Spotlight on Okanagan Amphibians at Risk

Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance Pacific Tree Frog pacific_tree_frog
Pacific Tree Frog
What is an amphibian?

Amphibians start life in ponds as eggs then hatch into tadpoles or larvae using gills to breathe. When lungs are developed, they can leave the pond and breathe through their smooth skin (no fur, feathers or scales!). The change from egg to tadpole or larvae to an adult is known as metamorphosis. Amphibians need wetlands but also good habitat on land since they are both aquatic and terrestrial.

Tiger Salamander

Latin Name: Ambystoma (“blunt mouth”) Tigrinum (“like a tiger”)
Federal Status: Endangered
Provincial Status: Red Listed (threatened or endangered)
Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance Tiger Salamander by Dick Cannings tigerSalamander
Tiger Salamander by Dick Cannings

Just like the Spadefoot, this amphibian has adapted to a desert climate. Unlike other salamander families, tiger salamanders have stout bodies and limbs. They can be various colours and patterns ranging from patches of greenish olive, yellow or tan on a brown or black background. Adults have large round heads with a blunt mouth and very tiny eyes. They are nocturnal predators who eat insects, baby mice, snails and slugs. Tiger Salamanders look like tigers and hunt like tigers!


The tiger salamander breeds in permanent ponds, oxbows or lakes and sometimes in seasonal ponds. Larvae live in aquatic weeds under logs or in shallow water. The adults forage in sage and antelope-brush grasslands, open forests and riparian areas. They create burrows or use the burrows of other animals. Most of their adult life is spent underground.

Great Basin Spadefoot

Latin Name: Spea Intermontana
Federal Status: Threatened
Provincial Status: Blue Listed (vulnerable)
Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Alliance Photograph courtesy of Sara Ashpole. toad_spadefoot
Photograph courtesy of Sara Ashpole.

Spadefoots are unique desert-adapted amphibians that look very much like toads. They are small and squat with stubby noses and eyes with a vertical pupil. They are nocturnal foragers who eat a variety of insects and aquatic plants. Spadefoots have to watch out for fish, birds, non-native bullfrogs and even snakes which will eat them. Adults spadefoots can be up to 6 cm in length.


They need ponds or temporary pools of water for eggs and tadpoles. Spadefoot adults require deep, loose soils for burrowing and foraging. Since they move between aquatic and terrestrial habitats, crossing roads can be a hazard.

At risk amphibians need your help!

In the Okanagan and Similkameen, rapid urban and agricultural expansion is taking over critical amphibian habitat. As our summers get warmer, wetlands are drying up so it is harder to find ponds to lay eggs. Introduced fish such as bass and perch eat eggs, larvae and adults, making many wetlands into death traps. Global warming has also been hard on amphibians all over the world. Increasing ultraviolet rays affects the skin of amphibians and can make them more vulnerable to disease.

What you can do

  • Maintain and restore ponds, seasonal flooded areas, and wetlands so amphibians can use them.
  • Build exit structures so amphibians don’t get trapped in artificial water features such as swimming pools and hot tubs.
  • Keep cattle and horses away from natural ponds or restrict their access.
  • Keep the natural habitat around small ponds and lakes.
  • Please don’t release pet frogs or live fish into natural ponds. Bullfrogs and non-native fish are major predators to local amphibians.
  • Please don’t ride bikes or ATVs near wet meadows or ponds. Soil compaction can destroy the habitat for amphibians.
  • Use pesticides responsibly and remember that run-off chemicals can get into local water systems.

If you want to learn the various amphibian calls and join a volunteer monitoring program please refer to BC Frogwatch at

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