• Toughie, the world’s last known Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog, passed away in September 2016 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The disappearance of Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog is one of many amphibian extinctions in recent decades, and scientists estimate that 40% of amphibian populations are currently in dangerous decline.

    Habitat loss and pollution definitely play a role in this decline, but an infectious disease called amphibian chytridiomycosis is also having a major impact. Herpetologists commonly refer to the fungus that causes it as the amphibian chytrid. This fungus spreads the disease via waterborne spores. Amphibian chytrid has been observed in more than 500 species of amphibians. All of the species in the photo gallery above are in decline due to amphibian chytrid.

    Researchers have found a predatory microbe that could help. This microbe consumes amphibian chytrid spores and has been successful in reducing the spread of the disease in multiple experimental ponds. It’s a small step in the right direction and each new discovery, big or small, can play a role in mitigating the impact of amphibian chytrid.

    1. Frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, and caecilians are all types of amphibians. What kinds of traits do they share? What makes them amphibians?

      Amphibians are a class of animals that are vertebrates (have a backbone), ectotherms (meaning they are “cold blooded” and rely on outside sources to maintain their body temperature), and have evolved to live in both terrestrial and aquatic environments. Another common amphibian trait is their moist skin, which gives them that slimy look and feel. Unlike their reptile relatives, amphibian eggs lack hard shells and species commonly lay their eggs in water.

    2. How do amphibian adaptations make them susceptible to a disease spread by a water-based fungus?

      Fungi reproduce using a wide range of spores. The chytrid fungus shoots out small spores that can swim through the water on their own. Amphibians spend the majority of their life in or around water, increasing their chances of running into the highly mobile spores and contracting amphibian chytrid. 

    3. What are some ways you can get involved to help slow the spread of amphibian chytrid?

      There are so many ways to support the work of conservationists, and a great way to start helping is by spreading awareness. With so much attention on charismatic megafauna like pandas and polar bears, many people are unaware of population declines in other parts of the animal kingdom. Join a club, write an op-ed, volunteer at a zoo, fundraise for frogs—everyone can help out!

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    amphibian Noun

    an animal able to live both on land and in water.

    extinction Noun

    process of complete disappearance of a species from Earth.

    fungus Noun

    (plural: fungi) type of organism that survives by decomposing and absorbing the material in which it grows.

    herpetologist Noun

    person who studies reptiles.

    infection Noun

    contamination or invasion by harmful organisms, such as a virus.

    mitigate Verb

    to lower the severity of a natural or human condition.

    spore Noun

    reproductive unit of many organisms, such as plants and bacteria, similar to a seed.