Our warm-weather months would definitely be different – and very likely not as enjoyable – were it not for the amphibians we find in the outdoors world around us.
“Amphibians” is probably not the first answer that comes to mind for most of us when we’re asked to list things that make our springs and summers enjoyable. However, our warm-weather months would definitely be different – and very likely not as enjoyable – were it not for the amphibians we find in the outdoors world around us.
Missouri is home to more than 40 species and sub-species of amphibians, yet the significance of these creatures to our outdoor world is often overlooked. It’s not that we don’t know amphibians are here. On the contrary; the frogs that make their sudden leaps from shallow, moss-covered backwater areas into deeper water or the toad sunning itself on warm concrete of the patio are common spring and summer sights in the Ozarks. If you’re sharp-eyed (and a little lucky); you may see a salamander move from one moist hiding place to another during a walk through a forest.
However, just what exactly these frogs and toads and salamanders do for us is something we often don’t think about. Before we get to that, here’s more about the amphibians we find around us.
Most of today’s amphibian species spend the majority of their lives out of water in moist locations and return to wetlands to breed. With just a few exceptions, the amphibians we have today are the oldest vertebrate species that can live out of water. These creatures are the evolutionary successors of animals that first crawled out of the prehistoric oceans to begin populating above-water landscapes. For millions of years, these animals and their ancestors were the dominant terrestrial species on earth.
Defining what an amphibian is in a few words is difficult because all don’t feature the same traits, but the word “amphibian” offers a good clue. It comes from a Greek word that means “two lives” and therein lies a good basic definition of these creatures. This refers to the creatures’ life cycles that, with few exceptions, include an existence that includes both in-the-water and out-of-the-water components.
In a nutshell, amphibians are cold-blooded, egg-laying creatures that can take in oxygen through three methods; lungs, gills or permeable skin. All Missouri amphibians have legs of some form. The majority of amphibians in Missouri live part of their life cycles in water, which means they will have gills for at least a part of their life. Amphibians in Missouri include frogs, toads and salamanders (newts are included with the salamanders).
As far as reasons why we humans are glad amphibians are around, let’s start with what they eat. Frogs, toads and salamanders eat insects. Included on this list are mosquitoes, termites and other insects we would term as pests.
For those who like to spice up their table fare with wildlife; the froglegs of frogs harvested during Missouri’s frogging season (sunset of June 30 through October 31) add tasty variety to any dinner table.
Another role many amphibians play – one that’s also important to humans – is that of environmental indicators. A number of amphibians aren’t good at adapting to change, which makes them good indicators of problems that may be occurring in an area.
And finally, the warm-weather months in the Ozarks just wouldn’t be the same without the deep croak of a bullfrog rolling in from a distant pond or the higher trill of frogs and toads from elsewhere on the landscape.
More information about the types of amphibians that live in our area and ways to improve habitat for these various species can be found at mdc.mo.gov.
When you’re outside enjoying the sights and sounds of amphibians and all the other great things Missouri’s outdoors have to offer, remember to follow all current health guidelines. These include:
Avoid crowded places.
Stay at least 6 feet apart from others.
Stay home if you’re sick.
Bring water, soap, and hand sanitizer.
Be considerate of others you may encounter when you’re out.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.