yearoffrogLeaping long-toed salamanders, Batman! We need your help to save the nearly 2,000 amphibian species that are currently threatened with extinction. That’s one-third of all known species of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians across the globe. And the status of the other two-thirds ain’t looking so hot either.

Small wonder, too, what with an unprecedented onslaught of amphib-unfriendly human activities: habitat destruction and alteration, climate change, pollution, and now a mysterious but devastatingly fatal skin-infecting disease caused by the chytrid fungus, which has spread to every continent but Asia and Antarctica. Things haven’t looked this bad for such a major group of species since the dinos went all fossil-fuel on us 65 million years ago. Except back then, amphibians survived — only to meet their match today.

Thank goodness naturalists and zookeepers had the foresight to capitalize on 2008 being a Leap Year to publicize this plight by declaring it the Year of the Frog.

And with today being Leap Day, over 70 zoos and aquariums are holding frog-themed events this weekend to raise awareness about the critical state of the world’s amphibians. So find a frog fest near you. Some of the herp-happy fun you can get in on includes:

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  • An amphibian scavenger hunt (note: no actual amphibians scavenged) as well as demos of the effects of pollution on frog eggs, at New York Zoos and Aquarium.
  • A “Frog Hop Dance/Population Biology Study” at the Phoenix Zoo. (Think musical chairs but with ponds that disappear from drought and a surprise invasive bullfrog at game’s end.)
  • A jumping contest (you vs. the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County) at the North Carolina Zoo.
  • And in conjunction with the Detroit Zoo, local citizens are heeding the call of the wild frogs in an ongoing effort to survey local frog populations via bimonthly call surveys of nearby wetlands.

But don’t think the frogger love stops there. You can continue your education and support of local and global amphibians by contacting nearby zoos, aquariums, and wildlife centers about educational programs; volunteering with community conservation groups; restoring degraded wetlands; voting and petitioning to protect interconnected habitat at home and abroad; and donating to amphibian conservation projects, such as Amphibian Ark, which aids captive breeding and research programs.

Whether you love or loathe the slippery little suckers, however, shouldn’t shield you from acknowledging why protecting them is advantageous for even the most devout worshiper of concrete jungles.

According to Simon Stuart, lead researcher of the Global Amphibian Assessment:

Since most amphibians depend on fresh water and feel the effects of pollution before many other forms of life, including humans, their rapid decline tells us that one of Earth’s most critical life support systems is breaking down.

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Amphibian Ark chairman, Jeffrey Bonner, sums up the importance of biodiversity in 26 words: “Each time you lose a species it’s like popping a rivet on an airplane. Who cares? If you lose too many rivets, the wing falls off.”

But besides being bioindicators of global ecological health and possibly providing a breakthrough in AIDS treatment (oh, is that all?), amphibians also serve as great metaphors for our current climate crisis. (Even if the boiling frog is an urban myth.)

A frog in water Doesn’t feel it boil in time. Dude, we are that frog.

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