Since the 1980s there has been a significant decline in the amphibian population worldwide. Almost half of the amphibian population is threatened or in danger of extinction. Some conservationists argue that this is one the largest mass extinction of any species since fall of the dinosaur.
Amphibians are cold-blooded animals who serve a critical role maintaining stability in our global ecosystem. Most amphibians go through a metamorphosis as they transition from larva who breathe in water with gills to adults who breathe air with lungs. Some of these vertebrates can also use their skin for breathing which is pretty hardcore. A few amphibians lack lungs altogether and completely rely on their skin for respiration.
Amphibians include toads, frogs, newts, salamanders, and my least favorite amphibian, caecilians. Ceacilians are like big, slimy worms with a backbone and teeth. And some give live birth! Ewww! They are the stuff of which nightmares are made. On the other hand, I find them very interesting because they are so odd and kind of scary. Plus, they remind me of the sand monster from that weird 80s movie with Sting in it.
Warning: Really Cute Amphibians
Frogs, toads, and many other amphibians are identified as critically endangered in the wild. A recent study even reported dwindling populations in U.S. wildlife refuges and national parks. About 30% of the 6000 amphibian species are at risk of dying out completely! To add insult to injury, there has been a steady rise of deformities in the last two decades. Because of this amphibian crisis, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums has partnered the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group and the Amphibian Survival Alliance to form the conservation organization Amphibian Ark (AArk).
The goals of AArk are to increase efforts to protect the amphibian population focusing on those that cannot currently be safeguarded in nature and provide educational outreach to the public to increase awareness and understanding. Other conservation groups are doing the same.
You may be asking, “What do frogs have to do with me anyway? This is just survival of the fittest, right?” Not quite, Dear Reader. This is neither a natural decline nor the result of natural selection. These amphibians aren’t dying out because they aren’t fit and can no longer meet their needs in their environment. Save the Frogs stated that the primary causes of amphibian extinctions are pollution, loss of habitat, climate change, invasive species, road mortality, over-harvesting for the pet and food trades, and the infectious disease chytridiomycosis.
Amphibians fill a surprising role in our global ecosystem. For example: Many people, not me, enjoy amphibians a delicious and nutritious food source. Tadpoles feed on algae in water which is a great way to keep our fresh water clean. Amphibians inspire new medicines. Many adults feed on surprisingly large amounts of insects and bugs. That’s great for pest and disease control. Unfortunately, as the population of amphibians decreases the population of mosquitoes and other disease carrying cootie critters increases. I’m really understating the importance of this, but the amphibians’ role in the food chain is essential for maintaining ecological balance in nature. So, it’s pretty important they hang around.
As scientists continue to study and understand why our amphibian friends are croaking (sorry), PBS has some suggestions of things that we, the average Joe Blow and Sally Somebody, can do to help save frogs and other amphibians:
- Learn more about amphibians.
- Keep informed about legislation.
- Don’t introduce non-native plants, animals, and other organisms.
- Watch what you throw away.
- Don’t flush medicines and other drugs down the toilet.
- Reduce chemical use and use chemicals wisely.
- Conserve water.
Images: Kermit the Frog
Infographic Made by Easelly