My partner Carlijn Laurijssens and I strongly believe that education is key to conservation success. Both of us already gave many presentations and lectures on herpetofauna for the herpetological community for many years. But now we have taken it upon ourselves to also give lectures to the people that otherwise not have come in to contact with herpetology so easily. This season we will give lectures to ages 6-12 to high school kids and ecology/biology students both in the classroom and the field.
The twelfth and 22th of January we had the great pleasure to present our talk to three classes of first and second year Ecology students. The main topic of our talk is the global Amphibian crisis and how it drives us to study and protect these animals. The decline of amphibians, the enigmatic symptom of the global biodiversity crisis that we know so well, was largely unknown to the students. Before we talked about the doom and gloom that revolves around amphibian conservation we first wanted to show how divers and amazing this group of animals is!
For us the diversity and complexity of amphibians is best found in their reproduction modes. In this case we focused on frogs. It all begins with myriad of diverse calls lots of species emit to the foot flagging antics of the dancing frogs form the Western Ghats, India (Micrixalus). After all that vocalization and dancing hopefully amplexus will follow. In this piggyback ride behaviour of the male also lots of variation exist – new to the students. Soon after amplexus egg deposition follows and here is where it becomes even more interesting! Most students only knew of the “classic” frog-egg-tadpole-frog cycle. Little did they know hundreds of species display something called “direct development” where there is no aquatic larval stage but fully formed froglets emerge from the eggs. The Darwin frog (Rhinoderma) that holds its young in its vocal sac and the Gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus) also made an appearance. The recently described species Limnonectes larvaepartus endemic to Sulawesi (Indonesia) takes the cake! This species probably has internal fertilization and gives direct birth to tadpoles or in the oviducts. This represents a totally new mode of reproduction for frogs. So many things left to be discovered for expert and novice alike!
By this time the interest in amphibians seemed to be awakened and we ensured the audience this is just the tip of the iceberg! On to the doom and gloom previously mentioned. We discussed the crisis and all its causes, from the fungal disease chytridiomycosis to habitat destruction and toxins to globalization (invasive species, disease). All this was a prelude of why we are committed to amphibian conservation and education and why we went to Central America to study chytridiomycosis and rana virus in Nicaraguan amphibians. We described how we did our study and gave lots of tips and tricks, from methodology to culture.
Lastly we brought some real life frogs! How better to learn to love amphibians then to see and hold them! We brought a large female Cane Toad (Rhinella marina), a species from South-Central America that wreaks havoc in Australia due to the toxins in their skin. This proved a good time to meet one of Earths largest anurans while learning about this species that is invasive in some parts of the world. One to another species from the neotropics: Engystomops pustulosus or the tungara frog. We told about the calls the males emit and how these change in the presence of bats which hunt the little frogs. Also we got to talk about the foam nests they build and the temporary drought resistance of the tadpoles of this species – another reproduction story! Finally we brought two Whites tree frogs (Litoria caerulea) and talked about the amazing properties the substances in the skin of these frogs. These substances are antibacterial, anti viral and even show to destroy HIV without harming human blood cells. After the presentation all animals were soon returned to their enclosures and the very same night happily hopping, eating and even mating after their meeting with the students.
All in all it were two fantastic days and we hoped to inspired the students to perhaps do a study on amphibians or to reserve a place for them in their hearts!
By Tariq Stark
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