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Homegrown Conservation: Brittani Furlong hosts Frogtastic Night at Blue Week

By Ashlee Decker and Sara DeMaria, Green Ribbon Initiative

Brittani Furlong

People choose to live in certain places for all sorts of reasons, but for University of Toledo (UT) graduate, Brittani Furlong, it was the beauty of the fringed gentian that captured her heart and called her to make her career in Toledo.

She remembers vividly the day she first saw this wispy, blue, trumpet-shaped flower. It was during her junior year at UT on a class field trip to Irwin Prairie. “When we went out there the fringed gentian was blooming and I just lost my mind over this flower. … I couldn’t believe it was in Toledo.”  Although her family had encouraged her to get out and explore the world, Brittani knew that her destiny was to explore the wonders of her own back yard. “When I saw the fringed gentian I thought ‘How could I leave? There’s a bunch of cool stuff here!’”

Fringed Gentian — (C) Jon Cross

It was this moment that inspired Brittani to complete her Bachelors degree in Environmental Science but although it was a flower that lit the fire, it’s been a different group of organisms that have held Brittani’s interest in the Oak Openings Region – frogs. Brittani remembers a childhood full of catching bullfrogs from a pond near the apartment complex where her family lived. “On the weekends I would go around and catch frogs and run them back to my grandmother’s apartment. She was super excited about that,” Brittani adds sarcastically. Though her peers were reluctant to join Brittani on her amphibian adventures, teachers nurtured her continued appreciation of frogs and of science in general. Starting with the frog-enthusiast, Mrs. Coleman, in elementary school, Brittani was fortunate to find passionate, caring, engaging science teachers at every level of her education. In college, Professor Todd Crail picked up right where they had left off.

Professor Todd Crail at work. — (C) GRI

Crail opened up opportunities for Brittani and she jumped on each and every one.  Crail was the professor that led the momentous gentian field trip, and when he started a frog monitoring program in 2012, Brittani promptly volunteered. “I had only hung out with bull frogs, green frogs, and leopard frogs before. I didn’t know there were all these other [species].” By the second year, Brittani was running the program and taking her former Maumee High School teachers, Mr. Ballard and Mr. Dick, to the wetlands with her. The monitoring program is now in its 6th year, it’s 5th under Brittani’s management.

Spring Peeper — © Kent Mason, TNC

Another field course by Crail led Brittani to twice present frog monitoring data at the Oak Openings Research Forum. It will come as no surprise that Crail invited Brittani to pursue her Masters degree with him, working to better quantify – you guessed it – frogs. Brittany wanted to know how anurans (i.e. frogs) respond positively to woody plant management in the Oak Openings.  Read more about her research here. Her field research at the Nature Conservancy’s Kitty Todd Nature Preserve introduced Brittani to the Green Ribbon Initiative, and she was quickly recruited to develop an educational program for Blue Week. The result, “Frogtastic Night”, was refined through an environmental communications class with Dr. Michael Weintraub and is ready to jump into its 4th year at Blue Week.

Northern Leopard Frog — ©Mark Godfrey, TNC

“Frogtastic Night” is a multi-sensory program that was created to introduce people of all ages to the habits and habitats of Oak Openings frogs. The program begins with a life-cycle obstacle course for the young or young-at-heart, in which participants explore what it’s like to be a frog. Kids move “frog eggs” (slimy jelly balls), from bad habitat to good habitat, before sprouting tails (ribbons) and becoming tadpoles.  Tadpoles need to eat, so the intrepid impersonators must collect mosquito larvae and plants (candy) to fuel their growing bodies. Next, kids must blow bubbles to demonstrate the power of their newly developed lungs. Finally, the froglets “shed” their tails and leap across several “lily pads” to the finish line, where they are presented with a small toy frog to take home. Brittani laughs as she recounts stories of children going through the obstacle course more than once in an attempt to get additional frog prizes.

The second half of the program focuses on identifying the frogs around us. Brittani talks about the different frogs in this region, and the places where you might find them. The group learns the calls of 5 different species and talks about how to collect frog monitoring data before venturing out to see what can be heard around nearby wetlands. All in all, “Frogtastic Night” has something for everyone, so bring the whole family out to meet Brittani on Saturday, May 19th from 7:30-9:00 p.m.

Wood Frog — © Jerry and Marcy Monkman, TNC

Brittani has completed her Masters degree and remains a part of the Toledo conservation community.  She is a visiting instructor and lab coordinator at UT, and continues to run the frog monitoring program each spring and summer.  Volunteers are always welcome to join the frog monitoring program, even if it is just for a night. Brittani is also a member of Wild Ones, a national nonprofit organization that teaches the many benefits of growing native plants in your yard, and she is starting her own native landscaping project at her Sylvania home.