Peabody recruiting citizen scientists for FrogWatch

Calling all citizen scientists: FrogWatch U.S.A. needs your help tracking local frog and toad populations! A training session will be held on April 21 via Zoom.
A gray tree frog

A gray tree frog (Photo credit: Twan Leenders)

Even though we humans can’t safely gather right now, frogs and toads can. And they certainly are. With the arrival of spring, these vocal amphibians are out and about, calling to attract mates and claim territory.

Frogs and toads are important indicators of wetland ecosystem health, and population declines in recent years are cause for concern among scientists. Monitoring the daily chorus of “croaks” and “ribbits” in wetlands is an effective way to assess local frog and toad populations, and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History is recruiting citizen scientists to help with the task. You don’t need a degree in biology to do it — just a little training — and the next opportunity is around the corner.

FrogWatch U.S.A. is a national organization that teaches concerned citizens how to monitor their local frog and toad populations. The Yale Peabody Museum, along with Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and the Maritime Aquarium, formed a local FrogWatch chapter five years ago.

 The chapter hosts three training sessions annually, during which participants learn basic frog biology and take two assessments. To comply with physical distancing guidelines, this year’s third and final training session will take place via Zoom on Tues., April 21, from 7 to 8 p.m.

Although doing “assessments” may sound intimidating, James Sirch, education coordinator at the Peabody, says the instruction “is not too technical.” Participants receive an informational booklet before the training, and “one of the assessments,” says Sirch, “is an ‘open book’ quiz on important points that we highlight in the seminar.”

After training and a brief certification process, newly minted citizen scientists choose a local wetland area near their home to monitor. Participants monitor their wetland for five minutes at dusk a couple times a week and record what they hear. Data sheets are collected by the local chapter and pooled nationally.

The chapter’s first two FrogWatch training sessions were held in March at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, and at the Peabody, respectively. The third, scheduled for the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, was put on hold due to the public health crisis, but will now be hosted as a webinar on Zoom. Registration is online and only takes a few minutes to complete.

Sirch noted that wetland monitoring can be done while practicing physical distancing. The training and monitoring are also a good activity for families, who often isolate together.

Because recommended protocols require you go out a half hour after sunset, it’s best for families with older kids — upper elementary and high school — as well as adults,” he said.

When the pandemic forced the Peabody to close its doors in March, museum staff began compiling web-based resources on its website under the heading Peabody@Home. The museum, already set to close galleries to the public in July for renovations, will continue using the new platform and adding new content daily. Much of the museum’s programing, including events like the FrogWatch training, will also continue online.

It’s thrusting us quickly into what was going to become a reality regardless,” said Christopher Renton, associate communications director at the Peabody, of the current situation. He added that the museum is taking the opportunity to start making its online resources available earlier than expected.

A pre-social distancing FrogWatch training session.
A pre-social distancing FrogWatch training session. Aspiring citizen scientists can still make use of the Peabody’s online resources and virtual training calls. (Photo credit: Aszya Summers)

Peabody director David Skelly, a noted frog biologist, emphasized the importance of the citizen science initiatives to the museum’s mission, calling citizen science “a new frontier for understanding the world.” One surprising benefit of citizen science, he said, “is that large networks of people can collect information that reveals patterns that would otherwise not have been discovered.”

Once trained, citizen scientists can continue monitoring their registered wetland annually as long as they like. FrogWatch participants and New Haven residents Ellen Su and Jonathan Marquez say that membership in the program is deeply rewarding.

Learning about the different local species has helped us connect to the wildlife of Connecticut,” said Su. “FrogWatch brings together folks of all ages, and we’ve told all our friends about it.”

The enthusiasm and camaraderie are perhaps citizen science’s primary benefits, Skelly said.

When you give people agency, when you tell them they can make a real contribution, they become vested in what they are studying and they see themselves as part of the scientific process,” Skelly said. “We need more of that.”

To learn what’s happening at the museum online, visit Peabody@Home, where you can view specimens from the collections, check in on the renovations, or download lesson plans. You can also find information about participating in other citizen science initiatives the Peabody hosts with iNaturalist and Zooniverse. To expand your knowledge about local flora and fauna even further, check out Beyond Your Back Door, Sirch’s new blog about nature in your neighborhood.

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