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Leaping Frog Fungus!

by Joel Pomerantz

January 5th, 2015

I just learned more about why the project to get rid of the preggie test frogs has been failing. Which frogs? The African clawed frogs that live in Golden Gate Park in the Lily Pond. Apparently they were dumped there as a gesture of goodwill.

Back in the 50s rabbits were all the rage for pregnancy tests. A pregnant woman’s urine would cause the rabbit to ovulate. Problem was that you had to kill the rabbit to find the result. Then bufo marine toads and African clawed frogs were found to accomplish the same thing without the sacrificial ritual. Frogs ovulate externally!

So until the pee-on-a-stick test was developed, which directly senses the hormones in the urine, frogs were hanging out at medical labs doing their analytic good deeds. When they were phased out, the lab put them in the pond. All was well until a Myxophes faciolatus fungus came along from far continents.

This pathogen caused all the aquatic life except the clawed frogs (who are immune) to die of chytridiomycosis. Now those clawed frogs aren’t such welcome Park guests because they’re carriers. If they hoppity hop to other ponds–death to all! If you’ve been by the Lily Pond in the past couple years, you’ve seen bleach attacks and lime dumping to try and kill off the frogs along with their pal M. faciolatus.

I just got word that the frog can hybernate (and the eggs can survive drought) for five years. So much for that brutally easy fix. What will next happen in this strange tale?

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Reply from Eric Mills: New Year’s Day 2015 (via Jake Sigg)

Was pleased to see your post re: the African clawed frogs in GG Park’s Lily Pond. That population was discovered by personnel from the nearby Cal Academy of Sciences back in 2003. As noted, these non-native and prohibited frogs are notorious carriers of the dreaded chytrid fungus (Bd), thought to be responsible for the extinctions of some 200 frog and other amphibian species worldwide in recent years. It’s likely they were dumped in Lily Pond by researchers at nearby UCSF

Thus it was that our dysfunctional State Dept. of Fish & Game (now Fish & Wildlife–aren’t fish wildlife, too?) immediately jumped on the issue, and a clean-up was planned for the summer of 2003, a “seine and drain” affair, with all the frogs, tadpoles and eggs being strained and destroyed. (Lily Pond is a small former quarry, with a rock bottom, and no outlets, surrounded by hills.) A relatively simple job, yes? Yet only a few hours before the operation was to get underway, it was abruptly cancelled by a panicky DFG. Their reported excuse? They couldn’t guarantee that all the frogs would be caught and destroyed.

So for the past 12 years Lily Pond has been open to the public. Any kid with a dipnet could have dispersed this highly invasive species. Indeed, we have seen herons carry away live frogs. One live frog was discovered in the nearby AIDS Memorial Grove.

So the Dept. and the SF Rec & Parks have been dragging their collective feet all these years, interspersed with periodic and ineffective seining of the pond. I can hardly wait for the lawsuits, once these critters disperse, as they already likely have. There’s also a small population of threatened red-legged frogs in the nearby Arboretum.

I just finished famed biologist E.O. Wilson’s latest book, “THE MEANING OF HUMAN EXISTENCE,” in which he posits that the human species is “innately dysfunctional.” Hard to argue with that.

Meanwhile, our Dept. of Fish & Wildlife continues to import some TWO MILLION non-native bullfrogs into California every year for human consumption (mostly in the Chinatown live food markets, kept in horrendous conditions). Worse, the majority of the bullfrogs test positive for the chytrid fungus. Many are bought and released into local waters by “do-gooders” and religious sects for “animal liberation” ceremonies, where they prey upon and displace our native species, while spreading diseases, including the chytrid fungus. (The bullfrogs generally do not succumb to the disease, but they certainly do disperse it.)

PARTIAL FIX: The DFW could easily put a stop to the issuance of the frog/turtle import permits. They have the authority. Indeed, back in 2010 the Fish & Game Commission voted 5:0, instructing the Dept. to stop issuing import permits. Only weeks later the then-Director, John McCammon, announced he would continue the permits on a month-to-month basis. Challenged, the Dept. could only weakly respond, “The Director acts at the pleasure of the Governor.” Say What?! So much for the democratic process, while we continue to lose our native wildlife.

Write to the DFW and demand that these permits cease immediately: Chuck Bonham, Director, Dept. of Fish & Wildlife, 1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, CA 95814; email – director@wildlife.ca.gov. The Secretary of Resources, John Laird, may be written at the same address, email – secretary@resources.ca.gov

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An earlier note from Jake Sigg to Bay Nature, regarding this article:

Your note in the October-December 2013 issue regarding African Clawed Frog and chytrid fungus gave the impression that the ACF’s days in Golden Gate Park are numbered. That is not correct. The issue has become embroiled in intra-agency infighting, and the dread scenario of this frog and its devastating chytrid fungus disease (to which ACF is immune) becoming at large in California is all too real. The interface between politics and biology is an exceedingly uncomfortable place to be, with the latter always losing.

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