August is nationally recognized as “Water Quality Month”, but really, we should be caring about water for more than just one month per year! Not only is clean water important for humans to stay hydrated, but it’s also important to all animals and plants.
The word Amphibian literally means “to Live a Double Life”. Frogs, toads, and salamanders are in this category and spend their lives both on land and in water. Frog adults go to the water to lay their eggs, which hatch into tadpoles. Tadpoles eat algae, which is beneficial to our wetlands since algae blooms decrease the amount of oxygen available in the water for other animals and plants to use. As tadpoles munch away, they create healthy and vibrant aquatic ecosystems. They also eat eggs in the water from insects like mosquitoes. Again, as tadpoles munch away, they reduce the population of mosquitoes that can carry diseases like Zika, West Nile Virus, Yellow Fever, Malaria, Dengue, and more.
The tadpole will continue to grow into a froglet, which then transitions into an adult. Adults eat insects such as spiders (which I am very thankful for), grasshoppers, flies, and again – mosquitoes. Frogs keep the food chain in balance not just by keeping insect populations in check, but also by providing food to animals like snakes, herons and other birds of prey, mammals like skunks, and even larger insects like fishing spiders!
Another cool thing about frogs is that they have permeable skin, meaning that molecules (like Oxygen and Hydrogen that they need) can move from the water through their skin, and into their bloodstream to be used. This amazing ability is also a double-edged sword. Bacteria, toxins, and pollutants also have the ability to pass through the amphibian’s skin causing disease, mutation, and in many cases – death.
This permeable skin issue may seem like it’s limited to frogs, however, as mentioned earlier, many animals eat frogs. When a frog has absorbed pollutants and bacteria, something called “Biological Magnification” can occur. When something larger, like a skunk, eats an impacted frog, the skunk eats the frog as well as the pollutants. Skunks can eat many frogs over a season, and now the skunk has even more of the toxin in their body than the one frog did!
Fortunately, there are many easy ways to positively impact your local bodies of water and make them safer not only for cute froggies, but for all of the food web and ourselves! First, we can reduce impermeable surfaces that prevent storm water from being absorbed into the ground. We can reduce our fertilizer and pesticide use on our lawns and yards which, when it rains, get washed away and wind up in the nearest stream or body of water. Finally, we can reduce erosion (did you know that Sediment is the #1 water pollutant here in Pennsylvania?!?!) on our properties by adding plants with great root systems to keep the soil in place. Many of these plants have an added benefit – they act as a sponge to absorb and store water and pollutants that runoff may carry! Double bonus!
This month, let’s focus on improving our local waterways to make it not only safer for frogs and other amphibians, but ultimately for humankind as well!