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Monday, September 29, 2014

Ask the Frog Staff: Making your backyard 'amphibian friendly'

I have been receiving more frequent questions about making one's backyard more amphibian friendly ... that is great! I thought I would post some ideas here.

There are many compelling reasons to make your backyard 'amphibian friendly' ... one, is that natural ecotones provide refugia, or safe places for amphibians and are even easier to maintain than a well manicured lawn. There are natural and exciting ways to manage your property, that can provide much needed habitat for amphibians, particularly in an urban environment such as Atlanta. Your backyard could not only provide sanctuary for amphibians, but if enough people do the same the amphibian communities can be connected once again as they were before becoming disconnected or fragmented, by the development of roads, malls, and other forms of large paved structures.

Here is a resource from the GA DNR: Georgia Wildlife website:

Attracting Amphibians to Your Backyard

Frogs, toads and some salamanders can be easily attracted to backyard habitats by creating or improving adequate aquatic habitats, provided these aquatic habitats have some forested areas nearby.
Ponds made by digging shallow holes and lining with waterproof plastic are the easiest way to provide amphibians with the aquatic habitats they need for breeding and staying moist.
Few frog species such as bullfrogs, green frogs and Fowler's toads are able to survive well with fish present in shallow ponds. Most amphibian species including chorus frogs, treefrogs and most salamanders are unable to compete well with fish, with the exception of a few mosquitofish. Therefore, to attract a diversity of amphibians it is best to leave these ponds fishless.
Vegetation is also an important consideration when making or improving an aquatic habitat for amphibians. Aquatic plants like water lilies, Sagittaria sp., blatterworts, sedges, rushes and others are important to provide structures for egg attachment as well as cover for larva like tadpoles. You may wish to leave some "open" water so you can observe and enjoy your amphibians, but some vegetative cover is necessary elsewhere. In addition to aquatic plants, shrubs and other terrestrial vegetation is needed to adjacent to some or all of the pond to provide cover and calling structures for treefrogs.
If there are wooded areas adjacent to or near the pond, it is important to leave logs, leaf litter, rocks and other cover to provide shelter for amphibians while they are away from the pond. Many amphibians spend more of their time on land than in water. Some amphibians only use aquatic habitats for brief breeding episodes.
Because the skin of amphibians is very porous and absorbent, pesticides should be used conservatively and prevented from entering the pond through runoff. Other than tadpoles, that eat algae and decaying vegetation, all amphibians eat insects and other invertebrates. Eliminating amphibians' prey could reduce or eliminate them indirectly. Successful attraction of a diversity of amphibians to your backyard will help control insect populations without the need for excessive pesticides.

Here is a useful chart provided by GA Department of Natural Resources. The entire document can be downloaded here.
Furthermore most pesticides and herbicides used to 'treat' lawns are obviously poisons (they are designed to kill unwanted organisms) but these chemicals have also proven to be harmful, or even lethal to amphibians. Some of them have been shown to feminize species of amphibians, causing the brain and gonads of male amphibians to become female. Are those the kinds of chemicals you want around your house and family?