Week 10, Day 5: Frogs

Canyon treefrogs are common on the Pajarito Plateau, but they don’t spend much time in trees! Look for these frogs blending into rocks or near water in places like Acid Canyon. (Photo by Beth Cortright)

Welcome to Take It Outside! This week, we are getting to know our local reptiles and amphibians, collectively known as herptiles — or herps!

Earlier this week, we met one of our rarest amphibian species, the Jemez Mountains salamander. Today, we meet a more common amphibian on the Pajarito Plateau, the canyon treefrog.

Next week, we are taking a break from creating new Take It Outside content. Instead, we’ll be sharing some of the great online content other New Mexico museums and organizations are creating! Tune in to our website or check PEEC’s social media pages to see who we’re featuring.

Be sure to keep an eye out for a survey next week to give your feedback on what you’d like to see from PEEC for future online content. Have a great weekend!

Upcoming Event:

Tonight at 7 PM, to cap off our week about reptiles and amphibians, astrophysicist Rick Wallace examines competing theories about what really killed the dinosaurs in his live-streamed astronomy talk. His presentation brings in paleontology, atmospheric modeling, explosive hydrodynamics, geology, volcanology, biology, and environmental science! Register here to listen to the talk.

Blog Post:

PEEC’s resident herpetologist and board member Jennifer Macke discusses how canyon treefrogs have adapted to live in our dry climate here in New Mexico. Check it out here!

Craft:

Invite frogs and toads to your yard by building a habitat just for them. Make sure to choose a safe, cool, place, and keep it moist. Then wait and see if any toads or frogs find their new home! Let us know if they do!

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Get outside and pretend to be a canyon treefrog! Hop around your yard or along a nearby trail and search for the following resources that you’ll need to survive as a frog on the Pajarito Plateau:

  • Food: Can you find insects like beetles, flies, or moths to snack on?
  • Water: As we learned in the blog post, frogs absorb moisture through their skin instead of drinking it. Can you find a puddle, stream, pond, or even damp soil?
  • Shelter: During the hot summer months, canyon treefrogs often hang out in cracks and crevices to avoid drying out. They are masters of camouflage and can blend in perfectly with rocks. Can you find some habitat like this to hang out in?

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Canyon treefrogs blend in with their surroundings! Their coloring can change depending on where they live. Our Forest Explorers club found this canyon treefrog blending in to a rock in Acid Canyon last fall. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Since frogs and salamanders must blend in well to avoid predation, they are very hard to see. But they are often easier to hear. In our area, most frogs will wait until monsoon season to mate. At that time, you can go to water bodies and hear their calls.

Listen to the calls of the western chorus frog and the canyon treefrog.

Then, as the season progresses, visit ponds such as retention ponds, stock ponds, and canyon bottoms, and listen for these sounds. If you get really interested, you can join the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ citizen science project FrogWatch USA to contribute to amphibian conservation.

 

Want to Learn More?

  • This week we’ve learned about reptiles and amphibians. Most of the critters at the Los Alamos Nature Center fall into one of these categories! Take our “Which Los Alamos Nature Center Critter Are You?” quiz to find out which of our residents you are most like!
  • Do you know how to tell the difference between a frog and a toad? We have both frogs and toads here in New Mexico and they are both amphibians. Check out this video for some tips for noting the general difference between frogs and toads!
  • Learn more about the different frogs, toads, and salamanders found in New Mexico in this list of amphibians from the New Mexico Herpetological Society.
  • Play this jumping frog game and try to get your frog through traffic, across a river, and to a tasty fly to eat! This game is mostly just for fun, but it does bring up an important obstacle to many amphibian species: habitat fragmentation, where human development interrupts the natural ranges of wildlife. This is an important reason for individuals and communities to include areas hospitable to wildlife within our neighborhoods.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what you learn about our local reptiles and amphibians this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Amphibians in a Dry Climate: The Canyon Treefrog

The canyon treefrog protects itself with a dry bumpy skin. Their skin conserves moisture and provides camouflage. They tuck their legs under their body to help reduce water loss. (Photo by Jennifer Macke)

By Jennifer Macke

How does an amphibian survive in a dry climate like New Mexico’s? It’s a good question! To answer it, let’s use the canyon treefrog as an example of the adaptations that make survival in a dry climate possible for our local amphibians.

Amphibians and Water

One of the hallmarks of amphibians is their dependence on water. Their skin is moist and permeable, and an amphibian will quickly die if it loses water from its body. Most amphibians require water to lay their eggs, and their offspring (tadpoles or larvae) usually grow up in water.

Amphibians don’t drink. You will never see an amphibian put its head in the water and take a gulp. Instead, they obtain the moisture they need by absorbing it through their skin. For many frogs, the skin on the underside of their hind legs is specially adapted to absorb water. In some cases, they soak their body in water in order to “drink.” In other cases, they are able to absorb enough water simply by sitting on slightly damp soil, no standing water needed.

Canyon Treefrogs

Wet canyon bottoms provide prime habitat for canyon treefrogs. (Photo by Jennifer Macke)

One of the most common amphibians on the Pajarito Plateau is the canyon treefrog (Hyla arenicolor). Don’t let the name “treefrog” mislead you. It is called a treefrog because of its close genetic relationship with other treefrogs, including rainforest species. But our “treefrog” doesn’t live in trees, and in fact, it looks more like a toad than a frog!

 

Observation Tip: The canyon treefrog is small, up to about 2.5 inches in length. They vary widely in color, from dark gray to cream color, with gray markings. Because of their bumpy skin, they are often mistaken for toads.

 

The canyon treefrog utilizes several strategies to survive a dry climate. First, the tough outer skin on their back limits water loss. Like most frogs, the skin on their underside is adapted to absorb water, so it is soft and moist. When they are sheltering during dry weather, they keep their soft underside carefully tucked down against a non-porous surface to limit water loss.

As another adaptation to a dry climate, canyon treefrogs tend to live near places that have standing water during at least part of the year. These areas are most often in canyon bottoms, or along streambeds that have flowing water, even if it is only wet there occasionally.

The canyon treefrog also limits water loss by remaining inactive and sheltered during dry times of the year. They usually shelter in deep cracks and crevices in rock, where some moisture remains even in dry periods. They also tend to cluster together in groups, which helps to further reduce their water loss, as they keep each other moist.

 

Canyon treefrog tadpoles in a temporary pool at the rim of White Rock Canyon. (Photo by Josip Loncaric)

Tadpole Sightings

If you find tadpoles on the Pajarito Plateau, it’s likely that they are canyon treefrogs. They breed during monsoon season, utilizing small pools of temporary water all over the Plateau. During the monsoons, you will hear the adult males calling, and you may find eggs or tadpoles in almost any small pool of water.

Observation Tip: Listen for the “ba-a-a-a” call of the male canyon treefrog during monsoon season. The nature center has a recorded call that you can play in the Canyons area of our exhibits when we reopen, or listen to the call at the California Herps website.

During the monsoon season, treefrogs are able to move around freely in search of mates and water. Almost any new body of water will be “found” and become their new breeding ground. When PEEC built its pond in the wildlife observation area at the nature center, canyon treefrogs were using it as a breeding site within a couple of years. The water retention pond behind Smith’s has also been colonized by canyon treefrogs. They are clearly able to move around enough to find and exploit small bodies of water anywhere that water occurs.

Observation Tip: There are many sites on the Pajarito Plateau where you can find tadpoles during monsoon season. If you find such a place, you can go back every few days to watch the progress of the tadpoles as they grow up.

Other Frogs and Toads in Our Area

Some of the other native frogs and toads in our area are the Woodhouse’s toad, chorus frog, and New Mexico spadefoot toad. Each has its own set of adaptations to survive. The non-native and invasive American bullfrog is also very abundant along the Rio Grande. For more information on the reptiles and amphibians in Northern New Mexico, view our online Reptile and Amphibian Nature Guide.