Dispelling frog myths and legends

Cane Toad (Bufo marinus)

For centuries, frogs and toads have been maligned and scorned as agents of magic and witchcraft in Western culture. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

It’s Halloween and superstition is in the air! So let’s start with something appropriate, like a bit of the witch’s spell from Shakespeare’s play Macbeth:

“Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.”

For centuries, frogs and toads have been maligned and scorned as agents of magic and witchcraft in Western culture. Throughout most of Medieval Europe, witches were frequently accused of using our amphibian friends as familiars or ingredients in their potions.

In some European fairy tales, the frog or toad is often a stand-in for someone ugly or unwanted before some grand transformation. Look no further than the princess (or in some traditions, prince) who meets a frog that claims to be royalty. Only a kiss will set them free. I like frogs quite a bit, but I’m still not sure I’d kiss one, even if it is my happily-ever-after in disguise.

The threat of warts from toads may keep most people from kissing their beloved-to-be. However, this is another myth, one that modern science can easily dispel. The vast majority of warts in people are caused by human-specific viruses, something no one would be able to get from a frog or toad. Even though you won’t get warts, it’s probably still not a great idea because most toads and many frogs have poison glands on their body that could make you sick if you kiss them.

Despite the bad rap in Europe, frogs are almost universally praised around the world through a variety of other myths. Many of these myths and legends allude to fertility and life. However, since this is Halloween I’ll save that for another time.

– Andrew Franks, Zoo New England

Mirror, mirror.

Emerald glassfrog (Espadarana prosoblepon)

Emerald glass frog (Espadarana prosoblepon)

Cute Frog of the Week: October 29, 2012

The emerald glass frog (Espadarana prosoblepon), native to Central and South American forests, is an interesting species that literally has nothing to hide. Its belly is clear, allowing its bones and intestines to be visible to observers. Interestingly enough, this frog has green bones because of biliverdin, a type of pigment!

The emerald glass frog resides in low vegetation and is frequently found near rivers and streams. While this small frog is, indeed, adorable, do not be fooled. Males are extremely territorial and will wrestle each other while hanging from vegetation, waiting for the other to drop or signal submission. These engagements may last up to 30 minutes. At the current time the species is listed as least concern by the IUCN.

Photo by Alejandro Arteaga 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/

Climate change may alter amphibian evolution

Tadpole egg clutch

Frogs that are adapting to climate change by laying eggs both in water and on land may be better equipped to handle changing weather patterns. (Photo courtesy of STRI)

Most of the more than 6,000 species of frogs in the world lay their eggs in water. But many tropical frogs lay their eggs out of water. This behavior protects the eggs from aquatic predators, such as fish and tadpoles, but also increases their risk of drying out. Justin Touchon, post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, discovered that climate change in Panama may be altering frogs’ course of evolution.

By analyzing long-term rainfall data collected by the Panama Canal Authority, Touchon discovered that rainfall patterns are changing, just as climate change models predict.

“Over the past four decades, rainfall has become more sporadic during the wet season,” said Touchon. “The number of rainy days decreased and the number of gaps between storms increased.”

The eggs of the pantless treefrog, Dendropsophus ebraccatus, are extremely susceptible to drying. The embryos die within a day when there is no rain. Heavy rains trigger breeding, so as storms become sporadic, the chance of rain within a day of being laid decrease, and so does egg survival.

As weather patterns have changed, the advantage of laying eggs out of water has decreased, not only for pantless treefrogs but potentially for many species. “Pantless treefrogs can switch between laying eggs in water or on leaves, so they may weather the changes we are seeing in rainfall better than other species that have lost the ability to lay eggs in water,” said Touchon. “Being flexible in where they put their eggs gives them more options, and allows them to make decisions in a given habitat, which will increase the survival of their offspring.”

The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, headquartered in Panama City, Panama, is a unit of the Smithsonian Institution. The Institute furthers the understanding of tropical nature and its importance to human welfare, trains students to conduct research in the tropics and promotes conservation by increasing public awareness of the beauty and importance of tropical ecosystems. Website: www.stri.si.edu.

Beth King, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

What you looking at?

Gabon forest tree frog (Leptopelis aubryi)

Gabon forest tree frog (Leptopelis aubryi)

Cute Frog of the Week: October 22, 2012

The Gabon forest tree frog (Leptopelis aubryi) is one of the more diminutive frogs ,measuring in at only 54mm in maximum length. Native to Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Congo, the DRC, Gabon, and Nigeria, this frog may be small in size, but makes up for it with the size of its eyes, which appear to dominate its entire body. It is an extremely versatile species that can live in habitats from swamp forest to farm bush.

The Gabon forest tree frog has a mottled brown appearance resembling decaying leaves that allows it to almost blend into its surroundings, making it the ultimate illusionist. Its call is a brief series of clicks, which might take you back to Spain because of its resemblance to castanets. At the current time the species is listed as least concern by the IUCN.

Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

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/

It’s not finger paint.

Red webbed tree frog (Hypsiboas rufitelus)

Red webbed tree frog (Hypsiboas rufitelus)

Cute Frog of the Week: October 15, 2012

The red webbed tree frog (Hypsiboas rufitelus) is an uncommon nocturnal tree frog, notable for its orange to tomato red webbing between its digits that look almost as if it had dipped its feet in paint. This species is native to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama and lives in humid lowland forest. Males are the ultimate hide and seekers—although their calls are heard year-round, they are still rarely seen.

The major threat to this elusive species is habit loss caused by the destruction of natural forest, habitat modification and intensified agriculture. Its calls are a high series of clucks with notes lasting about fifty milliseconds and fired in quick succession, all within a minute. At the current time the species is listed as least concern by the IUCN.

Photo by 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/

The Wyoming Toad: Almost extinct in America’s backyard

Wyoming toad

In 1993 what was thought to be the last 10 living toads were captured at Mortenson Lake and brought into captivity to start a breeding program. (Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

The Wyoming toad (Bufo hemiophrys) was discovered in 1946 by Dr. George T. Baxter,  a University of Wyoming professor. This toad was originally considered a subspecies of the Canadian toad (Bufo hemiophrys). The historic range of the toad included flood plains of the Big and Little Laramie Rivers and the margins of ponds in the Laramie Basin within 30 miles of the city of Laramie, Wyo.

Wyoming toad tadpoles

More than 100,000 tadpoles and toadlets have been reintroduced since 1995. (Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

Wyoming Toads In Decline

  • Once was one of the most plentiful vertebrate species in the Laramie River Basin Wyoming.
  • Rapid declines in the toad population seen in the 1970’s, the exact cause of these declines is unknown. Possible causes include aerial spraying of pesticides, chytrid fungus, red-leg disease and habitat alteration.
  • Federally listed as an endangered species in January of 1984.
Wyoming toads eggstrand

The Wyoming toad was declared “extinct in the wild” and still is. (Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo)

US Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Plan

  • The first Wyoming Toad Recovery Group was formed in September 1987.
  • In 1993 what was thought to be the last 10 living toads were captured at Mortenson Lake and brought into captivity to start a breeding program.
  • The Wyoming toad was declared “extinct in the wild” and still is.
  • The first successful captive reproduction of the toad occurred in 1994 at the Sybille Wildlife Research and Conservation Center in Wyoming.
  • Local land owners provide safe harbor sites for the reintroduction of Wyoming toads.
  • More than 100,000 tadpoles and toadlets have been reintroduced since 1995.
  • Sites are surveyed annually to monitor population numbers. So far we have seen mixed results.

American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP)

  • The SSP was formed in 1996.
  • Only seven AZA accredited zoos and two Fish and Wildlife facilities participate in the SSP program by breeding toads.
  • Volunteers from zoos travel to Laramie to assist in surveys for toads each summer.

For more information, visit www.wyomingtoad.org

Della Garelle, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a flying frog!

Annam Flying frog (Rhacophorus annamensis)

Annam flying frog (Rhacophorus annamensis)

Cute Frog of the Week: Oct. 8, 2012

Native to the mountain forests of Vietnam, the Annam flying frog (Rhacophorus annamensis) is famous for its gliding acrobatics. Using the skin flaps between its toes, this flying frog glides from tree to tree in search of food, water and shelter. It can even steer its way to any leaf with the help of another small skin flap attached to its back end.

The flying frog is also recognized as one of the largest frog species. Females, who are longer than males, can reach up to 3.5 inches long! The females are also known to create intricate foam nests over ponds for their young. Though the Annam flying frog is one of the most commonly found tree frogs in Vietnam, this species is facing habitat loss from deforestation and is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.

Photo by Jodi Rowley 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/

Did you know?

North American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)

There are an infinite number of interesting amphibian facts. (Photo by Joe Milmoe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

A frog’s tongue is attached to the front of its mouths rather than at the back like humans. When a frog catches an insect it throws its sticky tongue out of its mouth and wraps it around its prey. The frog’s tongue then snaps back and throws the food down its throat.

Frogs have very good eyesight. Their eyes bulge out the sides of their heads in order for the frog to see in nearly all directions.

You can tell the difference between a male and female frog by the size of its eardrum, which can be seen behind its eyes. If the eardrum is smaller than the eye, the frog is a female, but a male’s eardrum is the same size as the eye.

Frogs have very powerful back legs and webbed feet that help them jump great distances and swim. Frogs even use their legs to dig, or burrow, underground for hibernating.

Most rainforest frogs have pads of sticky hairs on their fingers and toes, as well as, loose sticky skin on their bellies, that make them great climbers to escape their predators.

Some frogs are very good at camouflaging themselves so that they blend in with their environment, making it harder for their enemies to find them.  A frog can change the color of its skin depending on its surroundings.

If you kiss a frog, you will get warts! Just kidding! That’s just a myth probably perpetrated by some princess that wanted to keep all of the frogs to herself!

For more fun facts, check out Kidzone.

Cindy Hoffman, Defenders of Wildlife

It’s what’s inside that counts.

Northern glassfrog (Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni)

Northern glassfrog (Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni)

Cute Frog of the Week: Oct. 1, 2012

The Northern glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium fleischmanni) is one of the most bizarre amphibians in the world! Though it sports excellent green camouflage for hiding in the rainforests of Central and South America, the most striking feature on this little frog is its transparent belly. If you look at the frog’s underside you can spot its lungs, intestines and even its beating heart!

The Northern glass frog also stands out with its forward-facing, bright yellow eyes, which distinguishes it from the common tree frog. With its unique coloration, it may seem that they are easy to spot, but this is far from the truth. They are nocturnal and are mainly arboreal, meaning that they live exclusively in trees. Though they may be difficult to see, they can certainly be heard. Competing males will often challenge each other by showcasing their impressive mating calls. Though deforestation and habitat loss are a threat, the species is currently classified as a least concern by the IUCN.

Photo by Alejandro Arteaga 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/