The Internet makes a whole jungle full of "exotic" species available for delivery directly to your home. They may look harmless on the computer screen, but in reality most are not.
"Some 65 Montanans are learning this difficult biology lesson right now," said Tim Feldner, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks commercial wildlife permit coordinator. "They recently purchased a grow-a-frog kit that included an African clawed frog, a species prohibited in Montana." Feldner said other Montanans may also have purchased similar kits in the past. FWP has notified the 65 known customers.
How could such a thing happen?
Whether it is grow a frog, a ladybug or a fish, there are colorful plastic kits available on the Internet. Each provides a suitable "habitat" for the critter and comes with a certificate to order the live specimen through the mail.
Most of us would not think to ask where these live creatures are from, whether they are native to Montana, and whether a permit is required to import them into the state—but it turns out we should. These questions are important to ask before purchasing any type of living thing through the mail—to protect ourselves from heartache and to protect Montana's native habitats and species from harm.
"We have to all begin to think more like biologists when a potentially destructive species can simply be ordered over the Internet by anyone anywhere and potentially released into the wild," Feldner said.
"The African clawed frog supplied in many of these grow-a-frog kits is on the prohibited species list because, if released, it could easily survive and create feral populations that would harm native animals, habitats and food sources," Feldner said.
This frog species may survive up to 15 years or more. Though native to sub-Saharan Africa, it can endure temperatures from 32 to 86 degrees. The female is capable of 27,000 eggs per clutch and lays multiple batches of eggs each year. It is extremely predatory, eating aquatic insects and small fish, and is a known intermediate host for a parasite that infects the lens of fish eyes.
Montanans don't have to look any further than noxious weeds, such as spotted knapweed now in many Montanans yards and fields, to understand how other species including amphibians, reptiles, insect, fish and wildlife could arrive, reproduce and in future decades cause expensive and likely irreversible problems.
Feldner said businesses that export living things to Montana are required by law to obtain a permit. The permitting process makes it possible to track species brought into the state, and prevent the entry of exotic species that experts know present potential problems.
If an importer doesn't go through the permitting process they are going around it, and that means they are violating Montana law and creating potential trouble for the environment and for the individual making the purchase.
Feldner now has the painful job of urging African clawed frog owners to return their frogs to the supplier or euthanize them. This frog species is legally classified as prohibited. It cannot be imported, possessed or sold here. To protect Montana's native habitats and species, the law purposefully leaves Feldner and African clawed frog owners with no wiggle room.
For assistance in identifying the species of a frog in your possession, and for more information on how to protect Montana native species and habitats from exotic species, call FWP at 406-444-4039, or visit the FWP Web site at fwp.mt.gov on the Wild Things page under Hot Topics.