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Frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts, oh my!

Western Toad

Western toad © Tesia Forstner. Used with permission.

Western Toad

Western toad © Tesia Forstner. Used with permission.

Diana Chomack and Sarah McLaughlin
Readability
6.35

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Learn about amphibians, their life in the coastal temperate rainforest biome, and how you can help them out!

Have you ever heard the story of the person who kissed a frog and it turned into a prince? Or the one that says touching a toad will give you warts? Do you think either of those things can happen? If you said, no, you probably know something about amphibians!

Shown is a colour photograph of a sculpture of a young person kissing a frog.
Sculpture of a girl kissing a frog (Source: Susanne Jutzeler via Pexels).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a sculpture of a young person kissing a frog. 

The sculpture is painted in bright glossy colours and set against a beige background. The person is wearing a long red gown and a pointed gold crown. A large green frog is sitting in their hands. It is also wearing a gold crown. The person's lips are pursed, near the frog's face.

Amphibian Basics

Amphibians are vertebrates, meaning they are animals with a backbone. They are also cold-blooded, which means their body temperature varies with that of the environment. Amphibians, unlike people, cannot generate their own internal heat. People and other mammals are considered warm-blooded because their body temperature is different from the environment.

All amphibians spend part of their lives in water and part on land. This is how they earned the name “amphibian”. The word amphibian comes from the Greek word amphibios, which means “to live a double life”.

Shown is a colour photograph of a green frog on wet rocks, surrounded by long grass.
Pacific chorus frog in British Columbia (Source: ©2022 Diana Chomack. Used with permission).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a green frog on wet rocks, surrounded by long grass.

The camera is low to the ground, and the frog is in the centre of the image. It appears to be in mid-stride, moving across the rocks. It is bright green with a dark brown V that crosses both eyes and comes to a point below its nostrils. 

The rocks are shiny with moisture and surrounded on all sides by long green grass.

Amphibians are special because they breathe through their lungs and through their skin! They can even absorb water through their skin instead of drinking it with their mouths.

Amphibians must stay wet, otherwise their skin will dry out and they won’t be able to breathe. As useful as their skin is, it also allows chemicals and other harmful things from the environment to enter their bodies, meaning that amphibians are especially sensitive to pollutants. Because of this, you might actually make an amphibian sick if you touched it with chemicals on your hands like sunscreen or bug spray. So it's best to not touch amphibians – and definitely don’t kiss them!

What is the difference between frogs and toads, salamanders and newts?

Toads are actually just a type of frog. Frogs have a longer body and longer legs. They are built for leaping. Toads have a shorter, squatter body, with shorter legs. They are built for crawling. Frogs hop, toads walk. Frogs have moist skin, while toads have dryer, ‘warty’ skin. Frogs also tend to have more bulging eyes than toads do.

Shown is a close-up colour photograph of a frog and a toad on a white background.
Frog on the left and toad on the right (Source: aluxum via iStockphoto).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a close-up colour photograph of a frog and a toad on a white background.

Both animals face forward, towards the camera. On the left, the frog has a white underbelly and pale green head and limbs. It is shiny with moisture. 

On the right, the toad has dry, rough, lumpy skin. It is wider than the frog, with a larger head. Its underbelly is beige speckled with dark brown. Its head and limbs are brown.

Both frogs and toads lay their eggs in water. They go through a tadpole stage before they metamorphose into adults that can spend more time on land. Adult toads can wander very far from water bodies.

Shown is an underwater colour photograph of dozens of transparent spheres with tadpoles inside.
Northern Red-legged frog eggs (Source: ©2022 Sarah McLaughlin. Used with permission)
Image - Text Version

Shown is an underwater colour photograph of dozens of transparent spheres with tadpoles inside.

The spheres look like large bubbles suspended in pale green water. Each one has a long, thin brown shape inside. These are all curved, lying across the bottoms of the spheres. 

In the bottom left of the image are two twigs, lying on a beige surface.

 

Newts are a type of salamander. Adult newts mostly live in water. They have several adaptations for their aquatic lifestyle. They have webbed feet and a paddle tail to help them swim. The skin of newts tends to be rough and bumpy.

Shown is a colour photograph of a long animal with an orange belly in a forest.
Rough-skinned newt (Source: DSHil [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a long animal with an orange belly in a forest.

Half the animal's length is its thick, straight tail. Its body is a little wider and rounder than its tail. It is low to the ground, with four, short, webbed feet. It has a snub nose and large, round eyes. 

The animal is walking over pale gold wood. Behind it are fallen logs covered in green moss. Light is visible through tall, thin evergreen trees in the background.

Adult salamanders mostly live in the forest or on dry land, except for when they need to lay their eggs. 

However, there are a few types of salamanders that have adapted to life on the forest floor and can lay their eggs on land. Salamanders have separated toes and a longer, rounder tail to help them dig in soil. Their skin tends to be glossy looking.

Shown is a close-up colour photograph of long animal on a large green leaf.
Long-toed Salamander (Source: Thompsma [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a close-up colour photograph of long animal on a large green leaf.

The animal is shown from above. Its skin is glossy with bright green down the centre of its back and long tail. Its sides are black with a pattern of splotches. It has four feet with long, webbed toes, and bulging, round eyes. 

It sits on a green leaf that takes up most of the image. This leaf is surrounded by other, smaller leaves from different plants.

Amphibians of the Coastal Temperate Rainforest

Did you know that Canada is home to a rainforest? The coastal temperate rainforest is located where the continent meets the Pacific Ocean. All of the water in these rainy and humid forests creates great amphibian habitat. 

Many species of salamanders, such as rough-skinned newts, live on the damp forest floor, where leaves and pieces of wood give them places to hide.

Most amphibians need wetland habitat like swamps and marshes to lay their eggs in. One unique species of frog in the coastal temperate rainforest called the coastal tailed frog prefers to lay its eggs in cold, rushing, mountain streams - pretty extreme!

Shown is a colour photograph of a tiny brown frog almost hidden in moss.
Coastal tailed frog (©2022 Tesia Forstner. Used with permission).
Image - Text Version

Shown is a colour photograph of a tiny brown frog almost hidden in moss.

The camera is close to the ground. The frog is so small, and so similar to the soil around it, that it is almost hidden. It is small, brown and shiny. the ground around is covered in green moss, moist brown soil and wet leaves. There are more moss and leaves visible in the background.

What can people do to help amphibians?

Amphibians aren’t the only ones who live in the coastal temperate rainforest. Many people live in this biome too. Whether cutting down trees to make wood for building homes, building a road to connect people, or building a pipeline so that people can heat their homes, humans have an impact on the biome. If a project cannot avoid areas where amphibians hang out, biologists trained in handling amphibians work to move amphibians out of harm's way so the work can get done without harming the amphibians that live there.

Even though amphibians cannot turn people into royalty, they are still truly unique animals, with very special habitat requirements. They are sensitive to many types of disturbances, especially climate change. Global warming can lead to more summer droughts and increased air temperatures. This can cause wetlands in the coastal rainforest biome to dry up, resulting in habitat loss for amphibians. Because of this, it is important for us to protect them and their habitat.

Let’s Talk Science appreciates the work and contributions of Diana Chomack and Sarah McLaughlin of Jacobs in the development of this Backgrounder.

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Learn More

At-Home STEM Activities: Life Cycle of a Frog (2020)
This website contains information and fun activities for learning about the life cycle of frogs,

BC Reptiles and Amphibians
This website contains all of the information you need to get to know the amphibians in the coastal temperate rainforest,

Hinterland Who’s Who: Coastal Rainforest
This website contains lots of information about the coastal temperate rainforest.

References

British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resources (June 2016). Best Management Practice for Amphibian and Reptile Salvages in British Columbia

Canadian Herpetological Society (n.d.). Resources