A TikTok user who goes by the handle thinfrog has recently posted a video featuring the first regiment of a purportedly 1.4 million-member “frog army” emerging from his backyard pond and swarming his neighborhood. The video got 13.6 million views. Another TikToker staged a “ladybug raid” in New York’s Central Park, posting a series of clips in which he claimed to have released 250,000 ladybugs, on his way to 100 million. Those got over 40 million views. But, scientists warn, such viral stunts, especially if they become TikTok trends, can cause serious environmental damage.
Thinfrog, apparently from the UK, built his “frog army” by “rescuing” frog spawn from ponds near his home that he claims were “drying up.” In a series of recent videos, he gathers pails of spawn, dumps them into his backyard pond, and tracks the transformation of the frogs until they raid his neighbors’ yards en masse. In one video, he says, “I wanted to create the largest frog army in history. Next year I will create a giant pond for 10 million frogs.”
In the parallel ladybug stunt, the TikToker outdoes that boast by a factor of ten. Seeking likes in the clip launching his series, he tells viewers, “Hey TikTok. So, apparently 100k ladybugs costs only $75… If this video gets 30 likes, I will buy 100 million ladybugs and do a ladybug invasion in NYC… Everyone spam ‘ladybug raid’ in the comments.” The clip got 73.6 thousand likes and 1.5 million views. Of the 634 comments, a few discouraged the effort, one warning it would land the user in court, but, far and away, the majority responded with the solicited launch tag.
In later clips, the ladybug raider claimed that he had been served a lawsuit and fled to Colombia, garnering even more attention.
The stunts have raised serious alarm in the scientific community. “It makes me cringe,” Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, told the Guardian. “Instead of helping, [they] are actually hurting the animals they’re releasing and all the animals in the environment that they’re releasing them into—it’s creating a vector for disease and invasive species,” she said.
According to Curry, relocating species can wreak unintended havoc. In 2019, The Conversation reported that a fungus most likely spread by the human relocation of amphibians caused massive, and originally unexplained, declines in at least 501 amphibian species globally, wiping out 90 species of frogs.
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Not surprisingly, speculation is now rampant that the two TikTok stunts were hoaxes. Curry notes that in some countries and states, such releases, if real, could also be illegal. Her concern, though, observing that more TikTok users are posting clips of their own efforts to assemble frog armies, is the trend. “They are doing this to get likes or shares,” Curry told the Guardian. “It’s a popularity stunt that can have extremely negative consequences.”