Meet your local frog neighbours—and invaders

The many frog varieties croaking in Fraser Valley backyards, how to identify them, and who to call when you figure out what that noise is.

By Grace Kennedy | July 9, 2021 |10:32 pm

It’s dark, and stars are dimly shining above the mountains. You’re outside with a warm summer breeze tickling the leaves. What do you hear?

If there is a pond or wetland a kilometre away—and in the Fraser Valley there often is—you might hear the low foghorn call of a bullfrog. If the pond is closer, you might hear the sound of a plucked rubber band coming from an adult green frog, or the cricket-like ribbit of a Northern Pacific treefrog. If you’re particularly lucky, you may hear the stuttering call of the red-legged frog or even the rapid staccato of the Oregon spotted frog.

Approaching the pond you may hear the “eep!” cries of a juvenile bullfrog, and a splash as it flees into the water. Bullfrogs aren’t indigenous to British Columbia—they are naturally found in eastern Canada and the United States, but were introduced to BC by people wanting to farm them for their meaty legs. Bullfrogs are much larger than any other frogs in the Fraser Valley, and eat pretty much anything that fits in their mouth. That includes traditional frog fare such as insects and invertebrates, but also ducklings, smaller bullfrogs, and native frog species—nearly all of which are at risk. (The green frog, another introduced species that looks similar to the bullfrog, also impacts local frogs by competing for habitat, but doesn’t tend to snack on them like the bullfrog does.)

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Perhaps those local, at-risk frogs are hanging out in your pond, stream, or wetland. That’s what the Fraser Valley Conservancy wants to know, especially if you live in the Hatzic Valley. “I’m particularly excited about finding some of those species at risk in that area,” Jennifer Barden, herpetofauna project coordinator at the Conservancy, told The Current. “It’s an area we really don’t know that much about, so to find a red-legged frog out there… would be very exciting to learn about. We don’t think that the people in these areas know what frog species are around… so the opportunity to learn with the land owner is really exciting for us.”

Right now, Barden is asking residents in the Hatzic Valley to send any sightings of frogs or their eggs to outreach@fraservalleyconservancy.ca. She hopes that eventually the Conservancy will be able to work with property owners to visit their ponds, swamps, and streams to learn more about the frogs and their habitat.

Barden has already heard from a number of residents who have found the northern Pacific tree frog in their garden sheds and boots. The tree frog (also known as the Pacific chorus frog) can be any colour from pale grey to emerald green, and is described as “a very appealing little frog.” Despite their ubiquitous presence in the Lower Mainland, these might be hard to find: they go silent when they feel threatened, although their chorus can be deafening on rainy evenings.

Other frogs might also be found in the Hatzic Valley, and elsewhere in the Fraser Valley. These include the tailed frog, a silent frog found primarily in clear mountain streams. These tiny frogs (about the size of a quarter) never make a sound and don’t even have eardrums. Researchers think they may be able to sense vibration in the water instead. Tailed frogs keep their vestigial tail after the tadpole stage (although this only happens in males) and can live up to 20 years, making them among the longest-lived frogs in the world.

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The most vulnerable of our local frogs is the Oregon spotted frog, found only in a few pockets of the Fraser Valley. They prefer shallow warm-water marshes, like those that surrounded Sumas Lake before it was drained a century ago. Now the frogs are found in only 4 spots in Canada: Aldergrove, where the frogs have almost disappeared; Mountain Slough, located on Mount Woodside; Maria Slough, located next to Seabird Island; and Morris Valley, near the Harrison River. Oregon spotted frogs are often confused with another local amphibian—the more ubiquitous, but still at-risk, red-legged frog. A few crucial differences can tell these two apart: red-legged frogs have gold eyes oriented to the side, rather than upwards, and the underside of their legs are translucent red, giving the impression you are looking at the muscle beneath the skin. Like other frogs, red-legged males call after females in the early spring, but unlike other frogs they tend to do so underwater, sometimes up to a metre beneath the surface.

“Their available habitat is decreasing,” Barden said about all local frogs, “so we’re looking for those last frog habitats.” The Hatzic Valley is one spot, but the Fraser Valley Conservancy has other frog-related projects too, including restoration work in Ryder Lake. The organization also has a Frog Finder program, where people can share about frogs they may have seen or heard.

“We’re hoping to find diverse frogs [in the Hatzic Valley], but really… we just want to see what frog species are out there, what people are seeing,” Barden said. “We just want to start a frog-centric conversation.”

This story appeared in the July 9 edition of the Fraser Valley Current daily newsletter. To get every story in your inbox every morning subscribe in the form above.

Grace Kennedy

Reporter at Fraser Valley Current

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