Junior Herpetologist of the Year Sarah Brabec

Frogs Are Green is proud to repost this wonderful article sent to us by Lisa and Sarah Brabec. We couldn’t agree more and look forward to hearing from Sarah when she’s closer to us on the East coast!

By Anna Spoerre
Journal Star reporter

BRIMFIELD — To Sarah Brabec, herpetology is more than just the study of reptiles and amphibians, it’s a lifestyle.

On a recent day, the 90-degree weather didn’t seem to bother Brabec, 14, as she waded barefoot through a creek at Jubilee College State Park, a small green net in hand. Two large tadpoles resurfaced with the mesh — an exciting catch for the Junior Herpetologist of the Year at the 2016 International Herpetological Symposium.

“(Herpetology) is more than just a hobby,” Brabec said. “It’s a passion … something I want to spend my life doing.”

Brabec is presenting at the 39th annual International Herpetological Symposium that began Wednesday and runs through Saturday in St. Louis. There, she joins experts in discussions and programs about the scaly, cold-blooded creatures.

Sarah Brebac

“It’s just amazing how much she’s been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time,” said Jill Wallace, an environmental educator at Sugar Grove Nature Center in McLean, where Brabec likes to visit with her family.

When she was 6, Brabec joined the Central Illinois Herpetological Society. During her time there she’s presented in front of hundreds of people and helped to start a junior program within the society, said Doug Holmes, president of the society.

She said last year’s international conference in Austin, Texas — which she participated in as a runner-up — taught her that herpetology is about more than saving frogs. It’s about helping to promote public interest, she said, which falls in line with increasingly popular education-based global sustainability practices.

“The key need in conservation success is education of younger kids,” Brabec said.

Sarah Brebac examines amphibian

She began teaching children to conserve and save animals in Peoria, going into classrooms and talking to grade-schoolers about reptiles. Sometimes she brings her favorite creatures along to engage the students.

“You can hold frogs in your hands,” Brabec said. “Kids can really connect to that.”

She would know. Brabec’s mother, Lisa Brabec, said she started chasing reptiles when she was 4, always returning home with a new animal hidden behind her back.

“When they find their passion, feed it,” said Lisa Brabec, who often takes her daughter exploring at nearby creeks and ponds.

When asked about some of the more interesting moments that come with having a house full of reptiles and amphibians, she said with a chuckle, “my Mother’s Day gift went missing one year.”

Sixth months later they found the runaway snake hiding between their kitchen cabinets. Despite this, Lisa Brabec said she’s grown fonder of all slimy, slithery creatures her daughter introduces to the family.

“My parents are troopers,” the younger Brabec said with a smile.

Last year, Sarah Brabec even began writing a children’s book with a local herpetologist. But, the project has been put on hold.

“I learned that all it takes for kids is adults who think they’re capable,” Lisa Brabec said.

Though Sarah Brabec said she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do in the future, she said saving wildlife is crucial, and she wants to continue playing a role in that endeavor.

In the meantime, she and her family are preparing to move to Atlanta later this summer, where Sarah Brabec said she’s excited to find eastern narrow mouth toads.

“You can just tell some kids are really hooked,” Holmes said. “I think eventually she’ll make a career out of it.”

Anna Spoerre can be reached at 686-3296 and aspoerre@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/annaspoerre.


Foliage For Indoor Frogs

Frogs are one of the more common classroom pets because they are quite easy to care for and they look very cool. Growing frogs is a great way for science teachers to teach kids about metamorphosis because they can use the frog as example for this process. Frogs at first are tadpoles and then they turn into an adult frog. But there are a few things that you should know if you are thinking about raising a frog in a classroom or in other indoor spaces. One of the most important things being what type of foliage to use for the frogs as that can determine how the frogs feel in their classroom terrarium because plants provide the frogs with cover as well as help with the oxygen production in the vivarium. This foliage will be different based on what type of frog you have – an aquatic, semi-aquatic, terrestrial or arboreal (climbing or tree) frog.


Foliage for aquatic frogs
Because aquatic frogs tend to spend most of their life underwater these frogs will require to live in vivarium where there is a lot of water which means that you will have to have aquatic plants too, because regular land plants won’t be able to survive in the water or in a place where it is very moist and wet. Common plants that grow and feel well in aquatic environments are Anubias species plants, which are very durable aquatic plants; Pothos Plants and Philodendron that are long vine type plants that will nicely cover your aquatic terrariums wall; Cryptocoryne wendtii, which are tall plants with heavy foliage; as well as Anacharis plants that the frogs can use to hide among and other similar plants. But for classroom purposes you can also make a biotope aquatic tank meaning that you place all of the same plants that can be found in the natural habitat of the frog species that you have in your terrarium.

Foliage for semi-aquatic frogs
Semi-aquatic frogs are called that because they spend half of their time in the water and half on land and they need appropriate tanks with 50% of the tank being water but and the rest being land. This also means that in a vivarium for these types of frogs you can combine aquatic plants and also non-aquatic plants. Just keep in mind that these non-aquatic plants too should favor a moist environment and soil so don’t place plants that prefer dry conditions in a semi-aquatic tank. For the water portion of the terrarium you can again use the same aquatic plants that I mentioned previously, but for the land portion of the tank you can use plants like Bromeliads that will adapt to basically any environment, as well as Ferns that are high humidity plants and other plants that can stand humidity and their roots being constantly wet.

Foliage for arboreal (tree) frogs
Then there are so called arboreal or tree frogs that need a lot of climbing space meaning that their vivarium too needs to have taller plants with climbing potential. Great plants for frogs of this type are Philodendrons that grow really fast and in basically any conditions; Wandering Jews that also are quick growing plants; plants called “Golden Pothos” that is adaptable and an easy growing plant; Aglaonema genus plants that can reach up to 3 feet, as well as Marcgravia or Shingle Plant that has fat leaves and tends to climb on other surfaces; and a plant by the name of “Silver Skies” that also grows fast and has big leaves.

Foliage for terrestrial frogs
Lastly, there are quite a lot of frogs that are categorized as terrestrial or land frogs. For these types of frogs you can create a vivarium that is quite similar to one that I described for arboreal plants. However, in the terrestrial frog case they don’t need the height of the plants but rather they need bigger and longer spaces that are heavily clad with foliage because these frogs need places to hide and they are not able to climb the plants like tree frogs can. For terrestrial frog tanks you can use plants like Peperomia and Pilea plants, both are plants with many different species that are all good for terrariums, as well as Orchids because they don’t like wet places and other house plants or land plants.
One thing to keep in mind with terrariums and plants though is the light that they get because for any plant to grow they need light for photosynthesis to happen. The more light plants get the faster they grow, so make sure that in the classroom the frogs are placed in a spot where it gets natural lighting. An alternative of course, which in many cases might be even better than natural light, is to install t5 grow lights or any other similar artificial lights above your terrarium, because with these artificial lights the plants as well as the frogs will get the light and heat they need and you will be able to control the conditions in the terrarium so that they are just perfect for the species of frogs you have.


*** Guest post: My name is Ben Thorton and I am the owner and editor of T5fixtures.com. My passion is all things related to plants and plant growing and I consider myself an expert in this field, which is why I love to share my passion with others to help them be successful in gardening and plant growing too.


Herps Alive! A Reptile Rescue Herpetologist Writes About Frogs

Guest Post by Keith Gisser

I know what you are thinking.

Why is a reptile rescue guy writing about frogs? They aren’t reptiles. And captive frogs don’t need to be rescued. Gators, boas, pythons, maybe even big monitor lizards and iguanas, sure. But frogs?

Herps Alive! The Interactive Reptile and Amphibian Experience, is a traveling educational herpetology program and display. We have presented in 36 states (primarily at college campuses, but also at libraries, festivals elementary and high schools). Now in my fifties, I did my first paid program at age 17,  and now my daughter a degreed Interpretative Naturalist, and my son, a marketing whiz, often travel and help me. We offer display programs and interactive lectures as well as classroom sessions, and have presented an estimated 3,000 programs since we started (we have worked some “real” jobs here and there).

As your reputation builds, you start getting calls to adopt animals. Usually they are pets that people can’t keep. Sometimes they are police seizures or animals from other unfortunate situations.  We have always accepted these animals in an effort to keep a good relationship with the museums, nature centers and law enforcement officials who contact us.

But in the last year or so, the rescue mission has taken on a life of its own.  We have been asked to take in dozens of animals. And for the first time, we began rehoming a few. As a result we are spinning off our rescue mission and working on moving it to a separate location, as we turn it into a charitable foundation.

But what about the frogs?

I have been fascinated with frogs my entire life. My career as a herpetologist probably began at age nine when I caught a toad. I brought him home in a rinsed out pickle jar. (That was 45 years ago when such behavior was acceptable. At the time they were also in the genus Bufo, not Anaxyrus) I have bred several species of frog in captivity and always include a discussion of metamorphosis in my educational programs.

Southern Toad

Right now we have three frogs among our 150 animals.  Our Southern Toad (Anaxyrusterrestris) was living in a Carolina classroom after a student had brought him. He had been in captivity for too long to be released, so when we came in to do a program, the teacher asked if we could take him. Known just as The Toad, he eats crickets and small worms, as well as waxworms.

Beatrice is an African Clawed Frog (Xenopuslaevis) who was raised from a small size by my son’s ex-girlfriend. When she moved into a new home, she asked us to take her on. Beatrice was raised in a 10 gallon aquarium. When we tried to move her to a larger one, she went off feed and seemed generally unhappy. So back into the ten she went even though it really is too small for her. She loves her goldfish and nightcrawlers and eats anywhere from 10-30 a week. Unfortunately, her relatives have been taking a bad rap lately as they have been identified as the culprits that carried of the dreaded chytrid fungus.  It’s not really their fault. In everywhere except their African home, they were used as lab animals. They were used as part of a pregnancy test. The problem is not with them carrying the fungus, but rather with the irresponsible people who have released them outside their normal environment.

African Clawed Frog

Finally, there is Poncherello Pegone Pixiefrog, our African Bullfrog (Pyxicephalusadsperus). “Ponch” is named for the  mayor on the cartoon My Gym Partner’s a Monkey., who is also a Pixie, or African Bullfrog. We adopted him from a breeder because he appears to be blind in one eye and the breeder did not want him. Ponch eats thawed mice off tongs, usually one or two a week. He is also a regular in our programs, having traveled to 14 states since we got him two years ago. While our other frogs are kept in our entrance hallway (Our facility is not air conditioned), Ponch loves the heat and his aquarium is kept in our snake and lizard room, where the high ambient temperature helps him with digestion.

We hope to see you some time in the future…

About Keith Gisser:

Keith caught a toad (Anaxyrus ssp) when he was nine and his herpetology career began. He has presented Herps Alive! an award-winning, nationally recognized interactive reptile and amphibian program based in Ohio, at over 170 college campuses and hundreds of other venues in 39 states.

Gisser, who has been a herpetology educator for over thirty years and currently maintains about 140 reptiles, amphibians and crocodilians, nearly all of which are adoptions or rescues, about half of which are used in his programs. The rescue and adoption mission has taken more and more of his time and efforts in recent years and will soon be “spun off” as the Herps Alive! Foundation, which is in the process of seeking non-profit status and accreditation as a rescue.


Back to School: Thoughts about Grow-a-Frog Kits in the Classroom

Tadpole Metamorphosizing into Frog

It’s back-to-school time again, a time when teachers may be planning their life science classes. What better way to illustrate an animal’s life cycle than by teaching kids about the remarkable transformation of a tadpole into a frog?  Unfortunately teachers may decide to use grow-a-frog kits to teach children about metamorphosis.

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about advising teachers not to raise live amphibians in the classroom. As a child, my love of animals was fostered by the various animals I kept at home, including fish and turtles. I probably would have enjoyed having a live frog in the classroom.

But the authors of an article in the Herpetological Review, “Considerations and Recommendations for Raising Live Amphibians in Classrooms,” remind us that the world is no longer a simple place: innocent acts like catching tadpoles and releasing them later into local ponds are much more complicated than they used to be.

Releasing live  frogs “grown” in the classroom into the wild can potentially harm native amphibians (even if the animals are native to the area) by possibly spreading infectious diseases, such as the deadly chytrid fungus, a disease that has wiped out entire frog populations. It may also introduce species (such as bullfrogs) that might become invasive and disrupt local amphibians.

After we wrote a few posts discouraging people from buying the Frog-o-Sphere kits, quite a few readers who owned the kits were distressed and emailed us, asking  if they should “let the frogs go.” We wrote back immediately, telling them not to release the frogs into the wild. Instead we referred them to frog care sites and books. If you’ve already purchased a frog kit, it is your responsibility to take care of the frog. Releasing it into the wild helps neither the frog nor the environment.

The problems with the classroom grow-a-frog kits are similar. After the tadpole grows into a frog, the children may become bored with it and the teacher may decide to release it into a local pond. Or at the end of the school year, the teacher may give it to a family, who then releases it somewhere in the neighborhood.  As advised in the article above: “This should never be done, and in fact, it is illegal in several states. No amphibian purchased or received from any commercial or informal (e.g., a neighbor) source may be released into the wild. This recommendation applies whether the species is technically ‘native’ to the region of release, or not.”

If you decide to purchase a grow-a-frog kit (which we hope you don’t), you will be making a commitment to take care of the frog for its natural lifespan.

How can teachers and parents teach children about the life cycle of frogs without raising live frogs? We would suggest contacting a local nature center and setting up a field trip in the spring, where the children can see eggs and tadpoles in the wild.  This past spring while hiking I frequently saw frog egg clusters in ponds and swamps, and it’s fairly easy to see tadpoles as well. A local naturalist will know where to look.

To prepare the children for what they might see in the spring, here are some resources:

The Amphibian Project : Classroom curricula, field projects and hands-on activities, fundraising ideas for students, and links.

Amphibians. 35 min. (Eyewitness DVD) Describes amphibian life cycle and anatomy; behaviors and adaptations; and amphibian characteristics. Grades 5-12

Two frog life cycle plastic sets:

For more information:
Joseph R. Medelson III et al. “Considerations and Recommendations for Raising Live Amphibians in Classrooms,” Herpetological Review, 2009.
The authors of the article above recommend this pamphlet, produced by Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) entitled “Don’t Turn it Loose.”

Brookstone to Discontinue Frog-O-Sphere kits

We were happy to learn that Brookstone has decided to remove the Frog-O-Sphere kit from its shelves.

In previous posts we’ve blogged about why we were against this product. Others have protested against the kits as well, most notably PETA, which organized thousands of calls and e-mails to Brooksone, as well as appearances of a giant frog outside the Brookstone headquarters to protest the kits. After 18 months of protests, Brookstone has decided to discontinue the Frog-O-Sphere kit.

Photo courtesy of PETA

Brookstone joins Magic Beans, Target, and other retailers that have stopped selling these kits, but according to PETA, Coach House Gifts is still selling frogs in “EcoAquariums.”

Why did we think these kits were so bad? Unfortunately, the promise of a true ecosystem was their selling point, but this promise was overstated. The kit was meant to more or less take care of itself, the snail eating the algae, and so on. But the snails frequently died so a key part of the “ecosystem” fell apart. As with any pet, it takes more than a simple gimmick, and usually a lot of work, to keep the pet healthy and flourishing. In many cases these frog kits were bought as decorations for offices or as spontaneous gifts for a child. Once the novelty wore off, the frogs languished. Of course, this can happen with any pet, but because the frogs were not bought in pet stores, buyers did not receive instructions on the proper care of the frogs. In addition, many frogs died on the store shelves or while being shipped across the country.

We haven’t kept frogs as pets and generally don’t recommend it. In some cases, the frogs may be collected from wild populations (not the case with African Dwarf frogs). Pet frogs, especially from these types of kits, may be “let free,” which often happens at the end of a school year for a classroom frog grown from a kit,  or when a child gets bored with it. These “free” frogs can wreak havoc on native frog populations by spreading disease.

If you purchased a Frog-O-Sphere, we highly recommend you learn about how to take care of your frog properly. We’ve included some links below. If you are experienced in the care of African dwarf frogs, please help us out by sharing tips in the comments.

Care of African Dwarf Frogs

Keeping African Clawed frogs and African Dwarf frogs

African Dwarf Frogs Housing and Feeding

Frog World: African Dwarf Frog

Book from Amazon: Your Happy Healthy Pet: Frogs and Toads


U.S. Agency Proposes Legislation to Help Stem Spread of Chytrid Fungus

In an effort to stem the spread of the deadly chytrid fungus that is wiping out amphibian populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering banning the importation of amphibians and their eggs without a permit certifying the animals are disease-free. The chytrid fungus has caused the extinction of at least 200 amphibian species and continues to be one of the greatest threats to amphibians.

Northern Leopard Frog, a North American native species

In a statement, Rowan Gould, Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said,

The worldwide decline of amphibians is of great concern to us. Chytrid is attributed as a major cause of this amphibian mortality. We understand that halting the spread of the fungus or eradicating it will take more than just regulating importation and transportation of infected amphibians, but it is a major step in the right direction.

According the the FWS website, under the Lacey Act, the Department of the Interior is authorized to regulate the importation and interstate transport of wildlife species determined to be injurious to the welfare and survival of native wildlife. Current regulations prohibit the release into the wild of all species of live amphibians or their eggs, except as authorized. But, of course, this law isn’t easily enforced. Many pet frogs are let “free” in local ponds, potentially infecting native species.

A listing under the Lacey Act would not affect a person or institution that currently owns an amphibian and does not transport it to another state or U.S. territory.

At FROGS ARE GREEN, we applaud this proposed legislation and feel it would be a huge step toward controlling the spread of the chytrid fungus that threatens the survival of so many amphibian species, including native species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The FWS is seeking input from the public. You can leave a comment until December 16, 2010. Please take a few minutes to comment and to show your support for a measure that will genuinely help amphibians.

More information: Statement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Information from Save the Frogs about the frog legs trade and the spread of infectious diseases.