The weather this week has been cold with widespread overnight frosts and with the threat of yet another Beast from the East for 2021, this kind of weather, along with widespread snow, is set to continue. These types of weather conditions are normal for the time of year and amphibians and reptiles are well adapted with most hibernating in frost-free terrestrial habitats. However, the relatively mild conditions up until the beginning of January has started breeding migrations of amphibians to ponds with reports of highly active common frogs and even sightings of frog spawn. Since the majority of amphibians have not yet begun their breeding migrations, there is not a high risk of mortality. Most of the amphibians which had become active will have resumed normal hibernation in terrestrial habitats. However, to ensure their survival there are a few steps that you can take to help amphibians using your garden.
First, if you have a garden pond, periodically and gently melt any ice on the surface (a hot cup or pan will do the trick!) to promote oxygen exchange. This will allow amphibians which have migrated to the pond to survive in the water beneath the ice and prevent winterkill. Winterkill is where toxic gases released in the pond through natural decomposition of dead leaves cannot escape from the pond due to the layer of ice and the water becoming deoxygenated.
Second, you can try floating a small object e.g. tennis ball, in the water which prevents ice formation. However, this only works in moderate frosts and in severely cold weather, breaking the ice is the only option. Third, provide piles of leaves or areas of dense vegetation and scrub close to your garden pond as this will provide areas for amphibians to take refuge during periods of cold weather. If you have frog spawn, the upper portions may freeze, but the spawn which is underwater should survive. However, if you have a very small pond and/or it is shallow and prone to freezing throughout, you can temporarily place your frog spawn into a bucket of water and place in a garage, or similar place, out of the freezing conditions. Once the cold weather has passed, ensure that you return the spawn to the original place within the same pond to allow it to continue to develop.
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If you find any dead amphibians, you can register them with our friends at the Garden Wildlife Health project.