So, everyone has gotten through chapter 1, yes? I know, it’s pretty depressing to hear about how all our little amphibian friends are disappearing, but I think this a really important chapter and I’m glad that Elizabeth Kolbert, the author put it first in the book. One of the many things I took away from this chapter was the dedication and love many of these people have for these little vertebrates, our slimy friends the amphibians. It takes a lot of hard work to do censuses of these animals in the field, and it’s only through the continual efforts of many hardworking people that these species have been saved, for now.

These poor amphibian friends are being hit especially hard due to the triple whammy of loss of habitat/climate change/chytrid fungus (Bd), but they play really important roles in our ecosystems. But! Hope is not completely lost, some of the places where these animals live can be quite remote and hard to access, so sometimes even when a certain species hasn’t been observed in the wild for a while doesn’t always mean they’ve completely disappeared. Sometimes it just means their numbers are so low they are almost impossible to find, which seems to be the story of the Bolivian aquatic frog (I’ve put a link to an article below, but you can also search up this story for a lot of related articles). For years only one male of this species had been in captivity, and efforts to find a potential mate for him in his native cloud forest habitat had failed in the past, but on this latest expedition they finally found a few other members of this species (some female) so there is still a chance to save this species!


P.S. I bet quite a few of you were shocked that African clawed frogs were once used as pregnancy tests!! Talk about bizarre.

See you next week for Chapter 2!



Elizabeth, the author, opens the topic of extinction with a story about Panamanian golden frogs (Atelopus zeteki) dying in grotesque volume. Even more troubling, the cause of death, a fungus (Batrachochytrium dendobatidis, aka Bd), is ubiquitous and killing frogs on every continent. The Bd fungus interferes with frogs’ electrolyte consumption and induces a slow heartattack a few weeks after exposure. To stave off losing the frogs forever, an institute exists in Panama to preserve the frogs in aquariums sterilized and isolated from the rain forests. No cure or resolution is known, Frogs – and all amphibians – seem destined for extinction.  

Elizabeth borrows the title of her remarkable book from a scientific paper titled “Are We in the Midst of the Sixth Extinction? A View from the World of Amphibians”, which appears in the esteemed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (PNAS). The paper is rather popular and has been cited over 1,200 times. The article reflects on five great extinctions since life emerged on Earth and wrestles with that fact that a single “weedy species”, the Bd fungus, is wreaking havoc on amphibians worldwide. The authors of the PNAS article extend their argument to suggest that all life on Earth is at risk of dying, in large part due to infiltration of humans into nature. Elizabeth muses over the fact that something, albeit catastrophic, that happened only five times in Life’s history seems rare. To live through what is potentially a sixth extinction is therefore extraordinary, and awkwardly troublesome since we humans may ultimately be to blame.

Reading this chapter, a few ideas came to mind, about the reporting itself, about science writ-large and about the topic of biodiversity. First, was struck both by Elizabeth’s easy prose and her willingness to see science first-hand She joins the scientists wading knee deep in the night through wild rivers in the forest to catch glimpses of frogs. This brings me to my second reflection, that science is often dirty, tedious, and isolating. However, just as a single voice in isolation seems odd but a chorus heavenly, the collected struggle of scientists from every discipline together make a unified whole, the Truth. Science emerges from oblique and obsures doors. In this case, a few herpetologists in the mountains uncovered a world-wide conspiracy by a fungus to eliminate amphibians. But why? This brings me to my third and final reflection, that the Earth supports a mind-blowing diversity of life. Moreover, life seems intimately connected, one species affecting another either negatively or positively. A perturbation, like human development, can interfere in that network with crushing, extinction-level results. By interrupting the steady metabolism of Earth, humans seem to be aiding the cause of some (the Bd fungus) at the expense of others (the frogs). We can lend man the benefit of the doubt that (i) most people didn’t realize they would induce a sixth mass extinction when they extended their corn farm and (ii) we to demand a life worth living, with all the food and shelter necessary. However, as Elizabeth suggests,  we need to slow our roll.


Firstly, I’m just going to flat out admit that when I saw the length of this book, and even the first chapter, I was intimidated. Initially, it felt like another responsibility on top of everything else going on, but I knew if Kyle and Christiane swore by it I wouldn’t regret it. So I put on my big girl, and dove into the first chapter enthusiastically–I was not disappointed.

I love Kyle’s introductory synopsis and concluding thoughts on the chapter. Highlighting the observation that humans are at the heart of the amphibian extinction, albeit in this case unwittingly. Being a scientist and an endlessly naive optimist, I immediately started thinking–well how could we humans fix the mess we’ve made? Paul Stamets immediately came to mind. 

If our listeners couldn’t tell, we at Insufficient Facts, are big fans of fungi. This is despite the fact that, in some cases, they have the potential to cause other organisms harm just as much as they can be integral to healthy thriving ecosystems. In the case of the dying frogs that are the focus of chapter one, we learn about what mycologists named Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis–one of the bad actors of the fungal kingdom. This situation reminded me of our current predicament with declining honeybee populations due to a viral scourge decimating bee health. Paul Stamets is a world renowned mycologist who discovered extracts from fungi that had antimicrobial properties which helped the bees fight off viral infections that cause devastating deformities. Stamets and colleagues published their work in Nature Scientific Reports last year and the consensus right now is that these fungal extracts provide our best known avenue for maintaining current bee populations, and hopefully their recovery. Because fungi are known to have antimicrobial properties–which includes factors that fight against viruses, bacteria, and even other fungi–I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a fungi yet to be identified that could help frogs in the fight against Bd. Actually, I’m almost certain there is and we need only look in the right place!

I’m not sure where amphibians currently stand, or what’s being done to help them now since this book is a few years old, but maybe one of our Fact Finders could dig up some recent info to share with us.