Nature Notes

Mount Rainier National Park

Vol. XIV December - 1936 No. 4

Issued quarterly by the Naturalist Department of Mount Rainier National Park. Material contained herein may be used freely provided that credit is given to this pamphlet and the author.
C. Frank Brockman
Park Naturalist
O. A. Tomlinson

Amphibians of Mt. Rainier National Park

By. James R. Slater and C. Frank Brockman.


The amphibians,including frogs, toads and salamanders, form an interesting but little known and appreciated section of animal life in Mt. Rainier National Park. Throughout the world there are some 2000 species of amphibians (1) and of this number Mt. Rainier National Park is represented by twelve. Seven of these are salamanders, newts, waterdogs etc. - tailed amphibians (Caudata) - while five species are tailess amphibians (Salientia) - frogs and toads.

Of this small unit twelve species representatives may be found living and breeding from the lowest elevations along the boundaries of the park to has high as 6000 feet above sea level (2). The marshes of the lower Canadian zone resound with a multitude of frog voices during the breeding season in early spring, and hardly before the snow has disappeared from around the small lakes and ponds in the Hudsonian zone we may find the jelly-like masses of eggs of various frogs and salamanders that breed at that elevation.

* * * * * * * * * *

(1) Nineteen species are listed as active in the state of Washington. (Julius R. Slater, Professor of Biology, College of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington.)

(2) No amphibians have been found above 6000 feet in Mt. Rainier National Park. (Slater)

Most amphibians lay their eggs in the water of small pools, in lakes, or in streams; though some find moist places upon the ground more suited to their needs. Species of two genera follow the latter procedure in Mt. Rainier National Park (1). The eggs of all other local amphibians are laid in water. After a metamorphosis during which the animals are transformed through various stages to the adult form, they leave the water and spend more or less of their time on land.

Economically many amphibians are of great value to man. This is particularly true of the frogs and toads which consume a great number of insects that, in turn, do considerable damage to crops and vegetation in general. Amphibians also aid man in the destruction of mosquitoes (in the larval and pupal stages).

Many people confuse certain of the reptiles with amphibians and because of this confusion they often regard these two groups of the animal kingdom as one. However such is not the case. There is as much structural difference between a reptile and an amphibian as there is between a bird and a mammal but to many people, salamanders resemble, superficially, the lizards, for neither possesses outward characters of a truly distinctive kind, such as the feathers of a bird, the fins of a fish, or the hair and mamary glands of a mammal. But while Salamanders and lizards resemble one another to the untrained eye, the student of these forms quickly sees great differences in the two groups. Briefly a few obvious differences are as follows:

Amphibians. Reptiles.

1. Lay eggs in water or in moist places on land.

2. Have metamorphosis - going through several distinct changes from egg to air-breathing adult.

3. Skin slimy and not possesing scales.

4. Larvae breath by means of gills for a time.

1. Never lay eggs in water.

2. Young hatched or born with essential form of parent.

3. Skin scaly or plate-like.

4. No larval stage and hence no gills.

* * * * * * * * * *

(1) These two genera are Plethodon, of which two species are native to the park (Western Red-backed Salamander, P. vehiculus and the Washington Salamander, P. Vandykei), and Ensatina which is represented by but one species native to the Park (Red or Oregon Salamander, Ensatina eschscholtzii).

The number of eggs which are laid by amphibians varies with the species and the individual, ranging from less than twelve to more than 20,000. The egg consists largely of yolk, which is usually dark, and is surrounded by a gelatinous transparent membrane which absorbs water and swells to a large size forming a jelly-like protective covering for the egg. The form of the egg cluster also differs. In the case of the Pacific Tree Toad (Hyla regilla), Western Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon vehiculus), Pacific Coast Newt (Triturus torosus) and the Long-toed Salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum) the eggs are laid in small clusters. Those of the Northwest Salamander (Ambystoma gracile), Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) (1) the Western Spotted Frog (Rana pretosia) and the Western Wood Frog (Rana aurora aurora) are laid in large masses, while the Northwestern Toad (Bufo boreas boreas) lays its eggs in long strings.

The egg, usually fertilized externally in the case of frogs (2) and internally in the case of salamanders, soon develops into the larva (tadpole stage) with gills and tails but lacking legs. The larva grows rapidly after hatching, at first living upon the nutriment of the yolk sac which is stored in its own abdomen. If the egg is laid in water the newly hatched larva, after a period that may encompass several days or several weeks, escapes from the gelatinous mass which surrounded the original egg and swims about freely. After using the nutriment of the yolk the newly hatched larva feeds upon the green algae scum that is generally found in ponds. The mouth parts of the tadpole are quite different from those of the mature adult, being several rows of spiny tooth-like projections with which the tadpole scrapes at the water plants that serve as food at this stage. During this period the larva grows rapidly. Fore and hind legs develop simultaneously. In the tailess group (frogs and toads) the fore legs are hidden for a time beneath the gill chambers. Even after the animal has reached maturity the fore legs are shorter than the hind legs. This is different in the case of the tailed amphibians whose fore and hind legs are of about equal length upon maturity. The final stage of the metamorphosis comes after a period of varying duration - from a few days to several months, depending upon such factors as the temperature of the water and the food supply; wherein the gills are lost and the animal assumes its final adult, air-breathing form.

* * * * * * * * * *

(1) Although Slater has not taken eggs of this species as yet Storer has a picture labeled as the eggs of this species in "Amphibia of California".

(2) The American Ribbed Toad (Ascaphus truei) has internal fertilization.

In the case of frogs and toads, of course, the tail as well as the gills are absorbed. This absorbed material is used to build legs.

Where the eggs are laid on land, the larval stages of growth and metamorphosis occur within the egg membranes. The young are then hatched as small duplicates of the adult.

In addition to confusing the amphibians with the reptiles the public has associated many peculiar superstitions with amphibians. This is particularly true of the toads, for many people still believe that toads, if handled, will cause warts. That, of course, is absolutely false. Toads do possess glands which secrete a slimy acrid fluid which serves to deter the various enemies of the toad from harming them. The fluid is very distasteful and acts in a disagreeable manner on the membranes of the throat and mouth. If a toad is picked up by some animal, the resultant sensation is anything but pleasant, due to this secretion. The toad is usually dropped hastily and rarely is a second attack made by the marauder in question. The "warts" found on toads contain these glands. After handling toads it is always best to wash the hands or at least keep them away from the tender membranes of the nostrils or eyes because some of this fluid may be carried to these places and the effects will not be pleasant. All amphibians have such glands in one form or another though they are more pronounced in the case of the toad.

Among the many interesting facts regarding amphibians that may be mentioned are the following:

1. A tadpole, at certain stages in its metamorphosis, has the power of regeneration. That is, it can grow a reasonably efficient toe or leg if that member has been snipped off.

2. Frogs hibernate in winter in soft mud, and in medieval times it was thought that these amphibians were derived or generated from the ooze and mud of swamps.

3. A frog can easily make a jump of twenty times its length as compared to the average man's jump of about two times his length.

4. The female frog never sings. It is the voice of the male that one hears during the mating season. However, in the case of the American Ribbed Toad (Ascaphus truei) both sexes are voiceless.

5. Some frogs croak under water by forcing the breath across the vocal cords alternatingly between the mouth chamber, or an air sac under the chin, and the lungs.

6. The tongue of the frog is attached at the front of the lower jaw, and when the mouth is closed the tongue lies flat and pointing down the throat. In this manner the frog gets the use of the full reach of his tongue in catching insects.

7. The frog fills his stomach completely about four times each twenty-four hours.

8. Mortality of tadpoles is very high. They have innumerable enemies and it is said only about one out of every hundred reaches maturity.

9. Some tree toads can be heard for a mile or more. If man had a voice that would carry as well as this, in proportion to his size, he could stand in Paradise Valley and, with an ordinary voice, be heard in New York City!

10. The adults of Plethoden (Western Red-Backed Salamander and Washington Salamander) and Ensatina (Red or Oregon Salamander) do not have lungs or gills even though they live on land and use free oxygen from the air. The entire moist skin acts as a respiratory surface, since it is very thin and does not have an adhering layer of fat, as in a warm blooded animal.

* * * * * * * * * *


The National Park Service wishes to gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Professor James R. Slater of the College of Puget Sound, Tacoma Washington, in the preparation of this issue of Mt. Rainier National Park Nature Notes.

Professor Slater is our northwestern authority in this field. He has studied and collected amphibians extensively throughout the Pacific Northwest and a considerable portion of his time was spent in Mount Rainier National Park. Largely through his interest and generous cooperation with the naturalist department of Mt. Rainier National Park, it was possible to prepare that section of our Park Encyclopedia which deals specifically with amphibians of this region. This issue of Nature Notes was arranged largely from that material. (C.F.B.)

<<< Previous
> Cover <
Next >>>