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Citizen Science Helps Find Utah Toads, Frogs

Utah Division of Natural Resources and FrogWatch

The season to spot frogs and toads has arrived, and Hogle Zoo is part of a nationwide, citizen-science effort to monitor them in Utah.

The zoo’s Suzanne Zgraggen, coordinator for FrogWatch USA in Utah, teaches volunteers how to identify frogs and toads.

“The spadefoot toad, the Great Basin spadefoot toad – it sounds like someone with squeaky shoes walking down a linoleum hallway – kind of a weet-wert, weet-wert,” says Zgraggen.

“It should really be called FrogListen, because the protocol for collecting data is: you go out after sunset and you listen for three minutes, and then you just write down what species you heard.”

Frogs and other amphibians give us important information about the health of our environment. Frogwatch says about one-third of the world’s amphibians are facing extinction, the largest mass extinction event since the dinosaurs.

Zgraggen has taught dozens of citizen scientist this year. She thinks more people would be listening for amphibians if they were encountering them more. But Utah is just 2 percent wetlands, and so finding frogs and toads in their natural habitat is harder.

“Citizen science is important because scientists can’t be everywhere all the time,” she says. “Utah Department of Natural Resources has a finite amount of people that they can send out to figure out where the amphibians are living and what they are doing.”

Utah volunteers learn eight distinct amphibian calls and log their findings in the national database built by more than 125 Frogwatch chapters.

But, for Zgraggen, it’s just fun to learn more about what’s around us. Like the boreal toad.

“I think they’re great. They have a lot of charisma for such a little animal.”

State biologists and Frogwatch have a smartphone app, Amphibians of Utah, to identify frogs and toads and pinpoint their location. Frog, toad and salamander sounds can also be found on the Hogle Zoo web page.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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