Migrating amphibians – have you seen a toad?

western toad migrating egg mass mating survey columbia county oregon

As rain falls and the temperature warms up, frogs and salamanders have been out and about. Perhaps they’ve been stopping in your yard or crossing your roads at night. You may have heard them call from your local ponds, or even seen them floating in the water.

Where did they come from?

Spring is the season for amphibian migrations. In Columbia County there are six species of native frogs and salamanders that breed in lakes and ponds, but none of them live there during the winter. So every year as it warms, they dig out from their underground upland hiding spots and make the trek down to water to mate and lay eggs for the new year.

Here’s a quick rundown of the frogs and salamanders you can see here.

Open ponds

Pacific Treefrogs and Long-toed Salamanders winter under cover in meadows and woodland, but breed in open ponds and marshes. They are some of the first to emerge in spring and have been moving towards their breeding ponds since January.

northern pacific treefrog migrating egg mass mating survey columbia county oregon
Northern Pacific Treefrog egg packets are 1-2 inches across with 30-60 eggs. They don’t hold their shape when touched.
long-toed salamander migrating egg mass mating survey columbia county oregon
Long-toed Salamander egg masses are similar in size but have fewer eggs and a firmer “bubble” around each egg (©Tonya Yoder)

Forested lakes and beaver ponds

Rough-skinned Newts, Northwestern Salamanders, and Northern Red-legged Frogs winter under logs in forested uplands and breed in forested lakes, ditches, and beaver ponds. They have been moving to the waterways since late February.

northern red-legged frog migrating egg mass mating survey columbia county oregon
Red-legged Frog egg masses have hundreds of eggs and are loose enough they often end up floating at the surface (©charcork)
northwestern salamander migrating egg mass mating survey columbia county oregon
Northwestern Salamander egg masses are the size of an orange, very firm, and usually attached to a stick
rough-skinned newts
Rough-skinned Newts lay hard-to-find eggs one at a time – but you can often see them mating in the water beforehand

Our missing species – where are the toads?

Western Toads winter 2-4 feet deep in underground burrows and can be some of the last amphibians to emerge. They lay eggs in temporary ponds and the shallow edges of lakes. Toads have become extremely rare in Columbia County and we are uncertain if there are any viable populations left. If you have seen one, please tell us where and send us a photo if possible!

western toad migrating egg mass mating survey columbia county oregon
Western Toads lay thousands of eggs in unique long strings in shallow water (©Jeanne Wirka)

In summer baby toads can accumulate in large numbers on the edge of their breeding ponds. Here’s a little video I took of a toadlet mass in the Ochoco National Forest that my daughter and I found while hiking.

Matt and I are running the Columbia County Reptiles and Amphibians project to record these creatures. If you want to help out, just create an iNaturalist.org account and download the free app from Google Play or the Apple AppStore. Once you have the app, you can simply use the app to take a picture of any reptile or amphibian you see, and with a couple of clicks it will automatically upload the data onto our project! If you don’t want to use a smartphone, you can also take pictures with your camera and upload them to the iNaturalist.org website via computer.

Data from the project will help us understand more about our rarely studied native wildlife in Columbia County. We especially hope to know if toads and other historically present species still exist in our area. Any information you can provide will be vital.

The act of searching for reptiles and amphibians is called “herping”…..so happy herping, thank you and good luck!

Published by Jonathan

Educator, Herpetologist, Hiker.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: