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Where have all the amphibians gone?! May 28, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, with apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary and their poignant war protest song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” I read a very alarming article in our Sunday local paper about the dramatic disappearance of frogs, toads and salamanders in the U.S. (“Amphibians fading fast, national report says,” The Morning Call, http://www.themorningcall.com, originally in The Washington Post.)

The report said that scientists had noted dramatic declines in amphibian populations decades ago, but that the rate of decline has now reached a point where half the population of seven species of frogs and toads will vanish within seven years, and half the populations of at least 40 other species, including spring peepers, will vanish within 27 years.

This is dismaying to amateur herpetologists like me and our friend Ben, who love studying and observing amphibians and reptiles. (As a child, OFB kept a pet toad that hopped along after him wherever he went, as well as anoles, native chameleon-like lizards that change color from brown to green when they’re excited. We’ve also had aquatic frogs in our aquariums.) But we realize that most people view amphibians with about the same degree of enthusiasm reserved for mice and tarantulas. Who cares if they become extinct?

Well, we all should. That’s because amphibians are early warners, like the canaries that miners took into the coal mines to warn them if the air was becoming toxic. If the canary died, it signalled the miners to get out of the tunnels and up into fresh air ASAP if they valued their lives. With their thin, fragile skins and dependence on water, amphibians are vulnerable to chemical pollution, and serve as an early warning that our water sources are becoming toxic.

Runoff from chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides makes its way into our creeks, streams, and rivers, the sources that provide us with drinking and bathing water. (No, water doesn’t magically appear from your tap or a plastic bottle, just as hamburger doesn’t magically appear shrink-wrapped at the meat counter, as opposed to coming from butchered cows.) And when these chemicals interact with the delicate skins of amphibians, they die. As we will die, more slowly, if this toxic pollution isn’t stopped.

Amphibians, like that other unloved creature, the bat, are harmless to us and consume millions of insects a year, protecting our crops. Ironically, the overuse of toxic herbicides such as Monsanto’s Roundup deprives these creatures of both habitat and food, causing them to die out and the pest insect population (can you say “mosquito”?!) to multiply out of control. But no worries, folks, Monsanto will produce an even more toxic pesticide to wipe out the mosquitos, until they find a way around it and return, and meanwhile we and our children and pets can all get cancer from Monsanto’s chemical toxins.

My point is this: Rejoice if you find a toad, frog, or salamander in your yard. Try to set up a small water garden where they can enjoy a good soak. And, please God, don’t dump chemicals on your property. Your life, your family’s life, your pets’ life, all depend on it.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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