Tag Archive: frogs


Fantastic Frog Art!

save the frogs

Amazing frog art from Kara Timmons.

This amazing piece of frog art from Kara Timmons won the Save the Frogs art contest. Depicted on the frogs’ backs are some of the problems that are leading our amphibian friends to crazy levels of extinction including invasive species, climate change, deforestation, harvesting and shipping for school dissections, frogs legs and the pet trade (spreads the chytrid fungus), and pollution and deformities. Find out what you can do to help frogs at savethefrogs.com. Check out more cool frog art here. You can also purchase awesome amphibian art like this in the form of postcards, posters, totes, t-shirts and other goodies at the Save the Frogs gift center.

Another one of my favorite pieces:

Gastric brooding frog

yay! Frog art by Ana-Maria Maximencu.

Of course, I am biased; this is clearly my favorite frog species, the gastric brooding frog, that went extinct in my life time.

Another favorite:

Froggy Lisa

Brayden Brown, age 14, showing a lot of imagination in this piece.

There are many more like this, so check it out! Also, if you are feeling so inclined, Save the Frogs is working hard to get Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco to rescind a veto on legislation that is allowing one of the few remaining wetland areas in California to be a golf course. These wetlands are also home to the endangered red-legged frog and the endangered San Francisco garter snake. You can help Save the Frogs on this important mission by letting Mayor Ed Lee know what you think about his decision to veto this important legislation by calling him at (415) 554-6141 or e-mailing him at mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org. Cheers!

Okay, one more:

frog piper

Fantastic! by Bhavya Dhami


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Can animals predict earthquakes?

Toad

Image from BBC Nature News.

Interesting observations of amphibians possibly sensing chemical changes in groundwater before an earthquake and anecdotal observations of strange behavior from the animal kingdom pre-earthquake found here.

Brandon Ballengée

 

brandon ballengee

Brandon Ballengée collecting amphibians. Image from greenmuseum.org.

Brandon Ballengée is an artist that has collaborated with scientists to create hybrid environmental art and ecological research projects. Being the frog nut that I am, I particularly appreciated his work with deformed frogs. You can find out about this and more by Brandon here. And of course, as always, you  can find out how to save the frogs here.

Newly Discovered: Vampire Flying Frog

 

vampire frog

A vampire flying frog. Image by Jodi Rowley/Australian Museum.

A new species of frog was discovered in Vietnam by Jodi Rowley of the Australian Museum. The adults have webbed feet, which they use to glide; this helps them to live high up in trees. The tadpoles of this species have black fangs and are the first fanged tadpoles known to science. Find out about this discovery here and here.

Green mantella

The green mantella. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

Once again, this is a post that is highlighting animals that are listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN red list. You can find part one of this group here. In the first part, I wrote about the purpose of these posts and I’d like to reiterate that:

“This post was not meant to be so sad, but to be a chance to learn more about animal species that aren’t doing so well and to see and appreciate them while we still can. There have been many species that were endangered, but thanks to strong conservation efforts, are surviving or even thriving again (buffalo, bald eagles, brown pelicans, American alligators, peregrine falcons, Canada geese, gray wolves, gray whales-to name a few). In fact, these species are the face of conservation and can really bring about the best in people. We just have to continue to fight.”

Now to begin with the first endangered animal, pictured above. The green mantella is a small frog found mostly in northern Madagascar. Although they are very similar to poison dart frogs, in that they have toxic skin and are brightly colored, they are not closely related. Like much of the wildlife on this island, this frog is IUCN red listed as endangered mostly due to habitat loss, but also because of international trade from before the 90s, when they became protected. Although there are many problems facing wildlife in Madagascar, amphibians in general are facing major declines across the globe, not just on this one isolated island. To find out more about how and why we can and should stop amphibian decline, please check out save the frogs. If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you have seen this name many times already. Save the Frogs has been working to tackle the amphibian decline problem from many fronts-by education, research, legislation and market pressure. They have accomplished a lot with relatively little. Their site has tons of helpful information on what you can do to save the frogs.

Visayan warty pigs

Visayan warty pigs, a critically endangered species. Image taken at the Oregon Zoo.

These sweet pigs are found only on a few islands in the Philippines. They are listed as critically endangered because their numbers are dropping rapidly due to habitat loss, hunting and interbreeding with domestic pigs. The few zoos that are housing these pigs are participating in an emergency breeding program to save these pigs from extinction. The Oregon Zoo’s website has some wonderful pictures of these pigs, including a male that has its breeding mane, which is a giant spiky poof of hair and quite an amusing sight, and it has a video of 3 unbearably adorable piglets born at the zoo as well as more information on the tragically named warty pigs.

Coelacanth

A coelacanth specimen. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

The coelacanth is an interesting fish. It’s thought to have existed over 400 million years ago and was believed to have gone extinct 70 million years ago, since all we’d ever found was fossils. But, in 1938, a fisherman hooked one. Now more have been discovered. We still have a lot to learn about this critically endangered fish and scientists are eager to find out the secrets to its survival.

Sea otter

This sea otter is one of many from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's sea otter research and conservation program.

Sea otters have been facing all sorts of problems, both natural and human caused. Natural problems include predation and disease (although human pollution may also be partly responsible if it hinders their immune systems.) Of the current human caused problems, the worst is oil spills, which is particularly bad for them because unlike most marine mammals, otters don’t have a thick layer of blubber for insulation, but incredibly dense fur, which doesn’t work when it’s covered in oil. Being captured in nets and being hit by boats also pose problems. Still, there have been many protection efforts in place, including international agreements. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sea otter and conservation program is just one example of these efforts. They raise and release stranded pups, treat and release injured otters, take care of otters that can’t return to the wild and conduct scientific research. (You can support this program here.) Otters are major predators of marine invertebrates and one of the problems we’ve seen because of their decline is an increase in sea urchins. Since sea urchins eat the holdfasts of kelp (the part that keeps them anchored down), they are tearing through kelp forests, which is also a hiding place and food source for a lot of other wildlife.

radiated tortoise

A young boy watches a critically endangered radiated tortoise. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

Radiated tortoises are critically endangered tortoises from Madagascar. This picture, with the little boy watching the tortoise moving about its exhibit, stood out to me when I read about the projections for this species. Without additional protection, these tortoises will become extinct in the little boy’s lifetime. In fact, at the current rate of decline, they’ll probably be extinct by the time he has grandchildren. Destruction of habitat is one of the problems facing this tortoise. So is collection, both for the pet trade and for their livers (why livers? I don’t know). But one of the biggest problems is from local people using the tortoises, mostly for food. This hasn’t been a problem in the past, because the Mahafaly and the Antandroy have a taboo against touching or eating the tortoises and their land covers the range of the radiated tortoises. But more people have moved to this region that will eat the tortoises, as well as Malagasy people who are just passing through. As far as future protection goes, Madagascar has been expanding its protected areas. Providing education and alternatives for local people is considered essential and so is careful monitoring of markets, traders, restaurants and the international pet trade. Perhaps with a lot of work, we can stop this species from going extinct.

mummified kitten

The face of a mummified kitten. Image taken near Wolf Creek, Oregon.

Well, I couldn’t start off this special Halloween post without the Canterbury Kitten! Read about the Canterbury kitten from one of my previous posts here. One last photo of this kitten:

Mummified kitten

The side view of a mummified kitten. Image taken near Wolf Creek, Oregon.

Next up, deer skulls:

 

Deer skulls stick together
Two deer skulls, antlers entwined. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

These two deer were battling when their antlers became intertwined and they were stuck. Struggling to get free, they eventually died, still stuck together. This is not uncommon in the deer world and is one of the hazards of competing.

Now, for the skull of a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake:

 

Western Diamondback

A Western Diamondback Rattlesnake skull. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

Only one set of fangs will be attached to a venom gland. Note how all of the teeth point inward, so a prey item can slide in easily, but not out.

Here’s the full skeleton of a gray whale:

Gray whale skeleton

A gray whale skeleton hangs from the ceiling at the California Academy of Sciences.

And a hominid skeleton:

Hominid skeleton

A hominid skeleton. Image taken at Museo Arqueologico in La Serena, Chile.

On Halloween last year, the California Academy of Sciences had a “coolest dead thing” contest for its employees. This mummified raccoon took the prize:

Mummified Raccoon

A mummified raccoon won the Prize at the California Academy of Sciences' "coolest dead thing" contest.

This was a really cool second place:

Stained frog specimen

A stained frog specimen. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

And last but not least, here is another stained specimen, a fish:

Stained fish specimen

A back-lit stained fish specimen at the California Academy of Sciences.

And there you have it! Some mummies, skulls and skeletons for a Happy Halloween!

Those in Need: Endangered Species Part 1

golden frog

A Panamanian golden frog, a.k.a a golden arrow poison frog, a critically endangered species. Image taken at the Oakland Zoo.

This post is going to highlight some animals that have been red listed by the IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) as endangered or critically endangered.

The Panamanian golden frog (shown above) has become the icon for the amphibian decline movement. This frog has been part of legend and myth in Panama and is a symbol for good luck. There’s even pictures of this frog on their lottery tickets! However, due to habitat loss, chemicals and now a horrible outbreak of the chytrid fungus, these animals are so near extinction that zoos, government agencies and universities both in the United States and in Panama have joined together to protect it, while simultaneously increasing awareness about global amphibian declines. Project Golden Frog is focused on education, research, habitat preservation and captive breeding programs, such as the one at the Oakland Zoo, where this picture was taken. Have I mentioned Save the Frogs?

 

African Penguin

Ocio, an African penguin. This species was just recently IUCN red listed as endangered. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

The African penguin has just this year been listed as endangered. The IUCN spent over a year examining the data and finally concluded that this species should be listed due to rapid population declines. There are many reasons why the number of African penguins is dropping, but one of the major ones is lack of food. They are competing with commercial fisheries and there has been an eastward shift of the current that carries their prime fish supply. Have I mentioned Seafood Watch, to prevent similar problems from happening to North American birds?

 

Spider tortoise

A spider tortoise, critically endangered. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

This very tiny tortoise (I’m holding him in one hand while I take this picture) is from Madagascar. It was just listed as critically endangered in 2008. These animals are very habitat specific and they have lost and are losing habitat at an incredible rate. This species qualifies as critically endangered because it has lost (or will lose, if current rates continue) 90% of its habitat in only 3 generations. To make matters worse, what habitat they do have is severely fragmented. Also, radiated tortoises (another critically endangered species we’ll see in a future post) have suffered major population declines and people who previously sought radiated tortoises for food are now switching to the spider tortoise, so increased “hunting” pressure is also causing a population drop. This species is projected to be completely extinct in 60-80 years without protection and if current trends persist.

Black Rhino

Elly, a black rhino who has contributed immensely to conservation programs. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

This rhino is my home girl. I adore Elly. She was one of the first animals to really have me wondering about and researching conservation efforts-my first real connection to an endangered animal. She let me feed her son- her baby rhino number 13, Moja Doga.

Elly is part of a black rhino breeding program at the San Francisco Zoo. She has the world record for having the most calves in captivity-and she is a very good mommy. She’s retired now and is not going to have any more young. But her babies have gone out into the world to  help protect rhinos.

You might be wondering-how does captive breeding help protect the black rhinos as a species? The answer comes in 3 parts. The first is education and making that connection, like the one I mentioned above. While it is incredibly important that we protect ecosystems and not just individual animals, making that first connection will draw people into the world of conservation action. I know. As a city girl, I had never really thought about rhinos until I got to know one. The second is research. Raising animals in captivity means that we can learn more about their reproduction, behavior, genetics, dung (very interesting stuff going on there) and more without disturbing animals in the wild. The third is breed and release programs. In programs like these, animals are raised in captivity and then released, increasing the wild population and genetic diversity.  Release programs have just begun in 2008 in Kenya, with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Zoological Society of London. Before any release program begins, the problems facing the animals should be addressed (as much as possible) and a protocol for releasing the animals established, to ensure that the animals are able to survive once released.  The animals are also tagged, so they can be monitored and to allow scientists to conduct studies. All of this continues to take place as we speak. I’m happy to report that despite a bad 2009, black rhino numbers are on the rise. But their numbers are still low and much more work needs to be done. These animals are still listed as critically endangered, due to an over 90% population decline in ~60 years.

Scalloped hammerhead shark

A scalloped hammerhead shark, listed as endangered. Image taken at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

The scalloped hammerhead shark is one of many shark species that is not doing too well in the wild. They are often easy targets for shark finners because they tend to live in large schools. Their fins are also highly prized because they have a lot of fin rays. Shark finning is a problem for many species of shark, usually to make shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy to some. It is however really high in mercury (often above FDA suggested daily limits) and I’m told it’s tough and tasteless. Still, it is believed that if you eat shark fin, you won’t get cancer. This is simply not true. In fact, the excess of mercury can adversely effect your health. Anyway, when shark finners catch sharks, they cut off their fins and then dump the rest of the shark-often still alive-back into the water to die. It is brutal and disgusting. The other serious problem facing these sharks is that they are frequently caught as by-catch. These two things combined has lead to some population decreases of 50-90% in the last 32 years. Have I mentioned Seafood Watch, which lets you know which fisheries use methods that minimize by-catch?

This post was not meant to be so sad, but to be a chance to learn more about animal species that aren’t doing so well and to see and appreciate them while we still can. There have been many species that were endangered, but thanks to strong conservation efforts, are surviving or even thriving again (buffalo, bald eagles, brown pelicans, American alligators, peregrine falcons, Canada geese, gray wolves, gray whales-to name a few). In fact, these species are the face of conservation and can really bring about the best in people. We just have to continue to fight.

Amazon Milk Frog

An Amazon Milk Frog. Image taken at the Oakland Zoo.

This little froggy is an Amazon Milk Frog. No wait, it’s a Mission Golden-eyed Tree Frog. No wait, it’s a Blue Milk Frog. Oh no, I was wrong on all accounts. What this frog is, is a perfect example for why scientists use scientific names rather than common names. (Except often with birds, since the common names are relatively standardized.) So, this frog is Trachycephalus resinifictrix. But for now, we’ll call him an Amazon Milk Frog. Why milk frog? Well, it’s a fitting name for an animal that oozes out poisonous white milky stuff through its skin when it’s threatened.

There is dramatic variation in the life cycles of frogs and  often it is how the amphibians bring about the next generation that mesmerizes herpetologists. This particular frog is no exception; he has an interesting story to tell.

It all starts about an hour after sunset. Mr. male Amazon Milk Frog, who lives high up in the trees, begins to call. He is seeking a female and until one appears, he will keep calling and calling. He might end up making 4,000 calling notes in one night. But, once he attracts a female they will mate and she will deposit up to 4,000 eggs (average is less than 3,000 ) into his water-filled tree hole. She leaves in the morning, but dad is not done. The eggs will hatch in less than 24 hours (!) and there are a lot of hungry tadpoles to feed. At first, they’ll eat whatever detritus they can find, but this won’t last.

So, Mr. dad Amazon Milk Frog will begin to call for a female again. Why is he calling again? He already has more mouths than he can feed! But it turns out, there is method to this madness. When the next female comes, he will not fertilize her eggs when she deposits them. Instead, they become food for his already hatched tadpoles to eat and grow on.

Amazon milk frog

An Amazon Milk Frog, front view, eyes partially covered. Image taken at the Oakland Zoo.

And so you might wonder, why would this deception evolve? What problems are being solved by this method of reproduction and parental care? To try to figure this out, we have to look at what makes this frog different from other frogs. And the answer is simple: his home. Other frogs more typically use ponds and streams as their breeding sites. But living in the rain forest means that there are many more temporary bodies of water that can be used for breeding. These sites offer a few advantages- the most important being way less competition and fewer predators. They also don’t have to worry about currents. However, in order to exploit these potential breeding sites, they have to overcome some obstacles. First, the water in these plant structures can dry out quickly. So, for a frog to use this area to reproduce,  the young have to hatch and develop quickly, to ensure they can leave the water before the water leaves them. The 24 hour hatch time is an important adaptation that allows this frog to remain in the trees. The second problem is a lack of food. This frog species solves that problem by having females lay nutritious eggs for the tadpoles to eat.

Of course, other frog species solve this same problem without the deception. A close relative of this frog, T. hadroceps (no English common name), solves this problem with parental care from the genetic mom to her own offspring. She returns to deposit unfertilized eggs for her tadpoles every 2-3 days.

Either way, these behaviors evolved to solve a basic problem and to exploit a relatively predator and competitor free breeding site, that allows these frogs to spend their entire life up in the trees.

Amazon milk frog

An Amazon Milk Frog resting on a tree branch. Image taken at the Oakland Zoo.

Once again, I can’t talk about frogs without mentioning the world wide amphibian decline and to recommend visiting Save the Frogs for more information on the extinction threat many frog species are facing and to find out what you can do to help.

Victory Will Be Ours!

savethefrogs

Children gather to protest the selling of frog legs at Uncle Julio's restaurant. Image from savethefrogs.com.

Here’s a rather cheerful story that made my day. First a little background information.  Frog legs imported for consumption are coming from just a few places and are known carries of the chytrid fungus, which is the amphibian killing fungus that has been moving around our planet. Since 1979, 200 amphibian species have gone extinct (you might remember my gastric brooding frog post), which is not a normal rate of extinction by any means. 100 of these extinctions are thought to have been caused by the chytrid fungus. The exportation/importation of frogs for food allows for the spread of this amphibian killing fungus, as some 62% of the bullfrogs imported to the US are known to be infected with it. Even the water they are housed in can spread the fungus. Furthermore, importing frogs  has led to an abundance of escapees, which are invasive and compete with and consume other amphibians.

Given these facts, having frog legs on menus is not exactly sustainable. So much so that the California Fish and Game banned the importation of non-native frogs for food in March of this year. (yay!) Still, the rest of the country continues to import frogs. However, save the frogs has been working to eliminate the demand for frog legs by putting pressure on restaurants and grocery stores to stop carrying them. They had a huge win recently, when Wegmans 76 store supermarket chain announced that they will remove frog legs from their store for environmental reasons. They are the first supermarket chain to do so! Yay for them!

Also, they have had a few successful protests at Uncle Julio’s restaurants, including the one pictured above in which elementary and middle school students educated Uncle Julio’s potential customers about the harmful effects of importing frogs and Uncle Julio’s contribution to it. It truly makes me happy to see kids speaking up for the world they will have to clean up.

For the record, I’m not a fan of Uncle Julio’s, as they not only sell frog legs, but in previous protests have even impersonated cops to try to get rid of people simply using their first amendment rights in a public space.

If you are feeling so inclined and wish to aid these kids without flying to the east coast, you can e-mail Uncle Julio’s CEO Todd Conger at todd.conger@unclejulios.com or call him at 972-554-6886 and let him know how you feel!

And once again, I would highly recommend checking out save the frogs, which continues to work for the frogs and all amphibians through research, education and legislation. You can even sign up for their e-mail list, which will send you wonderful happy little victories like this one and cool frog art.

The Gastric Brooding Frogs

Gastric Brooding Frog

Northern Gastric Brooding Frog; now extinct. Photo by M. Davies.

I really hate to start off the amphibian section of this blog with a bittersweet story, but at the moment it seems that all amphibian stories are heading that way, as there is a huge decline in their numbers around the world.  But these amazing frog species, the gastric brooding frogs, were my favorite amphibians, and they went extinct in my life time, just a few short years after they were discovered.

Why did I love them so much?  Well, what they are most remembered for is also what they got their common name from, and that is their amazing reproductive strategy.  When these frogs laid their eggs, the digestive acids in their stomachs would shut off and they would swallow their own eggs.  There the eggs would sit until they hatched, and the tadpoles would never see the light of day.  Instead, they completely developed into little froglets while still inside their mother’s stomach and to give birth, the mother would dilate her esophagus and 18-25 little froglets would jump out of her mouth, one at a time!

Gastric brooding frog and froglet

Gastric brooding frog with froglet emerging from its mouth. Photo by Mike Tyler

If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.  In this way, the frog kept its eggs safe at the expense of not being able to eat for 6 to 7 weeks while the young were developing.

One interesting aspect of these frogs’ mysterious solution to egg predation is how they managed to shut off their stomach acid.  It appears that the digestive acids shut down because of chemicals being secreted by the egg jelly and the tadpoles.  Why is that important?  Because scientists thought that maybe this chemical held the secret to a fantastic ulcer treatment.  Unfortunately they never found out, nor will they ever find out.  And I will never be able to see my favorite frog in real life.

The University of Michigan has some great further reading on their Animal Diversity Web site.  Please note that the first picture in this blog is the northern gastric brooding frog, while much of the research and information provided here was about the southern gastric brooding frog.

If you are interested in why amphibian populations are declining world wide and what you can do to help, please check out Save the Frogs to learn more.  This is a fantastic organization focusing on education and research to help protect amphibians.