Frog researchers help kids make great leaps in literacy

July 23, 2015

James Cook University wildlife disease experts are using their scientific know-how about frogs and chytrid fungus to help boost childhood literacy.

A vivid green tree frog clinging to the underside of a furled tropical leaf

Researchers from the Far North Queensland university worked with children’s author, Emma Homes, to create a kids’ book, The Vanishing Frogs of Cascade Creek – now shortlisted for a Wilderness Society fiction prize.

“I was interested in the idea of using fictional characters to raise awareness of science. I think people remember more when you tell them a story,” said Homes.

Wildlife diseases such as chytrid fungus, which is killing frogs worldwide, can devastate animal populations, but are often not well publicised or understood by the general public.

That’s where JCU experts Dr Lee Berger and Dr Lee Skerratt came in, to help answer questions about chytrid fungus, and explain how a sick frog might be examined in the laboratory.

“Lee Berger told me about a suitable frog species to cover in the book – the waterfall frog – and its habitat in the rainforest of Northern Queensland. We went for a trip to the Daintree Rainforest together, which was helpful for the writing process,” said Homes.

Berger thinks the books are a fantastic way to educate the general public. “It’s great that these books raise awareness of wildlife disease – a neglected conservation issue.  Similar to weeds and feral animals, introduced diseases can have catastrophic effects but often go under the radar.”

The Vanishing Frogs of Cascade Creek has recently been shortlisted for the Wilderness Society’s Environment Award for Children’s Literature in the fiction category.

 Home’s second book in the ‘Ruthie’ series, Saving Wombats, is informed by Skerrat’s PhD and tackles the disease sarcoptic mange, which can affect wombats and other mammals.

This article was published by James Cook University on 20 July 2015.

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