CHS Blog

A Week in the Life of a Volunteer Biologist - Froggy Friday

July 27, 2020
Stephanie Winton
Oregon Spotted Frogs hiding under cover of duckweed in replicated pond habitat at the Greater Vancouver Zoo.

Last spring, I had a special opportunity to volunteer with Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC) on multiple captive breeding, head-starting, and monitoring projects for endangered species in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. This is the final installment of a blog series recounting my experience. You can find the rest of the entries in the series starting here: A Week in the Life of a Volunteer Biologist — Day 1

On my final day volunteering with WPC on the Fraser Valley Wetlands Wildlife projects (May 31, 2019), I am working with a WPC summer student from Simon Fraser University. Our first task this morning is to feed the Oregon Spotted Frogs that are part of a captive breeding program. This entails unpacking a fresh order of crickets and cleaning their enclosure (easier than it sounds as the crickets are constantly trying to escape). Who knew that you had to take care of a captive animal’s food source as well?! We take an ‘appetizing’ container full of crickets over to the Conservation Corner at the Greater Vancouver Zoo, where the Oregon Spotted Frogs are eagerly waiting on the floating islands inside replicated ponds. At our approach, the frogs jump into the water and hide under the duckweed with only their eyes poking through, but once we sprinkle some crickets on the islands, the frogs are soon back out gobbling up the crickets.

Hungry Oregon Spotted Frogs (and an unlucky cricket). The frogs are part of a captive breeding program by WPC.

By this time of year, the frogs have bred and the eggs have successfully hatched. The tadpoles are being headstarted for release into historic habitats where they will help stabilize existing wild populations. This means we must also feed and care for the tadpoles before their eventual release. To clean the tadpole tubs, we create siphons by sucking water through a rubber tube. I prove to be a complete amateur and, of course, end up drinking a lot of frog water…mmm tasty! It might not seem like an overly fun task, but slowly vacuuming up tadpole poop is oddly satisfying. I enjoy being outside in the sun and fall into a meditative state as I unhurriedly clean the tubs while tadpoles swim around my hand (I have to be careful to not suck any smaller tadpoles up the tube!). I pause for a break and notice the neighbouring elk moseying through a wetland, clearly also enjoying the sunny weather.

We feed the tadpoles something that looks like a spinach smoothie after we have cleaned their tubs. The tadpoles are even more voracious eaters than their parents! Unfortunately, there are a few insects that, in turn, would like to eat the tadpoles. To keep the tadpoles safe, we go to battle, armed with turkey basters, and suck up any sneaky diving beetles or dragonfly larva we find lurking in the duckweed.

VIDEO: Captive-bred Oregon spotted frog tadpoles gulping down a vegetarian meal.

While cleaning out frog and turtle tubs each day is laborious work and is certainly not glamorous, the payoff in the end is worth it. Events such as releasing turtles back into the wild with an advantage over invasive predators or witnessing wild turtles successfully lay nests in protected habitat truly mark the accomplishments of all the hard work that goes into restoring these populations of endangered wildlife species.

Captive breeding and other types of hands-on conservation interventions are becoming more prevalent with the increasing number and needs of threatened and endangered species. My background is in field ecology and before this experience I was unaware of the sheer amount of work that goes into captive breeding programs. I never considered the fact that you are dealing with baby animals that require constant care or the challenges and obstacles that come with each new species, especially if you are pioneering techniques to raise them. These types of programs couldn’t happen on the scale that it is now needed without the continuous innovations and contributions of the dedicated biologists who work with WPC and other organizations to assist in the recovery of these unique species through raising captive populations and monitoring wild ones. Thank you to WPC and the entire Fraser Valley Wetlands Wildlife team for allowing me to tag along with you this week. I look forward to hearing more about the results of these WPC projects!