Keeping Frogs in the Classroom: Something to Consider
Keeping wildlife in the classroom can provide inspiring opportunities for students, leading to a greater understanding of and appreciation for animals and their habitats. Caring for live animals can help students develop responsible attitudes, respect and compassion for wildlife and the environment. It encourages observation skills and can help students to learn about life cycles, habitat and identification, unique to the animal being kept. However, before you begin, you might want to consider some of the following background information as part of your decision to collect or rear wildlife in the classroom. Generally, wildlife is poorly adapted to a classroom setting. Animals collected from the wild and then returned usually have a low survival rate.
Is Keeping Frogs in the Classroom Legal?
Under Alberta’s legislation, currently there are two species of frogs and one toad species that you are allowed to keep in your classroom. They are: wood frog, boreal chorus frog and boreal toad. For proper identification of these species and other amphibians of Alberta, visit the Amphibians page of Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. There are also frogs from other countries that are illegal to possess under Alberta’s Wildlife Act. It is important that you research the legal implications of importing, exporting and keeping frogs in general.
Although it is legal to keep the above-mentioned frog and toad species, there are many reasons why biologists recommend that you don’t keep frogs outside of their natural settings. Even more than other classroom “pets”, amphibians and reptiles require specific environments and special care. It is the long-term responsibility and commitment of the teacher to ensure that these requirements are met while the animal is in captivity. This includes weekend and “holiday” care. These special conditions are based on the life history of the animal and include the proper type and quantity of food, and proper temperature, light and humidity. Failure to address these conditions may cause suffering to the animal and would only set a poor example of humanity. Consider these factors when deciding upon getting a frog for your classroom.
Captivity and Survival
Amphibians are meant to be in the wild. When an amphibian is taken into captivity and released into the wild at a later date, its survival rate goes down considerably because the frog has been accustomed to a confined space with a regular food source and no predators. In addition, frogs are closely tied to seasonal cycles that involve length of daylight hours and air temperatures. Mature amphibians will breed in spring, giving the young frogs enough time to grow and develop. This cycle starts early; it is nature’s way to ensure that they can build up sufficient stores of fat to prepare for hibernation. Disturbance of their schedules could have deleterious effects on the animals upon release and subsequently, the population.
The timing of the release back into the wild can be a limiting factor for the frog. There are still many unknowns about a frog’s biology. For example, it is unknown when frogs and toads begin to find their winter homes and go into hibernation. It is crucial that the animal be released in the exact location at which it was collected. Not only is it possible that a new environment cannot provide the habitat (food, water, shelter and space) that the animal requires, but it may also be unhealthy for the ecosystem, through the spread of viral infections and other diseases that the frog may have developed while in captivity.
Frogs can be difficult to rear in captivity, particularly if gathered at the egg or tadpole stage. As tadpoles mature, they need live food sources. Even if live food is provided, successful rearing of froglets is difficult because of water quality concerns and other habitat requirements, including crowding.
Eggs from Pet Stores and Biological Supply Companies
Frog eggs are available through various biological supply companies (usually from the United States) and some pet stores. These frogs are reared for the purposes of “captive living.” The problem with rearing frogs from biological suppliers or pet stores is the desire to release them from captivity, into the wild. This presents a risk of introducing disease and altering native frog gene pools through interbreeding if the captive-raised frogs are released. These factors can cause serious ecosystem threats and may reduce the survival of native frogs in Alberta. You should have a plan in place for what to do with the frogs once the lesson is over…a plan that does not involve releasing captive-bred frogs into the wild!
Protecting Frogs: Choices Through Personal Actions
There could be an impact on the frog population if every teacher kept a wild frog in their classroom. Given the overall decline of amphibian populations across the country and around the world, it might be better to teach students the importance of conserving wild areas for species that belong there.
Alternatives: What Else Can I do?
Students could model the behaviour of biologists – that is, they study amphibians and other plants and animals in their natural habitat. It’s fairly easy to find and observe eggs, tadpoles and frogs in the wild. The ease at which we can find them also makes them vulnerable to a variety of disturbances! Care must be taken to not trample the edges of ponds, and to handle frogs with care (no lotion or sunscreen on hands, etc.). Creating a pond in a schoolyard is also a worthwhile project to consider.
Monitoring Wild Frog Populations and Their Habitat
Monitoring frogs and other amphibians in the wild allows us to understand not only the frog, but learn its habitat requirements at different times of the year as well as its appearance during different stages of its life cycle.
When trying to protect frogs, it is important to recognize the species as well as the habitat in which it is found. There is an opportunity for you and your students to become involved in a province-wide program that monitors amphibian populations. Information about the Alberta Amphibian Monitoring Program is available through Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. This program encourages the public – including classrooms – to monitor the natural environment for amphibians. Observations can be sent into the province, where they will be recorded and will contribute greatly to Alberta’s database of amphibian populations. A grade 5/6 teacher’s guide that complements the monitoring program is also available.
The Difficult Choice is Yours – “To Keep or Not to Keep”
Hopefully, this information helps you to make a decision that will benefit your students and amphibians. You may want to discuss with your students the pros and cons for keeping frogs and have them decide what they think would be better now that they have researched the idea and the issues.