Frogs Need Our Help, So Hop to It!

Put out a wet welcome mat for nature’s choir in your yard and beyond

04-18-2012 // Anne Bolen
Tree frogKERMIT THE FROG once sang, “It isn’t easy being green.” Although then he was lamenting that he blended in too much with his environment, he might be grateful today for this camouflage, as it just isn’t easy being a frog. Frogs are among the more than 1,800 amphibian species that are threatened and the at least 168 amphibian species that have gone extinct in just the last two decades. Threats to them include habitat loss, water pollution, climate change, disease and invasive species.

Many states are hosting Save the Frogs Day events to help raise awareness of frogs’ troubles and funds for amphibian conservation.  

What They're Up Against

Amphibians require reliable, clean water sources. Agriculture and development have overtaken more than 100 million acres of wetlands in the United States since the 1600s, and each year, nearly 15 million acres of tropical forests are logged. A new threat in the United States are two Supreme Court decisions in the last decade that say that seasonal and “isolated” wetlands, bogs and ponds no longer deserve the full protections of the Clean Water Act from pollutants such as industrial waste, pesticides and farm runoff.

In addition, many areas of the United States are experiencing drought, some having one of their hottest, driest springs on record. As climates change, amphibians may continue to be left high and way too dry.

“A lot of amphibians are dependent on ephemeral water bodies because they don’t hold fish [which can eat them],” says Save the Frogs Founder and President Dr. Kerry Kriger. “If it is super hot or if it doesn’t rain, then their breeding activity could have problems. If their ponds dry up before they have time to metamorphose, they will die; or maybe they will metamorphose late and their food sources are suddenly not available.”

Kriger also says that frogs imported for unregulated pet and frogleg trades have introduced diseases and invasive species that can kill or outcompete native frogs. Save the Frogs reports that the chytrid fungus (Batrochochytrium dendrobatidis) is killing frogs in 36 countries across the world in Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, South, Central and North America. It has wiped out more than 100 frog species since the 1970s. Kriger says the fungus flourishes in cool, moist temperatures of mountains such as the Sierra Nevada, where the Yosemite toad and endangered mountain yellow-legged frogs are suffering from it. “We ship about 100 million amphibians around the world each year and there are virtually no regulations to prevent shipping chytrid-infected frogs,” says Kriger.

Why Frogs Matter

As both prey and predator, frogs are essential to functioning wetland, coastal and riparian ecosystems. Tadpoles graze on algae, blooms of which can lead to depleted oxygen zones in wetlands, lakes and bays. A frog can devour thousands of insects annually, some species eating their own body weight in insects each day, including disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks. Tadpoles and frogs also are food for many predators, from raccoons and snakes to eagles, hawks, owls and water birds such as geese, ducks and great blue herons.

Why Frogs are Amazing

Costa Rican frogThe variety of colors, songs, adaptations of the thousands of species of frogs are stunning. Their bright greens, yellows, oranges, reds or blues are like dabs of paint across a landscape. These choirs provide a soothing announcement that the drab winter is really over for another year. Many frogs can leap many times their own body length. Their bulgy, round eyes give them excellent vision, allowing them to see in all directions without moving their heads to observe both oncoming predators and potential meals. They also use these eyes to swallow, as they sink down into their head to push their food down their throats.

Frogs can thrive in environments ranging from the heat of the tropics to chilly sub-Arctic climes. In extreme cold temperatures, the wood frog, for example, has sugars in its blood that can act as an antifreeze that protects its organs from damage while the rest of its body freezes solid, allowing it to hibernate underground. Frogs can even survive in urban jungles. Just this March, University of California-Los Angeles scientists announced they discovered through DNA analysis that a large green, mottled frog species once believed to be a more common species of leopard frog was actually a very rare one, living in the marshes of New Jersey, Staten Island, the Bronx and even corners of New York’s Yankee Stadium!

What You Can Do

If you’d like to leap into action for nature’s bright chorus year-round, help may be as close as your own backyard or schoolyard.

  1. Put out a wet welcome mat.
    Fall and spring are the best times to create a permanent wet respite for frogs. You can create a beautiful frog pond with kits available at many garden stores. Or simply use a container or dig a hole that is deep enough (at least 1 foot at one end) and line it with sand or a flexible plastic liner.
     
    Whatever pond you build, you must provide a sloped ramp that will allow the frogs to get out easily or they can easily get trapped and drown. You can slope the liner or build one out of rocks to gradually allow the frogs to get to ground level or out of the pond. Some nurseries also have floating devices for swimming pools that can allow amphibians that might jump in a way out.

    Don’t be tempted to clean the water. In fact, add floating plants such as lily pads or leaves to provide cover. Refill slowly and carefully if water levels get low.

    Don’t put fish in your pond, as they will happily eat tadpoles and frogs.

  2. Provide shade and shelter around the pond. Place your pond in a shady spot, preferably surrounded with native plants to attract tasty a bug feast of ladybugs, bumblebees and other pollinators that can also beautify your yard. You can also stack some rocks or turn over a half of a flowerpot beside the rim of the pond to give your frogs a place to sit and eat their lunch as it flies or crawls by.

  3. Frog perched on cone flowerDon’t use pesticides or weed killers. Amphibians absorb water—and any chemicals in it—through their skin. Pesticides and weed killers can run off from land into water and can be lethal to amphibians. Certain weed killers also can alter hormones, changing male frogs into females and reducing the potential of frogs to perpetuate thriving populations.

  4. Be patient. Don’t be tempted to relocate frogs from other areas or stock your pond from pet stores. You may introduce diseases or invasive species and domestically raised frogs will not necessarily adapt to wild habitats.

  5. Become a frog watcher. You will appreciate these wonderful animals more if you can see them in action, and you can help their conservation in the process.

    As a NWF Wildlife Watcher, you can contribute to this growing database of North American wildlife, learn about the animals living in your state and build your own printable checklist of your sightings. Don’t forget to take pictures of those you find and donate them to our annual Photo Contest. Your picture could appear in National Wildlife magazine and you could win a prize!

    You can also learn how to identify frog and toad species by their calls by participating in the Association of American Zoos and Aquariums annual Frog Watch.  

      
  6. Adopt a frog. By symbolically adopting a baby red-eyed tree frog you can help National Wildlife Federation protect all of America's frogs.  

      

Watch this video of NWF California Director Beth Pratt’s backyard pond and read her blog, which features a video tour of her pond.

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