Count the Frogs

A wetland can be many things through the lens of a camera. Here it is an ‘all-over-composition’ reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting. The artful “Count the Frogs”  impressed many of our judges with it’s unusual view of a wetland and the unfolding surprise of its subject matter. The photographer, Ralph Palmer, is a retired Zoologist living on a 114 acre ranch in the Boundary country of BC. This ranch is where he captured our dizzying image.

Are they all the same? 

Based on the landscape, the region of the province, their size and colouration, our subjects appear to be Columbia Spotted Frogs (Rana luteiventris). One of the more commonly seen frogs in our province, the Columbia Spotted is an easy association to wetland habitat as it rarely strays from water. As long as there is shallow water for feeding in the summer and water deep enough to stay fluid in the winter, it will likely make good habitat for our feature frog. 

Only recently distinguished from its very close relative in 1979, the Oregon Spotted Frog (Rana pretiosa) shares its dorsolateral folds & slightly upturned eyes with its cousin. You will never find a Columbia and an Oregon Spotted Frog sharing their range, however, and while the Columbia seems to be easily found in a variety of wetland habitats from low lands to lakes, the Oregon Spotted Frog is threatened and can only be found in the Fraser Valley on our side of the border.

How many frogs can you count amid the algae? 

It appears that 16 or more frogs have all clustered together within the area of the wetland captured in our photograph. One possible reason for this is that a young family may have recently matured on this site.  Did you know that a female Columbia Spotted Frog can lay up to 1500 eggs at once? You’ll also be more successful at finding this frog amid thick algae like that pictured in the summer. This goopy greenery provides excellent camouflage from Herons, Racoons and Garter Snakes. 

Although the Columbia Spotted Frog is not listed as threatened, that does not mean that its populations could not be at risk. Currently we have little understanding of how habitat fragmentation and destruction has affected their populations. A 2005 study by W. Chris Funk et. al. on this frog species south of the border has found that they have a ‘valley-mountain’ population structure where larger populations of similar gene types are found in dispersed areas of low lying wetlands while smaller groups with a varied gene type exist in the mountains. This difference in gene types between high and low lying populations makes it easier for the frog to adapt to different habitat types. Their findings also mean that the higher elevation populations are at a greater risk of extinction, and that low-land populations may experience local extinction rates with habitat fragmentation.

There are many supporters of fragile frog populations who are committed to caring for local amphibians. Recently the New York Times featured a cutting edge program in Washington State where prisoners are conducting a supervised breeding program of Oregon Spotted Frogs that is quite fascinating and inspiring. We’ve also created a small video on population research that is happening in the Fraser Valley.

A large healthy population of frogs is always a happy sight. We thank our photographer for sharing this healthy local Okanagan population with us. To see more of Ralph Palmer’s photographs taken on his Okanagan ranch, click here

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