At Frogs Are Green, we’ve posted about tomato red frogs, blue frogs, and yellow-and-black spotted frogs, but I don’t think we’ve ever written about the Green Frog (Rana clamitans).
Green frog camouflaged in grass. Photo by Mary Jo Rhodes
Recently I visited my sister, who lives in the woods in Connecticut. On our first night, there was heavy downpour. When I woke the next morning, I heard what sounded like someone plucking a loose banjo string. Coming from the city, I was thrilled: it was my welcome call from a Green Frog outside! My sister has built a couple of frog/koi ponds on her property. Although fish and frogs aren’t supposed to co-exist (fish eat the frogs’ eggs), somehow it has worked out.
Frog pond in CT
The Green Frog is mainly aquatic, but they often rest by the side of the pond, leaping in when danger approaches. Males have a tympanum (external hearing structure) twice the diameter of the eye and a bright yellow throat.
Green Frog. Notice the large eardrum behind his eye. Photo by Mary Jo Rhodes.
Green frog in reeds. Photo by Mary Jo Rhodes
You might see Green Frogs in ponds, lakes, and swamps—they are one of the most common frogs in the eastern U.S.
Just in case you’re out in the country this summer, here is what it sounds like:
Last week’s discovery of a new frog species in New York City was one of our favorite recent amphibian news stories. The story was picked up by newspapers both across the country and worldwide, from the BBC to the News Pakistan. We especially liked the story, not only because we are both native New Yorkers, born within an hour’s drive of where this frog was discovered, but also because it was discovered by a scientist from New Jersey (our adopted state.)
While doing research in Staten Island (one of New York City’s boroughs) in 2009, Jeremy A. Feinberg, a doctoral candidate in ecology and evolution at Rutgers University, heard an unusual frog call. Instead of the “long snore” or “rapid chuckle” he would normally expect from a leopard frog, he heard instead a short, repetitive croak. Feinberg suspected this frog might be a new species. He teamed up with Cathy Newman, a geneticist completing a master’s degree in genetics at the University of Alabama, to test the frog’s DNA.
Newman compared this frog’s DNA with the DNA of southern and northern leopard frogs, which range widely north and south of New York City. These frogs look quite similar to each other, but the results indicated that this frog’s lineage was genetically distinct.
Newly discovered leopard frog in NYC. Photo by Brian Curry, Rutgers University
Feinberg believes this leopard frog once inhabited Manhattan and the other boroughs. He has found specimens in the Meadowlands and the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey, as well as in Putnam and Orange Counties in New York. Some frogs were also collected in central Connecticut.
What’s unusual about this finding is that new frog species are usually found in the remote rainforests of Indonesia and similar places, and not within the shadow of one of the world’s most densely populated urban areas.
The New York Times has asked readers to come up with a name for this new frog. They have listed some attributes of this frog to give you inspiration for a name, including the fact that the geographic center of the frog’s range is Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
How about The Green Bomber? After all, there are Yankee fans all over the tri-state area.
More information about the discovery:
The findings are to be published in an issue of the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, but are currently available online. Much of the genetic analysis was performed in Professor H. Bradley Shaffer’s laboratory at the University of California at Davis, where he worked until recently.
Photo of Jeremy Feinberg, courtesy of New Jersey Newsroom.com
In the U.S., frogs and toads are beginning to wake up from their winter hibernation and soon we’ll be hearing the calls of spring as the amphibian breeding season begins. This a great time to become a Frog Watch USA volunteer, where you will make a commitment to monitor a local site for 3 minutes at least twice a week throughout the breeding season.
You don’t have to be an expert to become a volunteer, but you might find it helpful to attend a Frog Watch training session hosted by zoos, aquariums, and conservation organizations nationwide. Here’s a list of the upcoming training sessions:
Connecticut Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History March 16, 2012; 6:00-8:00 pm
March 20, 2012; 6:00-8:00 pm
Florida Brevard Zoo April 11, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
April 14, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
May 23, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
June 20, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
July 25, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
August 22, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
August 25, 2012; 4:30-8:30 pm
Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo, Gainesville, FL
March 17, 2012
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo April 5, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (volunteer training)
May 3, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (call identification and certification)
June 7, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (volunteer training)
July 5, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (call identification and certification)
August 2, 2012; 6:30-8:30 pm (end-of-season wrap up/pot luck)
Indiana Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo March 13, 2012; 5:30-9:30 pm
March 17, 2012; 1:00-5:30 pm
Monroe County Parks and Rec March 22, 2012; 6:00-9:00 pm
Michigan Detroit Zoo March 11, 2012; 1:00-4:00 pm
March 18, 2012; 1:00-4:00 pm
Missouri Saint Louis Zoo March 24, 2012; 10:00 am-12:30 pm
March 28, 2012; 7:00-9:00 pm (certification)
New Jersey Jenkinson’s Aquarium March 21, 2012; 6:00-8:00 pm
Rhode Island Roger Williams Park Zoo March 24, 2012; 10:00am-12:00 pm
April 12, 2012; 6:00-8:00 pm
Tennessee Chatanooga Zoo March 31, 2012
Utah Utah’s Hogle Zoo March 17, 2012; 2:00-4:00pm
Virginia Virginia Zoo, March 18, 2012; 5:00pm
At a recent training session at the Lynchburg (VA) Public Library, for example, volunteers listened to the calls and then tried to connect them to a recognizable sound. Here’s one of the frog calls these volunteers tried to identify. Does the call of this Pickerel frog sound to you like a squeaky door – or like a snore?
At Frogs Are Green, we’ve always been interested in the interconnections between frogs and the Earth. How is climate change affecting amphibian populations? Are we listening to what frogs are telling us about the health of our planet?
Recently, we read an intriguing article in the Deccan Herald (India), about how a team of scientists in India are literally listening to frogs to understand the effect of climate change on amphibian populations.
Three scientists, K.S. Seshadri with T. Ganesh, and S. Devy, were doing research 100 feet above the ground in the canopy of the evergreen forest in the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. While getting drenched with rain, they heard a cacophony of frog songs. Intrigued by the songs that the rains triggered, they initiated a program to study frog calls to both monitor populations and to study the affect of climate change on frogs.
Volunteer examines the monkey-proof enclosure for equipment to record frog calls. Photo credit: K. S. Seshadri
Frogs can tell us a lot about the weather. Their skin is extremely thin and sensitive; they respond to even small changes in atmospheric moisture and temperature. The scientists reasoned that an analysis of sound recordings, combined with readings from climate data loggers, could help improve our understanding of the impact of climate change.
Climate change seems to underlie many of the threats facing frogs worldwide. By monitoring the frog calls, an activity calendar for each of the indicator species can be made. This long-term monitoring will be invaluable in understanding the greater impact of climate change and also might help to save frog species.
Work station studying frog calls, high up in the forest canopy. Photo credit K. S. Seshadri
As the Deccan Herald put it: “Will the croak alarm finally wake us from our ignorant slumber? The answer lies in the future.”
If you live in the city and you hear a strange new noise this summer, it might be a gray tree frog that’s moved to your neighborhood. According to an article by Sharon Woods Harris in the Pekin (Ill) Daily Times, tree frogs are moving to the city because of recent high rains, which have left pools of water that are like vernal pools: females can lay their eggs in the pools without fear of fish eating them.
Gray tree frogs are typically found in woodsy, wet areas, but this year they’ve been found hanging out on decks and crawling up the sides of houses. The gray tree frog is a good climber—it can scale glass with the use of its enlarged toe pads. It catches insects and other invertebrates for food so street lamps or other city lights are great bug-catching places.
Gray Tree Frog, courtesy of Gardening to Distraction
The scientific name for gray tree frogs is Hyla versicolor: they camouflage themselves by changing colors from gray to green, and are typically no larger than 1.5 to 2 in (3.8 to 5.1 cm).
Gray tree frogs can be found in most of the eastern half of the United States, as far west as central Texas. They can also be found in Canada in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, and New Brunswick.
Once the heavy heat of July comes and the water dries up, the frogs will probably return to cooler, moist areas. In the meantime, if you live in the city, keep your ears open for the distinctive trill of the male tree frog calling for a mate.
One of our first posts at Frogs Are Green was about the coqui, a frog native to Puerto Rico, where it exists alongside several other species of Eleutherodactylus frogs and where a biological balance is maintained. It was introduced to Hawaii in the mid- to late 1990s and has no competitors so it has spread unchecked and is considered an invasive species. But our guest author, Sydney Ross Singer, a medical anthropologist, biologist, and author living on the Big Island of Hawaii, would like us to look at this problem from a new perspective. Perhaps this “alien” species should not be rejected and destroyed but welcomed.
Besides being beautiful, fascinating, a source of medicinal substances, and essential for healthy ecosystem function, frogs are canaries in the environmental coal mine. They are sensitive to pollution and climate change. And their numbers are declining at extinction rates.
That’s bad news for the rest of us living in the coal mine. Clearly, we need to change our ways.
But change is difficult for a culture to accept. Until people are dying at the rate of frogs, nothing will alter our bad cultural behaviors.
So the next best thing to do is try saving the frogs. We may not be able to stop pesticide and herbicide use, or end the deforestation and development of wild areas, or stop all the industries and lifestyles that contribute to climate change. But we can catch frogs where they are declining and find new, healthier places for them to live.
We might not have the political and economic clout to stop multinational corporations from exploiting and altering the world’s environments. But we can help refugee species flee the destruction and avoid extinction.
There are places on the planet that can serve as sanctuaries for these refugees. One place, in particular, stands out as one of the best – Hawaii.
If you move frogs from one place to another that already has frogs, the immigrants will compete with the natives, and you can possibly lose native frog populations. Hawaii, however, has no native frogs, or any native reptiles, amphibians, land snakes, or lizards. What better place to introduce frogs? Lots of insect pests to eat, warm and humid conditions, and few predators. If we wanted a sanctuary for endangered and threatened frogs, this is the place.
But wait. Can we just move a species from one part of the planet to another? Won’t it become invasive and cause damage?
It is this question that is keeping frogs from finding new homes. According to current trends in environmental thinking, species “belong” where they are “native.” You’re not supposed to move them to places where they “don’t belong.” When it comes to frogs, the Hawaii government has said they clearly “don’t belong.”
Of course, there are already frogs and toads in Hawaii, which were brought by environmental managers for insect control decades ago. Back then species were introduced deliberately to enhance biodiversity and provide needed environmental services, such as pest control, or to serve as a food source. The environment was seen as a garden for us to plant and inhabit as we saw fit.
That has all changed. Now the goal of managers is to kill introduced species in order to preserve and restore native ecosystems as they had existed prior to western contact centuries ago. They won’t get rid of the people, or the agriculture, or the chemical spraying, or the bulldozing, or the deforestation, or the development, or the intercontinental shipping, or the industries and energy policies that help cause climate change. It’s hard to change these aspects of the culture. But you sure can kill things that “don’t belong.”
What was called “exotic” or “immigrant” is now called “alien” or “invasive.” We have gone from an open immigration policy to a bio-xenophobia.
When coqui tree frogs accidentally arrived in Hawaii with shipments of plants from Florida or Puerto Rico, the response was ballistic. The mayor of Hawaii declared a state of emergency. Scientists feared the sky was falling, and that the coquis, which eat lots of insects, would decimate the insect population to the point of starving all other insectivorous creatures. The sound of the frogs, a two-toned “ko-KEE”, was described as a “shrill shriek” guaranteed to keep everyone awake at night, run down property values, and drive away tourists.
Ironically, this same coqui frog is the national animal of Puerto Rico, its native land. In fact, Puerto Ricans love this frog and its chirping sound so much that it is honored in local folklore. People describe the nighttime sound of the coqui as soothing and necessary for sleep, and Puerto Rican travelers often bring recordings of coquis with them when away from home to help them sleep.
Puerto Rico has numerous species of coqui frogs, many of which are now extinct or threatened. Unfortunately, frog numbers are declining because of fungal infections, development, climate change, and pesticide and herbicide use. So you can imagine how angry and upset Puerto Ricans were when Hawaii announced its Frog War to eradicate the newly arrived coquis.
Over the past 10 years, millions of dollars have been spent in Hawaii trying to kill coquis. And despite wide cost-saving cuts in government spending, there is still money to kill coquis.
At first, they tried an experiment to kill coquis with concentrated caffeine, giving the frogs a heart attack. A special emergency exemption was needed from the EPA to allow this spraying of caffeine into the environment. It’s impact on humans, pets, plants, lizards, and other non-target species was unknown, or what it would do once it entered the groundwater and flowed to the oceans. Chemical warfare suits were needed by applicators to prevent exposure to the highly dangerous caffeine, which was at concentrations 100 times that of coffee. There is no antidote for caffeine poisoning.
When the caffeine experiment proved untenable and too dangerous, citric acid was encouraged as a frogicide. Sprayers soaked the forests with acid, sometimes sprayed from helicopters, to drench the tiny frogs and burn them to death. Of course, this also killed plants and other critters, such as lizards. But since lizards are non-native, nobody in the government cared.
But citric acid is expensive. So another experiment was tried, using hydrated lime to burn the frogs. This caustic chemical can also cause irreversible eye and lung damage to people and pets on contact, so another emergency exemption was needed from the EPA to experiment with it. As it turned out, the hydrated lime didn’t work very well, and it killed lots of plants.
So the University of Hawaii experimented on developing a frog disease to unleash on the frogs. They tried a fungus to infect the frogs, the same one killing frogs elsewhere in the world. They realized the fungus might also kill the geckos, skinks, anoles, and other lizards, as well as the toads. But since none are native to Hawaii, none of the eradicators cared. In fact, destroying all the lizards and toads would be considered a plus. The coqui frogs, however, survived the fungus, so it was never released wide scale.
By now you may wonder how people can get away with this abuse of frogs. Aren’t there laws protecting animals from this type of cruelty?
There are. So to get around the laws the Hawaii legislature passed a law defining the coqui as a “pest.” Pest species are exempted from humane laws.
This moral depravity reached its zenith in 2007, with a planned Coqui Bounty Hunter contest to be held by public schools on the Big Island. Schools instructed students to kill coquis, either by burning them with acid, cooking them alive, or freezing them. The school with the most “kills” would receive a prize — the violent video games Playstation 3 and Xbox. The contest was canceled once it was pointed out to the schools that students are supposed to receive humane, not inhumane, education.
Despite the eradication attempts, the frogs spread. Actually, sometimes they spread because of these attempts, since coquis try leaving areas disturbed by spraying. An interisland quarantine on the coqui still exists, requiring all plant nurseries to treat plants with hot water, proven lethal to coquis and their eggs, prior to transport to other islands. But the coquis seem to frequently survive that, too.
So here is the irony. Frogs are disappearing from everywhere in the world except in Hawaii, where the government is trying to make them disappear.
Yet, despite the endless anti-coqui propaganda, people are coming to like the little coqui frog, especially those people who have arrived to Hawaii since the advent of the coqui. To these people, the sound of Hawaii includes the coqui. To these new human immigrants, the coqui is normal, and enjoyable. They understand why the Puerto Ricans love these frogs.
If we are to save the world’s endangered and threatened frogs, and other wildlife that needs rescue from the human-damaged world, we need to change our environmental immigration policy. It doesn’t matter where a species is native, or where it “belongs”. That these species survive is what matters. And this may require finding them a new home.
This is not to suggest that we bring in species willy nilly, without thinking about the impact on local species. We need careful study to know which species can be introduced, and where. But unless we open our borders, and our hearts, to these refugee species, they will die.
We caused their problems. Their fate is in our hands.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist, biologist, and author living on the Big Island of Hawaii. He is an outspoken defender of the Hawaiian coqui frog, has created Hawaii’s first coqui frog sanctuary, and has been featured on Animal Planet, PBS Nature, BBC radio, and Univision. He is co-author of Panic in Paradise: Invasive Species, Hysteria, and the Hawaiian Coqui Frog War (ISCD Press, 2005). His website is www.HawaiianCoqui.org.