Sheltering frogs and toads in winter
December 24, 2012
A caller recently asked me “What happens to frogs and toads during the winter and can we do anything to help them survive?” Since these amphibians are cold-blooded, they go inactive for months during the coldest part of the year, hibernating for long periods by reducing their body temperature, metabolic rate and activity. They then live on energy reserves until the weather turns favorable again. For example, the American toad digs a burrow in which to spend the winter. Other frogs or toads find a crevice in which to overwinter or bury themselves under leaves.Some Northern Nevada frogs and toads include mountain yellow-legged frog (rare), northern leopard frog, bullfrog (non-native), Great Basin spadefoot, Pacific chorus frog and western toad. The Nevada Department of Wildlife has a great information sheet on “Frogs & Toads of Nevada” you can download at http://www.ndow.org/wild/animals/facts/nvfrogs_toads.pdf.I suspect that the frogs my caller has seen are Pacific chorus frogs (northern Pacific tree frogs). Their coloring ranges from vivid green to light brown and they have a black eye stripe. They grow 1 to 2 inches in length. As adults, they eat spiders, beetles, flies, ants and other insects. They breed from early winter to mid-May and go dormant at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.Western toads are also common. They can reach five inches in length and can be surprising when you come across one while cleaning a flowerbed. Depending on the weather, they can be active from late winter to October with breeding primarily in May and June. Their diet consists primarily of bees, beetles, ants and spiders, but they also eat crayfish, sowbugs, grasshoppers, moths and butterflies. USDA estimates they eat 10,000 insects over the course of a summer. In winter, they hunker down into a “hibernaculum” — a sheltered area like a mini bear’s den.To help these amazing critters survive, the caller could purchase a “toad abode,” place it under a bush in a sheltered spot and hope a toad finds it. Or, she can half bury a large flowerpot on its side or arrange flat rocks with a toad-sized space underneath in a sheltered location. Any of these techniques might work if the toads haven’t found a secure winter resting site already. Otherwise, next spring when they wake up, she may want to provide a home in a shady location for them and keep a water source nearby and get them used to staying in her yard.JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at email@example.com or 887-2252.