Skip to main content

Awesome amphibians: These PNW gems are all around if you know where to look!

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications and Katie Remine, Field Conservation

Can you spot the amphibian in the photo below? We'll give you some clues: it's native to the Pacific Northwest, grows to be about two inches long, is mostly nocturnal, loves the dampness of our area and is the official Washington State amphibian!

This Pacific tree frog has perfect camouflage to blend with damp, wet forest leaves. Photo: Diana Koch/Woodland Park Zoo Amphibian Monitoring Volunteer

Did you find the northern Pacific tree frog? They are hard to spot when they aren't on the move, since they're perfectly adapted to blend into their (and our) PNW environment. This frog species can even morph to change color to match their environment depending on the season.

Hello, little buddy! Photo: Diana Koch/Woodland Park Zoo Amphibian Monitoring Volunteer

The presence of amphibians—such as frogs, toads, salamanders and newts—is an indication of a healthy ecosystem. They are even more sensitive than many birds and mammals are to environmental disturbances related to things like pollution, invasive species and climate change. Amphibian monitoring programs are one way to take stock of the health of these species and of our ecosystems—because when we find them doing well in our wetlands, marshes and other damp or dewy areas, it’s a sign that we’re doing well too!

The rough-skinned newt seen below—newts are a kind of salamander—is one of those signs. This species is often found in the damp forests, grasslands and woodlands west of the Cascades. Like most salamanders, it can secrete toxins through its skin as a form of defense and can even regenerate limbs and parts of organs lost while fleeing from a predator.

A rough-skinned newt. Photo: Diana Koch/Woodland Park Zoo Amphibian Monitoring Volunteer

Every year since 2012, Woodland Park Zoo, in collaboration with Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW), has trained teams of community volunteers to annually monitor around 15 wetland sites in our region of western Washington to determine if amphibians are there. That could include finding evidence of any part of their lifecycle, from egg masses or larvae to spotting an adult animal. Our volunteers then log their data in the Amphibians of Washington project on iNaturalist, where project curators can verify their sightings. These observations help us understand where our local amphibians are—and aren’t—breeding across the region.

In late February of this year our teams surveyed many of those sites, including Seattle’s Discovery Park, Snohomish County’s Lake Goodwin and Crescent Lake, Oxbow Farm in Carnation, and the Hazel Wolf Wetlands Preserve in Sammamish. All the photos here, including the western redback salamander seen below, represent some of their exciting findings from those spots!

A western red-backed salamander. Photo: Diana Koch/Woodland Park Zoo Amphibian Monitoring Volunteer

Western redback salamanders are not uncommon in our region, but they're not a species we regularly encounter during our monitoring sessions. The Hazel Wolf Wetland team was excited to spot this little fella.

A northern Pacific tree frog. Photo: Diana Koch/Woodland Park Zoo Amphibian Monitoring Volunteer

The northern Pacific tree frog pictured above is bright green—another color (like the mostly brown one referenced earlier) that can help it stay well-camouflaged in its leafy habitat. But this one is easily seen against the background of our volunteer's gray gloves.

An egg mass from a northwestern salamander. Photo: Diana Koch/Woodland Park Zoo Amphibian Monitoring Volunteer

Amphibians have a life cycle that includes metamorphosis from egg to larva to adult. If you've ever seen a tadpole that swims and breathes through gills, that is an example of the most commonly recognized larval form of most frog and toads  Our volunteer monitors are well-trained to recognize amphibians in all stages of the life cycle, which means they need to be able to identify egg masses, like the one pictured above from a northwestern salamander that our monitoring team found.

Our team of trained volunteers searches for signs of amphibian breeding. Photo: Elaine Chuang/Woodland Park Zoo Amphibian Monitoring Volunteer

Do your part to help protect amphibians in your area: One way you can help amphibians is to reduce or eliminate the use of chemical pesticides in your yard, neighborhood and nearby parks. Amphibians have skin that is very thin and permeable, meaning they are very vulnerable to the toxins found in these chemicals. Pesticide free is healthier for these little PNW gems and other small creatures like pollinators too!

Would you like to join our Amphibian Monitoring team? Learn more about our community science program opportunities here.