Saturday, April 18, 2015

Happy Earth Day from Prehistoric Beast of the Week and the World's resident Amphibians!

   Spring. For those of us in the eastern portion of North America, it is a very welcome sign this year after the brutal winter. Spring brings with it a number of things. Fresh air, open windows, green grass and emerging perennials are among the constants. They are part of this annual ritual of kissing winter goodbye.
There is one more, very familiar and very important thing that welcomes us in spring. The beautiful singing of the frogs and emergence of the salamanders, sometimes, while show still covers the ground and ice sheets are still present at the edges of ponds. Arguably the most beneficial group of terrestrial vertebrates left on the planet, frogs and toads and salamanders help control pest populations, are indicators of water quality and overall environmental health. They are among the first animals whose populations will start to fluctuate due to any shifts in the balance of nature.
   The world is home to almost 6000 species of frogs and toads, collectively called Anurans. Their relatives, the caudates (salamanders) and a group of lesser known amphibians, the Caecilians add another approximately 900 species to the amphibian population.

Vietnamese Mossy Frog (Theloderma corticale)
There is a problem, however. These numbers are not absolute. Species are identified all the time! Some species we recognize are further split to increase the tally. There are also countless species that disappear that are never recorded. Species that are never missed by Man. They are very much missed in their ecosystem, I assure you.
Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra)

Why am I blabbing on a Prehistoric Beast blog about frogs and toads? Well, for a few reasons. We decided here at the Beast of the Week to open things up a bit. We want to bridge the gap between the paleontology community and associated hobbies and the hobbies and study of modern species and ecosystems. I chose today to introduce the new section of the blog as we are celebrating Earth Day this weekend. What better day, eh?
Amphibians are in trouble. Around the world, their numbers are dropping at an alarming rate. Diseases like chytrid, loss of habitat, over collection for the pet trade and the rampant use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers rendering animal infertile or increasing physical deformities. Really, I could write an article on each of these things. However, I think most of us reading this blog are well educated and understand this. I don't want to beat you guys and gals over the head with things we are well aware of. Instead, what I want to do is maybe help raise awareness in other ways and contribute to the preservation of these remarkable animals.

 Ever consider dedicating your yard as a wildlife sanctuary? Putting in a few safe zones and water gardens for amphibians to utilize? Adding some hiding zones so that they can avoid predators like feral cats, birds and the family dog? How about bringing nature inside your house and instead of the common fish tank, adding a thriving vivarium where captive bred amphibians can thrive, educate and entertain you and your guests? These are the things I am going to try an address over the next few weeks as we get going into spring. While you are outside redoing or wondering what to do with your yard, maybe I can talk you into adding a bit more beneficial plantings and landscaping and even walk you through it. Conservation is essential today and we can all play a part.
Wait! Back up there, buddy? what is a "vivarium" and how does keeping pet frogs help species survive? Well, that is hard to define as the term has popped up in common usage for any enclosure that an animal lives in. Ok, I can see that being a sufficient definition, but, I disagree with it. My definition of a vivarium is this. "A thriving enclosed ecosystem that requires minimal hands on attention to be kept healthy. Its health and balance dictated by the careful inclusion of a complex substrate, water table, appropriate populations of microfauna and carefully chosen plantings in order to avoid competition and depletion of resources before they can be replenished. Animal populations are dictated by the size of the enclosure and species kept to avoid stress, overcrowding and waste buildup." Complicated? Meh, it can be to someone just starting out, but, by no means is it something that you cannot quickly learn by understanding and not deviating from your the basic laws of nature. I am planning a series of entries addressing the construction of several types. Forest, tropical forest, swamp/bog, desert, montane and paludarium.
The contributions from hobbiests has been huge! Frog keepers have helped recognize breeding requirements, patterns and how to recreate the necessary biotope for difficult and rare species. Treatments for chytrid and red leg diseases have been pioneered by them. Collections in zoos that in turn are raised and kept safe for possible release have been added to by hobbiests. Countless scientists, zoo keepers, conservationists and teachers were inspired as children by captive collections or their first pet newt or firebelly toad.
Don't worry. I am not going to get into all that right now. I just wanted to take today to introduce a new part of this blog and tease you a bit with things coming in the future. Also, by creating an entry, there is a comments section which I ask that you use to leave some questions so that I may address them appropriately.

Paleontologists and paleontology fans/hobbiests are nature lovers. At least I assume you are since you are since you dedicate so much time to trying to understand life's history. We all admire the beautiful life restorations produced by the likes of Julius Csotonyi, Doug Henderson, John Gurche, John Conway and a score of others. We all stand in awe...or critique...of museum dioramas wondering what it would really be like to walk there. At the same time, there is a whole planet of wonders right outside and some of it harkens back to a time long lost. The environments of the past still exist here today. All of them. They are just filled with different players and have a different texture about them now. Just think, next to your fossil or casts of the newest metoposaur is a gorgeous vivarium housing a pair of fire salamanders like our buddy pictured back up to the top of this rant. How about a mist filled, fern laden, moss covered shoreline vivarium with some oddball mossy frogs that hints back to the Carboniferas coal forests?

Today is Earth Day. A day to celebrate our home. A day to ponder our place in its long history and to really think about what we can do to help assure a positive future and also how to better enjoy the planet and her species. Maybe ponder a few of the things here. Come back and learn more. Heck, teach me more!


  1. Great post as always! I am glad you are mixing paleontology with a few other Natural History sciences! (That is the way I think Natural History should be taught).

    P.S. Isn't Earth Day on the 22nd? If not, I'd better start celebrating!

  2. It is the 22nd. :) Our zoo is celebrating it all weekend so I decided to stretch it out for the blog as well.