Did you know that there is an American charity dedicated to saving frogs? Back in May, 2008, Dr Kerry Kriger founded SAVE THE FROGS!, which became the first public charitable organisation, set up exclusively to help in the conservation of amphibians. Today, there are branches in many other parts of the world, including the UK, Portugal, Italy, Ghana, Bangladesh, India, China, South Korea, Mexico and Peru. The word is spreading fast and many people from all walks of life are joining the movement to help save the amphibians.
Finding frogspawn in spring and watching it develop into tadpoles and then tiny froglets is one of the delights of being a youngster. School kids are taught about this incredible metamorphosis in Biology lessons. It used to be easy enough to find frogs and tadpoles in a local pond near where you lived, and you could watch the process of transformation going on away from the classroom. In many places today, though, those days have long gone by and frogs, like so many forms of wildlife, have been disappearing. Toads, newts and salamanders were once common too, but sadly, many types are now under endangered and amphibian populations worldwide are declining fast. As many as 200 species have become extinct since the 1980s.
On Save The Frogs Day, 29 April 2011, Dr Kriger made a bold statement in which he asserted: “When we save the frogs, we’re protecting all our wildlife, all our ecosystems, and all humans.”
You may well be wondering how frog conservation has such far reaching implications, not only for the natural world but for us too. Simply put, frogs are a sign of a healthy ecosystem and are an essential part of the food-chain. Think of all the predators that feed on the amphibians. Many aquatic insects, such as dragonfly nymphs and water-beetles, eat tadpoles. Many fish eat the insects that eat tadpoles and also eat the tadpoles themselves, and some larger fish will take small frogs. We eat fish, and in many places, people eat frogs as well, if only in the form of their legs. So, frogs are certainly in the food-chain all the way right up to us.
And frogs help us in other ways. They feed on mosquitoes and help keep the numbers of these pests down, whilst frog tadpoles eat algae, so help keep ponds and waterways cleaner.
Frogs are bio-indicators. Their permeable skins readily absorb toxic chemicals, so if frogs are not doing well in an environment, it may well be a sign of harmful pollution levels.
There are many threats to the survival of frogs and other amphibians. One of the main ones is the destruction of their natural habitats. Ponds are often destroyed completely to make way for buildings and other developments, and wetlands are frequently drained and used for farming purposes. Coupled with the loss of habitat is the problem of water pollution with toxic chemicals, including pesticides that leach into the groundwater and can easily end up in ponds, lakes, streams and rivers. The widely used herbicides Roundup (Glyphosate) and Atrazine have been shown to cause toxic effects for amphibians. The Berkeley News has reported on how atrazine can turn male frogs into females.
Frogs are also being killed off by the infectious and deadly chytrid fungus disease which spreads fast and is thought to be being spread by released pet amphibians that were infected, as well as by invasive species, such as the bullfrog, that are resistant to the disease. Invasive species are another problem in any case, because they can eat tadpoles and frogs of endemic species. The pet trade has depleted numbers of wild amphibians that have been caught for sale to collectors.
Then there is the threat from traffic. Every spring countless amphibians lose their lives and end up as roadkill as they cross busy highways on the way to their spawning grounds.
Climate Change is also causing major problems by causing droughts in areas where water is needed by frogs and other amphibians to complete their life-cycles.
There are many ways to help save frogs and other amphibians. Garden ponds make ideal homes for frogs, especially if there are no fish to eat the tadpoles. If you have a garden, having a garden pool is an excellent way to help amphibians and to attract other interesting wildlife. On a much bigger scale, the creation of new wetlands or the restoration of existing ones can be just what is needed.
SAVE THE FROGS! has had a lot of success, not only from spreading awareness about the problem, but by getting members of the public to support campaigns. For example, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has recently declared nearly 3,000 square miles in the Sierra Nevada mountains as critical habitat for the mountain yellow-legged frog, Sierra Madre yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad. These endangered amphibians have been threatened by an invasive trout species, as well as the dangers of pesticides and diseases. However, the newly secured natural habitat will provide the creatures with the chance they need for survival.
SAVE THE FROGS! supporters have played a big hand in this victory by sending in letters urging the USFWS to protect the area as an endangered amphibian species habitat. People power is helping to protect and save frogs, toads, newts and salamanders, but these fascinating creatures still need all the help they can get.