Lake Pueblo State Park is an area of high desert. It’s not normally the kind of environment people think of when they picture frogs and toads. However, there are plenty of places in the Park that are capable of supporting amphibian populations and plenty of amphibians that are uniquely adapted to a desert lifestyle.
Amphibians are a group of animals that consist of frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts in North America.
Despite the fact that some salamanders look like lizards, amphibians are very different from reptiles.
They are characterized by their multi-stage lifecycle which includes an aquatic and terrestrial stage.
Amphibians start life as aquatic larvae, like tadpoles, and then change into land-dwelling adults, like frogs.
Amphibians then return to the water later in life and lay their eggs to start the cycle over again.
Amphibians also have a smooth, permeable skin to help absorb moisture and lay soft, gel-like eggs.
This is different from reptiles, which are covered in scales and lay eggs with leathery or hard shells.
Water is very important to amphibians at all stage of their life.
Here, in the desert, water becomes even more crucial.
The frogs, toads, and salamanders that live in Lake Pueblo State Park are tough and are adapted for life in this harsh landscape.
Lake Pueblo State Park has several species that reside within its borders.
They are most often active in spring and summer and hibernated during the colder months.
Tiger salamanders are the largest terrestrial salamanders in the country. They can reach lengths of up to 12 inches.
They are shaped like lizards, with elongated bodies, long tails, and 4 short legs.
In Colorado, tiger salamanders are usually blotched bright yellow and black. Tiger salamanders do live on the park. They can be found in riparian zones along the river, where there is plenty of moisture and cover. Adults spend much of their time underground. Some salamander can be found farther away from water and occasionally show up in cattle watering holes on ranches.
At higher elevation and in areas that are inhospitable on land, tiger salamanders may retain their gills throughout their lives. The salamander will grow large and be able to reproduce and lay eggs, but will look like a juvenile and never leave the water.
Tiger salamander will eat anything they can fit in their mouth including small mammals, like mice. Tiger salamanders are occasionally sold in pet stores and bait shops. Recently, the tiger salamander became the state amphibian of Colorado.
Leopard frogs are common throughout our area and all of eastern Colorado.
They can reach lengths of up to 5 inches, but are typically smaller. They have long back legs and are light green in color with dark green or brown spots that give them their name.
These frogs spend a lot of time in the water throughout their lives and will be found in and around small ponds with slow moving water.
Leopard frogs are fast and jump into the water when disturbed.
Occasionally they may be found in forested areas or fields with vegetation a few hundred yards from water.
Leopard frogs will eat a variety of animals, but primarily feed on insects.
Leopard frogs are excellent environmental indicators.
Bull frogs are large non-native frogs, but have become common in some areas since their introduction decades ago.
Bull frogs are common at Lake Pueblo State Park.
They can often attain sizes of up to 8 inches long.
They are dark green in color and have large heads and mouths.
Bull frogs are also easily recognizable by their call, which resembles a fog horn.
Like leopard frogs, bull frogs spend a lot of time in and close to bodies of water.
They will often sit near the edge of ponds and leap in at the first sign of danger.
Bull frogs can cause problems for native species by out-competing them for food and other resources.
Bull frogs have voracious appetites that include other frogs and their large size makes them hardy survivors.
They eat a lot and grow quickly.
Western chorus frogs are very small frogs.
They usually only attain a length of around an inch or 2.
They are light green in color and have varied marking that consist of broken, dark green, lateral stripes.
These frogs also have small toe pads, similar to tree frogs.
Western chorus frogs can be found in vegetation around small, fishless ponds or temporary pools.
They are very hard to see because of their small size, but are easily recognizable by their call. Western chorus frogs sound like someone running their fingernail along the teeth of comb.
Western chorus frogs are most active in spring and fall. They eat very small insects and worms.
Woodhouse’s toads are a very common species around Lake Pueblo State Park and around all of Pueblo County.
These large toads are seen at night crossing the road in the spring and summer, especially after rain.
They are big, up to 5 inches in length.
Woodhouse’s toads are olive green to brown in color and have spots and warts covering their bodies.
They also have the large, toxin producing, parotid glands located behind each eye that distinguishes them from frogs.
Woodhouse’s toads are adapted to a terrestrial life and only return to the water to breed and lay eggs.
They can be found out wandering and hunting at night just about anywhere.
These toads hide from the heat of the sun during the day under rock and logs, or whatever else they can find.
Woodhouse’s toads will eat all kinds of insects and are considered beneficial around homes and gardens.
Contrary to popular belief, touching these toads will not cause warts.
However, Woodhouse’s toads will release their bladder if picked up and handled roughly.
ALTHOUGH AMPHIBIANS ARE tough survivors, there are a few precautions people should take when observing these and other wild animals at Lake Pueblo State Park. B
e gentle on the animals and their habitat.
Be careful around breeding sites.
Handling amphibians is not recommended because many of their skin secretions are mildly toxic to humans and domestic pets.
This can cause irritation if it makes contact with open wounds, eyes, or mouth.
Don’t move animals from one location to another, or release pets into the wild.
Amphibians are very susceptible to spreading diseases.
In some areas, diseases from non-native amphibians have had devastating effects on local populations.
Do not collect specimens from the wild.
It is illegal to collect any animals at Lake Pueblo State Park. Check the Colorado Parks and Wildlife webpage for regulations on different species in other areas.
A fishing or small game license is often required.
It is always a much better idea to take good photos, and release animals after observing them.
If you are interested in the Reptiles and Amphibians of Colorado, stop by the Visitors Center for a free guide.
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