29 Apr Frog Hunt

To initiate spring officially, Jill and I went hunting for frogs this week. Jill is frog-crazy and wants lots of them in our backyard. Mind you, ours is a closed habitat—a narrow city yard enclosed by brick walls. Goldfish have thrived in our little pond, as have tadpoles and snails, but frogs have been more of a challenge. They are delicate creatures, you should know. With the exception of bullfrogs. We had lots of bullfrogs a couple years ago and they were eating everything, including each other. So we had to gather them up and deposit them in a nearby lake.

Because frogs are low on the food chain, and because their delicate skin exposes them to everything that might be in water, they are a “harbinger” species—among the first animals to signal when things are going wrong in the environment. The bad news is that frog populations worldwide are declining. Apparently, a lot is going wrong with the environment. Agricultural runoff, which includes pesticides, fertilizers and pig, cow, and chicken shit (from corporate farms), is killing them. If it doesn’t kill them, it mutates them. Now, scientists are finding an increasing number of frogs that exhibit both male and female traits (body parts), as well as frogs that have, say, five legs or two heads. This makes mating difficult, as you can imagine.

The plight of the frog is so dire that it has disappeared in some parts of the world. Let me repeat that: there are some parts of the world where frogs once lived in abundance, and helped feed the ecosystem, and now those areas are frogless. Which means that almost all animal life disappears from that area too. Some scientists are rushing to save the most endangered frogs the only way they know how, by capturing some and keeping them in a safe haven, usually a lab, just as they would preserve rare plants in a hothouse. Obviously this is a stop-gap measure.

Jill and I didn’t know it but we happened to be searching for frogs on Tuesday, April 28 – the first, international Save the Frogs Day.  Here’s what the organization says:

Remember that only a small proportion of our public is aware that frogs are disappearing, and that amphibian conservation efforts will not be successful until amphibian declines are common knowledge: think of how long it has taken for any political action on global warming to occur! Politicians rarely act until the public demands action. Our goal is to make the amphibian extinction crisis common knowledge by 2010: help make it happen!

As soon as the rains come, and they’ve been coming in abundance here in Maryland lately, tadpoles start appearing in lakes, ponds, and puddles. Jill and I are most interested in the puddles, where it is unlikely that bullfrogs will lay their eggs. Deep ruts on or near dirt roads –often created by the wheel-gouges of farm or construction vehicles–are the ideal habitats for quick-maturing tadpoles like those of the gentle leopard frog, which must mature in a single season or else perish in cold weather. The bullfrog, by contrast, takes about 3 years to mature. It needs a permanent body of water in which to breed. So Jill and I scout out the puddles.

Deep puddles (up to a foot deep) are interesting habitats because they’re not big enough to attract larger animals and so are often overlooked by most of the food chain, including the ever-voracious heron. We have located one puddle habitat that gets runoff from a forest hill, near the Jones Falls River—just a mile from our house. It used to be bigger but recent construction has covered over most of it. Still, when we approached it this week, two frogs hit the water. We suspect these are green frogs. But we found no tadpoles, which means it’s too early in the season. By the end of May we should find them in abundance.

So far, only one small green frog—Lucy—has shown itself in our backyard pond. Before winter hit, Lucy had a companion, but it looks like he didn’t make it. However, a few tadpoles made it through. If we get leopards, they will go into the garden for their adult life and return to the water only to spawn. Jill won’t be satisfied until we have about ten tads and a few small adults this season. So we have some hunting to do.

Some things you can do to help the frogs:
Avoid using pesticides.
Stop buying bottled water (the plastic bottles alone are a huge drain on the environment)
Drive slower to avoid running over frogs – they have a right to the roadways too.
Eat less meat, which will help diminish the destruction of amphibian habitats.
Use rechargeable batteries (to reduce toxic waste)
Vote for environmental protection.
Oh, yeah: don’t eat frog legs.