U.S. Agency Proposes Legislation to Help Stem Spread of Chytrid Fungus

In an effort to stem the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus that is wiping out amphibian populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering banning the importation of amphibians and their eggs without a permit certifying the animals are disease-free. The chytrid fungus has caused the extinction of at least 200 amphibian species and continues to be one of the greatest threats to amphibians.

Northern Leopard Frog, a North American native species

In a statement, Rowan Gould, Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said,

The worldwide decline of amphibians is of great concern to us. Chytrid is attributed as a major cause of this amphibian mortality. We understand that halting the spread of the fungus or eradicating it will take more than just regulating importation and transportation of infected amphibians, but it is a major step in the right direction.

According the the FWS website, under the Lacey Act, the Department of the Interior is authorized to regulate the importation and interstate transport of wildlife species determined to be injurious to the welfare and survival of native wildlife. Current regulations prohibit the release into the wild of all species of live amphibians or their eggs, except as authorized. But, of course, this law isn’t easily enforced. Many pet frogs are let “free” in local ponds, potentially infecting native species.

A listing under the Lacey Act would not affect a person or institution that currently owns an amphibian and does not transport it to another state or U.S. territory.

At FROGS ARE GREEN, we applaud this proposed legislation and feel it would be a huge step toward controlling the spread of the chytrid fungus that threatens the survival of so many amphibian species, including native species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The FWS is seeking input from the public. You can leave a comment until December 16, 2010. Please take a few minutes to comment and to show your support for a measure that will genuinely help amphibians.

More information: Statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Information from Save the Frogs about the frog legs trade and the spread of infectious diseases.


Amphibian Ark Exhibit Opened at Paignton Zoo

If you live in England or are visiting England this summer, you might want to hop over to the Paignton Zoo, which yesterday  launched  the Amphibian Ark exhibit, The event was hosted by actor and musician Anthony Head (the cool Rupert Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Dendrobates azureus (Poison Blue Dart Frog) photographed by R.D. Bartlett

Here’s some info from the zoo’s website (edited):

Amphibian Ark will be home to 14 amphibian species, including the blue poison dart frog, the phantasmal poison dart frog, and the Anderson’s axolotl. Staff have also been working with relatively common species to perfect husbandry routines and protocols before taking on endangered amphibians.

Mike Bungard, Curator of Lower Vertebrates and Invertebrates at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park, said: “I’m very pleased – the facilities are excellent. We have a large, flexible working space with on and off-show animal care areas, the capacity for high level bio-security and a state-of-the-art water treatment system. The water garden links the exotic amphibians indoors with the idea of domestic garden conservation.”

Out of 6,000 known amphibian species, 50% are threatened or endangered, compared to 10% of mammal species. Amphibians are affected by habitat loss, climate change, pollution, pesticides and the deadly chytrid fungus. Unstoppable and untreatable in the wild, the fungus can kill 80% of amphibians within months. The aim is to protect species from the fungus, possibly by taking animals from the wild and then reintroducing them when it is safe to do so.

It’s hoped that Amphibian Ark will inform and inspire visitors, breed rare species, and become an internationally recognised training facility for herpetologists. Staff have launched two field conservation projects in the last year in Tanzania and Trinidad.

The zoo is close to Torquay (in Devon), which is accessible by train, and from Torquay you can take a bus  to Paignton.


Cape Town’s secretive inhabitant and pilot conservation species – the Western Leopard Toad

Written by Guest Blogger: Mark Day

Dusk ascends to cover the suburb of Bergvliet under a blanket of darkness. It brings with it the chill of a Wintery August night in Cape Town, South Africa, as a nippy breeze sweeps across the small urban wetland of Die Oog (an Afrikaans word meaning “The Eye”).

This man-made depression was originally dug out some 284 years ago to provide water for livestock on the neighbouring farm of Dreyersdal. In more recent years, however, Die Oog has come to serve a much greater purpose, as a pivotal breeding site for one of Cape Town’s most threatened amphibians, the western leopard toad Ameitophrynus pantherinus.

IUCN listed Amietophrynus pantherinus in Noordhoek - Photo by Maria Wagener of Fishhoek

As little as six years ago it was thought that only several such breeding sites remained in existence, for a species which has suffered massive population declines as a consequence of numerous threats including urban expansion, habitat destruction and population decimation through road kills. Today, conservationists and scientists with the aid of concerned volunteers and the public have listed a total of 52 breeding sites within the Cape Town range of the species. Further eastwards, some 150 kilometres away from southern Cape Town, a largely unprotected population comprising seven breeding sites exists.

Unlike most frogs which remain at water courses throughout the year, toads live in what’s termed ‘foraging areas’ where they lay dormant by day and hunt by night—with an exception for August month and there about when they migrate to and from local aquatic environments to breed. Presently, the majority of these foraging and breeding areas fall under urban suburbia, guaranteeing a window of constant interaction between these toads and the unknowing dangers their human neighbours pose.

Despite current conservation action and volunteer efforts to protect the Cape Town populations, census data from the 2009 breeding season only generated a recorded 1125 live migrants and 258 dead. Great strides have been achieved in recent years through a consistent increase in awareness of the plight of the species and in the recruitment of volunteers. The fate of the species is however uncertain—unless the citizens residing in these areas value their endemic and endangered leopard toad, there will merely remain stories of its once enigmatic nature and quiet existence.

For further details on the species, join the group on Facebook, The Endangered Western Leopard Toad or visit the website, www.leopardtoad.co.za.

Mark Day
Coordinator: Awareness, Volunteer & Census Operations
Western Leopard Toad Conservation Committee

Email: leopardtoad@gmail.com

Websites: www.leopardtoad.co.za /  www.toadnuts.co.za

Facebook: The Endangered Western Leopard Toad


Giant Salamander: Earth's Largest Amphibian

We confess to paying most of our attention in our posts on Frogs Are Green to the stars of the amphibian world—frogs—and not so much on other amphibians. So to make up for that, we’d like to introduce you to Earth’s largest amphibian—the giant salamander of China and Japan.


This creature is considered a living fossil because it hasn’t changed much in 30 million years. To put things in perspective, 30 million years ago our ancestors were little primates hanging from trees. It would be millions of years before some of these primates descended from the trees, and millions of years after that before the first humans.

The giant salamander lives in mountain streams and lakes and can grow up to 6 feet long. It has four digits on its front legs and five digits on its back legs and is covered with a slimy protective mucous. It spends most of its time walking on the river bottom, though it can swim quickly. On land, its small legs won’t carry it and it must drag itself along.

Like many amphibians, the giant salamander is endangered due to habitat loss. Construction of dams converts  their free-flowing stream habitats into standing water or dries them up completely. They are also vulnerable to water pollution from mining activity and farming throughout their range.

Other threats to their habitat includes deforestation around the streams. This exacerbates soil erosion and causes increased runoff and siltation of the streams, reducing water quality and making it difficult for the salamanders to get enough oxygen through their skin. In addition, the giant salamander  is considered a delicacy and is also used in traditional Chinese medicine.*

On the BBC News site, Dr. Takeyoshi Tochimoto, director of the Hanzaki Institute near Hyogo in western Japan, gives a guided tour of this unusual creature.  (“Hanzaki” is the local name for the giant salamander.) After watching this video, however, I have decided not to hug a giant salamander if I ever meet one.  They have a very large mouth and several hundred small teeth on the top and bottom and can bite if angry, causing serious injury. Generally, however, this is a shy and secretive animal and is unfortunately relatively easy to catch.

*Information from BBC Wildlife Finder. Image above courtesy of National Geographic.