Nature Nearby: Hearing fewer croaks?

Anecdotal evidence suggests the frog population is decreasing in Magruder Park.

By FRED SEITZ — I often listen at the edge of Magruder Park in the early evening. While the sounds of traffic and loud music have frequently competed with the natural sounds in the park, Mom Nature’s voice seems more muted now than in previous springs and early summers.

In past years, I’ve frequently heard spring peepers chirping choruses and green frogs playing their banjos. This year, I’ve only heard peepers sing out on one evening early this spring. I have heard green frogs strumming a few days and evenings when I was walking my dog, but their music also seems diminished this year. My observations aren’t scientific, of course, but reports in The New York Times — and from others who professionally follow our friendly amphibians — also note that some of them are in decline.

There are several possible explanations for this. Some researchers suggest that climate change is prompting frogs and toads to emerge too early, before the insects they eat are readily available.

Others suspect that our use of pesticides and herbicides plays a role. These toxic chemicals leach into streams and ponds, impacting both tadpoles and adult croakers. Herbicides may also increase the population of some types of snails which carry a parasite that kills frogs and toads. Unintended consequences of our actions sometimes spell doom for other species.

Another, and perhaps the main, insidious villain in the frog demise saga is a fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (colloquially Bd), which causes the frog’s skin to peel off. (Frogs absorb oxygen through the skin, so this is a horrible way for them to die.) This fungus is believed to have originated in the Korean peninsula and may have arrived here thanks to imported exotic pets. Another insidious aspect of Bd is that an infected frog may live long enough to hop into another pond and shed the toxin there. Apparently, Bd is spreading worldwide.

While some of you may be less enthralled by the music of the night provided by our local musicians, I’m certain that most of us are not enamored with mosquitos and other insects who stab and swipe at us in the evening. Frogs and toads feast eagerly on these annoying night insects. So as we hear them harmonizing to charm the ladies in their pond, we should be grateful that they are munching, even as they strum and sing their melodies.

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