I have been contemplating the PR problem of amphibians and wondering how they are overlooked so frequently in our classic texts. In A Sand County Almanac, frogs are mentioned only one time—once!!! Well, okay, once to be admired by the Aldo Leopold, perhaps that would be sufficient. But alas, they are merely food (however, I agree, food is important): “Out on the bog a crane, gulping some luckless frog, springs his ungainly hulk into the air and flails the morning sun with mighty wings. The tamaracks re-echo with his bugled certitude. He seems to know.” A lovely sentence, but our dear beloved frog is luckless and the crane gets all the glory. Luckless, indeed. Similarly, in Silent Spring, I found only four references to amphibians and these were rather off-handed (and none interesting enough even to quote). No laments from Rachel Carson of the potential for contaminants to result in a “Silent Night,” as Tyrone Hayes often puts it.
It’s all about birds. If we compared the number of odes to birds versus frogs, I probably would not have to tell you who would win based on my informal survey, but I will: birds. Birds, birds, birds. Well, I am quite fond of birds too, so I get it. They offer what to the human ears seems an endless cheer. This morning on my walk on this first day of calendar spring, I was heartened by the busy calling of the cardinals and titmice (and half a dozen other calls I do not know), and the busy sounds of woodpeckers. It is one of my motivations for getting out of bed, my morning walk with the birds. I can understand why there are Audubon clubs scattered prodigiously throughout the country. We are diurnal creatures and pay homage to other diurnals who share our day. We advocate the protection of birds and worry of their declines, as we should, even though birds are doing better than a great swath of biodiversity (including better than amphibians and a heck of a lot better than mussels--see below). Better PR often equals better protection.
Species at Risk from Primack's Essentials of Conservation Biology.
But it is what we do not often or frequently see or think about that is doing a lot of the work or is at the very least an important part of the ecological machinery. Think of the detritovores—where would we be without them? Surrounded by dead bodies for starters. Amphibians too are doing their bit: the luckless prey sometimes, the lucky predator at other times. And if you are lucky enough to hear them through your windows or as you wander the night, their calls will also cheer you and eventually lull you into your temporary, nocturnal sleep. Wishing you all many lucky frogs in your future and when you write your next book, work in the amphibians, won’t you?