Stories in Oklahoma

How Can You Help Protect Amphibians from Deadly Pathogens?

Amphibian populations worldwide are undergoing a rapid decline due to a number of factors, including emergent infectious diseases.

© Mike Fuhr/TNC

Summer is here and those cool lake and river waters are calling your name. Weekend plans of fishing, kayaking and swimming are schemed. Packing lists are made. Food is purchased. All that’s left to do is the countdown to Friday, right? Not exactly. There is an important box we are forgetting to check off – cleaning our gear with bleach spray.

“Amphibian populations worldwide are undergoing a rapid decline due to a number of factors, including climate change, habitat loss, pet trade, pollution, and emergent infectious diseases, such as chytridiomycosis and ranaviruses,” said Jessa Watters, Collection Manager for Herpetology at the Sam Noble Museum.

Grey tree frog.
© Mike Fuhr/TNC

Recent research in southeastern Oklahoma, provided by statewide amphibian infectious disease monitoring, shows a dramatic increase in chytridiomycosis and ranaviruses (RV). Chytridiomycosis is caused by the chytrid fungus. From 1924 to 2014, chytrid prevalence in preserved specimens from this same southeastern quadrant was  relatively low at 17%. From the samples taken in 2015, that number jumped to 68%.

“Both pathogens can be spread through direct contact between amphibians, indirect contact in the water, and can be spread from pond to pond through human recreational activities that use waders, boats, etc.” said Watters.

Samples collected at Pontotoc Ridge and Oka’ Yanahli Preserves however, showed different results with chytrid prevalence of 5% and 13% respectively. Why are the amphibians in these preserves so clean compared to surrounding areas? The prevalence is low because of the very limited human activity on these preserves as well as the precautions taken by preserve staff.

Preserve staff use 10% bleach water spray to disinfect rubber boots, waders, kayaks and other equipment before and after use.

TNC staff cleaning boots after use at Pontotoc Ridge Preserve.
TNC staff cleaning boots after use at Pontotoc Ridge Preserve. © Ryan West

What caused the spread of these pathogens in the first place? The answer may surprise you. The chytrid fungus and RV virus originated from the amphibian and reptile pet trade.

“This is why you don’t release your aquarium water out in a pond or creek. Or your poison dart frog in a park because things from the pet trade can bring in viruses or bacteria that wild animals have no defenses against,” said Jona Tucker, Preserve Director.

The next time you break out the kayaks, spray them down with bleach water first. If you have second thoughts about your new pet, return it to the store. 

Your simple actions can have far reaching positive benefits.

How You Can Help!

  • Spray water gear down with 10% bleach water before and after use.
    • Such gear includes kayaks, boots, waders, flotation devices, and paddles.
  • Do not release pets into the wild. This includes fish, frogs, lizards, and turtles.