Pet trade potentially endangering native frogs

It is the beginning of tadpole season and if there are frogs in your neighbourhood you should starting to hear their raucous calling.

Our critically endangered Archey's frog maybe further endangered by the pet trade in frogs.

Our critically endangered Archey’s frog maybe further endangered by the pet trade in frogs.

The frogs you will be hearing though are all Aussies brought here in the latter half of the 19th century. The endemic Leiopelma species do not use calls to attract mates – but sadly these species are not quite as abundant as their introduced –cousins, so regardless you’d be hard stretched to find one.

Habitat loss,  introduced predators, pollution of freshwater streams and now the recent spread of Amphibian chytrid fungus have put NZ frogs in terrible danger.

Worldwide frogs are in trouble and our native frogs are not excluded with all of them listed as endangered to some degree.

Fortunately, two of our native species are holed up on offshore islands in the Marlborough sounds (Maud island frog – Maud island) and (Hamilton’s frog – Steven’s island), so they haven’t been exposed to this fungus as yet.

For the other two mainland species the outlook isn’t so rosy. The disease has spread throughout our critically endangered Archey’s frog population, and we’ve seen a severe decline as a result. And it is unclear whether our Hochstetter’s frog has the disease.

My PHD looks at how frogs are moved around NZ and traded, how people are looking after their pet frogs and what pet owners know about frogs in NZ – to determine how this fungus is spread.

In New Zealand, well over 10,000 tadpoles are traded each year and my initial research shows many of the traders are unaware of the virulence of the chyrtid fungus.

It appears that good intentions may be contributing to frog decline. Well-meaning people buy frogs and tadpoles to repopulate areas previously abundant with frogs and this action helps to spread the disease.

Further, people buy a frog without realising it is a long-term commitment – most frogs live till they are around 15 years old, and sometimes they’re released after their used-by date, so to speak .

Unfortunately, people are largely unaware our wildlife act which states that “No person shall transfer live aquatic life or release live aquatic life into any freshwater” so it is actually illegal to release frogs and tadpoles.

One problem that also contributes to the spread of this disease is the fact that it is largely invisible. Seemingly healthy tadpoles can be infected with it and only start to show symptoms as they go through metamorphosis.

If you decide to keep tadpoles you should never dispose of any sick or dead animals into waterways or the environment. Signs of chytrid include sloughing of the skin, losing the righting reflex, lethargy and loss of appetite.  However, to get a proper diagnosis you need to have a DNA test.

Luckily for frog enthusiasts our introduced frogs are good travellers and can travel up to 10km in the breeding season. So if you are really keen to have amphibians in your garden, just create an inviting habitat and they’re likely to arrive under their own steam.

Things to make sure you have in a frog friendly garden include a predator free environment, with plenty of foliage especially broad leaved plants like flaxes, a permanent water supply and lots of safe places to bask.

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  1. December 12, 2012 8:49 am
    Bill says

    It’s always sad when native species are struggling to survive due to imported pests. There needs to be tougher restrictions on importations and illegal pet trading so that species like the Archeys frog can survive

  2. February 23, 2015 8:42 pm
    Amanda says

    Hello there, I too have obviously been doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. I bought lots of big fat tadpoles from a home in Omokoroa Beach as the breeding area was being destroyed in the near future, and took them home and raised them in a special “frog pond” I had built. 50 or so survived to healthy adulthood – I suspect many more hopped away…
    I brought 10 in to over winter in vivariums and they grew bigger and fatter and I then released them in the late spring. We now have 4-6 fairly large frogs living with earlier frogs in our home made goldfish pond. I have kept the Frog Pond in the hope they will use it. Did I do wrong ? I seem to have one native frog and the rest are Bell frogs. All seem healthy and happy. I put out mealy worm, earthworms & caterpillars etc for them occasionally. None had the skin problems, extra limbs, paralysis, non development that has been described. Surely it was better to give them a chance than not??

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