Wake County

NC’s Disappearing Frogs Project seeks help beating global threat

Charlotte Ligon, 6, looks at a frog in a container with her grandmother during Amped for Amphibians, an educational event at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh Sunday.
Charlotte Ligon, 6, looks at a frog in a container with her grandmother during Amped for Amphibians, an educational event at Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh Sunday. newsobserver.com

The River Frog hasn’t been seen in North Carolina since 1975. And by 2012, nearly 13 percent of the state’s 96 species of frogs, toads and salamanders also were in danger of being lost.

Among them are the Carolina Gopher Frog and the Ornate Chrorus Frog, said Jeff Beane, with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Both are native to the state’s Sandhills and southeastern Coastal Plain.

That’s why Sunday’s “Amped for Amphibians” event at the Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh – and the work that the Disappearing Frogs Project has been doing with more than 30 local partners, including the schools – is so important, regional communications director Pam Hopkins said.

The cobalt-striped poison dart frogs jumping around their tank got a lot of attention Sunday. The poison comes from what they eat, Levy said, but he feeds his frogs fruit flies, so they’re not poisonous at all.

Nearby, a pair of Budgett’s frogs scrambled around in a pool of shallow water. The aggressive “Freddie Kreuger frog” has been known to eat rats and even other frogs, NCSU research associate Nirav Amin said.

Lydia Stevenson, 4, stood with other children at the “paint like a frog” table, dipping blowout party favors into trays of paint and flicking it with sharp blows onto paper, themselves and and each other.

“I like the blue (frogs),” Lydia said shyly as her mom Lindsay scrubbed paint from her face.

Others checked out the native frogs – plus a toad and newt – while listening to different frog sounds.

They had a lot of frogs at their old house, said Ambrielle Jeter, 7, whose family moved last year to Raleigh. The big toads scare him, said her brother Brendan, 6, while excitedly moving from frog to frog, asking questions.

“They’re scary, because they’re big,” he said. “They look like they’re about 18 years old. They will hop on you and stick to you.”

Charlotte artist and environmentalist Terry Thirion started the Disappearing Frogs Project in 2013 to create awareness about the global decline. The exhibit has been on tour since 2014, and in 2015, partnered with the global nonprofit Amphibian Survival Alliance.

Scientists estimate more than 30 percent of the world’s amphibians have gone extinct in the last 30 years, including 200 species of frogs.

North Carolina, which rivals China for the most diversity, also is seeing a decline, said Mike Levy, a frog enthusiast and parasitology professor at N.C. State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

The biggest threat is habitat destruction, he said, from chemicals, climate change, humans and the chytrid fungus, only recognized in the 1990s.

It’s not only amazing to hear the frogs at night, Levy said, but it’s also the sign of a healthy environment.

“The most important thing is to be good stewards and leave the planet a better place for our kids and grandkids than it was for us,” he said.

Frogs and other amphibians are critical to the food chain, snacking on mosquitoes, ticks and other small creatures – especially of benefit to farmers – and as food for snakes, foxes, fish and birds. They’re also very sensitive, alerting humans to pollution and other environmental changes.

Amphibian contributions are also important to a range of research disciplines. These include development of new medicines and non-narcotic painkillers, genetic research into tissue and organ regeneration, and the potential for curing diseases through gene manipulation.

A number of groups are preserving habitats, pushing for fewer chemicals and testing for diseases, Beane said, but there’s much more to do.

“The bottom line is there are too many of us using too many resources,” he said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

Backyard frogs

It’s easy to create an amphibian habitat in your back yard:

▪ Turn broken pottery upside down or plant a small PVC tube in the ground for a nest

▪ A frog pond provides moisture, even in a small container

▪ Use native plants and grasses; don’t rake all the leaves or clear fallen logs

▪ Avoid pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals

▪ Don’t release pet frogs into the wild

“The more natural the habitat, the better it’s going to be for the things that are native there,” said Jeff Beane, with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “There are not too many animals that live on a short grass lawn.”

Find more information at bit.ly/24dKMaX and bit.ly/1Ub9k1s. More about the Disappearing Frogs Project at bit.ly/1PQwiXy.

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