TENNESSEE (WJHL) — May 7-13 is recognized by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) as a special week dedicated to amphibians found across the state.
“Amphibian Week” is designed to bring special recognition to these unique creatures in an effort to spread awareness throughout communities on how vital amphibians are, the threats they face and what people can do to save them.
News Channel 11 talked all things amphibian-related with Scott Dykes, Biodiversity Coordinator for the TWRA’s Administrative Region Four, and Chris Ogle, Biodiversity Field Biologist for the Region. Both Dykes and Ogle cover non-game species.
What Amphibians can be found in Tennessee
“Birds have a distinct song, frogs have a distinct call,” said Ogle. “You can listen for [frogs] and determine what species it is based on the call.”
Salamanders, including Newts, Sirens and Mudpuppies can be found across the Volunteer State.
Most Biodiverse in the Nation
From the mountains in East Tennessee to the coastal plains of Western Tennessee, amphibians have diverse habitats. According to Ogle, the mountains of Tennessee are home to more salamanders than most states.
Many salamanders in the southern Appalachian region are ‘endemic,’ meaning they’re found only in a specific area, like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Sirens and Amphiumas, both species of salamander, are found in West Tennessee.
The Mississippi River also provides amphibians with a unique habitat, Ogle stated.
Overall, Tennessee is the most biodiverse state in the United States that doesn’t have a coastline for terrestrial vertebrates, said Ogle.
State of Amphibians in Tennessee
According to Dykes, population declines are hard to measure, but the TWRA is aware that habitats are in decline. The TWRA does direct sampling of amphibians to determine different populations, but as a whole, they look at the habitat.
“With amphibians, it’s hard to clarify whether that population is declining, so that’s why [the TWRA] uses the habitat as a surrogate to determine if they’re declining or not,” said Ogle.
Land development and the draining of wetlands are direct causes of the loss of amphibian habitats. “Tennessee has had a history of draining wetlands,” said Ogle. “[Wetlands] are great soils to grow crops and things we need.”
“It really boils down to people, and there’s more of us and we have our wants and desires and places we want to live and the view we want and the things we want,” said Dykes. “It comes at a cost.”
How to help
Commercialization is a huge threat to amphibians; however, humans can do their own part in keeping the critters across the Volunteer State safe.
Ogle stated one way for individuals to help amphibians is to cut down on pesticide and herbicide usage.
“A lot of [amphibians] breathe through their skin,” said Ogle. “Sometimes toxins can go into [their system].”
Although amphibians are interesting and many choose to pick them up, the TWRA encourages making sure you wash your hands with soap and water, not hand sanitizer, and are completely dry before touching an amphibian.
“There are things on your hands you don’t realize,” said Dykes. “You pick up an animal that breathes through its skin and you’ve potentially injured or killed it, depending on what’s on your hand.”
The TWRA strongly advises against taking in wild amphibians as pets.
“A huge issue with amphibians is the pet trade and sale… both affect the populations,” said Ogle.
Ogle and Dykes advise having some knowledge of what animal you’re observing and taking time to read up on the TWRA’s website for more information about these unique species.