If you build it, they will come (and croak): Backyard frog ponds

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By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Frogs and toads across the country could use a helping hand.

Amphibians — from the endangered Houston Toad to the threatened Golden Coqui — are disappearing at an alarming rate, faster than any other vertebrate. Many species around the globe have disappeared entirely, according to the Animal Welfare Institute’s Endangered Species Handbook (as well as numerous other sources.)

The scale of their disappearance, the institute says, has not been seen since mass extinctions that happened millions of years ago (think dinosaurs). The number of threatened frogs and toads has increased by 10 times in the last 30 years. Almost one-third of the world’s 6,000 amphibian species are facing extinction, according to the Global Amphibian Assessment.

What’s happening? Their moist habitats are being filled in or polluted. Pesticides and other toxic chemicals have taken a heavy toll. Predatory fish and even other exotic frogs have been introduced to their environments. Of course, don’t discount the human appetite for frog legs around the world. Even the thinning ozone layer is being blamed because of higher UV radiation’s effect on delicate frog skin.

Frogs and toads are an essential part of the delicate eco-system balance: They keep insect populations under control.

You can lend a helping hand by contributing money or becoming a volunteer with Frogwatch USA by helping track down frogs and toads native to your area. The information you contribute helps the organization track the status of croaky critters.

Want to be more hands on? Help out the frogs and toads of your neighborhood by creating a frog- and toad-friendly back yard. Tip number one: if you live in an area where frogs and toads are rarely seen, you might not have much luck attracting any, although you would still have a pretty pond.

If you do have amphibians in your area, the first order of business is water. If you don’t have a creek or lake in your yard, you’ll need to build a pond. Tips from Frogwatch USA remind us that the little amphibians need ponds with sloped sides to give them easy ways to get in and out. Logs and rocks can also provide that easy access. Also, you’ll need to plant dense, leafy foliage – native to your area – around the edges to provide cover.

Don’t put the pond too close to large trees (root problems, leaf decay) or in the full sun (too hot on a summer day), suggests the Backyard Buddies program of the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife. Give some thought to the water supply and drainage of the pond, and electricity needs for lights, pumps and filters. Details such as overflow areas, preparing the water and keeping it clean (but not too clean) are important. Some sources say no fish, others disagree. We’d suggest you start without fish – some of them eat frogs.

A personal benefit of having amphibians in your yard is that they eat a lot of unwanted insects, according to The Urban Outback in Canada. That site provides a lot of detailed instruction regarding plants and pond construction.

There is plenty of collective pond wisdom on the Web, including tips from Sage Environmental Services, A Frog Pond, Frogsville USA and even eHow. Water pond purveyors in your community can likely help with ideas specific to your part of the country

Oh, you might want to build your toad playground a bit away from the house – if you are lucky and attract some friendly frogs (or toads), they can be quite noisy neighbors at night.

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