3 February 2012

Icy Pond Advice

With temperatures outside dropping, ice becomes a common feature – making gardens glisten and turning ponds and water features into mini ice rinks. But do you need to worry about it? Froglife’s Conservation Communications Officer Lucy Benyon explains.

“Some common frogs choose to spend the winter at the bottom of ponds and the formation of a layer of ice can be a problem. Buried down amongst the mud and silt, they survive by breathing through their skin but when ice forms the frogs become trapped with limited oxygen and various noxious gases building up.

It can be very difficult to try and protect the amphibians in your pond over the winter. The frogs, and occasionally newts, that choose to overwinter in the pond risk becoming trapped if ice forms and, sadly, it’s natural for a few to die. To minimise deaths from ‘winterkill’ try to clear fallen snow from the ice, so that light can still reach the plants in the pond and they can continue to produce oxygen. If you have a pump, leaving this running throughout the winter can also help.
Frozen ponds: gases under the ice can cause a problem for amphibians
In the past, Froglife has always recommended that a hole is maintained in the ice but recent reports suggest this may not make any difference to the frogs’ survival and in some situations, when the ice becomes very thick, it’s simply not possible.

If you can make a hole it certainly won’t do any harm. Try leaving something floating in the water which can be removed to leave a hole once the ice forms. Alternatively stand a pan of hot water on top to melt one. Never pour the hot water on or try to smash the ice as this can be damaging.
A saucepan of hot water can gently melt a hole
Despite your best efforts it may be that you still lose some frogs over this wintry period. You will see them floating under the ice or rising to the surface once the ice has melted. Although this is not nice to see, it is quite natural for frog populations to suffer losses at this time of year and it should not have too much overall impact.

Fortunately the majority of amphibians will be tucked up in other corners of the garden – under logs or in compost heaps – and should suffer no ill effects from the winter weather.

To help hibernating amphibians, and reptiles, in your garden in future ensure there are plenty of hidey holes such as rockeries and log piles. It’s also a good idea to give your pond a bit of a clear out in the autumn and stock up on oxygenating weed.”

- You can find more advice on ponds in Froglife's Just Add Water publication here.
- Take part in the Pond Conservation Big Pond Thaw Survey 2011/12 here
You can also help support amphibians and reptiles by shopping with Froglife here.  We have some great gifts for wildlife-friendly valentines!

Photos: Lucy Benyon & Jules Howard

31 January 2012

Have I Got Newts For You - January News

Your monthly round up of reptile and amphibian news from around the world, spotted by Froglife’s Conservation Communication Officer Lucy Benyon.

World’s deadliest frog finally protected
The World Land Trust is kicking off 2012 in style by helping create the first nature reserve to protect the world’s most poisonous vertebrate. The golden poison frog Phyllobates terribilis is relatively large compared to other poison dart frogs and even though its skin contains only 1mg of toxin, this is enough to kill 10 humans. This tiny but toxic frog lives in Columbia’s tropical rainforest but destruction of this habitat has left the species vulnerable. The new 124 acre Rana Terribilis Amphibian Reserve will help ensure the survival of this powerfully poisonous amphibian.
Source: World Land Trust

Weird and wonderful new species
What do cowboys have in common with 80s arcade classic Pac-Man? Well they both give their name to new species of amphibian discovered in Suriname. The cowboy frog, named for the spur on its heel, and the pac-man frog (check out the photo and you’ll see why!) are two of 46 potentially new species recorded during a number of intensive month-long expeditions to the tiny South American country. New reptiles were also discovered, including the turnip-tailed gecko.
Source: National Geographic Daily News

Warmer nests make for smarter lizards
New research by Australian scientists suggests that lizards hatching from warmer nests are quicker at learning things than their counterparts from cooler nests. It has already been established that temperature impacts on the lizards’ size and sex but this new research highlights how it also affects their brains. Data from the past 16 years shows that lizard nest temperatures have been rising, probably due to climate change.
Source: ABC Sydney

First airborne amphibian pheromones discovered
Frogs use a number of ways to communicate from the obvious – croaking! – to the less noticeable - pheromones. For years scientists have known that amphibians use water-borne pheromones to communicate with each other but a recent study has shown they also use airborne chemicals. It’s thought these odours may help frogs find a potential mate when numerous unique croakings from around the swamp make it difficult to find their own species.
Source: Chemical & Engineering News

Slumbering snakes will survive thanks to unusual habitat
Nearly 200 garter, brown and western fox snakes got a rude awakening when construction workers started repairing a railway line in Lake County, Illinois. The hibernating reptiles would not have been able to cope with the wintery weather but fortunately two snake-loving biologists and a schoolteacher stepped in to save the day. The snakes are now being housed, rather unusually, in a six foot wine chiller. This will keep them in a state of hibernation until they’re ready to be released later in the year.
Source: Chicago Tribune

You can find out more about amphibians and reptiles and what you can do to help them at the Froglife website here.

30 January 2012