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Making Mud Pies for… Frogs!

Sometimes science can be downright dirty stuff! This National Science Week, find out why we are literally playing with mud.

Two tiny frog species, the critically endangered White-bellied Frog (Geocrinia alba) and vulnerable Orange-bellied Frog (Geocrinia vitellina) live in very unique habitats next to streams, with slight soil differences between them. Both species are highly sensitive and any impact to their habitat can affect them.

We’re the only zoo in the world helping to bring these frogs back from the brink of extinction.

Since 2008, each year we collect the eggs of these tiny species along with some of the mud they live in from an area near Margaret River.

They’re then brought to the Zoo where they have a safe environment to hatch and grow. When they’re a year old, the frogs are returned to the wild with a greater chance of survival.

Because their habitat is so restricted we were keen to see if we could make an artificial mud to avoid impacting the natural environment. So we enlisted Anna Shampain, a student researcher from California who literally got to play with mud for weeks to help us find a way to recreate the natural muddy environment.

Earlier this year, Anna spent a month in our Zoo’s research lab sifting and studying mud samples to try and make a recipe from easily accessible materials that mimic the pH levels, composition and water absorbency of the natural substance.

Mud samples break down into three components, sand, silt and clay and there was a lot of trial and error to understand the soil.

“I think the frogs are really valuable for indicating environmental health,” Anna said.

“They are not the most charismatic animals but they are important.”

Anna’s work has led to seven mixes made up of soils, peat moss and clays that can be ordered off the shelf by zoos.

The research could lead to an important step forward for amphibian conservation, with zoos being able to match environments for frogs in breeding programs, without taking away soil from natural habitats.

Zoo breeding programs are vital with frogs facing the biggest species extinction crisis since the age of the dinosaurs!

It might be one small research step, but it is a giant leap for some very rare amphibians.

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