3 Reasons Why Frogs Are So Important to the Ecosystem

by guest blogger Karin, who loves finding out animal facts! You can find more animal facts here.

File:White lipped tree frog cairns jan 8 2006.jpg

White lipped tree frog CC-SA Bignoter

From their sticky toes to their eyes that seem to pop, frogs have hopped into a central place in fairytales and science alike. Children are perpetually delighted by Kermit the Frog and scientists are still unlocking the secrets of these mysterious green amphibians. If you have ever caught a frog, you have probably been mesmerized by their almost otherworldly appearance. Frogs really are amazing animals – did you know that consisting of about 90% of the class of Amphibia, frogs are vital to a healthy and functioning ecosystem? Check out these 3 reasons why frogs are so important to the ecosystem.

 

1. Frogs Are an Indicator Species

How is a frog like a canary? This isn’t just a silly question. Historically, miners would take canaries and other birds into the mines with them. If there was poisonous gas in the underground tunnels, the canaries (unfortunately) would die, and the miners would know that they needed to leave the toxic tunnels right away. In a similar way, frogs act as a natural bioindicator, which means that they measure the health of the environment.

Because frogs are amphibians, they can live on both land and water. In fact, the word “amphibian” is Greek for “two lives.” Frogs also have very sensitive skin and pores, making them extra sensitive to the health of both land and in the water.

What is alarming is that frogs are increasingly showing signs of deformities and mutations, such as extra limbs, missing limbs, deformed tails, and missing eyes. Scientists have also discovered that frogs are dying off at an alarming rate. What is even more alarming is that frogs have been around for at least 250 million years, and amphibians have been around for over 350 million years. This means that frogs have lived through 3–THREE–different mass extinctions, including the one that killed all the dinosaurs. Despite living millions of years and surviving even the extinction of the dinosaurs, frogs are now dying off in record numbers. In fact, nearly ⅓ of amphibian species are threatened with extinction. They simply are unable to handle the current environmental stressors, which is a desperate signal that the earth needs help combating pollution and other environmental stressors.

 

2. The Food Chain Would Crumble Without Frogs

Frogs go through several stages in their life cycle. At each cycle, frogs play a crucial role in the food chain, both as predator and prey. Specifically, as eggs, frogs provide food for spiders and wasps; and as tadpoles, they they are food for shrimp dragonfly nymphs, and shrimp. As adult frogs, they provide valuable food for birds, lizards, snakes, monkeys, and more.

Additionally, frogs are a critical part of the food chain in more active ways as well. As tadpoles, they feed on algae, which helps filter and keep our water supplies clean. Full-grown frogs feed on insects, such as moths, grasshoppers, flies, crickets, mosquitoes, and spiders.

File:Mosquito female.svg

Female Mosquito Public Domain LadyofHats

Indeed, frogs help keep insects from wreaking havoc on crops.For example, in the 1980s, India exported large amounts of frogs to France as food, leading the population of frogs to drop dramatically. This lead to an increase in insect population that decimated crops and fields. Realizing how crucial frogs were to a healthy ecosystem, the Indian government finally banned the export of frogs.

Frogs also help keep insects from spreading diseases, such as Zika, malaria, dengue, and more. Adult frogs eat mosquitoes and help keep the insect population under control. Importantly, tadpoles also eat many insect larvae that make their home in pools, puddles, ditches, swamps, and other water-filled containers. The death of frogs would send a catastrophic ripple through the ecosystem and compromise human health around the globe.

3. Frogs are Nature’s Medicine

Red-eyed tree frog CC-BY-SA Charles J Sharp

Researchers have found that frogs are important for various medicinal purposes. In fact, scientists have found over 200 beneficial alkaloids in amphibian skin. One of these can be used as a painkiller that is 200 times stronger than morphine and without morphine addictive qualities. Frog skin secretions can also be used as a powerful antibiotic, and some frog produce peptides that can help heal cuts and bruises and can even heal organs after surgery. And that’s not all. Frog secretion can also provide treatment for heart attacks, depression, strokes, seizures, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. In Australia, the red eyed tree-frog and its relatives can even roduce compounds that scientist believe can prevent HIV.

Conclusion

Because frogs occupy the front lines of Earth’s ecosystems, they act as a lens to the ways we understand climate change, pollution, conservation, evolution and a host of other profoundly important issues. Beyond being bioindicators, frogs also act as a “conveyer belts” by transferring energy from invertebrates to predators higher up the food chain.  Frogs also control pests, provide medicines, and have a social value that inspires art and culture alike.  They are extraordinary animals that add not only diversity but also beauty to our Earth. Their disappearance would radically rewire ecosystems all over the Earth and change the way humans inhabit their many environments. 

 

Author Profile: Karin holds a master’s degree in English and rhetoric and has been a university writing tutor and writing instructor for many years. She loves researching, reading, and writing for factretriever.com. An admitted adrenaline junkie, she married her skydiving instructor and loves to go adventuring with him and their 4 kids.

References:

Marent, Thomas. Frog: A Photographic Portrait. New York, NY: Penguin, 2008.

Rowley, Jodi, Dr. “Can Frogs Help Combat the Zika Virus?Australian Museum. February 23, 2016. Accessed: November 25, 2018.

 

Posted in Biology