FrogsVic audience.jpg

Coming Up...

Next event 4th March 2021!

Sign up at the bottom of the page

to be the first to get the details.

Did you see Dennis Black’s talk last Thursday? It was a cracker! Thanks to all who came out to play. Unfortunately, due to operator error, there is no video this time, so with apologies to our regional members, please enjoy this little write up instead…

The evening began at a very sociable 5:30 pm, with a small group warming the seats of the room at The Great Northern Hotel in Carlton. Families, friends and strangers fringed our table and enjoyed dinner and conversation, mostly about frogs (the conversation, not the dinner). More people and more chairs arrived until at 7:30, the room was packed to capacity. Well we thought it was, but then we managed to squeeze in a few more keen-beans after time.

I welcomed guests, introduced myself and introduced our speaker for the evening, Dr. Dennis Black. Dennis had been Honours supervisor to Frogs Vic Secretary Teisha Sloane-Lay and last Thursday it was our honour to welcome him with his talk “Frogs I have known”.

I would describe Dennis as a research scientist, academic professional and general delight. Dennis described himself as a “Treehugger, australophile and ex-yank”. He’d probably know better than I, but in truth, he’s probably all of the above. What became clear throughout the talk though, was that Dennis is an engaging speaker, interesting natural historian and caring wildlife biologist.

Dennis grew up in the US of A and told of childhood memories of inspiring Life Magazine and National Geographic articles on Australian wildlife. His obsession with “exotic” wildlife was cemented when his family was posted to Taiwan for two years and Dennis’s new neighbours included flying foxes and elapid snakes.

Dennis told of his early experiences at school with salamanders and nuns and how the two didn’t mix particularly well, much to his eternal disappointment, but to our benefit as we were treated to a photo of a Slender Salamander. Terrestrial salamanders are very common in the US and they fill a very similar niche to the little brown skinks that skitter through the leaf litter here in Australia. Dennis told of more strange elongated amphibians with pictures of Cave Salamanders, Californian Newts and plethodontid salamanders – so familiar to herpetologists of the New World, so unusual looking to Australian froggers. Dennis had studied these along with tree frogs at University of California, Davis.

Opportunity knocked in 1971 when recruiters from the Victorian Education Department offered Dennis a job teaching high school science in the Melbourne suburbs. After a year and a half of general frustration, Dennis was offered an actual ticket to work with real Aussie wildlife – a job in the Zoology Department at Monash and the realisation of dreams. Monash University in the seventies, as Dennis explained, was a hotbed of vertebrate zoology and Dennis was in the thick of it.

Dennis studied lizard brain morphology at Monash, joined the Monash Biological Society and Australia Society of Herpetologists and took part in some exciting field work and networking. Dennis showed us photos of frogs he met from around Victoria and New South Wales, some in situ, some in a toilet…

In 1980 Dennis scored a job in Papua New Guinea and spent the next three years training field and museum techniques in Port Moresby. In his spare time he apparently photographed many amphibian locals – including a white-lipped housemate. Dennis saw many frogs in PNG, including Lace-lids, microhylids and an unfortunate tree frog with a leech under its skin.

From there, Dennis went back to the USA, studied for a second BSc and started a PhD in Systematic Entomology, on the proviso that it included work in Australia…

In 1990 La Trobe Uni snapped Dennis up to teach in the Zoology Department. He completed his PhD and went to teach at the Department of Environmental Management and Ecology at the LTU campus in Albury-Wodonga. There the Australian adventure really began with expeditions around the country and even throughout the world.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Queensland deserts are not the best place to go looking for frogs, but Dennis was a participant in Royal Geographical Society of Queensland expeditions and did just that. As usual, Queensland didn’t disappoint and Dennis introduced us to the Desert Spadefoot Toad (Notaden nichollsi) with its super sticky skin secretions and superior burrowing ability facilitated by its modified feet. As research often does though, the expedition posed at least as many questions as it answered and we all look forward to finding out how these charismatic amphibians persist in such a seemingly unsuitable habitat.

Dennis was lucky enough to own a property in the Goldsborough Valley, just south of Cairns and not far from where the first Cane Toads were infamously released. The beautiful lowland rainforest was full of the wildlife that Dennis so clearly loves and even his home was filled with beautiful frogs, many of which featured in his entertaining and adventure-filled presentation.

Dennis concluded with thanking the sources of his inspiration and his parents who didn’t force him to study architecture. He also thanked Monash University and LTU for enabling his dreams and paid his respects to the First Australians who deeply know and appreciate the Australian landscape and life.

Dennis’s talk was an entertaining journey around the world and we all got to encounter some of the frogs he met along the way. As a salamander lover, it was a joy to see so many photographs of the diversity of herpetofauna and I enjoyed every amphibious tail tale.

For the frogs,

Lynette Plenderleith

Chair, Frogs Victoria.

Steph is senior animal keeper at Melbourne museum after spending nearly 7 years at the Amphibian research Centre breeding crickets and endangered frogs. Steph's talk is about how she grew up loving frogs, turned it into a career and the journey she went on to get there.

Stephanie Versteegen is currently a senior keeper at Melbourne Museum, but she has spent her career looking after endangered and less endangered frogs and we were lucky enough to hear about the wonderful animals with which she has worked.

Steph’s frog story began as a child with an early memory of a frog she found in her grandparent’s garden. Like so many of us, she didn’t forget her first encounter with an amphibian and it shaped the person she is to this day, declaring as a child that a herpetologist seemed like an excellent job title! Fast forward to 2006 and Steph scores herself a work experience placement with the Amphibian Research Centre in Werribee. Steph distinctly remembers the “banana box frogs” – all manner of lost frogs accidentally shipped around via the fruit and vegetable trade. At this point, there was no looking back and Steph was full bore on the path to becoming a herpetologist and through her degree at Deakin, she constantly steered her coursework towards the frogs she loved.

At the end of her degree, Steph was back at ARC, this time at Pearcedale, the move obviously not far enough to escape Steph’s passion. There Steph learnt a lot about trophic levels. No crickets = no frogs. So Steph spent many hours intimately involved in the breeding and care of crickets. Some, she says, of her career’s most valuable lessons.

The highlight of Steph’s talk though, was her regaling her stories of breeding, raising and releasing endangered species. Spotted Tree Frogs (Litoria spenceri) was the species with which Steph was most involved. To begin with it sounded easy –like most tadpoles, even endangered species eat frozen lettuce. But releasing frogs into the wild where floods and chytrid posed real risks to the populations mean that not every release was rewarded with a happy ending. But often the results were positive and indeed the work continues with breeding Spotted Tree Frogs and Southern Corroboree Frogs (Pseudophryne corroboree) in large outdoor enclosures that exclude chytrid, in the hope that they can be released in the future. Steph also worked on the the Baw Baw frog (Philoria frosti) project that was then very much in its infancy. Zoos Victoria has just announced that they have successfully bred Baw Baw Frogs in captivity and Steph, along with the audience couldn’t contain her excitement. Steph hasn’t just worked with these endangered species. She told us that she has worked with some 50 species of Australian frogs. All of which I’d reckon were lucky to know her.

Both speakers protested their labels of frog experts, but we disagree – they gave us wonderful insights in their respective careers in frogs from the common to the critically endangered and the audience enjoyed both talks from our esteemed colleagues.

For the frogs, Lynette Plenderleith Chair, Frogs Victoria.

P.S. If you’re hungry for more, visit the frogs at Melbourne Museum:

James Frazer, Coordinator, Melbourne Water Frog Census talks about the community engagement and citizen science-based frog monitoring program that has run since 2001. Learn how volunteer-collected frog data have been used to inform waterway planning and monitor the impact of on-ground interventions such as habitat creation and environmental watering. James has a background in natural resource management, threatened species recovery programs, and community engagement.

On a warm night in Melbourne’s suburbs, many people of a froggy persuasion met in the upstairs room of Public House, Richmond. Due to successful RSVPing by attendees, all in the room took a seat for the November 2018 Frogs Victoria event. We promised a double bill of speakers engaged in the professional frog world, by which I mean the frog-related professions, not the world of gainfully employed frogs.

Melbourne Water Frog Census

First up was James Frazer, co-ordinator of Melbourne Water’s Frog census. James’s introduction was accompanied by some delightful background musical bangers accidentally provided by the venue, but soon after Mr. Frazer began, we were able to hear him a lot better as he treated us to froggy-data tales from the Melbourne area.

James explained to us why Melbourne Water is interested in frogs. Happily, the answer is at least in part because Melbournians are interested in frogs. Additionally, frogs are of course excellent indicators of waterway health, in which Melbourne Water is very interested. Frogs are, as we know excellent ambassadors for engagement and environmental custodianship, which James uses to spread the message that the future of amphibians is currently looking dire, but the people of Victoria can help.

The 2016 launch of the Frog Census app created, or at least measured, a spike in the interest of human residents in their amphibian neighbours. James used a convoluted flow chart to demonstrate with some impact, the previous methods of collecting Frog Census data – paper reports that required writing (sometimes with a pen!), scanning and emailing back to the office. Thankfully those methods are long gone and the replacement app is user-friendly and fun, with pictures, IDs and electronic buttons.

Every Frog Census report is used to influence management and strategy. I say all… apparently not every report is perfect and some of James’s work seems to be somewhat like that of a detective – finding out what the report is supposed to be. But once the reports are verified a good picture of Melbourne’s frogs is created. At least some of this goes towards “big data” and is available to people outside of Frog Census for others to use. The data can inform wetland monitoring, management and creation.

The Frog Census also provides curriculum tools, a frog pond guide, monitoring and ID guides. James works closely with other conservation groups in strategic partnerships to further the frog message and support like-minded individuals and groups. The Frog Census is a great way for anybody to get involved in frog science and conservation.

For the frogs, Lynette Plenderleith Chair, Frogs Victoria.

P.S. If you’re hungry for more, check out:

Melbourne Water Frog Census:


@melbournewater, @jim_feather

Previous Events

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Instagram

Frog Curious?

Join our mailing list for updates 

Frogs Victoria Society


© 2020 Frogs Victoria Society