One of the best things about living in North Carolina is the varied landscape – and all the opportunities it provides for exploration. From the mountains to the coastal plain, there is an amazing assortment of ecosystems. These varied ecosystems translate into tremendous biodiversity, which is especially true when it comes to our state’s amphibians.
Amphibians include frogs, toads and salamanders, and North Carolina boasts of having the highest diversity of amphibians in the nation. Some lesser-known amphibians residing in the state include the pine barrens tree frog, eastern spadefoot toad and – on exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences – the eastern hellbender, siren and two-toed amphiuma. Scientists are continually researching and studying amphibians, especially with regards to population declines and diseases such as ranavirus and chytrid fungus, which affect not only N.C. amphibians but also amphibian populations on a global scale.
Tree frogs are charismatic amphibians commonly found in North Carolina, but because they can move greater distances than other frogs and can climb, they are a challenge for scientists to “survey” (the process of collecting detailed species and habitat information). Working with captive tree frogs as a member of the program animals staff at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, my colleagues and I developed a novel tree frog transportation device, which became a great tool for field surveys. Typically, scientists use PVC pipe placed in the ground or on trees for frogs to use as a refuge. Just as other animals use burrows, tree frogs use this pipe as a safe place to escape the sun during the day or to just hang out and wait for food. Scientists then check the tubes to see how many frogs and what species are in a certain area.
Our improved device involves a double-tube design, which is more user friendly and is less stressful for the animal. We have implemented these devices in a survey at Prairie Ridge Ecostation, and it is our hope that simple devices such as these could one day be used on a wide scale by citizen scientists to assist with amphibian surveys and to bring more people to the forefront of conservation. Threats such as development and disease hold serious impacts for our amphibians, and North Carolina’s amphibian diversity is a treasure that we should try earnestly to hold on to.
Sarah McGrath is assistant curator of Program Animals, Living Collections, for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.