Frogs & Toads: Nature's Barometer

How big a deal are frogs?

Frogs and toads are not just adorable, they play important roles - as predator and prey - in wetland ecosystems. Scientists think of them as an indicator species - helping us monitor the wetland health. Their permeable skin makes them susceptible to changes - and since they live on land and water, they help scientists understand both.

Have you heard of a "canary in a coal mine?" Frogs and toads are like that - giving scientists an early warning of environmental challenges or threats that may eventually affect the rest of us.

Did you know frogs and toads are in trouble?

Unfortunately, frog and toad populations are in rapid decline around the world. At least one-third of known amphibian species are threatened with extinction (IUCN) - a rate higher than birds or mammals. 

The culprits? Habitat loss and global climate change each play a role, but an infectious and often fatal disease - chytridiomycosis (kit-TRED-my-CO-sis) - is a major threat. Caused by a fungal chytrid (kit-TRED), it causes amphibian skin to thicken, limiting their ability to absorb water and electrolytes.

Not all infected amphibians get sick and die. American bullfrogs and African clawed frogs resist the disease - but they carry it, infecting other frog and toad species! For example, scientists think California Red-Legged frogs are struggling because of increasing American bullfrog populations.

But there is hope for our amphibian friends!

Zoos, private organizations, federal agencies, and other groups around the globe are responding to the crisis by:

  • organizing breeding programs,
  • researching disease resistance,
  • protecting important habitats,
  • studying ecological changes, and
  • educating folks like you!

Looking for ways to help?

What if you could help in just five minutes a day? FrogWatch USA is a citizen science program created to help conserve amphibians. Volunteers - individuals, groups, families - learn to report on local frog and toad breeding calls.

This provides vitally important, large scale, long-term data. As a volunteer, you sign up for a site - a local creek, a favorite walking trail or campground, or even your backyard. You listen for calls a few minutes after sunset and record what you hear at FrogWatch.org It's really that easy.

Want more ideas?

  • Create amphibian friendly environments. Prime real estate includes leaf litter, rocks, logs, and a source of water. Backyard ponds make a great family project.
  • Keep it clean. Keep garbage, chemicals, and non-native plants out of the environment.
  • Conserve water. Consider collecting rainwater to water gardens and plants.
  • Prevent the spread of chytrid (kit-TRED). After hiking, clean your shoes and other wet items and allow them to dry. 
  • Be a responsible pet owner. Don't release unwanted pets into the wild - they may prey on amphibians or outcompete them for food.

*photo credit to Corey Hochachka