Have you ever wondered why when something might be contaminating the waterways one of the first things environmentalists ask is “how are the frogs?” It seems weird when you think about it, why do frogs matter in the long run? Wouldn’t fish make more sense to check if you’re worried about the water? Or plants? Frogs are small, weak, and seem to have little impact on the environment, right? Wrong. So, so wrong. Frogs not only exist as vitally important insect-eaters, but their very existence can inform the observant eye as to the health of the entire ecosystem they live in.
Frogs are what are called “bioindicators,” which means they often show the quality of the environment and how it changes over time. Frogs and most amphibians have the unique physical trait of breathing through their skin. My title already spoiled that, but the importance of this trait is revealed when you know that not only does the frog’s unique skin allow oxygen through, it also allows toxins from the environment through. This means that a scientist can examine the toxicity levels inside of a frog to determine whether the ecosystem is being threatened by toxins as well. In fact, these creatures are so sensitive that some pesticides have been known to turn males frogs into females.
The sensitive nature of frogs can be seen not only in their toxicity levels, but the porous nature of their eggs make it so that their very physical shape can reveal if something is wrong in the ecosystem. Frog eggs that are exposed to dangers in the environment can result in mutated tadpoles, which eventually grow into mutated frogs that can lack pigmentation or grow extra legs. The mutated frogs in the above article, in particular, are from Russia, but they’re not the only example of frogs that have been altered due to their environment.
The research behind these mutations leaves some disagreement as if these toxins are actually the cause of the mutations, with the possibility having been raised that a parasite is causing the issues. While we don’t know at this time what is the true cause of the mutations, the sensitive nature of the frogs during their egg stage leaves it highly likely that it’s the fault of chemicals deposited in streams and rivers. The mutated frogs were found in an area with toxins leaking from a nearby chemical plant, and the scientists studying these animals are pursuing the question to fully figure out the cause.
All over the world frog populations have been declining, and it seems like everything circles back around to humans as being the cause. Habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and introduced species to an ecosystem are only some of the reasons why this is occurring. The most important thing is that the loss of these creatures and their disappearing presence in the wild shows that there is much going wrong with our world, and since we are the ones who are causing most of these issues it’s up to us to try to fix it.