High Jumper

How's that for a view? The Agile Frog Rana dalmatina, (c) Nicola Destefano

How’s that for a view? The Agile Frog Rana dalmatina, (c) Nicola Destefano

If you want to see the agile frog live up to its name, just try catch one! This wily creature can jump for distance (2m) and height (1m).   Found throughout most of Europe, this species can be abundant in forest glades in deciduous forests where it is found. It is listed as least concern by IUCN, but evidently it’s acrobatic skills are no match for cars and it has been declining at some sites due to road-kill, conversion of forest habitats to agriculture and eutrophication.  The Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has been running a conservation project on this species which declined precipitously on the Island of Jersey in the 1980’s.

Photo courtesy Nicola Destefano, submitted via the cute frog of the week Flickr group.

Red-Hot

Aptly named!!

Red-headed Poison Frog Ranitomeya fantastica Photo Credit: A. Stuckert via cute frog of the week flickr pool.

The red-headed poison frog is known for its most unique feature, its fire-orange head and throat, from which it received its name. Below the orange, it typically sports a white dorsum band followed by unique black and grey patterning. The red-headed poison frog is endemic to Peru and is restricted to a small land distribution of the San Martin and Loreto regions, making it extremely vulnerable to habitat loss. It is a small, highly active and dangerous frog. If threatened, it has the ability to secrete poisonous toxins from its skin. But despite their danger to humans, the red-headed poison frog population is decreasing because of their high demand in the pet trade. These threats to the species have led to the conservation status ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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

Are you talkin’ to me?

White-spotted cochran frog (Sachatamia albomaculata)

White-spotted cochran frog (Sachatamia albomaculata)

Cute Frog of the Week: March 11, 2013

The white-spotted cochran frog is a nocturnal frog commonly found in humid lowlands and pre-montane slopes. It is native to a wide distribution of land, from the Caribbean slopes (Honduras to Costa Rica), to the Pacific slopes (Costa Rica to Colombia), and is likely to make nests on leaves above water. A brightly colored frog, the Cochran frog is bluish green with yellow to silver spots covering the body. Even its bones are green, which can be seen when viewed from the dorsal side, thanks to their translucent skin. Because of their wide distribution and large population, the white-spotted Cochran frog is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN.

Photo by Jorge Brito 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/

Teachers: Don’t let ’em go!

American toad tadpoles

Learning about the process of turning from a tadpole to a frog is an important lesson for students. Teachers should understand how to do it safely. (Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

The seemingly harmless act of collecting tadpoles from a pond for nature study and re-releasing them after metamorphosis could actually contribute to the spread of a fatal frog disease, amphibian chytrid fungus. We want to be sure that schools, parents and students are aware of the risks to local amphibians and do NOT spread this fungus by moving or releasing frogs to the wild.

NEVER release a frog or any other amphibian into the local environment even if it came from there in the first place!

The study of amphibian metamorphosis is an integral part of nearly every K-8 curriculum. At this time of year some schools bring tadpoles into the classroom to watch metamorphosis in action.

Frog eggs and tadpoles, commercially available online from science supply companies, can be carriers of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd or chytrid for short).  This disease spreads easily and is rapidly fatal to many native amphibians. Unfortunately, many of these companies advise customers to simply release the frogs to the wild. This is not only illegal in some states, but dangerous.

To prevent the spread of chytridiomycosis, consider studying tadpoles in a pond without bringing them back to the classroom. If you are collecting or purchasing tadpoles or eggs, make absolutely sure that: 1) it is legal – permits are required in some states; 2) the tadpoles are kept by themselves and never mixed with any other tadpoles or frogs or water that has been with other animals; 3) you are prepared to care for the frogs for the rest of their lives or can find appropriate captive homes. So, only raise as many as you can re-home responsibly or care for yourself. Some companies, (e.g. Grow-a-Frog) will welcome your frog back and provide shipping bags. If you have no other options please call your local zoo, state wildlife department or nature center.

If planning for care of native frogs in the classroom post-metamorphosis, please take into consideration that in nearly all cases you will need to provide a steady diet of live insects as most native frogs only eat live food. Most native tadpoles have relatively easy care requirements, but most native frogs have very demanding care requirements. You need to consider whether you are committed to providing the special requirements and steady diet of live, moving insects for the frog’s entire lifespan. If so, this can be a wonderful thing for students to participate in.

The release of any animal, captive, non-native or native, into your local ecosystem is a serious cause for alarm.  Now more than ever, it is imperative to inform your students about the global amphibian extinction crisis and risks of releasing any animal and especially any amphibian into your local ecosystem. Pure and simple: Don’t let ’em go !

Survival of amphibians and the well-being of our environment depends upon what your students learn now. You can and will make a difference for future generations!

To help educate students about the immediate global concern for amphibian extinctions please see this link for curriculum materials.

–Della Garelle, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Twenty-one is my lucky number.

White Madagascar Frog (Gephyromantis luteus)

White Madagascar Frog (Gephyromantis luteus)

Cute Frog of the Week: March 26, 2012

The white Madagascar frog lives along the eastern coast of the island in lowland rainforests. Often found during the day on the forest floor, it blends in with leaf litter and can jump far, if necessary. Males will climb at night to about 1-2 meters above the ground where they will call for females during mating season. Calls consist of up to 21 short, melodious notes, and the frogs do not sing together.

Perhaps one of their most distinguishing characteristics is the double blackish subgular sacs that the males have under their throats. Their skin is smooth, but they do have inner and outer ridges that run down the spine. Their coloration is usually light brown or reddish brown, uniform or with a few smaller black markings.

This species is fairly common, though overall numbers are slowly decreasing, most likely due to general habitat alteration and loss, habitat modification from deforestation, logging, intensified agriculture and livestock grazing, urbanization.

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/

Dog? No, frog!

Dumeril’s bright-eyed frog (Boophis tephraeomystax)

Dumeril’s bright-eyed frog (Boophis tephraeomystax)

Cute Frog of the Week: March 19, 2012

If you ever visit Madagascar and hear a little dog yelping during the night, think again—you may be listening to a Dumeril’s bright-eyed frog (Boophis tephraeomystax) (named for the first person to describe it). These frogs can be found in open areas of the island’s coasts and are known to hang out on banana plants near villages. Males spend the night singing near shallow pools, which are also where tadpoles grow up. When droughts come, these frogs tuck themselves into the leaf buds of plants to hide. Because these frogs can adapt easily to a variety of homes and is fairly common, they are not considered endangered.

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/

October 29 is National Take Back Your Drugs Day

Do you have unused or expired medications in your medicine cabinet? Don’t flush them, rush them to a collection site near you this Saturday, October 29! The Drug Enforcement Administration is working with local law enforcement agencies around the country to set up community drug collection sites. Not only does properly disposing of drugs help reduce prescription drug poisonings, misuse, abuse and theft, it’s better for frogs, too. Past national collection days have kept more than 309 tons of medication out of waterways.

Find a collection site near you.

Amphibians are super sensitive to water contamination. They show evidence of harm at pollution levels scientific tests can’t detect. While research on the long-term effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment is ongoing, there’s no question properly disposing of unused prescription and over-the-counter medications, instead of flushing them or pouring them down the drain, means you’re keeping our water sources clean–for frogs and for people.

If you can’t make it to a drug collection site this weekend, check out these recommendations from SMARXT DISPOSAL for safely disposing of medicines in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.

  • Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag. If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), add a small amount of water to dissolve it.
  • Add kitty litter, sawdust or coffee grounds to make it less appealing for pets and children to eat.
  • Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.

Help spread the word about this simple step everyone can take to protect our environment and frogs!

–Katie Borremans, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Damage Control

Brian Gratwicke

Dr. Brian Gratwicke swabs a frog in the field to test it for chytrid. (Courtesy of Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute)

Today, conservation biologists from around the world remain locked in a race against amphibian extinction. In Panama, researchers who care about conserving the country’s abundant biodiversity are re-evaluating the cards they were handed, recognizing just how high the deck is stacked against their efforts.

The primary cause of amphibian decline, a fungal disease called Bd continues to run its insidious course. Scarily, it has reached Eastern Panama sooner than expected.

The outlook is grim. Nearly a third of the 6,000 amphibian species worldwide could be gone within decades. Gone. And in many instances, the fungus will take the blame. Rare species seem to disappear first, leaving the more common species, which may make amphibians even more susceptible to other diseases.

Still, there is some hope. At the Smithsonian in Panama, researchers continue to discuss the possibilities of undercutting the disease and its effects in the wild.

Captive breeding projects in Panama insure the genetic lineages of Panama’s most endangered species. Volunteers and dedicated personnel pour their energy into rescue missions and husbandry projects despite tight budgets.

Smithsonian researcher Doug Woodhams and colleagues published a comprehensive article in the journal Frontiers of Ecology about “mitigating amphibian disease with strategies to maintain wild populations and control chytriodiomycosis.” The study finds that mitigation does not necessarily involve wiping out the fungal pathogen in the wild, nor does it necessarily mean preventing disease (neither of which are realistic approaches, anyway).

Their approach is to use information about species that don’t seem to succumb to the disease but do act as hosts that transmit the fungus along with information about the virulence of the disease under different environmental conditions to manage populations in the wild. They call their approach “an ecologically-oriented damage response network.”

If anything, recent news and research efforts indicate that perseverance in the difficult tasks of captive breeding and active disease management is the key, rather than spending precious time searching for an elusive silver bullet.

–Charlie Hruska, Columbia University and Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project volunteer

Cupcakes for Golden Frog Day


Last year on Golden Frog Day, Aug. 14, I made Panamanian golden frog cupcakes to share with our herpetologists at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. This year I’m giving you the recipe ahead of time so that you can make your own this weekend in celebration of one of the coolest and most beloved of frog species. You might even consider hosting a bake sale to raise funds for the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project’s work!

Ingredients to make 2 dozen Panamanian golden frog cupcakes:

Two 9.1 oz boxes of marble cake mix (Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, whatever you can get your hands on)
Two 16 oz containers of lemon frosting (Betty Crocker, Duncan Hines, etc)
Note: If you’d prefer vanilla frosting, get some yellow food coloring and mix it into the frosting.
One 16 oz container of chocolate frosting
One 16 oz container of vanilla frosting
Red food coloring (to mix with the vanilla frosting to make mouths) or one pack of Twizzlers Pull and Peel candy
Yellow food coloring (to dye the marshmallows)
One 12 oz package of chocolate chips
Cupcake liners
One 10 oz package of marshmallows or a bag of mini Oreos
Sandwich baggies or frosting tips

Cupcakes

Or make 'em 3-D!

Instructions:

Follow the directions on the box of cake mix and wait to frost cupcakes until they are cool. Frost either with lemon frosting or with vanilla frosting that has been dyed yellow. Next, cut the marshmallows into slices or halves, depending on how far you want the eyes to pop up. If you cut the marshmallows in half, dye the outside of the marshmallow with yellow dye and then affix onto the cupcake. If you cut the marshmallow thinner, put two slices directly onto the cupcakes. Put a chocolate chip on each marshmallow to complete the eyes. You could also try using mini oreo halves for the eyes.

Use a frosting tip or a sandwich bag with a hole cut in a corner to make the stripes on the golden frog’s face and nostrils with the chocolate frosting. Do the same with the vanilla dyed red to create the mouths. Or use Twizzlers Pull and Peel candy to make mouths.

Very simple! If you have other creative suggestions for making these cupcakes, leave your ideas in the comments section below. If you’re in Panama, don’t forget to check out our schedule of events to celebrate the second annual golden frog day. Anyone anywhere can enter our golden frog photography contest by joining us on Facebook.

Enjoy! And Happy Golden Frog Day!

Lindsay Renick Mayer, Smithsonian’s National Zoo

Locked in a race: where is the finish?

Atelopus varius

The harlequin frog, Atelopus varius, disappeared from cloud forest streams in Costa Rica and Panama during the 1990s probably due to chytridiomicosis. Its sudden decline will negatively impact highland streams, its natural habitat, suggest ongoing ecological research. (Photo by: Brian Kubicki)

The visionary entomologist E. O. Wilson wrote in 1988 that, “overall we are locked into a race. We must hurry to acquire the knowledge on which a wise policy of conservation and development can be based for centuries to come.” In the case of the great die-off of amphibians that is currently taking place, coping with the loss of biodiversity requires a thorough understanding of how ecosystems respond to (often abrupt) disruptions.  One hundred years of tropical research in Panama by staff and visiting scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) leads to the wisdom we need to make smart conservation decisions.

Many amphibian populations are in severe decline throughout Central and South America, and many species, especially stream-dwelling amphibians, teeter at the brink of extinction. The ecosystems they inhabit are experiencing abrupt disruptions. For example, the harlequin frog, Atelopus varius, was relatively common in the headwaters of the Rio Lagarto in Costa Rica during a population census from 1982 to 1983. A second census between 1990 and 2002 recorded no harlequin frogs (La Marca et al., 2005).

Zero.

The toad genus Atelopus, which contains 113 species, has suffered catastrophic population declines affecting at least 43 species. In the same census effort that recorded the decimation of the Atelopus varius population, ten other species of Atelopus showed zero individuals in the second round only half a decade later.

Rapid amphibian population declines are happening at the regional level as well as at the species level. The best-tested explanation for what has caused the rapid and severe declines and numerous extinctions in the wild suggests that the fungal disease chytridiomicosis is the driving mechanism. Chytridiomicosis has progressed like a wave from Costa Rica in 1980 to eastern Panama today. A similarly destructive wave advances on susceptible, mostly highland, frog populations in Ecuador and Colombia. Currently, the epidemic wave front moves through central Panama at a rate of 17 km per year.

Atelopus glyphus

Frogs are an irreplaceable component of the highland stream ecosystem. In their absence, streams cannot cycle key nutrients effectively, and all species that depend on this habitat will be negatively affected. Recent results from the Tropical Amphibian Declines in Streams (TADS) research project strongly suggest that tropical streams have no backup when frogs populations decline rapidly. (Photo by Walter Dodds)

Research continues on the causes of chytridiomicosis and on mitigation strategies, but we need to do research on the effect of the declines on freshwater highland tropical stream ecosystems to successfully direct conservation efforts and accurately predict ecosystem-level changes. Amanda Rugenski, a post-doc at Southern Illinois University’s Department of Zoology, recently gave a talk at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama about the ecological consequences of amphibian declines in streams. Her research looks at pre- and post-decline streams and quantifies any changes in how the streams function as an ecosystem with and without amphibians.

The spreading epidemic in Panama offers the opportunity to compare similar stream sites across the chytridiomicosis wave front. If chytridiomicosis, a water-bone pathogen, is directly responsible for the observed declines, these before and after surveys will identify the ecological services that will be lost in the near future.

The project, Tropical Amphibian Declines in Streams (TADS), uses a technique called ecological stoichiometry to understand how key nutrients like carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus are cycled through the stream’s food web. Because amphibians link aquatic environments–which they inhabit as tadpoles–to terrestrial ones, where they feed on insects as adult frogs, they serve as an important conduit of energy, linking the two food webs. The main question is whether stream ecosystems will be able to cope with amphibian declines.

The answer is that there is no replacement for the role amphibians play. Using nitrogen isotope tracers, Amanda discovered that tadpoles are essential to cycle nitrogen through the food web in stream habitats. When there are no tadpoles, nitrogen just flows downstream and is unavailable to other consumers. Altered nutrient flows and fluxes, and slower cycling rates affect other organisms as they cascade down the food web, resulting in different numbers of microorganisms, algae, and mayflies and of frog-eating snakes and birds. Tadpoles influence what grows where in the stream, the amount of water sediment, the availability of key nutrients and energy sources, and the overall function of the stream ecosystem.

Much has been written about the loss of biodiversity resulting from the rapid declines of amphibian populations. A paper listed in the STRI bibliography published this year in EcoHealth predicted, using DNA barcode techniques, that about a third of frog species have already been lost. Now, the effects of the declines from an ecosystem standpoint point to amphibian’s key and irreplaceable role in stream habitats.

The effort to understand enough to conserve and predict future amphibian populations has recently accelerated to match the rate at which chytridiomicosis advances. But we remain locked in the race.

–Charlie Hruska, Columbia University and Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project volunteer