A fungus threatens survival of the only toads that live high in the Rocky Mountains — @ColoradoSun

A submerged Boreal toad. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife / Melissa Butynski

Here’s an in-depth recap of the first trek this summer to collect and treat boreal toads up near Buena Vista via Jennifer Brown writing for The Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole thing and for the photos. Here’s an excerpt:

Tim Korpita is wearing blue rubber gloves and thigh-high waders, but when someone shouts “Toad!” he lunges like a ninja.

He takes a giant step over the marsh grasses and is on his stomach at the edge of a slow-moving creek, clutching a tiny, speckled boreal toad between his thumb and index finger. He immediately turns the inch-long creature, checking for a green or pink spot on its inner thigh.

Nothing.

Korpita, a University of Colorado doctoral candidate, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists last summer captured 250 boreal toadlets — beyond tadpoles but not quite terrestrial toads — in a high-elevation wetland along Cottonwood Creek. They injected them with a spot of either pink or green dye, visible through amphibian skin when held up to the sunlight.

Biologists collect and record data at a field laboratory as they bathe 35 Boreal toads captured on South Cottonwood Creek, west of Buena Vista, on Sept. 6, 2018. Photo courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Pink was the control group, while the green-tagged toads received antifungal bacterial baths that scientists hoped would protect them from a pathogen killing off boreal toads throughout the Rocky Mountains. The disease is killing amphibians across the globe as biologists race to stop it before it’s too late.

Korpita, 29, and a parks and wildlife crew returned to the mountains above Buena Vista on a recent blue-sky day, hoping to find at least some of their study group.

By lunchtime on toad hunt day, after nearly two hours of peering along the edges of mountain ponds and in the mud-bottomed streams flowing through the bog, the team had found just six yearling toads. They spotted five more that afternoon, gently placing each one in a plastic bag with a clump of moss for moisture.

Of the 11, just two were tagged (one pink, one green), meaning there was little to say about whether a bath last summer in the lavender-tinted wash, dubbed “purple rain,” is saving their lives.

But this was biologists’ first trek of the summer. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and CU scientists plan to return every two weeks to the Chaffee County marsh to catch the black-and-gray toads and swab their skin for DNA before releasing them back to the pond. Each one, tagged or not, is showered with sterile water to rinse off the mud and placed in a large test tube for exactly one hour to collect a sample of the bacteria on their skin.

Meanwhile, on Korpita’s recent trip to the ponds, he sits under the shade of a pine tree in the middle of the forest and showered the first batch of captured toads. With a cotton swab, he strokes their clean skin for DNA samples. Back at the lab, Korpita will try to determine whether the toads carry the deadly chytrid fungus. And for the toads that received last summer’s fungus-fighting bacteria treatment, Korpita will try to see if it’s still active in their skin and protecting them from the disease.

The hope is that by summer’s end, Korpita will have captured enough toads that received his bacterial bath to know whether it works in the wild.

BUENA VISTA — Tim Korpita is wearing blue rubber gloves and thigh-high waders, but when someone shouts “Toad!” he lunges like a ninja.

He takes a giant step over the marsh grasses and is on his stomach at the edge of a slow-moving creek, clutching a tiny, speckled boreal toad between his thumb and index finger. He immediately turns the inch-long creature, checking for a green or pink spot on its inner thigh.

Nothing.

Korpita, a University of Colorado doctoral candidate, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists last summer captured 250 boreal toadlets — beyond tadpoles but not quite terrestrial toads — in a high-elevation wetland along Cottonwood Creek. They injected them with a spot of either pink or green dye, visible through amphibian skin when held up to the sunlight.

Pink was the control group, while the green-tagged toads received antifungal bacterial baths that scientists hoped would protect them from a pathogen killing off boreal toads throughout the Rocky Mountains. The disease is killing amphibians across the globe as biologists race to stop it before it’s too late.

Tim Korpita searches for boreal toads in thick marsh grasses in the Cottonwood Creek drainage above Buena Vista in late June. Korpita treated the toads with a bacterial wash last summer in an effort to protect them from a fungus that is killing amphibians worldwide. (Nina Riggio, Special to The Colorado Sun)
Korpita, 29, and a parks and wildlife crew returned to the mountains above Buena Vista on a recent blue-sky day, hoping to find at least some of their study group.

By lunchtime on toad hunt day, after nearly two hours of peering along the edges of mountain ponds and in the mud-bottomed streams flowing through the bog, the team had found just six yearling toads. They spotted five more that afternoon, gently placing each one in a plastic bag with a clump of moss for moisture.

Of the 11, just two were tagged (one pink, one green), meaning there was little to say about whether a bath last summer in the lavender-tinted wash, dubbed “purple rain,” is saving their lives.

But this was biologists’ first trek of the summer. Colorado Parks and Wildlife and CU scientists plan to return every two weeks to the Chaffee County marsh to catch the black-and-gray toads and swab their skin for DNA before releasing them back to the pond. Each one, tagged or not, is showered with sterile water to rinse off the mud and placed in a large test tube for exactly one hour to collect a sample of the bacteria on their skin.

Meanwhile, on Korpita’s recent trip to the ponds, he sits under the shade of a pine tree in the middle of the forest and showered the first batch of captured toads. With a cotton swab, he strokes their clean skin for DNA samples. Back at the lab, Korpita will try to determine whether the toads carry the deadly chytrid fungus. And for the toads that received last summer’s fungus-fighting bacteria treatment, Korpita will try to see if it’s still active in their skin and protecting them from the disease.

The hope is that by summer’s end, Korpita will have captured enough toads that received his bacterial bath to know whether it works in the wild.

The tedious effort is one of many underway to save boreal toads, the only high-elevation toad in the Rockies. The slow-moving toads — listed as an endangered species in Colorado — can hibernate beneath the snow for six to eight months of the year, at elevations from 7,500 to 12,000 feet.

Boreal toads were so abundant, from the late 1800s and until the 1960s, that they would sit under Buena Vista lamp posts at night, gobbling up insects that swarmed to the light, according to historical articles reviewed by Parks and Wildlife. They live in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Utah, Colorado and, until they died off there, New Mexico.

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