First night of fieldwork in Chernobyl and we managed to get a fantastic catch of the three amphibians we needed. Almost perfect, not bad for a start!!

We started the day in Kiev where our colleague Sergey Gaschak picked up us in the morning for a 2-hour drive to Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. We arrived at the check point at midday, and stopped for quite some paperwork. We are not the regular tourist that enter the Zone, so we need more, much more papers and permits. Permits for staying here for five days, permits for moving through the Zone by night, permits to catch frogs, permits to transport frogs… Still, most of the nights when we stopped at the internal check points the question we get there is often: catching frogs? for eating, right?

Once in the Zone, our first stop was at our well known hotel in Chernobyl city, where we got exactly the same two big rooms as in the previous two years (two bed room, living room with tv, additional office room, bathroom… and WiFi of course!!). After a quick stop there, we headed to our lab in Chernobyl to leave all the research material and start preparing the containers for a small test of color plasticity we want to do with treefrogs this year.

Pablo prepared twenty containers, ten of each from a different background (light or dark) to check in treefrog skin coloration change over short time periods or not, as a complementary test of the coloration studies we have done on the previous two years.

Then, after some time in the hotel and a quick dinner at the other nearby hotel, we put all our things on our big car and move to our study area for the night. As usual, we choose to work the first night in one of the more radioactive contaminated places on Earth… the Azbuchyn lake. This area of marshes, ditches and old river sections is just 1km from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. So, we passed by the plant, around the new confinement building put in place in 2016 over the reactor 4. All night we caught frogs with the red lights of the power plant in the distance.

As soon as we stopped the car, we heard plenty of treefrogs (Hyla orientalis) calling around the places, also fire-bellied toads (Bombina bombina) and some waterfrogs (Pelophylax sp.). Good sign. Sergey moved to one side of the ditch, Pablo and I moved to the other side. The area had much less water than other years after a short winter and very dry spring. We moved to a small pond were several treefrogs and toads were calling. After just a few minutes there we caught five fired-bellied toads, all we needed for the species in this place. Really easy, unexpectedly easy. We focused then on the treefrogs, calling from quite well hidden places. After more than one hour in there, me managed to catch six males, quite ok. We moved across the marshes looking for waterfrogs, when we saw Sergey’s headlamp light in the distance. We approached to check with Sergey and see what has I caught. Seven treefrogs and two waterfrogs. Great!! We just needed a few treefrogs more, and specially more waterfrogs. So, we mi Ed back to the water.

After another hour moving around, Pablo and I found a great place where we caught ten more waterfrogs. Sergey returned with one more treefrogs, and being 1AM we called for the night.

Three hours for a total of 12 waterfrogs, 14 treefrogs and 5 fire-bellied toads. A pretty good night!! Just a few more treefrogs andar would have been perfect.

So, the plan for today is first to set up our coloration experiment with the treefrogs by measuring and photographing all the individuals and put them in either a dark or light container. One day later we will photograph then again to assess color variation. We will took a sample from the toads for genomic analyses (a falange). A small finally, we will assess the species of the waterfrogs (Pelophylax esculentus, or P. ridibundus, or P. lessonae), measure and photograph them, and took a sample for our genomic studies. This should take us the entire morning. On the afternoon, we will put toads and waterfrogs back in their ponds, and start our environmental microbiome sampling in water bodies nearby.

During the night we will be back in the water for more frog catching, this time in a pond near Chernobyl city, when we already sampled last year, and from where we have frog samples collected in 1987-1990. Similar goals as last night, five toads, a bunch of waterfrogs, and just a few more treefrogs for the coloration experiment. Sounds pretty ok, let’s see how it goes!!

Not a lot on wildlife seen today, since we moved across areas with high human activity, but still we saw three red deers by one internal checkpoint, and Sergey scared four moose in one of the ponds.

More tomorrow!!