This story was first published on April 26, 2019
This story is part of our series, Wild Pennsylvania. Check out all of the other stories in the series here.
Amphibians, globally, are in decline with some species going extinct. Scientists are calling it a potential mass extinction of amphibians.
FrogWatch USA is a citizen science project run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that relies on volunteers to collect scientific data that researchers can then access. FrogWatch started gathering data in 1998 and now has chapters in every state.
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Like many citizen science projects, FrogWatch makes that data freely available to the public. Data collection takes about 10 to 15 minutes a visit. Ideally, volunteers visit at the same location throughout the spring and summer. A minimum of four visits is recommended.
Sixteen people attended a recent FrogWatch training in Pittsburgh to learn how to identify different frog and toad species by their call and the protocol for recording observations. Simone Taubenberger brought along her 10-year-old son, Ashwin Wasan. They have a pet tree frog at home, who according to Ashwin, never really makes a sound.
“Everywhere we go he finds frogs,” says Taubenberger. “We know they are important sentinels for the environment so this sounded like a good thing to do.”
Cori Richards-Zawacki is an ecologist with the Pymatuning Lab of Ecology and the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. She helped lead the training and says frogs are key creatures to study when trying to understand how things like climate change or pesticides are affecting ecosystems.
“They have very permeable skin which means that contaminants can make it from the environment into their bodies,” she says. “They also spend part of their lifetime living in an aquatic habitat and part on land so that means they are exposed to contaminants in many different parts of the environment. “
So who makes a good frog watcher? Richards-Zawacki says anyone who likes to listen to the sound of nature.
“You don’t have to get in the wetlands,” she explains. “You don’t even have to get dirty most of the time. You just have to be out and listen for the frogs that you hear. It’s a good thing for families to do together.”
The monitoring protocol is simple. Volunteers start observing at least 30 minutes after sunset, remain quiet for two minutes (the acclimation period), and listen closely for three minutes. Then they note the species name and calling intensity (this is where the frog call training comes in handy). Later, all the data is uploaded into FrogWatch-FieldScope. The information is instantly available to anyone who wants to see a species’ range or discover what other species are being heard in different sports around the country.