The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo is enlisting volunteers to help make sure frog and toad species in northern Indiana don’t end up croaking.
The zoo is again participating in a nationwide frog and toad counting conservation endeavor with FrogWatch USA. The project enables families to contribute data that scientists can use to determine threats to the amphibian populations.
Kathy Terlizzi, the zoo’s volunteer manager, said residents will be trained by attending one of two training sessions from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 20 and 27. Attendees will be taught to recognize the calls of the region’s 11 toad and frog species and how to record their findings into an online database.
The volunteers then fan out to a local pond, stream, wetlands or marsh of their choice and, well, stay very, very quiet.
"We don’t teach them to recognize them by sight, because you’re not going to see them because they’re out after sunset," she said. "You identify them from their calls."
Scientists say frogs and toads are in serious decline throughout the world because of habitat destruction and pollution. They’re also considered indicator species. Like a canary in a coal mine, sensitive to decreasing oxygen, frogs and toads can alert people to potentially dangerous environmental conditions.
Terlizzi said the counting job, although it requires attention to detail, isn’t too difficult. "We’re lucky that we only have 11 (species), so they’re fairly easy to recognize. They’re distinct calls and easy to remember and we incorporate that into the training," she said, adding participants get a complimentary CD of calls.
She added no endangered or threatened frogs are believed to live in northeast Indiana. But one finding of recent projects is documenting the resurgence of the cricket frog here, after it was thought to have retreated to areas farther south.
"I have stopped my car in the middle of the road when I’ve heard a tree frog," Terlizzi said, adding the frogs sound like two marbles clicking together.
"This year, I’m anxious to see what this wacky winter weather is going to do," she said. "We’re listening to breeding calls and sometimes when we have those arctic winters, that has an impact on what we hear."
Participants are asked to listen at their site or sites twice a week through the breeding season, generally between March and the beginning of August.
The training sessions are free and take place in the Zoo Education Building. Everyone is invited, and participants should provide their own snack or sack lunch and a beverage. For information, call 427-6828. FrogWatch USA is the flagship citizen science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which accredits zoo nationwide, including the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.