Thursday, August 7, 2014

Friday Night Frog Calls!

     Yes! Friday night! The streets are hopping, the concerts are rocking, and the city night life is just waking up! Should I party with friends? Hit up the non-sanctioned street races? or just cruise O Street with some friends? Nope, I've got a better idea. I'm going to go catch some frogs!!! That's right, I'll be attending the Acris and Anaxyrus party tonight!
      As I load the 230, which is the herpetology department's monster truck of a field vehicle, I think back to last Monday, when I was out doing research at the marsh, and all the frogs were calling. I'm talking about Cricket Frogs, Cope's Grey Tree Frogs, Chorus Frogs, the Leopard Frogs were just starting to call, and most importantly Anaxyrus woodhousii, the Woodhouse's Toad!
The star for tonight! The one and only Anaxyrus woodhousii
     I need Woodhouse's Toad tadpoles for my research, and I must find out where they are calling so I can either collect a male-female pair or come back and collect some eggs after they've been laid.
     We've had a lot of water come in the past few weeks to fill the swamps and ponds where these species call and breed in. And now with the marshes full and the temps producing some warmer nights, these frogs are ready to party and try to find themselves a mate.
     As I pull into the nature park, and turn off the ignition of the vehicle, I sit still for a moment, just to let the dark night air fill back into the area where my head lights used to blaze. It's a balmy 68 degree night, and the moon is shining through some fair weather cumulus clouds just above me. Before I even open the door, I can hear the faint chorus of my amphibian friends all around me. I load my pack, strap up my head lamp, and clip the truck keys to my waist with a carabiner.
     As I open the door, the beauty of the night floods into whole vehicle! What at first appeared as one pugnacious blare of noise, soon turned into a complex medley of individual songs! I could pick out each species within! Acris blanchardii and Pseudacris maculata were keeping steady time as Hyla crysoselis, filled some harmonious transitions in the song, and our featured soloist tonight was Anaxyrus woodhousii! The Woodhouse's toad!
      Check out the frog call video I made from the night's adventures!
     I wasted no time getting down to the swamp! This whole place was an over grown, over sized garden of aquatic vegetation! Every leaf was covered with the starting of dew, I was already soaked before I even got to the water. I dropped my shoes and pack and B-lined it toward a pair of waling Woodhouse's Toads. As I neared the two Anaxyri, their eye's shined back the white light of my head lamp, and I remembered just how easy it is to sneak in close to these frogs at night!
     The Woodhouse's toad is usually a tan or grey-brown color with dark blotches and warts to give it a camo pattern to blend in with the ground cover. They are very similar to the American Toad, Anaxyrus americanus, but the Woodhouse's Toad has a narrower, more elongated, parotoid gland, which touches the posterior part of the cranial ridge. They eat insects and other arthropods, and their eggs are laid in one long strand instead of a clump of eggs like other frogs. The Woodhouse's call sounds like a nasally WAAAAAAAAAAAH! So now you can listen for it next May/June.

This Woodhouse's Toad is one from the lab.

      After filming the toad's call and and checking to see if any were females (I need females for my research.... Actually I need eggs, and the females are where the eggs come from) I replaced the toads back to their prime real-estate right on the water's edge and off I went to the next calling frog species.
     As I work my way down the bank, I spot a pair of huge eyes, and then I saw the huge body they belonged to! The Bullfrog! What a beast! sitting, in all his predatory might, on the swamp shore, just waiting for something he could fit in his mouth to wander by. Bullfrogs are an invasive species here in Nebraska. Bullfrogs were introduced to much of the West and Midwestern US via frog farmers, and they are commonly harvested for their tasty back legs. Bullfrogs are 7+ inches of lean, mean, frog eating machines! 80% of their diet consists of other frog species (Collins 2010). They are absolute tanks! and they sure do cause quite a problem for our native species! And while I'm all for progressive management of invasive species, I never take a life without a purpose, and since I'm not planning to eat this bullfrog, I reluctantly let him go.
This Plains Leopard Frog is closely related to the Bullfrog in that they
are both
 Lithobates genus, but the Leopard frog doesn't posse near as much
predation threat around here as the Bullfrogs do.
     Not long after I released the Bullfrog, I tuned into another beauty of a frog song! This sensational exotic sounding tune singled the presents of a Cope's Grey Tree Frog! This being Nebraska's arboreal frog, I was excited to showcase his climbing abilities!

Hyla chrysoscelis  or the Cope's Grey Tree Frog has a beautiful trill call
and can occur in this grey coloration or a green coloration seen to the left.
     He had stretched his body out, nice and long, to allow maximal expansion of the vocal sac. What a champion caller! And loud too! After I filmed his call, I caught the little stud and let him climb on my hand and arm. The Cope's Grey Tree Frog has special mucus secreting sacs on the pads of their digits, and this is what gives them the ability to climb on almost any surface. The neat thing about tree frogs, is their legs are relatively skinny compared to the legs of other frogs that end up doing a lot more jumping to evade predators. No, the Cope's Grey Tree Frog isn't the most ambitious when it comes to active defense strategies. It usually just sits still, and relies on it's cryptic coloration, to avoid predation. And believe me, the natural camo pattern on this frog is a work of art! Mossy Oak and Real Tree camo clothing makers could learn a thing or two from this guy!
     As the night rolled on, the beat was grooving just as sweet as ever, and then I heard a heavy swish through the grass on the bank! I was not alone in the swamp tonight; something, or somebody, else was just 60 yards away, in the tall growth. I had never thought about other humans coming back here to this special access area. What could they be doing? drug dealers? love birds? burglars? The grasses shivered as the swamp intruder advanced towards me, and then he appeared! It was a masked bandit! I caught the glint of his eyes as the raccoon stood up, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing I only had a raccoon to photograph rather than a potentially difficult human to deal with.
     As I drift back to where I had left my shoes, I'm felt well satisfied with my findings for the night. But as I pick up my shoes and socks, I recognize one more species of frog out of the orchestra of calling. It was the Chorus frog. Admittedly, the Chorus Frog's call was the underlying heartbeat to the sweet song tonight, and every night, even during the day time too. Chorus Frogs are the first to start calling very early in the spring time, and they're more than likely the classic frog call you'll hear throughout spring until early summer. Their accelerating "Creee, creee, cree, cree, cree" call can even be heard far from water in a low land tree thicket.
     As a boy, I used to fall asleep with my windows open at night, so I could listen to the frog calls as I went to sleep. It was a sweet reminder of what I'm so passionate about. Wildlife! And now as I visit swamps at night to conduct the research I dreamed about as a little boy, I can whole-heartedly say I'm living my dream! But there's a whole world of wildlife out there, and I'm just getting started.
     I hope you'll enjoy my wild adventures all around the world too! Check Wildimpact's Facebook, Twitter, or G+ pages for more awesome adventures!

Friendly Faces in New Territory: Virginia Part 2

     On day three of our Virginia adventure, Jenae and I went for a morning hike up in the rocks just outside of a small town near Meadow View. I must say, Jenae is a pretty amazing friend, because not only does she put up with me always catching wildlife, she's willing to go just about any place I want to go.
      What a beautiful morning! In humid forests like Virginia Appalachians, a fog like steam is very common in the mornings, and many of the large waxy leaves of the undergrowth are coated in water and glisten in the morning sun. A lush forest like this would be unusual if it didn't have the morning songs of many different bird species to light the atmosphere for the day.
This skink was our first of many animals of the day!
      So as we geared up to go bouldering and flip a few rocks, I spotted a familiar flicker across a rock. Maybe it's just me, but I think the way a skink moves is very easy to notice from afar; that quick, jerky, start-stop motion was all I needed, and I jumped off the tail gate and power walked right over to the log it was on. I was able to snap a few decent pictures before he bolted off.
       I sure was jazzed by this early sighting! Hopefully there would be many more to come! Jenae and I took off up the first trail we could find. It was actually quite a steep little climb! I was stoked because these were excellent rocks for climbing, and this particular portion of the hike produced some spectacular views!

     Towards the middle of our hiking day, we weren't really in any special habitat,; just the usually hiking trail with a few rocks here and there. I told Jenae I was going to go check a few rocks up by a seepage, a little ways off the trail. Upon my return, just before I met up with Jenae, I spotted a small movement of blaze orange that seemed to appear out of the end of a small log. I froze in my tracks, not daring to possibly spoke whatever it was! As I looked down, I was elated to see the Red-spotted Newt, the eft stage too! What a treat!
    The Red-spotted Newt, Notothalmus viridescens viridescens, is easily the prettiest colored amphibian in my opinion. This newt has three different stages in it's life. It starts its life as an aquatic larvae. At this point, the newt cannot travel from water and relies heavily on its branching network of external gills to breath. The gills soon disappear, and a blaze orangish red coloration covers the terrestrial eft stage. During this stage, the eft is fully able to travel over land, and often times travels quite far. This serves as a dispersal method, and ensures diversity in the gene pool. Finally, after about two years as an eft, the Red-spotted Newt reverts back to a fully aquatic breeding adult stage for the rest of its life. The Red-spotted Newt commonly lives 13-15 years in the wild. It feeds on insects, mulluscs, crustacians, and eggs. And even though, this Newt will release a toxin when attacked or injured, only about 2% of the larvae will make it to the eft stage. Which is why I'm so pumped to have found this little gem!

      The trail continued to skirt the inside of this pocket in a mountain side. The cool thing about the mountains here is with every inward curve, water funnels into a small stream that skips across the rocks and through most of these hiking trails. This makes for some very convenient salamander habitat!
      Further up the trail, as a small stream cut across, the rocks on the downhill side of the trail had formed a mighty little cliff with a sweet waterfall. And it just so happened that our trail took us right to the base of the waterfall. How convenient! After exploring this beautiful master piece, I decided to walk this drainage down to the road instead of taking the trail back; it was only a couple hundred yards down the hill anyways, and the drainage was full of pools, rocks, and some fast water spots too. It had all sorts of great habitat I couldn't pass it up.
      On my descending climb through the drainage, I saw several other Salamanders, mostly Black Mountain Salamanders, but I got to observe them in their natural routines. They seemed content to relax on a moss covered rock as the water occasionally splashed up on them. Though, when they were hunting, they would swim through the crystal clear pools, searching the cracks and hide hole of small arthropods. Many times they would mouse around rocks, only to slip into a hole to check the underside of the rock for food items; this behavior reminded me of the way a weasel or mink busily searches the rocks on a lake shore, slipping under and over each rock to find their food.

      I was slightly surprised I had stayed mostly dry coming down the drainage, as I jumped from one slippery rock to the next. I guess if you spend enough time in the outdoors you understand your limits pretty well.