Frogs captivate and fascinate; green and golden treefrogs with their padded, webbed feet; desert burrowing frogs with their bulging, jewelled eyes and spade feet; the raucous chorus of croaks, tocks and plonks on rainy summer nights.
Frogs have been around since long before Australia existed as an independent land mass. In the intervening eras there have been innumerable periods of climate change and cataclysm - deserts have expanded and receded, waterways have come and gone - but through all of this, our frogs have persisted.
Now, however, we're suddenly seeing populations of frogs disappearing before our eyes. Since the late 1970s, seven species seem to have disappeared completely and at least another 15 species have shown evidence of serious declines in numbers. Desert-rich Australia is one of the less hospitable regions of this planet for what is basically an aquatic animal. Thus, the modern frog fauna of this country is an ancient, highly specialised, varied, and unique collection of 210 or so stalwart survivors.
Why are frogs under threat in Australia?
Frogs have many natural predators such as Common Tree Snakes, Keelback Snakes, Diving Beetles and Bugs, Water Rats and various birds. These are sometimes wrongly blamed for eliminating frogs from suburban areas. Predation is natural and a sign of a healthy local environment. So don't be discouraged if you see a Common Tree Snake quietly poking its way around the edge of your garden pond searching for frogs. Instead, take the opportunity to observe it hunting; you may even be lucky enough to see it catch a frog!
As with all animals, frogs suffer from parasites, infections and disease. An occasional dead frog is no cause for alarm but a large number of dead frogs, with no apparent cause of death, should be investigated. If freshly dead frogs are found, freeze them immediately and contact the museum for more information on what should be done with them. Properly preserved frogs are useful to scientists.
When populations began crashing in locations that were remote from any obvious sources of pollution or human interference, such as high-elevation rainforest streams, scientists were mystified. Some potent, new, natural force was apparently turning against frogs, and its sudden, lethal effect was a matter of serious concern to scientists and conservationists.
Is it merely a coincidence that frog populations in high-elevation streams in Central America and Australia almost simultaneously went from healthy and stable to extinct? In most cases, these incidents were murder mysteries without a corpse. One minute the frogs were there and then they were not. What could have killed them? Frog biologists around the world are now searching for the causes of these declines and for ways to halt them.