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Grant provides K-12 students the opportunity to become citizen scientists in search of the rare Mountain Chorus Frog

Findings will contribute to an expanded knowledge of the species’ conservation status

Post Date:01/14/2019 10:19 AM

ABINGDON, VA – Southwest Virginia students have the opportunity to become citizen scientists, reporting their observational findings of the rare Mountain Chorus Frog, thanks to funding from the Virginia Wildlife Grant Program. The Mountain Chorus Frog is considered a Tier II (very high conservation need) species threatened by habitat loss. 

“The goal of the grant is to aid in research and get young people outside,” said Kevin Hamed, PhD, a Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) professor of biology, who authored the grant. “The whole fascination of the Pokémon GO phenomena was that students were on a mission outdoors searching for fictitious digital ‘things.’ With this pursuit, they now they have something real to find.” 

Students will be aiding in the search of an amphibian species that only has 15-20 documented regional sightings in the last 100-plus years.

“This is a species suffering from data deficiency here in Virginia,” agreed Wally Smith, PhD, a UVA-Wise assistant professor of biology who is a co-research partner with the Mountain Chorus Frog project. “That’s what makes this such a great project. We’re collecting citizen observations with the added goal of developing a program to get rural K-12 students involved with not only the search, but with studying amphibian diversity, in general.”

VHCC, in partnership with UVA-Wise, was awarded the funds for the research program from the 2018 Virginia Wildlife Grant Program through a partnership between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Wildlife Foundation of Virginia. The funding initiates a multi-year effort to involve students K-12 in the identification of the species in its native habitat.

A key component of the grant is the funding of teaching kits that will provide classrooms resources to aid in their successful identification of the Mountain Chorus Frog. Additionally, teachers have the opportunity to participate in area in-service events designed to provide classroom help and training.

According to Smith, regional teachers are excited about the opportunity of place-based curricula that connects students with the outdoors. 

“A relatively recent survey of regional educators revealed that the number one request to aid them in teaching science and teaching it more effectively would be place-based curricula that would get local students outdoors participating in science they can see and touch,” said Smith.

With the goal of involving an estimated 250 students in Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Grayson, Norton (City), Russell, Scott, Smyth, Washington and Wise counties, the project will provide valuable data while inspiring the next generation of wildlife watchers and supporters. 

“The idea is, let’s put on our boots and let’s go out and see if we can find one of these,” said Hamed. “If you give students a goal, a mission – then, they’re eager and ready to go!”

Hamed and Smith are optimistic about the projected success of the program based on the enthusiastic response and data collection success of a similar research initiative involving the Green Salamander. 

UVA-Wise students participate in an on-campus amphibian survey.VHCC Professor of Biology Kevin Hamed in Sugar Hollow Park

“The beauty of this project over the Green Salamander is that these things make noise,” said Hamed. “They can start calling in February and their vocalization can be heard several hundred feet away.”

A sample of the frog’s call as well as a full description of its appearance may be found by visiting www.vhcc.edu/mtchorusfrog.

The Mountain Chorus Frog is often found in shallow grassy wetlands, ponds and ditches. It is identified by two dark stripes down the back that curve inward in the shape of a reversed parenthesis that looks like )( or sometimes an X. It has a dark mask through the eyes and snout with a light or white upper lip. Its call can be heard between February and April and sounds like a high-pitched, raspy “wreenk.” The adult frog is from 1.0 to 1.4 inches in head and body length. 

Regional educators who want to involve their students in the project should contact either Kevin Hamed (276-739-2431 | khamed@vhcc.edu) or Wally Smith (276-376-4642 | whs2q@uvawise.edu). Likewise, citizen scientists should use the same contact information to report findings. If possible, photograph and/or record the Mountain Chorus Frog, potentially even recording its call with either a digital recorder or a voice memo app. 

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