When I was in Costa Rica for a bird photography tour recently with Tropical Birding, I had an opportunity to visit Frog’s Heaven, a place that specializes in catching wild frogs for photography. The frogs are subsequently released back into the environment. These tiny frogs are getting harder to find, even in the optimized environments of the Frog’s Heaven preserve. Research suggests that even though amphibians are severely declining worldwide, there is no simple solution to halting or reversing these declines. Amphibians are good indicators of significant environmental changes. Amphibians, unlike people, breathe at least partly through their skin, which is constantly exposed to everything in their environment. Consequently, their bodies are much more sensitive to environmental factors such as disease, pollution, toxic chemicals, ultraviolet radiation, and habitat destruction. The worldwide occurrences of amphibian declines and deformities could be an early warning that some of our ecosystems, even seemingly pristine ones, are seriously out of balance. We were able to photograph a nice cross section of the different types of frogs which I thought I would present here.
Last year I had the privilege of visiting Madagascar to see the unique animals and plants often found only there. The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana separated the Madagascar–Antarctica–India landmass from the Africa–South America landmass around 135 million years ago (mya). Madagascar later split from India about 88 mya, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in relative isolation. Fossils from Africa and some tests of nuclear DNA suggest that lemurs made their way to Madagascar between 40 and 52 mya. Other mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence comparisons offer an alternative date range of 62 to 65 mya. An ancestral lemur population is thought to have inadvertently rafted to the island on a floating mat of vegetation, although hypotheses for land bridges and island hopping have also been proposed. Any extended ocean voyage without fresh water or food would prove difficult for a large, warm-blooded mammal, but today many small, nocturnal species of lemur hibernate, which allows them to lower their metabolism and become dormant while living off fat reserves facilitating the ocean voyage. Having undergone their own independent evolution on Madagascar, lemurs have diversified to fill many niches normally filled by other types of mammals. They include the smallest primates in the world, and once included some of the largest. Lemurs belong to a group called prosimian primates, defined as all primates that are neither monkeys nor apes. Though there are many species of lemur, there are very few individuals. Lemurs are considered the most endangered group of animals on the planet.