April 01, 2019
By Chawna Schuette, Herpetarium Keeper
We traveled to a very special type of habitat, the Ecuadorian dry forest near the Pacific Coast. This habitat has many unique endemic plant and animal species, including specially adapted trees and cacti. We were in search of the Pacific horned frog (Ceratophrys stolzmanni).
As we drove down a dirt road to a location these frogs were last known to be, the vehicle approached many clusters of butterflies on the road. As we got close, they would fly up all around us like gold and white confetti. We were all in awe of the beautiful sight. We saw three wild tegu (a type of lizard) along the road as well.
When we arrived, we took a two-mile hike in search of tadpoles of C. stolzmanni. We took in the sights of the beautiful weaver birds, the plant life and unique invertebrate species. We saw tarantulas and foam nests of other frog species, but no sign of the horned frog until we reached the end of the trail, where we found a mud pond left by some construction workers. There we saw tons of tadpoles, and they were the species we were looking for! We were very excited and collected the tadpoles.
We waited until later in the evening to search for the adults. I was lucky enough to find the first one of the night. I was so excited to see him. I brought him up to my colleagues and showed them through the window and gave him a little frog kiss, "Perfecto!"
As the night went on, lots of horned frogs emerged, and we caught many more. This was extremely special and timed perfectly. These frogs are hard to locate, even in areas where their populations are still doing well. They only come to the surface seasonally, and normally only for a short period of time to breed and lay eggs. This was a very successful visit to this location indeed, and it was such a treat to see this species in the wild!
March 26, 2019
By Chawna Schuette, Herpetarium Keeper
After spending a week in Quito learning from the staff at the Centro Jambatu, I joined up with our Zoological Manager of Herps and Aquatics, Mark Wanner, to conduct fieldwork with Dr. Luis Coloma, the director of the Centro Jambatu. After leaving the Research Center, we traveled to many places in Ecuador, collecting frogs for Dr. Coloma's research.
The first town we stopped in was Salinas de Guaranda, a small village about 3,500 miles up in the mountains, where the air is very thin. This is more than twice the altitude of Denver, so it was quite an adjustment. I had to walk a little more slowly on the steep city streets, and I needed to take my time as we climbed the mountainside looking for frogs. In Salinas, the adult men were playing volleyball in the town square courtyard when we arrived around midday, and there were several female vendors selling chocolates, hats or scarves on the street. There were dogs everywhere and, of course, I had to make friends with a few. At night, we searched for frogs, collected tadpoles and found a new species of Gastrotheca (marsupial frog).
We stayed in a hostel that night, and in the morning, a guide gave us a tour of the town. We visited the cheese factory, the textile factory, the chocolate factory, an essential oils factory, the natural salt mines and the facility where local liquors are created. It was incredible to see how self-sustaining the town was with all the products it makes and manufactures, many of which are made from things grown and farmed locally, like cacao and sugar cane. Tourism is a major factor in sustaining the culture there, and it was an eye-opening experience.
After we left, we drove a long while toward the coast and the Peruvian border. I was amazed at all the beautiful sights. There were waterfalls and rainforests, and as we drove through the mountains, we were surrounded at times by the dense fog of the cloud forest.
We saw many different types of habitat, but the most impactful sight was the hundreds of miles of banana plantations, cacao plantations, rice fields and mines that have replaced former rain forest. Seeing this with my own eyes made me realize how much we rely on this country to help sustain and feed the world. I also learned how much human culture demands these products, and how much the country relies on this demand to help support their economy. Many families work on these plantations, and it is a way of life. I saw familiar names of bananas that I buy here in the United States. I saw where they are picked and packed and shipped. This was one of those full-circle moments I won't soon forget.
March 20, 2019
By Chawna Schuette, Herpetarium Keeper
I have been a keeper at the Saint Louis Zoo for the past 20 years. Currently, I work at the Charles H. Hoessle Herpetarium as a reptile and amphibian keeper. Earlier this year, thanks to funding from the Saint Louis Zoo WildCare Institute’s Dexter Fund, I was lucky enough to travel to Ecuador to visit one of my department’s conservation programs.
The WildCare Institute and the Saint Louis Zoo have partnered with Centro Jambatu, an amphibian conservation organization in Quito, Ecuador, since 2006. As this collaboration grows, the Zoo is increasing its capacity for Ecuadorian amphibians at the Herpetarium.
I have been working with amphibians for over two decades, and I was excited to travel to Ecuador to learn as much as possible about frog husbandry, invertebrate cultures, veterinary care and the reproduction of the species at Centro Jambatu. Even though I had a passport for a while, this was my first time traveling abroad.
The staff in Ecuador were very welcoming, and I was able to spend time with each staff member. Each member of the team specialized in different parts of managing the amphibians at the facility. For example, one keeper primarily works with the harlequin toad species, another with the tree frogs and glass frog, and another the poison dart frogs. There was also a staff member specialized in culturing food items for the facility such as fruit flies, springtails, spiders and more. I was particularly interested in the invertebrate cultures. I was fascinated in learning how the keeper who designed the facility was able to incorporate such a level of efficiency into the organization, and how staff was able to produce high quality food items for the frogs.
I took notes and reflected on each day and returned the next day with more questions, eager to learn. I was even able to spend some time with the veterinarian and share case information on parasites and various other diseases and treatment methods. We exchanged information and shared ideas, and the experience was highly beneficial. I was able to form friendships with several staff members, and some of us still keep in touch. I am helping them learn English, and they are helping me with my Spanish.
It was a challenge not speaking their language, but Ecuador is a beautiful country with many old buildings, as well as new architecture. The people were friendly and helpful. They were also understanding of my not speaking the language very well, and they seemed to appreciate my attempts. I tried my best to learn the basics, like how to order food, be polite, bargain for items, ask directions and, most importantly, ask for the bathroom! I managed to make my way around with Uber and taxis, and I even took the bus. The public transportation system is very good, and most people use it.
Quito was just like any big American city, except there are street vendors everywhere! Vendors offer all sorts of goods from fresh empanadas to yogurt and candy. I even saw someone selling socks! There are always people in the street offering to sell you cold drinks or wash your windows, or doing some sort of street performance, all to earn money.