Wednesday , June 16 2021

How scientists collect butterflies, frogs and sea turtles for safe travel



Scientists who work with living organisms often have to move them between places. This requires knowing what conditions beings can tolerate well, and may also include some unusual packing challenges. Here three researchers explain how they safely transport butterflies, sea turtles and endangered frogs between labs and outdoors.

Jaret Daniels, Entomology, University of Florida

My lab works to protect risky butterflies, including the small, brightly colored Miami (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri). It once met locally in most of South Florida and the adjoining coastal islands to the south through Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas.

Over the last few decades, the expansion of coastal areas has reduced and fragmented the Miami Blue habitat, resulting in a catastrophic reduction in its overall reach. Today this endangered species is one of the rarest insects in North America, with only two or three small populations left on remote islands in South Florida.

As part of the joint conservation effort, we breed the Miami Blues in captivity and move them to places in their historical reach. The adult butterflies are only the size of the miniature, and their larvae are smaller. As they grow, however, larvae tend to cannibalize each other. To minimize this risk, we open larger larvae individually in small plastic cups.

Butterflies on corrugated cardboard.
Jarrett Daniels, CC BY-ND

Our facilities in Gainesville are more than 450 miles from the bottom of Florida where we release the butterflies so their packaging is safe. When the larvae in the lab are approaching maturity, we place a square piece of corrugated paper in each shot glass because we have learned by trial and error that almost all of them will become a hook or a corn in the narrow channels. on the paper. This makes driving and moving much easier.

Miami Blue butterfly pupae, padded and ready to travel to South Florida.
Jarrett Daniels, CC BY-ND

To move the pupae, lay the squares of corrugated paper in a secure container, softened with sheets of soft, quilted toilet paper that works well and is cheap! Then we can transport or transport fully packaged containers via an express carrier to South Florida. There we put puppies outdoors in small plastic chambers that are specially designed to allow butterflies to appear naturally. Early results are encouraging: butterflies have emerged and merged into the wild.

Charles Innis, Veterinary Medicine, University of Toufte and Aquarium in New England

Sea turtles exist for millions of years, but today they are threatened by interactions with the fishing industry, loss of nesting habitats, boat strikes, oil spills, pollution, poaching, climate change and disease. When wounded or sick sea turtles are found on beaches or at sea, sailors often transport them to veterinary care hospitals.

In Massachusetts, volunteers and staff at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary at Mass Audubon with New England Aquarium, Turtles Fly Over, NOAA Fisheries and sometimes US Coast Guard Tortoises to and from New England Veterinary Hospital – Sometimes by vehicle, sometimes by airplane.

An established network draws cold stunned sea turtles from the Cape Cod for treatment every year.

Turtles are ectothermic or "cold-blooded" animals whose body temperature changes with the environment around them. This means that we should avoid exposing them to temperatures that are too hot or too cold during transport, and sometimes we have to keep them at a certain temperature.

In the New England Aquarium, we often get sea turtles that are stuck on the beaches after exposure to cold water, which makes them "cold", making them lethargic and slowing their heart rate. Warming them too fast can be lethal, so we move them to vehicles kept at 55-60 degrees. Later, when rehabilitated and ready to be released, we transport them to hot water drops in cars, trucks or airplanes heated to 75 to 80 degrees.

The turtles inhale air so they can stay out of water for many hours – up to 24 hours for some shipments from Massachusetts to Florida. We move them into padded boxes and try to reduce the noise, vibrations and visual stimuli that can be stressful.

Three endangered sea turtles and their medical records are prepared to be transported from the New England Aquarium to Florida to complete their rehabilitation before being released into the wild.
New England Aquarium, CC BY-ND

Over the last decade, we have had medical observations on turtles during and after transport events to better understand how experience affects them. Our work during a Deepwater Horizon oil spill and after several cold weather conditions have taught us that transport can be stressful for turtles, so we study stress reduction methods by allowing turtles to rest for six to 24 hours in saltwater pools. at the release site before returning them to the ocean.

Roland Knapp, Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara

Mountain Yellow-legged Frogs (Rana muscosa and closely related Rana sierrae) have ever been common in lakes, lakes and streams in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. They have been extremely rich for millennia, but have fallen sharply in the past 150 years after humans have introduced uninhabited and predatory trout in historic habitual habitats and a virulent pathogen, the amphibian chit fungi spread throughout the region.

Yellow leg of Sierra Nevada.
Elliot Lowndes / UCSB, CC BY-ND

At the beginning of the 2000s, the yellow-haired frogs have disappeared from more than 90% of their native range. In 2014, the populations of Sierra Nevada are listed as endangered by the Endangered Species Act in the United States.

One way to help the recovery of mountain yellow-eyed frogs is by re-introducing them. Scientists collect frogs from populations that have developed increased resistance to chytrid fungi and release them into habitats that have previously been eliminated.

How do we keep the endangered frogs alive while we are carrying them a few miles through distant and intersected mountains traveling on foot? The key tools are small plastic cups, food boxes carrying swords, and snow.

To begin translocation, we capture adult mountain yellow-legged frogs from healthy populations using hand-held nets. After weighing and measuring them, we label the size of a rice grain that carries a unique identification number similar to that used for pets under the skin of each frog. Then we place the frogs separately in small cups with perforated lids for ventilation and load the glasses into larger boxes that we carry on rear excursions to protect our food from bears and other creatures. Finally, each loaded container passes into a backpack.

Ever frogs from mountain yellow legs were the most common vertebrates in the Yosemite National Park, where scientists now work to restore them.

Frogs that are adapted to mountain areas can easily die if temperatures exceed their upper heat limit – about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26 degrees Celsius) for mountain yellow-legged frogs – so we pack plastic bags full of snow around the boxes in our backpacks. This keeps the frogs cool and reduces their activity and consumption of oxygen. Finally, we put a thermometer in each container so that we can monitor the temperatures during transport.

And then we go. The terrain is usually a mess of stones, snow and trees, but we know the route and travel as quickly as possible to the reintroduction lake. When we arrive, we carefully unpack the frogs and drop them on the edge of the water. Surveys conducted over the past few years have shown that their number is growing in the Yosemite National Park – a reliable sign that the recovery is under way.


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