Cute in any form.

Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus)

Highland color-form of the Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus)

Cute Frog of the Week: May 30, 2011

Camouflaged among the moss-covered rocks in the highlands and lowlands of Panama, the Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus) is difficult to spot even with its yellow clinging toes. These green-and-black-eyed amphibians leave their superb hiding places during the dry season and make their way to the fast-flowing streams of the Panamanian rainforest. Females lay their eggs in streambeds, where eager males wait to fertilize them. Laying clutches of eggs in faster-flowing waters may seem treacherous for the tiny frogs, but they brave the risk. Eggs that are laid in those areas of streams are less likely to be preyed upon, or to face competition from other frog species.

Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus)

Lowland color-form of the Limosa harlequin frog (Atelopus limosus)

Limosa harlequin frog tadpoles are not left to be swept away by hurried streams once they hatch. Suction disks on their bellies help anchor them to the rocks in the streambeds. However, the species seems to be losing its grip in its fight to survive. It is listed as endangered in the wild and the population is still decreasing. It is facing threats ranging from deforestation to pollution. Those threats are compounded by the ravaging affects of the chytrid fungus.  The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has brought the Limosa harlequin frog into captivity and is learning how to successfully breed them, giving hope for the survival of the species.

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/

Join the Global Amphibian BioBlitz!

Global Amphibian BlitzAmphibians around the world are disappearing. Recent estimates suggest that nearly one-third (32 percent) or about 2,000 species of this unique group of animals is threatened with extinction. Nearly 168 species are thought to have gone extinct in the last two decades. With increasing land-use and climate change around the world, these trends are likely to worsen. To better understand and conserve these diverse and fascinating creatures, scientists urgently need information on where amphibians persist.

To collect this information, we need your help. Today, AmphibiaWeb, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, the IUCN/SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, and Amphibian Ark are launching the Global Amphibian Blitz. Visit www.inaturalist.org/projects/global-amphibian-blitz to contribute your observations of amphibians along with the dates and locations where you observed them, anywhere in the world. You can even upload a photo of the species with your observation, or link to a photo on your Flickr or Picassa pages. If you’re unsure which species you’ve seen, mark them as ‘ID Please!’ and our team of expert curators will help you with your identification. Watch this short video for more information.

Together, through the cooperation of scientists and amateur naturalists from around the globe, let’s census the world’s amphibians to discover which species are still here and where they persist. Let’s find every one!

How can I contribute my observations?

Watch getting started video or follow these four easy steps:

  1. Visit www.inaturalist.org/projects/global-amphibian-blitz and click ‘add observations’.
  2. Log in to iNaturalist – the engine behind the Global Amphibian Blitz – with your Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Yahoo account.
  3. Upload you amphibian photo from your hard-disk or link to your photo that’s already on Flickr or Picassa.
  4. Add a date, geographic coordinates, and the best identification you can and click ‘’Save observation’.

How else can I get involved?

In addition to contributing your own observations, if you know something about amphibians in a certain part of the world, you can help identify other’s observations. If you are an amphibian expert and would like to sign on as a curator, contact global-amphibian-blitz@inaturalist.org. You can also help by telling your friends about the Blitz or spreading the word on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Picassa.

How can do I keep track of updates?

Check back regularly to see how the Blitz is progressing, receive updates from curators, and compare your contributions with others. You can also follow the Global Amphibian Blitz Blog where we will report any particularly unusual observations.

What about threatened species?

For contributions identified as a threatened species according to the IUCN Red List the public coordinates will be obscured by about 5 kilometers to discourage those who would seek to exploit rare species.

What taxonomy are you using?

The Global Amphibian Blitz uses the checklist of species from Amphibiaweb which is updated weekly with newly described species. We use the taxonomy of the Amphibian Species of the World to group these species into families and genera.

Regard my bark.

Granular poison dart frog (Dendrobates granuliferus)

Granular poison dart frog (Dendrobates granuliferus)

Cute Frog of the Week: May 23, 2011

During the wet season, male granular poison frogs (which are very toxic as a way to defend against predators) inhabit lowland humid forests with fast-flowing streams, vocalizing incessantly. Ranging from Costa Rica to Panama, this frog behaves rather aggressively, especially during the wet season, the time of year when males divide stream banks into their “territories” so as to court female poison frogs. The frogs use the territories as calling sites, in addition to places to lay eggs. The male frogs unvaryingly defend these areas from other males, competing over choice females.

Experimental studies in Costa Rica suggest that the male granular poison frog spends the majority of its time and energy defending its calling site. And the data from these studies also show that these warning signals are more vocal (acoustic) than visual. But you can be sure that these calls differ somewhat from those used to attract females! If an encroaching male granular poison frog were to dare approach too closely, these frogs have no qualms about engaging physically. The lengths they will go to defend their territory epitomize their unique aggressive behavior.

Although adaptable to habitat destruction, fragmentation, and human encroachment, these frogs seem to prefer primary forests, and their population numbers are declining. Studies indicate that granular poison frog densities are highest on stream banks in primary forests. But no matter how many males lay claim to a particular mountain stream, you can be sure that even though territory sizes may have increased in these cases of lowered density, these cute frogs will not suddenly become amicable or even tolerant of males that come too close!

Photo credit: Brian Kubicki, Costa Rican Amphibian Research Center

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/

This time, it is not good to be a leader

Atelopus varius

Atelopus varius is just one of many species of frog that is critically endangered. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project).

Chytrid fungus is believed to have played a role in the disappearance of 94 of the 120 frog species thought to have gone extinct since 1980.  But that is not the only battle frogs are facing in the fight to survive.

No one issue can explain all of the population declines that are occurring at an unprecedented rate, and much faster in amphibians than most other animals, the scientists conclude in a study just published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

The totality of these changes leads these researchers to believe that the Earth is now in a major extinction episode similar to five other mass extinction events in the planet’s history. And amphibians are leading the field – one estimate indicates they are disappearing at more than 200 times that of the average extinction rate.

In this case, it is not good to be the leader.

Cindy Hoffman, Defenders of Wildlife

I wasn’t in Alice in Wonderland – but with the right script, I could be a star.

Budgett's frog (Lepidobactrachus laevis)
Budgett’s frog (Lepidobactrachus laevis)

Cute Frog of the Week: May 16, 2011

A large, stout aquatic frog, Budgett’s frogs occur in the Gran Chaco of South America, a semiarid region extending into northern Argentina, southern Paraguay and much of Bolivia.

During the dry winter months, Budgett’s frogs remain inactive underground, encased in a hard shell composed of layers of unshed skin.  These guys were into cocooning before it was popular.  In this case, they’re not catching up on their reading, bonding with family members or Web surfing.  The cocoon in this case protects them from excessive water loss and allows the frog to persist until the rains arrive, signaling the beginning of the wet summer months (October to February).  The heavy spring or summer rains flood the chaco and create many temporary pools or “pozos” which provide suitable habitat.

These frogs appear to be nocturnal sit-and-wait ambush predators. Remaining motionless while submerged in the water or soft mud with only their eyes and nostrils visible, they wait among grasses and reeds for prey to come within grasp of their strong, powerful jaws. Don’t let the sly smile fool you – this is a very aggressive frog. When disturbed, they inflate themselves and stand on their outstretched limbs to appear larger. And if that didn’t convince you to go away, the Budgett’s frog will lunge, bite, and then emit a piercing shriek. In fact, the name for this species in Guarani is kukurú-chiní or “the toad that shrieks.” Quite a reputation for a smiling frog, eh?

That’s just the half of it.  You should see the tadpoles.  When they hatch and begin feeding, their uniqueness becomes even more apparent. The tadpoles are carnivorous and cannibalistic and begin feeding almost immediately. The cartilages that support the larval jaws are expanded laterally to create a wide, gaping mouth that the tadpoles of this species use to ingest their prey whole. Someone should remake John Carpenter’s “The Fog’ into ‘The Frog.’  These animals would be a natural.

But Hollywood will need to move quickly.  Budgett’s frogs do not appear to be particularly abundant where they occur. Combined with their strict habitat requirements, Budgett’s frogs are vulnerable to habitat modification associated with agriculture and ranching where they occur. And like so many of their amphibian cousins, this species is also apparently susceptible to chytridiomycosis, with one death reported in a captive specimen.

Photo credit: Houston Zoo

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/

Springtime pool party: Understanding vernal pools and why they are so important

Spotted salamander

The spotted salamander is one amphibian species that uses vernal pools each spring to breed. (Photo by: Brian Gratwicke, Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project)

A vernal pool is a temporary pool of water made up of rainfall or ice melt. Although dry or partially filled with water for most of the year, they fill up completely around springtime (the word “vernal” means occurring in the spring). They stay full for a couple of months until about the end of summer. What’s great about these natural pools is that they don’t have any fish living in them—making it a lot easier for young amphibians to grow and thrive!

These unique habitats, found all throughout New England, are very important for certain organisms to survive. Many have even learned to use these temporary wetlands to the point that they have evolved over time into what are called “obligate” vernal pool species, meaning that they need these pools for certain stages of their lives. Fairy shrimp use them to hatch eggs in early spring, and wood frogs go there to lay their eggs in early spring, too— just to name a few.

Vernal pools are especially important in Massachusetts because even species that are listed as rare in this state—like the marbled, blue-spotted, and Jefferson salamanders—rely heavily on these pools for breeding. These mole salamanders get their name because they are usually found burrowed underground, but in the springtime they go to water to start their courtship and breed. Males leave their spermatophores on the pond floor, and females pick them up and use them to fertilize their eggs. They can’t get all of this done in permanent ponds because fish would eat their eggs, so it is very important that these temporary habitats remain protected and abundant.

Lucky for mole salamanders and other amphibians, vernal pools are protected by law under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act. If they meet the state’s definitions of “wetlands,” certified vernal pools cannot be altered or tampered with at all. And if a pool lies within a recognized wetland, it will receive the same protection as the wetland and will be protected as an important feature of wildlife habitat. It is important that vernal pools are acknowledged and certified—and the best part is that anyone can help!

If you live in Massachusetts and think you have spotted a vernal pool, contact the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to see if it can be certified as a wildlife habitat. They have certification forms and information on rare species on their website. You can also contact them at 1 Rabbit Hill Road, Westboro, MA, 01581, or by calling 508-792-7270.

Angela Caputo-Papastamos, Zoo New England

Can you feel the love tonight?

 

Boulenger's snouted treefrog (Scinax boulengeri)
Boulenger’s snouted treefrog (Scinax boulengeri)

Cute Frog of the Week: May 9, 2011

These medium-sized, rainforest-loving frogs are known for their distinctive shape and ability to blend in seamlessly with their environment. The Boulenger’s snouted tree frog (Scinax boulengeri) lives in many tropical regions of the world and differs slightly depending on where it is found: Frogs found in areas of Costa Rica have more nodules on their skin than ones found in the Caribbean lowlands of Central America. This may be a feature that allows the frogs to better navigate their environments.

The Boulenger’s snouted tree frog is also quite a night owl. The frogs are commonly found out and about at night near the forest floor perching on bushes, stumps, logs and low trees. Their nocturnal nature is also important to producing offspring. These frogs have a prolonged breeding period, which lasts from May/June until August, and breed only at night. Males begin congregating at pond breeding sites soon after the first heavy rains of the season and start their 3- to 4-hour calls at dusk in areas bordering bodies of water, rarely moving from that spot during the night. These frogs are relatively common with stable populations and are regarded as secure or “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

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/

Family Frogging is Fun

Houston Toad

A male Houston toad captured in mid mating call in Austin County, Texas. (Photo by: Rachel Rommel, Houston Zoo)

The late University of Florida professor of zoology and pioneering conservationist Archie Carr is best known for his extraordinary contributions to sea turtle conservation.  But Archie was also a herpetologist.  It was Archie who said: “Frogs do for the night what birds do for the day: They give it a voice. And the voice is varied and stirring and one that ought to be better known.”

Amphibians are disappearing worldwide for a wide variety of reasons – pollution, disease, habitat loss and over-consumption.  In my home state of Texas, amphibians are being threatened by one of the worst droughts in memory.  These animals are small and to the casual observer seemingly inconsequential. But they aren’t.  They keep insects in check and are vital to the survival of colorful herons, raccoons and other species.  And they are also fun to observe because of their colors, fascinating behaviors and the amazing nighttime calls that made such an impression on Archie Carr.

So, what can you do to help preserve these amazing animals?  It’s simple.  Become a frog watcher.

Each year the Houston Zoo holds its annual Texas Amphibian Watch Workshop.  Volunteers are trained to collect information about frogs and toads at local wetlands and even in their own back yards.  The data is used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in partnership with the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program.

This year, individuals and families will gather at the Houston Zoo on May 27 at 6:30 p.m. for a Texas Amphibian Watch Volunteer training session.  At the training session, participants will learn the calls of local amphibians, participate in interactive frog activities and then take a hike into the wilds of Hermann Park, the 445-acre green oasis in the heart of the nation’s fourth largest city that surrounds the Houston Zoo.

Family frogging is an enjoyable way to get kids and young adults off the living room couch, away from the TV and excited about science and taking care of the environment.  If there are no training opportunities where you live, visit the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program on the Web at http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/naamp/ for information about how you can become a volunteer and for coordinator contact information.

Volunteer and give the night a voice.

Brian Hill, Houston Zoo

A sad story with a golden glimmer of hope

Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki)
Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki)

Cute Frog of the Week: May 2, 2011

Critically endangered since 2004, the endemic Panamanian golden frog has suffered a population decline of 80 percent over the last 10 years. An angular, dark yellow frog with a trademark swagger, the golden frog is a symbol of Panama’s abundant biodiversity. It is also well-known for its potent skin toxins, which it uses to protect itself against predators. A single frog’s skin contains enough nerve-disabling poison to kill 1,200 mice! Frequently found in and around high mountain forest streams, the golden frog in its golden-yellow, liberally spotted morph (individuals come in various colors and patterns) visually warns potential predators to stay away.

Despite its toxicity, the frog has found itself nearly defenseless against chytridiomycosis, the amphibian disease epidemic that has recently devastated frog populations and biodiversity throughout Central America. Because the range of this frog species is limited, extinction seems all too likely, unless human intervention succeeds in keeping the species around in captivity. Fortunately, an in-situ conservation program in western Panama (the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, aptly named EVACC) has led the conservation effort as part of the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project.

Frog declines raise a number of fascinating questions.  For example, recent studies have shown that Panamanian golden frogs are making a last-ditch attempt to ward off infection by thermally killing the pathogen. Fortunately, researchers believe that the chytrid fungus does not thrive at temperatures 5 C above the frog’s normal body temperature. The frog attempts to increase its body temperature above normal levels by moving within its habitat to warmer places. As an ectotherm (a cold-blooded animal), the frog can only control its internal temperature by these behavioral adjustments to its external environment. Nonetheless, these efforts by wild golden frog populations may by in vain. Chytridiomycosis has so far prevailed, but intense conservation efforts in Panama keep hope alive. Panama’s symbol of amphibian beauty continues to awe humans in safe environments like EVACC. Re-introduction of these individuals and any offspring into the wild will, we are assured, only take place if and when the epidemic has abated.

Photo credit: Mehgan Murphy, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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/