Monday, February 29, 2016

Happy Leap Day!

Happy Leap Day!  Today I'm re-running a post from, you guessed it, 2012 -- it's all about frogs and how we can help conserve these valuable species.

It’s Leap Day, which of course makes me think of one of my favorite animals – frogs!  With over 80 species of frogs and toads in North America and over 4,000 species worldwide (from the Peterson Field Guide for Reptiles and Amphibians), this is a big group of animals.  Frogs are amphibians, which means that they have moist, glandular skin and their toes don’t have claws.  They also have to live part of their lives in water -- usually to lay eggs.  Here are some more fun facts about frogs and toads:

  • Frogs lay their eggs in water; they begin their lives with an aquatic tadpole stage with gills and metamorphose into adults with lungs.
  • Frogs don’t have ribcages, so they breath by a “swallowing” action that forces air into the lungs of adult frogs; oxygen can also be absorbed through the frog’s thin, moist skin.
  • Hundreds of millions of years ago, amphibians were the first vertebrates to live on land (National Zoo).
  • More than 75% of the world’s frogs and toads live in tropical rainforests (National Zoo), but they can also be found in the Arctic Circle and in deserts (Rick Emmer).
  • Frogs and toads are ectotherms, which means that they don’t make their own heat to keep warm.  Their body temperature fluctuates with the environment in which they’re found.
  • Frogs hibernate in the winter – if they’re aquatic frogs, they hibernate near the surface of the water or near water in mud; if they’re terrestrial frogs they can bury themselves in mud, find cracks in logs, or just hide in leaf litter (Rick Emmer).
  • Frogs (as well as other amphibians and reptiles) don’t freeze to death in the winter, because they have anti-freeze (or molecules called cryoprotectants) in their cells!  Specific chemicals prevent the critical cells from freezing, so that the frog can revive as temperatures increase in spring.
  • In my neck of the woods (the mid-Atlantic U.S.), one of the first frogs we’ll hear calling is the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer).  These little guys can come out when it’s still pretty chilly – I’ve been out on spring peeper walks wearing a heavy winter jacket!
  • You can identify frogs and toads by their vocalizations, just like birds!
two frogs

Unfortunately, many frogs are in danger of extinction worldwide.  One-third of all frog species are in danger of extinction due to a fungus commonly called the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis).  Habitat loss is an even bigger problem for frogs and other amphibians.  Often, frogs are viewed as the “canary in a coalmine” when it comes to the health of various ecosystems.  When we start losing frogs, scientists recommend that we really start paying attention.

So what’s a greenmomster to do?  Locally, be sure to protect frog habitat; the areas where frogs live are often sensitive areas that affect the quality of water.  Is there a new road or housing project being put into your neighborhood?  Have the builders checked for the presence of frogs and other amphibians?  Get busy – maybe this is your chance to “speak for the trees!”  You can also join Frogwatch USA and help with citizen science to keep track of local frogs.  Got a lawn?  Reduce use of pesticides and herbicides that can harm frogs.  Globally, consider supporting organizations involved in frog protection – Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (for frogs in Panama), Amphibian Ark, or you can even adopt a frog at the World Wildlife Fund.  So many options to help – luckily we’ve got an extra day this year to work on it!

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