Cennamology Chief Editor
One of my favorite things to do when I am home during the summer is to sit and relax on my deck chair and take in the beauty of my backyard. It's even more relaxing after the sun goes down.
Or it would be, if it were not for the risk of mosquitoes biting me while I try to relax and enjoy a beautiful night. However, even though there are a few bad nights with lots of mosquitoes, there are other peaceful nights where I can sit outside comfortably and could even just spend the night sleeping on my chair if I wanted to.
Last night was one of those mosquito-less nights, and that is because I had some company on my deck. Right under the deck light were two toads having a field day eating all the bugs that gather around the light. The toads were eating the mosquitoes before they got to me, and I have them to thank for a quiet Sunday night on my deck drinking an Angry Orchard. I have the toads to thank for mitigating one of the worst things about summer (mosquito bites), consequently improving one of the best things about summer (lying in my deck chair doing nothing).
Amphibians have been providing these services that have protected human health for as long as human society has existed. Now, we must return the favor, as amphibians need our help now more than ever, as populations are declining all over the world.
First is small changes to how you mow your lawn. Surprisingly, I was unable to find any study anywhere that estimates how many frogs and toads die every year at the blades of a lawn mower. I would say it's quite a few - at least if most yards are anything like mine, which is absolutely hopping with toads.
The first thing you can do is to keep a sharp eye out for frogs and toads as you are mowing your lawn. Simple enough, but just be careful because they can be hard to see sometimes. This would involve you not rushing or running when mowing the lawn, but paying very active attention to make sure you do not run over any frogs or toads.
The second thing you can do is to use a motor-less lawn mower instead of the typical gas-powered lawn mower. You still need to pay attention to the frogs when using this mower, but the frogs are much more likely to get away from a small push mower than a larger electric mower. This not only helps the frogs and toads, but it also saves a lot of gasoline. Most electric mowers have terrible efficiency standards, and a full tank is likely to be all gone by time you finish mowing. Switching to an old-fashioned mower, which gets the grass cut in just as much time as its modern counterpart, not only saves you money in the long run but it is also CO2 emission-free. Electric mowers put a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is why they smell so bad when you finish cutting the grass.
Changes to your mowing routine are highly recommended, but the biggest threat that the amphibian population faces today is the chytrid fungus, which has been called by many conservation groups as "the worst disease in recorded history in terms of its effects on biodiversity." The cytrid fungus, which some scientists have said can be exacerbated by climate change, is capable of infecting most of the world's 6,000 known species of amphibians.
Since I am not a scientist, I will have the people at Amphibian Ark explain how the chytrid fungus kills amphibians and is responsible for the staggering decline of many populations of frogs and toads:
"Chytridiomycosis is the disease that occurs when an amphibian is infected with large numbers of the Bd fungus. Infection with Bd occurs inside the cells of the outer skin layers that contain large amounts of a protein called 'keratin'. Keratin is the material that makes the outside of the skin tough and resistant to injury and is also what hair, feathers and claws are made of. With chytridiomycosis, the skin becomes very thick due to a microscopic change in the skin that pathologists call 'hyperplasia and hyperkeratosis'. These changes in the skin are deadly to amphibians because— unlike most other animals— amphibians 'drink' water and absorb important salts (electrolytes) like sodium and potassium through the skin and not through the mouth. Abnormal electrolyte levels as the result of Bd-damaged skin cause the heart to stop beating and the death of the animal (Voyles et al., 2009)."
Even if you're not a scientist, you can still help fight the chytrid fungus. Much of the blame for the rapid spread of the chytrid fungus is placed on the pet trade. Lots of people who had pet frogs, many of which were imported and infected with the disease, released them into the wild. Therefore, one way to help fight the spread of the fungus is to encourage legislators to pass regulations to ensure that all frogs and toads imported and sold from pet stores are chytrid-free. This would require Congress or state legislatures to add chytrid tests to any import surveillance programs existing for pet frogs.
But regulations of pet frogs are hard to enforce, so self-regulation is necessary to fight the spread of the fungus as well. If you have a frog, find some one who can come annually or semi-annually to give your pet a check-up to make sure that it remains fungus-free.
Also, write letters to your member of Congress encouraging them to fix the problem of amphibian underrepresentation in the Endangered Species Act. Amphibians are vastly underrepresented in the legislation when compared to their avian, reptilian, mammalian, and oceanic counterparts. These ESA discrepancies exist for both listing and funding. The average amphibian receives 75 percent less funding than the average listed mammal, bird, or reptile, and 90 percent less funding than the average listed fish.
Amphibians are the most under-listed taxonomic group, with the interest group NatureServe listing 122 different species at risk, but only 21 of those species are listed as endangered under the ESA. This is a disparity of 82 percent. The discrepancies between NatureServe and the ESA were lower for other taxonomic groups: 70 percent for fish, 40 percent for reptiles, 25 percent for birds, and 22 percent for mammals. Encouraging lawmakers to fix this disparity will place great responsibility on the government to take greater steps in protecting nature's amphibians from the fungus.
We must do whatever we can to make sure that amphibians do not disappear from our country. They have been on the decline due to the virus in recent years, and it is troubling that it has not been talked about more in the news. The impact of frogs and toads on the economy is far greater than anyone can estimate, and without them, healthcare costs are not the only thing that will explode. Frogs and toads have been protecting us from mosquitoes and other disease vectors, now it's time to protect them from the chytrid fungus.
In 1962, Rachel Carson warned us about the possibility of a "Silent Spring," where there are no birds in the sky to fill the world with their songs. I am afraid that if we do not act soon, we will face the possibility of an "Itchy Summer," where there are no frogs and toads to eat the mosquitoes before the bugs bite us. Populations are declining fast, and we cannot afford to wait.