We recently sent our VP Conservation & Research, Lindsey Zarecky, and one of our Herp Keepers, Audrey Stallings, to an ATAG (Amphibian Taxon Advisory Group) Amphibian Field Research Course. The course was taught by eight NC- and AZA-based instructors and attended by 18 participants ranging from researchers and keepers to amphibian enthusiasts. The course focused on amphibian field research techniques, with participants spending time in the field (including the Sandhills, the NC Zoo, Boone, and Grandfather Mountain) everyday for the duration of the course.
Zarecky and Stallings shared with us a few highlights of what they did during the program:
- We learned how to use PIT (passive integrative transponders) tags. These are similar to the microchips our pets have. Each tag has a unique number so that when scanned, you can ID the individual.
- We learned how to use VIE (visible implant elastomer) – a brightly colored, non-toxic material that is injected just below the skin layer. This technique is very useful when it comes to headstarting; when all the tadpoles from a particular year’s egg masses hatch and complete metaphasis into a frog or toad, you can place a particular color on those frogs’ legs. Then, you release the frogs. The next year, you select a different color for the next generation, and so on. This makes it so that when you go out into the field and find frogs, you’ll know the year they were born based upon their VIE.
- We learned amphibian radio tracking techniques. Unlike other animals, amphibians respire through their skin, so it’s not feasible to place a conventional radio tag onto their bodies. Therefore, we made them small belts using monofilament, a very small and flexible tubing, plus the radio tag. The frog wears this tag like a belt buckle (but with the buckle on its back). To test our knowledge, two radio-tagged frogs were released on NC Zoo’s grounds, then we had to use telemetry equipment to locate them.
- Probably one of the most fascinating techniques we learned was eDNA – the process of collecting water samples and using the sloughed-off amphibian DNA present therein to identify whether a particular species was present in the water. From collecting the samples, to extracting the DNA, buffering it, and even running the polymerase chain reaction technique, it all happened streamside with the use of a backpack eDNA kit.
Zarecky and Stallings learned about each of the nearly 100 species of amphibians that live here in NC, as well as some of the major diseases that can affect them. There was even a test in which instructors laid out 52 specimens that participants then had to identify! Not only were they expected to identify many amphibians by sight but by listening to their vocalizations, too.
We’re very proud of our staff for continuing their education! Participating in programs like the ATAG workshop ensures that GSC is able to further its mission of conservation and research while offering you, our community, the best science education programming possible.