There are about 6,000 species of amphibians on the planet today. By the time we pass on and leave the world in our children’s hands, one-third to one-half of the species will have gone extinct. It’s projected by scientists to be the most significant mass extinction since the dinosaur. Maybe you’ve heard about this. Maybe not. But following is a straightforward accounting of the tectonic changes behind the massive, global disappearance of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians.  The way to act is to read up and help Amphibian Ark at www.amphibianark.org.

Chytrid, the AIDS of amphibiaChytrid is a fungal borne disease that is toxic to 80% of amphibian species. For thousands of years, it was confined to a section of Africa. The African Clawed Frog was one of the lucky 20% of species that was immune to the disease. But when the medical industry discovered African Clawed Frogs could be used as an ingenious pregnancy test for humans, they shipped the frogs out of Africa to all parts of the world. The species carried the Chytrid fungus with it, and the disease exploded. Most recently it has decimated the chicken frog population of Montserrat, and crossed the Panama Canal. Here are links to more information:

Watch for future posts that complete the five reasons:

Habitat destruction –

Pollution –

Global Warming –

Indifference –

If you fish and your bait of choice is waterdogs, or larvae from salamanders, you need to read this.

Thank goodness for the scientists who clang the bell — who leverage the drama to wake us up to what’s happening to the planet. Without them, the only endangered species we’d know about would be banks.

Most scientists, from what I can tell, are a reserved group of people — at least when talking about their area of study to regular people like me. They have hypotheses that predict a very different future for our planet. But they are usually very cautious about becoming a crusader for their prediction unless they are 100% certain that they will be proved right.

That doesn’t describe all of them, of course; some scientists clang the bell to get us to pay attention, hopefully convincing us to change our behaviors.

Enough scientists have written and talked about the crisis facing amphibians that they prompted me to create this blog.Still, I look at the traffic that this blog attracts, and it’s certainly not creating a groundswell. Frogmatters gets about 5,000 views a month, holding steady at that marker for the past few months.

I’ve compared the looming mass extinction of amphibians to a plague and to an AIDS virus. I’ve repeated the metaphor that frogs are the canaries in the coal mine at least 20 times.  I’ve written about the chytrid fungus jumping the Panama Canal, and wiping out the chicken frog population of Montserrat.

I’ve tried to highlight the drama of this race to the froggy bottom because if more people are drawn to drama (and we are), then more people will become aware, and then more people will either write checks or call their governments to demand a rescue.

Then I read this quote in The New York Times: “I think a lot of this threashold and tipping point talk is dangerous. If we say we passed thresholds and tipping points today, this will be an excuse for inaction tomorrow.” That’s what Stanford University earth scientist Kenneth Caldeira said in a scholarly debate about using the phrase, “the tipping point,” to describe our climate being on a precipice. Full store HERE.

Using drama as a device to save the planet, and the animals that reside on it, is a double edged sword. What happens if you convince people to listen to your scariest, fact-based prediction — and they don’t respond? What’s left in your bag of tricks then ?

It’s  a very scary thought, but not as scary as how the story will end if we don’t keep trying.

Keep trying.

What Jennifer Holland has reported in National Geographic is one of the best summaries of the amphibian crisis I have read. The photos are beautiful, the anecdotes fresh and unforgettable. You need to read it. Click HERE.

Kevin Zippel, program officer for Amphibian Ark, shared with me a recent paper he helped author with other frog-erati of the herpetology world, all of them associated with the Herpetologists Education Committee of the
Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR)
. I know my daughters, when in elementary school, were thrilled when the classroom would adopt a snake or a guinea pig. What great lessons occur when a teacher instructs children how to care for an animal, and when children take turns providing that care. Now a movement is under foot to involve classrooms in the rescue and care of amphibians. A noble idea, but one fraught with danger if the amphibian were to catch a disease from a reused aquarium, and then is released back into the wild, introducing a dangerous new pathogen to a woodland area or pond.

Zippel and company overview the situation, and provide practical steps that teachers should take, in the paper you can access by clicking here.

I found it interesting that the authors go out of their way to not condemn the idea of bring amphibians into the classroom. Here’s an excerpt I particularly liked:

It was of primary importance to us not to simply squelch this classroom exercise for
reasons of risk avoidance. To us, this exercise is a great example of the spirit of
encouraging a collective public conscience of “bioliteracy” outlined so eloquently by
Ehrlich and Pringle (2008:11584):

“The earlier in the developmental process comes exposure to
nature, the better the odds of inspiring devotion to biodiversity
and its conservation. It is a rare conservationist who did not
encounter nature as a child. Every one of us can go to
elementary schools to show pictures of animals and plants and
tell funny stories about ecology. The teachers will be happy to
have us. More ambitious people might think about how to
finance and institutionalize school field trips to natural areas.”

A terrific story in Friday’s Christian Science Monitor (story HERE) reports on the valiant efforts to stave off amphibian extinctions in Panama. The story details the work of a Panamanian with the tattoo of a toad on his calf who has teamed with a Wisconsin woman who used to be in the Peace Corps. The ravages of chytrid are detailed. A very good read. Good to see the connection to Amphibian Ark, and good to see quotes from the Ark’s Kevin Zippel.

From the people who brought you “Silence of the Bees”: PBS NATURE will croak about amphibian crisis in April: http://tinyurl.com/aejzkb
Here’s the news release about the April 5 special:

There is an environmental crisis unfolding in our own backyard and around the globe. As the celebration of Earth Day draws near, NATURE takes an in-depth look at the greatest mass extinction of amphibians since the dinosaurs. Frogs have been on this planet for more than 250 million years; now scientists are struggling to keep them alive. NATURE “Frogs: The Thin Green Line” airs Sunday, April 5, 2009, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET on PBS.
Researchers have found evidence that one of the major reasons for the loss of one-third of our amphibians today stems from a fungus called chytrid. Unfortunately, the experts don’t know where it started and don’t know how to stop it. What they do know is that it grows in high altitudes, needs water and requires a host to spread. The hosts are the many beautiful species of amphibians the disease destroys.
“Once again, we’re fortunate to be working with Emmy-Award winning filmmaker Allison Argo,” says Fred Kaufman, executive producer of NATURE. “Allison is able to craft a powerful story with remarkable footage capturing the intimate details of both life and death of these creatures.”
Frogs sit right in the middle of the food chain, causing a tremendous change in the ecosystem affecting fish, water quality, snakes and birds. Because of chytrid, other creatures are disappearing. In Central Panama, biologists have evacuated frogs from the forest in order to save their lives. Today, their facility shelters 58 species of frogs — some of the rarest on earth.
Where once there were the calls of frogs, there is now silence, and this silence is traveling through Central America and South America. Yet two hours south of the Panama Canal, there is a small patch of forest called Burbayar, where frogs live as they have for millions of years. Scientists in Panama are hoping this disease hasn’t yet reached this isolated forest. The Burbayar seems to be healthy, with thriving frogs and insects. The question is, for how long?
NATURE has won nearly 450 honors from the television industry, parent groups, the international wildlife film community and environmental organizations, including 10 Emmys, three Peabodys and the first award given to a television program by the Sierra Club. Most recently, the series won a Peabody Award for “Silence of the Bees.”