Think about what’s in your backyard. A deck, a swing set, just grass? How about a wildlife habitat? That’s what Eric Warren has in his backyard. Though he lives in the city of Rochester, the backyard of this artist and amphibian advocate is an official amphibian wildlife habitat certified by the National Wildlife Federation.
His love of frogs started as it would for any kid who grew up catching frogs around the lakes and ponds of upstate New York and caring for frogs as pets. As an adult, his interest in frogs only grew. He began actively advocating for amphibian conservation, designed the frog habitats at Seneca Park Zoo, and then about eight years ago, made a frog habitat out of his own home. With 43% of amphibian species extinct or in decline, amphibian conservation efforts like this are growing more important every day.
Build it and They Will Come
With the appropriate food, water and cover, any property, or part of a property, can achieve National Wildlife Federation certification, but it’s not a quick project by any means. Warren began by studying local ponds to see what the water and surrounding plants were like naturally. From Butterfly Beltway Project resources, he learned more about what plants would attract the right insects and birds to build an entire ecosystem around local frog species like green frogs, spring peepers and the American toad.
“You need plants that will draw the bugs that will draw the frogs. It’s important to build a whole ecosystem with a food chain,” Eric said. “Without the bugs, the frogs just won’t stay.”
Just like the Field of Dreams line “Build it and they will come,” amphibians in his area were naturally drawn to this well-built habitat over time, but Warren has also received amphibians from neighbors who occasionally bring tadpoles they’ve found on their pool covers to put into his pond. Surprisingly, the Rochester winter isn’t much of a problem. With pumps to keep the water circulating, his ponds never quite freeze over.
Create Your Own Habitat
Your own habitat can begin as simply as dedicating a small corner of your yard to begin. Warren acknowledges that his yard, pictured here. is a bit above and beyond what is required for certification and actually encourages people to start small to make it more manageable.
It may be tempting to select ornamental plants to decorate the habitat, but it’s critical to stay natural. Researching, visiting the zoos in Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo and talking to people of the Genesee Pond and Koi Club and the Bergen Water Gardens & Nursery is the first step that Warren recommends.
Short on Time?
If you’re still interested in doing your part for our amphibian neighbors but don’t have the time and resources to create a certified habitat, there are still important things you can do. Avoid pesticides, volunteer for clean-up days at parks and consider joining or donating to nature organizations and zoos, just to name a few.
“In short, be mindful,” Warren advised. “Frogs absorb everything through their skin. Chemicals and pesticides can cause fertility issues in frogs, deformations, unhealthy tadpoles and troubles morphing from tadpole to frog. Insects can also ingest the pesticides and poison the frogs secondarily.”
Eric’s Take on the Frog Exhibition
You may have seen “Frogs: A Chorus of Colors” for the first time in the Rochester Museum & Science Center, but Warren had already seen the traveling exhibition in other cities and made sure to see it again when it came to his own hometown of Rochester.
As an artist, it’s the habitats that impressed him first about the exhibition. There’s a lot that goes into designing a good habitat, he said, depending on each frog’s needs. This exhibition manages to do that while also making them beautiful. Unfortunately, zoos and other places don’t always have the finances to make the habitats as well put together as the ones now in RMSC’s Riedman Gallery. In fact, the habitats of the “Frogs” exhibition were Warren’s initial inspiration for the terrariums he has in his own home.
The number one thing he hopes that people will take away from the exhibition; however, is an appreciation of what frogs do for us.
“Frogs are environmental indicators. Without frogs, we have problems,” Warren emphasized. "Because frogs absorb so much through their skin, they are often the first hit by anything that goes wrong in an ecosystem and set off valuable red flags for us. We need frogs to read the health of our environment before it’s too late.”