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Why We Should Take Care of Toads and Not Just Kiss Them

Since an early age magical stories and films (specifically the world of Disney), tells us that it is possible to turn a toad into a prince with only a kiss. Today, thanks to gender equality, we also expect the toad to become a princess. Today we are not going to talk only about kisses, about princes and princesses; but also about the importance of caring for and protecting these species, which are so important for the balance of the ecosystem which is now threatened.

Why are frogs or toads important, or to use a scientific term anurans? Although they do not enjoy the sympathy of many human beings, amphibians –a word that comes from the Greek amphi (both) and bio (life) referring to the double aquatic-terrestrial life they have– are abundant species on our planet: 6,000 species described.

On the island of Hispaniola there is a high endemism (of almost 100%) of these animals. Around 76 species, unique in the globe, that constitute them in a relevant ecological treasure whose protection concerns us like nation.

These animals are responsible for maintaining biological control of some insects, such as mosquitoes. And contrary to what many people think, they are indicators of healthy environments: no, it does not mean that it is a place of prince charmings and princesses, but a well-preserved forest and a healthy ecosystem; not to mention those melodic sounds that that evoke a scene of peace, tranquility and harmony.

This group of animals, which have inhabited the planet for more than 300 million years, are now threatened: loss of habitat, pollutants, increase in UVB radiation, introduction of invasive species, climate change (with evident effects, such as the early breeding season motivated by the increase of temperature, the early desiccation of water bodies, with the consequent death of larvae that do not have time to complete their metamorphosis, etc.).

Imagine the consequences of all these issues: deforestation in sierra Bahoruco and Valle Nuevo; fragmentation of habitat due to agricultural activities, and plastic contamination, foam contamination, and pesticide contamination of rivers and canyons, … As the Dominican Republic is ranked as one the 10 most affected countries by the effects of climate change, this would mean that if we followed the Disney saga, we would run out of prince charmings and princesses in no time.

As if it were not enough, in the late 1990s, a new threat was reported in the Cordillera Central for species that inhabit medium and high elevations, putting at risk the amphibian populations of the world: a fungus that lives in the water called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis that covers the skin of frogs and toads. As these animals breathe through their skin, they die of asphyxiation. It is currently affecting more than 38% of the species of amphibians identified on the planet, a figure that is progressing every day.

The appearance of the virus originated in Africa, where it seemed it held a stable infection rate in wild populations. The use of Xenopus laevis to perform pregnancy tests during the sixties is hypothetically to blame.

Who would have thought that a frog or toad would be used to detect pregnancy? If it was used nowadays there would not be as many phobias of these species and we would see them as an ally.

Without fear of being mistaken, on a planet without anurans, toads or frogs, pests would occupy our daily lives, also causing heavy losses in agriculture, and an unreasonable increase in insects (including those with diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya or dengue).

Every living being, animal or plant, is part of a whole that we call biosphere and has its reason to be. To think that the extinction of small animals, as ugly or unpleasant as they seem, does not have great importance is a grave error.

To conclude, I would only say that if you are going to kiss a toad or a frog to find a princess I would recommend the Eleutherodactylus ligiae, while if you are looking for a prince charming the Eleutherodactylus neiba, species baptized or described by people who enjoy great social prestige that the new generations should emulate.