Nature Watch: April’s Amphibians

Author: Steve Ellis | 03/25/24

About the author: Steve Ellis is a naturalist and Land Trust member who enjoys sharing his love of the natural world. His blog series, “Nature Watch,” will appear each month in “Habitchat,” chronicling native plants and wildlife you can expect to see during that particular time of year. We thank Steve for sharing his passion, illustrating the importance of island conservation.


The warm, wet nights of late March and April help kick start a wide variety of amphibian activity.

April is a particularly busy time for local salamanders. Ensatinas, the small species of damp woodlands, shake off their winter lethargy and become fully active. The last of the long-toed salamander eggs are hatching as rough-skinned newts and northwestern salamanders find their way to breeding ponds.

Frogs and toads are also active this month. Red-legged frog eggs, laid in winter, now hatch. Male Pacific chorus frogs are calling with gusto to attract females, while western toads converge on ponds.

These fascinating creatures can be difficult to see. You might, however, be fortunate to find an egg mass that a female has left behind.

The following chart may be useful in identifying which species has been reproducing:

Click on chart to enlarge.

The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife has an excellent resource devoted to this topic: Identifying Washington’s amphibians and their egg masses.

Amphibian eggs from at least one species may be located from late November through early July. Each mass is a tiny portal into the mysterious world of amphibians. Please leave them undisturbed. Encountering any of our native amphibian species or its eggs is always a rewarding experience.

Pacific Chorus Frog

Pacific Chorus Frog by Jennifer Holmes.

Fauna: Pacific Chorus Frog (Pacific Tree Frog), Pseudacris regilla

Our smallest and most numerous amphibians recently had their name changed. Experts took them out of Tree Frogs and assigned them to Chorus Frogs.

Adults reach a length of up to 2 inches. Their colors vary, though bright green or brown predominate.  Other colors include tan and copper. Colors may change quickly with rising or falling humidity or ambient air temperature.

Pacific chorus frogs have long, slender legs and long toes tipped with rounded pads. These pads help them climb rock faces and to move up into bushes.

Males of the species may start calling when the air temperature reaches 40° F, but they really get going at 50°. These sounds are made via an air sac located beneath the jaw. Several males gather together and loudly repeat the familiar “krec-ic, krec-ic” call. This is used to draw females to the breeding ponds. When the potential mates arrive, males switch to a “krec-krec-krec” call, each trying to outdo the other males.

These small frogs aren’t limited to lakes and large ponds. Ephemeral water bodies such as found in ditches are sufficient for their purposes because of the short time needed for hatching to tadpole stage and achieving adult frog status.

Tadpoles eat algae, decaying vegetation and dead insects. Adult frogs are strictly predatorial, dining on insects, spiders and small slugs.

Predators of Pacific chorus frogs include salamanders, garter snakes, raccoons, and birds such as herons.

After breeding season, chorus frogs may turn up far from permanent water. They may shelter in your woodpile or climb into a rosebush. Count yourself fortunate if they discover your garden, as they will provide pest control.

Buckbean at Pondilla Lake. Photo by Martha Ellis.

Flora: Buckbean (Bogbean), Menyanthes trifoliata

Buckbean is a perennial that grows in wet situations, reaching a height of up to 18 inches.

This plant has a thick stem which supports long leaf stalks. The leaves are oblong and divided into 3 leaflets.

Buckbean blooms in late spring. The flowers have five white petals, each with long hairs on the inner surface.

There are two ways for this plant to spread.  It easily sends up multiple shoots from rhizomes rooted in the soil. The other method is via the pollination route. Larger pollinators are favored; smaller flies cannot fight their way through the many long hairs of the petals.

The flowers give off an aroma that attracts beetles and bumblebees. Oval seed capsules or “beans” follow. They fall to the water, where they are buoyant.  Swimming waterfowl may catch them in their feathers and inadvertently transfer these seed capsules from one wetland to another.

Buckbeans provide stems for amphibian egg masses. Their tops are also favored as resting spots for adult dragonflies.

Look for this unusual plant in bogs and along the shores of lakes and ponds. Stands of buckbean can be seen at Cranberry and Pondilla lakes.

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