May 3, 2007

Scientists, Students Spar Over Bullfrog

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The bullfrog sounds off with its resonant croak at ponds across North Carolina in the summer, and some young students believe its statewide presence should make it the official state amphibian. But scientists figure there are better choices out there.

A fourth-grade class from a Plymouth elementary school has asked lawmakers to grant the bullfrog the designation. The state House passed a bill to do so, and the measure is now pending in the Senate. Yet the state Herpetological Society says the bullfrog is a little too common in a state with a diverse amphibian population.

North Carolina has 30 species of frogs and 60 species of salamanders, rivaled only by neighboring Georgia.

Joyce Baker, a teacher at Pines Elementary, said her students recommended the bullfrog because it's easily recognizable and lives in all parts of the state.

"Tar Heels got their nickname because they are steadfast and outspoken, and so are bullfrogs," she said. "So it seemed like a real fitting thing to do."

But Alvin Braswell, curator for amphibians and reptiles at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, said the bullfrog is not unique to North Carolina and has already been named the state amphibian in Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma.

"It is a big frog, grows rapidly, is highly vocal, doesn't live long and eats anything they can stuff in their mouth," Braswell said.

The North Carolina Herpetological Society - which includes researchers, breeders and enthusiasts - has suggested alternative amphibians that could represent the state. The list includes the Neuse River waterdog, a salamander found in the Neuse and Tar River basins; the Carolina gopher frog, unique to the Sandhills and coastal plain; the Yonahlossee salamander, a brick-red colored creature first discovered in North Carolina; the Eastern hellbender, which can grow to 30 inches long; and the marbled salamander, found over most of the state.

Rep. Tim Spear, a Democrat from Washington County who introduced the bill on behalf of the students, said many of those alternatives are limited to only part of the state.

"Everyone has seen or heard a bullfrog," Spear said. "I don't think I have ever seen any of those on that list. If I have, I didn't know enough to recognize it by its proper name. The bullfrog - it's easy for everyone to identify."

State symbols are hardly easy business for the Legislature. In 2001, a group of students in Goldsboro offered the strawberry as the official state fruit only to run into unexpected opposition from the blueberry lobby and scuppernong grape supporters. The result was a compromise bill that included the strawberry as the state red berry, the blueberry as the state blue berry and the scuppernong grape as the state fruit.

"I'm certainly not willing to take on any controversy concerning amphibians or their varied supporters," said state Sen. Tony Rand, D-Cumberland. "This will require ongoing investigation, and we may have to take several trips to look at the various species before arriving at a solution."


Information from: The News & Observer, http://www.newsobserver.com