Kermit Not The Only Cool Frog in Town

What springs to mind when you hear the word frog? Kermit is doubtless the choice of many, any others? Have you heard of the White tree frog? No, but you have heard of HIV, well the White Tree frog’s secretions block HIV transmission. What about the Phantasmal poison frog that secretes a painkiller 200 times more powerful than Morphine or that the health of the frog is thought to be an indicator to the health of the planet as a whole, and since 1980 200 species of frogs have been silenced forever.

Considering that amphibians naturally go extinct at the rate of one species every 250 years, 100 species a decade should be an indication that something is amiss, couple that with the importance of frogs for medical research and the facts that tadpoles keep our waterways clean by feeding on algae and adults eat disease carrying insects, shouldn’t we be doing something to help our froggy friends?

Kerry Kriger

Dr Kerry Kriger is the man to talk to when you want to talk frog, an ecologist with a PHD in environmental science from Griffith University Australia, where he spent four years researching Chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium Dendrobatidis) that has devastated amphibian populations worldwide, his research made major contributions to the field of Amphibian disease ecology and was published internationally. His work is supported by the National Geographic society.

Save The Frog

Kerry founded Save the Frog in 2008, which has quickly become the worlds leading Amphibian conservation organisation. Save the Frog day has been legally recognized in states across the USA and is held across the world as the day for Amphibian education and conservation action.

So let’s get educated; frogs are bioindicators and the health of the frog is thought to be indicative of the biosphere as a whole, understand that? No, nor me, I asked Dr Kriger to explain in lay terms:

“Frogs are sensitive to environmental disturbance and it’s for a few reasons, they have permeable skin. It’s different from human skin, our skin is meant to protect us, it keeps things out, but amphibians actually drink and breathe to some extent through their skin which means they can absorb bad chemicals through their skin as they’re spending a lot of their life in the water, since they are amphibians.

Amphibias means two lives, one on land and one in water; they undergo important life stages in the water such as Metomorph where they are very susceptible to stress including chemical stress, that’s one reason they are sensitive, because they are Amphibians they depend on healthy land and water, if anything goes wrong with either the aquatic or terrestrial realms they can have trouble.

They’re slow to move so if their forest gets chopped down or the swamp there in gets drained, they can’t fly off like a bird and find the next place. Frogs have to cross roads, go through inhospitable terrain, they get picked off by predators and a lot of them are just genetically predisposed to not want to travel far once their adults.

Frogs Are Bioindicators

For all those reasons frogs are very sensitive to environmental change, so we call them bioindicators, meaning we can look at them and based on what’s happening to them we can take a good guess at how healthy the environment as a whole is.”

Not only do frogs help us with an environmental overview of our planet they have also made amazing contributions to the health of humans; we have the Waxy Monkey frog whose secretions treat anti-biotic resistant staphylococcus. That’s incredible stuff, I asked Dr Kriger to tell more about the medical advances frogs are involved in:

“10% of the Nobel prizes in physiology and medicine have come from research that depends on frogs; they have been used very heavily in medical research that benefits humans. The first several decades of cloning were primarily done on Amphibians.

What Humans Can Learn From Frogs

In Australia you have the Southern or Giant tree frog and the Green tree frog, both of which have anti microbial-peptides on their skin that have been shown to kill HIV. There is research being done into that, the Green tree frog has chemicals on its skin that act as a natural mosquito repellent, current repellents contain a chemical that eats through plastic, so being able to learn from frogs how to make natural repellent would certainly benefit humans.

The Northern and Gastric breeding frog lived in Queensland; both these species went extinct within a year of being discovered by humans. The female would swallow her eggs or tadpoles; shut down her gastric juices and let the babies grow inside her stomach then spit them out. It was thought that research into those two species would lead to a cure for ulcers. As both species went extinct so did any potential to benefit human health through their continual existence.

So there are lots of benefits we get from Amphibians, anything an Amphibian can do that we cannot do is something we have to learn, such as how to regenerate limbs.”

The research into limb regeneration is still in the very early stages but at one point so was cloning. One thing you can be sure of when talking to Kerry is that he has a real passion for Amphibians and the environment, he has been actively engaging adults and more importantly young people into the plight of and reasons to fight for the frog I asked him where his zeal comes from.

“Well I guess my passion for the environment came from spending a lot of time both as a teenager and in my twenties camping, hiking, spending time outside, travelling around the world, going to national parks and I guess gaining a love of nature and a perspective of the environmental damage that was being done all around the world. I then spent four years in Australia at Griffith University doing my PHD, spending a lot of time in the rainforest hanging out with frogs and I could tell that there was far too little being done to protect them.”

People Don’t Understand Importance Of Frogs

Educating people on the frogs and their environment is what Save the Frog is all about. Having just held its fourth annual Save the Frog day with events held in 21 countries around the world and 23 states across America, this not for profit organisation would appear to have come a long way in a relatively short time. I asked Dr Kriger how far he would like to see Save the Frogs go on a global scale:

“I think we’ve got a long way to go, I still view Save the Frogs as being in its early stages. Not maybe a frog metamorphous, seeing where we are now, a tadpole metamorphous, not a baby but a long way to go. We only have one official Save the Frog organisation outside America which is in Ghana, in Australia we don’t have much going on at all so we have a lot to do.

People don’t know frogs are disappearing and most don’t care

Even in America most people don’t know frogs are disappearing, most people don’t care about them, we’re still at a point where it’s difficult to get political action on behalf of frogs or corporations to improve their ways if they are harming frogs. It’s difficult to find corporate sponsors because frogs are still an obscure new issue.

It was always my impression in Australia people like the frog a lot, I think because there are so many of them and people hear them all the time. At least when I was in Queensland, the frogs are in some respects more a part of people’s lives than a lot of America where there’s lots of big cities and suburbs that are devoid of nature.”

We have an incredible array of wildlife in Australia, wouldn’t it be tragic to have any more of our Amphibian friends face extinction. Only able to gaze at them from a book or screen and lament on the loss of it all.

For more info on how you can help frogs

Fiona Hammond is a journalist who graduated from the John Morris journalism academy. Fiona lives on the south coast of NSW Australia and writes human interest stories and opinions, about gardening, sustainability, fishing, the environment and our planet.