We often highlight citizen science projects that ask volunteers to note where and when they see a particular animal. However, researchers at the University of Florida are asking citizen scientists to go one step further — not only does this group need help spotting invasive Cuban treefrogs, but also, they’d like you to help get rid of them!
Dr. Steve Johnson, a scientist in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida, studies the range and behavior of Cuban treefrogs (Osteopilus septentrionalis). Though native to Cuba, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, these treefrogs were accidentally introduced to Florida in the early 1900s. Cuban treefrogs post a threat to native species, as they are known to eat five different species of native Florida treefrogs. In addition Cuban treefrogs hide out in homes, PVC pipes and utility equipment causing damage and even power outages!
If you’re psyched to help, first read about the project online and download a data sheet. Then you need to spot an invasive froggy. Next, ensure that you’ve caught the correct critter. Cuban treefrogs come in many shades (white, grey, green and brown) and can be hard to identify; researchers don’t want overeager citizen scientists anesthetizing every frog they see!
To be absolutely sure that you have a cuban treefrog in your grasp, check out the online gallery of photos or email the researchers themselves. Once you’re sure, follow the step-by-step instructions for humane euthanization of the critters. This includes anesthetizing them with benzocaine (or lidocaine) and then freezing the frogs. If done correctly, the procedure should be painless.
With your help, researchers in Florida can combat invasive species such as the Cuban treefrog and allow native species to thrive.
Now that half the country is blanketed in snow for the holidays, we wanted to point out a cool new project to join: IceWatch USA!
As a child in the woods of New Hampshire, my siblings and I kept a keen eye on the weather, and “ice on” events at our back pond were a major cause for celebration. Once ice had crept across the whole pond (and swamp), we’d start our annual pestering ritual in an effort to get Dad out there to check the ice thickness. The instant he gave his ok, we’d jam on our skates and zoom across.
Curious citizen scientists who live near a body of water (lake, pond, stream, river, estuary, or bay) are encouraged to join IceWatch and send in observations of their own “ice events.” Researchers at IceWatch want to know whether or not your body of water is covered in ice (and how much is covered) as well as what date the ice appears and disappears. For extra credit, send in reports of snow depth, air temperature and wildlife observations.
To become an IceWatcher, register online and choose your waterbody of interest. Reporters can send in observations by email or snail mail (and simple point-and-click online reporting is in the works). Your data will be aggregated with observations from fellow IceWatchers and shared with interested scientists.
In addition to the impact on budding hockey stars, changes in “ice on” and “ice off” events can alter migration and breeding patterns of birds as well as food supplies for other animals. Your icy observations will help scientists investigate how our climate is changing and how ecosystems react to these changes. Information about our changing world is particularly important for climate scientists as they strive to accurately model future weather patterns.
Songs have helped me remember a lot of academic information – from learning all 50 states* in alphabetic order when I was in elementary school to figuring out which French verbs take “être” (to be) in the past tense by humming “Heigh Ho” from the musical Snow White.
My science classes got in on the vocal act as well. In math class, we learned the quadratic equation to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel.” In graduate school, my friends created a statistics rap to help their students get interested in difficult material. In my own Biopsychology classes, students enjoyed learning parts of the brain from Pinky and the Brain. (Well, at least they got a laugh!)
Does anyone actually keep track of this scientific creativity? For one, physicist Walter Smith of Haverford College is collecting all of the physics songs he can find. Do you have a physics song? Send an email to have yours added as well.
Whether they’re learning the citric acid cycle to the tune of “Fly Me to the Moon” (start with “oxaloacetate” and the lyrics fit the tune quite well) or the names of every single element thanks to Tom Lehrer, students of all ages remember scientific information more easily through song. Tunes are also a creative way to share your new-found knowledge. If the muse strikes you, come up with your own song to remember something scientific and add it to our member blogs page. Or, if you’re more daring, add a music video to the site!
*For those who want extra credit for singing the states and their capitals, try out this Animaniacs video.
High in the mountains of Montana’s Glacier National Park, rangers need the help of citizen scientists like you to keep an eye on local flora and fauna. As a trained volunteer, you can help survey the loon population at many of the park’s stunning alpine lakes. As you hike, keep an ear out for the Common Loon’s distinctive calls, such as the tremolo and the yodel, made by male loons to defend their territory. Once you spy a loon, use the park’s report form to record your bird count as well as any breeding and nesting behavior you observed. This research project specifically targets factors that might affect nesting success, and builds on prior research suggesting that humans can negatively impact loons’ nesting behavior.
The number of volunteers in the loon monitoring program has grown in the last few years, with more than 100 amateur naturalists helping park service members each year to complete a combined 1,000 surveys across 88 lakes in the park. Park scientists hope that data from these studies will ensure that loons continue to cackle across Glacier’s lakes for many years to come.
While loons might just sound crazy, other species are downright invasive. A second citizen science project in Glacier National Park teaches volunteers how to monitor for signs of noxious (that is, highly invasive) weeds along 700 miles of the park’s hiking trails. Some non-native plant species are relatively harmless. But others, such as the Spotted knapweed, quickly establish themselves and restrict the growth of native species by secreting a chemical into the ground that inhibits seed germination of nearby plants. In addition to out-competing native plants, invasive weeds can also decrease foraging material for wildlife and increase soil erosion.
Scientists at Glacier need the help of citizen scientists to obtain this much-needed information so that we can better understand the cycles of key plant and animal species in the park. So get on out and take a hike!
For those of you sleepless people who want to learn a bit about stars and help scientists at the same time, consider joining the Great World Wide Star Count taking place from October 29 through November 12, 2010.
In order to participate, download the star count’s activity guide to determine which constellation you should observe. Once you know what to look for, check out the sky an hour after sunset (7 to 9 pm) and find your constellation. Next, match what you see to the set of magnitude charts (included in the activity guide), and report your observations. You can also look online to see results from previous years of international stargazing.
Once you’re hooked on astronomy, consider joining up with NASA’s Interactive Space Physics (INSPIRE) project to record very low frequency radio emissions. For this project, you’ll need to build your own detector with kits from the website. Some of the radio waves you’ll measure come from naturally occurring sources and are called “sferics” (short for “atmospherics”). These natural waves are often generated by lightning and are also called “tweeks,” “whistlers,” and “chorus.” Are you wondering what lightning sounds like? If you don’t yet have a kit, listen to some sferics here. (Want to hear more? Check out their audio gallery.)
In addition to listening in on nature’s noises, your kit will allow you to monitor human-made radio emissions in the same frequencies. This research helps scientists learn more about how naturally occurring very low frequency radio emissions are generated, as well as how our human-made signals interact with the ionosphere and magnetic fields. This is a unique opportunity to collect data and work with real NASA space scientists on important scientific problems.
If you’re, ahem, inspired, to hear more, check out a recent segment about this program on NASA/Discovery radio.
Get outside and take a look up, or listen in!
Deep in the heart of Wisconsin is a nature lover’s dream destination – the Beaver Creek Reserve. With a citizen science center, butterfly house, nature center, observatory, field research station, summer camp, and miles of trails to explore, there’s something for everyone to get excited about. We recently spoke with Sarah Braun, Citizen Science Director at the Reserve, about this amazing facility and its helpers.
Said Braun, “The most exciting part of working at Beaver Creek Reserve is meeting and working with our diverse cadre of volunteers. Many of our volunteers are retired and held previous careers in the Marine Corps, US Postal Service, environmental consulting agencies, insurance, banking, marketing, engineering, and teaching. The volunteers have a lot to offer and I learn from them every day.”
During a typical year, approximately 200 volunteers put in about 3,000 total hours at the Citizen Science Center (in addition to the approximately 1,000 volunteers that work at BCR as a whole). Staff at the Reserve also conduct outreach programs in nearby counties. As it turns out, Citizen Science Center volunteers even show up at unexpected times to help. Braun told us about a memorable day out on the lake sampling for aquatic invertebrates. After their small hand-held dredge and the backup dredge broke, the samplers motored over to a hardware store at a nearby boat landing. As it turned out one of the workers was a Beaver Creek volunteer who proceeded, with some creativity, to get both dredges working again. As Braun cheerfully recalled, “It was an unorthodox kind of day, but it worked out great!”
For those of you who watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and wondered how you could go searching for ancient artifacts yourself, here is your chance to get in on some archaeology action. The Calico Early Man Site, located near Yermo, California, is starting its fall digging season this weekend (October 2 and 3) and they welcome volunteers to help with their unearthing efforts.
JK Mueller, the organizer of the dig, let us know what first-timers should expect. When you first arrive, she says, you’ll see on the ground “chips and artifacts scattered everywhere, mostly made of chalcedony, an orange glass-like material.” She assured us that diggers will learn on the job “how to sift for artifacts and how to distinguish an artifact (human made) from a geofact (nature made).”
Saturday night lectures cover a wide range of related topics, from geology, gemology, and tool manufacture to climate. Volunteer effort is central to keeping the site running, and helpers have made many significant finds. Just last season, says Mueller, “The Friends of Calico president found two projectile points in the piles of mined bentonite clay right outside the main building. One still had animal hair and leather string attached [and was] dated at 1500AD.”
This archeological site has delivered interesting finds—and scientific controversy—since digging began there in the 1940s. From the mid-1960s until his death in 1972, Dr. Louis S.B. Leakey, famous for his research in evolutionary anthropology, directed the excavation. Of particular debate are rocks found at the Calico site that look much like prehistoric tools, and that are thought to be around 200,000 years old. While the tool-like rocks may appear to have been made by people, other scientists have argued that they could have acquired their shape through typical geological processes. If these rocks are indeed human made—that is, artifacts—rather than a result of geologic pressures—geofacts—the finding could push back the traditionally accepted date of human entry into the Americas (about 11,000 years ago) nearly 20-fold.
To see for yourself, and to learn more about the science behind the dig, head down to southern California. There is no cost to volunteer, but if you wish, you may join the Friends of Calico, a non-profit organization that helps finance ongoing scientific projects. It’s also helpful, notes Mueller, to bring “gloves, scarves, jacket, hiking boots to travel the last few feet of rough ground, [as well as] magnifying glasses and knee pads.”
And be prepared to make friends. Mueller says, “Volunteers are loquacious, energetic, and personable, and love to talk about varied topics and to learn at all ages. New volunteers almost always feel right at home.”
To join the dig or find out more information, sign up here.
While there might be a lot of metaphorical hot air hovering around Washington, D.C., hazardous weather is no joke. Volunteer scary-weather spotters are needed for many chapters of the SkyWarn network, including the unit that keeps an eye on the sky throughout the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Volunteers are needed to report what the atmospheric forces have sent them – whether it be rain, snow, hail or downed trees. Your weather-related observations in real-time can help scientists predict the future path of storms. If you are over 14 years old and have an interest in the forces of nature, consider signing up.
To join, SkyWarn requires you to take a short (3 hour) “Basics I Class” that will teach you important weather observation skills. There is no fee for the course, which is held in various locations across the region. Want more information? A preview of course topics can be found in this document, and information for other SkyWarn chapters can be found here.
Even if you can’t commit to being a long-term weather watcher, consider creating a disaster plan for your family to follow in the event of an emergency, weather-related or otherwise.
Crisp fall air in the northeastern Appalachian Mountains will soon signal trees to splash entire hillsides with red, yellow, and orange as far as the eye can see. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hopes that many future generations of hikers will be able to enjoy similarly colorful views to the horizon. However, they need your help to monitor the health of the mountains.
Growing urban populations and the smoggy haze resulting from increased air pollution threaten these beautiful alpine views, and the health of hikers themselves. To better understand patterns of poor visibility in the region, the AMC is enlisting hikers to report on visibility conditions from specific peaks by taking a photo and filling out a report form. Researchers want to understand how the haze affects your view, as well as your health and overall recreational experience.
While you’re out there hiking, take a look down by your feet to see which plants are hardy enough to survive a few thousand feet up. The AMC is also monitoring the fruiting and flowering patterns of many delicate alpine species, including the cushion plant (shown), the mountain avens, and the mountain cranberry. Flower-monitoring can be done on-line, once you’ve created an account, and will help scientists understand how plants are responding to changing weather conditions, including earlier, warmer temperatures. Remember to stay on the trail though — a few errant footfalls can undo years of growth for these little guys!
The AMC would love to analyze as many observations as you are able to submit. Feel free to send in sightings one at a time, or join the Adopt-a-Peak program and commit to visiting the same section of trail multiple times in a year in order to track trends in the flowering of flora and the visibility from your chosen peak. Monitoring is needed in all northeastern US alpine areas – from New York to New Hampshire and Vermont to Maine.
What are you waiting for? Head out for a hike this weekend – and take a few photos for science while you’re at it!
While dragonflies and damselflies might belong to the same scientific class as the common housefly, the gossamer-winged zoomers seem a world apart from their less-enchanting six-legged cousins. Sitting outdoors in the San Juan Islands last weekend, I had a chance to observe a few blue dragonflies up close as they swooped in to check out our picnic.
Scientists all across the country are keeping an eye on these dazzling creatures as well, and they need your help to figure out where dragonflies range. In particular, the dragonfly hunters at Odonata Central are compiling a database of dragonflies and damselflies across the world. An interactive map lets you see what varieties of dragonflies have been reported in your neck of the woods. (Note: I found that this map worked well with my Safari browser, but not with Firefox.) Anyone with a digital camera and internet connection can register and then send in sightings of dragonflies to add to the database. Need help identifying what species you saw? The Odonata Central page has many photographs, as does the United States Geological Survey.
Many individual states have local monitoring groups as well. For example, those of you in the Chicago area can sign up to participate in the Dragonfly Monitoring Network. These scientists ask a commitment of attending one workshop in the spring, and then ask participants to send in reports of dragonfly sightings along specific routes. Other local dragonfly monitoring groups are found in New Hampshire and Ohio and many other states.
Coming up soon, dragonfly fanatics in New Mexico can join the Friends of Bitter Lake at their annual Dragonfly Festival from September 10 to 12 in Roswell, New Mexico. If you’re not in the area, head on out with your camera and try to capture some local dragonflies on film!