Leap Day the Frog Way

The real purpose of leap day may be to keep the calendar aligned with the seasons, but here at the rescue project, we’d like to believe the day is designed to honor our favorite leapers. To celebrate, we’ve put together some fun facts about frog leaping.

Silverstoneia flotator

Leap day, or Feb. 29, happens nearly every four years. (Image: Rocket frog, Silverstoneia flotator)

  • Not all frogs can leap, or even hop. The desert rain frog (Breviceps macrops) has legs that are too short to hop. Instead, it walks.
  • Male frogs of the genus Pipa are known to defend their territory by jumping at and then wrestling other males.
  • The New Guinea bush frog (Asterophrys turpicola) takes jump attacks one step further: before it jumps at a strange frog, it inflates itself and shows off its blue tongue.
  • Stumpffia tridactyla are normally slow-moving critters, but when they’re startled they can abruptly jump up to 8 inches. That doesn’t sound very far, but these little guys are less than half an inch long!
  • The Fuji tree frog (Platymantis vitiensis) may be the leaping stuntman of the frog world. Each time it leaps, it twists in the air—sometimes even 180 degrees—to throw predators off its trail.
  • The Larut torrent frog (Amolops larutensis) gets its name from a nifty leaping trick: it can jump into a fast-moving stream and back to its usual perch, the underside of a rock, without being affected by the current.
  • Similarly, the parachuting red-eyed leaf frog (Agalychnis saltator) gets its name because it speeds to mating opportunities by jumping from trees with finger-and toe-webbing spread wide.
  • The record for longest jump by an American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) recorded in a scientific paper is a little over 4 feet. But scientists who went to the Calaveras County Fair, which Mark Twain’s short story made famous for frog jumping, found that more than half the competitors bested that record—and one jumped more than 7 feet in one leap!
  • The Guinness Book of World Records doesn’t include any frogs for their leaping ability. But it does track human performance in frog jumping (jumping while holding one’s toes). There are records listed for the longest frog jump and the fastest frog jumping over 10 and 100 meters.

In honor of leap day celebrations being coordinated globally by Amphibian Ark, the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project made this video for a frog song written by Alex Culbreth.

Meghan Bartels, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

No rainy day blues here.

Common Chinese frog (Hyla chinensis)

Common Chinese frog (Hyla chinensis)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 27, 2012

You’ll never catch a Chinese tree frog (Hyla chinensis) singing “Rain, rain, go away.” Found in eastern China and Taiwan, these little guys live in shrubs and rice paddies, often in small groups. They are common during the rainy season, but they can be tricky to spot once the weather gets drier. Chinese tree toads only lay their eggs after a rainy April or May evening. Although they could suffer from habitat loss and degradation, their population is currently stable and they benefit from living in several protected areas.

Photo by Tzu-lun Hung via ARKive.

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/

Nothing but blue skies.

Powder blue reed frog (Heterixalus madagasariensis)

Powder blue reed frog (Heterixalus madagasariensis)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 20, 2012

It’s pretty evident that this frog is quite a stunning find. Native to Madagascar, the powder blue reed frog’s color varies from tan to light blue on their backs, and they often appear whitish in bright sunlight. Their abdomens are a very pale whitish-yellow, while the undersides of their limbs are orange. A dark band sits between the eye and snout.

Fairly common, these semi-arboreal frogs prefer to live in a variety of areas ranging from drier sandy lowland dunes/forests and along rainforest edges, to deforested areas around croplands, villages and more urban habitats along the eastern coast of the island.

These are small and agile frogs that can jump over a large distance, though they tend to sleep for most of the day among vegetation.

Photo by Gonçalo M. Rosa via ARKive.

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/

Defenders Urges USFWS to Ban Importation of Live Frogs That May Have Chytrid

Chytrid infected frog

Defenders of Wildlife has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the importation of live frogs unless they are accompanied by a health certificate verifying that they are free of the chytrid, which killed the frog shown here. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

The global amphibian trade has been indicted as the culprit in the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus. A study published in New Scientist  calls for an amphibian quarantine to help slow the disease’s spread.

The study sequenced the genomes of 20 samples of Bd, collected in Europe, Africa, North and South America and Australia. They found that 16 of the 20 samples were genetically identical.

The researchers say the explanation for this is simple, that world-wide trade in amphibians enabled the spread of this disease.

The researchers suggest that countries quarantine all imported amphibians and only allow them to stay if they are not infected.

Defenders of Wildlife, a partner in the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project, has submitted a proposal to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ban the importation of live frogs unless they are accompanied by a health certificate verifying that they are free of the chytrid fungus.

“Billions of frogs are traded internationally each year for human consumption, and that industry is responsible for depleting wild populations, spreading deadly disease, and allowing invasive species to destroy the health of native ecosystems,” said Alejandra Goyenechea, counsel for the international conservation programs for Defenders of Wildlife.

Defenders is working with the upcoming CITES Animals Committee to ensure that the international trade of frogs is not detrimental to their survival and with CITES Parties to bring awareness on the international trade of frog legs with our report.

Cindy Hoffman, Defenders of Wildlife

You say “tomato;” I say “Wait! Don’t eat me!”

Tomato frog (Dyscophus antongilii)

Tomato frog (Dyscophus antongilii)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 13, 2012

It’s easy to see how the tomato frog got its name, considering its eye-catching coloration and relatively large size. Males tend to be yellow-orange in color and grow to around 2.3 – 2.6 inches in length, while females are a brighter orange-red and can grow to be around 3.3 – 4.2 inches in length.

Originally from Madagascar, these frogs are a favorite of tourists and locals alike, especially in the town of Maroantsetra. Here, they inhabit gardens, ponds and ditches. The locals refer to their low-pitched call as the onomatopoetic word “sangongon,” with the word spoken aloud sounding similar to the actual call itself.

But don’t try to pick one up! These frogs are known for their sticky skin secretions that they can release when frightened. This substance gets into a potential predator’s eyes and mouth, making it very difficult to hold onto and eat the frog. It also contains a toxin that can cause skin irritation in humans. In addition to secreting yucky goop, these frogs puff themselves up when a predator comes around to make themselves even more difficult to hold onto and swallow.

This species has been listed as near-threatened since 2002 since it lives in a relatively small area, but adapts well to disturbed habitats. Pollution and pesticide use are potential threats, as well as people harvesting and collecting them for trade, which they are no longer allowed to do. Now, most tomato frogs kept as pets by experienced enthusiasts were bred in captivity.

Photo by Gonçalo M. Rosa via ARKive.

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/

National Zoo Successfully Collects Sperm Samples to Save Endangered Frog

Gina Della Togna, an SCBI PhD student and native Panamanian, is one of the researchers in charge of the sperm collection procedure.

Gina Della Togna, an SCBI PhD student and native Panamanian, is one of the researchers in charge of the sperm collection procedure. (Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

With nearly one-third of all amphibian species at risk of extinction as the result of the deadly chytrid fungus, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo has taken a bold step toward preserving amphibian genes and the world’s incredible amphibian biodiversity. Researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, DC, have begun to collect sperm samples from the Zoo’s collection of Panamanian golden frogs (Atelopus zeteki), which are extinct in the wild.

Although researchers have collected sperm samples from other amphibian species such as Mississippi gopher frogs and leopard frogs, there are no publications detailing sperm collection methods from Panamanian golden frogs. SCBI’s colleagues at the Maryland Zoo have aided in the process, providing advice to the SCBI researchers about the method to collect the frogs’ spermatozoa using hormonal stimulations.

“We currently have three other species of Atelopus in captive assurance colonies in Panama,” said Brian Gratwicke, an SCBI conservation biologist who leads the Zoo’s amphibian conservation program to curb global amphibian declines. “If we can freeze some of their sperm, golden frogs will be a model to secure the long-term genetic integrity of other toad species in similar situations.”

Gina Della Togna, an SCBI PhD student and native Panamanian, is one of the researchers in charge of the sperm collection procedure. Even though this is still a fairly new endeavor, Della Togna said she felt that it was easy compared to collecting sperm from mammals. After hormonal stimulation, spermatozoa are excreted in the urine from the frog’s cloaca, a multipurpose opening from which feces, urine and gases are expelled. This is in contrast to mammals, which possess specialized structures for the expulsion of waste and reproduction.

Atelopus zeteki sperm

A Panamanian golden frog sperm

Although sperm collection from this species has been successful, finding the most efficient and repeatable stimulation protocol is critical. Then, identifying the right cryoprotectant and freezing method will be another challenge. Researchers suspect that the cell component most likely responsible for the movement of the sperm, called a mitochondrial vesicle, has a unique structure compared to that of other animals.

“The mitochondrial vesicle is a very fragile structure,” Della Togna said. “Protecting this structure will definitely be one of our greatest challenges.”

Even in the face of numerous challenges, the research team overseeing the sperm collection and storage of the samples remains optimistic.

Pierre Comizzoli, an SCBI gamete biologist supervising the PhD project  is enthusiastic about the prospect of this endeavor and is charged with studying the complex golden frog sperm structure with Della Togna.

“It is always exciting to discover new biological mechanisms,” Comizzoli said. “Spermatozoa from each species have unique traits that needs to be well understood before developing preservation protocols.”

Other than its genetic and natural significance, the Panamanian golden frog is a meaningful symbol of culture for Panamanians. Pre-Columbian peoples used to make golden “huacas,” or sacred objects, in the image of these frogs, along with creating legends about these renowned frogs, which endure in the Panamanian countryside today, Della Togna said.

“This species does not exist anywhere else in the world,” Della Togna said. “You will find pictures and sculptures of it in local markets, in indigenous handcraft sales, and on lottery tickets, among places. Hopefully this project will help to ensure that one day you will be able to see them once again on the banks of Panamanian streams where they belong.”

Phil Jaseph, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Whistle while you work.

Johnstone's whistling frog (Eleutherodactylus johnstonei)

Johnstone's whistling frog (Eleutherodactylus johnstonei)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 6, 2012

Named after Robert S. Johnstone, the Chief Justice of Grenada who helped aid in the collection of the first specimens in the early 20th century, the Johnstone’s whistling frog is the most widely distributed frog in the eastern Caribbean.

Small and non-distinct, these cute little guys are dull brownish-tan to grayish in color. Their eyes are golden-brown, and they have slightly darker ‘V’-shaped markings, also known as chevrons, on their shoulders.  Sometimes these frogs will also have a pair of darker dorsal stripes that run down their backs. Their legs have a darker blotchy or marbled pattern, and their fingers and toes are not webbed, but do have relatively large adhesive disks to help them climb. Males are also generally smaller than females.

Johnstone’s whistling frogs mate from around June to August, and the male’s whistling call has two notes: a quick lower note that rises sharply to a longer higher note. Parents will then guard the clutches of eggs that are laid for about 14 days before they hatch. Offspring mature via direct development within the egg, skipping the tadpole phase and emerge as tiny versions of the adults.

These frogs can be found on most of the Lesser Antillean islands in the Caribbean, including Anguilla, Barbados, Montserrat and St Lucia. They have also recently been introduced to Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama and Venezuela as stowaways on boats that travel to the different islands. They are not endangered and are highly adaptable to changing environments. So adaptable in places, that they may be becoming invasive and pushing native frogs out. Further research is needed to verify this, however.

Photo by Jeroen Wisman via Flickr.

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/

Get involved with frog observations in your area!

Cane toad

Citizen science observations of the cane toad (Bufo marinus) in Florida are helping track the invasive species’ northward progression. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

“Peep. Peep. Peep.” It’s this distinctive call that gives a tiny frog the name spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). Since the frogs are one of the first to emerge from their winter hideouts in New England, it’s one of the first and most distinctive signs of spring. For many, it’s enough to just listen to the chorus of hundreds of frogs around a vernal pool, but did you know that you can be part of an important scientific project too?

Citizen science is a way that scientists can involve average citizens who have no formal science training in what can be very complicated scientific work. Some notable examples from recent years include SETI@home (looking for extraterrestrial communications), GalaxyZoo (categorizing galaxies) and FoldIt (a game to improve protein folding simulations).

One of the oldest citizen science projects still running today is the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count. Every year since 1900, bird enthusiasts from around the country have gathered and counted every bird they can find in the early winter. This data is easy for anyone to gather, but the geography covered and sheer mountain of data collected allow scientists to assess the health of many bird populations that they would otherwise be unable to study.

Frogwatch USA is a similar project run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Its goal, much like the National Audubon Society’s annual bird count, is to monitor frog populations across the country. More than 10,000 Frogwatch USA volunteers helped monitor 7,872 sites from 1998-2010. There are volunteers from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is truly a national amphibian survey.

The 2010 Data Summary shows how valuable all of this citizen scientist help can be. Using the data gathered, researchers will be able to better establish species ranges. For instance, the spring peeper (mentioned above) is considered an eastern species, rarely found west of the Mississippi River. Some volunteers observed them as far west as Missouri and Texas, farther west than previously thought!

This same army of volunteers also provided invaluable information on certain frog species monitored by researchers and government agencies. Two species of concern, the northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) and crawfish frog (Rana areolata), were observed by volunteers who provided breeding and distribution information. Observations of the cane toad (Bufo marinus) in Florida are helping track the invasive species’ northward progression.

Citizen science is meant to be easy for the average person to get involved, and Frogwatch is no exception. Local chapters hold training and information sessions annually in late winter or early spring. Then, when you’re sitting out by that vernal pool, listening to the chorus of frogs, jot down what you’ve heard and report your observations. It’s that easy.

Now that you know how to be part of a burgeoning frog research study with little formal training, what are you waiting for? Hop to it!

To get involved in Frogwatch USA or find a local chapter, visit the AZA’s webpage at http://www.aza.org/frogwatch/

To brush up on the frog calls in your local area, the US Geological Survey has a great quiz here: http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/Frogquiz/

- Andrew Franks, Zoo New England