A Frog Blog E-mail
Thursday, 19 September 2013 00:00  |  Written by Rich Bard | Blog Entry

Frog photo by Hamed SaberI'm standing in the dark, eyes closed, brow furrowed in concentration. For five long minutes, I remain as still as possible. I'm listening to the chaotic chorus of croaking frogs from a nearby wetland and I don't want to miss a single note of this pastoral symphony. A cough, a foot shuffling in the sand on the road shoulder, even the sound of my pant legs rubbing against each other can mean I may lose some important data.

The North American Amphibian Monitoring Project (NAAMP) enlists volunteers who each "adopt" an amphibian survey route. Several times a year, depending on where they live (it's three times here in Maine), they drive a mapped route, stopping at ten predetermined locations to listen for frogs and record which species they hear.

The training is surprisingly easy. At the NAAMP website, you can practice identifying the frogs that live in your state by the utterances they make. When you are ready, you take a simple online quiz to confirm your skills. I was surprised how quickly I was able to learn the frog sounds. I've always had a hard time identifying bird calls, but frog croaks are easier, at least for me. Most people know the chirp of the spring peeper. There's also the snore of the pickerel frog, the rat-tat-tat hammering of the mink frog, the plucked banjo string of the green frog and, of course, the booming drone of the bullfrog.

In Maine, I'm lucky to have only nine species to master. In Louisiana, volunteers must differentiate among 30 kinds of frogs. Even if you don't choose to adopt a survey route, you can check out the website and finally learn what all those sounds are out in the yard on spring and summer evenings. A lot of what people think are insects or birds are actually frogs.

The goal of the project is to be able to detect significant changes in amphibian (mostly frog) distribution over the course of years, or even decades. The dispersal of these moist-skinned, cold-blooded vertebrates definitely warrants close scrutiny. Not only are amphibians important bioindicators of pollution (think "canary in the coal mine"), but they are imminently imperiled. Just ask Save the Frogs, a coalition of fleece-, flannel-, headlamp- and fanny-pack-wearing, binocular-carrying scientists (see their "Who we are" page) from around the world. They say that, of the 6,317 species of amphibians sharing our planet, close to one-third are in danger of extinction.

According to Save the Frogs, the most severe threats are “habitat destruction, infectious diseases, pollution & pesticides, climate change, invasive species and over-harvesting for the pet and food trades.” Amphibians have withstood the test of evolutionary time, but, like so many other groups of animals, they are at risk from a whole host of man-made dangers.

Truth be told, though, I don't do these surveys out of an abstract desire to help the environment, although that is a worthwhile cause. I do it for the nonpareil experience—standing in the dark on a warm, spring night, becoming pleasantly immersed in the murky world of these slippery-skinned songsters. Doing my bit to help save them? That's just the icing on the cake.

Additional resources:
The Disappearance of Frogs: Why We Should Be Very Worried
Celebrate 'Save the Frogs Day'

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Comments (2)add
Written by Abe Gilbert , April 01, 2010
Ah, the beautiful sounds of nature. Thanks again Rich for another unique and interesting look at another part of nature which I would normally not even think about. Your insights are very inspiring and your writing style quite captivating. Normally when I learn about pollution and extinction it fills me with deep feelings of depression and anxiety, but you seem to be able to relate these kind of facts in a way that almost makes me feel as if there is still a glimmer of hope remaining.
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Written by TSmith , May 04, 2009
kribbit...kribbit...
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