Official state animals named
North Carolina’s collection of state symbols got a little
wilder this week, after Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation making the Pine Barrens treefrog and the
marbled salamander the official state frog and salamander, and the Virginia opossum the official
McCrory signed the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Marilyn Avila of Wake County, in front of a small, but enthusiastic crowd of amphibian aficionados. Among them was Rachel Hopkins, a 15-year-old from Wake County who spearheaded a year-long effort to get an official state amphibian after successfully lobbying to have then-Gov. Bev Perdue proclaim April 28, 2012 as “Save the Frogs” Day in North Carolina.
As N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Jeff Hall explains, having two amphibians as official state symbols makes a world of sense, given North Carolina’s rich diversity of amphibians, particularly salamanders.
“North Carolina has a great diversity of amphibians, among the highest in the whole Southeast,” Hall said. “I was really tickled to see not one, but two amphibians become official state symbols yesterday. The Wildlife Resources Commission is charged with managing amphibians and reptiles, along with their habitats, and this signing will go a long way to helping us teach people about the important roles amphibians play in our daily lives.”
Hall, who is also coordinator of the N.C. Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, has spent his entire career working with reptiles and amphibians, collectively known as “herps,” and raising awareness about these ecologically important but often misunderstood animals.
He hopes that the designation of the Pine Barrens treefrog and the marbled salamander as official state symbols will educate people better about the plight of amphibians, which, in many locations, is quite dire.
With their permeable skin that can easily absorb toxic chemicals, amphibians are especially susceptible to environmental pollutants. That trait, along with habitat loss, invasive species, infectious diseases and other factors, has resulted in steep population declines in many places.
“While North Carolina has good populations of many species of salamanders and frogs, we also have some that are struggling,” Hall said. “Additionally, many parts of the world are seeing vast amphibian die-offs, which is tragic.”
Tadpoles and larvae keep waterways clean by feeding on algae and small aquatic insects. Adults of both groups eat large quantities of insects, including some insects that can transmit diseases to humans. In turn, these amphibians are important food sources for other wildlife, such as fish, snakes and birds.
This ecological role played by amphibians is important, according to Hall, but amphibians’ roles in medical research that benefits humans can be equally newsworthy.
“Amphibians produce an array of skin secretions, and scientists are using those secretions to create new antibiotics and painkillers that can potentially improve human health,” Hall said.
While the Pine Barrens treefrog and the marbled salamander had a strong show of support at the signing ceremony, the Virginia opossum, with less fanfare, was designated the official state marsupial under HB 830, which was also sponsored by Reps. Susan Martin, Pat McElraft, Roger West, Jonathan Jordan, Nathan Ramsey and Rena Turner.
For more information on amphibians and other nongame wildlife in North Carolina, visit the Conserving page at http://www.ncwildlife.org.