Join us as together we Fight for Frogs

Brian swabs frogs in the field_Brian GratwickeFrogs matter. As a kid in nursery school, I remember observing tadpoles metamorphose into froglets right before our eyes in the classroom. It was like watching a magic trick over and over again. As I grew more interested in these cool little creatures, I learned that some frogs reproduce using pouches, others by swallowing their own eggs and regurgitating their young, others still by laying eggs that hatch directly into little froglets. It was like discovering not one magic trick, but an entire magical world—except this world was no illusion, it was real. My formative experiences both in the classroom and out rummaging around cold rainy ponds at night with my best friend and a headlamp spurred me into a career in the biological sciences. They also instilled in me a deep appreciation for the incredible diversity of life.

Panamanian golden frog_Brian GratwickeToday I am focused on conserving that incredible diversity specifically among amphibians in Panama, which is home to an astounding 214 amphibian species. Or at least it was. When a deadly amphibian chytrid fungus swept through, nine species disappeared entirely, including the country’s national animal, the beautiful Panamanian golden frog.

graphical abstractSince 2009, the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project has spearheaded efforts to bring at-risk species into rescue pods to ride out the storm while we work on finding a cure. We’ve worked with partners to conduct several experiments in search of a cure and to better understand why some frogs resist infection and others do not. We have built new facilities that house highly endangered species of amphibians as part of a bigger global push to create an “Amphibian Ark.” These efforts and those of our colleagues around the world give me profound hope for our amphibian friends.

But we need your help.

Although frogs are the orchestral backdrop to every pond and forest, frogs have no voice to represent themselves, and they certainly can’t write checks. It’s up to professional conservationists, including the rescue project’s 12 talented conservationists in Panama, to save frogs so that others can enjoy them. This, however, requires money. From now until the end of August, our generous sponsor Golden Frog—a global online services provider with a terrific name—will match donations to the rescue project up to $20,000, helping us raise money critical to our fight for frogs. Your donations during the Fight for Frogs campaign will buy us equipment to care for the frogs in the rescue pods, help us continue to conduct experiments to find a cure, ensure crucial breakthroughs, and ultimately one day see the return of these incredible species to their home in the wild.

Together, let’s make a stand. Together, let’s #FightForFrogs.

The Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project is a project partnership between the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Houston Zoo, Zoo New England and Smithsonian Institution. You can follow the Fight for Frogs campaign on Twitter using the #FightForFrogs hashtag or on the rescue project’s Facebook page.

Hanging around.

Ecuador Cochran frog (Nymphargus griffithi)

Ecuador cochran frog (Nymphargus griffithi)

Cute Frog of the Week: March 25, 2013

The Ecuador cochran frog is a brightly colored frog found most often on vegetation next to streams in montane forests. Although its name points to Ecuador, it appears to have disappeared from its original region and is now found most commonly in Columbia. The Cochran frog population is currently in a decline due to habitat loss from deforestation for agricultural development, logging and human settlement. The introduction of alien predatory fish to the area and pollution resulting from the spraying of illegal crops has also had a negative effect on the species. Due to these factors, the IUCN has listed them as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Photo by Lucas M. Bustamante 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/

Stealing your heart.

Turquino Robber Frog (Eleutherodactylus turquinensis )

Turquino robber frog (Eleutherodactylus turquinensis )

Cute Frog of the Week: March 4, 2013

The turquino robber frog is a small frog, but large for Eleutherodactylids. It is a semi-aquatic frog found in small mountain streams in cloud forest and fragmented areas at high altitudes. Endemic to Cuba, this frog is known only from the Sierra del Turquino (Sierra Maestra Mountains) in eastern Cuba. These little robbers can be found on stream banks clinging to wet rocks in the splash zone, prepared to dive underwater for a quick getaway if needed. Due to habitat loss and their limited area of occupancy, this species is classified as critically endangered by the IUCN.

Photo by Ariel Rodriguez 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/

Hops and spots.

Marañón poison frog (Excidobates mysteriosus)

Marañón poison frog (Excidobates mysteriosus)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 25, 2013

This little polka-dotted guy is actually one of the most distinctive poisonous frogs. Adults are black or brown, sporting fashionable white “polka-dots” that cover their entire body. This spotting is highly variable from frog to frog, with the exception of a single spot under the chin and an oval spot on the underside of the thighs. The species is known from a single location in the vicinity of Santa Rosa, Cajamarca, Peru and often lives in giant bromeliad flowers. Unfortunately, because of land destruction for coffee farms in the area around Santa Rosa, this species is losing its habitat and becoming severely threatened in the wild. Humans have also begun to want these beautiful amphibians as terrarium pets. These threats have caused the IUCN to classify the spotted frog as endangered by the IUCN.

Photo by Jean-Francois Brousseau 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/

Frog Love on Valentine’s Day

This Valentine’s Day we asked some of the rescue project’s researchers why they love frogs. Here’s what we got back from a few biologists at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The common link? A life-long love of wildlife.

Matt Evans, biologist, Smithsoinan's National Zoo

Matt Evans, biologist, Smithsonian

“My favorite childhood memories revolve around my mother taking me down to the nearest stream and letting me get dirty playing with frogs and salamanders. I loved it so much, I get to do that for a living now! The diversity within all amphibians still amazes me as there is so much we still have  to learn. I consider being able to work on projects, which may help save frogs from extinction, to be the absolute coolest part of my job.”

Ed Smith, biologist, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Ed Smith, biologist, Smithsonian

“Since childhood it was snakes, not frogs, that were the focus of hours spent searching woodlands, streams and ponds. Unlike other more noticeable  creatures, snakes are decidedly unapparent; unless they happen to be eating a frog! Although, the thrill of finding a snake by following the plaintive screams of a leopard frog never diminished, what increased was my interest in the gradually disappearing prey. So, thanks in part to the appetite of a few alluring garter snakes the equally marvelous world of frogs, toads, salamanders, sirens, and hellbenders opened to me and now inform and enhance days at work and in the field.”

Brian Gratwicke, rescue project international coordinator

Brian Gratwicke, rescue project international coordinator

“I fell in love with frogs growing up as a child in Zimbabwe. There was something exhilarating about discovering the translucent, musical jewels that are responsible for the familiar nocturnal soundtrack of my childhood. Unlike any computer games or TV shows, I will carry those first memories of catching frogs around a pond with me for the rest of my life. For me, seeing frogs in the wild stirs emotions of wonder and discovery, and they are accessible to everyone who is willing to take a little extra effort to open their eyes and look.”

–Brian Gratwicke, rescue project international coordinator

Nestled amongst the leaves.

La Loma robber frog (Pristimantis caryophyllaceus)

La Loma robber frog (Pristimantis caryophyllaceus)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 11, 2013

La Loma robber frog used to be found predominantly in the forests of Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, yet recently this frog has been disappearing in increasing numbers. The deadly chytrid fungus, as well as habitat loss attributed to logging, farming and human encroachment, has had an impact on the wild populations of this species. The population effects have been the most drastic at lower altitudes, which is unusual, as most other species experience the heaviest declines at higher elevations. These small frogs prefer leaf litter and the low vegetation of primary moist and wet forests and rainforests. Leaves play an important role in the life cycle of these frogs, as females lay their eggs on leaves and brood them there. The la Loma robber frog is listed as a near threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Photo by Andreas Hertz 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/

Small, but mighty.

Robber frog (Eleutherodactylus orientalis)

Robber frog (Eleutherodactylus orientalis)

Cute Frog of the Week: February 4, 2013

If you ever visit Cuba and spot this little yellow and black frog, watch out! The robber frog is toxic, and when touched can secrete painful toxins into the skin of other species, including humans. This terrestrial species is endemic and can only be found among leaf litter in hardwood forests of limestone soil, and sometimes on coffee and cacao plantations in Cuba. An increase in agriculture and tourism has resulted in the degradation of these critically-endangered frogs’ heavily restricted range.

Photo by Ariel Rodriguez 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/

Next, to bend space and time.

Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)

Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis)

Cute Amphibian of the Week: January, 28, 2013

The hellbender has the distinct honor of being the largest salamander in the United States, growing as large as two feet long. It can be found in rocky, clear creeks and rivers, usually where there are large rocks for shelter. Its mottled appearance allows the hellbender to almost perfectly blend into its surroundings, making it quite the crafty salamander. Despite its name, this species is not a fan of warm water and strictly avoids water with temperatures above 68 o Fahrenheit/20 o Celsius.

The principal threat to this species is habitat degradation since it is a habitat specialist with little tolerance of environmental change. While it may seem like the sensitive type, do not be fooled; this species knows how to defend itself when push comes to shove. Hellbenders produce skin secretions that are likely unpalatable to predators and lethal in mice. At the current time the species is listed as near threatened by the IUCN.

Follow the Smithsonian National Zoo’s hellbender work at http://www.salamanderscience.com/.

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/

Cuban Frog Crisis

Oriente Mottled Frog (Eleutherodactylus simulans)

Oriente mottled frog (Eleutherodactylus simulans)

Cute Frog of the Week: January 21, 2013

The crisis facing this little Cuban native doesn’t involve missiles, but it does require immediate action to save this frog species from extinction. Characterized by its dark mottled brown pattern on its dorsal surface, the Oriente mottled frog (Eleutherodactylus simulans) blends well among the rocks, leaves and streambeds from which it is found. Recorded only in five small locations in Cuba, this terrestrial frog is currently classified as endangered by the IUCN. Due to habitat destruction from increasing deforestation within the country, the Oriente mottled frog population is clinging on to its existence.

Photo by Ariel Rodriguez 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/

Frogs and Drought

Cane toad (Rhinella marinus)

The cane toad is an example of an amphibian that has adapted to survive extreme environments.

On this blog, we’ve discussed the challenges facing tropical frogs, especially those susceptible to chytrid fungus. Little discussed, however, are the amazing amphibian survivors in drier climates like deserts, grasslands and savannahs.

These frogs and toads have adapted to survive in an environment that’s very different from the tropical rainforest. Unlike the rainforest, frogs in a dry environment have to seek out rare pools of water to breed. They also have to find ways to prevent massive water loss through their thin skin during extended dry spells.

There are several species of frogs and toads that have developed amazing adaptations to survive in some pretty extreme environments. One of the most common adaptations is called aestivation (also “estivation”). During aestivation, an animal becomes dormant during a dry period to better conserve water or keep cool. Think of it like the dry weather counterpart to cold weather hibernation.

The water-holding frog (Litoria platycephala) of western Australia is a prime example of aestivation. Western Australia is prone to dry spells lasting months or even years. When rain does come, it’s usually in the form of tropical moisture, which means a lot of it and all at once. The water-holding frog takes advantage of this short breeding period to lay their eggs in the pools that form. Once all the water is gone, they bury themselves underground and shed several layers of skin that are thick enough to not only prevent dehydration but also store water. A convenient hole in the skin near the nostrils allows the frog to breathe slowly waiting out the next rainy period.

Aborigines discovered that these frogs could be used as an emergency source of water by squeezing the frog and emptying the almost fresh water for drinking. This doesn’t immediately kill or harm the frog, but it does make it harder for them to survive to the next rainfall.

Around the world, there are other species of frogs that aestivate in the same or similar manner to the water-holding frog. These include the African bullfrog (Pyxicephalus adspersus), cane toad (Bufo marinus) and plains spadefoot toad (Spea bombifrons). All three species are currently listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN.

Despite their incredible ability to survive dry seasons, there is a limit to how much stress these frog species can handle. Climate change is likely to increase weather extremes, both floods and droughts. Increased drought length or severity could push some of these frogs to the edge where parasites or diseases could severely impact an already weakened population. In order to save all frog species, we’ll have to look high, low and even underground in some pretty dry places!

Andrew Franks, Zoo New England

Photo by Brian Gratwicke, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

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