Devout amphibian supporter Kerry Kriger wants to see one of the nation’s most popular pesticides banned because it threatens a critter he loves: the frog.

Kriger is working locally and nationally to save his favorite amphibians. Late last year, he convinced the last frog-dissecting classroom in the Santa Clara Unified School District to discontinue the practice. Rachel Hager, a 7th-grade science teacher at Buchser Middle School in Santa Clara, had invited Kriger to speak to her class about the problems of overharvesting frogs. The talk convinced another Buchser teacher to abandon dissection as a teaching tool.

The move will save 160 wild Northern Leopard Frogs each year. More importantly, Kriger says, dissection “teaches kids a poor outlook on wildlife, and that frogs are disposable.”

In 2011, there are many alternatives to frog dissections for teachers who want their students to learn the basics of anatomy, including Frog 2.5, a tutorial on the inner workings of amphibians. “I don’t think it’s even incredibly valuable knowledge what the inside of a frog looks like,” says Kriger, who encourages students to write their teachers and school administrators asking them to put a stop to the practice.

“It’s our ethical responsibility to other organisms on the planet, all of which have every bit as much right to exist here as we do,” Kriger says.

In January, his success in Santa Clara Unified lead him to make a new goal: to halt all frog dissections by 2014. Right now, however, Kriger is gearing up for April 29, “Save the Frogs Day”—an event Kriger initiated three years ago and which, he brags, is now celebrated in 30 different countries (albeit primarily by herpetologists and other frog enthusiasts).

To mark the date, Kriger is headed for the steps of the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he will stage a one-man protest against the pesticide Atrazine, a compound that mimics estrogen and is used mostly on corn. The pesticide is the most commonly detected pesticide in American groundwater and is currently under review for repeal by the EPA.

“It’s rare that any pesticide ever approved comes back for review,” says Kriger of the Swiss-made pesticide, which was banned by the European Union in 2004. “There’s so much scientific evidence of its harm.”

The Pesticide Action Network of North America, based in San Francisco, says studies show the endocrine-disrupting substance may


cause breast cancer and smaller birth sizes in humans. And there’s no doubt about its harm to frogs.

A tiny drop of Atrazine can transform male frogs into females—in amounts of less than one in 3-billionths of a drop. “Frogs have permeable skin, so they’re absorbing anything bad that gets in the water,” Kriger says.

Kriger, who received his Ph.D. in environmental science doing amphibian research in Australia, founded Save the Frogs in Santa Cruz in February 2009. Save the Frogs Day is a small part of his fight on behalf of amphibians, the fastest-disappearing animal class on the planet.

The wetlands where they thrive are being paved for construction; they are being harvested for food (in many parts of the world their flesh is considered a delicacy); invasive species are taking over their habitats. Malcolm McCallum, managing editor of Herpetological Conservation and Biology, estimated in a 2007 study that amphibians may be becoming extinct at 40,000 times the natural rate.

“It’s unprecedented in the history of the planet that anything could be going extinct this fast,” McCallum says.

Aside from being so cute, frogs play an important role in the ecological integrity of the planet. For millions of years, frogs and other amphibians have served as an important link in the food chain between the biting, disease-carrying bugs they eat and the reptiles, mammals and birds that in turn eat them. Tadpoles help clean and filter drinking water by eating algae.

Much Nobel Prizewinning research has been done on amphibians. Today, research is being done on the Southern Orange Eyed Tree Frog, whose skin contains a peptide that could prove useful for an HIV vaccine.

“Anything frogs can do that we cannot do is something that we can learn from,” Kriger says. “But if they’re extinct, there’s no chance.”

In addition to his rally in the nation’s capital, Kriger is coordinating a San Francisco rally to decry the city-owned Sharp Park Golf Course, which is built on wetlands that are home to the endangered California red-legged frog. “They literally pump the wetlands out to sea,” Kriger says. “And the California red-leg frogs end up on the land, and they sit there and dry out.”

In New York City, under Kriger’s planning and guidance, picketers will turn their energies to Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs, which sells frog legs at their Coney Island location.

Kriger says consumer changes such as stopping frog-leg dinners and classroom dissections are easy compared with the political challenges of overcoming a pesticide like Atrazine. “At a minimum it’s an easy choice for a consumer—for a teacher to stop dissecting frogs or for a restaurant to stop selling frog legs,” he says.

In the scientific community, Kriger’s efforts aren’t going unnoticed. “He is focused on this,” says McCallum. “He took this under his wing and decided to dedicate his life to it.”