“Naked Canaries” displayed for two weeks on the first floor of the Nease Library. Photo credit: Timmy Greene.

The original photo exhibit “Naked Canaries” featuring amphibians’ environmental warnings to humans was featured in Nease Library from March 16-27.

The exhibit is an undertaking by Dr. John Cossel Jr., a professor of biology at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

While the exhibit consists of photos of amphibians, the inspiration behind the exhibit’s name, “Naked Canaries,” does not have to do with amphibians, but instead actual canaries. Historically, miners would test for dangerous gasses underground by bringing canaries into the mines first, testing their ability to live in the air. If they died, this meant the air was not clean enough for humans, either.

The warning system used by miners can be harvested and applied to frogs and toads all around the world. Cossell notes that frogs have zero protection from pollutants, making them virtually naked. They are “the new harbingers of habitat health, our naked canaries,” Cossel wrote in an accompanying pamphlet.

Environmental pollutants that humans are unaware of are readily picked up by amphibians. The rapid drop in amphibian rates around the world led Cossel to take a great interest in not only their conservation, but their message to the world at large as well.

“I hoped that the beauty of these frogs would inspire affection that in turn, would lead to concern…that perhaps the majesty should be counterbalanced by the malevolence of the issues responsible for amphibian declines,” Cossel writes.

Cossel explains that because these creatures live both in the water and on land, pollutants from either place easily penetrate what would be a human’s first defense system: their skin.

“Because amphibians have both aquatic and terrestrial life stages, they can provide feedback about more than a single aspect of the environment,” Cossel writes. “[A]mphibians have thin, permeable skin and thus are susceptible to environmental pollutants.”

Moved by conscience as a Christian herpetologist, Cossel wishes to protect these frogs, the environment, and the world in general. He feels a “double duty” to spread the message of exactly what frogs can and are telling humans about what’s being done to Earth.

“It is my sincere hope that these photographs move you; move you to learn, move you to love, and move you to act on the message of these naked canaries,” Cossel writes.