Bethlehem Press

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PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLEA bullfrog raises its temperature in the sun at the edge of a pond. PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLEA bullfrog raises its temperature in the sun at the edge of a pond.

Bud’s View: Amphibians

Friday, October 28, 2016 by BUD COLE Special to The Press in Focus

It is time for the local amphibians to disappear for the winter. Where do they go? They don’t migrate like many birds do.

Can you imagine how long it might take for a frog or toad to hop or a salamander to crawl to Florida? So, what do they do?

When fall temperatures begin to drop, the activity level of the three species of amphibians, frogs, toads and salamanders, tapers off. The activity slows to the point where they stop eating.

Before the heart and respiration functions drop to hibernation levels, an amphibian digs down below the eventual frost line to await the warmer temperatures of early spring. When conditions become favorable again, they return to the surface.

Aquatic species shut down their body functions and lie suspended in water at the bottom of a water source. In this location and body condition, they’re able to draw enough oxygen from the water to stay alive.

A few tree frogs, like the familiar harbinger of spring, the spring peeper, do not worry about falling temperatures. They produce antifreeze that protects from the cold until burrowing into an area of soft soil or on the bottom of a vernal pool, a temporary water source.

I built a small pond in our yard several years ago in a low area that held water long after a period of rain. Blue, our pup, would come in with muddy feet days after a downpour.

The small pond took care of the muddy area, but unfortunately it provided an excellent place for Blue to go wading. He loved it, so we decided a wet pup in the house was better than a muddy one. Water is easier to clean than mud.

I used a black plastic liner that a friend had left over from building a waterfall that channels into a holding tank where a pump recycles the water to the top of the falls. I decided to haul in rocks and build a waterfall, too. It became a major project, but it has been well worth the effort. I enjoy sitting beside the pond listening to the trickling water, watching and feeding the fish and birding.

Amphibians are cold-blooded, or ectothermic, and derive their body temperature from the surrounding temperature. Ectotherms regulate their body temperature by moving from place to place within their habitat. If it is too warm they move to a cooler spot, move back and forth between shaded and sunny areas or in and out of water. This allows them to continually adjust their temperature.

We had two frogs at the pond this year. One, a very dark variety (the species is uncertain) and one that our friend, Gary Pierzga, captured in his parents’ swimming pool. He brought it over and released it in our pond. Gary’s frog is a leopard frog.

Both frogs enjoyed sitting on rocks at the edge of the pond, absorbing the sun’s warmth. They have not been sighted recently because of the cool weather and will probably not be seen again until we also feel the warm sunny rays of spring. Perhaps a week of Indian summer will roust them out, but I doubt it.

The American toad, which is common to the Lehigh Valley, survives in the same way as the land frogs. They dig down into loose soil where the soil insulates the toad’s body from freezing temperatures. I found a toad in mid-October several years ago. I placed it in an old 10-gallon aquarium.

The toad became part of our nature programs and “Adventure Birthday Parties.” The children loved to watch it grab mealworms with its tongue. The tongue is attached at the front of the mouth and unravels like a party noise toy. I have to admit it also entertained me when I fed it at home.

If you’re not sure how to tell a toad from a frog, here’s a tip: Toads have bumpy skin and spend most of their time on land while frogs have relatively smooth skin and spend a major portion of their time in water. Toads need a nearby water source, not to swim, but for a daily soaking. By the way, you cannot get warts from handling a toad nor will a prince appear if you kiss a frog.

When I was a boy, I collected red efts at our cabin in the Poconos at Pecks Pond, Pike County. The vibrant orange red efts with red spots would come out at dawn, dusk and during and after spring rainstorms. I did not realize the spotted orange efts were the temporary land stage in the lifecycle of the spotted olive-green eastern newt. This newt lives in water and the eft on land.

I caught newts with a net in the shallow water at the edge of the lake. What I did not realize was the efts and newts were the same species only at different stages of their lifecycle.

Efts are difficult to keep, but newts are a great way to introduce children to amphibian care. As a youth, I brought both stages of salamander home, but I remember I had no luck keeping the orang efts.

It will be rare to see an amphibian until spring.

That’s the way I see it!

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