By Nicole Hamilton
Fertilizers can cause caustic burns which kill salamanders, frogs and toads. Homeowners and land managers typically fertilize lawns, golf courses and ball fields in the fall, a time when many toads, frogs and salamanders are migrating to winter habitat for hibernation. Because their habitat has been fragmented, they are forced to cross these lawns and fields, often causing the complete demise of local populations.
Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are also absorbed through the amphibians’ skin, so that which doesn’t kill them outright can kill them through slow poisoning. Rather than using chemical fertilizers, try organic fertilizers. Insecticides also reduce the insect food supply that frogs, toads and salamanders need to be healthy.
Runoff of lawn fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides into local streams and ponds also affect our amphibian populations ― in the development stages and as adults. Remember, toads, frogs and salamanders will take care of thousands of unwanted insects in your flower and vegetable gardens, but they need a healthy environment in which to live and thrive.
Garden for Amphibians
In addition to limiting chemical use, there are other things you can do in and around your gardens to welcome amphibians. Rather than hauling those leaves and brush to the dump in the fall, maintain a pile or two. These piles serve as a great place for frogs, toads and salamanders to keep moist in the spring and summer. Also, rotted logs, rock piles and non-mortared stonewalls provide ideal shelters for toads and salamanders.
Immature and female frogs will often hibernate under logs and piles of stones, so these are important refuge areas. The Virginia Department of Forestry has a great brochure on building a brush pile. They also offer a brochure focused on setting up a rain garden.
In selecting plants for your garden, select some fragrant night-blooming plants to attract moth pollinators. This will provide more food for your amphibians as they hunt at night, and the plants will perfume your night air, too.
Without the wetland areas ― the streams, vernal pools and woodland ponds ― our amphibians will not survive. Many of the habitats that our frogs, toads and salamanders depend on, such as the vernal pools, are temporary, shallow pools. They fill in the winter and early spring and stay wet during the breeding period but dry up in late spring.
Because they do not exist year round, they are often overlooked or do not fall under any wetland protection requirements. As a result, they are often filled in for developments. Once the wetland area is filled for development, whole populations of amphibians that have depended on that location for generations will die. If you know of vernal pools in your area, help inform others about the value of these wetland areas. Wetlands are only half of the equation, however. We also need to preserve and protect forested areas.
Help Us Monitor Our Local Amphibians
A monitoring program can help us not only to understand which species we have in Loudoun, but also can help us to track their populations and understand the relationship to other amphibians regionally and nationally. Many species that were considered common just 100 years ago are now so scarce they are rarely found. By keeping track of populations and environmental impacts, we can monitor trends and raise awareness.
Give Amphibians a Break!
Many of our roads were built between the forested areas where salamanders and frogs live and the breeding pools that they need to reach. Keep watch on that rainy day in late February, March or April and give them a break. Some towns have created salamander crossings that run under roads. If you have seen an area where “Big Night” migrations take place, let us know. If we know where these migrations are taking place, we can arrange for a school or club event to hold a “Citizen Assisted Road Crossing” to help our frogs and salamanders on their “Big Night.”