Scientific Backlash

By Debra Viadero — May 10, 2005 1 min read
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Missouri biologist Raymond D. Semlitsch and his colleagues may be feeling a little bit like the Grinch these days.

The University of Missouri-Columbia professor was among a group of scientists who went on record last month opposing an effort by some Kansas City 4th graders to make the North American bullfrog the state amphibian.

Some Missouri 4th graders want the North American bullfrog to be the official state amphibian.

The Chinn Elementary School students launched their campaign last year after seeing bullfrogs on a field trip. They found a willing sponsor for such legislation in Rep. Susan C. Phillips, a Kansas City Republican.

“I wanted to see them walk through the process of government and see how a bill becomes a law,” Ms. Phillips said. Besides, the ubiquitous bullfrog seemed to be a natural choice for state amphibian.

She was surprised when the biologists disagreed.

In testimony before the legislature and in statements sent to Missouri news organizations, the alarmed biologists complained that the bullfrog is considered an invasive species that has caused declines in other amphibious populations. Once introduced to a pond or wetland area, it eats almost anything that moves, including fish, other frogs, and its own young, according to the scientists.

For his part, Mr. Semlitsch writes, he is “not attempting to squash the efforts or deny the heartfelt sincerity” of schoolchildren. In fact, he applauds any effort that spotlights amphibians, whose numbers are declining worldwide.

But he thinks the students could surely have picked a more appropriate symbol.

Take the Ozark Hellbender salamander, a 2-foot-long creature that he says is “pretty charismatic as far as amphibians go.”

Despite the controversy, the bill sailed through the House in March with little discussion, according to Ms. Phillips. She expects the Senate to take it up this month.

After all, the legislator said, “we have the mule for the state animal, and I’m not sure I like that, either.”

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