MURRELLS INLET — What does a frog say?
If your answer is “ribbet ribbet,” sit down for a minute.
Some frogs do indeed “ribbet,” but their cousins may croak or grunt or quack or doonk or even wee.
In fact, says Matt Cuskelly of Brookgreen Gardens, all but maybe five or six of the 22 frog species that live along the Grand Strand have distinctive calls and those who know the sounds can identify each individual species in a night’s chorus.
Sort of like saying “That’s a violin” or “That’s a French horn” while sitting in a symphony hall with your eyes closed.
The five or six species with similar calls can also be identified, but that might take some experience in listening.
Cuskelly, an animal keeper at Brookgreen, is now the trainer for its growing Frogwatch chapter as well. He has already taken about 80 Brookgreen staff and volunteers through the two-hour course and has set his sights on recruiting frog watchers from the area’s residents.
All will become part of a nationwide network coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to document the population of frogs and toads that are a lot more important to humans than most acknowledge.
Not only do they eat a lot of insects that would otherwise pester and perhaps injure us, but they are also an important source of food for animals higher up the chain, said Debbie Hutchinson, assistant professor of biology at Coastal Carolina University.
Some medicines are derived from one part or another of frogs.
Because they are amphibious, they absorb pollutants both from the air and water, and a sudden drop in population could point to an environmental problem.
“If their numbers start to crash,” Hutchinson said, “that’s a big red flag to humans that something’s going on.”
That points to the importance of Frogwatch getting as many listeners as it can. Like other citizen science efforts, the success of Frogwatch relies on repeated collection of a large amount of date all across the country.
“You can collect a lot more data a lot more efficiently than if you just had scientists doing it,” Cuskelly said of the Frogwatch model.
Hutchinson said that frogs are the most endangered organism on Earth, but her colleague Sharon Gilman, another assistant biology professor at CCU, said they seem to be doing just fine in this area of South Carolina.
Gilman said that, among other things, frogs are in danger because of climate change and a fungus called chytid.
“They’re looking at habitat loss as being their main threat,” Gilman said.
Frogs can be found, or better heard, throughout the Grand Strand.
“We hear frogs and it would be nice to be able to identify them,” said Jean Runkle of times on the porch with her husband Ron. The Runkles were Cuskelly’s first citizen volunteers at a recent resident training session.
Ron Runkle explained that their property abuts an old drainage canal for ricefields, a good habitat for frogs.
Gilman said frogs can live just about anywhere there’s some water. In fact, she said, many frogs prefer to breed in areas that are only temporarily wet because such places won’t have fish to eat their tadpoles.
Those who want to join the Runkles in the Grand Strand’s Frogwatch program can attend training sessions at Brookgreen’s Lowcountry Center Auditorium scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on June 30 and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. July 12.
Cuskelly said he’ll travel to give training to groups that have a place for him to do it.
There is no cost for the two-hour session or frog call CD you’ll get at the end of it. But those who aren’t already members of Brookgreen Gardens will have to buy a ticket to get in. The ticket is good for return trips for the next seven days.
OK, one more moment for a couple of frog facts:
• Frogs differ from other amphibians in that they have no tails.
• Frogs have teeth, so their diet can include small mammals as well as insects.
Now. Go forth and count.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.