Category Archives: Science

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

Inmate Frog Technicians Experiment with Cricket Rearing

by: Inmate Frog Technicians at Cedar Creek Corrections Center

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our frog technicians at CCCC, who are currently experimenting with raising crickets to feed to the endangered Oregon spotted frogs being reared at their facility.

On 10/16/11, we received 65 over-winter frogs from a handful of sites. When received, frogs were about as big as dimes. Now they have grown to the size of half-dollars. They are doing very well, very good coloring, spotting on top and red on bottom.

When frogs were received, four frogs looked very bad and have since died. I don’t know what exactly was wrong with them, all I know is they would not eat and were very thin because of it. Except for that, everything has been going very smoothly.

We have now started a new cricket project. We have always bought our crickets from Fluker Farms to breed, but we have been unable to breed multiple generations with them.  Recently we got Jamaican Black Crickets from Woodland Park Zoo and we feel that we could breed a generation of these crickets.  What we hope to do is cross-breed European crickets with these Jamaican Black Crickets and try to get the long life span from the Jamaican but the easier edibility of the European House Crickets we buy from Flukers.

We are going to get 2500 European crickets (5 weekers) and 2500 Jamaican crickets (5 weekers) and raise them side by side, do everything the same between the tanks, food, water, temperature, etc. We are hoping to see which cricket is a more efficient candidate for our cricket project. And also see which crickets we can raise generations from.

In a totally separate experiment, we want to get 500 of each style crickets and raise them together in one tank, hoping to cross-breed these two crickets, getting traits from both.   We’ll see if that may be the best candidate for our cricket program.

Cricket Traits:

European House Cricket: The more popular of the cricket species, these crickets can grow up to 2cm in length. They are more extensively fed to reptiles. Easily digested.

Jamaican Black Cricket: These crickets grow fast and get bigger, probably reaching 3-4cm in length. In my experiences these crickets live longer and are easier to breed, but might be harder for the frogs to eat when they get too big.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Oregon spotted frog in Washington state, click here.

SPP Plant Profile: Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca) Photo: Rod Gilbert

Basic information:

Viola adunca, or early-blue violet, is a short perennial with short slender rhizomes. Leaves are alternate, heart shaped to ovate. The flowers of this viola are blue to deep violet, but can often be whitish at the base. Flowers have 5 petals, and bloom from April to August. Fruit are born in capsules with three valves, and the explosiveness of the splitting of the capsules often makes seed collection tricky.

Ecological Importance:

The Mardon skipper (Polites mardon) butterfly depends on Viola adunca as a spring-flowering nectar source. The small orange butterfly is found on two South Sound prairies, and is listed as a State Endangered Species and is a Federal Candidate Species. Zerene fritillaries (Speyeria zerene) also use Viola adunca, but as a larval host. Three subspecies of the Zerene Fritillary are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, including the Oregon Silverspot which is classified as threatened in California, Oregon and Washington.

Studies have found that Viola adunca are poor competitors, and are easily displaced by invasive species. Non-native grasses increase thatch density and vegetation height, compete for resources and reduce open space for germination and thus reduce Viola adunca populations. Experiments also show that fire stimulates germination in Viola adunca, and fire could be used to increase Viola adunca populations and provide more area for nectar and larval hosting for butterflies.

Early-Blue Violet (Viola adunca) Photo: Rod Gilbert

Fun facts:

Violet leaves contain more vitamin A than spinach, and a half-cup of leaves has more vitamin C than four oranges! Now, don’t go out and start eating, Viola adunca is a very important larval host and nectar source for threatened butterflies. Another reason to limit consumption: its rhizomes, fruits and seeds are poisonous. Adunca means hooked, and other common names include the hooked-spur violet and the western dog violet.

SPP Plant Profile: Roemer’s Fescue (Festuca roemeri)

By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk

Festuca Roemeri, Roemer’s Fescue

This is the first installment in a new series of pieces we are calling our plant profiles. Over the coming months we will highlight one of the 40 species of prairie or riparian plants that are grown at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility. This is intended to give you an idea of what we are growing, focus on the conservation importance of each species, and offer a few fun facts about each species.

Basic Information: Roemer’s fescue is a bluish, gray-green tufted bunch grass that grows from British Columbia (southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands), and west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Oregon and Northern California. These areas are typically temperate, with maritime influence. Roemer’s fescue grows from sea level to about 2500 ft. The species is also found in thin-soiled windswept shorelines on the islands of the Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Straits of Georgia.

Ecological Importance: A foundation species of the prairies of the Pacific Northwest, Roemer’s fescue is predominately found in the glacial outwash prairies of the South Sound and those which have a history of anthropogenic burning.  Its quick growth makes this fescue an effective ground cover, but its bunch grass nature allows for the growth of other important prairie species, including associated species common camas (Camassia quamash), field woodrush (Luzula campestris), spike goldenrod (Solidago spanthulata), early blue violet (Viola adunca) and prairie lupine (Lupinus lepidus) to name a few.

Who is this Roemer guy anyway? Roemer’s fescue is named for Swiss physician, professor of botany and entomologist Johann Jakob Roemer (1762-1819). Roemer was best known for one of the greatest achievements in the history of Swiss entomology, the Genera insectorum Linnaei et Frabricii. Roemer also published the 16th edition of Carlos Linnaeus’ Systema Vegetabilium.

Fescue in the teaching gardens at The Evergreen State CollegeFescue plugs

Fescue plugs

 

December Butterfly Update

December Butterfly Update

By Inmate Butterfly Technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

Editor’s note: Below is a message from our butterfly rearing technicians at MCCCW, who are currently raising a surrogate species in preparation for their work with the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

During this holiday season, even though we miss our families, we are fortunate to be a part of this unique experience of rearing butterflies.  On a daily basis we clean, care for, observe, and interact with this delicate and necessary part of our environment.  We continue to learn and prepare for the crucial project ahead – captive rearing of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly.

It is an amazing feeling to come out to the greenhouse every day and know that we are working toward making an important change for our environment.  We are extremely lucky to be at the start of this project.  We are anticipating the arrival of the Taylor’s checkerspot in February.

To donate to SPP and support the rearing of the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly in Washington state, click here.

 

 

Inmate Technicians Attend Annual Species Recovery Conferences

Inmate Technicians Attend Annual Species Recovery Conferences

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

For the first time in the history of the SPP, inmate technicians were able to attend annual species working group meetings. DOC administrators at both Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) and Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) were generous in their support and were able to arrange for the inmates to travel to the event.

The Taylor’s checkerspot meeting was held on November 10th at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, and the two inmates who attended learned about species recovery efforts, reintroduction site assessments, genetic taxonomy work, and other ongoing research. The inmates were well received by the community and took copious notes on everything that was said.

The Oregon spotted frog meeting was a week later, at Blakely Tree Farms in Tumwater, and inmates were able to listen to detailed captive rearing reports from each of the four rearing institutions. Then they were able to share information of their own with colleagues they had heard about but never met, and techniques were learned by both sides. Additionally, release data, monitoring effort reports, and other research projects were discussed by various experts.

In both cases, the inmates involved were enthusiastic about attending and were able to get a sense of the larger effort going on outside the walls. The connections they formed with the conservation community can only help them feel more a part of the larger body of work, and more ownership of their own roles within that effort.

DOC Enables Former Frog Technician to Join in the Annual OSF Release Event

DOC Enables Former Frog Technician to Join in the Annual OSF Release Event

by Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

The Sustainable Prisons Project is so excited that we were able to include one of our former frog technician inmates at the annual frog release this year!  Harry Greer has worked with the Oregon spotted frog project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center since the project’s inception in 2009.  This season Harry raised the frogs at CCCC until July when he was moved to work release.  Department of Corrections staff at CCCC went above and beyond to accommodate and clear Harry for attendance at the release event.  Many thanks to Superintendent Doug Cole, Captain Charlie Washburn and Classification Counselor Marko Anderson; it was a real joy to see Harry releasing the frogs he so carefully raised.

To donate to SPP and help Oregon spotted frog conservation in Washington state, click here.

Annual Oregon spotted frog release!

Annual Oregon spotted frog release!

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

On a crisp fall day at the end of October, participating Oregon spotted frog (OSF) rearing partners gathered for the annual frog release at Joint Base Lewis McChord (JBLM).  The OSF, received by each institution in egg form, are reared from March to October when they are released as healthy juvenile and adult frogs onto three wetland sites located at JBLM.  This is a fun day that all the partners look forward to each year.

The Sustainable Prison Project frogs were transported from Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC) in ten shoebox-sized Tupperware containers lined with wet paper towels. Upon arrival, the containers were taken to the waters edge where lids were removed.  Some frogs were anxious to get out and immediately jumped onto the shore and into the water, while some needed a bit more time and coaxing.   Once in the water, the frogs quickly camouflaged themselves by digging into the sandy bottom or swimming into marshy vegetation.   The water in the wetland is cool, but open and exposed to sunlight, with nice shallow areas along the banks.  OSF are highly aquatic and leave the water only for short periods of time to forage for food.  They move between ponds via connecting waterways, making them especially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation.  The wetlands at JBLM offer a large undisturbed habitat with many channels for migration and shallow warm water for breeding in the spring.

This year, we released 163 healthy, large adult OSF raised at CCCC.  The frog technician inmates, as always, did a wonderful job rearing our captive population.  It is not always possible to raise each frog to releasable size, and each year SPP takes all undersized frogs from our rearing partner facilities, and supports them through the winter at CCCC.  This year we received more than 60 frogs to over-winter.  The inmates will raise them until springtime when they will also be released on the wetlands at JBLM.

To donate to SPP and help Oregon spotted frog conservation in Washington state, click here.

Sustainable Prisons Project Involved in Cutting Edge Research

Sustainable Prison Project Involved in Cutting Edge Research

Dr. Hayes measuring an Oregon spotted frog with Dr. Conlon in the background

By Graduate Research Associate Sarah Weber

WDFW Research Scientist Dr. Marc Hayes recently brought visiting scientist Dr J. Michael Conlon to visit the Oregon spotted frog operation at Cedar Creek Corrections Center (CCCC). Dr. Conlon is a Professor of Biochemistry at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, and is an internationally known biochemist whose research interests are focused on the purification and characterization of naturally occurring, biologically active peptides. He has worked on skin peptides for more than 40 years and with frog skin peptides for more than 10 years.

A large, healthy Oregon spotted frog

Dr. Conlon is interested in studying the skin peptides of the Oregon spotted frog (OSF) because they are very high in anti-bacteria and anti-fungal properties. The OSF also show a resistance to the amphibian chytrid fungus, known to be decimating amphibian populations worldwide.  The answer to why OSF are resistant to chytrid might be found in their skin peptides.

To better understand this, purified skin secretions need to tested for their activity against several strains of chytrid, requiring three steps: 1) obtain the skin secretions; 2) purify the individual peptides from those secretions; and 3) test each individual peptide from the skin secretions on several strains of the amphibian chytrid fungus.

Oregon spotted frogs secreting skin peptides into water to be tested at the lab

SPP helped facilitate step 1, and steps 2 and 3 will be done in the UAE and at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.   SPP and the frog interns at CCCC were pleased to be involved with this research as it will contribute significantly to the scientific knowledge of why OSFs are resistant to chytrid.

Butterfly Rearing Commences at Mission Creek

Butterfly Rearing Commences at Mission Creek

By Graduate Research Associate Dennis Aubrey

The first painted lady butterfly to eclose in the SPP lab at Evergreen.

At long last, the wait is over. After almost a year of preparation, the butterflies have finally arrived! Inmate technicians at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW) have been caring for painted lady larva for almost three weeks now, and over the weekend they got to watch their first butterflies emerge from their chrysalid.

The painted ladies are being reared as a training surrogate for the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot, which inmates will begin to work with next February. These training butterflies were chosen for their relative hardiness and fast life cycle, which will allow the inmates to go through several complete revolutions before graduating to the much more delicate Taylor’s checkerspot. So far the inmates involved have surpassed expectations in every way.

As the final phases of greenhouse construction were being completed, the student intern on the project, Dennis Aubrey, began rearing painted ladies at the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) lab on The Evergreen State College (TESC) campus. This was done to work out the fine details of adapting the Taylor’s checkerspot rearing protocol for use with the painted ladies, and to prepare for training the inmates at the facility. Following this, 200 painted lady eggs were ordered and delivered to MCCCW, where eager inmate technicians began learning how to care for these delicate insects.  Working with butterflies in the SPP lab approximately two weeks ahead of the ones at MCCCW was incomparably helpful in training the inmates effectively.

Inmate butterfly technicians at MCCCW caring for painted lady caterpillars and recording observations

From the time they began, the inmates have been taking very detailed carefully drawn notes, and have been tending to their charges with the patient meticulous care that makes all the difference in rearing projects such as this. At SPP’s frog project at Cedar Creek Corrections Center, the large amount of time inmates dedicate to caring for the endangered Oregon spotted frogs has led to the largest specimens raised at any institution. Last week, when Dennis visited Mission Creek to check on the inmates’ progress, he couldn’t help but notice that the painted lady chrysalids were significantly larger than he was able to produce in the SPP lab. Whether that’s a factor of the light and beneficial conditions in the greenhouse, or is directly attributable to the increased daily care, it’s hard to say. Either way, it’s a great sign of things to come for the future success of the project.

French Film Crew Visits SPP!

By SPP Project Manager Kelli Bush

Filming Oregon spotted frog search

A French documentary crew recently visited Western Washington to film a new episode for their National Geographic series “Guardians of Nature”.  The episode will include segments featuring the Sustainable Prisons Project (SPP) Oregon Spotted Frog Program and riparian forest research conducted by SPP Co-Director Dr. Carri LeRoy.

 

The film crew spent an entire day with the SPP Oregon Spotted Frog Program team.  Filming began at Cedar Creek Correction Center in the morning.  SPP staff and inmates walked the crew through the daily tasks associated with caring for the endangered frogs.  Prison Superintendent Doug Cole shared his thoughts on the benefits of the program from a prison perspective.

SPP Co-Director Carri LeRoy and Project Manager Kelli Bush at West Rocky Prairie

The afternoon was spent at West Rocky Prairie in the greater Olympia area.  West Rocky Prairie is home to a wild population of Oregon spotted frogs.  Dr. Marc Hayes, senior biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, led the group to a wetland location where he netted two juveniles and one adult frog to show the film crew.  He explained how factors such as habitat loss and bull frog predation have led to the decline of the species and discussed current efforts to recover the native population.  The day concluded with summary discussion of the Sustainable Prisons Project and the many benefits of including incarcerated individuals as partners in conservation and sustainability work.

The film crew also spent a day with Dr. Carri LeRoy filming riparian and stream science research on the Hoh River. The Hoh River is a braided gravel stream channel fed from the glaciers of the Olympic Mountains and flowing through densely vegetated temperate rainforest and cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) gallery forests. Dr. LeRoy’s research on how the genetics of cottonwood trees can influence both other members of the ecological community associated with the trees and the ecosystem-level processes of riparian forests was the focus of the interview. Although it might seem impossible for something as small as a gene to have an effect on a whole ecosystem, there are many examples of the strong organizing power of genes. Genes can influence the insects that live in tree canopies, bird predation and nest building, deer browsing, soil organisms, nutrient cycling, carbon flux, water use and even adjacent stream communities and ecosystem processes. Dr. LeRoy’s “Genes-to-ecosystems” research involves examining the interactions between tree genes, forests and streams through leaf litter fall.

With the dynamic backdrop of ice-blue water and lush vegetation she demonstrated methods for measuring soil respiration (a combination of root respiration and microbial/insect respiration) at the base of a large cottonwood tree. In addition, she placed leaf litter bags of known tree genetics into a small tributary stream of the Hoh River and collected aquatic insects from the cobbly bottom. It was a gorgeous summer day spent in one of the most pristine river systems in Washington State.

The crew has featured beautiful locations all of the world, but this will be the first episode filmed in the US.  The show is primarily carried on stations throughout Europe.  We were thrilled to have the opportunity to share our work with “Guardians of Nature” and an audience on the other side of the planet.  The two segments will likely be available early spring 2012 and will be posted to our website as soon as they are available.