If you are lucky enough to live near a body of water such as a pond or a wetland you, like me, are experiencing the chorus of spring peepers and maybe even wood frogs. Over the past two weeks the male frogs of both species have returned to their native pools or ponds and are calling enthusiastically in their attempt to attract a mate. My evening backyard walks usually include a game of “stalking” the calling frogs where, head-lamp installed, we play a game of hide and seek. In most cases the frogs win but it is still a worthwhile game for me. Using the frogs’ vocalizations I can often zoom in relatively accurately. Every once in a while if all the stars align into their proper position I am able to obtain some excellent photographs.
It is quite amazing how these little critters can find a way to hide right in plain sight. That said, recently I read a New York Post article by Lisa Foderaro about the discovery a new frog species. Now you are saying yeah, they are finding new species all of the time in the rain forests. Why is this news? Well, what was really interesting about this find was that it was not in a remote area of South America, Australia or even Madagascar. It was on Staten Island! Yeah that’s right, they found a new species in New York City! The frog is a heretofore unknown species of leopard frog which physically looks very similar to the Southern leopard frog. Its only known identifier other than genetics, at this time, is that its call is a single “cluck” rather than the Southern frog’s repetitive “chuckle.” Listen to it here. Since the original discovery three years ago the new leopard frog species has been found south to Trenton, N.J, north to Putnam County, N.Y and in some areas of central Connecticut. Not a large geographic area but still not one small localized wetland either. The moral of this story is that even though we see we may not be “seeing.”
What is exceptionally troubling, however, is that although we are still just beginning to learn about and investigate much of the natural world around us, our discoveries cannot keep pace with the alarming rate of biodiversity loss and species extinction due to our mindless greed and need to tame and reengineer everything around us. As a result, over one-third of the greater than 6,000 species of amphibians in the world are currently threatened with extinction. And the amphibians are by no means alone. This is very sad from an ecological perspective but it also of concern for sociological reasons.
For a wide range of diseases, many of our most promising avenues of medical research have been found as a result of our study of animals or plants with unique physiological traits or adaptions. The loss of habitat and the species that live within threatens the discovery of many new medical treatments. Just to name a few are a new generation of antibiotics, treatments for a variety of cancers, thin bone disease, mascular degeneration (leading cause of blindness), kidney disease, end-stage renal disease, Type I and II diabetes and obesity.
One rare fish known as the zebra fish found, among other places, in Lake Victoria has the ability to regenerate damaged heart tissue at an amazing rate. Most recently, a drug has been isolated from the fish that suppresses the growth of human prostate cancer cells and it has also been effective in the lowering of cholesterol.
Rare zebra fish photo, Daily Nation U.K. by Stella Cherono and Gatonye Gathura
Another example that did not have a happy ending involved gastric brooding frogs found only in the undisturbed rain forests of Australia in the 1980′s. This frog had the unique adaption for raising the young frogs in the female’s stomach where, in a normal world, the baby frogs would be digested by enzymes and stomach acid. Preliminary research revealed that the baby frogs produced a substance that inhibited acid and enzyme secretions while the young were present. Unfortunately the rain forests were cut down and the frogs perished before protection could be established and the research could be continued. In a recent United Nations Environment Programe (UNEP) book on the impact of species extinction entitled “Sustaining Life,” Harvard Medical School researchers and the book authors suggested that research on these frogs likely could have led to new insights to treat peptic ulcers and other stomach-related illnesses that effect 25 million people in the U.S. alone.
Obviously, not all resources are created equal, but in most instances we don’t know which ones are key to medical research until it’s too late. Some species are considered higher value candidates than others though. They include snails, non-human primates, sharks, amphibians, bears, gymnosperm plants and horseshoe crabs. Also, don’t forget the venomous shrew from one of my previous blog posts and its potential connection for the treatment for high blood pressure. Not that I personally condone animal testing, because I certainly don’t, but science is continually improving its ability to humanely extract the materials necessary for much of this research.
If clean air, water, healthy children, and a balanced sustainable environment are not enough motivation to control greed, reconsider unsustainable use of our natural resources, or curb endless sprawl and impervious development then maybe, just maybe, the “carrot” will be the promise of a longer life.
That said, now that amphibian breeding is in full swing if you have an inkling to learn more about these wonderful critters or the world they live in I invite you to join me and some of my fellow Conservation Commissioners (that is if you live in or near the Town of Chelmsford, MA) to come visit some of our local vernal pool breeding areas and see them for yourself. If not find one near you and get out and enjoy the unique gifts that mother nature has to offer.