Under Logs: The not so hidden wildlife of Southeast Alaska
When one thinks of Southeast Alaskan wildlife the tendency is to imagine the grumbles and crashes of humpback whales, bears, moose and wolves trampling through muskeg and salmon ripping up sloughs and stReam.
But Joshua Ream lives in a different wild. He turns over logs and peers into shallow ponds looking for and documenting native amphibians.
“I chose to work with amphibians here in Alaska because there’s relatively little known about the species we have and a lot of people don’t even realize that they occur here,” Ream said.
Ream, a wildlife biologist is conducting research for his doctorate program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He introduced listeners to the Southeast Alaskan amphibian world at the public library last Monday.
Aside from exploring the landscape in areas on Wrangell Island, around the Stikine River and Mitkof Island on his own, Ream utilizes local and traditional knowledge for his research.
“I’m interested in those traditional relationships and how things like frogs and salamanders play a role in culture,” Ream said.
Two Stikine Tlingit clans, for example, identified closely with native frogs. Ream said carvings on traditional totem poles show specific frogs that the clans interacted with in the past.
“You have to be careful when you’re doing this type of work because if you start to see a more contemporary pole, because people are exposed now to different types of frogs from across the world they start to take on a more generic shape, a more Kermit type of frog,” Ream said.
Ream discussed six native amphibians that live in the area. One of which is the Rough Skinned Newt—an animal that produces one of the most toxic substances known to man. The newt, which displays an orange belly, is often seen around Mitkof, Wrangell and the Stikine. They can be deadly when ingested but are harmless to touch, however, Ream cautions people before handling any amphibian.
“Amphibians have a porous skin and most molecules can pass through skin into the body and they absorb every toxin that’s out there,” Ream said.
That includes toxins from bug dope. Ream and his assistant can’t use insect repellent when they handle the animals—a hard fact when they look for mating frogs in the spring.
The ease of amphibians to absorb toxins is also one reason why studying the animals is useful. They can be a useful indicator of toxins in an area because they tend to be the first to be affected or die off.
Other species that hop and crawl through the region are Wood Frogs, Boreal Toads, Columbia Spotted Frogs, Long-toed Salamanders and North Western Salamanders.
North Western Salamanders also produce a toxin that makes them taste disgusting to predators. But as often happens in nature, those predators found a way to fight back
“They’ll find a way to explode the amphibian,” Ream said. “Crows, ravens and those type of birds will often fly with an amphibian to a high height, drop it to allow it to splatter and eat what comes out, leaving the skin.”
Crowd funding helps Ream and his assistant, Petersburg resident and vice president of The Alaska Herpetological Society Seth Perry, conduct their research.
The last amphibian documentation before Ream’s research was 25 years ago. Ream and Perry will continue to track amphibian population locations and numbers and compare it to past research.
Ream’s crowd funding page can be viewed at http://www.gofundme.com/5b4d5c.
He has raised $150 for 2014 with a goal of $1500.