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Frogs Are Leaping, Bugs Are Dancing in Ireland’s Bogs

Belfast, Northern Ireland–After two years of doctoral studies in Northern Ireland, I have been dismayed at the lack of lucky leprechauns on the island of Ireland. But wait! This summer finally revealed something far more interesting: An army of frogs-a-leaping in the peat bogs of central Ireland.

With the help of local children, we found over a hundred common European frogs (Rana temporaria) of all sizes in a just a couple of hours.

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Odhran and Rocha O’Shea, ages 10 and 3, helped catch frogs in the Irish midlands.

Photos by Valerie C. Clark

Frogs with extra toes or other minor deformities were noted for studies with collaborator Brandon Ballangée, an ecological artist and Biology PhD candidate. Brandon is a New Yorker doing his PhD in the British Isles, with a focus on frog deformities. He invited me–and the youngsters, who had come to see his light art exhibit in the Parklands, in the Lough Boora, County Offaly–to look for frogs in the bogs.

 

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Deformities and other irregularities in frogs are debated among scientists. Are such abnormalities natural, induced by human disturbances such as pesticides, or some combination thereof?

On our bog outing we also collected skin secretions from adult frogs using nonlethal electronic stimulation for chemical analysis in the laboratory. (Read my paper, Collecting Arthropod and Amphibian Secretions for Chemical Analyses.)

 

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Dozens of specimens of this frog were sacrificed to collect peptide samples for previous studies. Our methods will find out details of the encoding genes without harming any frogs.

While in the bogs, lots of other study possibilities crossed my mind, like discovering whether or not these common frogs would consume what appeared to be toxic caterpillars (in the photo below). My guess is probably not!

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But gathering frogs was just our day job. By night, we scoured Brandon’s Sculpture in the Parklands for wildlife attracted to the lights. Photographing this dynamic canvas revealed the many winged wonders that inhabit the Irish bogs, including a dazzling array of insects.

 

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Moths would raise their abdomens as shown below to release pheromones–chemicals that attract other moths to mate–thus the sculpture was called “The Love Motel for Insects.” Art and love within scientific study can be bright!

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Not only were insects abundant, but so were their predators. One frog was found just under the light sculpture, consuming insects as they hit the canvas and fell to the ground. And above, bats swarmed to partake in the bounty of moths drawn to the light.

As if all this was not exciting enough, some dancers were drawn to the light sculpture, and fluttered about just like the moths.

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For now, we are cloning the DNA sequence that encodes the peptides in the skin of these Irish frogs, and as I said, without harming a single animal!

  • For the latest on Valerie Clark’s adventures, and amphibian news, check out her Frog Caller page on Facebook

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