April 26, 2006
The fungal fate awaiting our amphibian friends has frog-lovers everywhere concerned. Now, a group of biologists from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago are preparing to help the endangered species the best way they know—providing an artificial habitat:
Now scientists are scurrying to collect frogs and put them in temporary tanks in hotel rooms and people’s houses until the building’s ready, Caballero said. Plans to save 65 species have been downscaled to the dozen or so most endangered—including the beautiful, iridescent Panamanian golden frog. The species is a cultural icon for its people as the bald eagle is for Americans—it’s been depicted in jewelry since pre-Columbian times and is the inspiration of local festivals.
The Brookfield Zoo does not have the proper buildings to warehouse amphibians. So zoo experts there are providing training for researchers in the field, grant money and helping connect experts like those visiting this week from Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia and Panama to ensure that the species are collected as quickly and efficiently as possible. Zoos that do have the capacity to take more amphibians need to do so, too, Lacy said.
The Chicago Tribune, quoted above, is calling it a “Noah’s Ark” project. So, I figure they will skip the catsandratsandelephants but do you think they’ll forget this unicorn frog?
Ok, so, the Ornate Horned Frog is available in pet stores, so is not exactly endangered, and doesn’t even really have a horn, but I couldn’t resist. My apologies to Shel Silverstein, as well.
On a more serious note, the article, by John Biemer, describes the spread of fungus which threatens a third of the world’s amphibian population:
Chytridomycosis was first identified in 1998 and is not well understood. As it moves around the globe, it has caused massive amphibian die-offs in Australia and hit the population of boreal toads in the Rocky Mountains. In the Sierra Nevadas, California-Berkeley researcher Vance Vredenburg found “piles” of mountain yellow-legged frogs dead from the disease two years ago.
Chytrid fungus is carried in water, but the disease is specific to amphibians, invisibly feeding on their skin’s keratin and causing it to thicken. The exact mode of death is unknown—it may produce a toxin or it may impair the amphibian’s ability to breathe and absorb water through its skin.
How it got around the world so swiftly is also not understood. It could have been carried by human travel—or by the global movement of ballast water and invasive species. Vredenburg says one hypothesis is the fungus always was around—but now amphibians are vulnerable to it, like humans suddenly dying of the common cold. One theory Grajal cited is it got around with African clawed frogs, which were shipped around the world in the 1940s and 1950s for use as pregnancy tests after it was discovered that a female injected with the urine of a pregnant woman began laying eggs.
Since scientists are able to treat the fungus in a lab, those amphibians taken into the “Ark“ should be in good hands.
Photo credits: Frog Mola via the Rainforest Connection at Montclair State University. Ornate Horned Frog via Flora & Fauna in Italy. Panamanian Golden Frog by Patricia Beck via the Detroit Free Press.