Jumping in to save northern leopard frogs

Sep 11, 2013

If you’ve been around a lake at night recently, you probably enjoyed listening to a chorus of frogs. The chances are, though, that you didn’t hear northern leopard frogs, whose numbers have been declining since the 1970s.

Northern leopard frogs used to be one of the most common species of frogs in Western Canada, and our conservation research team is working hard to learn why their populations have declined so rapidly and what we can do to protect these cute little hoppers.

Our researchers conduct visual surveys and collect water samples at 68 wetlands across southern Alberta, four times in the spring and four times in the summer. The water is analyzed for quality and clarity, as well as for the presence of disease. Our researchers can even tell whether there is northern leopard frog DNA in the water, which is often the only indication that these hard-to-spot critters are even present.

The landowners on whose properties the wetlands are found have been incredibly co-operative, providing ready access to our researchers and showing a genuine concern for the wildlife on their land.

According to zoo researcher Lea Randall, this job can involve some pretty extreme conditions.

“It’s not all glamour. We stay in tents while we’re in the field and work out in the wetlands in all weather. We recently worked while winds were being clocked at over 85 kilometres per hour, and during a spring snowstorm we had to sleep in the only heated spot in the campsite - the bathroom!”

So far results suggest that populations of the northern leopard frog in southern Alberta have stopped declining, but at the zoo we would like to see a full recovery. With the data we’re collecting we’re hoping to determine what factors affect the populations, so that we can help ensure a future for leopard frogs in Alberta.

The northern leopard frog component of the Husky Energy Endangered Species Program is also currently supported by Cenovus Energy and the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Conservation is a main priority at the Calgary Zoo. To learn more, check out our other conservation outreach stories