Sunday, April 21, 2013

Amphibian Awareness - Sensitive Skin

Yesterday's spadefoot toad inspired some interesting reactions from folks, one of whom wondered at the rather unhealthy looking water in which the toads were carousing. This comment raised an important point regarding amphibian physiology and their highly specialized skin. So here's a few more thoughts and photos from Hoot Owl Karma's rainy night rambling.

Amphibians have adapted to life on the margins of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, and because individuals will likely spend part of their life cycle in each of these very different environments, they have a remarkable skin. Both water and oxygen diffuse freely through the skin, allowing the animal to "breath," or effectively carry on respiration in either environment. In order to facilitate this remarkable process, amphibians must maintain sufficiently moist skin; mucous glands in the skin help by secreting a protective mucous coating (hence the frog's "slimy" reputation).

Sitting roughly six inches tall, this bullfrog dwarfed the other amphibians that were out enjoying the storm.

Their wonderfully adapted skin, combined with access to clean, moist environments, allow amphibians to lead a healthy "double life" in a semi-aquatic environment. Because of their dependence on water for survival, ecologists and environmental scientists believe amphibians are critical "indicator species" with regards to water quality.

Unfortunately, as highlighted in a National Geographic article from 2010 posted at their website,
" Nearly 1 in 3 of the 5,743 described amphibian species are in decline, according to survey results released last month. At least nine species have disappeared since 1980."

Research to better understand the causes of this global phenomenon are underway around the world, but in the meantime, there is a clear imperative to do what we can to protect and improve the quality of the earth's water for all creatures, great and small.

Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, when Hoot Owl Karma returned home, this pickerel frog waited to welcome us in the driveway.

If you are interested in learning more about these amazing creatures and their place in our ecosystem globally and right here at home in North Carolina, you might want to check out the Amphibian Awareness Day at the NC Zoo next weekend (April 27th). 

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