The Bully of All Toads

Currently in Madagascar there is a bully. But, this is not your typical bully. This bully is the Asian toad, also known as Duttaphrynus melanostictus. The toads are threatening rare wildlife and frightening locals.

Madagascar provides a niche-like haven for these primarily lowland dwelling toads. Photo © Arthur Chapman Courtesy of Amphibians.org - Amphibian Survival Alliance.

Madagascar provides a niche-like haven for these primarily lowland dwelling toads. Photo © Arthur Chapman Courtesy of Amphibians.org – Amphibian Survival Alliance.

The theory on how they got to Madagascar is that they hitched a ride in some shipping containers from Asia between 2007 -2010. While Madagascar doesn’t have native toads, people who saw these bullies roaming knew something was wrong. And still no one knows why they have decided to make Madagascar their new home.

These toads are endangering locals, harming snakes, lemurs and exotic animals that are unique to the island. If they feed off these toads they will be poisoned, since these toads are known to be very poisonous. Smaller animals can shrink in size and as species, become extinct.

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Madagascar by Franco Andreone.

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Madagascar by Franco Andreone.

Scientists are still trying to come up with ideas on how to get rid of these toads and such measures wouldn’t be horribly expensive. It would cost about $2 million to $10 million (the effort would need only a wealthy backer from the West) — but that’s really just a guess. No one knows exactly where the toads are or precisely how many are in Madagascar. There’s no easy way to find them, and there’s no quick method of dispatching them, at least not in the numbers necessary for eradication.

And then there’s the fact that no one has tried to remove invasive toads on such a scale before. There have been three successful removal projects, but they were all in much smaller areas.

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Madagascar by Franco Andreone, close up

Asian Toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) in Madagascar by Franco Andreone, close up.

So it looks like eradication won’t be possible, the scientists conclude, at least without a lot more research that would let managers and the government overcome many hurdles. And by that time, the toads will probably have become so numerous that, like in Australia, any such efforts would be impossible.

Leight-Ann BradyGuest post by Leigh-Ann Brady, who resides in NJ with her 8 year son. She is an artist and writer who is also concerned about the environment.


Using "Frog Juice" to Enhance Racehorse Performance

According to a recent New York Times article, frogs and horses have recently been linked in a bizarre—and illegal—way. Evidently a compound found in the secretions of the waxy monkey tree frog (Phyllomedusa sauvagei) is being used to enhance the performance of racehorses.

The waxy monkey tree frog is native to South America. While most frogs like cool and moist places, waxy monkey frogs live in the Chaco (dry prairie) of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. They seal in moisture with a waxy substance secreted through their skin glands. Living in trees, they draw in their arms and legs and sleep in the sun. At night, they awaken and hunt when the air temperature and the rate of water loss are lower.

Waxy monkey tree frog. Photo by Mary Jo Rhodes (from exhibit Frogs: A Chorus of Colors, NYC)

The waxy substance in their skin contains a natural opioid called dermorphin, which is a more powerful painkiller than morphine. When injected into horses, it helps them run faster by dulling the pain from injuries. The substance has been found in more than 30 racehorses. According to the article, it is unclear where the substance is obtained, but it is probably artificially synthesized.

Abuse of horses seems to be rampant in horse racing. This use of “frog juice” is simply the most recent atrocity. In March, the New York Times ran another article titled “Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys.

And, of course, this isn’t good news for the waxy monkey tree frog either.

Frogs & Football: The Horned Frogs

At this time of the year, while frogs and toads are deep in hibernation (in our part of the world anyway), our Google alerts for frog news are full of stories about Horned Frogs, not the frog species, but rather the sports teams. Not being much of a sports fan, I always ignore these stories. But this year, we finally decided it was time to learn a little about these Horned Frogs.

It turns out that the Horned Frogs are the 18 varsity athletic teams that represent Texas Christian University. The Horned Frog mascot first appeared in 1897, and by 1915, it appeared on the TCU seal. During the post-WWII years, the Horned Frog mascot was in costume, on stationery, class rings, and the band’s bass drum. In 1979 the mascot was renamed from Addy the All-American Frog to Super Frog.

The women’s teams are known as the Lady Frogs. TCU once had a bumper sticker that said “My Princess Turned into a Frog.”

But This Horned Frog is Actually a Lizard!

It turns out, however, that the “horned frog” nickname and mascot refers to the Texas horned lizard, also known as the “horned frog.” The popular name comes from the lizard’s rounded body and blunt snout, which gives it a toad- or frog-like appearance. The Texas horned lizard, along with at least three other species of horned lizard, has the ability to squirt an stream of blood from the corners of the eyes and sometimes from its mouth for a distance of up to 5 ft (1.5 m).

Texas Horned Lizard (photo from Wikipedia)

Some Native American peoples regard horned lizards as sacred—the animal is a common motif in Native American art of the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico. The Texas horned lizard is also the state reptile of Texas.

Go Frogs!

So before the football season is officially over this Sunday, we thought we’d introduce you to one of the TCU teams, the Horned Frogs football team. It competes as a member of the Mountain West Conference, but is due to move to the Big East Conference for the 2012 season. The Frogs have won two national championships and 15 conference championships. Legendary players include Bob Lilly, Sammy Baugh, Davey O’Brien, and LaDainian Tomlinson.

The Horned Frogs won the 2011 Rose Bowl, beating Wisconsin, 21-19.

And if you’d like to learn about the real Horned Frogs (the amphibians, not the lizards), check out our 10 Weirdest and Most Unusual Frogs post, which introduces the Ornate Horned Frog. We were so entranced with this frog that Susan created a poster about it (proceeds to benefit amphibian conservation).


© 2011 Frogs Are GreenPhotograph by Richard D. Bartlett

Enjoy Super Bowl Sunday!


Can toads (and other animals) predict earthquakes?

The devastating December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, generated by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, was one of the worst disasters in recorded history, with a death toll of more than 283,000.

Some of the strangest stories that came out after the tsunami were about the unusual behavior of animals before and during the tsunami. Many animals moved to higher ground well before the tsunami and at least a few people followed them. As reported in National Geographic News, the ancient Jarawa tribe of the Andaman Islands, finely attuned to their environment and to the movement of the animals, suffered almost no casualties when the tsunami hit their islands.

Recently, as reported in AOL news, behavioral biologists Rachel Grant and Tim Halliday of the Open University (Great Britain) noticed that large numbers of toads fled a breeding area five days before a magnitude-6.8 earthquake struck L’Aquila, Italy, in April 2009.

Grant had been studying the breeding habits of toads at San Ruffino Lake, which is 46 miles from the epicenter. Normally, as the full moon approached, more and more toads would come down to a shallow pool at the lake’s edge from the surrounding hills to breed. (We wrote a post, Frog Moon Dance, about her research last summer.) Grant monitored their numbers, recording the weather and other environmental conditions.

Last year, she and an assistant were tracking the toads leading up to the full moon when they noticed a surprising change. Five days before the earthquake, 96 percent of the male toads were gone. In the past, Grant had noticed that a change in the weather could keep toads away for a day or so. “But usually the day after, they come back. I’d never seen it happen where there were none for several consecutive days,” she said. Grant checked the climate records, but could find no weather-related reasons for the changes in the toads’ behavior.

In this month’s Journal of Zoology, Grant and Halliday speculate that the toads may have picked up naturally occurring magnetic fields prior to the earthquake that encouraged them to flee. Grant hopes that she’ll be able to explore the phenomenon again in the coming years by enlisting volunteers in earthquake-prone areas such as Indonesia to see if the behavior occurs again.

I find it interesting that people living in small villages around Mt. Vesuvius in Italy no longer wait for the official warnings from seismologists and scientists. They carefully observe the behavior of the stray dogs. If the strays are quiet, they are assured that the volcano is not in imminent danger of erupting.*

As we learned in the 2004 tsunami, even a few minutes warning would have saved hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Seismologists are not always able to predict in advance the exact day of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. Some come on suddenly, as happened with the recent earthquakes in Haiti and China. It may be in our best interests to pay closer attention to what toads and other animals may be telling us.

Common Toad (courtesy of Litchfield.com)

Common Toad (courtesy of Litchfield.com)

*From UN Special No. 637, February 2005


Pacific Chorus Frogs Spend the Holidays in Alaska

This holiday season, some Alaskans found “live” ornaments on their Christmas trees—Pacific Chorus frogs that hitchhiked in the trees to Alaska.

Coutesy of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game

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.