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NatureSpeak Articles

Into the swamp

Western toad tadpole mass at Lost Lake

Like many locals, especially four year-olds with buckets, my first encounter with Whistler’s amphibians was with the western toad tadpoles at Lost Lake. Since then, I’ve learned there are at least five more species of amphibians in our area, not to mention a couple of reptiles.

My first-hand discovery occurred when I was lucky enough to accompany amphibian researchers this summer as part of the Whistler Biodiversity Project. After donning very fashionable hip waders, we sloshed through Whistler’s swamps and streams and found lots of amphibian life.

There were tailed frogs in cold, fast-running mountain streams on both sides of the valley; and green, tropical-looking Pacific chorus frogs (a.k.a. tree frogs) in small and large ponds throughout Whistler.

Salamander sightings included huge northwestern salamanders, long-toed salamanders with beautiful yellow stripes down their back, and photogenic rough-skinned newts with skin that was, well, rough.

We unfortunately didn’t find any red-legged frogs, the blue-listed species that gained temporary fame when its presence briefly halted construction on the highway expansion through Eagleridge Bluffs. But since we found them last year above Black Tusk Village, there’s still hope some make Whistler home, too.

On the other hand, we were happy not to find any bullfrogs (yet). This huge frog – big enough it can eat ducks – is native to eastern North America. It was introduced to the Vancouver area in the late 1800s as part of a get-rich scheme to sell frog legs. The idea was a bust, so the owners released bullfrogs in the Fraser Valley. Ever since, bullfrogs have proliferated to the detriment of native species.

Next Wednesday the 15th, there’s a chance to learn more when the Whistler Naturalists host a night of all things amphibian and some things reptilian. Three extremely knowledgeable presenters will be on hand for the event.

Local high school student Connor McGillion, known to many as host of the Children’s Arts Festival, has been splashing around in swamps since he was a kid. His interest in pond life started with insects, but has spawned into many aspects of the natural world. Connor will start the night with an introduction to Whistler’s amphibians and reptiles.

Amphibian biologist Elke Wind was lead researcher for the project. Elke will give a bit more detail on what makes these creatures tick and where to find them. She’ll also describe research that’s happened this past year, and where the different species have been found.

Unlike the other presenters, Leslie Anthony is a bit of a snake in the grass. Who knew this Whistler ski journalist (and former editor of Powder Magazine) had a Ph.D. in herpetology? Leslie is a very engaging speaker who will recount highlights of his lifelong interest in things that crawl and slither.

Written by: Bob Brett

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