By Phoebe Coburn, Communications Specialist for Teton Conservation District
When you’re doing any kind of wildlife survey, it’s not great protocol to shout when you find the animal you’re looking for. But when I was invited to do amphibian surveys last week, I couldn’t help but shriek whenever I spotted a frog or toad, “Look! Look! Morgan! Another one! Morgan! I found another one!” What can I say, I find frogs “ribbiting” (like riveting, get it?).
Morgan, the GIS & Wildlife Specialist for Teton Conservation District, is much better at keeping his cool around cold-blooded creatures. I guess that’s why they keep me in the office and Morgan gets to go look for wildlife. Thankfully, Morgan was patient with me, and the frogs and toads didn’t seem to mind my enthusiasm too much.
Morgan has collected data on local amphibians for the past three years as part of the Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project. The statewide program works with agencies, organizations, and citizen scientists to track regional amphibian populations. Here in Wyoming, we have five frogs, six toads, and one salamander. In Teton County, common species you might spot are boreal chorus frogs, Columbia spotted frogs, western boreal toads, and tiger salamanders. These species have adapted to the winters here by hibernating at the bottom of deep ponds or streams that don’t freeze, or they burrow into the ground where the temperature is always above freezing.
Amphibians are struggling worldwide; forty-one percent of all amphibian species are either extinct or threatened with extinction. Known threats to amphibians regionally include chytrid fungus, invasive predators, habitat loss and fragmentation, and chemicals and pollutants such as pesticides and herbicides. In past years, Morgan has swabbed frogs and toads right here in Teton County for chytrid fungus, a disease that causes lethargy, behavior changes, weight loss, and red splotching or sloughing of skin. Ultimately, the disease can kill our frog and toad friends by inhibiting their ability to breathe through their skin. In 2017, Morgan found that of the 28 toads and frogs he swabbed for chytrid in Teton County, 15 individuals tested positive for chytrid. Across the state, nine of Wyoming’s twelve amphibian species have tested positive.
Chytrid fungus is invisible to the human eye. The fungus can’t survive outside of water and sunlight kills it, so all you have to do to reduce the risk of spreading chytrid is dry out your boots and equipment in direct sunlight between trips to a wetland, lake, pond, creek or river. Take this into consideration especially when you’re moving from one watershed or drainage to another. Amphibians should never be moved from their habitat and it’s best to just avoid touching them all together because things like lotions, sunscreens, soap, and oil on our hands can harm them. But, if you can’t help it, shouting with excitement doesn’t seem to bother them.