Biologists have been aware for several years that amphibians are in trouble. They have been closely studying frogs, in laboratory situations as well as in the wild, trying to figure out what is causing gross abnormalities in many of them and why these wonderful creatures may be slowly slipping away. There are fears that this ancient species could be on its way to extinction.
Scientists are in agreement - at least to the extent that scientists ever agree about anything - that pollution of their environment is one of the main culprits causing frogs' problems. Amphibians are also known to be extremely sensitive to changes in climate, so they are being attacked on that front as well.
Now comes a report from the National Academy of Sciences, as reported in Discover magazine, that details how a herbicide that has found its way into our waterways can alter amphibians' hormones and actually cause them to change sexes. Scientists say that the potential exists that the herbicide would have similar effects on other animals, including humans.
The herbicide in question is atrazine and, apparently, it is widely used in the Mid-West among corn crops and other row crops. It has been found in many of the waterways there. In sufficient quantities, it can have the effect of chemically castrating male frogs and turning them into egg-producing females. This does not bode well for the sex ratio among amphibians, nor for the health of the environment, as a whole.
As a gardener, it certainly gives me pause when considering using any kinds of chemicals in my garden. The only herbicide I have ever used is Roundup which has glyphosate as its active ingredient. While it has the reputation of being relatively benign and I am not aware of any problems that it has caused, I don't think I'll be using it again. My yard has a thriving population of amphibians and reptiles of many kinds and I would not want to add anything to their environment that might cause problems for them.
I have always tried to be as organic as possible in my gardening practices, but I admit I have used chemicals of various kinds from time to time. This story of the atrazine and the frogs, though, makes me want to stop - cold turkey. I think the frogs and toads and other critters in my yard might be happier and healthier if I did. Maybe I would be, too.