Veterinary Care: Ultrasound Exams for Frogs

Spring is in the air, and as I hike and bike the trails in southeast Michigan I find myself excited to be immersed in the lovely chorus of spring peepers and tree frogs as they prepare for this year’s breeding season. This also means it won’t be long until it is amphibian breeding season at the Detroit Zoo! Each year, the veterinary team works closely with our amphibian staff to provide support for our amphibian breeding programs. Our curators and keepers set up special breeding areas and adjust the temperature, light cycles, humidity and water access to simulate conditions in the wild and encourage natural breeding. They even set up simulated rainfall and play tape-recorded sounds of breeding calls collected from the wild.

Even with all of this, some of our endangered amphibians need a little more help to breed successfully.   At the Detroit Zoo, we have over a decade of experience administering special hormones to Wyoming toads and Puerto Rican crested toads to help with breeding. We have been very successful with these programs; two years ago the amphibian staff sent 3,914 Wyoming toad tadpoles to Wyoming and last year they sent 22,571 Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles to Puerto Rico for release into their native habitat. This is important work and we are proud to be able to help.

As zoo husbandry staff and amphibian reproductive experts have gained expertise, it has become clear that not all amphibians respond the same way to changes in their environment and established hormone protocols. Two years ago, we purchased a high frequency ultrasound probe, and we have found that we can monitor the appearance of the ovaries and follicles as they develop and mature within female frogs and toads. This provides a very powerful tool for understanding the impact of the husbandry and hormone treatments that we apply, and will allow us to establish assisted reproduction methods for other endangered species.

This season we have some exciting things planned, and have started the early work to check the females we are hoping to breed. Last week, we performed ultrasound exams on our three female giant waxy tree frogs, and were able to see that they are all developing large, follicle-filled ovaries. Based on the appearance of the follicles, we think that they will be ready to breed in the next few weeks to a month.

This week, we will be conducting ultrasound exams on our endangered Mississippi gopher frog females. Once we see their degree of follicle development, we’ll be able to plan a hormone and husbandry strategy for this year’s breeding season. Hopefully we will have exciting news to share in the coming months!

– Dr. Ann Duncan is the Director of Animal Health for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

Amphibian Conservation: Species in Crisis

Let’s focus our attention on the smallest residents living at the Detroit Zoo: amphibians. No other class of vertebrates has the ability to adapt and evolve as quickly in our ever-changing planet as amphibians. They have used every reproductive strategy and developed life stages influenced by environmental factors; they can be colorful, camouflaged and cryptic, regenerate limbs, and have been on Earth for the last 200 million years.

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Currently, amphibians are the most threatened group of animals in the world with 40 percent of all species at risk. This crisis is considered the greatest extinction event in history; it’s also the Earth’s sixth mass biological extinction. While previous mass extinctions have been driven by natural planetary transformations or catastrophic asteroid strikes, the current die-off can be associated directly with human activity. This epoch started when human activities began having a significant impact on the Earth’s ecosystems.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) participates in Global Assessments, which provide a comprehensive inventory of the conservation status of biological species as well as a critical dataset for evaluating the health of key elements of biodiversity and identifying threats to their survival. Newly described species emerge yet extinctions are occurring at an even faster rate. Climate change is the most dramatic cause of declines, and it affects amphibians both directly and indirectly, as reproduction is dependent on temperatures and seasonal transitions. Low pond levels expose embryos to more ultra violet (UV) light and UVB radiation is harmful to many species. The shorter periods and earlier opportunities for breeding ultimately reduce the chances of success. Amphibians are also dependent upon water, which makes them vulnerable to desecration when ponds dry too quickly. But since amphibians rely on the environment, they also are excellent storytellers. They can help us determine where pollutants are and if there is misuse of habitat.

When the National Amphibian Conservation Center (NACC) opened at the Detroit Zoo in 2001, it was the first major facility dedicated entirely to conserving and exhibiting amphibians. The award-winning, state-of-the-art amphibian center is home to a spectacular diversity of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians, many of which are the subjects of field research and part of cooperative management programs called Species Survival Plans (SSP). Amphibians selected for an SSP are generally threatened, endangered and sometimes even extinct in the wild. The DZS is actively involved in many of these programs, including for the Wyoming toad, Puerto Rican crested toad, Panamanian golden frog, crawfish frog and Mississippi gopher frog. Some amphibians bred at the Detroit Zoo have been released into the wild to boost endangered populations, and others require us maintaining a “captive assurance population” because due to factors in the wild, they cannot be released just yet. When it’s safe for these species to return to their native homes, we have a population ready to release. We have specially designed, bio-secure rooms that can hold each of these species so they won’t be exposed to other amphibians or anything else that may be harmful when they are released.

In addition to maintaining our captive amphibian population and our efforts in cooperative breeding programs, DZS staff participates in several field projects and research programs, offers citizen science training and provides support for wildlife rescues, including those from the exotic pet trade.

– Marcy Sieggreen is the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the National Amphibian Conservation Center at the Detroit Zoo.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes from the Field: Blood Moon in Peru

Hola mis amigas y amigos!

I’m nearing my last days in Peru but I couldn’t have ended on a more delightful note – the lunar eclipse was amazing!  We had a late night observing frogs the evening before and slept a couple of hours before we were back out on the river at 3 a.m.  The morning began with clear skies and the moonBlood Moon was completely visible until 5 a.m., when clouds came in and threatened to ruin our view. We waited for them to dissipate, but it never completely happened.  About 5:50 a.m., we couldn’t see anything so we ended up using a compass to determine where the moonset should occur and watched.  All of it paid off as the reddish hue was projected beautifully for about 30 seconds! The next one isn’t until September, so I was very grateful to have seen this one.

Marcy - PeruThroughout the remainder of the day, we had several electrical storms making for a beautiful night. Once the weather subsided, everything was out in full force: frogs, insects and birds were all calling. One of my favorites here are the Phyllodmedusa species, basically long-legged tree frogs. They are stunning and very interesting to watch as they navigate high in the canopy.

Caiman

Sometimes observations aren’t easy – when you hear calls there is always a strong desire to find what you are listening to. This occasionally leads to us sharing the water with other animals that are also looking for what is calling – more for a feast then to admire its beauty and log for data collection. Although the storms came back, we were still able to squeeze in another four hours of observations before having to call it quits for the night.

Early the next morning, we awoke to the pleasant call of other early risers (or late nighters).  A wonderful way to wrap up another season!  Until next time… Saludos!

– Marcy Sieggreen

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes from the Field: Amphibians in Peru

Hola mis amigas y amigos!

I am still in Peru, though my colleague, Paul Buzzard, director of conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society, has returned home. This time of year is high water season, which means that everything is a little different, as animals seek out and share the only dry areas that they can find. This includes snakes, which means they tend to be closer to human living spaces. It’s important to us that we educate people about snakes and explain why they are an important part of the ecosystem. We want to impart that snakes are not to be feared, but rather respected.

The high water doesn’t seem to be negatively affecting anything; however, it is still rising at a steady pace, nearing that of the historical levels set in 2012. Amphibians seem content and in mass abundance near islands that we regularly monitor. When I was here in November, I noticed that few amphibians were seen during the day.  This time, in one of the areas that we frequent, we saw many during the day and very few at night. We also noticed very few insects, which is good for us but bad when you are looking for frogs. It’s hard to narrow down what may be the cause, since so many were found during the daytime.

This weekend there will be a partial eclipse, which is the first one I will experience in the last six years of my travels here. I am looking forward to observing any change in behavior or patterns amphibians may show. Stay tuned… buenas noches!

-Marcy Sieggreen

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes from the Field – Bats and Frogs in Peru Part II

Buenos dias from Lima, Peru.  I’ve been here for two weeks with the Detroit Zoological Society’s curator of amphibians, Marcy Sieggreen, to visit the sites being used for our amphibian conservation studies and to investigate the potential for bat conservation projects. It’s been a wonderful and productive trip.

One of our last trips into the rivers and flooded forests started with a little drama but thankfully ended well:  It was 6 a.m. and the sun was rising when Marcy and I climbed into the dug-out canoe with our local guide. These dug-out canoes are carved out of single tree trunks, and they ride very low in the water. I also knew from previous experience that these canoes often let in a little bit of water. But this was a little more than “a little” and right after we left the dock, I informed our guide that a pretty steady stream of water was coming in. He and Marcy laughed and told me to finish my coffee and start bailing out water, which I promptly did. But as the water rose to several inches, we decided it best to turn around and made it back before a morning swim with the piranhas.

We soon found another boat and continued our trip into the forest and observed squirrel monkeys and dusky titi monkeys feeding in the trees. Since I’d already seen both the saddle-backed and black-mantled tamarin monkeys, I was thrilled to see a total of four monkey species during the trip. I also consistently saw new bird species such as the hoatzin – interestingly, the young chicks have claws to climb in trees. We also saw a variety of other interesting wildlife such as tree iguanas, snakes, and three-toed sloths.

I had the chance to join Marcy on some boat trips just after sunset to look for frogs at the edge of rivers/lakes and in floating vegetation. We saw so many that Marcy could barely keep up her documentation as we called out the frogs we saw.  We saw some fishing bats on these trips too.

I also had the chance to meet with a Peruvian bat researcher to discuss a potential collaboration in bat conservation projects.  We had a great meeting, and I think there will be opportunities to get baseline data on bat diversity and the importance of bats as seed dispersers.

– Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the Director of Conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes from the Field: Bats and Frogs in Peru

Buenos dias from northeastern Peru. Paul and Marcy in PeruI’ve been here for several days with Marcy Sieggreen, the Detroit Zoological Society’s Curator of Amphibians, to investigate the potential for bat conservation projects and to see the sites being used for our amphibian conservation studies. There was a quick turn around from my work with snow leopards in China – I left Detroit less than a week after returning from the chilly mountains of China, so I was looking forward to the 80-degree temperatures of the tropics. I was thrilled to visit Peru for the first time, and it’s been a wonderful and productive trip thus far.

Our first stop was the city of Iquitos on the banks of the Amazon River to meet with a Peruvian researcher. We had a very productive meeting discussing the potential for bat baseline inventories and the availability of weather data. These data on temperature, rainfall and other factors will be essential to better understanding changes in the amphibian diversity.

Next, we headed up the Amazon and Napo Rivers. Although bats are the focus of my trip, it was great to have the opportunity to see pink river dolphins. Because it is the high water season we were able to visit the flooded forest to see an overwhelming diversity of birds including Amazonian umbrella birds, kingfishers, toucans and even ospreys which also live in Michigan.

Bats seem to be common here, flying in our rooms and flying by our faces on night walks to find frogs and toads. During these night walks I have definitely gained a new respect for the work of amphibian researchers. I am used to walking transects slowly – perhaps 1 kilometer per hour to sight monkeys or look for deer and/or carnivore tracks or scat. But the amphibian pace seemed glacial at first – at a clip of 1 kilometer in four or five hours – because the well-camouflaged frogs and toads are hard to find.

When a frog or toad is found, the delicate dance begins. My task is to catch the squirmy frog and hold it ever-so-gently so Marcy can rub a cotton swab on its belly and feet to test for chytrid fungus – a fungus that has been devastating amphibian populations in many parts of the world.

Between frog finds we can enjoy the incredible diversity of tarantulas and other spiders as well as insects such as katydids, walking sticks and even a beetle that lights up like a lightning bug.

I’ll be here for several more days, visiting more sites and searching for frogs in the flooded forests. I’m also meeting with a Peruvian bat researcher about the potential for future collaboration before returning to Detroit.

Hasta luego!

– Paul Buzzard, Ph.D., is the Director of Conservation for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Education: Family Dose of Vitamin Z

Claire Lannoye-Hall is the Curator of Education for the Detroit Zoological Society.

One of the most frequently heard comments during our summer camp check-in is from parents who are wishing they could attend camp with their children. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend more time getting to know the animals and discovering more about the world around us?

Our team got together and brainstormed Education: Family Programs at the Detroit Zoowhat we love to share about the Detroit Zoo with our families and friends. The result is an amazing line-up of programs that we are ready to reveal: Beginning later this month, Friday nights will become Family Fun Nights! We want to showcase everything the Zoo has to offer and provide a heightened sense of wonder through stories, activities and experiences. Knowledgeable staff members will accompany families as they travel through the Zoo, exploring what happens in the evening after the Zoo closes and everyone else heads home. Each Family Fun Night will include a hike through the Zoo, hands-on activities, a snack and an opportunity to meet Zoo staff.

Frog - Detroit Zoo Family Education ProgramsIn March, we’ll learn about frog calls and visit the amphibians in the National Amphibian Conservation Center, then hike through the wetlands to listen for early spring arrivals. We hope families will go home and listen for frogs and toads in their own backyards for the rest of the spring.

In April, we’ll prowl for owls as one of our bird experts will join us to search for wild owls while visiting some of the Zoo’s resident birds along the way.

There are several more programs from May to September to enjoy. Check out all the great topics we have to offer!

– Claire Lannoye-Hall

Notes from the Field – Peru

Hola amigas y amigos!

Alas, my work this season is almost completed, today is my last day in the rainforest. Since my last post, I ran into staff from the Detroit Zoological Society education department, who were in Peru for the Adopt-a-School program, and who assisted in an overnight adventure with the amphibian club. We all spent the night at a research station where we were able to enjoy an evening walk through the jungle looking for amphibians, the canopy walkway and the next day a morning walk back to the boats. We saw salamanders, several species of frogs and they have been very busy with their observations while I was back in the states.

Marcy - rainforest     Marcy - canopy rainforest

During November, the season begins where the rain becomes heavier and frequent, almost daily. This is when the rivers start to rise. Since I landed in Peru the river has already had a noticeable increase. However, one of the many lakes we visit in high water was still dry enough we could walk to it.

Last night, we traveled by boat to the edge of the narrow stream to hike to the place called Lorenzo Lake. This is one area that we monitor twice a year and expect to see hundreds of amphibians and calls that are nearly deafening. We were not expecting to see so many of the giant hunting ants (locals call bullet ants for the pain they inflict when they bite), we had to be especially careful passing brush from the narrow path carved out by our machete. Many scorpions and beautiful moths plagued the long hike to lake, but the calls we could hear before we docked could even dock the boat. It was a beautiful night!

– Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Amphibians Marcy Sieggreen is doing fieldwork in Peru, studying amphibians in the lower elevations of the Amazon River to see how they are faring with increased human populations and impacts in their habitats.

Editor’s note: Marcy Sieggreen was the curator of amphibians for the Detroit Zoological Society from 2008 until her passing in 2016. The Detroit Zoological Society established the Sieggreen Amphibian Conservation Fund in Marcy’s memory to continue to advance the work she so passionately championed.

Notes From the Field – Peru

Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Amphibians Marcy Sieggreen is doing fieldwork in Peru, studying amphibians in the lower elevations of the Amazon River to see how they are faring with increased human populations and impacts in their habitats.

Hola mi amigas y amigos!

It has been nearly over a week since my last post and a lot has happened. We have seen several species of frogs at night. There has not been much activity during the day but it is still important to look and make note of what is or is not seen. We have travelled to all of the islands that we usually observe that are surrounded by the Napo but have also found another uninhabited island that is underwater during most of the year.

Marcy - Peru 2      Marcy - Peru

What a pleasure it was to jump out off the boat and find hard sand (like what we know as a beach) with marine toads everywhere. Some of you may have heard that these toads are now found in several places in the world and are considered invasive species, making them a nuisance. Here in South America, they are native and an important part of the ecosystem. Since I had not seen many on this trip, I had a growing concern. The island also had a bog that was home to several tree frogs. There were no species I had not seen before but a positive confirmation that species I would expect to see I had.

I have seen many caimans, snakes and most recently a mammal, which I believed to be a Paca. Animals this size (about the size of a 30 lb dog) is not frequently seen and is very fast. Although amphibians are the most fun to track down, seeing other wildlife is always a treat.

This upcoming week, I will be working with our Amphibian Protectors Club on an overnight observation through a small portion of the rainforest and along the canopy walkway.  My colleagues from the Detroit Zoological Society’s education department are taking time out from their schedule to join us. We are hoping to be able to see lots of animals and document our findings back at the research station. Buenos noches!

– Marcy Sieggreen

Notes from the Field – Peru

Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Amphibians Marcy Sieggreen is in Peru, studying amphibians in the lower elevations of the Amazon River to see how they are faring with increased human populations and impacts in their habitats.

Hola mi amigas y amigos!

Greetings from the rainforest! Since this is a new blog, let me explain a little of what the Detroit Zoological Society is doing in Peru. We have several projects that occur in the lower elevations of the Amazon River and its tributaries. My part is monitoring the stability of amphibians in this area and more recently looking how climate change impacts species vulnerability.

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I also work with a community that helps monitor what is going on while we are at home. “Anfibios de Club de Protectores” or “Amazon Amphibian Protectors Club” is a group of 15 kids and two professors that showed a great interest in learning about and doing what they can to raise interest in amphibians. Planes, bus, a boat ride and then here, which is off of a tributary of the Napo River.

Woke up with another day in paradise! This morning I started to plot transects that I will use for amphibian surveys, same areas as I do each year but still need to scope them out. I only saw a handful of toads that the locals all call leaf mimics. They are different species but all resemble leaves and get lumped into that category. After several hours on foot, I caught up with a boat driver that took me across the Napo to another smaller lake.

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Since the water is lower right now we drove up to a sandbar and as I jumped out of the boat into what resembled quicksand, I saw many toadlets (juvenile toads after metamorphosis) hopping away. Getting “unstuck” was challenging. My afternoon was spent bush-wacking with a machete to La Cocha Loca and walking along the Yarina Trail. Locals call it “Crazy Lake” because you never know what you will see. Last year we saw juvenile electric eels and this year we were told caimans, we’ll find out when we come back tomorrow night. Not too many amphibians during the day though however had some other wonderful finds.

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Evenings are the most productive so we headed out shortly after we had something to eat. We took a boat to another island on the other side of the river that we routinely monitor. As expected, we saw many beautiful treefrogs. We were rained out shortly after 1 a.m., so time to call it quits (metal boat across large river in a lightning storm could be a disaster). Buenas noches!

– Marcy Sieggreen