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RALEIGH — North Carolina’s collection of state symbols got a little wilder June 28 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 state marsupial.
Gov. 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-governor Bev Perdue proclaim April 28, 2012 as Save The Frogs Day in North Carolina.
The Durham Academy student and self-described “frog lover” has spent the last few years speaking to Wake County Commissioners, conducting radio interviews and presenting multiple exhibits at schools and events across the county, on behalf of frogs worldwide. Last year, she combined her considerable public relations expertise with the broad reach of the N.C. Herpetological Society to bring amphibians to the attention of the current legislature.
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.
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.”
Hall cited frogs and salamanders for their integral ecological roles in the food chain and their important and expanding roles in medical research that benefits humans.
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.
Practical medical and ecological contributions aside, Hall said that the aesthetics of having frogs and salamanders as part of the natural world made them worthy of conservation efforts.
“Frogs and salamanders deserve our utmost dedication to helping conserve their populations so that our children’s children can enjoy the thrill of flipping over a fallen log and finding a salamander or hearing the nasally honk-honk of a Pine Barrens treefrog as it calls for a mate,” he 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, see ncwildlife.org/fishing.aspx.