Frogs have long been a part of our cultural and ecological DNA. From the time of our early childhood, we have sung “Froggy Went a Courtin.” We’ve loved the story of a princess kissing a frog that turns into a handsome prince. And many of us have been lucky to enjoy a spring morning listening to the frogs called spring peepers that joyfully create a chorus of high-pitched chirps.
This year, the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) is recruiting volunteers for their chapter of FrogWatch USA. Volunteers are needed to collect and submit data on calling frogs and toads at our local ponds, wetlands, and streams.
Why do we need to track the frogs?
Frogs, toads, and other amphibians are facing the largest mass extinction since the dinosaurs. Frogs are an indicator species for the healthy life of our wetlands and streams. They are also an important part of nature’s food chain. Tadpoles eat tremendous amounts of algae as well as eating small insects, especially mosquitoes. More than half of amphibian species in the District are listed as species of greatest conservation need according to DOEE.
Besides the frogs’ importance in nature, frogs are often used in medical research. Their skin and glands produce special chemical compounds. Over 100 new drugs for human use have been developed from this foundation. Scientists have known for years that the skin of frogs is a rich source of chemicals capable of killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Currently medical researchers are exploring possible drugs for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and breakthrough painkillers.
An aggressive skin fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, known as BD or chytrid fungus, is the main cause behind the death of 200 frog species. Frog scientists reported in April that there appears to be a small rebound in frogs, suggesting that frogs may have changed themselves, to fight the infections. But they caution that there are many other factors like climate change, loss of habitat, and pollution threatening the amphibians. Meanwhile, National Park Service rangers at Kenilworth Gardens are worried that this cold spring may have a negative effect on the frog population at this local park.
What you can do to help?
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is celebrating 20 years of FrogWatch, a program that is a national effort to collect information about frog and toad populations. Volunteers collect data by listening and keeping a record of frog calls during evenings from February l through August 31. The District chapter of Frog Watch is looking for volunteers.
The program is best suited for adults, but children aged ten years and up may participate alongside a trained adult volunteer. Two and half-hours of classroom time are required to learn the program and scientific protocols for the project. Volunteers will learn how to recognize frogs and toads by their unique breeding calls.
After training, participants are assigned specific wetlands and streams to monitor by listening at sunset at least three different times during the breeding season which runs from March through August. In addition to listening for frogs, volunteers are asked to summarize the condition of the habitat they are monitoring. All the data is recorded through a website and entered into the national online database.
Volunteers take note of things like precipitation, wind conditions and any visible changes in the habitat. Being quiet is important so that frogs and toads acclimate to the volunteer being in the space. The frog watchers spend three minutes listening for the calls, noting different kinds of frogs and intensity of the sounds. They wait and repeat the listening session a number of times during their twilight visit.
Answer the call
If this sounds like something you would like to participate in, then visit the DOEE website, www.doee.dc.gov/service/frogwatch to learn more. A visit to the Aquatic Resources Education Center in Anacostia Park, next to the skate pavilion, 1900 Anacostia Drive, SE, Washington, DC is another great way to get started. The center’s aquatic tanks of frogs, toads, and fish can help you become acquainted with the different species. You can also talk to educators about the frog watch. Hours are Monday through Friday between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm.
As DOEE says,” Amphibians need our assistance. Offer a helping hand by lending an ear!”
RIndy OBrien has participated in citizen science programs with the National Park Service and highly encourages others to help. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org