Stephanie Versteegan, "My Frog Story", Nov 2018
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: https://museumsvictoria.com.au/discover/filter/science/frogs/