Archive for category Invasive Species
The responsibility of raising a child with a healthy respect and understanding for the natural world can be a tricky path to travel. Between deciphering the difference between things edible and things not (vegetable garden = good, botanical garden = bad), tempering children’s primordial, saggy-pants urge to collect every stone and leaf between the front door and the mailbox, and playing the role of freeze-dried drug dealer in response to their jilted-junky demands for one last natural-history-museum-astronaut-ice-cream fix, more compromises and concessions are made along the way than there are Crayola crayon colors. But one lapse in judgement that has repeated itself during the nurturing of a nature-child time-immemorial recently spurred the herpetological community to reach out to parents and teachers around the world: Tadpoles.
In 2009, after several herpetologists belonging to the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR) were contacted by school teachers about procuring for classrooms the eggs of native amphibians that could be raised and then released into the wild, the SSAR responded to this issue in the journal Herpetological Review through a Letter to the Editor titled, Considerations and Recommendations for Raising Live Amphibians in Classrooms. Their concerns centered on the well-intentioned practice of collecting eggs or tadpoles and releasing them as adults, a practice fraught with potential side-effects herpetologists are only just now wrapping their heads around. Today, infectious diseases like amphibian chytrid fungus and ranaviruses have been linked to world-wide amphibian declines and extinctions. In their letter, the authors surmise:
“The sad reality is that the world is no longer a simple place and seemingly innocent acts like catching tadpoles and releasing them later are now much more complex, with regard to conservation imperatives” (Mendelson et al. 2009).
Rather than put the kibosh on raising amphibians at home or school, however, SSAR suggests instead the following recommendations:
- A combination of strict isolation, quarantine, and good house-keeping (tank/equipment sterilization) when one or more species are in captivity at any given location;
- Stringent sanitization of all equipment when moving between sites while collecting or releasing specimens;
- A strict “no release” policy for any amphibian purchased or received from any commercial or questionable (e.g., a neighbor) source; purchasing a commercially available pet should mean you are making the commitment to:
- take on the responsibility of caring for the animal for its natural life, or
- euthanize the animal when you are no longer able to take care of it.
In the case of an American bullfrog, they note, that could be a commitment of as much as 33 years, considerably longer than any cat or dog. All things considered, these are reasonable olive branches to extend to the public given the gravity of amphibian declines today.
For more information, see:
Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) brochure: Please… Don’t Turn It Loose: Information on how to properly dispose of unwanted classroom or laboratory specimens. [Link]
Mendelson, Joseph R., Jennifer B. Pramuk, Ron Gagliardo, Allan Pessier, Betsie B. Rothermel, Kevin C. Zippel, Catherine Bevier, Marion Preest, and Brian Crother. 2009. Considerations and Recommendations for Raising Live Amphibians in Classrooms. Herpetological Review 2009, 40(2): 142–144. [Link]
Pinou, T., H. A. Flanigan, and M. S. Drucker. 2009. First-Grade Record Keepers. Science and Children January 2009: 31–35.
Over the last few years, staff at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Western Ecological Research Center have been distributing coloring sheets at outreach events featuring California’s native herps. Among those species featured are natives – the western pond turtle, the California newt, and the mountain yellow-legged frog, and non-natives – the red-eared slider and the American bullfrog.
The mountain yellow-legged frog is one species on the brink of extinction. With wild populations numbering in the low hundreds, the federally endangered species suffered a setback in late 2011 after 104 frogs died mysteriously in the middle of a captive breeding program at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Only two frogs survived. What that means for the future of the species is still unclear.
Red-eared sliders and bullfrogs are both among the culprits responsible, in part (among other factors), for the declines in western pond turtle and mountain yellow-legged frog populations: sliders for their role in introducing disease and out-competing native western pond turtles, bullfrogs for their likeness to a black hole, eating anything that could conceivably fit into their mouths, frogs and hatchling turtles included.
The sheets give kids an opportunity to not only learn about California’s native herps, but also which herp species are invasive non-natives. The entire collection of coloring pages can be found at the USGS-WERC website here.
Cheery: The True Adventures of a Chiricahua Leopard Frog, by Elizabeth W. Davidson, Five Star Publications, Inc. (www.fivestarpublications.net), 2011, 24 pages, $15.95
The Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) – a species known for its distinctive bedtime *snore* call – is in danger of extinction like so many amphibian species today. With a range limited to parts of Arizona and Mexico, its populations have dwindled over the years (vanishing from more than 80% of their former range) due to amphibian decline’s usual suspects: invasive predators (bullfrogs and crayfish), the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis chytrid fungus, habitat loss, and drought.
Despite this doom and gloom, scientist-turned-children’s author Elizabeth Davidson introduces hope with Cheery, a tadpole on the rise to frogdom. From her inauspicious beginnings as one of hundreds of eggs to her curious bucket-abduction trip to the zoo, Cheery emerges as an amphibious ambassador for both the Chiricahua leopard frog and the recovery efforts currently underway to protect the species spearheaded by Arizona Game and Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Throughout the adventures of Cheery, Davidson infuses the narrative with subtle science, teaching children about the food chain ["...tiny green plants called algae (al-jee) grow soft and slimy on the rocks..."] and hibernation ["It's getting colder... I crawl out of the pond and find a safe place to hide under a big log..."], and introduces young readers to a frog’s-eye view of the captive breeding recovery effort under way at the Phoenix Zoo. Meanwhile, artist Michael Hagelberg unravels Cheery’s pond-hopping exploits through a palette of blues and greens draped in simmering sunsets and smokey shadows, using angles that transport you onto the pond bottom, furrowing into the leaf litter, and ultimately into the life of Cheery the Chiricahua leopard frog. With this winning combination of engaging story, playful art, and a hopeful outlook on the species’ future, from cover to cover Cheery is good to the last hop.