A hop-through introduction to frogs in Southern Africa

Not all frogs are toads…but all toads are frogs: A hop-through introduction to frogs in Southern Africa

– Fatima H Ragie, 2014-02-17

From our early days of learning “F for frog”, to listening to their croaks while relaxing on summer nFrog arabicights near water pans, frogs are animals most of us know about. Small, four-legged, tail-less organisms, frogs are known for their slimy, glandular skin, big eyes, webbed feet and longer back legs that make many of them excellent jumpers. Almost always associated with water, frogs go through a two-stage lifecycle from being aquatic tadpoles hatched from eggs to becoming air breathing adult frogs that live on both land and water. They are world famous – being found on all continents except Antarctica.

Like all other creations on the earth, frogs are in constant glorification of Allah (SWT). It often seems like they on a constant Tasbeeh at night with their repetitive croaks and calls sounding in the darkness. Allah (SWT) mentions frogs in verse 133, Surah Al-Araf (The Heights) where we are told the story of the successive punishments sent down to Pharoah’s people in the time of Moosa (AS) where one of these was a plague of frogs. Similar to our approach of any other animal created by the All Mighty, Muslims need to respect and admire these creatures and not harm them in any way – neither directly nor indirectly in our daily lives. We need to appreciate these creatures and value them both for their intrinsic worth as well as the functional benefits they lend us in their role in our ecosystems.

Frog Quraan, ch7, v133
What’s in a name?

Names and classification of things tells us a lot of what these things are. Like most organisms, each frog species usually have a range of common names as well as its own unique scientific name. A scientific name has two Latan parts – the genus and species names. Species is one of the most basic grouping of organisms. Each species is made up of organisms that look similar and are able to breed together. The use of a double, Latinized, unique scientific name helps to prevent confusion as there can be many frogs commonly called “Red toads” or “Silver tree frogs” living among us but only one species named “Schismaderma carens” or “Leptopelis argenteus”.

So what is the difference between a toad and a frog? Historically these terms have been used informally where the more “uglier”, stouter and leathery looking frogs were called toads while the more pleasant ones were called frogs. These terms, especially recently, are correctly used where frogs refer to all the tail-less amphibians where the Bufonid family of frogs are called toads. This family does tend to look stout and leathery.

 

Frog classifying

 

Frogs – useful or dangerous?

Frogs undoubtedly have their role to play in upholding our environment’s ecosystem. They feed on insects and other small invertebrates, helping in pest control. In turn, frogs form important parts of the diets of birds, snakes and a few carnivorous mammals. Frogs, through various methods of preparation, have been used in traditional medicine worldwide. However the use of frogs is not recommended in Islam – AbdurRahman ibn Uthman (RA) narrated that when a physician consulted the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) about putting frogs in medicine, he forbade him to kill them [Sunan Abu Dawood, Book 28. Medicine (“Kitab Al-Tibb”) and Book 41. General Behaviour (“Kitab Al-Adab”)].

Frogs are not dangerous to humans. A frog will not attack a human because they don’t eat humans and chances are that if they attack you, you will squash them. They really prefer to live. Most frogs can be easily handled with bare hands despite their gooey appearances. A few species do secrete toxic substances that may cause a rash if touched. Slightly more toxic secretions may cause a reaction if the frog is eaten or the secretions are rubbed into open wounds or eyes. Extremely toxic frogs usually have dangerous colours – like dark orange and black stripes. They would rather warn you not to eat them then to let you eat them and leave both of you dead.

Dying to tell us something?

Frogs in general are sensitive to environmental changes. Their porous skins and delicate, exposed eggs make them good indicators of environmental health. Over the last three decades, frog populations across the world have crashed dramatically. The main causes of the decline are attributed to deforestation, wetland draining and pollution. In addition, increases in UV radiation and viral and bacterial infections have contributed to their decline, even in nature reserves. Are their deaths ringing the warning bells for us?

Frog Giant Bull frog

Frogs – in southern/South Africa

Nature knows no man-made borders…this is why natural scientists refer to southern Africa instead of South Africa quite often. South Africa has a spectacular variety of frogs. Not only do they vary in their colours and shapes, but they greatly differ in their calls, where and how they stay, and also their histories. They are an irreplaceable part of our natural heritage and fascinate both South Africans and tourists.

While none of the 118 species found in South Africa are extinct so far, 5 of our species are Critically Endangered, 7 species are Endangered, 5 species are Vulnerable and 5 species are Near Threatened. 51 of the species that occur in South Africa are endemic – they are found nowhere else and only occur here. 35% of these species are considered to be threatened while a further 12% are considered to be Near Threatened.

South African frog populations are threatened in particular by development near our precious water bodies and the use of these water resources. South Africa has stepped up their legislation especially in sensitive area like our Highveld grasslands (including Gauteng) and in the Cape Fynbos regions. Legislation includes emphasising frog surveys as part of the environmental assessments before construction as well as stepping down on pet trade.

Let’s do our frog-ging bit…

It may seem a bit out of our ponds to try to save frogs, but we all can raise awareness. We need to step up efforts of education about the value of these species. Tell your friend, tell your neighbour. Look out for people starting construction and at least voice some concern for our “padda” friends. If you have a garden, install a small pond and try not to use chemical pesticides in general. Place a little ramp on the side of your swimming pool to make sure that frogs don’t drown after taking a dip. Drive slowly and brake for frogs! Lastly, use water wisely as every drop wasted is a drop stolen from our natural environment.

 

Frog Arum lily reed frog

Some interesting articles:
  1. 10 Frogs Handsome Enough To Kiss
  2.  Remarkable Frog Dads of Papua New Guinea
  3.  Goliath Frog: The World’s Biggest Frog

 

References
  1. Carruthers, V. 2001. Frogs and Frogging in Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  2. Measey G.J. (ed.). 2011.Ensuring a future for South Africa’s frogs: a strategy for conservation research. SANBI Biodiversity Series 19. SANBI, Pretoria.
  3. Ibn Kathir, Story of ProphetMusa/Moses and Haroon/Aaron (pbut).
  4.  Wikipedia, Frog. 2012.
  5.  Sunan Abu Dawood, Book 28. Medicine (“Kitab Al-Tibb”) and Book 41. General Behaviour (“Kitab Al-Adab”).

Fatima H Ragie is currently doing her MSc in Ecology, Environment and Conservation at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Her thesis concerns the use of natural resources as part of rural livelihoods, with themes of sustainability and economical contribution. She project manages Green Deen South Africa. Email: fhragie@gmail.com

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