Its a Leap Year, Peepers

A native Floridian green tree frog

February 29th kicks off a very big year in amphibian conservation, the Year of the Frog.  (Yes, its also the Year of the Reef in 2008.  We are going all out for wildlife!)  Take a look at the Amphibian Ark and read their petition online. 

Why February 29th?  Its a leap year silly!  And what’s a peeper?  Why the little green tree frog featured above.  Incidentally the term peeper may be a central/south Florida term for green tree frogs.  In northern Florida and much of the remainder of the eastern US peeper is a name for another tree frog, Pseudacris crucifer. The two can be found living together where their ranges overlap from the mid-Atlantic down to northern Florida.  Want to hear peepers callNow listen to my green tree frogs!

We had some very feisty storms roll through central Florida last night and in their wake dozens of green tree frogs emerged from hiding to cling to decking and walls on my patio and hang out in some of the plants.  Their calls are distinctive; short shrill peeps called out into the night.  It is a sound, a chorus rather, that I remember very well from my own childhood spent in Florida. 

However, finding green tree frogs isnt exactly easy these days.  They face troubles including habitat loss (especially in drought years) and displacement by nonnative Cuban tree frogs. They’re listed Least Concern in the IUCN RedList due to their wide distribution across the southeastern US. 

This past summer I actually attempted to raise a swarm of sixty tadpoles that I initially thought to be green tree frogs before discovering that they are the invasive Cubans.  Cuban tree frogs are, naturally, from Cuba.  They spread throughout Florida’s habitats from an intial entry to the state from south Florida and have altered foodwebs along the way. 

Whats so bad about Cubans?  They dont just eat flies, gnats, and worms.  They also snack on native wildlife – including other native tree frogs and juvenile aquatic frogs like small bullfrogs. Plus they emit a toxic substance when under stress or attack that is distasteful to predators (and potentially even toxic).  They’re elegantly adapted for Cuba’s environs but shifting the baseline here in Florida. 

Currently there is some debate on how to handle the invasion.  Frog, toad, newt, and salamander populations worldwide are falling.  In many cases, there is no known reason for their demise.  There are 6,000 species worldwide and fully 2,000 of them are considered threatened.  Should we attempt to eradicate an invasive species that is still serving some niche functions that other, native, tree frogs can not fulfill due to other pressures and falling populations? 

Ultimately, I humanely dispatched the Cuban tree frogs for several reasons, the primary one among them being that my conscience as an educator and conservation-minded person couldn’t handle the thought of raising and releasing non-native wildlife, no matter what the potential benefit. 

I’d so much rather see green tree frogs stage a miraculous comeback and be able to fall asleep to their piping choruses many decades from now when I’m an old lady that has the time to listen to their charming songs.