Please… Don’t Turn it Loose!

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:

  1. 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;
  2. Stringent sanitization of all equipment when moving between sites while collecting or releasing specimens;
  3. 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]

and

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.

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