Hi, my name is Bryan Summerford and
I am an aquarist here at the Memphis Zoo.
You may think working in an aquarium is all about fish, but in my case
it definitely is not! One of the
biggest projects I’m working on right now is a breeding program for a
threatened newt species called the Western Striped Newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus).
This is also a big conservation project for the Zoo because we are
working with the U.S. Forest Service and the Coastal Plains Institute to
reintroduce these newts back into their historical habitat of Apalachicola
National Forest in the Florida panhandle.
In the spring of 2011, 25 larval
newts were collected from Joseph Jones Ecological Center in Southwest Georgia
and sent to the Memphis Zoo as a start-up colony for future breeding. Basically these 25 newts would be
responsible for creating offspring that would eventually be sent to other zoos,
and then later offspring would be released into the wild. The reason for all of this is the wild
newts are losing habitat fast, coupled with droughts that are causing ponds to
dry up before the larvae can metamorph to adulthood. The Memphis Zoo will be sending offspring to several zoos,
including the Beardsley, Jacksonville, Detroit, Omaha, and Rio Grande Zoos
later this year. Hopefully by 2014
all of the zoos involved will be sending offspring to Florida for release.
I’m very excited to be
working on this project and to be the primary person caring for these
newts. I must admit I felt some
pressure as we had the only group of these Western Striped Newts in captivity
and that I was responsible for developing their successful breeding protocols.
It took some time as well as doing lots of different things such as playing with
water depth and temperature, but I finally got the newts to breed... and breed
and breed! It started off slowly with only 10 or 20
offspring, but before I knew it I had 100! Now I have over 500 larval newts! I
am also responsible for caring for each and every one of these little
guys. While this is fantastic for
the species it can be a little tiresome, ESPECIALLY ON MY EYES! These larval newts are smaller than a grain
of rice. We keep them in cups in
groups of three and have to feed them nearly microscopic live food. These little guys don’t grow very fast
and I have to check on them and count each newt every day and make sure they
have enough food to eat. When I
lay down at night I can see little newts swimming in my eyeballs….but it's all
worth it knowing we are helping to save the species!