Atlanta Botanical Garden saves the frogs

Part of international effort to prevent extinction

Plan a trip to visit the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s amphibian conservation program and see these frogs. With the help of the Atlanta community and the passion of specialists like Mark Mandica, the conservation program has been a success in breeding and preserving these endangered creatures.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Closed Mondays except for Monday holidays, such as Labor Day. Open Tuesdays-Sundays in March from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Open April-October 9 a.m. - 10 p.m. Children 3-12 $12.95, Adults $18.95. Located adjacent to Piedmont Park at 1345 Piedmont Avenue, Atlanta.

Since2005, the lethal chytrid fungus has killed 85 percent of the frogs in Panama.

Some 1,700 miles away, researchers at the Atlanta Botanical Garden are helping rescue these endangered amphibians and others by breeding and raising them in their state-of-the-art FrogPOD laboratory.

“Breeding frogs in conservation collections is an important way to preserve them,” said Jenny Cruse-Sanders, the garden botanist. “All the frogs on exhibit from Panama are born from frogs we collected in 2005 and bred in the conservation program.”

The public frog exhibit, a kid favorite in glass terrariums in the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory, holds 42 endangered frogs not only from Panama but also from Suriname, Colombia, Costa Rica and the Amazon region. Inside the large, glassed-in rain forest, five species of rain frogs roam freely. At night the glass house fills with their chirps.

“You can hear the males calling out to the females, trying to woo her,” said Mark Mandica, the amphibian conservation coordinator.

The frog exhibits at the Fuqua Conservatory were the first to feature the fringed leaf frog from the rain forests of South America. The garden is working on successful breeding for this species, which lays its eggs under leaves that hang over pools of water. The Colombia exhibition has nine golden poison frogs whose toxic secretions are used for hunting. An arrow tipped with their poison can kill.

“These highly dangerous frogs lose their toxicity when raised in captivity. Although they are kept on a healthy diet, without the consumption of the Colombian beetle (which contributes to the poison they produce), these frogs are harmless,” Mandica said.

With a total of 300 frogs in the program, the FrogPOD keeps a lot of healthy frog food on hand. These frogs are fed 15 species of insects. Specialists use a mixture of instant potatoes, yeast, vitamin A, vinegar, and sugar to feed wing-less fruit flies, which become frog kibble.

The frogs also dine on bean weevils, five species of roaches and go through 10,000 farm-imported crickets every two weeks. Scientists also recreate algae for tadpoles. Frogs are fed two or three times a week and tadpoles are fed every day.

Visitors can watch public frog feedings Sundays at 11:00 a.m.

The program has two laboratories, including the FrogPOD, which are full of frogs and growing tadpoles. Before workers step into any of the labs, they must coat the bottom of their shoes with chlorhexidine,an antiseptic that kills traces of the deadly chytrid fungus.

“When working with endangered species, it is always a little scary at times. We want to make sure the frogs stay healthy,” said Mandica. “They are checked by a veterinarian once a week.”

The Rabb’s fringe-limbed tree frog from Panama is thought to be extinct in the wild, but the garden has the last known specimen in existence.

“I usually don’t give the frogs names, but I was asked to name him,” Mandica said. “My son always called him ‘Toughie,’ so that’s what we call him here.”

The lemur leaf frog, also from the Panama collection, is critically endangered. The amphibian conservation program has been quite successful in breeding the species in the FrogPOD with 30 baby lemur leaf frogs on the way. The conservation team has been able to ship over 400 lemur leaf frogs to other accredited institutions worldwide to help spread awareness about amphibian decline.

“It is harder to find frogs now than when I was a kid. The numbers are declining everywhere,” said Mandica.

Each laboratory and habitat on exhibit is set up with automatic rain and light systems to mimic the natural rain forest habitats. The light system goes on and off on timers to allow the nocturnal frogs to roam freely at night.

Every year the Gopher Frog Head Start Program breeds the Georgia-native Carolina gopher frog. Once the frogs are fully developed, scientist release them back into the wild. With the help of the program, the Carolina gopher frog has avoided becoming endangered.

Mandica and the amphibian conservation team have joined with metro Atlanta locals in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett counties to create the Metro Atlanta Amphibian Monitoring Program to keep tabs on local amphibians. Volunteers are asked to survey one of the 15 amphibian breeding sites each calendar month.

“There are 17 different species of frogs in metro Atlanta and 14 species of salamanders native to metro Atlanta as well. With this program we can keep an eye on the amphibians in our area,” Mandica said.