A Plea to Save the Frogs and Toads

Linda Knox
Adam's County Master Gardener Program

From days long ago, I can recall the excitement stirred by the first appearance of a toad in the garden. We would hurry to find a flat dish (or remember the one used the previous year) and fill it with water and add a few flat stones. An old soup dish or even a pie plate was placed where the toad seemed to have taken up residence. Then, in the evening we would watch to see him or her waddle out to catch bugs when the outside light was turned on. We know toads hop, but there is no funnier sight than a toad walking to find just the right spot for a late meal.

One year in the spring, we spaded up a toad while moving some bulbs. We gently placed him back in the ground until he was ready to emerge from his hibernation.

A number of years ago, back in the 1980’s, scientists began to notice a decline in the amphibian population, especially in the order known as anurans (frogs and toads). Jim Whiting, in an elementary book, "Frogs in Danger" which is part of the series "On the Verge of Extinction: Crisis in the Environment" states that some frogs have become extinct in the last few years. Reasons include changes in the earth’s atmosphere. In addition, gasses that trap heat and raise the earth’s temperature, like carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels, reduce the ozone layer that protects the earth’s atmosphere. Thin-skinned creatures like frogs and toads are particularly prone to the resulting heat and cannot adapt to sudden changes.

In the late 1990’s, chytrid fungus, a disease capable of infecting most of the world’s amphibian population, appeared. Many biologists attribute the chytrid fungus to the planet’s warming trend. Alan Pounds, resident scientist at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve in Costa Rica, claimed the fungus was killing frogs as a result of the higher temperatures giving this disease to amphibians, and it has serious consequences on the frog’s very thin skin. At the University of Oregon, studies showed that intense ultra-violet rays coming through the ozone layer caused deformities in frogs in California and Oregon.

In Arizona, New Mexico and Northern Mexico, about 75% of the native leopard frogs have disappeared due to habitat loss, disease, and predators. Some believe that by 2050 many amphibians could become extinct unless action is taken. Liz Szabo claimed in a USA Today issue (March 2, 2010) that weed killers such as ‘atrazine’ which is given a safety rating for use in drinking water, cause changes in male frogs. Many have questions about its safe usage.

In October 5, 2010, Erica Rex wrote in the New York Times that the chytrid fungus has driven at least 200 of the world’s 6,700 amphibian species to the brink of extinction. Of the world’s frogs, toads and salamanders, 40 percent are declining.

On the local scene, our situation has been discussed with Aura Stauffer, wildlife biologist with the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources. Although there is no formal monitoring, she has that many frogs and toads breed in the vernal pools in the South Mountain area; and with the last couple of years having very wet springs, we should have a basically good population of frogs and toads. While the spadefoot toad and others depend on the vernal pools for breeding, they do not stay in water all the time.

Some communities spray for mosquitoes, and pesticides do have an impact on the predators. Another factor is loss of habitat for amphibians, as noted by Adam McClain of the Adams County Conservation District. From my point of view, I can’t help but wonder what will happen as I observe, even in this basically rural county, the increased development and expanding neatly-mowed lawns surrounding individual homes.

It is good to hear the calls of more frogs as they jump into the farm pond upon detecting the disturbance of footsteps into their solitary space. On one recent walk, there were many verbal complaints and unmistakable Ker plops as the residents broke the quiet surface of the water. Whether frogs and toads bring to mind the enchanting characters drawn by Arnold Lobel or the lowly figure squatting on the garden path, we must realize their certain place of importance in the natural world.

Read other articles on birds, wildlife & beneficial insects

Read other articles on garden and landscape design

Read other articles by Linda Knox