Frogs Are Really Cool. Too Bad Humans Are Killing Them All
Frogs don’t have a great public relations record. First, they plagued the Egyptians—not usually how you make friends. Then people accused the amphibians of giving them warts. Patently untrue. A brief respite came when a frog turned into a prince that one time, but now frogs face their greatest challenge yet: the scourge that is the human race.
In the age of human-induced mass extinction, frogs face great peril. Across the world, fungi are threatening amphibians while humans destroy their habitats, which makes cataloging and understanding them of urgent importance. To that end, today biologist Tim Halliday has released The Book of Frogs, a huge, beautiful compendium of 600 frogs from around the world, from the famed poison-arrow variety on up to the intriguingly named plaintive rain frog. The book is a looker, sure, but it also shows just how little scientists know about these surprisingly enigmatic creatures.
With some 7,000 known species, frogs are wildly diverse. “A major reason for this is that most species have very restricted ranges, largely as a result of their having poor powers of dispersal compared with insects, fishes, and birds, for example,” Halliday says. Frogs evolved long before Pangaea broke up, so they simply rode the continents out to sea. Now they appear on every one save for Antarctica. (It’s OK, little fellas, there ain’t much of anything living in Antarctica anyway.)
And frogs aren’t just kicking it in streams and such—that’d be stereotypical. They’re far more hearty than you’d expect for creatures with skin that’s ultra-sensitive to things like heat. A whole mess of species actually burrow into the soil, for instance, holding tight underground in harsh deserts for years at a time. Others can freeze solid and thaw out just fine. Flying frogs rule the air—however briefly—leaping from trees and splaying out their massive webbed feet to steer.
Unfortunately, though, it’s the frogs’ skin that has put them in such danger. A nasty fungus known as chytrid grows on a frog’s skin, causing it to thicken. This is particularly dangerous because frogs not only absorb moisture and salts through their skin, but use it to breathe as well. The fungus has spread across the world, leading to the extinction of hundreds of species of frogs—and who knows how many additional species science never knew about in the first place.
And it doesn’t stop there. “Agrichemicals like herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers are a major threat in many parts of the world,” Halliday says. “In Africa and Asia some frogs are collected in huge numbers for human food.” Add to that widespread habitat loss, and you have a serious problem on your hands.
So the sad bit about The Book of Frogs is many of these species may not last much longer. The great bit, though, is it gives these beauties a moment in the spotlight. Not too hot of a spotlight, of course. But definitely a lukewarm spotlight.