Prison inmates grow giant frogs to be releasedNovember 20th, 2009 by cdunagan
As part of an effort to rebuild Northwest populations of endangered frogs — specifically Oregon spotted frogs — two inmates at Cedar Creek Corrections Center near Olympia were given 80 frog eggs with the goal of growing them into adult frogs.
The two — Harry Greer and Al Delp — not only took the job seriously, their frogs grew larger and with a higher survival rate than identical frogs grown by experts at Woodland Park Zoo and Oregon Zoo.
Sarah Waller, a reporter for KUOW News, tells the story well, and I encourage you to listen to her report. Other accounts are provided in a news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and in a newspaper story by Jennifer Sullivan of the Seattle Times.
What Sarah Waller does not tell us is why the inmates were able
to grow larger frogs, so I contacted Marc Hayes, project leader for
the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“These guys have an enormous amount of time on their hands, and they are able to devote a high level of attention to the frogs they rear,” Hayes told me. “They were able to grow frogs equivalent to 2 to 3 years old in seven months.”
Whereas zoo attendants have other duties and may be unable to feed and care for their frogs more than a couple of times a day, the inmates can give them almost constant attention. As tadpoles, the little animals can get their fill of an algae-like feed, as the inmates clean their tanks of waste after each feeding. In the frog stage, they are given a plentiful supply of tiny crickets dusted with calcium for bone growth.
On average, about half the captive frogs in the program survive to be released, yet the two inmates were able to achieve a survival rate 86 percent.
“I never thought they would be able to do something at this level,” Hayes said.
Released into the wild at Dallman Lake on the Fort Lewis Military Reservation, the larger frogs are expected to avoid predators and stay alive easier than their smaller counterparts, and they should be able to have offspring in the spring of their first year.
There does not appear to be a downside to the fast-growing frogs, Hayes told me, but any problems may be discovered by monitoring the survival of the frogs reared under various conditions.
It appears that all of the frogs tracked last year survived, and this year about one-fourth of the frogs were equipped with a microchip for easier monitoring.
The success of breeding programs at Cedar Creek — including work by inmates on rare prairie plants and butterflies — could increase the opportunities to work with other endangered species.
Frogs are a sentinal species in many Northwest ecosystems, yet their numbers have been decimated by non-native bullfrogs, pollution and disease. If Oregon spotted frogs can be restored to their historical locations, we can hope that other species can survive as well.