The Earth’s Amphibian species are under attack by a nasty fungus, and it’s winning. Unfortunately, the price of the loss is extinction. Are you going to help save them? If you are, you need to know what we’re dealing with, how it started, what to look for, and most importantly how to help.
Chytridiomycosis is a disease caused by the Chytrid Fungus also known as Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. The earliest case of Chytridiomycosis found was found in a Clawed Frog (Xenopus laevis) in 1938. Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, the exportation of X. laevis from Africa began in the 1930s.
The CDC’s website says that the origin of the fungus is not known.
One theory is that the spread began when female X. laevis were exported from Africa for use in pregnancy testing. When injected with the urine of pregnant humans, the female X. laevis ovulates. Consequently, these frogs were popular in pregnancy testing during the 1930’s and 1940’s. They were exported to North America, Australasia, and Europe for this purpose. Instances of the disease have slowly begun to spread since that time. Adding further weight to this theory is that incidents of the disease have not changed in Africa while it has spread throughout the world.
Another theory involves the non-native North American Bullfrog populations present in England. These frogs have been found to carry the fungus without becoming infected. Beginning in 1898, this particular frog species was spread around the world and other parts of the US and Canada to which it was not native so that it could be farmed for frog legs. It was later exported for the pet trade, as well as for garden use. They were introduced to Brazil, Uruguay, UK, France, Italy and Japan. Japan is the only country in which this species did not carry the Chytrid fungus. Incidentally, these frogs have become a plague in a number of countries.
So, why is this fungus becoming an increasing threat if the North American Bullfrog and the African Clawed frogs exportation began so long ago? Why didn’t the threat reach epic proportions earlier? Theories suggest that global warming has contributed to the spread as the fungus thrives in warmer climates. The warmer the world gets, the more the fungus spreads.
The pet trade may also have contributed. As Amphibians have become more and more prized as pets, the quest for different species has continued. In the 90s, wild caught specimens were all the rage as hobbyists experimented with producing captive bred specimens and collecting the fees associated with the sale of such rarities. While there are many being produced in captivity, there are still many being collected in the wild. The inspection and collection of varieties of species at the same time could contribute to cross contamination, especially if the collectors are traveling between different frog populations.
The Golden Toad was one of the first casualties of this fungus. Further more, the Global Amphibian Assessment found in 2004 that almost a third of the world’s amphibians face extinction. Captive breeding is possibly the only remaining chance for some species. Up to 125 species have become extinct in the last 25 years.
• Skin discoloration.
• Sloughing or peeling skin (may be as mild as roughness and barely
visible) especially prevalent on the feet.
• Amphibian may be out in the open rather than seeking protective cover.
• Loss of appetite.
• Legs spread rather than tucked in (body may be rigid in severe
instances with the legs dragging behind.
How to Help Stop the Spread:
(especially important for our frog watchers)
• Only touch wild amphibians when necessary.
• Use disposable gloves.
• Clean and disinfect any equipment as well as your shoes and tires
between visits to frog areas.
• Do not relocate frogs to new areas.
What We Do Now:
So what DO we do now? It may or may not be too late, but it’s not time to give up yet. Help reduce global warming. Be ecologically minded. Recycle as much as possible. Waste as little as possible. Follow the suggestions for helping to stop the spread (especially, if you’re a frog watcher). Don’t contribute to importation of wild caught amphibians for the pet trade by buying these wild caught amphibians to keep as pets. The mortality of these wild caught specimens is not only high once placed with owners but many lose their lives en route to that distributor or pet store. Sure, that captive bred Tomato frog may not be as red as the wild caught, but it’s a wiser choice. Be educated and informed. Act accordingly.
We’re the best hope for a crisis our kind may well have created. Act responsibly.