Spotted Salamander

Photo Credit © Gary Shackelford

Counting Crawling Critters

When we talk to landowners about their property, they often share with us trail camera photos of bears or list the birds they saw or heard. Wildlife is a common interest for many woodland owners. Although less cute and cuddly, amphibians are a vital part of the ecosystem and the wildlife food web in your woods. They are also a fun, accessible way to get kids or grandkids out exploring your woods. In this month’s blog, we’ll look at how to find and count amphibians on your property.

When we talk to landowners about their property, they often share with us trail camera photos of bears or list the birds they saw or heard.  Wildlife is a common interest for many woodland owners.  Although less cute and cuddly, amphibians are a vital part of the ecosystem and the wildlife food web in your woods.  They are also a fun, accessible way to get kids or grandkids out exploring your woods.  In this month’s blog, we’ll look at how to find and count amphibians on your property.

Amphibians include frogs, toads, newts and salamanders.  Generally, amphibians spend part of their time on land and part in water.  You may not need to have a natural water body on your property to attract or have amphibians in your woods, as long as there is something nearby.  Also, vernal or ephemeral pools (water that temporarily ponds, most often in spring) are very important to these animals as they don’t carry fish populations, and are therefore safer.  It is important to understand the various habitat requirements of each of the amphibians in order to know what to expect on your property.

There are 12 frogs and toads that naturally occur in Wisconsin.  One technique for monitoring them is using a call survey.  This will work if your property is within one mile of a wetland area.  Although it may be overwhelming to learn the call of all twelve, only four or five may be calling at any given time over the season.  Again, it will also help to know which ones you may expect to hear depending on where you are in the state, your habitat type, and what time of year each would be calling.  For this survey, go out onto your property after nightfall.  Listen for frog and toad calls for three minutes, and record what calls you are hearing.  To capture the variety of frogs and toads, you should do this three times over the season; monitor once mid-April, once late May, and once early-July.

There are 7 species of newts and salamanders that naturally occur in Wisconsin.  Monitoring for salamanders may be more fun for the kids as they will be able to see them when you use a coverboard survey.  Since salamanders prefer the cover of logs or other ground debris, this technique simulates that cover.  You do this by placing 12 x 12 inch pieces of untreated wood on the bare ground (move any leaf litter away) about 18 feet apart.  Ideally you would use at least 25 boards.  It will take some time for them to start using the coverboards for habitat, so you may need to wait a year before you start finding any creatures under them.  Your best chance of success will be to monitor the boards in early spring or late fall when temperatures are about 50 degrees.

We are exploring iOS and Android apps for wildlife, and I have found a few with good photos and calls for frogs.  There are others that allow you to record observations for many types of wildlife.  This could be another fun way to track your woods with your kids.  You can learn more about the 19 species of amphibians, each of their habitat requirements, find a checklist to use for monitoring, and get more detailed information on the DNR website.  For more information on these two techniques and 16 more wildlife inventory options, check out the publication “How to Inventory and Monitor Wildlife on Your Land”.