we understand what species are present, which is part of why herpetological research is so important. In 2019, ARC’s Director of Conservation Science, Dr. JJ Apadoca, was part of a team that described a new species of Green salamander (Aneides caryaensis) in North Carolina. These rare salamanders have prehensile tails which make them excellent climbers. By describing the salamander as a new species, scientists opened doors to possible new legal protections for the species and highlighted the need for conservationists to protect their limited habitat from human encroachment.
Head over to our Facebook to see more information about the importance of amphibians, the threats they face, and how you can help them!
If you don’t receive ARC’s free newsletter, subscribe here!