Our sex life started destroying amphibians when we exported the African clawed frog as a pregnancy test in the 1930s. A half century later, our use of the pill started changing the gender of frogs and salamanders. Read on…
The St. Louis Zoo’s Jeffrey Bonner (who also is chairman of Amphibian Ark) has written another very original article on the amphibian crisis,in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In this one he makes a connection between the spread of pollen (“the sex life of trees”) and the spread of the frog killing chytrid fungus (ultimately connected to the sex life of humans). It’s a fascinating observation, one I’ve not read before. The excerpt:
Several years ago, I attended a seminar in Washington. It was spring — cherry blossom time. I was sneezing like crazy. Our speaker also had allergies, and he apologized for his sniffles. Being a biologist, he explained it this way, “Sorry for all the sneezing. It seems I’ve become an inadvertent participant in the sex life of trees.” He was right, of course. We sneeze because we have an immune reaction to the pollen, or sex cells, which trees spread in the spring.
If frogs could speak, perhaps they’d say the same thing about amphibian chytrid. It would have taken forever for chytrid to spread out of South Africa had it not been for the actions of humans, harvesting infected frogs and air-mailing them around the planet for pregnancy tests. The frogs, it would seem, were an inadvertent participant in the sex lives of humans.
We can allow hundreds of amphibian species to face quietly into oblivion, or we can take action now to spare their lives. I hope the choice we make is the humane one.
Jeffrey Bonner is president of the St. Louis Zoo. He also is the chairman of the Amphibian Ark, the global effort to save 500 critically endangered species and place them in “protective custody” in zoos and aquariums around the world.
Interestingly, Dr. Bonner earlier had written about modern birth control pills and their impact on amphibians — i.e., the heightened estrogen levels in our urine is reaching streams and deforming species. That story was extremely interesting, as well. In it, he wrote:
Of equal concern is many of the common drugs we consume. Their contents pass through our bodies, into sewage treatment plants and back into our rivers and streams. Estrogen, the active ingredient in many birth control pills, is one of these. In frogs, low levels of estrogen cause exposed tadpoles to become female; under normal conditions, half develop female and half develop male.