Birdhouses Are Cool. Frog houses are better. – DNyuz

Birdhouses Are Cool. Frog Houses Are Better.

Sign up for The Weekly Planet, The Atlantic’s newsletter about living through climate change, here.

For most people, discovering a frog living in your fence post would make you feel either kind of creeped out or kind of charmed. One man in Australia had a different idea. He wanted to create the most adorable pad. In a now-viral two-minute TikTok video, he designs and 3-D-prints his frog an elaborate home. The amphibian is blessed with an attached swimming pool and downstairs tadpole ramp.

This frog house was gleefully over the top, practically engineered to go viral with its renovations for “increased ribbit amplification” and a brushtail possum who occasionally likes to drink water from the pool. But frog houses as an idea are worth taking seriously. Animals don’t need much to get cozy in our backyards and balconies, as the world has already learned with birds. One ecologist found that bird feeding goes back at least 3,500 years; in the 18th century, the facades of Ottoman palaces and mosques were fitted with structures to house birds, who were seen as both holy and lucky. Birdhouses and bird feeders are so thoroughly part of human culture that purple martins in eastern North America nest almost exclusively in houses made by humans.

But, why is it that birds are treated so well? Building a little house for a frog to shelter in, or a pond where eggs can hatch and tadpoles can grow, is a great idea if you’ve got a place to put it. Even a tiny pondlet in a container on a patio can raise a whole amphibian generation. It is possible to provide help for animals in need and also participate in conservation of species at home. There are very few disadvantages. Honestly, creating a backyard pond is probably better than putting up a birdhouse. Please think about the urban amphibian.

Birds are beautiful, and they sing–it is no wonder we have long welcomed them into human spaces. At some level, it doesn’t even feel like sharing space, because birds live up high, in trees and on rooftops and telephone wires. They get the sky, and we get the land. Seems fair. But frogs? Inviting them into the garden can make you feel uneasy. Whereas birds are “so obvious and so charismatic,” Erin Sauer, an ecologist at the University of Arkansas who has studied both urban birds and urban amphibians, told me, frogs are “cryptic” and “camouflaged”–“they don’t want you to find them.” Many frogs in temperate zones, including much of the United States, are brown and green, and more active at night. They are a subtle pleasure, compared with a crimson cardinal or an iridescent hummingbird.

It might not be obvious that some amphibians are probably living not too far from you, in part because they stay hidden. In most major cities, you will find salamanders, newts and frogs. New York’s you can hear grey tree frogs calling in Brooklyn Heights. In Los Angeles, the canyons of Griffith Park are filled with bumpy western toads. According to the biodiversity tracker iNaturalist, 28 species of amphibians have been spotted in Columbus, Ohio, including the colorful eastern red-backed salamander. But amphibian numbers are in decline. Forty-one percent of amphibians are threatened with extinction, in part because of an ongoing fungal pandemic that as of four years ago had driven an estimated 90 species extinct. Sauer stated that frogs have very specific habitat requirements. They need both water and soil to live their lives.

Still, if there are frogs near your home and some relatively protected route for them to travel, and you build a pond with vegetation around it, they will likely move in. An analysis of dozens of projects that created ponds for amphibians found that in every study, frogs showed up at some or all of the ponds. Many studies showed that the species diversity in created ponds was higher than natural ones. Not all of those ponds were in cities, but another study looked at ponds in Portland, Oregon, and found similar results. It wasn’t the fact that the pond was fake or real, it was how many plants were growing around it. This is what most predicts whether a pond attracts frogs.

Frog ponds aren’t very common residential features (yet), but it isn’t like no one thinks of amphibian-kind when designing their outdoor space. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has some advice for creating effective backyard conservation ponds for native wildlife. There are any number of guides online to building toad abodes, frog hotels, and general-purpose backyard frog ponds. Some gardeners install toad houses, hoping that a toad will move in and pay rent by eating common garden pests. You can even buy handmade toad houses on Etsy. And naturally, TikTok Frog House Guy is now selling frog houses as well.

It can be simple, and cheap, to invite amphibians over to your place. Tree frogs love to hang out inside vertical tubes, so simply pounding a few PVC pipes into the ground can create a little frog hotel. Building a cozy house for toads can be as easy as half-burying a broken pot. Making a frog pond is as straightforward as digging a hole; setting a commercial pond liner, an old bathtub, or even a plastic storage tote in the hole; and filling it with rocks and water. “You don’t need to 3-D-print some elaborate frog mansion,” Sauer told me.

I had called Sauer to set my mind at ease on one point: Would creating an artificial house or pond also create a transmission point for disease? She told me it wasn’t worth worrying about. Yes, multiple frogs might move into a pond or house, and they might touch if they mate, but frogs already gather in groups naturally, whereas birds at bird feeders can congregate in unusually high numbers. Feeders can pose a disease risk to birds, Sauer said: “You have a single place with one porthole, and they stick their faces in there and chew on things. Then their friends will come over to do the same thing.” Frog ponds can also be used by birds for bathing and drinking, which means there is less risk of spreading disease.

There are very few downsides to catering to your local frogs, the biggest of which is that your backyard might have more mosquitoes–mosquitoes, like frogs, breed in water. To avoid that, you either need animals that will eat all of the mosquitoes (such as dragonflies or some tadpoles) or you need to keep the water moving. A solar-powered aerator costs about $30. It is possible for frogs to show up at your outdoor water feature and not be critically endangered, but it’s fine. Sauer stated that we want common species to survive so that they do not decline. All of it helps. Providing habitat for amphibians is important, but researchers are also working on frog houses that will actually help save frogs from the fungal pathogen. The houses will be similar to little greenhouses. They are hot enough for killing the fungal pathogen, but cool enough that they can still provide comfort.

Not everyone has the time or desire to make a frog home. They might still be interested in having a garden with wildflowers to attract pollinators. Saving species in the 21st century isn’t just about protecting big, undeveloped parks–although we need those too. It is also about figuring out how to coexist with the many species that can thrive in the urban, suburban, exurban, and agricultural landscapes we’ve made. We can coexist with other species for thousands of generations, as evidenced by the fact that we have shared space with them over many years.

There’s evidence that this is already happening, and birdhouses and frog houses are just the beginning. Many people are creating bee hotels, bat houses and milkweed to attract endangered monarch butterflies. Although it can seem overwhelming to consider all of the endangered species in need right now, conservation is fun and can help transform neighborhoods into habitats for frogs. Cities can also be considered wetlands, at most in some areas. Our kids can watch tadpoles on summer days. And in the spring, we can listen to the frogs sing at dusk.

The post Birdhouses Are Cool. Frog Houses Are Better. appeared first on The Atlantic.