Saturday, October 27, 2007
the disappearing frogs
Eight years ago when I was preparing for my comprehensive exam that would determine whether or not I would pass graduate school, one of the books on the reading list was from my favorite collection, The Best American Essays. In one of the essays the writer started off with an exposition about the disappearing frogs. I was heart sick at the thought of this. Frogs were dying out? How would little children grow up without frogs? What would a summer evening be without the sounds of croaking in the air and walking through the grass with an eye on the blades, wondering if you were about to step on a mottled bullfrog? I sighed a big sigh and took this woman at her word--she'd done her research, she must have. They wouldn't have published her essay twice without a quality check, and then I tried to put it out of my mind.
John Holbrook, American Herpetology
It is true. The rapid decline of frogs began in the 1980s, and since then scientists have been trying to pinpoint the cause. Climate change looks like the biggest factor--warmer temperatures breed a fungus deadly to frogs, called chytrid. Pesticides are another factor. Atrazine, a common ingredient in weed killer, disrupts the sexual reproduction in male frogs. In truth, many factors have led to the decline. If you look at amphibians as a whole, one third of this population has been lost, gone extinct throughout the world, since the 1980s, according to the Global Amphibian Assessment. When you localize it to countries with warmer climates, the numbers are much more startling. In La Selva, a protected area in the Costa Rican rain forest, amphibians have declined 75%, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Beatrix Potter, Jeremy Fisher Fishing. Frederick Warne & Co. 2006
I suppose everything in the previous paragraph to be just depressing. But this summer I noticed something unusual. Maybe you noticed it too. I live in a warm and sticky climate, and this year, all of the sudden, the frogs were back. Really and truly it had been years since I'd experienced a summer with frogs. But here they were. Fat little toads were hopping around my courtyard. Gus pup noticed them first. He chased them with his nose. They were in my friend, Stephanie's yard. When my friends and I went to Rockport for our coastal extravaganza, a strange-looking sucker frog was suctioned to the glass on our back door, and the grass was filled with bullfrogs. I brought it up in conversation at a bridal luncheon, and lo and behold, in Weimer, TX, this young woman's three boys were leaping for joy upon the act of dipping their forearms through a hole in a tree trunk and grabbing frogs for play. Frogs were everywhere this summer.
The decline of a species is layered and complex. No one fully understands this frog drop, and perhaps the uncertainly offers the opportunity for unforeseen spikes, not only those but a steady rise again. 2007 was the year of the toad. Hippity hop. Yes please.