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Christmas trees show up with live 'ornaments'

Some Christmas trees for sale in the Anchorage area are adorned with something truly different this holiday season — live Pacific Chorus frogs.
Holiday Frogs
This Pacific Chorus frog was found in a Christmas tree being sold in Anchorage, Alaska.Stephen E. Clark / Alaska Department of Fish & Game via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Forget the plastic icicles, brightly colored balls and tinsel.

Some Christmas trees for sale in the Anchorage area are adorned with something truly different this holiday season — live Pacific Chorus frogs.

While the small frogs are very cute, measuring an inch or two with lovely moss-colored green sides and black spots, state officials are asking residents to practice some tough love. If you find a Christmas tree frog, kill it.

So far, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, has received reports of two amphibious hitchhikers. One of them was hiding out on a holiday tree from Washington state that was sold this week at an Anchorage nursery. The frog ended up in the biology department at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

"They identified it as a Pacific Chorus frog," said Tracey Gotthardt, a zoologist with the university's Alaska Natural Heritage Program. The frogs are found from British Columbia to southern Baja California, but are not native to Alaska.

"No one is in panic mode over this but we are taking it seriously," said Jennifer Yuhas, spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

That's because the cute frogs — whose joyful chorus is often used for movie soundtracks — could be carrying some ugly viruses and funguses, including chytrid fungus that is devastating amphibians around the world.

"Our immediate concern is that if a frog does hop out of a tree and they decide to keep it as a pet over the winter, they must keep it forever. We don't want them being released into the wild," Gotthardt said.

Yuhas said it's not that Alaskans are heartless, but it's a matter of protecting our own.

"I know they are awful cute but pets or small children are known to put things in their mouths," she said.

Two methods of disposal cited
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is suggesting two methods of dispatch: death by a dab of Orajel applied to the head (the tooth desensitizer apparently knocks them out for good), or, putting the little critter in a plastic bag and placing it in the freezer.

With temperatures hovering around zero Friday morning, Doug Warner, a spokesman for the state Division of Agriculture, had another suggestion for disposing of the frogs.

"Put it in a jar and put it out on the front porch and that way you won't have to put it in with your Christmas cookies," he said.

Tammy Davis, leader of Fish and Game's Invasive Species Program, said the Alaska Natural Heritage Program will accept live frogs as well. People finding frogs should call 877-INVASIVE.

The important thing is that people don't keep the Christmas frogs, she said.

"That is the whole thing about invasive species," Davis said. "We didn't think zebra mussels would live in the Great Lakes."

Warner said the frog invasion highlights a potentially serious problem in Alaska. While the state requires that trees be inspected for any pests prior to shipment, it is Scrooge-like when dedicating resources to make sure the trees arrive pest-free.

Unlike some states, Alaska also doesn't require that imported trees be mechanically shaken and it doesn't have a shaker of its own.

Davis said she's got doubts about tree-shaking, anyway.

"To my knowledge these trees are bound. Even shaking it, if there is some little critter out there in the branches it is not going to be shaken out," she said. "I have a hard time believing someone is shaking every Christmas tree."

Yuhas also questioned the tree-shaking method for preventing invasive species from finding a new home in Alaska.

"I don't know much about the standards of tree shaking," Yuhas said. "How hard do they shake a tree. Can a frog hang on to a branch?"