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Volunteers Needed for Amphibian Survey

Amphibians throughout the world are being threatened by climate change, drought, disease and poor land management decisions. Furthermore we just do not know enough about this Class of animals and more research needs to be done. Worldwide amphibian numbers have plummeted, but there is some hope and one bright spot for at least seven species is the Sonoran Desert National Monument (SDNM) southwest of Phoenix.

Great Plains narrowmouth toad,Gastrophryne olivacea

Great Plains narrowmouth toad, Gastrophryne olivacea

The SDNM has a remnant of a once much larger desert grassland dominated by Tobosa grass. Many scientists believe that this grassland extended from Mexico well into central Arizona. The grassland area near Cordes Junction, AZ is dominated by tobosa grass. Tobosa grass itself is not threatened or endangered, but desert grasslands as biotic communities or habitats are threatened. The Nature Conservancy of Arizona has done a lot of great work on grassland conservation in Arizona.

Today the Vekol Valley Grassland in the SDNM we can find seven species of amphibians. This is perhaps the most diverse amphibian community in the American portion of the Sonoran Desert. Herpetologists, people who study or should I say from my experience love reptiles and amphibians, have known about these amphibians for some time. In fact, one of the reasons the SDNM was proclaimed a national monument is because of the Vekol Valley Grassland and its amphibian inhabitants.

The BLM has asked the FSDNM to help them learn more about the amphibians in the Vekol Valley Grassland by organizing and conducting an amphibian census in 2013. Actually some of this has been done my local herpetologists for some time and there is a considerable amount of unpublished data available, but more information is needed and the FSDNM are excited to get going on this project.

Russell Haughey, FSDNM board member, will be leading the 2013 SDNM Amphibian project. Basically the project is this:

Lowland burrowing frog, Pternohyla fodiens

Lowland burrowing frog, Pternohyla fodiens

  • Desert amphibians emerge from their burrows when the summer monsoons arrive. They emerge and rush to breed and return to the security of their burrows before the water dries up. Some species do this in a couple weeks.
  • Since monsoon rainfall is sporadic in timing and location we do not know when we will actually conduct the census. It will be done as an on-call event. There will be more than one census event.
  • If you are interested in joining the FSDNM and a number of dedicated scientists send your contact information to We will put you on the list and you will be contacted when we head to the field. Hopefully a day or two of notice will be possible.
  • Conditions will be brutal to say the least. It will be dark, humid, buggy and muddy. It may occur during the workweek. We cannot guarantee weekends. Timing will depend upon nature and the scientists leading the project. Night time is the best time, but there may be some work during the day.
  • It will be rewarding, fun for some, and a good way to meet interesting people.
  • Volunteers will be provided with instruction on how to ID these and other animals we may encounter.

The seven species are:

  1. Sonoran Desert toad: common
  2. Great Plains toad: common
  3. Red –spotted toad: common
  4. Sonoran green toad: Rare in U.S. Northern most record is near or in Vekol Valley.
  5. Great Plains narrowmouth toad: rare in Arizona. Northern most record in the Vekol Valley.
  6. Lowland burrowing treefrog: rare in U.S. Northern most record in the Vekol Valley.
  7. Couch’s spade foot: common

In addition, one Green toad was collected and reported in 1996 from the Vekol Valley, but there has not been any subsequent record.

For more information about these amphibians go to:




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