Amphibians - Frogs
The Wyoming Toad, once thought to be extinct, is recovering in the Laramie area with the help of captive breading and adult releasing. Photo: Sara Armstrong, USFWS

JACKSON, Wyo. — To be perfectly frank, outside of a witches’ brew pantry or perchance prince-seeking maidens, not much thought is given to the toad.

A frog is tolerable. There’s Kermit. He’s cute. But a toad? All those warts and what not?

Herpetologist Debra Patla is all about toads, however. Amphibians in general. Patla has been investigating wild amphibian populations in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem since 1993. One thing she will likely tell you toad-shamers right off the bat is how crucial the species is as a bellwether of environmental conditions.

Deb Patla. Courtesy photo

The toad, by virtue of its middlin’ position in the food chain, makes a pretty good canary in a coal mine. It eats insects and in turn gets eaten by birds and snakes. If anything is out of balance in the ecosystem, the toad is right smack in the middle of it.

And you’d be surprised how often the toad is in the news; even in Wyoming.

There was the ‘toad bloom’ at Jackson Lake back in 2014, when hordes of boreal toads sought out new breeding grounds and overran picnic areas in the process.

And how about the comeback story of the year in 2017? Wyoming has its own toad—the Wyoming Toad (or Baxter’s toad)—a rare species that exists in only one place on the planet: the Laramie Basin. Thought to be extinct in 1991, a captive breeding program has helped the toad make a bit of a return.

Can’t get enough?

Pull up a toadstool tonight as Patla discusses myriad topics on the amphibian world in Jackson Hole. She will share what she learned in 2019 from re-visits to nearly all formerly-identified Western Toad breeding areas in Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge. She’ll answer questions like: How are toads coping with the big challenges of Jackson Lake and Snake River water management, beaver scarcity, and human disturbance?

Tuesday, March 10, the Jackson Hole Bird & Nature Club presents “Toads in Jackson Hole” with biologist Debra Patla from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Teton County Library. The event is free and open to the public. Everyone is invited to attend and share observations of the birds, mammals, amphibians, and other critters that roam our valley.

Patla is a Research Associate of the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative (NRCC), where she coordinates field work for the long-term, multi-partner amphibian monitoring program in Grand Teton and Yellowstone, now in its 12th year. She earned her MS degree from Idaho State University, studying the decline of a frog population at Lake Village, Yellowstone. She resides in Moran.