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Year of the Frog
Year of the Frog

​​​​​​​​​​Hop on the Herp Bandwagon!

Frogs, Toads, Lizards, Snakes, Turtles, Salamanders!

Reptiles and amphibians (collectively called 'herptiles' or 'herps') have been around for many millions of years, but 2008 was a year of firsts like they’ve never seen. On the world stage, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and Amphibian Ark declared 2008 the Year of the Frog. Here in Colorado, the State Legislature and Governor declared the western painted turtle our official state reptile. All this attention might lead some to believe that all is rosy in the world of herps, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many amphibian populations, including frogs, toads, and salamanders, have been experiencing declines around the world for a number of years. These losses have been linked to all the big name environmental threats, including:

  • ​Increased ultraviolet radiation from ozone depletion

  • Climate change

  • Acid rain

  • Pesticide pollution of breeding ponds

  • Non-native plants and animals

  • Over-collection

  • Habitat loss and fragmentation

  • Drought

  • Disease 

​​Reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and turtles, are also being impacted by many of these same threats.

Colorado is home to the following species:
  • ​One salamander

  • Five turtles

  • 16 native frogs and toads

  • 19 lizards

  • 26 snakes 

Many of these species are facing the same threats as their cousins around the world and have warranted some sort of protection within the state. For example, the boreal​ toad (Bufo boreas boreas) is listed as endangered by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission. The northern leopard frog (Rana pipiens) is petitioned for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife has also designated six amphibians and ten reptiles as Species of Special Concern.

Hopping on the Herp Bandwagon

  1. Become more informed: Just being interested enough to read this article is great! You can also find information from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. Be sure to share what you learn with your family and friends.
  2. Provide herp-friendly habitat on your property: The most important aspect of providing good habitat is limiting the pesticides used in the area. Because of the sensitivity of amphibian skin, many pesticides have serious impacts on the herps ability to breed or develop. Herps are easy to please when it comes to shelter and food: ​​​they need cool, dark places to spend the hot days (like a propped up, upside-down flower pot) and they’ll eat almost any insect they can find. Two additional steps that will help the herps even further is to provide a water source, like a garden pond, and landscape with native plants. 
  3. Be a responsible pet owner: Domestic cats and dogs are very effective predators on many native herp species. Please keep these animals inside or under control in areas of good herp habitat. Also, if your pet is a herp, do not release it into the wild. Introduced species have a number of significant impacts on native species, including the spread of disease, predation and competition.

By taking these simple steps, we can all make a huge difference in the survival of herp species here at home and around the world. Let’s make this the best year the frog—and salamanders, snakes, lizards, and turtles—has seen in their more than 300 million years on Earth!

Educators - Teach About Herps with Projects WILD, WET, and PLT

Here are a few ideas for activities that will help you teach about Colorado amphibians and their habitat:

Aquatic Project WILD

  • Are You Me?—(K-4th) Using picture cards, students match pairs of juvenile and adult aquatic animals.
  • Aquatic Roots—(5th-8th) Students use reference materials to research various local aquatic plants, or animals, to find out whether they are natives or exotics and to investigate their effects on people, other animals, and the environment.
  • The Glass Menagerie—(9th-12th) Students observe and describe changes in physical characteristics of several experimental aquatic habitats that they create.

Project WET

  • Where are the Frogs?—(middle school) Through experimentation and a simulation, students learn how acidic water has endangered the quality of aquatic life in some parts of the country.

Project Learning Tree

  • Watch on Wetlands #71—(7th-8th) Students conduct field studies in a local wetland and learn how land use decisions and legislation affect wetland areas.
  • Web of Life #45—(4th-8th) By conducting research and simulating a food web, students will take a close look at a forest ecosystem and discover ways that plants and animals are connected to each other.
  • Forest, Field and Stream #48—(1st​-8th with variations) Students conduct a field study of three different environments as they focus on sunlight, soil moisture, temperature, wind, water flow, plants and animals. They will begin to consider how nonliving elements influence living elements in an ecosystem.

To learn more about any of these projects or activities, contact the regional education coordinator nearest you. Look through the listings on Teacher Workshops, too, as training opportunities are offered frequently.