Did you know you can gauge the health of an ecosystem by tracking the number of amphibians? Here’s why: frogs, toads, and other amphibians have permeable skin. Consequently, they are extremely sensitive to toxins. If their skin comes in contact with pollutants they become very ill and, depending on the substance, may not survive. Their skin is so sensitive that something as simple as soap, lotion, or other residue often left on people’s hands can harm them.
Because of this sensitivity, habitat loss, illness, and other factors, amphibian populations are in decline in most places worldwide. One out of every three amphibians in danger of extinction. Within wetland ecosystem, Amphibians are vital to maintaining the healthy balance that all well functioning ecosystems need. They serve as both prey and predator — on the one hand helping to control pest populations and on the other providing food for invertebrates, fish, birds, snakes, raccoons, and other larger animals. If these species go extinct it will be a big ecological loss.
This loss of amphibian species, however, is not only impactful from an ecological standpoint but also from a scientific and anthropological standpoint. The diversity of amphibian life — in size, shape, behavior, color, and calls — is vast, as is their cultural and historic significance in societies around the world. They have symbolized fertility and harmony in ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece, luck and good fortune in China and Japan, and rain, sky, and other deities in various cultures around the world. Amphibians have also made many important contributions to human medicine. Over 73 amphibians are known to have medicinal value.
In response to the observed decline in amphibian populations, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) started FrogWatch USA, a citizen science program designed to help track frog and toad populations in the United States. FrogWatch USA volunteers are trained to identify and record frog and toad calls during the monitoring season (February – August). The program has been running for over 15 years and now spans across 42 states and with over 140 chapters. In the DC area, volunteers are trained to look for these local frogs and toads: Wood Frogs, Southern Leopard Frogs, Pickerel Frogs, Green Frogs, American Bullfrogs, Gray Tree Frogs, Cope’s Gray Tree Frogs, Green Tree Frogs, Upland Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers, Eastern Cricket Frogs, American Toads, Fowler’s Toads, and Eastern Spadefoots.
Here are a few you can do to help keep amphibians safe:
- Reduce waste and recycle whenever possible
- Help with local cleanup efforts
- Avoid using pesticides in your yard and garden
- Never remove an amphibian from it’s home
- Join your local FrogWatch chapter!
If you are interested in learning more about frogs, toads, and other amphibians in the DC area, you can visit the Aquatic Resources Education Center. To learn more about FrogWatch in DC, check out this recent article and radio post by WAMU.