Happy Fourth! And Welcome Back!
Happy Independence Day Everybody!
This is Maeve, part of the 2023 Summer Intern Crew at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge! After a little period of radio silence during June, I'll be taking over the weekly posts for this blog until the end of August!
Buckle up — it's gonna be a wild ride!
So, with a whole month come and gone, you may be wondering what myself and the rest of the biological crew here at Big Oaks have been up to during the summer so far.
The short answer is a whole heck of a lot! (but mostly frogs!)
The Crawfish Frog tadpoles you know and love have started growing up big and strong! It's been a rough season for them so far between the drought period we got and the inconsistent rainfall thereafter, but after some of our ponds have unfortunately dried up, we still have several active ponds full of thriving little critters!
Some smaller tadpoles from the beginning of our summer season! These ones had to be
relocated from a pond that dried up in the heat. They're doing just fine now!
We currently check the cages holding the tadpoles every single day of the week. Each day we visit, we make sure to give them a healthy handful of blue green algae tablets, as well as plenty of fresh grass to eat and take shelter under. At this point in the season, the tadpoles have increased in size and are beginning the metamorphosis process, where they begin developing legs and reabsorbing their tails into their bodies. It's important to monitor them closely during this period, and to keep the tadpoles very well fed so that they have enough energy and resources to make the transition from tadpoles to beautiful, slimy crawfish frogs!
Each time we check one of our cages, we have to examine the tadpoles to first identify them as crawfish frogs (we've had some leopard frogs sneak in already), and second to monitor their overall health and metamorphosis progress. Many of our tadpoles already have their hind legs developing, and are developing forelegs beneath their skin that will soon pop out whenever they're ready to walk on land. When a tadpole gets all four of its legs, that's when we start to call them a metamorph!
(On the right) A crawfish frog metamorph with its tail! Its legs are close to being fully developed.
It'll be ready for release soon — just as soon as it loses that tail!
(On the left) A sneaky leopard frog metamorph that ended up in one of our cages, trying to mooch off the free food... Can you spot the difference?
As soon as the metamorphs lose their tails, it's time to take their measurements and release them from the cages into the wild. We use a small plastic container and a scale to take their weight in grams, and we use a ruler to measure the length of their bodies from front to back (or as we say in the business - from snout to vent!)
Measuring the size and number of metamorphs in each cage helps us to keep track of which ponds have been most productive over the course of the summer season, and is crucial for understanding how the population of crawfish frogs across the refuge at large has been performing over the course of this project's history. Having this information is essential for making informed management decisions regarding the conservation of the species, and helps our biologists to determine what interventions have to be made (if any) to maintain the overall health and success of our crawfish frog populations in the long term.
Measuring a crawfish frog from its snout (the tip of its nose) to its
vent (its rear opening). Very hard to do when they don't want to sit still!
As far as our other projects go, our crew is also responsible for conducting surveys for Henslow's Sparrows, as well as for conducting acoustic surveys for various species of bat throughout the refuge!
For those of you who are unfamiliar, these are both long-term projects that are carried out annually by Big Oaks during every summer season. Much like the Crawfish Frogs, many of the species that we monitor during these surveys are endangered across the state of Indiana, as well as in several other states throughout the Midwest.
Having the opportunity to help continue this work as part of the Summer Intern Crew here is an absolutely amazing an exciting opportunity to have, but it's important to remember that the work is critically important to restoring and maintaining the populations of these animals here in Indiana!
This coming week, we'll be heading out to continue doing these surveys in the early mornings and late evenings. The work can be hard, especially when you have to wake up before the sun every day, but it's very rewarding!
And of course, you can count on me taking lots of pictures to include in my next posts here on this blog.
Stay tuned everybody!