05 December 2010

'There's a frog stuck under the ice in my pond.....'

Even though I've been involved in Wildlife Rescue for a good few years now, there is still plenty to learn and a knowledge base that needs to be extended and updated continuously. 
The shortfalls and gaps in my knowledge were shown about 2 nights ago following a call on the 'out of hours' advice line. The call from a lady, was about a Frog found under frozen ice in her garden pond; she had managed to rescue it and was not sure what to do next. She had it in a tub and the Frog had been extremely lethargic when taken from the pond, but was now getting more lively.....
Now to be honest I didn't have a clue. Amphibians are not regular patients at the centre and I suppose I'd never really thought about having to rescue one before. Ask me about Badgers, Foxes, Owls, Buzzards or Swans, Pigeons and Hedgehogs and I know exactly what to do. My mind was now full of questions; Should it be put back or kept? Can Frogs survive freezing water? Did it need to go to a rescue centre for recuperation until after the cold snap? So after apologising for my lack of knowledge, I told the lady I'd get back to her as soon as possible after I had done some urgent research!

Nellie the Newt - a rare wildlife casualty brought to the centre.

Now what I'm about to share with you is what I found out and also provide links to relevant information about Amphibians. This I hope you will find useful whether you work in Wildlife Rescue or not.

Firstly the short answer - Put the Frog back - now I'll expand and explain:
  • Male frogs often lie dormant at the bottom of ponds during winter, they’re prone to dying when the ponds freeze over. This is a relatively common phenomena called ‘winterkill‘, but is more likely to occur this year due to the severity of the freezing weather.
  • Frogs slow down their metabolism when lying dormant, and breathe through their skin. Plants in the pond produce oxygen through photosynthesis and this process is still possible even if a pond is covered in ice. So they (the Frogs) can still survive if the pond freezes over. However, lots of leaf litter in a pond produces and releases noxious gases as it decomposes thus starving the pond of oxygen and killing the Frogs. Also should snow cover the pond, it prevents the plants from photosynthesising, gases can again build up in the pond with the same result.
So what can we do to help our little amphibian friends during these cold winter months? I discovered an organisation called 'Amphibian and Reptile Conservation' (ARC) http://www.arc-trust.org/
This site is a hive of information, not only on amphibians but also reptiles in the UK and a must resource for anyone involved in Wildlife Rescue, Wildlife Conservation or anyone wanting to set up and maintain a pond in their garden. Below you'll find what ARC suggests we should do with frozen ponds to help amphibians survive the winter months:
  • Make a hole in the ice by leaving a pan of hot water on the surface, allowing the base of the pan to melt a hole. 
  • Leave a plastic ball in the hole overnight, and remove it the following morning when the pond surface has refrozen. This enables noxious gases to leave the pond. 
  • ARC also warns against smashing, or pouring hot water on the ice, or adding chemicals (particularly salt). All of these methods can cause serious damage to pond life
So there you have it, quite a simple solution and explanation, yet it was one that eluded me - perhaps it was short sightedness on my part, ignorance or just not understanding that when I put my hand up to say, 'I care about, love and want to help wildlife' - it means ALL wildlife. It doesn't matter whether its feathered, furry, scaly, flies, walks, swims, as big as a Red Deer or as small as a Stag Beetle; I/we owe it to all critters to understand what they are about, where they live, what they eat and what can be done to ensure there lives on this planet are as enjoyable and stress free as our own. I passed this information on to the lady and now the Frog is happily back in its pond...although, personally, the bottom of a pond is the last place I'd want to be in this weather!
I hope that someone reading this finds it useful, can put the knowledge you may gain into practice and hopefully go on to helping another beautiful creature.
The ARC website is a terrific site with so much information about Amphibians and Reptiles, I've learnt loads from it; did you know we have 7 species of Amphibian native to this country or that Leatherback Turtles are regarded as native to British waters?
They also have some useful downloads like this snake identification chart -
Give them a visit and maybe even show your support 

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