Tiny Frog Faces Big, Yet Unknown, Threat in New York State

Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx and Queens Zoos partner with NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to study decline in diminutive northern cricket frogs

Sites where the frogs can be found have dropped from 25 to only three or four over the last decade

New York – Dec. 5, 2011 -- The Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx and Queens Zoo animal experts have partnered with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to uncover a mysterious threat that is causing a decline in northern cricket frogs, a tiny frog native to New York and other areas in the eastern United States.

The DEC and WCS have reported a major decline in cricket frogs in New York State. Locations of cricket frog populations within New York have dropped from 25 to only three or four over the last 10 years. The purpose of the DEC/WCS study, funded by State Wildlife Grants provided to the states through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conserve at-risk species, is to figure out exactly why the species are vanishing.

To determine the cause of the cricket frog loss, WCS pathology, herpetology and animal management staff are lending their expertise in surveys of cricket frogs and wildlife health assessments. Together with the DEC, WCS staff is working to rule out two common amphibian pathogens as a reason for the decline: amphibian chytrid fungus and rana virus. The chytrid fungus causes a deadly skin disease that has been suspected in the decline of many different amphibian species around the world. It has caused amphibian populations to decline in various regions, including Australia, North and South America, Central America, New Zealand, Europe and Africa and is possibly responsible for the extinction of numerous species of amphibians worldwide.

WCS experts test for these diseases by going into the field to collect swabs from the frogs and other area amphibians. The swabs are then brought to the Bronx Zoo's molecular diagnostics laboratory to test for the presence of disease.

“As is often the case with amphibian species, there can be many potential explanations for the northern cricket frog’s decline in New York,” said Dr. Scott Silver, director and curator of the Queens Zoo. “By testing for disease pathogens we hope to eliminate disease as a reason for their population declines. Then we can continue to narrow down the list of possible causes until we discover why these guys are disappearing. We have a long way to go to figure out the answers to this mystery, but at least this is a first step.”

Said NYSDEC Assistant Commissioner, Natural Resources, Christopher Amato, “Cricket frogs are an important component of New York’s biological diversity and natural heritage, and it is our goal to ensure we continue to have them in our state for future generations. This scientific research will help us better understand one of the potential threats to the cricket frogs’ survival. The Wildlife Conservation Society’s continued involvement and leadership play an important role in helping to solve this mystery.”

Cricket frogs are protected within New York State. They live in forests that have swamps, streams, lakes or ponds and can often be found in large groups on the banks of streams.

Barbara Russo: 718-265-3428; brusso@wcs.org
Max Pulsinelli: 718- 220-5182; mpulsinelli@wcs.org

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world’s largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes toward nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo – Open every day of the year. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors 65 and older, $5 for kids 3-12, free for children under 3. Zoo hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. weekends, April through October, and 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily, November through April. The Queens Zoo is located at 53-51 111th Street in Flushing Meadow’s Corona Park in Queens. For further information, call 718-271-1500 or visit www.queenszoo.com.

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