Reflections on Biology, Gardening, and Wildlife Conservation Topics from the Team at Natural Learning Enterprises
From the desk of environmental educator and herpetologist, Peter Kleinhenz, MS
“Peter, watch out for that raft of fire ants. I’ve seen a few leeches in here too.” I was standing hip-deep in a muddy ditch outside of Wewahitchka, Florida, enduring a torrential downpour, and not in the mood for those words from my boss. Morale could not have been lower that night in mid-February. That is, until I began listening to the frogs.
Green tree frogs, Eastern Narrowmouth Toads, Grey Tree Frogs, American Toads, and Upland Chorus Frogs were creating a symphony unlike any I had heard in nature. Our job required us to catch breeding pairs of Upland Chorus Frogs in order to study their responses to different calls. However, the sonic atmosphere made focusing on work a challenge. My co-workers and I were moved by the increasingly-emphatic singing, pausing frequently to reflect on the almost-otherworldly sounds emanating from the ditch and flooded forest surrounding us. The awe we felt quickly shifted to sorrow, however, with one sentence that my boss felt necessary to share. “Take this in, guys, because in ten or twenty years, this experience could be impossible.”
Frogs, in general, are some of the most imperiled animals on the planet. Save The Frogs, a non-profit organization committed to frog conservation, reports that about 200 species of frogs have gone extinct in the last thirty years. Additionally, approximately one-third of all frog species are endangered. Habitat loss is the most serious concern overall, but researchers think that two other threats may be working together to put frogs in even more immediate danger.
High on a remote plateau in Sequioa-Kings Canyon National Park, the environment could not seem more pristine. So, then, why are the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs that live there dying off? Researchers studying this population are reporting a fungus called Chytrid in many of the deceased frogs. Chytrid, for a number of complicated reasons, does not always kill frogs but seems to be at the root of frog extinctions from California to Costa Rica to Australia. An increasing number of scientists believe that the reason so many frogs infected with Chytrid die in these externally-pristine areas is due to another finding in the frogs: pesticides.
You and I probably eat food treated with pesticides every day. They have raised food production worldwide and are a multi-billion dollar industry. But they have a problem: they do not always stay put. Certain chemicals, such as chlorpyrifos, have been found over 100 miles from the fields where they were originally applied. These chemicals have been shown to suppress the immune system of frogs and could be the catalyst for Chytrid to wipe them out in many populations. So why does this matter?
Frogs are bio-indicators, meaning that the health of their populations reflects the health of the environment they live in. Furthermore, they control insects, provide us with medicines, and perform several other important functions for both humans and nature. The prediction my boss made could very well come true, unless you and I take action. Try to buy organic when possible, support organizations working to research and save frogs, and educate your friends about the importance of protecting them. The last feat should be something we can all accomplish easily because let’s face it; everybody loves frogs.
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