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Coming Up...


Prof Ben Phillips

"Toads, quolls, and targeted gene flow for conservation"

Professor Ben Phillips, from the University of Melbourne's School of Biosciences will provide a quick tour of work his group has been conducting across northern Australia in the last five years.  We will be pondering Cane Toads and how to stop their spread across the landscape, as well as quolls and how to prevent them being poisoned by toads.  There will be tales from the field and lab as we ponder the idea of targeted gene flow for conservation.

1st September 2022,

Elgin Inn, Hawthorn

Evening starts at 5:30 pm for dinner and drinks (available for purchase),

talk starts at 7:30 pm

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"NEROC to now: historic and current distribution of frogs in the middle Yarra catchment" David De Angelis is a zoological consultant with an interest in frogs and reptiles. David will be talking about frogs historically recorded in the middle Yarra catchment, species still commonly encountered there and a couple that have recently established outside of their natural range.

If you enjoy a laugh, I recommend watching it with YouTube’s subtitles, to see Eden Angeles Willis, a graduate of a True Beauty, talk about The Distribution of Frogs in the Middle Ear…

What’s better than knowing the current distribution of frog species in Victoria? Knowing the current distribution of frog species in Victoria and the historical distribution of frog species in Victoria! Well-known in herpy circles, David De Angelis pulled in more than 30 people to the Elgin Inn this month to listen to what he had to say about it.

David, Patron Murray Littlejohn and Angus Martin joined the committee for dinner in the dipping sunlight. With $15 parmas of various persuasions available for nourishment, a few attendees were keen to arrive at the Elgin Inn early, to socialise and make the most of the two-hour long happy hour… my favourite kind.

At 7:30, we moved into the function room. Very much unlike the last time we were there, there was even spare chairs! Only a few though, it wouldn’t do to upset the status quo too much.

David De Angelis graduated from La Trobe University with a degree in Biological Sciences with honours research on skinks. Despite his background in reptile research, David was welcomed by the audience with his talk “NEROC to now: historic and current distribution of frogs in the middle Yarra catchment”.

David began by thanking his mentors – Craig Cleland, who was present, Brian Malone, Geoff Heard and Graeme Gillespie, the latter of whom appeared in a photograph in the presentation! Matt Clancy, Marion Anstis, Murray Littlejohn, Angus Martin and Nick Clemann were also thanked for photographs and/or information they had provided.

David finally explained NEROC. I had thought that it must be an Australian name for a geological era that I should have known about, but not so (phew!) – it stands for the North East Regional Organisation of Councils. A paper was prepared for NEROC by Cam Beardsell in the 1990s and it was one of the most comprehensive reports on the frogs of the middle Yarra catchment that runs roughly from Yarra Glen (in the Yarra Valley) to Dights Falls (Yarra Bend Park). David noted that most of the frog distribution data for the area are incidental. Despite how many people live in the Yarra catchment, we know so little about its amphibian residents. Opportunistic records of frog encounters from the Victorian Biodiversity Atlas and the Atlas of Living Australia may not necessarily be reliable but are useful because often that is all we have.

The Common Froglet (Crinia signifera) has likely declined in the area relative to its historical abundance, like so many of our local species. This species is resistant to Chytrid fungus but may act as a vector, passing pathogens around endangered species like the Corroboree Frogs.

The Victorian Smooth Froglet (Geocrinia Victoriana) is hanging on in a few localities and often found along with the Southern Toadlet (Pseudophryne semimarmorata) which as Murray Littlejohn discovered often has its call suppressed by the former. This might go some way to explain why the Southern Toadlet is not detected as much and therefore appears sparse in the records. That and the fact that it spends a lot of its life hiding from people performing frog surveys. Climate change might also be playing a role as its breeding habits aren’t helping it. The Southern Toadlet tadpoles take six months to mature (some other species metamorphose within a matter of weeks). That means that enough water needs to stay in the breeding grounds for all that time and since I have trouble keeping my tomato plants alive because of the lack of rain, I can only imagine how the tadpoles are feeling. Some sites the species was known from in the past have been totally destroyed by development and no rain or groundwater could have saved them. In their favour though, is the length of time this species has to spend trying to replace itself – a lifespan of up to ten years (even up to 20 years in captivity!).

Bibron’s Toadlet (Pseudophryne bibroni) got a mention, but only a controversial one. It seems that it’s now quite unlikely that Bibron’s Toadlets are in the middle Yarra catchment. A combination of confusing morphology and hybridisation has led to a bit of misidentification in some places in the Melbourne area.

The Spotted Marsh Frog (Limnodynastes tasmaniensis) is still reasonably abundant in the area, but it’s an interesting case – it seems that the species has been victim to being moved around by people leading to a very difficult distribution to understand. When found in the northern part of its range, the species sounds slightly different than the southern race. But the species can sometimes be heard with the “wrong accent” suggesting that some individuals have been moved fair distances from their home sites. Further research may tell us, but we do know that it’s happened with other species in the area. Sometimes confused with them are the Striped Marsh Frogs (Limnodynastes peronii), which can also have a pale dorsal stripe (and both species sometimes do not have the stripe), but has stripes instead of spots (as their names might suggest) and is found in slightly deeper and/or more permanent water.

Familiar to many, the Eastern Banjo Frog, or Pobblebonk (Limnodynastes dumerilii dumerilii) is doing fairly well and regularly found throughout in the area. They sometimes seem to disappear, because they can burrow or hide in compost or soil. Funnily enough, I was having a conversation with a friend about accidentally digging up frogs the other day! Southern Banjo Frogs (Limnodynastes dumerilii insularis) (also called Pobblebonks, but a different subspecies) are also found in the region every so often, but are better known from the coastal south of the state.

The Common Spadefoot Toad (Neobatrachus sudellae) has a somewhat scattered distribution. It used to be known throughout the area and probably used to live on the Yarra floodplain. Perhaps more interestingly, similar, closely related species can aestivate for over a year and a half! Obviously, that makes them harder to spot, but what a spectacular adaptation to drought! Southern Toadlets could learn a thing or two from the spadefoots!

David explains the difference between Southern Brown Tree Frogs and Whistling Tree Frogs. Photo by Teisha Sloane-Lay

Southern Brown Treefrogs (Litoria ewingii) are known to many people as common garden frogs. The very closely related Whistling Tree Frog (Litoria verreauxi) looks very similar, VERY SIMILAR. Only really different by the marbling in the groin, width of the digits and the width of the snout. Good luck if you can tell the difference! David explains the differences at 33:10 in the video if you want a better explanation! They do have slightly different calls (video at 34:44), but the hybrid confuses things too – with a call that’s intermediate between the two species.

Lesueur’s Frog (Litoria lesueuri) turns up occasionally in the records. A report from Lilydale proved controversial – even on the night, as a Frogs Victoria event witnessed its first ever heckle! It was a respectful and friendly heckle though, just the way we like them. The species does seem to show up in rocky habitats – where you’d expect it to live – and has been seen in the upper Yarra catchment, so maybe they are still around.

Sadly, the Growling Grass Frog (Litoria raniformis) is not thought to be anywhere in the middle Yarra catchment any more. Development of known sites has sealed the fate of the species for good since about 2004 and David showed us a stark difference in the range over time.

A few species have been introduced to the Melbourne area – including Emerald Spotted Tree Frogs (Litoria peronii) and the Eastern Dwarf Tree Frogs (Litoria fallax). These species, unlike many of their native counterparts are expanding instead of contracting. We don’t really know how they got here and what their impact is, there’s still so much to learn!

David finished with more acknowledgements – we are all so lucky to be surrounded by so many passionate and accomplished herpetologists in Victoria! Everyone in the room had learnt something about the changes in distribution and abundance of frogs in our local area. David’s talk was very informative. I learnt much and find the continued moving of amphibians around the state and the replacement of frogs by human development both fascinating and worrisome. David handled the matters sincerely and comprehensively and despite the apparent broader picture of loss and reduction, most species are hanging on in gardens, parks and reserves and many are still familiar to us.

For the frogs,

Lynette Plenderleith

Chair, Frogs Victoria.

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:

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