I love mammals. Their maternal behaviour, their intelligence and their complexity.
I love birds. Their freedom and majesty are inspiring.
But I have a special place in my heart for amphibians. I love them with this irrational passion I can’t really explain. They’re not particularly intelligent, they’re not at all majestic, and they’re certainly not cuddly. But I love them nonetheless. They are some of the most bizarre and colourful creatures on earth. Let me give you some of my favourite examples:
Colourful: Red-eyed tree frogs (there are a number of species that look like this), or as I like to call them, ‘centrefold frogs.’ I mean, look at this awesome little guy. And he’s got sucker pads on his toes – I love those things.
Bizarre: Surinam Toad, Pipa parva – females carry their fertilized eggs on their back, embedded in their skin, so they can develop safely. When the froglets have fully metamorphosed they pop through the skin. Altogether now: eeewwww….
Kick-Ass: Pac-man frogs, genus Ceratophrys, so named because of their comically wide mouths, which they use to eat everything they can fit in there, including small rodents. These are the only amphibians (as far as I can recall from ZOO384, amphibian biology…) with teeth – and what teeth! Apparently if you get bitten by one you will bleed. When I was a student and lived in a rat-infested apartment in Chinatown, I wanted to get one of these to keep the pests at bay (as I am allergic to cats). I never got around to it – but I do intend to get one of these one day, as the Argentine variety is pretty common in good pet stores.
Seriously. I love frogs. They’re just… awesome.
Which is why it made me so sad to read about this the other day – so sad I could hardly bring myself to write about it.
At a remote location Costa Rica some amphibian and reptile species have declined by a whopping 75 per cent since 1970 – despite the fact that they were living in a conservation reserve designed to protect them. Nobody really knows why, but biologists speculate it may have something to do with climate change reducing the amount of leaf litter on the ground, which small lizards and froggies use to hide from predators.
But nobody really knows. The thing is, amphibian species all over the world have been declining, and nobody really knows exactly why. In many places scientists have documented the spread of a lethal skin infection, known as chytrid fungus. In other places the decline has been blamed on pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. But nobody really knows. But whatever the reason is, it probably has something to do with the fact that amphibians have permeable skin, and tend to be more sensitive to crap in the environment.
And until we really know why they’re disappearing we can’t really know what to do in order to save them.