Archive for Zoo Research

Fracking in the dark: biological fall out of shale-gas production still largely unknown

With unconventional gas production projected to surge during the next 30 years, determining and minimizing the industry’s effects on nature and wildlife must become a top priority. Image of Wyoming’s Jonah Field, an extreme example of the impacts of fracking operations on landscapes. (Photo courtesy of Ecoflight.)

For salamanders and other freshwater animals in Appalachia, fracking could be the beginning of the end. Working with a group of 7 other conservation biologists, I tried to piece together exactly what we know about the dangers of fracking to wildlife. What we found will surprise you.

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Spying on Hellbenders

Emma doesn't miss anything.

Emma doesn’t miss a thing.

I’ve spent endless hours watching the National Zoo’s slimy, brown hellbenders and have finally figured out what these salamanders do all night. My name is Emma, and I’m a high school senior (soon to be graduate) interning at the zoo’s Appalachian Salamander Lab in the Reptile Discovery Center.  I come in early in the morning, before the zoo is open, to observe hellbenders in the dark – when they are most active. But before I tell you what I discovered, let me introduce you to my amphibian acquaintances. Hellbenders are a type of salamander that live in the Appalachian mountains, from Virginia to New York, and in the Ozarks (Arkansas and Missouri). Salamanders are amphibians, like frogs and caecilians. Read more

Measuring salamander breaths

Eric peers at a redbacked salamander while Andrew records how much oxygen it breathes.

Imagine that the temperature inside your body, instead of being a toasty 98.6°F, was simply determined by the temperature of the air outside. All of the processes taking place in your body would be determined by the weather – your breathing, your heart rate, your appetite and your ability to fight off a cold. If you were a child, the weather would determine how fast you grow up. If you were an adult, the weather would dictate your ability to conceive a child.

Imagine all this, and then imagine that the weather was changing. Read more

Fish with yellow bumps… everywhere!!!

A black-nose dace with large yellow bumps on its belly.

In our last post we shared a video about hellbenders as “water detectors”. Other species (especially mussels and macroinvertebrates) can also help us detect problems in freshwater habitats. So when our science team is surveying for hellbenders in the wild, we make note of anything unusual we find. Last summer, we were wrangling hellbenders with Eric Chapman in western Pennsylvania, when he caught a fantail darter in his net. Darters are pretty common little fish (though some species are endangered) but there was something very unusual about this one – its belly was covered with yellow bumps! Eric had been surveying these streams since 2005 and had never seen anything like it. Read more

Growing putrid bacteria to help hellbenders

A. hydrophila

How do festering plates of bacteria contribute to hellbender conservation? At the National Zoo, we’re growing bacteria to understand how climate change will effect hellbender health. Read more