Odd animal behaviors have been noted in some birds, fish, and frogs. Researcher Ethan Clotfelter believes it may have something to do with exposure to toxic chemicals. (Photo by Sean Okihiro)
Toxic chemicals can sometimes be fatal to wildlife. Some researchers are now looking for more subtle signs of contamination. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush explains:
Toxic chemicals can sometimes be fatal to wildlife. Some researchers are
now looking for more subtle signs of contamination. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mark Brush explains:
Researchers are looking for birds that have a hard time standing up
straight, fish that are unusually aggressive, or frogs that seem a little
confused. These are signs that the animals might be affected by low-level toxic
Ethan Clodfelter is a researcher at Amherst College. He studied data that looked at the behaviors of animals from all over the world. He says toxic chemicals that persist in the environment might explain why these animals are behaving oddly.
“What we really are trying to do is to come up with behavioral measures that
are good, sort of, early warning indicators. Because behaviors are very
highly variable kind of thing, and so you expect that even very small levels
of contaminants could induce changes in behavior long before you see six
legs growing out of frogs.”
Clodfelter says people, such as amateur bird watchers, have helped wildlife
officials identify odd animal behavior.
His review was published in the British research journal Animal Behavior.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
Ed Herrmann tries to hear some frogs through the
traffic near the Rouge River. (Photo by Ed Herrmann)
The middle branch of the Rouge River in suburban Wayne
County, Michigan. (Photo by Ed Herrmann)
Each Spring, thousands of people spend their evenings listening to frogs and toads. It’s not just for fun. They’re helping assess the water quality of rivers and wetlands around the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Herrmann joined the search for amphibians, and has this essay:
Each Spring, thousands of people spend their evenings listening to frogs and toads. It’s
not just for fun. They’re helping assess the water quality of rivers and wetlands around
the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Herrmann joined the search for
amphibians, and has this essay:
I’ve always enjoyed being outside and listening to nature. Recording nature sounds is a
hobby of mine. So when I saw an ad asking for people to listen for frogs and toads, I
thought, “All right. Beats watching campaign commercials.”
I called up Friends of the Rouge…(that’s a local group dedicated to helping out the Rouge
River watershed) and a few days later I got a package in the mail. It was full of maps and
information, and had a CD with the songs of the local frogs and toads. I studied my area,
and found some good looking wet spots where I thought they might live.
I memorized the sound of the Wood Frog (sound), Chorus Frog (sound), Spring Peeper
(sound), and American Toad. Then, on the first night when the temperature and wind
conditions were just right, I headed out to hear some frogs.
(sound of traffic roaring by)
I don’t know what I was thinking. This is suburban Detroit, not exactly a wildlife refuge.
In fact, the only animal I see is a rabbit dodging traffic. And the only thing I hear is…
(more traffic sound)
The Rouge River flows into the Detroit River and then Lake Erie. It used to be one of the
dirtiest rivers around, mainly from all the industry down by the mouth. That problem is
more or less under control but now there’s a larger one.
If you look at a map from the 1970s, you see miles of wetlands, small farms and
orchards. Today you see nonstop subdivisions and shopping malls. It might seem like
progress to you, but for the river, the constant barrage of fertilizers, pesticides, soap and
other chemicals that everybody uses to keep their suburbs looking pretty is a lot worse
than an occasional dose of battery acid from a factory. Also having acres of concrete
instead of wetlands means there’s nothing to soak up and filter the water, which means
after a big rain, it floods. It’s obvious this river needs some help.
(sound of river)
In 1998, volunteers began surveying the frogs and toads in the Rouge watershed. These
creatures were chosen because they sing, so they’re easy to track. The reason they’re
good indicators is that, like other amphibians, they absorb water through their skin. That
means they get poisoned by everything that we in the civilized world pour into the water.
Plus, their eggs hatch in water and their larvae (the tadpoles) live in water. It’s pretty
simple: if the water is good, there’s plenty of frogs and toads. If not, they disappear.
So, night after night, I’m out there listening. Listening in the dark. Listening hard.
Not a peep.
I’m beginning to think that the price of all these well-manicured lawns is a silent spring.
Then finally one night, (sound of American toads) the good old American toad! All
right, it is the most common species around, but at least it’s a start.
(sound of chorus frogs and green frogs)
A few weeks later, I join a group at a “mitigated” wetland. That means that when a
developer decided that a real wetland would be the perfect place to build condos and a
golf course, the government said, “Sure, go ahead. Drain it. Just be sure to dig a hole
over here and fill it with water.” Now, five years later, some frogs have moved in and
seem to be fine.
But they still have a little problem…
(jet roars overhead, followed by a few green frogs)
Ah, location, location. This new wetland is right
next to the airport.
Now, the reason these frogs sing is to attract a mate. So if nobody hears them, there are
not going to be any tadpoles to make next year’s frogs. In order to survive, they need not
only to sing, but to be heard.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ed Herrmann.
Members of the Amphibian Conservation Club show the frogs being transferred to their protected habitat from a pond that will become a parking lot later this summer.
Every summer, thousands of people wander through swamps and ditches in search of frogs. They’re frogwatchers— volunteers across North America, who help scientists track the health and movement of amphibians. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly caught up with one group and found they’re no longer just watching frogs, but rescuing them:
Every summer, thousands of people wander through swamps and ditches in search of frogs.
they’re frogwatchers – volunteers across North America, who help
scientists track the health and movement of amphibians. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Karen Kelly caught up with one group and found they’re no longer just watching frogs, but
(sound of frog, “I think this one’s talking now…”)
11-year-old Tyler Degroot shows off two bullfrogs in the plastic
terrarium he’s carrying. He struggles to keep the lid on as they try to escape.
He’s spent all morning combing for frogs in this swampy ditch on
Petrie Island. Not far from Ottawa, Canada’s capital.
It’s pouring rain. But he and his friends have no time for jackets or umbrellas. They run from log
to log dipping their nets in the water.
(“Holy smokes! Look at them all!”)
It might sound like fun, but they’re here on serious business.
The bulldozers in the distance are a constant reminder. Soon, this ditch – the frogs’ home – will be
turned into a parking lot.
11-year-old Ingrid Weinhold says they’re here to save as many
frogs as they can.
“We want to make sure the frogs stay on Petrie Island
and we want to make sure that people can see frogs later and so
that they don’t all die when the ditch gets filled with sand.”
Weinhold is a member of the Amphibian Conservation Club. It’s a group of homeschoolers who
meet once a month to study and discuss amphibians. They started visiting Petrie Island last year
to conduct frog watches.
It’s part of an annual census of frogs led by Environment Canada,
a government agency. The students count the number and species of frogs to find out how
many are in a given area. And that’s when they discovered that some of the resident
amphibians were in danger.
(“I just saw a whole bunch of frogs over here, okay? They went in all different directions.”)
11-year-old Gabrielle Felio is the club’s founder.
She hesitates to leave the ditch until every frog has been picked
As she talks about them, her eyes look worried behind her
“It’s just that they help the environment a lot. That’s
probably why we like them a lot and we want to help them. Because
it’s going to help the area and it’s going to help a lot of other
animals if we help the frogs.”
With their terrariums full, the frogwatchers hike through the woods to a pond that they’ve
adopted. They’ve saved more than 30 frogs today. There are green frogs, bull frogs and leopard
When they reach the pond, the rescuers open their terrariums.
(“There they go!”)
Some reach in and pull the frogs out one by one. Others just tip the terrariums upside down.
(“Woo! He’s a slippery one. I’ll get him. You did a cannonball!”)
Tyler DeGroot watches his bullfrog kick away from the shore.
He looks satisfied.
“I feel good…I think the frogs feel good, too, cause
they’ll probably have a nice little happy pond that’s not polluted
so they can just swim around and have fun.”
Each student carries a notebook to keep track of how many frogs
they moved from the ditch to the pond. Then, at the end of the summer, the group will compile
all their observations. They’ll send them to Environment Canada’s Frogwatch.
Elizabeth Kilvert is the director of the program. She says the reports from these amateur
scientists are invaluable.
“When we have people out there observing in their backyards
at different locations, we’re getting really good geographical
coverage that Environment Canada could never provide by going and
working out in the fields.”
Kilvert says it’s important to track frogs. That’s because they’re sensitive to changes in the
environment. And researchers see them as an early warning system.
Frogwatcher Ingrid Weinhold says she’s happy to help.
“I feel pretty good cause then they can figure out stuff with
the information… like if there’s too much pollution in one spot
and if the frogs have too many legs or something they can figure
out if there’s something wrong with the water.”
Before long, the frogwatchers are catching frogs again – in the
same pond where they just released them.
(“Let me see him!”)
This time, it’s just for fun.
Soon, they’ll head back to a classroom to compare notes… and make plans for their next rescue
effort – before the bulldozers move in.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.
A group that usually spends its time counting frogs, is now rescuing frogs. It recently learned that the frogs’ habitat is being filled in and paved over for a parking lot. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly reports:
A group that usually spends its time counting frogs, is now rescuing
frogs. It recently learned that the frogs’ habitat is being filled in and paved
over for a parking lot. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Karen Kelly
(sound of kids)
The Amphibian Conservation Club meets at Petrie Island, outside of Ottawa,
Ontario, once a month. These young homeschoolers usually come to the island to study
frogs. But they recently discovered one of their favorite ponds is going to be
turned into a parking lot.
So, the kids have embarked on a rescue mission – moving as many frogs as
they can. 11-year-old Frank Ogilvie says they’re motivated by their love of
“I really, really, really like frogs. Yes I do. And I think that
they’re a great habitat indicator and that they are one of my favorite
The group is inviting family and friends to join them in a last minute
blitz to save the animals before the bulldozers cover up the frogs’ home.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Karen Kelly.