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Don’t Let These Beautiful Frogs “Slip” Through Our Fingers!

Today, April 29, 2022 we observe World Frog Day. It got me thinking about frogs and my early history with them. Roll back the clock to the spring of 1968 and physiology lab. I have vivid memories of sitting in the cafeteria with my lab partner arguing over which of us would have to pith the frog in the afternoon’s class. If you don’t know what that means, pithing is a procedure whereby you use a thin, needle-like implement to kill the frog so you can do an experiment on it. Neither of us wanted to do it but somehow, I always drew the short straw. I remember that sight of a pile of dead frogs in a heap with one sad looking fella still hoping around in a tank. Had I not already committed myself to a life as a plant biologist, that class sealed it for me.

Of course, frogs have more pleasant associations. Many of us can remember the fun of catching frogs in a stream, watching tadpoles turn into frogs, or listening to their serenade on a quiet summer evening marking the end of a long sultry day. And then there are those for whom they are a delicacy (even though I hear they taste like chicken.)

Enough with the reminiscing. Frogs are more than whimsical characters, no offense to Kermit. Frogs, comprise 5,000 species worldwide, found on every continent except Antarctica. They present in an array of beautiful colors well beyond the humdrum greens and browns. They provided important ecosystem services. They eat mosquitoes and other insects; they eat algae reducing pond scum; and their position on the food web makes them important food for predators.

Unfortunately, frogs and their amphibian relatives are in trouble. More than 900 species are endangered, 500 are critically endangered and it is thought 200 species may have gone extinct. The prime reasons are loss of habitat as humans expand into frog territory; pollutant contamination of ponds and streams that can be lethal to resident frogs and their tadpoles; and if that isn’t enough, worldwide frogs are victims of a pandemic. Sound familiar? Many frog species and other amphibians are susceptible to infection by a chytrid fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. Currently, there is neither a cure nor treatment for this fungal infection that is often lethal. While researchers study the disease, conservation ecologists have been collecting healthy frogs and preserving a diversity of species in the equivalent of “Noah’s Arks” for frogs so that when the “flood” is over they can return to their habitats having been saved from extinction.

This is a glimpse into the facts, on the day we mark as World Frog Day. It is also my chance to announce the upcoming publication – June 1, 2022 — of ResQ in Panamá: Can We Save the Frogs? — my middle grade adventure novel all about the quest to save these fascinating animals in the face of their pandemic.

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