When was the last time you saw or even heard a frog ? Twenty years ago. One of the reasons why we have so many mosquitoes is because we have killed off their main predators – the frogs. For many years we exported millions of frogs’ legs to France, cut from living frogs. By the time the government banned it, the creatures were already in steep decline. Then came the pesticide onslaught, the drying up of wetlands, water contamination, the invasion of human settlements into the Western Ghats and they are almost gone. In the 1950’s gynaecologists would inject African Clawed frogs with a pregnant woman’s urine and if she was pregnant the frog would ovulate and produce eggs in a day. Between the 1940s and 1970s, hospitals imported the frogs in great numbers. Toads from the Bufo genus were also used, which led to the term “Bufo test.” Millions died.
Is there any creature left that is not misused by the human? The Waxy Monkey Tree Frog of South America has, on its back, a substance called Dermorphin, 40 times more potent than morphine in blocking pain and creating a feeling of euphoria. The mafia in the racehorse industry use it to prod their horses into going faster, inspite of the severe whipping by their jockeys. The blood of 30 horses, tested recently in the US, showed this illegal substance.
A hundred years ago scientists, experimenting with skin grafts for humans, used to cut patches off living frogs and try to graft them onto human wounds. Not one worked but imagine the agony that this little creature went through.
Pilibhit was full of frogs. They crossed the road to mate and we would often stop the cars and wait for the suitors to cross before we proceeded. Once I found my security guard, a six-foot warrior from Haryana frozen after a meeting. He pointed trembling at his feet. A frog sat comfortably on his shoe.
No more. I haven’t seen a frog in the last three years.
Frogs cannot survive climate change of any kind. Their eggs have no shells and are extremely vulnerable to sunrays which cause mutations. Amphibians are considered important indicators of ecosystem health because their porous, absorbent skin makes them highly susceptible to pollution and climate change. Many frog and amphibian species around the world have suffered die-offs in recent years because of a lethal fungus that infects their skin and spreads quickly between geographic areas. The chytrid fungus is worse than the bubonic plague. Unfortunately, the pet industry (and earlier the medical industry)– which has done more to destroy entire species than any other – took the African Clawed Frog in the 1970s all over the globe. This frog carries the deadly fungal infection chytridiomycosis which has wiped out frogs everywhere. In a recent report on the sharp decline of the frogs in the US, researchers found that frogs have been disappearing from their habitats at the rate of 3.7 % a year.
You will be sorry your children never saw them. They are remarkably wonderful beings, both clever and beautiful. India and South America have the most and we are still discovering new species every few months. India has tiny purple ones that fit on your thumb. For sheer cuteness, our show-stealer might be the “foot-flagging frog,” that sticks out its back foot and waves it like a hitchhiker to tell females he is available. They are smart, with beautiful colours and scientists have just discovered that many of them speak a proper language.
Even a developing frog embryo in its jellylike mass is a clever being. If a predator comes, the red eyed tree frog embryo detects the threat simply from the vibration and drops out of its egg to safety within a few seconds – even though the official hatching is still a few days away. The embryo knows the difference between the vibration of a raindrop, a leaf and a snake, wasp or fungus ! His mother has chosen a strategic spot – a leaf that overhangs water so as the frog hatches it can go straight in as a tadpole.
The frog is a fascinating parent. Male Darwin frogs in Chile swallow their children in the tadpole stage, incubate them in their vocal sacs and then spit out as fully formed froglets. These unique creatures are now vanishing because Chile’s forests are being cut down at an alarming rate to supply the wood/paper industry. One of the two species has not been seen since 1980 and is marked as extinct. The other is less than 2000. Another unique species of Australian frog – last seen in 1985 and now declared extinct- were gastric brooders. The female swallowed fertilized eggs, turned her stomach into a uterus and gave birth to froglets through the mouth. Timber harvesting and the chytrid fungus are the culprits again. This phenomenal reproduction will never evolve again in any species.
The first frog, who lived 70 million years ago, was a predatory creature known as the devil frog. Called Beelzebufo ampinga (after the devil Beezelbub!), he lived in what is now Africa, and had a massive globular head, sharp teeth, spiky flanges protruding from the back of its skull and plate-like armour down its back. The frog’s spiked body armour may have helped it fend off the dinosaurs and crocodiles that prowled during that time. He hunted by hiding and pouncing on small mammals.
The mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs paved the way for frogs to explode in numbers and diversify. According to the American Museum of Natural History, which is updated in real time, as of April 2015, there are 6,482 species in the Anura order (frogs and toads). But for each species that we discover – and we discover them every year– several are wiped out. Even the ones we discover have only a few representatives left. Just enough for the universe to show us what we are losing.
*About the author: Maneka Gandhi is a minister in the Union Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She is also a leader of animal welfare movement in India. You may contact her at email@example.com, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org