When we purchased Finca Quijote, it had been many things, but most recently a coffee farm. When we took ownership, the property had lots of potential, but the topsoil was severely depleted after years of getting treated with herbicide and insecticide. Oddly, the farm had tons of insects, but no frogs. When you think Costa Rica, don’t neon colored tree frogs come to mind? We are not farmers or biologists, but we knew something was off, with all this rain and all these bugs, how could there be no frogs? And so we turned to “Google” for answers.
Frogs are an important bio-indicator. We quickly found out that because frogs are both aquatic and partially terrestrial, they are vulnerable to environmental hazards. Even though they have lungs for breathing, their porous skin enables them to drink and absorb oxygen through their skin. It’s permeable, easily absorbing toxins that can enter their blood stream. They also shed their skins about once a week by shimmying and wiggling out of it using their hands, and then they eat it. So yuck, if they didn’t absorb the poison through their skin on first contact, then they would eventually digest it after consumption.
Tadpoles in ponds filter our water and keep algae growth in check. Remove them from the equation and you could have oxygen depleting algae bloom. How often have we read about out of control algae blooms? Maybe the tadpoles are missing? Basically, frogs are an indicator species, the canary in the coal mine.
What we had planned to do anyway, was also the solution to the frog shortage. We began the huge task of rehabbing the top soil and began to correct many of the other environmental situations on the farm. It wasn’t overnight, but slowly we noticed more and more frogs. Not just your garden variety, but all kinds of different species. We even have some of those crazy looking neon frogs now. In a healthy environment, amphibians account for more biomass than any other vertebrate group in the Rainforest.
Google also tells us that frogs are carnivores and eat huge numbers of bugs, flies, dragonflies, mosquitos, grasshoppers, worms, slugs and snails. Large frogs will eat small snakes, mice, baby turtles and smaller frogs. They themselves are food for birds, ducks, fish, monkeys, snakes, and beetles. Their disappearance disrupts the food web and without them you would have an explosion of Dengue, Malaria, West Nile Virus and other diseases. Yikes, glad we got on top of the frog problem!
I thought frogs only ate bugs, their tongue shooting out and quickly retracting with meal attached. Frog tongues are attached in the front of their mouths and they are used to snatch insects out of midair. However, as mentioned above, some even eat larger prey. They use their hands to shove food into their mouths and down their throats. Small teeth on their upper jaw and the roof of their mouth keeps their prey in place, the teeth are not for chewing. Even stranger, frog eyes retract into the top of their mouth when eating, the eyes help push their food down their throat. Guess that is why they have three sets of eye lids.
By the abundance of frogs, we must certainly be on the right track or close to it.