Spotted frogs get leg up
FORT LEWIS, Wash. – Fluorescent pink toes will substitute for dog tags and crickets for meals-ready-to-eat.
The 500 or so new recruits who make up an amphibious battalion were weighed and measured Friday in preparation for deployment Sept. 22 at Fort Lewis.
Already camouflaged in green-and-brown battle dress, they appeared fit for duty, if not ready to take orders.
“It’d be nice if we could get ’em to wear name tags, but they don’t cooperate,” said Keith Douville as he gently squirted hot pink dye from a syringe into a frog’s foot. “It actually will glow.”
Douville, who works for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, was part of a platoon of frog handlers who processed a virtual battalion of Oregon spotted frogs Friday at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, north of Eatonville.
The frogs are the latest beneficiaries of a multiagency effort to revive a native species that otherwise could disappear.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is coordinating what is envisioned as a five-year pilot effort to re-establish the population of Oregon spotted frogs at Fort Lewis, where they once lived.
Historically, Oregon spotted frogs inhabited Western Washington wetlands from the Canadian border to the Columbia River. Now, remnant populations persist only in Thurston and Klickitat counties. Officially, the frog is endangered in Washington state and a candidate for federal Endangered Species Act protection.
The newcomers will be the first Oregon spotted frogs on Fort Lewis in decades when biologists release them to wetlands near Muck Creek, Fort Lewis biologist Jim Lynch said.
At Trek, officials were pleased to contribute about $20,000 to the rearing project, said Dave Ellis, Trek deputy director.
“This is the year of the frog,” Ellis said, making reference to a campaign by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which Trek is a member. Through this and other efforts, the association aims to call attention to radical declines in frog populations worldwide.
A combination of habitat destruction, predation and disease is believed to have harmed Oregon spotted frogs in particular, state biologists said.
The hundreds of frogs measured and marked Friday were just masses of eggs in March when they were plucked from a marshy field near the Black River in Thurston County. Since then, keepers at Trek have treated them as special guests. Right now, the frogs are eating about 20,000 crickets a week.
“It’s not as easy as putting animals in and throwing food to them,” said keeper Dave Meadows.
For the last few weeks, Trek has housed the frogs in modified livestock water troughs, where keepers regularly monitor water quality and temperature, following rearing protocols pioneered by a similar group in British Columbia, he said.
Army officials see the amphibious battalion as another element of the post’s commitment to environmental sustainability, Lynch said. The release isn’t likely to affect military training because wetlands aren’t used, he said.
Just prior to deployment, six frogs will be fitted like radiomen. Silk threads will belt tiny transmitters to their backs. They’ll drag needlelike antennas the length of mouse tails.