Naturalist Classes and Continued Learning

Weather Lab App Launches

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A screenshot of the Weather Lab app.

A Predictive Weather Modeling App for Students and Teachers

I usually don't mix my professional life with my personal blog, but I wanted to share with you a neat interactive weather app that I helped develop. It is a tool that can be useful for weatherphiles, teachers, and students. It is called the Weather Lab, an online and mobile application from the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) in association with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). The Weather Lab helps students visualize how weather is formed though the complex interactions of ocean currents and air masses in North America.

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It's All About Surface Area and Reproduction

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Why would this blue-footed booby have blue feet? You have a 50-50 chance of getting it right! (Photo: Wiki Commons)

You have a 50/50 Chance of Getting the Right Answer

Let's face it, as educators, parents, and adults we don't have answers to all the "whys" that come our way. However,  I've found that there are two answers to almost any question in biology: sex and surface area (and is usually all boils down to just sex and reproductive success). I know this sounds funny, but if you remember this rubric, while leading guided hikes in the field, in class or teaching  animal anatomy, you will always have a way to root out the answer you're looking for.

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The Case of the Disappearing Naturalists

220px-Beatrix_Potter1Beatrix Potter was a children's author, naturalist, and mycologist (studied fungus and mushrooms).

Those with Naturalist Skills Are Becoming Few and Far Between

During an interview I was asked about why I represented this blog as a resource for naturalists and educators. The interviewer was driving at the idea of, “What is a naturalist?" Because you rarely hear the term anymore. I started really chewing on this idea because it’s something that has been rattling around in the back of my head for a long time. I’ve noticed that naturalists seem to be a dying breed. Anecdotally it appears that there is a clear decline in those dedicated to natural history. Why are naturalists disappearing?

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Want to Learn Frog Calls? Resources for Mid-West to Eastern North America

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Cricket frog (Photo: Karen McDonald)

Where To Find Helpful Frog Call Resources

As Spring nears It's time to consider brushing up on your frog calls, either for personal fun or so that you can help with amphibian surveys. There's nothing like being able to pick out specific species of frogs by their calls. It's like learning the notes of music. Now I'll admit that I'm rusty, every year Spring rolls around and I find myself dragging out the ear buds and MP3 and practicing. I usually get a whole bunch wrong, but it's fun relearning.

Let's refresh on the basics. Most often it's only the male frogs call, and calls are species specific though there are dialects by region (croak, croak, croak yall). Dialects allow males to self-sort and avoid competing with males from other areas that are far away or outside their region. Male frogs call to attract mates and to advertise their fitness to females. Mostly mating is done at night under cover of darkness so frogs use vocalizations instead of visual displays. Calls are produced in the larynx and are amplified by one or more vocal sacs. These sacs are thin membranes of skin that are either directly under the chin or extending from chin to mouth. Female frogs may respond to the males to encourage their advances with short croaks or other sounds (some females object quite vocally if they don't find the male's advances desired).

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Northern Leopard Frog (Photo: Wiki Commons)

When many frogs call at once it's called a "chorus."  Choruses can be quite loud, and the pitch and loudness may increase if there is heavy traffic or noise nearby. Male frogs conserve energy when rivals are not near-by and they have "low energy" calls that simply establish their territory. When competition is high they expend more energy to call more loudly, but what is unique is that they call in a species specific pattern with the other males. This allows all males to be heard without being completely drowned out. This type of cooperation is a unique strategy in the animal kingdom shared by vocal insects and frogs (for those with a mad pash. for reading scientific papers check out this doozy on the call-timing algorithm of the white-lipped frog).  There are probably multiple reasons for this strategy but most likely it has to do with increasing fitness by decreasing energy expended calling, because everyone gets a chance.

Now let's get on to the resources you need to brush up or even learn frog calls for the first time. There are a few things you might find useful before you start.

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Where Can You Learn to Be a Master Naturalist?

States with Master Naturalist Programs and Classes

After a successful nature walk, talk, or program I'm often asked about where I received my education, what it takes to be a naturalist or nature educator, and where to get trained. I came to being a naturalist through an indirect route of loving nature and studying it on my own very early on, we're talking playground days. I started out in college studying Environmental Science and later picked up a Masters in Biology. However, along the way most of my naturalist skills have been through trial and error. These include reading books, using field guides, looking up neat things that I found on hikes, birding, looking for reptiles etc. If this all interests you then I'd suggest that you take some naturalist classes.

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Frog tadpole found on citizen science collection trip (Photo: Karen McDonald)

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