Live from Grenada: Frogs, Snakes & Adventure

By Julia Kolker

Frog on leaf

Craig Berg examines a tree boa snake in Grenada. Photo provided by Craig Berg.

Good field biologists have a sense of humor and don’t whine, says Craig Berg. They also have a sense of adventure. In 2003, Berg, the aquarium and reptile curator at the Milwaukee County Zoo (Wisconsin), traveled to the Caribbean island of Grenada to study tree boa snakes. He had answered a call for helpers issued by Bob Henderson, senior curator of herpetology at the Milwaukee Public Museum and a well-known snake researcher. To hear Berg tell it, Henderson checked out Berg’s credentials, and said, “Well, I could probably put up with you.” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship—one that took Berg and Henderson on 13 research trips and counting.  Much of Berg’s work is funded by the non-profit Zoological Society of Milwaukee, which supports conservation as part of its mission. (Click here for additional conservation stories.)

Frog on leaf

Bob Henderson in the field. Photo by Richard Sajdak.

In Grenada, the researchers studied not only tree boas, but also the rare and endangered Grenada frog. Field work can be exhausting, but it has rarely left Berg without a story to tell. The scientists stayed in one small hotel that offered a “herpetological discount” but didn’t have screens to keep out mosquitoes. Berg once fell 12 to 15 feet off the side of a volcano when hiking into mountainous frog habitat. And when Berg learned that locals are afraid of the non-venomous tree boas, he let a snake bite him to show it was harmless.

Frog on leaf

Craig Berg looks through photos of Grenada frogs at the Milwaukee County Zoo. Photo by Richard Brodzeller.

As of 2010, the research continues. Berg, Henderson and the Racine Zoo’s Billie Harrison are now studying how the Grenada frog is being affected by chytrid, a deadly fungus that’s killing frogs worldwide (the fungus was discovered on Grenada in 2009). Berg is still helping Henderson to measure, weigh and document the tree boas, which are disappearing from their native environment. In the meantime, Berg is also surveying coral reefs in a Grenada marine reserve with Wisconsin Lutheran College professor Robert C. Anderson and his students.

Frog on leaf

Nature in Grenada. Photo provided by Craig Berg.

Grenada Field Diary

Treacherous roads, field dinners heated on an engine, and mountains in the mist: Read excerpts from Craig Berg’s Grenada journal and see his photos.

Grenada Stories & Resources:

  • For the latest on Berg’s strides to save the Grenada frogs, see this story from the October 2010 issue of Alive, the Zoological Society’s member magazine.
  • For kids: children can make a Grenada “frog face” craft.
  • The Milwaukee Public Museum’s fall-winter 2010-’11 frog exhibit will include a diorama on the Grenada frog featuring the work of Craig Berg, Bob Henderson and Billie Harrison. The exhibit runs Oct. 1, 2010, through Jan. 2, 2011.

For more stories about conservation projects supported by the Zoological Society of Milwaukee, please go here.