Frogs have inhabited the earth for millions of years, but since 1980 roughly 200 species have become extinct. Today, about one-third of the world’s amphibian species is on the brink of extinction. It’s more critical than ever that we monitor the frog population, as these creatures play a key role in balancing our ecosystems - helping animals, plants, people, and our planet to stay healthy.
Zoo New England is home to a Massachusetts chapter of FrogWatch USA, a program of the Association for Zoos & Aquariums that places volunteer citizen scientists out in the field to listen for and report the calls of local frogs and toads. The data collected in this long-running program is used to develop strategies for frog and toad conservation.
Zoo New England is also working to alleviate the amphibian crisis in Central America. Learn about that work here.
On the brink of extinction
According to an estimate from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at least one-third of known amphibian species are close to extinction. Additionally, the discovery of areas in North America with large numbers of grossly deformed amphibians have caused great concern among scientists.
Amphibians—caecilians, frogs, newts, salamanders, and toads—face many threats, among them global warming, pollution, the loss or degradation of their habitat, and invasive species. Additionally, the infectious fungal disease chytridiomycosis is a critical factor in the dramatic decline in frog populations. While there are treatments for this highly infectious disease, an effective method for controlling the fungus on a large scale in the wild has yet to be developed.
Conserving our frog population is vital for a number of ecological reasons. Frogs help contribute to our health by eating large quantities of mosquitoes, ticks, and flies that can carry fatal diseases like West Nile virus, Lyme disease, and malaria. Tadpoles help keep our waterways clean by feeding on algae. Frogs produce an array of skin secretions, many of which have the potential to improve our health through their use in pharmaceuticals. For instance, compounds from their skin are currently being tested for their use in fighting cancer and HIV.
Frogs are bio-indicators - species that can be used to monitor the health of our environment. Most frogs require a suitable habitat in both the terrestrial and aquatic environments, and have permeable skin that can easily absorb toxic chemicals, making them particularly susceptible to environmental changes. Thus, the health of frogs is thought to be a reliable indicator of the health of our overall environment.
Become a FrogWatcher!
Massachusetts is home to these 10 calling amphibians, the sounds of which may be familiar to you if you spend any time camping, fishing, kayaking, hiking, or enjoying other outdoor activities. Many of them can even be heard in your own backyard!
- American bullfrog (Lithobates catesbieanus)
- American toad (Anaxyrus americanus)
- Eastern spadefoot (Scaphiopus h. holbrookii)
- Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri)
- Gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
- Green frog (Lithobates clamitans)
- Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens)
- Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris)
- Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
- Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)
We need to monitor the populations of these amphibians closely on a long-term basis in order to develop effective strategies to conserve these species. Your participation in our FrogWatch chapter is an educational and fun way to contribute directly to local conservation efforts.
FrogWatch volunteers are trained to identify our local frog and toad species by their calls during the breeding season, which occurs typically from April through August. Volunteers head out for three minutes at a time to a site of their choosing throughout the FrogWatch season to listen for and identify the amphibians present, then document their findings in the online FrogWatch USA database.
You don’t need to be a frog or toad expert to be a FrogWatcher! But you must have an interest in frogs and toads, a willingness to participate in our volunteer training session and a commitment to monitor a wetland site on multiple evenings during the breeding season.
LEARN MORE about joining FrogWatch USA.
Hop to it! More ways to help with amphibian conservation
- Don’t use pesticides, many of which eventually end up in waterways, where amphibians live and breed.
- Slow down when driving on wet nights. Frog and toad roadkills seriously impact these populations.
- Donate to Zoo New England to support our conservation work.