The frog who cried “duck!”

Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)

Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)

Cute Frog of the Week: January 31, 2011

Don’t get confused if you hear a quack and there isn’t a duck in sight. You might’ve just heard the call of the wood frog, whose duck-like quack can be heard coming from moist wooded areas and ponds throughout the Northern United States, Canada and Alaska. If you see a small brown frog with a dark eye mask in the woods, it is likely to be a wood frog. There are no other species with a similar appearance in North America. This cute masked creature measures from 1-2 ¾ inches long and its color varies with temperature and gender; female wood frogs are often larger and redder. Reproduction takes place in late winter/early spring at ponds where there may often still be a layer of ice—but don’t worry about these frogs freezing! Unlike most other frogs, wood frogs can tolerate the freezing of their blood and other tissues. These frogs can survive many freeze/thaw events during winter, allowing up to 65 percent of their total body water to freeze. Cool, eh?

Photo entered by wombatarama at http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Detailing the Darien: Defenders Magazine Profiles a Riveting Rescue Expedition

Mark Cheater

Mark Cheater accompanied the rescue project to the Darien last year, writing about it for Defenders magazine.

Ever wonder how scientists find and protect rare amphibians? I wanted to find out, and I persuaded the folks at the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project to let me accompany them on an expedition to the Darien region of Panama last June in search of rare Toad Mountain harlequin frogs. I discovered that not only is working in the field physically demanding—spending long hours hiking through jungles and up rivers to find and capture the frogs—but it’s also dangerous, involving frequent encounters with venomous snakes and scores of biting insects. To learn more about the hazards and rewards of rescuing  imperiled frogs, check out my story—and an accompanying behind-the-scenes slideshow—in the new issue of Defenders magazine:

http://www.defenders.org/newsroom/defenders_magazine/winter_2011/rescue_at_toad_mountain.php

-Mark Cheater, Defenders of Wildlife

Polished to perfection.

Tiger-striped leaf frog (Phyllomedusa tomopterna)

Tiger-striped leaf frog (Phyllomedusa tomopterna)

Cute Frog of the Week: January 24, 2011

Part tiger? Part frog? Part monkey? The tiger-striped leaf frog (Phyllomedusa tomopterna) has many unique features. Its orange belly and tiger-like stripped legs make it unlike other frogs. Though they don’t hop much, these frogs climb using their hands and fingers, much like monkeys do. Tiger-striped leaf frogs live in the tropical lowland forests as well as the tropical and subtropical swamps where they like to hang out in the canopy above pools of water. Doesn’t their skin look waxy and smooth? That’s because they produce and apply a waxy substance that covers it. Not only does this give the frogs a polished look, but it acts as a built-in sunscreen to protect the frogs from harmful rays of the sun and to retain moisture. This remarkable adaptation allows the tiger-striped leaf frog and its sister species—monkey frogs—to visit niches in the treetops, exposed to the sun, where other types of frogs couldn’t survive.

But don’t expect to catch these little guys out during the day! They like to do their exploring at night. Even during the day they’re hard to spot—they tuck in their arms, legs, hands, feet, fingers and toes, shut their eyes and press their chin down against a resting surface. In this way, they appear to be nothing more than a bump on a branch or lump on a leaf. The colorful sides of their body and bold orange and black stripes on their limbs are artfully concealed while the frog snoozes.

Photo credit: Joe Milmoe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

Brrr…it’s cold outside! How do frogs and toads survive?

Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)

Throughout the winter, wood frogs (tadpole shown here) stop breathing, their hearts stop beating, and ice crystals form within their hibernating bodies. (Photo by: Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project)

Last week, as I was taking in the beauty of the snow-covered New England landscape, I started thinking about amphibians. With more than a foot of fresh snow covering the ground, I began to wonder where all of the frogs and toads go in the winter. We received so much snow from this recent snowstorm that I had to shovel a small path so our Boston terrier could navigate the backyard. If he needed help getting through the snow, how was a small frog or toad going to navigate the cold, wintry earth?

Well, it turns out that frogs and toads, particularly in the Northeast and other colder climates, spend their winters quietly tucked away while they hibernate in the mud at the bottom of lakes, carefully concealed in logs and tucked under leaf litter. Some toads even bury themselves to hibernate. Others continue to swim all winter long. Green frog and bullfrog tadpoles hatch in the summer and then spend all winter living and swimming below the ice in the nearly freezing water.

But none of these species compare to the wood frog when it comes to cold weather adaptations. This hearty frog is one of the more cold-adapted species with a natural habitat range extending farther north than any other amphibian species. In fact, the wood frog is the only frog found north of the Arctic Circle. These frogs hibernate during the winter in terrestrial or forested wetlands in very shallow earth. What’s most amazing is that the wood frog is so adapted to cold temperatures that its tissue can actually freeze and thaw.

Throughout the winter, wood frogs stop breathing, their hearts stop beating, and ice crystals form within their hibernating bodies, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. A special antifreeze they produce keeps liquids from freezing inside their cells and killing them. When spring arrives and the temperature rises, the frogs “thaw” and they emerge from hibernation.

The strategic advantage to this adaptation for the wood frog is that they are the first frogs out in the early spring, while other frogs are still hibernating deeper below. They are the first ones heard singing (the noise sounds like a chorus of “quacks”) and they begin breeding once they emerge. By late April, thousands of tiny black wood frog tadpoles can be found in vernal pools. Tadpoles develop quickly in order to metamorphose to froglets before the vernal pool waters dry up by late summer.

So, the next time you see a snowy landscape, take a moment to think about frogs and toads and their amazing cold weather adaptations. It’s incredible to think that just beneath the smooth sheet of glistening ice covering a pond that small tadpoles could be swimming through the freezing waters, or that a small toad or frog could be snugly nestled within a hollowed log deep in a winter slumber.

- Brooke Wardrop, Zoo New England

Jumpin’ Jack Flash!

Rain forest rocket frog (Silverstoneia flotator)

Rain forest rocket frog (Silverstoneia flotator)

Cute Frog of the Week: January 17, 2011

Okay, so this little guy can’t leap very far, but it sure appears like he’s trying here! Silverstoneia flotator (formerly Colestethus flotator), known as “rocket frogs,” live in the humid lowlands of Costa Rica and Panama. Because these cuties are actually a non-poisonous member of the poison dart frog family, they lack the bright warning colors of their well-defended cousins. There’s little information out there about these rocket frogs, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as least concern because they have a wide distribution and a large population. That’s at least some good news for our froggie friends! You can listen to their interesting vocalization on the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s site.

Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.

Banded horned tree frog (Hemiphractus fasciatus) ALL-NEW frog ringtones: Download the rainforest rocket frog’s call!

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

The Sixth Extinction in Motion

Endangered species across the world have found allies in a neat partnership between MacQuarrie Byrne Films, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Tennessee. The idea behind the Sixth Extinction in Motion project is to use communication/graphic design to play an active role in changing the course of history, specifically in curbing the terrifyingly rapid extinction rate. According to the Sixth Extinction’s blog, “Communication designers have the power to persuade, educate and inform populations of people on the massive dying-off of our planet.”

While the students involved in the project have created a number of really impressive and compelling videos, we were, of course, most interested in their four frog videos. We are thankful to the students who designed these as they are generously helping us promote the rescue project. Those videos are below, with a brief Q&A by each student who created them. Once you’ve watched these, make sure to check out more of their work here.

Future Generations by Trista Busch (University of Tennessee)


Where did you come up with the idea for your video?
After extensive research into the initial problem of the endangerment of amphibians, I decided to focus on the most prevalent and immediate issues affecting the species. Pollution and environmental problems are occurrences that we can all combat, or support research for the fight against the extinction of such important creatures to our ecosystem.  Because frogs are a cherished part of my childhood, I decided to focus my efforts on illustrating the destructiveness of pollution on our children’s future memories, and how that in turn will affect the outcome of our efforts.

Why is it important to get this message out there?
Misinformation of existing environmental issues is almost more detrimental than ignorance. Spreading knowledge is the first step in the right direction. Without being well informed, we are not able to recognize and address the problem.

What was the most surprising thing that you learned in your research?
Well, one third of the amphibian populations are endangered!  If amphibians were to go extinct the occurrence would be the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs.

What do you hope people take away from your video?
I can only hope that people feel a sense of urgency in this pressing matter and at least walk away a little more informed and motivated to contribute.

Vanishing by Samia Ahmed (Carnegie Mellon University)

Where did you come up with the idea for your video?

After spending time researching frogs and their extinction, I became very aware of the lack of frogs in my life–the last time I remember hearing the sound of a frog in the wild was in elementary school. I wanted to focus on that iconic sound because it is something immersive that hopefully lets the viewer “feel” the loss of frog populations as opposed to just reading about it.

Why is it important to get this message out there?

I think it’s important to learn about things like this because the more time I spend learning about animal extinction, the more I see how our actions on a personal level of simply conserving energy and resources, as well as on government level of policy and regulation have far reaching results, a lot of which are the destruction of life.

What was the most surprising thing that you learned in your research?

I was most surprised at learning about the alarming rate of loss for frog populations. It’s so easy to not see the things we are losing until they are gone.

What do you hope people take away from your video?

I hope that people remember that there is a bigger picture out there and that there are complexities to the results of our actions whether we intend them or not.

When Frogs are Gone by Janeane Robinson (University of Tennessee)


Where did you come up with the idea for your video?
I wanted to base my video on plain facts.  Since it’s not a problem that not many are familiar with, it’s the facts that hit the hardest.  The decision to show no actual frogs or amphibians and just focus on type and audio was an easy one for me.  I’ve always liked the audio aspect of videos and how haunting it can be.  The sound of frogs is somewhat nostalgic for most people and I wanted to play on this.

Why is it important to get this message out there?
It’s important for people to realize that their actions, and sometimes inactions, do have affects on others.  I believe that every living thing has a purpose–one that we might not even be aware of yet. When we start making decisions with no regard to life, everything starts to break down.  Everything is connected, and when one life is taken it sets off a chain reaction. Our only hope for a future is taking care of the lives we have in the present.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in your research?
Never would I have guessed that frogs, and the entire amphibian race, were going extinct.  It’s something that never crossed my mind or was ever brought to my attention.  When I started researching, I was shocked at how large and widespread this problem actually is. This is the biggest obstacle.  Once more people become familiar with the problem, we have a chance to fix it.

What do you hope people take away from your video?
I hope that this brings awareness to the people, who like me, don’t even realize there’s a problem.  Awareness is the first step in solving a problem, but I feel it’s also the easiest.  It’s much harder to move people to take responsibility for behaviors and actions that may be affecting others.  However, by planting a little seed of awareness, I hope it pushes people to making more conscious decisions.

Green-Eyed Frogs by Frances Soong (Carnegie Mellon University)

Where did you come up with the idea for your video?
From the start, I had been fascinated by the fact that frogs are so sensitive to the changes in their surroundings as they breathe and absorb toxins through their skin—acting as the new “canaries in the coal mine.” I wanted to make sure my video made that connection between frogs and the world and conveyed the idea that a “sick frog” meant a “sick world.”

Why is it important to get this message out there?
There are a lot of animals and ecosystems dying and in need of saving (as you can see by looking at the videos from the rest of our classes), but I think this direct connection they have with their environment is unique to frogs and other amphibians. It makes them all that more significant too.

What was the most surprising thing that you learned in your research?
The most surprising thing was definitely finding out how low the numbers actually were for the frog population, especially when compared to the number of people on this planet. Other things like causes for the frog and amphibian population declines was a lot harder to pinpoint… at some point I was totally sure chytrid fungus was the cause of everything and then I looked into the causes of that… it’s a never-ending process.

What do you hope people take away from your video?
In my video, I basically tell people to consume less, stop using cars, and to stop wasting energy and resources to save the frogs. But even if you didn’t think frogs were that cute or that saving them was that important before, I hope that knowing how frogs fit in the larger picture of the world will motivate more people to want to do learn more and do more in general.

Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?

Borneo eared Frog (Polypedates otilophus)

Borneo eared frog (Polypedates otilophus)

Cute Frog of the Week: January 10, 2011

You’d think this cute little guy would have an easy timing hearing you with its big ears, but guess what? Those big flaps of skin that look like ears are actually just bony ridges! The black freckled skin of Borneo eared frogs, Polypedates otilophus) is unusually smooth and their feet are especially adept for climbing straight up trees, clinging to the underside of leaves or even hanging from a tree branch—by one toe! As in most frog species, females tend to be larger in size than males, although males dominate the breeding rituals.

Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.

Send us your own cute frogs by uploading your photos here: http://www.flickr.com/groups/cutefrogoftheweek/

The Sounds of the Rescue Project

While I was in Panama at the end of August, one of the things that stuck me the most were the sounds. I didn’t experience what it’s like to be in an area of the rain forest where you’re deafened by frog calls (and as we know, those places are diminishing quickly), but I took my time to learn some new calls while out searching for the little (and sometimes big) guys. And sometimes the sounds were particularly meaningful–such as the sound of a lone La loma tree frog, Hyloscirtus colymba, calling in one of the rescue pods at Summit Zoo, indicating his comfort with his environment and readiness to breed. Below I share some of the noises that I recorded while there and many of which are cherished by anyone familiar with the project, including volunteers:

Shipping container turned rescue podSounds inside the rescue pod (.wma)

Toad Mountain harlequin frogToad Mountain harlequin frog calling in the rescue pod (.wma)

CricketsCricket breeding room (.wma)

Leaf-litter toad (Bufo typhonius)A chorus of leaf-litter toads in the rain forest (.wma)

Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis calidryas)Red-eyed tree frog calling in the wild (.wma)

Túngara Frog (Engystomops pustulosus)Tungara frogs calling back and forth in the wild (.wma)

Smokey jungle frog (Leptodactylus pentadactylus)Smokey jungle frog defense call (.mp4)

–Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

All dressed up and nowhere to go.

Toad Mountain harlequin frog (Atelopus certus)

Toad Mountain harlequin frog (Atelopus certus): Juvenile Toad Mountain harlequin frogs sport metallic green chevrons and bright orange feet.

Cute Frog of the Week: January 3, 2011

The Toad Mountain harlequin frog is a pretty snazzy dresser; like other harlequin frogs, both males and females sport skin pigmented in bright, fanciful colors and patterns. However, males are much more likely to show off, gathering together by the stream-side year-round to boast their colors and call for mates. Female Toad Mountain harlequin frogs, on the other hand, only strut their stuff when they want to reproduce. On a recent expedition, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project scientists found 50 males out and about and only 12 females, who came to the water to mate and lay eggs.

Native to the Darién Province of Panama’s tropical forests, these endangered frogs’ populations are dwindling due to the rapid spread of chytrid fungus. The rescue project’s keepers at the Summit Zoo recently observed their Toad Mountain harlequin frogs in amplexus (from the latin “embrace,” amplexus is a form of pseudocopulation in which a male amphibian grasps a female with his front legs as part of the mating process), and a clutch of eggs soon followed! This is exciting news, especially because restoring Toad Mountain harlequin frog populations is one of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project’s top priorities. This success is vital for the understanding of their reproduction in captivity, which will make it possible one day to reintroduce this extremely rare species back into its native region.

Photo credit: Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.

Every week the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project posts a new photo of a cute frog from anywhere in the world with an interesting, fun and unique story to tell. Be sure to check back every Monday for the latest addition.