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The Ecological Effects of Eating Frog Legs

As Kermit said, "All I can see are millions of frogs with tiny crutches"

smithsonian.com

Fried frog legs. Image courtesy of Flickr user rockdoggydog.

In the story of Kermit the Frog’s rise to fame recounted in The Muppet Movie, the road to stardom is paved with danger—namely in the form of Doc Hopper, the owner of a fast-food chain specializing in frog legs who wants Kermit for a singing, dancing spokesman. Our amphibian friend is horrified by the prospect. “All I can see are millions of frogs with tiny crutches,” he says in response to Hopper’s initial business proposal. And while things turned out well for Kermit and his talented troupe of friends, in real life, it’s not that easy being green. A worldwide penchant for frogs’ legs results in billions of frogs being snapped up and eaten every year, and according to a new study, it’s a dining habit that is putting considerable strain on frog populations.

In Europe, the mild-flavored meat has been a part of the cuisine for centuries, but demand for frogs’ legs skyrocketed after World War II to the point that local frog populations in Romania went extinct. France had to place a ban on the collection of indigenous frogs in 1992. To meet consumer demands, the European Union has been importing frogs from Asia. The United States is another major frog consumer, importing an average of 2,280 tons of legs per year, most of which come from, ironically, American bullfrogs.

India was a major frog exporter starting in the 1950s; however, the wild populations of those animals eventually collapsed, and with fewer predators to feed on insects and other pests, local agriculture started to suffer. It was a problem that prompted India to ban trade in frogs in 1987, and populations have since recovered. But now history may be repeating itself in Indonesia. Using farmed frogs may be a means of taking some pressure off the animals hopping around in the wild, but even that route poses problems: non-native frogs raised on farms can escape and introduce diseases or turn into an invasive species, which is the case with Indian bullfrogs raised in Madagascar. And then there are animal welfare issues (as dramatized on “The Muppet Show“); frogs are sometimes dismembered while still alive.

The study offers a number of ways to make frog leg trade sustainable and to minimize ecological impacts, such as setting export quotas, carefully monitoring wild populations, restricting commercial farming to native species and setting humane standards for the capture and slaughter of the animals. All that said, with so many issues surrounding this food source, would you spring for a plate of frogs’ legs?

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