Croaking it: the global decline of frog populations

Red-eyed tree frogFrogs are one of my all-time favourite creatures. They’re right up there with cats, primates, whales and the slow loris for me. So I was quite concerned to read how human consumption of frogs is having a devastating effect on populations around the world; up to a billion frogs a year are taken from the wild for us to eat.

I suppose I’d presumed that frog-eating nations (for it’s not just the French – America buys almost as many) had some kind of frog farms where frogs are bred for eating, but the Guardian says not. Commercial frog farming has been banned in France since 1980 and it imports nearly all its frogs legs (up to 4,000 tonnes) deep-frozen from Indonesia.

It seems absolute madness that frogs be transported from the wilds of Indonesia for human consumption. If you’re really desperate for frogs legs, you’d have thought they’d be pretty cheap to keep and breed right here in Europe.

Also this week, I noticed that the Zoological Society of London has successfully bred some frogs from Montserrat in the Caribbean. Leptodactylus fallax frogs have laid four batches of tadpoles this week. ZSL’s site says the frog is endangered because of a fungal infection, but the fact that this frog is also known as the “mountain chicken frog” gives you some idea of why else it might be under threat! They used to be found on seven Caribbean islands but are now on only Monsterrat and Dominica.Mountain Chicken Frog from the Caribbean

Fortunately my very favourite frogs – the bright green red-eyed treefrogs with sucker blobs on the ends of their fingers – don’t tend to have much meat on them, so are less appealing from a culinary point of view. However, numbers of all frogs are still massively declining.

There are more than 6,000 amphibians on the International Union of Conservation for Nature’s Red List, and there is particular concern for those living in rainforests. Factors causing the decline are thought to include climate change, habitat loss, acid rain, pesticides, and pathogens. Nearly a third of the world’s amphibian species are said to be endangered or extinct.

Frogs are a ‘canary in the coal mine’ because they have permeable skins and feel the effect of changes to their surrounding environment very quickly. They are therefore a very good indicator of the general environmental health of an area. So it’s doubly-scary that they’re dying out so quickly.

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