December 19, 2009 in Nation/World

Tree-borne frogs unloved as company

Mary Pemberton Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Christmas trees for sale in the Anchorage area may carry live Pacific Chorus frogs.
(Full-size photo)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Forget the plastic icicles, brightly colored balls and tinsel. Some Christmas trees for sale in the Anchorage area are adorned with something truly different this holiday season: Pacific chorus frogs.

While the small frogs are very cute, measuring an inch or two with lovely moss- colored green sides and black spots, Alaska state officials are asking residents to practice some tough love. If they find a Christmas tree frog, they’re told, kill it.

So far, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, has received reports of two amphibious hitchhikers. One was hiding out on a holiday tree from Washington state that was sold this week at an Anchorage nursery. The frog ended up in the biology department at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“They identified it as a Pacific chorus frog,” said Tracey Gotthardt, a zoologist with the university’s Alaska Natural Heritage Program. The frogs are found from British Columbia to southern Baja California, but are not native to Alaska.

In Washington, the Pacific chorus frog is a keystone species – because of its large population, is has a big effect on its environment. Many other species, such as garter snakes, depend upon the frogs as food. In 2007, the Pacific chorus frog was named Washington’s official state frog.

In Alaska, it’s not welcome.

“No one is in panic mode over this, but we are taking it seriously,” said Jennifer Yuhas, spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

That’s because the frogs – whose joyful chorus is often used for movie soundtracks – could be carrying some ugly viruses and fungi, including chytrid fungus that is devastating amphibians around the world.

“Our immediate concern is that if a frog does hop out of a tree and they decide to keep it as a pet over the winter, they must keep it forever. We don’t want them being released into the wild,” Gotthardt said.

Yuhas said it’s not that Alaskans are heartless, but that they must protect their own.

“I know they are awful cute, but pets or small children are known to put things in their mouths,” she said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is suggesting two methods of dispatch: death by a dab of Orajel applied to the head (the tooth desensitizer apparently knocks them out for good), or putting the little critter in a plastic bag and placing it in the freezer.

With temperatures hovering around zero Friday morning, Doug Warner, a spokesman for the state Division of Agriculture, had another suggestion for disposing of the frogs.

“Put it in a jar and put it out on the front porch, and that way you won’t have to put it in with your Christmas cookies,” he said.

Tammy Davis, leader of Fish and Game’s Invasive Species Program, said the Alaska Natural Heritage Program will accept live frogs as well.

The important thing is that Alaskans don’t keep the Christmas frogs, she said.

“That is the whole thing about invasive species,” Davis said. “We didn’t think zebra mussels would live in the Great Lakes.”

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