I sit here in mid-December with the thermometer holding steady at 19 degrees F (-7 degrees C) and all the frogs, snakes, salamanders and lizards in Ohio are down for a long winter’s nap. Only a few weeks ago, however, I was studying the Tobago glass frog down in Trinidad and Tobago where it never got below 77 F (25 degrees C) and the snakes, lizards and frogs were seemingly crawling and jumping everywhere (sorry, no salamanders in T&T).
The focus of my trip was this fellow, the Tobago glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium orientale tobagoense).
This species is common on the island of Tobago and was breeding extensively during my November visit. Which was a good thing because mating choices were what I had come to study. Usually, assessing reproductive success in amphibians is difficult because the eggs are extremely well hidden (both from predators and scientists). The Tobago glass frog, however, lays eggs on the undersides of leaves above streams, where the fathers guard usually them until they hatch. So, just by looking to see how many egg clutches a male has, you can tell how much mating success he has had. By comparing lots of males and their reproductive success over time, one can determine what traits females select mates based on.
Or that is the hope anyway. I’m just now entering the data into my computer as the snowflakes fly out the window and I wistfully remember the feeling of warmth.
Thanks to Dr. Cori Richards-Zawacki at the University of Pittsburgh and the hard work of Mackenzie Goltz (’20), we now have a dart frog colony at the College of Wooster! These little beauties are originally from Panama and are brightly colored and day-active. Of course, we don’t have rainforests in Ohio so the tropical room in our greenhouse in Williams Hall is their new home. Each tank has a bromeliad for them to use for shelter and breeding and the males are already starting to call. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a long and productive residency in Wooster!
I’ve done a variety of things in my life for a job. Fast food employee, warehouse worker, grocery store shelf-stocker, golf caddy, corn detasseler. And, this past week, I pursued gainful employment as a snake catcher. On the islands out in Lake Erie (of which there are a dozen or more, ranging from very small to moderately large), there are garter snakes. This is the same innocuous and handsome species that occurs throughout much of North America, the eastern garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). The especially interesting thing about the Lake Erie garter snakes is that there is a color variant in many areas in and around the lake that is all black (melanistic, see photo).
Riley Moreau (’20) and I were catching these garter snakes to get DNA samples so we could work in the lab this fall to assess genetic differences among the color morphs, islands and other quantities that one can estimate with modern genetic tools. We found garter snakes on all islands we visited but one. On Middle Bass Island, we had spent about five hours searching with only one snake to show for it and then in the last ten minutes before our ferry departed we caught five more. When it rains, it pours.
A beautiful spring day this morning and instead of staring at a mountain of email in my office, I went out to Wooster Memorial Park. The fresh air and sunshine did me good. Trees are leafing out, migratory birds are returning and red-back salamanders are out and ready to be measured!
On March 20th, the Ohio Chapter of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conversation (PARC) held its 2nd annual meeting. My student Jesse Garrett-Larsen (’19) and I attended and presented this poster on our work on monitoring of an amphibian fungal pathogen. Nice work Jesse!