Frogs have been living on this planet for more than 250 million years, and over the centuries, evolved into some of the most wondrous and diverse creatures on earth. Today, however, all their remarkable adaptations and survival tactics are failing them. Recent discoveries are startling: more than a third of all amphibians – most of which are frogs and toads – have already been lost, and more are disappearing every day. It is an environmental crisis unfolding around the globe, traveling from Australia to North and South America. Where the calls of frogs once filled the air, scientists now hear only silence. Ecosystems are beginning to unravel, and the potential to discover important medical cures may be lost forever. Habitat loss, pollution and a human population that has doubled in the past 50 years have set the stage for their diminished numbers. But now, a fungus called chytrid has been identified as the major culprit, and so far the spread of the fungus can’t be stopped.
Chytrid continues to move quickly, extinguishing entire frog populations in a matter of months. Scientists have taken drastic measures to counteract it, such as evacuating frogs from the wild and sheltering them in a sterile environment. The El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in Central Panama, for example, houses 58 species of frogs in their facility, including the rare golden frog, which no longer exists in the wild. To date, the only chytrid-free area left in Panama is the Burbayar Forest, a thriving environment still full of healthy, unaffected frogs.
Frogs may seem small and insignificant, but their bodies may hold the key to important new discoveries in medical research. Scientists are finding that chemical compounds found in frogs’ skins can be used to treat pain and block infections, and are even being explored as HIV treatments. Our chances for the discovery of future medical miracles may be slipping away with the disappearance of these tiny creatures in our midst.
Their impact on the world’s ecosystems is great. Frogs sit right in the middle of the food chain, and without them, other creatures are disappearing, too. We are only just beginning to understand what life may be like without them. The race is on to stem the tide – before the next frog crosses the thin, green line.
Frogs: The Thin Green Line premieres Sunday, April 5 at 8pm ET on PBS (check local listings).