April 22, 2011 marks the 41st celebration of Earth Day!
We’d also like to point you toward our contest page. We just started receiving entries for our 2011 Kids’ art contest and the 2011 photo contest. So check out the rules and be sure to enter as many times as you’d like throughout the Summer.
Now that it’s March, it’s almost time for the peepers to usher in spring!
Renowned science writer Carl Safina describes spring peepers so beautifully in his new book The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World. I enjoy reading anything by Safina, who usually writes about the ocean, sea animals, or birds. He’s won many awards for his work, including the MacArthur “genius award.” Safina’s writing reminds me of Rachel Carson’s—very lyrical, yet not sentimental. In this book, he writes mainly about a year he spent in a cabin on Long Island. In the chapter, “March: Out Like a Lamb, ” he writes this about spring peepers:
I open a window to let in the season’s lushest, most delicious sound. It’s from tiny tree frogs that come to water to go a-courting—Spring Peepers. So far, these little amphibians remain abundant. And for as long as they’ve been, and as long as they are, their singing makes the difference between the night of winter and the breath of spring…
Hearing them is easy. Seeing them takes some effort. But even after I step into the shallows as deep as my boots allow, even though I hear calls coming from the half-submerged vegetation right around me—well within the halo of my flashlight—they’re all but invisible. They’re smaller than the tip of your thumb, colored like dead leaves. The majority of my neighbors—even many who were raised here— have never seen one. Many people assume the callers are crickets. But the sound and the season are so different, one might logically assume the moon is just the sun at night.
Safina goes on to describe how as a teenager he taught himself how to find spring peepers by following the sound into the woods at night, but they were very elusive. He finally found one and
…when that tiny movement caught my eye, I saw the littlest frog I’d ever seen, his bubble-gum throat puffed almost as big as his body, calling his heart out. That mighty sound from that tiny body appealed to my teenage sensibilities. His was a strong, clear voice, defiantly undaunted about being so small a soul in so big a world.
Spring peepers Safina writes are a “strong and joyous life-affirming presence” and he would
…gladly suffer a chilly bedroom just to open a window in spring when the peepers are at their peak, and let the exuberant trilling chorus resonate in my chest. “We’re alive,” they seem to say, “and time is short.” No sound in our region is so welcome and welcoming, so revivifying, as peepers in full spring chorus. Or so seemingly unlikely. Out of dust, God is said to have made one man. But here, out of mud, such song!
To celebrate peepers and spring, Susan created a poster for Earth Day 2011, with a wonderful photograph by Richard D. Bartlett. Enjoy!
In many parts of the country, frogs and toads have begun their hibernation, and we humans, too, are hibernating for the winter—at least in parts of the northern hemisphere. This is a good time, however, to hone your frog listening skills and to think about volunteering as a frog listener for the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program, (NAAMP) a nationwide program of the U.S. Geological Survey that studies the distribution and relative abundance of amphibians in North America. The data collected from frog listeners across the country is analyzed for patterns of amphibian stability or decline on local, regional, and national levels.
Several states are participating in this study. Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources, for example, has participated in NAAMP, since 2008. In Georgia as elsewhere, frogs serve as indicators of environmental change: the data collected by volunteers helps monitor habitat change or loss of wetlands.
In Georgia, volunteers are asked to drive a predetermined route (or routes), stopping for five minutes to listen for and report frog species and their relative abundance at 10 established wetland stops. They visit these local listening routes three times a year.
Before becoming a frog listener, you must first take the U.S. Geological Survey quiz and be able to idenfity 65 percent of the frogs in your state. Even if you don’t want to become a frog listener, it’s fun to take the quiz to test your knowledge of the calls of frogs in your state.
So in addition to holiday music, why not plan to listen to some other choruses—frog choruses—in preparation for spring. If you live in Georgia, you don’t have to wait that long. The first listening window next year opens January 15.
Here’s one frog from Georgia with a distinctive call, the Green Frog (Rana clamitans)
Today is Save the Frogs Day, organized and created by conservation biologist Dr. Kerry Kriger. Tune in to hear an interview today with Dr. Kriger at 4:30 US Eastern or 1:30 PST (Sirius 112/XM 157) on Martha Stewart Living Radio.
As it’s been almost a year since we began the Frogs Are Green blog, we thought we’d share some thoughts about it with you. At first when we told our friends and family we were starting a blog to increase awareness about the global amphibian decline, they were a bit mystified, even amused. But I’m happy to say that a year later, almost all have become enthusiastic supporters. So we’d like to give you a few “talking points” in case you come across people who say with skepticism—frogs needs saving? Huh?
Frogs, of course, are not the only animals that need help, and we are personally involved with efforts to save other animals, particularly marine animals. But amphibians as a class of animals are threatened with extinction. That’s like saying that all mammals might soon be extinct. This is the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. Frogs have survived for 360 million years (and were on Earth long before the dinosaurs) and yet one-third or more of frog species are in danger of extinction.
Frogs are bioindicators—they reflect back to us the environmental health of our planet. Their permeable skin makes them especially vulnerable to environmental contaminants, such as agricultural, industrial, and pharmaceutical chemicals, particularly endocrine disruptors. Frogs are manifesting reproductive deformities and hormonal disorders, possibly as a result of the stew of chemicals in the water in which they live. As endocrine distruptors are in the water we drink and are in dozens of consumer products we use everyday, we have reason to be concerned. Some scientists believe that an increase in the incidence of newborn baby boys born with genital deformities might be due to endocrine disruptors they have absorbed in utero.
Biodiversity is of critical importance to all of us—scientists still don’t fully understand how all elements interact in an ecosystem, but we do know that disasters occur when we alter even one small part of it (by introducing nonnative species etc). Frogs form an important part of ecosystems as both predator and prey.
While there is no cure yet for the chytrid fungus devastating frog populations, it should make us pause to consider that a whole class of animals could be wiped out by a worldwide fungus. Why aren’t frogs able to fight this off this infection? What are the underlying causes of the fungus? There are so many questions that need answers.
Frogs are subject to all the usual environmental woes—habitat loss, pollution, global warming, overcollection, invasive species. By helping frogs, we help other animals that might not have such a high profile (although frogs have a pretty low profile, all things considered). By focusing on the rainforest frogs, for example, we also help preserve the rainforest and its animals.
Frogs are part of our cultural heritage—our folktales, fairy tales, myths, children’s stories, and legends. In many cultures, they are a symbol of good luck, fertility, healing, prosperity, and are associated with rain and good harvests. And don’t forget our friends Kermit, and Frog and Toad, and Mr. Toad.
The amphibian decline is an environmental issue that you can do something about, possibly in your own backyard or neighborhood. We recently received a comment from a man in Georgia who decided not to fill in a pond on his property because he noticed that several frog species live in the pond. Another commenter from Pennsylvania has asked how he can create a frog pond in his backyard. You can lend your voice to land conservation efforts that protect vernal pools, for example.
Rachel Carson warned in her 1961 book Silent Spring about a world without birds. Can you imagine a world without frogs? Frogs, after all, are the Earth’s most ancient singers. We want to continue to hear their choruses for a long, long time.
So as you enjoy Save the Frogs day, listen to some frog songs. And please join us in helping to save frogs. We’d love to hear from you.
In October, when we wrote our post Winter Turns Frogs into Frogsicles, the wood frogs and spring peepers had settled down for their long (frozen) winter nap. This blog post from The National Parks Traveler, Frogs are a Sure Sign of Spring, But that Doesn’t Mean You Won’t Hear Them Now, reminds us that even though it’s still winter (at least in the Northeast), it’s almost spring for the wood frogs. As the snow melts and the frogs unfreeze in late winter/early spring, the young frogs have one thing on their minds: the males start calling immediately to potential mates.
I found this lovely video on YouTube by someone called Mysterious Susan (not our Susan though). It does have a mysterious quality as a reminder of the cycle of life.
Also, check out this blog post, “As Winter Wanes,” in the East Hampton (Long Island, New York) Star about what songbirds, salamanders, and other animals are up to as we approach spring and the daylight hours get longer every day.
This holiday season, some Alaskans found “live” ornaments on their Christmas trees—Pacific Chorus frogs that hitchhiked in the trees to Alaska.
Courtesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game
Unfortunately, these little stowaways were not warmly received by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. They are considered invasive species as they might carry fungi and viruses that could harm native frog species.
I imagine these frogs would be happier if they were sent home. Pacific Chorus frogs are native to Pacific coastal areas from Baja California up to Washington State. According to Lang Elliott in The Frogs and Toads of North America, its familiar two-part call, rib-bit, is the one most associated with frogs because they have provided the background “music” for so many Hollywood movies and TV shows.
Here’s the call of the Pacific Chorus frog in its native habitat—far from Juneau.