Amphibians in the desert? Yes, there are four species that have been seen here at Craters of the Moon. Each of these is uniquely adapted to the harsh environment of the sagebrush desert. The Pacific tree frog and the boreal chorus frog both have a very short tadpole period. Tree frogs can hatch and develop into adult frogs capable of leaving the water in as little as 3 weeks. This is the shortest breeding time of any frog. Chorus frogs need another week. This short period of time allows both species to breed in snowmelt puddles and then migrate to more substantial bodies of water or even hibernate for the rest of the year. Tree frogs have been observed taking advantage of snowmelt on kipukas (islands of vegetation in the lava flows) nearly 2 miles from permanent water.
We also have 2 species of toads in the monument. Western toads can be found along streams and small lakes such as Lava Lake and Carey Marsh. After several months in the water as tadpoles the toads develop into adults and leave the water. They do not return to the water until they lay eggs in the spring. The rest of the year they spend in the moist ground underneath wooded areas along streams. Great Basin spadefoot toads are very unusual. They are able to survive drought and desert like conditions by drying out and entering a state of near death for years at a time. As the desert dries out in the early summer these toads burrow into the mud where they can actually dessicate which means most of the water will leave their bodies. This is more than hibernation the toad actually shrivels up and all metabolic activity stops (the frog begins to die). They can remain this way for over 10 years waiting for that occasional wet spring when the temporary ponds and puddles they breed in return. With the shortest breeding time of any amphibian in the world they can go from egg to adult toad in as little as 2 weeks if their ponds start to dry up. Just before the ponds totally dry up they burrow into the mud, go to sleep and shrivel up starting the whole process over.
Did You Know?
Searing lava flows that initially destroyed everything in their path today protect the last refuges of intact sagebrush steppe communities on the Snake River Plain. These islands of vegetation, known as kipukas, provide important examples of what is "natural".