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Illinois hunting and fishing

An Illinois state-threatened Illinois chorus frog perches on the finger of a researcher. The tiny frogs experience boom and bust population cycles depending on the presence of temporary wetlands. Chris Young/The State Journal-Register.

Wet spring great for chorus frogs

June 26, 2010 at 09:16 PM

Three wet years in a row have been a boon for the Illinois chorus frog, an Illinois threatened species.

The Illinois chorus frog is found in areas of sandy soil, primarily in the neighborhood of the Illinois River. Menard, Mason and Cass counties all harbor the rare frogs.

New populations and occurrences have been documented recently, and researchers are learning how to combine information on soil types, wetlands and historic occurrences to predict where they might be found.

Still, how do you judge the status of an animal whose numbers are cyclic by nature? What about the dry years when the number of temporary wetland ponds decreases — and Illinois chorus frog numbers drop with them?

Bob Bluett of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources office of resource conservation says the Illinois chorus frog — small enough to sit on a man’s finger — is a tough character.

“It’s puts up with the rough times,” he says.

Even in a good year, Illinois chorus frogs are in a race to survive.

They spend about one-third of the year in breeding ponds where the tadpoles must hatch, grow and mature before the temporary wetlands dry out in mid-summer.

If things dry out too soon, game over. Wait until next year.
Temporary ponds have their limitations, but they still are the Illinois chorus frog’s best bet.

Ponds that don’t dry out can support predators such as fish and bullfrogs.

Illinois chorus frogs spend the other two-thirds of the year underground. What they are doing down there and how they feed remains a mystery.

How and if they survive drought years when there are few or no temporary ponds also is unknown.

Somehow, they make it through to thrive during good times.

“These frogs are exquisitely adapted to adversity,” Bluett says.

Bluett has pulled together a team of field scientists, soil scientists, computer mapping specialists and biologists to study the frogs and help come up with solutions.

Besides locating frogs, the team has been locating landowners — helping to sign them up for special conservation programs that can help protect the ponds that might otherwise be tilled and farmed in dry years.

The goal is to preserve enough wetland habitats to put the frogs on firmer footing. The plan calls for them to be taken off the state threatened species list within the next 15 years.
Bluett says the key is to keep a baseline of habitat — and therefore Illinois chorus frogs — sufficient to see the species through years of drought.

“We’re not looking to have frogs everywhere all the time,” Bluett says. “We are hoping to keep the base healthy enough so the frogs can become abundant (when conditions become favorable again).”

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