Boreal Toad Conservation Team

COLORADO’S BOREAL TOADS ARE IN TROUBLE AND WE NEED YOUR HELP TO SAVE THEM!

As deadly chytrid fungus continues to spread from wetland to wetland, boreal toads need our help if they’re going to survive. In collaboration with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Denver Zoo is taking two conservation actions to bring boreal toads back from the brink in Colorado: 

Breeding + Release. To prevent boreal toad populations from completely disappearing, we are using our animal care expertise to breed these native amphibians at Denver Zoo and then release the tadpoles into the wild. This will also give wild populations more of a chance to build genetic resistance to chytrid. 

Community Science. To save the boreal toad, we need to understand how they are doing in Colorado, and that’s where you come in! In the summer months, volunteer community scientists on the Boreal Toad Conservation Team help us to search the mountain wetlands of Colorado for this hard-to-find amphibian. The data us and our volunteers gather in this projects informs CPW’s management of boreal toads, identifies future sites for wild reintroduction, and uncovers unknown populations (and we hope even ‘super-toads’ that may have natural resistance to chytrid fungus). 

Learn more about boreal toad conservation and how you can be a part of it by clicking on the boxes below!
And if exploring mountain wetlands in search of a lumpy little toad sounds fun, sign up below! We’d love to have you on Team Toad!
  • Why is the Species Struggling?

    Right at home in the rugged mountains of Colorado, boreal toads were once widespread across our state. However, since the 1980s, this unfroggettable creature has been disappearing from its historic high-elevation habitat. The main culprit is chytrid fungus, a deadly disease that has been devastating amphibian populations around the world for decades.  

    With boreal toad populations cratering, Colorado listed the boreal toad as a State Endangered Species in 1993. While the species is found across the western United States, the toads of the Southern Rockies (Colorado, northern New Mexico, and southern Wyoming) are more vulnerable to chytrid fungus than any other population.  

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife has been leading the charge to bring the boreal toad back from the brink. In 2019, Denver Zoo became involved by breeding and releasing threatened Utah boreal toads near Bryce Canyon National Park. Now, we are working to do the same in our own backyard!  

  • What Can You do to Help?

    As a Team Toad community scientist, you’ll visit high-elevation wetlands in Colorado to look for boreal toads and other amphibians. If an adult or juvenile amphibian is encountered, you’ll swab it for chytrid fungus. 

    This will help us determine the spread of this deadly disease and hopefully uncover toad populations that may be resistant or tolerant to it. Not to mention that the data helps us to identify suitable habitat for the future release of captive-bred tadpoles. At that point, our project will expand to not only studying historic habitat, but also monitoring the success of toad reintroductions. 

    All community scientists must first attend a field day with Denver Zoo staff, which is basically a hike out to toad habitat where we’ll teach you our disinfection, data collection, and amphibian handling protocols while collecting real data. After that you’re welcome to attend more field days or look for toads on your own!

  • Who Should Join Team Toad?

    You don’t need a science degree to be a community scientist! If you’re passionate about wildlife, enjoy exploring nature, and are excited to learn something new—we‘d be toad-ally thrilled to have you. However, before you volunteer independently, we require that you attend a Team Toad field day with Denver Zoo staff. This not only gives you a chance to learn how to collect accurate data, but helps you understand what is actually involved in a day of toad surveys.  

    Also, while you definitely don’t need to be an expert hiker to participate, it is helpful to have had some experience exerting yourself at high elevation before joining for a toad day. Most of our target wetlands require several miles of walking on and off a trail to reach them.

    Of course, you can be a part of Team Toad from the comfort of your home as well! Share our project with friends and family to increase boreal toad awareness. Advocate for climate action and reduce your carbon footprint (since climate change is another major threat for the boreal toad). And of course, you can support our conservation work with boreal toads and animals around the world by donating to Denver Zoo. 

  • Where does Team Toad Work?

    We are focused on surveying boreal toad breeding habitat. Boreal toads breed in various types of wetland above 8,000 ft in elevation, including beaver ponds, wet meadows, slow streams, lakes, reservoirs, and even patches of water that dry up by the end of the summer! While egg masses and tadpoles will only be found in the water, adult and juvenile boreal toads are likely to be in moist or dry places near water during the breeding season.  

    Drawing from the expertise of Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists, there are specific target wetlands where we want to focus our search. These sites are places that seem like potentially great toad habitat or where boreal toads have been seen in the past. Our target wetlands are all beautiful locations spread across the mountains Colorado. In 2023, there are particular concentrations of sites in the San Juans, the Arkansas Valley, and the Northern Front Range.

    You are also welcome to survey for boreal toads at any publicly-accessible wetland that meets the definition of boreal toad breeding habitat. For more information on boreal toad habitat preferences, check out CPW’s Boreal Toad Habitat Scorecard. 

  • What are Ideal Surveying Conditions?

    Boreal toads are well-adapted to life between 8,000 and 12,000 feet in elevation, where conditions are too harsh for most amphibians to survive. For much of the year, toad habitat is buried under snow, but when the snow melts the toads gather together at breeding ponds.  

    For these reasons, it’s best to survey soon after the wetland melts out (by far the easiest time to find adults and when egg masses can be found in the water) or ~6 to 10 weeks after that (when toad tadpoles have gotten bigger and easier to see). There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for when to survey a wetland for toads. Instead, it varies based on the local conditions. 

    Sites that are lower elevation and where the breeding waterbody gets more sunlight will melt out earlier and have tadpoles that grow up faster. The opposite is true for sites that are higher elevation and shadier. 

  • Why do Boreal Toads Matter?

    Because of chytrid fungus and other threats, boreal toads face an extremely uncertain future in Colorado. Without human intervention, they have a good chance of disappearing. Conserving species like the boreal toad is critical to maintaining healthy ecosystems, particularly in the alpine where there are very few species amphibians in the first place. Amphibians like boreal toads occupy a key part of food webs and provide essential protein to other species, like raccoons, foxes, birds or prey, and more.

    But just as importantly, we believe in saving wildlife for future generations—and we don’t want to imagine a Colorado without the boreal toad. 

  • How to get Started?
    1. Sign up as an interested volunteer now to be ready for volunteering season (May to August). 
    2. Educate yourself about boreal toads and the project’s data collection protocols. 
    3. Sign up for a Team Toad Field Day (learn how to collect data + disinfect for chytrid). 
    4. Join our staff for future Field Days—or go out independently with a friend! 

BOREAL TOAD CONSERVATION TEAM

WHERE: Wetlands in the Colorado Rocky Mountains
WHAT: Hiking, Data Gathering + Swabbing 
WHEN: May–August

Endangered and declining in Colorado, the boreal toad is especially vulnerable to the deadly chytrid fungus. We’re seeking community scientists to help us monitor the species’ high-country habitat—including searching for toads and swabbing them for chytrid. This will help us understand the health of current wild populations and determine suitable locations for future reintroduction of captive-bred Denver Zoo toads.