Friday, October 9, 2015

If You Build It, They Will Come:Conference outline and slides

 Sorry if it's a bit clunky, this has been copy and pasted directly from my talk outline.

Hello, I’m Allison Metler, age 10, a homeschooled student from Bartlett, TN and my project is:
If you Build it They will come: Use of Temporary Microbiota as an Environmentally sound alternative to the traditional frog life cycle project in home education settings.

Can temporary ponds made of low-cost materials prove usable frog habitat for breeding purposes?
     Can these pools be used as an alternative to in-house metamorphosis projects by attracting indigenous frogs to be observed, without need of moving the frogs to the students?

      Can homeschool families be convinced to use these ponds instead of current methods?

We reviewed the use of metamorphosis projects in early childhood education literature.

Tadpole to frog projects are standard in early childhood science programs for grades K-2, and understanding of life cycles is a major concept in state science standards at some point in the early years in all US states.

They have several benefits. The first is that for these children, it is usually their first sustained observation of any animal other than perhaps a pet dog or cat, and their first exposure to any amphibian in real life. The interesting and novel metamorphosis of the frog provides the opportunity to compare and contrast to other life cycles. A great deal of science vocabulary and early recording and observation skills are included in this project.

Such projects are also cross curricular, and usually involve reading books about frogs, graphing and measurement skills in math as the students observe and analyze their tadpoles, drawing frogs, and learning about environmental issues, which can spark interest in both amphibians and herpetology and in environmental conservation.

However, such projects also have noted environmental risks.  Tadpoles have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is either the wild or via the mail. Tadpoles purchased by mail are non-native to the area, and some of the most common tadpoles shipped are invasive species, including African Clawed frogs and American Bullfrogs. A quick search of Ebay shows multiple lots of unidentified tadpoles, including a lot of “possible tree frogs and toads” from Florida.
The most common outcome in school-based projects are for any surviving frogs/tadpoles to be released outside. Since many tadpoles are moved for such projects, most state websites and other sources call for point of capture release or euthanizing all frogs that result from such a project, which in turn is a bioethics concern.  And, sadly, in a lot of the projects, some or all of the tadpoles die, which can be quite traumatic for the children, and, if handled badly, teach that tadpoles and frogs are disposable.

We wanted to see whether these applied to the homeschool population as they did to traditional classrooms.  We chose to target homeschoolers because I am part of this population and have seen this project happen, including co-op settings where every child is sent home with a plastic cup of unidentified tadpoles.  We also could easily collect data on past homeschool projects because my mother is active in multiple groups and forums for homeschoolers in the Memphis area and nationally. Finally, homeschoolers are a good place to focus change because homeschoolers can continue a project into summer months, which more closely matches the natural frog breeding cycle in Tennessee. 

            69 families  Surveyed on :Well Trained Mind forums, using a built in surveying tool
                       Homeschoolers of Memphis Eclectic and Memphis homeschool buzz, using Quia

Survey limited to those who have done frog metamorphosis projects in past 2 years
     Questions: Where were your tadpoles/eggs for this project obtained?
                         How many tadpoles survived to become frogs
                         What happened to the tadpoles after the project

65% of tadpoles were taken from the wild, an action that there are at least some restrictions on in all US states.  We used state websites as well as data compiled by PARC and Save the Frogs to review the state wildlife laws.

28% of tadpoles came from a retail source, such as Grow-A-Frog,  Insect Lore, or Carolina Biological supply.

2% of tadpoles had unknown origins because the child got the tadpole at a group class or event.

5% of tadpoles were observed in the wild.

56% of families had some tadpoles die.
25% of families had all tadpoles die.
19% of families had all tadpoles survive.
81% of families experienced death.

This indicates that the traditional project design often doesn’t achieve it’s desired results, and raises bioethics concerns about the animals and also concerns for the children, who have had to observe animals they have cared for die.

64% of families released frogs into the wild,  which risks the spread of disease or the introduction of invasive species. This is particularly a concern since Xenopus laevis (African clawed frogs) are one of the most common species used in some of the commercial kits, and these frogs are both a known invasive species and believed to be the vector by which batrochydrid Dendrobatids entered the United States. . (Weldon, et al, 2004.)

23% of families could not answer said question, as none of their frogs survived.
7% of families kept the frogs as pets throughout their lifespan.
4% of families gave the frogs away.
2% of families disposed of the frogs. The reason for this was because one family in Australia had accidentally collected cane toad tadpoles which under Australian law were required to be killed.(Frog Decline Reversal Project, 2001-2013.)

We had not specifically asked about specific species, but on the Well trained mind forums, parents who had had very poor surivival rates asked what kind of frogs they should get if they wanted them to live. The results were quite scary from an ecological viewpoint, given that the majority of surviving frogs end up in the wild.
8 of the projects where all tadpoles survived had African Clawed frog tadpoles,
1 had cane toad tadpoles (a report from Australia).
4 families had American bullfrog tadpoles, but none kept them long enough to turn into frogs.
Invasive species had a high rate of survival reports, and parents were actually encouraging each other to get mail-order, non-native African clawed frog tadpoles for such projects.

Other observations from the comments were that almost no families actually returned to point of capture. Normally, frogs were released into backyards or the nearest water source, even if this was across state lines from their capture, and no distinction was made as to source of frogs in their release.

We decided to focus on a backyard pond design. In order to form a viable alternative to the more traditional project, the pond needed to be:

Suburban friendly, and stay within code enforcement limits for Bartlett TN and surrounding areas, which meant that it needed to be temporary, above ground, and no more than 18 inches deep, as well as controlled for mosquitoes

Low cost, similar to the $30 or so that a commercial grow a frog kit costs

Attractive to frogs so that they will actually choose to come to the area and utilize the pond.

      Site- 1/3 acre lot in suburban Bartlett, roads on 2 sides, not chemically treated. The pond is set up on a brick patio, near a porch light, with a screened porch on one side and the side of the house on the other, with a large tree and open lawn on the other two sides.

                Nearest “wild” water source-drainage ditch about ½ mile away, across one road by straight line access, known source of green/grey tree frogs and American toads, across 2 roads
                 Multiple vernal ponds about ¾ mile away, known breeding spot for grey tree frogs
                 Farm ponds about 1 mile north, across 2 roads, known source for chorus frogs and spring peepers. Chlorinated swimming pool next door and a few others in immediate area.

Pond- 6 ft diameter wading pool, 1 foot maximum depth, purchased at Target.  ($5 at 50% off in July clearance sale)
            Cover objects-Corregated plastic ramp (from Home Depot, plastic sign board, $5/sheet), duct taped, cover objects sold for turtles/ponds at pet store (floating log, fake lily pad), Frisbee.
                 Filled with water and allowed to dechlorinate, treated with Mosquito Bits/dunks (Bacillus Thurungus) to stay in compliance with Bartlett TN code enforcement, and because we really didn’t want to raise mosquitoes (Purchased on, $2/month).  This is the protocol recommended by Save the Frogs! as safe for amphibians and other vertebrates.
               Time of study-Placed in Mid-Late July, observed through season until October.

     In Year 1, the pond was placed in July. During August and September, we had multiple sightings of Anaxyrus americanus (American toad) near the pond area, daily sightings for several weeks of Lithobates Clamintans (Bronze frog), and multiple sightings of Green and Grey tree frogs (Hyla Cinerea, Hyla Versicolor/Chrystocelis). Frogs were identified using the book, Amphibians of Tennessee, as well as by frog calls using materials provided by FrogWatch USA.

While this did not fully achieve the goal of colonization, it did demonstrate that frogs would be attracted and use our prepared pond.

    Documented on Homeschool forums and on blog, 97 views, 8 likes.

Pond in place through winter and in place for Early Spring.
             Potted plants (Schefflera) added around pond to provide extra cover and more closely mimic wild ponds. These plants were chosen because we already had them and usually moved them outside for Spring/Summer anyway.
             Duckweed added to pond to provide extra cover and more closely mimic wild ponds

          Tree frogs (H. Cinerea, H. Versacolor/Chystocelis) spotted early (March-June), with one ranid frog sighting (Leopard frog (L. Sphenocephala) on 2 days
            Toads much more present in area than in year 1. Calls heard from American toads (A. Americanus) and Fowler’s toad (A. Fowleri)
            Tadpoles sighted in June, but we hadn’t observed eggs. Tadpoles metamorphed into grey tree frogs in mid/late June
Ranid frogs present (2-3/day) in July/August on a regular basis. Ranid frogs using pond are larger than those in year 1.  Most common species in July/August-Bronze frog. Toads common around pond and in grassy nearby areas.
Upland chorus frogs observed in early September (September 6) near pond.

    Additional animal use of pond-frequent use by birds and squirrels in year 1. In year 2, we also had a young Virginia Opossum move in. Ramps and edges of the pond, as well as the water in the pond, had large numbers of invertebrates, including isopods, daphnia, and snails.  Prior to study we had had a population of Rough Earth snakes, which continued to thrive, becoming more easily discovered in year 2 than in year 1.

The pond also offered a greater opportunity to observe the behavior of the target species. For example, this summer a large male bronze frog took up residence in the pond. Our cats have access to a fully screened and covered back porch. While the frog was largely invisible in the pond, he was obviously aware of the cats, because if one came close to the pond, he would give his alert cry, which startled the cat. Within a short time, the cats studiously avoided that part of the porch. The frog otherwise appeared unaffected. This is a behavior you probably won’t see in an aquarium.

               We also saw use of the pond by non-native animals. This young felis domesticus, an invasive species, was spotted using the pond in January. She was removed from the ecosystem and is now contained in our house. Her name is Anery, and she likes having her ears scratched.

This indicates that use of a temporary backyard pond has a greater benefit to homeschooled students beyond the actual frog project, via observation of other animals and water samples for microscopy study, as well as a greater benefit to wildlife beyond frogs.

     Continued to post updates on Homeschool forums  on a Monthly basis between March-August.
        Pageviews increased to an average of 356/post, with an average of 64 “likes” on each post.

    In July, surveyed and asked for volunteers to host sites for 2016. 12 sites are planned, 4 in west TN, 8 in other parts of the USA, plus a single site in Australia in 2015.  An additional 4 families regularly have “nuisance frogs” that lay eggs in their swimming pools, and plan to relocate some or all of these eggs and resulting tadpoles to project swimming pool ponds, in lieu of killing them. These families will report data to us for inclusion in the project. If all families participate, 19 children between the ages of 3-12 will be involved in this project this coming year.

 Next steps: Continue to observe our pond    We have toads. Can we change the pond so that they can use it for reproduction?   DO other people have the same results we do?    Can we get other homeschoolers to try attracting frogs vs buying or catching tadpoles? (Save the Frogs day event, Blogs, homeschool forums).

Parents/teachers/funding source- Donna and Michael Metler
Mentors- Dr. Ann Paterson, Dr. Stephen McMann
Information sources-Lisa Powers, Dr. Kerry Krieger, Save the Frogs, PARC, FrogWatchUSA,
SSAR Pre-baccalaureate grant to allow conference participation
Tennessee herpetological society for allowing me to be here today

If you have any questions and weren't at the talk, post them on the My Little Python Facebook or Twitter pages, email them to me at, or post them in the comments.


Niemiller, Matthew, Reynolds, Graham. "The Amphibians Of Tennessee." The University of Tennessee Press. 2011.
Frog Decline Reversal Project. "Raising Tadpoles in Containers and Ponds" , 2001-2013
Montgomery, Charlotte.  "Teaching with Animals:Goals and Guidelines" Day Care and Early Education. 1978.
Hyatt, Alex. Muller, Reinhold. Speare, Rick. "Origin of the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 2004.
Conrad, Paulette, Nanjappa, Priya. "State of the Union:Legal Authority Over the Use of Native Amphibians and Reptiles in the United States." Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. 2011.
Butler, Deanna, Hachey, Alyse. "Science Education through Gardening and Nature-Based play" Young Children, November 2009.  
O'Brien, Elizabeth, Merson, Hayley. "Life Cycle of a Frog" Fall 2011.

Web Sources from Organizations:

Frogwatch USA
Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

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