Frog Training

When thinking of which animals to train in a zoo, your mind may go straight to mammals like our raccoon or big cats. You may even consider our giraffes, but what about an animal that was much smaller? Would you ever consider training a frog? You might not think a frog would be a good candidate for training, but they can be! Our resident Amazon milk frogs, Latte and Maracana, are going to help explain why.

What Are Amazon Milk Frogs?

An Amazon Milk Frog sitting on a tree branchAmazon milk frogs are native to Northern South America and prefer to live high up in the trees. They get their name “milk frog” from the milky white toxin they secrete when stressed or threatened. Their favorite snacks are insects and other invertebrates, as well as smaller amphibians. Honestly, if they can fit it into their mouth, a milk frog is probably going to try to eat it! Amazon milk frogs are ambush predators that sit and wait for their food to come close. Once close enough the milk frog will leap forward and grab their food. These frogs use their hands to shove food into their mouths, which can make training them rather amusing.

Training A Frog

Training a frog isn’t the easiest task in the world. It requires a LOT of patience. They aren’t as reactive as some other species and can take a while to do the behavior you are asking. It can, however, be done. But how do you train a frog you might ask? With a laser pointer, of course!

An Amazon Milk Frog being fed a cricket with tweezer tongsLatte and Maracana recently joined our animal training program- a program designed to positively impact welfare and foster relationships between caretakers and animals. When thinking of new animals and behaviors to train, I knew I wanted to do something with our frogs. And since we already knew that they responded to a laser pointer when used for enrichment, we figured targeting would be the easiest thing to try and train. The goal was to get them to turn towards the laser pointer, follow it, and…click! As soon as they go towards the red dot they are reinforced with a click of the clicker followed by some delicious crickets. I started off simple with the milk frogs. Any movement towards the dot, whether it be full body movement or simply a head turn, was rewarded. They caught on quickly to this and will now actively orient themselves towards the laser pointer! The next step is to get them to take steps towards it and follow it. We are currently working on that part.

Now, just because a laser pointer worked in getting their attention doesn’t mean training came without some trial and error. As I previously mentioned, patience is key. While they may respond to the laser pointer, it can take some time before the milk frogs actually make any movement towards it. When they do finally go for the dot, they may not want to take any reinforcement. They like prey that is moving, so I have to make sure that I’m mimicking the way prey may move when trying to feed our frogs. Depending on where they are at in their habitat, they may not want to train at all. You may also have some physical limitations during training. Your arms may cramp up; you may get frustrated; and it might feel like it’ll never happen as you wait for your frog to finally go after that tiny red dot! Keep trying anyway!

So Why Train A Frog?

An Amazon Milk Frog standing on terrarium substrateTraining is a great way to keep an animal mentally and physically stimulated and allows for the opportunity for cooperative care. Cooperative care gives the animal choice and control during husbandry procedures to create an overall more positive experience. Behaviors such as stationing, crating, or targeting can all help make caring for the animal easier and help increase their welfare.

Target training our frogs using the laser pointer will aid us in moving them around in their habitat without having to physically handle them and possibly stress them out. The hope is to one day station train. Stationing is when they go to a specific area in their habitat and hold there. Targeting can be used to get them to the station to begin with until they start associating the station with reward. Once they are on the station it can then be lifted out of their habitat and the frogs can be packed up in their travelling habitat for programming. Of course, our training is all voluntary, so if the frogs do not wish to target or station then they don’t have to. We are all about choice and control here at the zoo!

While target training is nothing new in the Education Department, targeting with frogs certainly is, and I am proud to say that Latte and Maracana have been doing really well with it. Remember, with patience, yummy snacks, and a tiny red dot, even a frog can be trained!

Written by Emily Granville
Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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Shamrocks, Shenanigans, and… Snakes?

Photomanipulation of snake wearing a tophat            When we start seeing everything turn green and shamrocks start popping up like daises, it can only mean one thing… St. Patrick’s Day is coming! For many of us, annual traditions have come to include corned beef and cabbage, turning whatever food and drink you can green, watching the bagpipers and Irish step dancers in parades, and pinching people and blaming it on the leprechauns. What does this have to do with a saint though, and why was he associated with snakes? Grab your shamrock shake, sit down, and read on to find out!


A snake coiling around a perch            First, we need to take a look at who St. Patrick was or what we can gather about him anyway. Did you know that St. Patrick lived during the second half of the 5th century? That’s almost 1,500 years ago! This makes it hard to pinpoint exact details about his life and is one of the reasons so many legends surround him. Surprisingly, he wasn’t even born in Ireland; he was British, had been kidnapped as a child, and was taken into slavery in Ireland. He later escaped and returned to Britain but then decided to go back to Ireland as a missionary. He dedicated most of his life to converting the Irish people to Christianity. It is believed that he died on March 17, which is why this was the holy day celebrated in his name as the patron saint of Ireland and has become the day many people celebrate around the world now.


A rattlesnake resting on a branch            What does all of this have to do with snakes though? Great question! One of the biggest legends associated with St. Patrick is that he stood on top of a cliff and banished all of the snakes from Ireland into the sea. This legend has persisted because there actually are no snakes in Ireland, so what else could explain this phenomenon? Historians believe that the snake banishment was meant metaphorically. Snakes were often seen as symbols of paganism or even as a symbol for the devil in Christianity. By going to Ireland and converting many people, he was essentially “banishing” paganism from their country.


A snake resting on a log            If St. Patrick did not actually banish the snakes, why are there no snakes in Ireland? Scientists have been researching to answer this very question, and it turns out, according to the fossil record, there never were any snakes in Ireland to begin with! Looking back even further in history to the Ice Age, we know that Ireland would have been far too cold for any reptiles to survive at the time because it was covered in ice. As the Earth began to warm and water levels began to rise, Ireland became separated from the rest of Europe before snakes had a chance to migrate over. Then once people began to settle in Ireland and brought plants and animals with them to domesticate, snakes were not among the species selected when they were picking food sources.


A large snake coiled on the ground            If you are one of those people who bravely made it through reading all of this but still aren’t the biggest fan of snakes, you aren’t alone! Many people today get more than a little nervous when it comes to snakes. There are many reasons, however, that snakes play an important role in the world and should not be banished from places where they are natively found. One of the biggest benefits to having snakes around is that they actually help control populations of rats and mice (which, I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want to live in a world overrun by rodents!). So if you’re looking for an opportunity to give these awesome creatures a chance, head to our Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Center on your next visit to meet some of our slithery friends and learn more about them. In the meantime, happy St. Patrick’s Day from all of your scaley friends at the Lehigh Valley Zoo; we hope you have a shamrockin’ good time!

Written by Tara Mlodzienski
Conservation Education Specialist
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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The Butterfly Effect

Photo of a yellow swallowtail butterfly resting on the flowers of a butterfly bush            It’s time to come out of your chrysalis for Learn About Butterflies Day! Did you know Pennsylvania is a home to 146 species of butterflies? Butterflies are one of a handful of species that pollinate our plants. When butterflies go from flower to flower, they get some pollen on their legs which will rub off onto other flowers. Butterflies are not the most efficient pollinators, but with their migrations they can bring pollen to further places than honeybees would go. Even with their seemingly small contribution to pollination efforts, they’re accountable for pollinating one third of the fruits and vegetables we consume!

            Did you know a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope? A kaleidoscope is an indicator that an area is healthy and in balance. If butterflies are in the area, they provide other native species with a food source. Not only are they a food source throughout their life cycle, but some species of butterflies also eat aphids. This means that butterflies are a natural pest deterrent and can not only help crops bloom, but also stay healthy.

            Massive population drops have been observed across butterfly species. These drops are causing concern because butterflies tend not to live in unhealthy areas. Butterflies are called an indicator species, which just means they are first to be affected by a changing habitat. It was found that one cause of population drops is due to habitat loss. Having large areas converted for agriculture or developed can be detrimental due to the lack of food sources and shelter.

Photo of a yellow swallowtail butterfly resting on the flowers of a butterfly bush            A great way to help butterflies in your own backyard is by planting a native butterfly garden! Here at the zoo, we have our own butterfly garden in Preston’s Place. A great place to start is to look up native plants in your area that butterflies like to eat or spawn on. These gardens are not only great for butterflies, but they also help other species by providing shelter and nest making materials. You will not only be helping the native wildlife, but also providing yourself with a great way to interact with the world around you.

Written by Caroline Alexander
Conservation Education Intern
Lehigh Valley Zoo | Schnecksville, PA

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