Dispatches from the field: frogging at the DMZ

After attending the 8th World Congress of Herpetology in China, I had a night and a day in South Korea before flying on to my next destination, the US. What to do? As it turned out, I had a windfall (thanks Julia). I met Amaël Borzée, a PhD student from Seoul National University. Amaël has been working on frogs in South Korea for the last 6 years and he kindly offered to take me to his sites. With any luck, I might be able to see a large proportion of the South Korean frog fauna (ca. 13 species)! See the rough checklist at the bottom.

My flight from Shanghai left an hour late and I then had to make my way to the city, more than an hours drive from the airport. After dumping my stuff at my hotel, I met up with Amaël and two undergraduate students: Heo Kyongman (허경만) and Bae Yoonhyuk (배윤혁). We headed to Imjingak, around Paju, about an hour’s drive to the north. As we got closer, Amaël pointed to the car’s GPS. There was a stark contrast between North and South Korea (see photo): one half of the GPS was lit up with roads and other features while the other half was pretty much solid black. No prizes for guessing which is which. Before we got to the field site we took a short detour for a traditional Korean dinner. The spread was amazing, and the eel was especially good! It was about 10:30 pm when we left the restaurant, so a late night was on the cards.

The car GPS showing North and South Korea.

The car GPS showing North and South Korea.

Dinner, Korean style! And this was before the eel and fish dishes were brought out!

Dinner, Korean style! And this was before the eel and fish dishes were brought out!

dinner_korea2

Amaël’s sites are in rice paddies with patches of surrounding natural vegetation. The air temperature felt a little cool and we didn’t hear any frogs calling. However, we saw lots of really interesting spiders (e.g. Araneus ventricosus), katydids and various insects, although general activity was far from overwhelming. It was clearly the tail-end of the active season. The first frog we found was a Pelophylax chosenicus (see photos below). We also heard the odd frog hopping away (Pelophylax nigromaculatus–based on the sound of the splash), but didn’t see them. Amaël’s sites are adjacent to the Civilian Control Zone, which is a restricted site just south of the DMZ. We could see the fence from where we were, and we were maybe 150 m from an army base.

Amaël Borzée

Amaël Borzée

Heo Kyongman (허경만) and Bae Yoonhyuk (배윤혁)

Heo Kyongman (허경만) and Bae Yoonhyuk (배윤혁)

spider1

spider2

Pelophylax chosenicus

Pelophylax chosenicus

After working some of the rice paddys, we checked a tree and got lucky, finding two species of hylid treefrog, one of which (Dryophytes suweonensis) is endangered. The other, Dryophytes (formerly Hyla) japonicus, looks very similar (there are differences in the angle of the lines between the nostril and the eye, and in overall body morphology). Although the frogs were a highlight, they were superseded by a more significant sighting. While driving down a road adjacent to the fence (we were about 5 m from the fence), we saw a cat on the road in front of us. We initially thought it was just a feral cat but once it got closer we realized it was a leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). This was only the second time Amaël has seen one in 6 years of living in Seoul and in over 400 days in the field!

Dryophytes japonicus

Dryophytes japonicus

Dryophytes suweonensis

Dryophytes suweonensis

Dryophytes suweonensis

Dryophytes suweonensis

Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)

Leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). Photo by Bae Yoonhyuk (배윤혁).

After finding the frogs, we walked around in a nearby grove of trees and saw a trench dug by the army that parallels the DMZ. Apparently it gets maintained continuously, just in case the North Koreans invade. And as an added bonus, anyone doing military service can keep busy–it must be one of the longest trenches in the world. There were also some underpasses with large concrete blocks positioned so that they can be detonated and block the path of tanks and vehicles. The whole experience made me think of my masters supervisor from Texas A&M University, Jim Dixon, who published a paper on the amphibians and reptiles of Korea from material he collected in the trenches during his time as a soldier in the Korean conflict*.

Overall, it was a hugely successful evening and well worth the short diversion!

*Dixon, J.R. 1956. A collection of amphibians and reptiles from West Central Korea. Herpetologica 12:50–56.

Read about Amaël Borzée’s work here.

A checklist of the frogs of South Korea by Amaël Borzée

Dryophytes japonicus
Dryophytes suweonensis
Rana uenoi
Rana coreana
Rana huanrensis
Pelophylax nigromaculatus

Pelophylax chosenicus
Bufo gargarizans
Bufo stejnegeri

Glandirana rugosa (questionable: could be G. emeljanovi, still to be confirmed)
Kaloula borealis
Bombina orientalis

The 8th World Congress of Herpetology

Note: the following post is by Julia Riley and also posted on her web page.

On 14 August 2016, a small contingent of the Lizard Lab headed from Sydney, Australia to Hangzhou, China for the 8th World Congress of Herpetology. Our fearless leader, Martin Whiting, as well as James Baxter-Gilbert and I were the Lizard . . . → Read More: The 8th World Congress of Herpetology

The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

Book Review

A Riley & Whiting Collaboration

Julia Riley’s Review:

First, I would like to say as an expat Canadian researcher, I am happy to say that two Canadian professors wrote this book! Woot!

This book proposes a means to tackle the effect corporatization of higher education has on universities. Their ‘Slow’ Professor Manifesto . . . → Read More: The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy

Why do winners keep winning?

by Fonti Kar

Animals often find themselves in direct competition with other individuals for resources and mates. Because fighting is costly, many species honestly signal their fighting ability to avoid injury (non-escalated fights). For example, in flat lizards (Platysaurus broadleyi), males can resolve dominance status by displaying their UV-reflective throats to their opponent. . . . → Read More: Why do winners keep winning?

Awesome new mini-documentary on Julia Riley’s PhD and social lizards!

Lizard Lab associate and honorary member Dr. James O’Hanlon has produced a fantastic mini-documentary about Julia Riley’s PhD work on tree skinks (Egernia striolata) and family living.

The documentary offers some great views of our Albury study site and the amazing lizards! It asks the question why are animals social, and talks about what . . . → Read More: Awesome new mini-documentary on Julia Riley’s PhD and social lizards!

Lizard Lab word cloud

Lizard Lab word cloud based on titles and key words from about 35 recent papers. Martin made this instead of working on an important research grant. It somehow seemed much more fun at the time. It does nicely sum up the research in the lab . . . → Read More: Lizard Lab word cloud

Territoriality in a snake

While there are snakes that have been shown to be territorial in an ecological context, such as Taiwanese kukrisnakes which defend sea turtle nests (citation below), territoriality in a sexual selection context has never been demonstrated in a snake. Until now. Jonno Webb has been studying broadheaded and small-eyed snakes in Morton National Park, . . . → Read More: Territoriality in a snake

New African flat lizard named for David Attenborough

David Attenborough has had, and continues to have, a remarkable career making documentaries about the natural world. To this end, he has inspired generations of biologists. We were very pleased when he turned his attention to amphibians and reptiles for the making of the series Life in Cold Blood. And we were particularly happy . . . → Read More: New African flat lizard named for David Attenborough

Jacky Dragons have labile displays and don’t discriminate among populations

Marco Barquero’s hard work has paid off! For his PhD, Marco travelled far and wide in his quest to study signalling in Jacky Dragons. Chapter 1 has just been published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Marco studied three populations for which we had genetic data (thanks to Mitzy Pepper and Scott Keogh at . . . → Read More: Jacky Dragons have labile displays and don’t discriminate among populations

Do you study colour? Hot (and warm) off the press!

Interested in colour signals and wondering about the best approaches to researching colour and what you should be reporting? Two recent papers from members of the lab and fellow researchers at Macquarie and elsewhere should help! In the first paper, Kemp et al. provide a framework for studying animal colour. This is not a . . . → Read More: Do you study colour? Hot (and warm) off the press!