California Now Has an Official State Amphibian: the California Red-Legged Frog
By declaring the California red-legged frog the official state amphibian of California, the Legislature and Governor acknowledge the species’ important place in the ecology, culture and history of California. It also broadcasts and reinforces the state’s commitment to protecting its rare resources, which include amphibians.
Within California, it lives in various aquatic habitats from sea level to more than 5,000 feet in elevation, occupying a variety of aquatic habitats and their adjacent uplands in the coastal mountain ranges from southern Mendocino to northern Los Angeles counties and a few isolated areas in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It has been lost from most of Southern California, but some populations still persist in northwestern Baja California, Mexico. The California red-legged frog is the largest native frog in the western United States.
Amphibians, especially frogs, provide an important function in aquatic ecosystems by eating insects and being a food source for other animals. They are also excellent indicators of the environmental quality of an area. This species is the highly renowned frog that Mark Twain wrote about in The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County in 1865.
They were abundant until the 19th century Gold Rush, when the human population suddenly tripled, and the “forty-niners” nearly ate them into extinction at a rate of approximately 80,000 frogs per year. When the over-consumption of California’s native frogs created a shortage, food sellers introduced non-native bullfrogs to replace them in the frog leg (food) market. Now those bullfrogs have become widespread, and compete for the same food source thus threatening the native frog species’ existence.
The California red-legged frog is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, which prohibits them from being “taken” (harassed, harmed, pursued, hunted, shot, wounded, killed, trapped, captured or collected). It also prohibits adverse modification of their designated critical habitat without adequate mitigation.
The primary threat to California red-legged frog populations has been habitat loss. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the frog has seen a 70 percent reduction of its former geographic range, primarily due to conversion or degradation of habitat.
“We’ve learned a great deal about our impact on California species and their environment during the past century,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Rhianna Lee. “These frogs are unique members of their native ecosystems and the food web, evolving together so that all the pieces support each other for long-term survival. Removing one or more of the pieces can have a negative effect on the health of the environment.”
Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 2364 (V. Manuel Pérez, D-Indio) into law June 28. The proposal for a state amphibian was made by an after-school club at Sea View Elementary School in Salton City. Third grade students suggested the designation in a letter to Assemblyman Pérez.
About The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)
CDFW officers patrol more than 220,000 square miles of ocean and 159,000 square miles of land in California, while the number of wardens has increased in the last few years, California still has the lowest number of wildlife officers per capita in the United States.