Glow Sticks Help Ecologists Study Amphibians

Ecologists needed a way to more easily keep track of populations of amphibians, and green glow sticks lit the way.

Populations of frogs, salamanders and other amphibians are declining around the world—even in protected areas, like U.S. national parks. Ecologists needed a simple method to track the animals’ numbers. Now, researchers have found an effective way to keep tabs on amphibians—using that concert and party favorite: glow sticks. Green glow sticks, to be specific.

“What we do know is that their eyes are particularly sensitive to green light.”

David Munoz, a PhD candidate in the ecology program at Penn State University.

To test the idea, Munoz and colleagues set up minnow traps with and without glow sticks at a dozen vernal pools in Centre County, Pennsylvania. The critters gather at the pools to breed.

For a month, they trapped and tracked numbers of the Jefferson salamander, the spotted salamander, the wood frog and the eastern red-spotted newt. “Right before we left for the day, around 4 P.M., we’d activate the glow stick and hang it on the little minnow trap, come back the next day to see what we got.”

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