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Of Tailed Frogs, Old Logs, and a Long Slog

By Bob Brett, Whistler Naturalists

Up at the end of the Soo Valley logging road last month, my friend Murray and I spent a memorable day.

Murray was helping me collect tree cores for an AWARE-sponsored project to increase our understanding of local forests. His coring skills were a bit rusty, but Murray made up for it by spotting a bunch of tailed frog tadpoles in a stream surrounded by old-growth forest.

The stream itself was not much more than a trickle, about a half-metre wide, but definitely ran much bigger during spring freshet. The tadpoles’ mouths were latched onto small rocks in pools on the edge of the stream.

Of the frogs in our area, only tailed frogs make such a place home. A small white dot at the end of each tadpole’s tail was the definitive identifier.

It took a long time to get home - more on that below - to read up further on tailed frogs. What I learned was, well, weird.

For example, they are the only frogs with tails in BC and the tail, which is only found on males, is actually a copulatory organ. Not coincidentally, they are the only BC frogs to fertilize their eggs internally. Gives a new slant to getting some tail, eh?

Another main weirdness is that tailed frogs remain tadpoles for up to four years and don’t reach sexual maturity until several years later. Total longevity may be up to 20 years, as long as your oldest cat.

Tailed frogs require a consistent stream environment with clear water that doesn’t dry in summer and stays within a narrow temperature range. Removal of trees surrounding these small streams removes the insulating effect and makes much of the former habitat unusable.

The future of tailed frogs is uncertain due to their rarity and sensitivity to changes in their habitat, especially from logging. The BC Government includes coastal tailed frogs ( Ascaphus truei ) on their blue list (threatened). The interior variety ( Ascaphus montanus ) is in even more peril. It is red-listed (endangered) both provincially and federally.

In addition to the tailed frogs, Murray and I had another discovery that day: lots of very old trees. Although all the yellow-cedars we sampled were smallish and hollow, most had at least 800 annual rings. My conservative estimate of the total age of these trees (1000+ years) makes these some of the oldest forests in the region.

Now about the long slog. This one’s a bit embarrassing.

Murray and I were in sight of the truck at the end of the logging road, some 22 kilometres from Highway 99. Feeling pretty good about the day, I reached for the key zipped into my pocket and only found air.

Near midnight, after about five hours walking the logging road, we made it to the reassuring noises of Highway 99. Unluckily, Murray had chosen an old set of painting whites for the day. And that particular set were splashed with the last colour he’d used: blood red.

For some reason, this colour combination didn’t assist our hitchhiking efforts. Two men at midnight in the middle of nowhere (one dressed like an axe murderer) trying to flag down minivans with Washington plates is not a recipe for success.

Some time later we were picked up by the owner of the truck who had came to find out where the heck it was. We sheepishly got into his car and were whisked back to the comforts of home.

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