Discoveries in Amphibian Skin
Amphibians are pretty amazing creatures. Most start out life as an egg, hatch into a tadpole phase, and then change into their adult form later on. Some of them don’t even have lungs, they absorb oxygen through their skin where it goes directly into their bloodstream! Even the amphibians that do have lungs absorb some oxygen through their skin, giving amphibians the reputation as a “canary in a coal mine” when it comes to changes in our environment. The direct relationship between an amphibian’s wellbeing and its environment is all about the skin, and some researchers have discovered that the skin itself is home to unique microbes which are all affected by the frog’s environment.
Researchers from Ohio collected Blanchard’s Cricket Frogs (Acris blanchardi) from a number of sites throughout Ohio and Michigan. The sites contained different habitat characteristics such as being surrounded by farmland, houses, forest etc. When they took swabs of the frog’s skin, they found that the frogs from different habitats had different microbes on their skin.
The microbes on the frog’s skin are important for its immune system, and play a role in preventing diseases. Throughout the world, frogs are combating Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a fungus which causes skin infections, ultimately leading to the death of the frog. The research into the frog’s skin microbes may help scientists learn more about how to help frogs combat this infection using the microbes which already exist naturally on their bodies.
The Blanchard’s Cricket Frog is declining in much of its current range, and this research could help us figure out some of the reasons why that is happening. In Ontario, it is a Species at Risk. Once found in extreme Southern Ontario at Point Pelee and on Pelee Island, it is now thought to be extirpated, which means it is locally extinct in Canada. The last confirmed Blanchard’s Cricket frog sighting in Ontario was in the late 1970’s, although a few unconfirmed sightings occurred into the 1990’s. Ongoing surveys on Pelee Island have attempted to find any remaining individuals by listening for their calls during the breeding season, but so far no new individuals have been found in Canada.
You can help the Blanchard’s Cricket Frog and all of our Ontario amphibians by participating in Frog Watch Ontario, part of the national Frog Watch amphibian monitoring program. Sightings submitted to this program are used to learn more about our local frogs and monitor changes in our environment. Visit FROGWATCH to learn more.
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