Save Land and Save Frogs with the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust

by Sim Barrow

It is just after sunset as I make my way through the dense grass and shallow pools at Wilson Springs Preserve in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The thunderstorms from earlier in the day have subsided, and the horizon glows with the remaining light of the day.  With clipboard and pencil in hand, I stop at the edge of an embankment and wait. After a few minutes, the relative quiet is interrupted by a chorus of leopard frogs, American toads and spring peepers.  These are the sounds that drew me to the site, and are the reason for my evening visit to the Preserve.

Frog and toad activity at Wilson Springs Preserve is no small matter for the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. Protecting wildlife habitat is one of our highest priorities in our work to conserve the natural landscapes of our region.  Whether through conservation easements or by receiving land as a donation, we ensure that those lands will continue to serve as a place for wildlife forever, even as the human population grows.

Of course, seeing the land preserved is just the beginning. With each conserved property we commit to the ongoing stewardship of the land, which includes biomonitoring, or the tracking of native plant and animal species like frogs and toads. The information we gain from biomonitoring is used to inform land management practices like restoration activities and invasive plant removal. It also serves as an indicator of the overall health of the habitat. Because frogs and toads are such great indicator species, it makes sense for the land trust to specifically monitor for them.

For this reason, we are excited to integrate the FrogWatch USA frog monitoring program into our biomonitoring plan.  Citizen-science programs are an excellent way to engage with the community and help people enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. It is also a helpful resource for nonprofits like the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust that have limited staff capacity.  We look forward to recruiting and training new FrogWatch volunteers in 2017 to help us monitor frogs and toads on some of our properties.  It’s also a great opportunity for current volunteers to explore new areas and support local conservation efforts.

Join me and the other NWA Chapter Coordinators this February 25 from 1pm-6pm for the first FrogWatch training workshop of the year. The workshop will be held at the Historic Ozark Mountain Smokehouse (1725 Smokehouse Trail Fayetteville, AR 72701). There will be a special trip to our Wilson Springs Preserve following the workshop, where we will practice the skills taught in the training. We may even hear crawfish frogs making their characteristic “snoring” sound! Contact sbarrow@nwalandtrust.org to register for the training.

With your help, we can all protect habitat for frogs and toads in Northwest Arkansas. Thank you, volunteers, for your commitment to frog and toad conservation!


Save the Frogs Day – April 2014

Save the Frogs Day

L-R Kaitlyn Zamzow, Chelsea Korfel, MaryAnne Stansbury, Jeremy Chamberlain, Peggy & Tom Krohn

Save the Frogs Day – Saturday, April 26th

Peg and I spent an enjoyable afternoon at Pinnacle Mountain State Park south of Little Rock on Saturday. Jeremy Chamberlain and Chelsea Korfel brought several frogs and toads including bullfrogs, a chorus frog, green treefrogs, a dwarf American toad, a southern leopard frog, and an eastern narrow-mouthed toad.

Maryanne Stansbury, the park interpreter, was a great host for the event which drew many families.  The kids were shown how to fold a business card into a frog and then race them.

Save the Frogs Day brings public attention to the importance of amphibians, why they are in trouble, and what can be done to help them.  They can be indicators that the environment is in trouble.

Check out the website at www.savethefrogs.com


Garden Frogs

Why Garden Frogs and Toads are Beneficial

Garden Frog

1) First and foremost: Frogs and toads eat a LOT of insects.  One individual can eat as many as 10,000 insects in a season.  They do their eating at night so they are not bothered by your gardening chores.  Get rid of your ants, mosquitoes and their larvae, sow bugs, flies, earwigs, slugs, cucumber beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, cutworms, and pill bugs.  Turn them into fertilizer through the stomachs of garden frogs and toads.

2) Garden frogs and toads are interesting, benign, and fun creatures.  Children and adults love them.  However, they do have some nasty chemical compounds on their skin, so if you handle them, please wash your hands afterward, and keep your hands away from your face or mouth until you do.

3) Their songs help to thaw out our frozen bones after a hard winter.  Can you imagine camping out in the Spring and not hearing lots of frogs and toads calling for their mates?  That would truly be an alarming “silent spring.”

4) Garden frogs and toads are environmental indicators.  They spend part of their life cycles in water and part on land.  They absorb moisture and oxygen through their permeable skins.  If there is something amiss with the environment, you will notice the consequences sooner with frogs and toads than with your own symptoms.  So if you have lots of frogs and toads around, your water and air are pretty good.

How to Attract Garden Frogs and Toads

1) Garden frogs and toads need three things: shelter, water, and something to eat (insects).

2) They need hiding places: shrubs, logs, piles of rocks, leaf litter, toad houses, a pond.

About toad houses: You can buy great looking, decorative toad houses, but you might not want to put them in your garden for toads.  Try turning a terracotta flower pot upside down with a door broken out of the side.  Or dig a trench and lay a log on top of it with an entrance at each end.  Be sure to place it under a shrub or other shade to keep it cool in the Summer.  Make sure your toad house is open on the bottom and the entry is big enough (4 inches will do).

3) They need hibernating places: leaf litter, ponds, burrows.  Some frogs hibernate at the bottom of a pond and shut down their systems until Spring.

About leaf litter: Don’t be too quick to rake up all your leaves in the Fall.  Many animals, including frogs and toads, use piles of leaves for protection in the Winter.  When they stir in the Spring there will be lots of bugs to eat in the leaf litter.

4) They need water: Frogs need to be near ponds year round.  Toads need ponds during the mating season.  Here are some hints about building a frog/toad pond:

– Make it deep enough so it won’t freeze solid in the Winter (18 inches or more).

– Frogs and toads like still water, so use a minimum fountain or no fountain.

– The tadpoles will keep your pond clean of algae.

– Frogs and toads will keep it clean of mosquitoes and larvae.

How to keep them Healthy

1) Avoid using pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.  Use natural plantings that are hardy without chemical help.

2) Keep grass around the pond cut short.  Frogs and toads will hide in long grass so you cannot see them, and then will not survive a mower blade.

3) Don’t put fish in your pond.  Fish will eat tadpoles.

4) Provide places to bask and hide.  How about laying a log part in, part out of the pond.  A pile of rocks is a great place to sun bath and hide if necessary.

5) If you use mesh to cover some of your garden crops:  Use a mesh with 1 1/2″ square holes or greater to keep the frogs and toads from getting entangled.

6) Domestic pets:  Do your best to keep your dog and cat separate from your garden frogs and toads.

Timing Considerations

Fowler's Toad

Copyright Anita Hayden

 Mrs. Frog says, “If you build it, they will come.”  Give the garden frogs and toads in your neighborhood time to populate your little piece of paradise naturally.

Don’t try to capture frogs and toads elsewhere and bring them to your place – they will probably either try to migrate back home or possibly die.

And DON’T buy frogs or toads from a pet store and introduce them to your garden.  They are not native creatures.  They will become an invasive species and disrupt the natural balance of your local ecosystem.

It may take a couple of seasons for your garden frog and toad population to balance out, but you will be glad for the effort you put in to attract them.


Frog Call Timing

Frog Calling Phenology (timing)

When do the frogs and toads start to call?  This frog call timing chart will help you practice before you go out to the pond to monitor.

Late Winter/Early Spring: Wood Frogs; Spring Peepers; Southern Leopard Frogs; Chorus Frogs; Pickerel Frog; Crawfish Frog

Spring: American Bullfrog; Dwarf American Toads; Blanchard’s Cricket Frog

Late Spring/Summer: Fowler’s Toad; Green Frog; All the Treefrogs

Anytime after a heavy rain: Narrow-mouthed Toads; Spadefoots


FrogWatch Field Scope Tutorials now available

Watch UTube Tutorials for FrogWatch Field Scope here:

Frog Watch Field Scope Data Entry Tutorialhttp://youtu.be/0i6gNbAUvYg

Frog Watch Field Scope Mapping Tutorialhttp://youtu.be/cVCLfuJIFyU

Frog Watch Field Scope Graphing Tutorialhttp://youtu.be/CYCT7YIje7I

Frog Watch Field Scope Calling Calendar Tutorialhttp://youtu.be/nw26kUki_us

Frog Watch Field Scope Playlist (4 videos above)http://bit.ly/1k4Rw7h 

FrogWatch Field Scope Database Tutorial

Learn how to enter your own observation data, map and graph the sites and observations from around the country. You can check out what frogs and toads have been heard in your area and when they started and stopped calling.  A unique feature allows you to view map and graphic data simultaneously on a split screen.

For more in depth knowledge about Frog Watch Field Scope, attend a Frog Watch Workshop scheduled around Arkansas.  Click here for the training schedule.


American Bullfrog

American BullfrogThis handsome fellow is Lithobates catesbianus – otherwise known as the American Bullfrog.  He is native to North America and was packaged up and sent to the Swedish biologist, Carl von Linné (1707-1778) by Mark Catesby in colonial times.  Linné established the order of taxonomy that remains in use today.  He named the new frog Rana catesbiana in Catesby’s honor.  The original binomial nomenclature name has recently been updated.

Jump forward a couple hundred years and we find that the American Bullfrog has expanded its original eastern range.  Those large juicy legs have found their way onto many a dinner plate and to meet the demand frog farms were created throughout the country.  Many of the frogs, being the mobile creatures that they are, escaped into the local habitat.  Consequently, the American Bullfrog is now found in the wild throughout America.  This is good news, bad news, but before we get into that, let’s learn a little bit more about this guy.

The American Bullfrog is an amphibian which means it lives two lives – one in water and one on land.  He starts out as an egg in a thin gelatinous egg sheet with hundreds or thousands of sibling eggs.  His mother heard the deep-voiced “Rumm rumm rrrrrumm” of his father near some large pond and answered the call.  Father may have had to wrestle with other American Bullfrogs in order to maintain his good calling spot.  Mother’s ears were tuned to father’s call and she chose the strongest that she heard.  This all happened in spring or early summer.

The eggs that survive predators hatch into tadpoles in four or five days and may spend the next year transforming into a frog through metamorphosis.  As a tadpole (also known as a pollywog) he will use his unique jaws to eat plant matter and detritus (the dead matter that collects at the bottom of the pond).  He breathes with gills and also absorbs oxygen and water through his skin.  He gets around with his tail, like a fish, so he can swim away from predators or hide on the bottom.  Nevertheless, most American Bullfrog tadpoles will never make it to frog-hood.

As an adult, the American Bullfrog is the largest North American frog.  Adults can range from about 3″ to 8″ in length from tailbone to snout.  Frogs are ectothermic animals which means they depend on the environment to maintain their body temperature.  Birds and mammals (like us) use most of their calorie intake to maintain their body heat.  On the other hand, the frog’s calories can go into new growth.  American Bullfrogs continue to grow throughout their lives for up to eight years.

Notice some of the physical characteristics of thisAmerican Bullfrog fine specimen to the right.  He has horizontal pupils that are capable of looking forward, backward, up and down.  His eardrums (tympanums) are located directly behind the eyes.  Tympanums of male frogs are larger than the eyes – females tympanums are about the same size as the eyes.  His green skin is smooth and he has no folds of skin running in parallel lines down his back (dorsolateral folds) like his cousin the green frog.  His legs are long for leaping and his back feet are webbed for swimming.  He is a light color underneath which is typical for frogs and toads.  A bird looking down on the frog in the water would see a dark green shape that blends into the color of the pond bottom.  A fish looking up at the frog would see a light colored shape that blends into the color of the sky.  The two lumps on the back are typical of an older American Bullfrog.  The males make their call with a pair of vocal sacs that extend out on both sides of their throat.

Bullfrog RacesThe good news is that American Bullfrogs play an important role in the ecosystem by controlling insects and providing food along the food chain in its three phases.  Frog legs are enjoyed by many, and are said to taste like chicken.  Kids and adults can get up close and personal with them in activities like the bullfrog races held at the annual Rayne, Louisiana Frog Festival.

The bad news is that American Bullfrogs are voracious eaters and will swallow anything that they can fit into their mouths – including other frogs.  Bullfrogs introduced to a new pond can decimate the local frog population quickly.  In Arkansas, bullfrogs are the only frogs that can be hunted.  You can catch or gig up to 18 of them a day from April to December if you have a fishing license and keep them for personal use only.  No other frogs or toads can be taken from the wild without a capture permit.

Although the American Bullfrog is not on any endangered species list, it is nevertheless susceptible to contaminated water.  Ponds that have been polluted with pesticide and herbicide runoff can do significant damage to frog and toad populations because of their permeable skins.  For example, water concentrations of the herbicide Atrazine that are far below the EPA limit for human drinking water have been shown to create significant problems in frog hormones and breeding.  (Note: Atrazine use has been banned in the European Union for a decade!)

So the American Bullfrog is the Bald Eagle of our frog community.  Learn more about him and his frog and toad cousins at the website dedicated to the little creatures Arkansas Frogs and Toads.  You will also learn to identify all the frogs and toads by their calls and can then contribute to our understanding of them through citizen science.  Become a monitor of frogs and toads through FrogWatch USA.


Latest FrogWatch Newsletter – November 2013

FrogWatch USA™, part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has published their End of Season Newsletter.  It has an article about the new Frog Watch Field Scope database which will be used for the upcoming 2014 season.  Volunteers will now be able to enter their Site Selection information and Observation Datasheets directly into the national database without having to send copies by email or snail mail.  Check out the newsletter by clicking on the FrogWatch USA™ logo here:

AZA-FrogWatch USA Logo - For Web - Fill

FrogWatch USA End of Season Newsletter


What’s the difference between a Frog and a Toad?

This most asked question about frogs and toads is not easy to answer.

Typical Frog

Typical Toad

The following differences are generally true, but there are usually exceptions.

Legs – Frogs have long legs for leaping; Toads have short legs and walk or hop.  That effects how they avoid predators and capture food.  Frogs can leap away from danger, while toads depend more on hiding, camouflage, or skin toxins.

Teeth – Toads have no teeth; most frogs have minor upper teeth.  Both frogs and toads swallow their food whole and have no way to chew their food.  The teeth in frogs are used to prevent the prey from escaping.

Skin – Frogs tend to have smooth, slippery skin (good for streamlined swimming); Toads have dry,warty skin.

Toxins – Both frogs and toads have skins that will release nasty toxins to prevent predators from eating them, but toads have an additional pair of Parotoid glands located behind their eyes that are full of toxins.

Tongues – Frogs have long tongues that will occasionally miss their mark, but their leaping abilities create more eating opportunities.  Toads have shorter tongues so the prey needs to be closer, but they never miss.

Bodies – Frogs tend to be light and slim (so they can jump farther).  Toads tend to be chubby little critters.

Eyes – Frogs eyes tend to be able to see forward, backward, up and down.  Toads eyes face more forward.

Eggs – Frogs lay their eggs singly, in clumps, or in floating films.  Toads lay their eggs in long strands.

It is not wrong to think of toads as frogs with unique characteristics.  Frogs and toads are both amphibians in the order Anura – meaning “tailless.”

Caution – Since frogs and toads both have skins that can secrete toxic substances, it is important that you wash your hands thoroughly after handling one and avoid contact with your eyes, nose, or mouth.