Announcing our 2015 Outstanding Achievement Honorees!

Each year, we recognize notable achievement in natural history science, media and conservation. This year we honor Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Cynthia Moss and Joyce Poole for their extraordinary work in elephant science and conservation and Howard Hall and Michele Hall for their accomplishments as natural history filmmakers. As recipients of our highest honor, they join a small and remarkable group that includes: Alan Root, David Attenborough, Mardy Murie, Hans Hass, Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson, Richard Leakey, Sylvia Earle, George Schaller, Clark Bunting, Alan Rabinowitz, Beverly Joubert and Dereck Joubert.

As one of the world’s principal authorities on the African elephant, Douglas-Hamilton pioneered the first in-depth scientific study of elephant social behavior in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park at age 23. In the 1970s he researched elephant population trends and alerted the world to the devastation poaching was having on the species, and was instrumental in bringing about the worldwide ban on the trade of ivory in 1989. Dr. Douglas-Hamilton acts as a member of the Technical Advisory Group to the CITES Convention on the Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants as well as serves on the data review task force of the African Elephant Specialist Group of IUCN. He has authored two award-winning books, Among the Elephants and Battle for the Elephants, with his wife Oria. In 1993, Douglas-Hamilton founded the Save the Elephants organization, which, “aims to secure a future for elephants, to sustain the beauty and ecological integrity of the places where they live; to promote man’s delight in their intelligence and the diversity of their world, and to develop a tolerant relationship between the two species.” Now based in Samburu National Reserve in Northern Kenya he continues his research with a dedicated team, monitoring the movements and behavior of over 900 elephants. In 2013 The Elephant Crisis Fund (a joint initiative between Save the Elephants and San Francisco based NGO Wildlife Conservation Network) was established to confront the threat to elephants by supporting the most urgent, important and catalytic projects across the crisis to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and end the demand for ivory.

HowardMichelleSquareHOWARD & MICHELE HALL
Specializing in wildlife and marine conservation films for television and large format theaters, Howard and Michele have worked together for more than two decades. Their projects include three episodes of the PBS series Nature and a National Geographic Special. Howard’s career as an underwater wildlife film producer, cinematographer, still photographer and writer began in the early 1970’s. From 1976 until 1988 Howard hired out his cinematography skills to other producers. Among his favorite projects were the 16 episodes of the Wild Kingdom series he filmed and directed; filming for Survival Anglia; ABC’s Dolphins, Whales, and Us; and being the primary cameraman for the 1981 National Geographic Special: Sharks. In addition to winning a Festival Choice award at Jackson Hole and a Golden Panda Award at Wildscreen, the Hall’s television work has resulted in seven Emmy awards.

Howard and Michele Hall are perhaps best known for their underwater IMAX films. In 1994 Howard directed the first underwater IMAX 3D feature, Into the Deep. In 2002 Howard was underwater sequence director and Michele was location manager for MacGillivray Freeman’s Coral Reef Adventure, a film in which both he and Michele are featured on-camera. Michele produced and Howard directed Island of the Sharks, Deep Sea 3D and Under the Sea 3D.  Their IMAX features had grossed more than $200 million in box office receipts and won awards from Wildsceen, Giant Screen Cinema Association and the International 3D Society.


Born and educated in the U.S.A., Cynthia Moss moved to Africa in 1968 and has spent the past 47 years studying elephants and working for their conservation. She began her elephant work in Tanzania as an assistant to Iain Douglas-Hamilton. In 1972 she started the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) in Kenya. Moss has directed AERP for over four decades, making it the longest running elephant research project in the world. It is also one of the longest continuous studies of any mammal. Moss’s research has concentrated on demography, social organization and behavior of the Amboseli elephants; her collaborators use the Amboseli dataset to study genetics, communication, reproductive histories, and cognition. Moss’ role as Director of AERP encompasses directing and supervising ongoing research; disseminating scientific results; mentoring and training young biologists and conservationists: and promoting public awareness about elephants. In 2000 she founded the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE) whose mission is to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa’s elephants in the context of human needs and pressures through scientific research, training, community outreach, public awareness and advocacy.

Moss is the author of four books: Portraits in the Wild, Elephant Memories, Echo of the Elephants and Little Big Ears and co-author (with Laurence pringle) of Elephant Woman. In 2011, Moss and her colleagues published a scientific volume on the AERP research results. Edited by Moss, Harvey Croze and Phyllis C. Lee, The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-term Perspective on a Long-lived Mammalcovers the first three decades of research into the Amboseli elephants. She has written numerous popular and scientific articles and has made six award-winning TV documentaries about elephants, the best-known being the films following the famous matriarch Echo and her family. In 2002 she was awarded a MacArthur “genius” fellowship, a 5-year grant given for exceptional creativity and a demonstrated track record of significant achievement.

Joyce Poole has studied elephants and worked for their conservation and welfare for 40 years and is a world authority on their reproductive, communicative and cognitive behaviour. She graduated from Smith College, holds a Cambridge University PhD and was a Princeton University post-doctoral fellow. Poole’s scientific discoveries of African elephants include musth, infrasonic and long-distance acoustic communication, vocal imitation, vocal and gestural repertoires and she has collaborated in ground-breaking elephant cognition studies. Poole is a leading voice for the protection and well being of elephants. Her documentation of the damage wrought on elephant societies by poaching was instrumental to the 1989 ban on international trade in ivory. She has been an expert witness in numerous elephant cruelty cases, is lead author of The Elephant Charter and an outspoken critic of the capture of elephants for captivity.

Poole began her elephant research in Amboseli, Kenya in the mid-1970s. She headed the Kenya Wildlife Service Elephant Program 1990-1994, where her knowledge and enthusiasm inspired many Kenyans who hold key elephant management positions today. She has published numerous scientific and popular articles, written two books, Coming of Age with Elephants and Elephants, and participated in scores of media projects. She received a Smith College Medal for her research and training in Africa. In 2002 she and husband, Petter Granli, founded ElephantVoices and continue to co-direct it. They currently run elephant conservation projects in the Mara ecosystem, Kenya and in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, and work globally for the survival and welfare of elephants.

What is our team up to this winter?

Post and photos courtesy of JHWFF intern Alex Duane


The Sun! We have seen the Sun a little too frequently recently here in Jackson. Some friends and I have agreed that we don’t mind not having a view of the Grand until May. Although the snow gods are attempting to do our bidding, they are rubbing elbows with climate change, making their duties challenging. Fortunately, up high, the snow has remained healthy on good aspects and I always look forward to morning turns.

Teton Pass lies at the meeting place of the Teton Range and the Snake River Range.
Teton Pass lies at the meeting place of the Teton Range and the Snake River Range.
Looking at Glory to the north
Looking at Glory to the north
We did not see any other people this morning. We were lichen it.
We did not see any other people this morning. We were lichen it.
a resident observing the visitors
a resident observing the visitors
My skis soaking up the WYDOT pow
My skis soaking up the WYDOT pow

– Alex Duane

Gardening in Wyoming – Not for the Faint of Heart

Jackson, Wyoming is known for its beautiful mountains and unique rugged terrain great for outdoor sports, not so much for its fertile and crop friendly earth. The ground is rough and loamy and nearly impenetrable. So those desiring homegrown vegetables or herb growers better be determined! Let me tell you of my garden woes of last year.

crop me

Last year, I attempted to grow a few simple herbs and vegetables in my backyard. Being from Tennessee, tomatoes are no sweat to grow and harvest all summer! Nothing taste quite like a homegrown fresh off the vine juicy red tomato! After much digging and scraping to plant some perennials just a few inches in the ground, I realized this was far different from the soft limestone rich soil I was used to. So when I turned to my vegetables and herbs I decided to use pots! After two failed attempts at sprouting sturdy seedlings, I reluctantly bought some already rooted plants from the local garden store. When I asked the gardeners there for some advice they suggested I visit the grocery store for my fresh produce needs – Even the professional gardeners don’t have much faith in the act! I planted my tomatoes and rosemary (as it was already July these were about the only options left) in my nutrient rich soil filled pots and nurtured and cared from them, bringing them under my porch at night…unless I forgot. And forgot I did one night and the rosemary was toast…well frozen toast. My cherry tomato plant was still hanging on though and even had several small green fruits! The fruits turned yellow and a few even turned red, ready to pluck! I ate a handful of them right off the vine! But one night in August I again forgot to bring my tomato plant under shelter and it too froze and all the juicy little yellow, not quite ripe fruits with it. Heart broken and downtrodden, I gave up on gardening in Wyoming in the middle of August, the theoretically hottest month of the year, and visited the grocery store for ingredients for a fresh caprese salad.


But this year brings a new sense of determination and experience. Some words of advice I will share:

  • plant in raised beds or large pots
  • plants can still be frost bitten in the night on the loveliest of days
  • south-facing gardens will ensure the maximum amount of sunlight
  • invest in a simple green house

Even with these tips, I would suggest not depending on your garden to provide you with a full year’s worth of vegetables because you might go hungry. Its time to start planning for this summer – here we go again!

2014 Holiday Gift Guide

For the Conservation Lovers

What could be better than curling up with a good book on a cold winter’s night? Here are two of our choices from past Festival Lifetime Achievement Winners who attended the Festival in 2014. Both books are available for e-readers as well!



Speaking of Dame Daphne Sheldrick, one of the most unique gifts this holiday season is the orphan’s project at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Orphans’ Project exists to offer hope for the future of Kenya’s threatened elephant and rhino populations as they struggle against the threat of poaching for their ivory and horn, and the loss of habitat due to human population pressures and conflict, deforestation and drought.


For Nature Lovers

Skip the plastic, and go for this handcrafted, biodegradable and environmentally friendly keyboard made from mostly fast growing bamboo. Bamboo is a great sustainable, renewable, versatile material, and it looks great! Our team can’t help but drool a little bit over these as we prepare to log a lot of computer time in preparation for the Summit and Festival!


For Coffee Lovers

Jackson Hole is home to some AMAZING coffee! Our friends at Snake River Roasting Co. have lots of unique blends to try out. There’s even a subscription to try a few out!


For Photography Lovers

There’s absolutely nothing like a Tom Mangelsen image. The legendary nature photographer has traveled throughout the natural world for nearly 40 years observing and photographing the Earth’s last great wild places. Right now you can purchase a Tom Mangelsen print (limited edition coffee table book “The Last Great Wild Places” included), with a portion of the proceeds benefiting JHWFF – it’s a win win!


For Travel Lovers

The Festival has just launched our biannual Adventures for Good online travel & adventure auction. If you’re looking for a unique, one-of-a-kind experience to gift to your loved one this holiday, you’ve found the right place! Check out our 13 unique adventure packages.


For you, the gift giver!

What a cool idea – these holiday cards are printed on premium seed paper, so your friends and family can plant them in a flower pot or garden to grow colorful wildflowers.


All the World’s a Stage

“All the world’s a stage,” according to Shakespeare. But “life is not a dress rehearsal,” says author Rose Tremain.

Creating theater for politicians, as I did at my first job on Capitol Hill to setting the stage for TEDx speakers, my latest passion, has been a fun way to learn about journalism.

In between, I got my Master’s in Journalism. I quickly burnt out on police corruption and market moving stories. I took a break to raise two kids – the most challenging yet rewarding job I’ve ever had – and I changed my perspective. So I got involved with TEDx  because I believe TED talks are some of the best journalism out there.

An authentic voice and an idea worth sharing speaks for itself. Make it personal, emotional and relevant, I told Carly Mitchell, the last speaker I worked with. Follow the 10 TED Commandments, a guideline I also used when I substitute taught at The Start Up Institute here in Jackson Hole to help students write their elevator pitch.

  1. Dream big. Strive to create the best talk you have ever given. Reveal something never seen before. Do something the audience will remember forever. Share an idea that could change the world.
  2. Show us the real you. Share your passions, your dreams … and also your fears. Be vulnerable. Speak of failure as well as success.
  3. Make the complex plain. Don’t try to dazzle intellectually. Don’t speak in abstractions. Explain! Give examples. Tell stories. Be specific.
  4. Connect with people’s emotions. Make us laugh! Make us cry!
  5. Don’t flaunt your ego. Don’t boast. It’s the surest way to switch everyone off.
  6. No selling from the stage! Unless we have specifically asked you to, do not talk about your company or organization. And don’t even think about pitching your products or services or asking for funding from stage.
  7. Feel free to comment on other speakers’ talks, to praise or to criticize. Controversy energizes! Enthusiastic endorsement is powerful!
  8. Don’t read your talk. Notes are fine. But if the choice is between reading or rambling, then read!
  9. End your talk on time. Doing otherwise is to steal time from the people that follow you. We won’t allow it.
  10. Rehearse your talk in front of a trusted friend … for timing, for clarity, for impact.
unnamed (3)
unnamed (4) Headstands on the TEDx red carpet

Mitchell, a gender fluid woman who talked about tolerance of her queer community and the gender spectrum at TEDxJacksonHole last month questioned my opinion and sought others’ advice. And I applauded her. She practiced her talk to Republicans and then encouraged her audience to allow boys to play with dolls and have tea parties, “just not the political kind.”

While some of her earlier drafts were obtuse and ostracizing, in the end Carly unified her audience with her brutal honesty and sense humor. I can’t take much credit for that, except for making her go to a yoga class with me.

It was the TEDly messages which raised the bar for Carly and for me. We all want world peace and harmony. The question is, what are we going to do with our one short life to help move in that direction? My TEDly answer is to honor myself, surround myself with people who inspire me and challenge the status quo with the kind of leadership that comes from behind.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner,” said Nelson Mandela.

Listening to the news, which seems to be hyper focused on gay marriage and Ebola these days, can make us angry and fearful. But the personal nature of TED talks often creates a relationship to current events that is educational, uplifting, and looks for solutions rather than placing blame.

So I choose to go to TED and now TEDx rather than the nightly news, and I think I sleep better at night.

– Julie Kling

You can see Carly Mitchell’s talk, and the other incredible TEDxJacksonHole Imagine speakers here:


Snapchat: A New Lens for Old Sights

By: Hannah Bredar

Snapchat allowed me to share this Tolkien-esque vista with over 100 friends. (This view is from Buckskin Pass is in Colorado’s Maroon Bells/Snowmass wilderness area)

The days of Polaroids and darkroom photo development have been replaced by the modern era of digital ubiquity. Photography apps have risen in popularity among smartphone owners, as users are now able to take, store, and send pictures from one device. The Snapchat app is a particularly pervasive example. Indicative of the times, the name of this app is a quippy hybrid: “snap” morphs with “chat” to imply a short exchange, quick as a shutter speed. But what’s the point? Why not use real cameras? What’s the allure of Snapchat? Allow me to explain.

Let’s assume you are on a white water rafting trip and pull your raft up onto the bank of the river. The lighting is magnificent, the rapids are terrifying but magnetic, and you realize this experience MUST be shared. You whip out your phone, open the Snapchat app, and take a picture. Assuming all of your friends also have Snapchat, you can send them this picture. However, the app gives you the ability to set a time limit for the number of seconds for which the photo will appear on your friends’ phones. If they click on the picture but are not paying attention for the six-second time limit you have set for it, they cannot reopen it! This scene before you — the mesmerizing dance of swaying trees and violent rapids — will go unappreciated by all but you unless your friends are paying attention for those six seconds you allow them.

This view is worth more than any pot of gold. And yes, there are two rainbows. Taken via Snapchat in upstate NY, on the road between Elizabethtown and Westport.

So the question remains: what’s the point? What consequences do your friends incur from this experiential time limit? On the one hand, Snapchat limits one’s exposure to nature. Your friends only have six seconds to see and process the picture you send. This is no way to experience the wild! A six-second photograph can’t convey the triumph of the water’s strength as it shapes the riverbanks, nor does it hint at the ravenous sound of the falls in the distance, nor the lulling scent of sun-warmed balsam firs lining the shore. And then there’s you. Does looking through a lens put distance between you and your object of focus? Snapchat differs from ordinary digital and film cameras in that it is a form of social media; you are sending this picture to specific recipients. In all likelihood you are anticipating their reactions, allowing those to color your own immediate experience. We all know this feeling: it is difficult to be fully present when we are sending an email or a last-minute text. This is why there are hands-free laws and those omnipresent signs that read, “No Phones Please!” Snapchat, too, can be a distraction. Like many other kinds of social media, it prevents full absorption of one’s surroundings as one attempts to send time-limited photos and videos to one’s entire social sphere.

Snapchat captured this interplay of light and dark along a Champlain Area Trail in upstate New York

On the other hand, Snapchat could be portraying nature realistically: wilderness is something fleeting, rare, and valuable. One must be present and attentive when one is exposed to it. Snapchat enforces this reality, disallowing prolonged exposure to the precious vistas, permitting just a hint of sublimity. That human desire to have more of something after just a brief taste could encourage further rafting excursions and thus increased wilderness education. This is good: the more that people know about the natural world, the better we will be at protecting it. Additionally, as the Snapchat photographer, you are forcing yourself to view the scene piecemeal. The grander scope of the roaring water, the glaring sun, and the threat of hidden boulders has a tendency to overwhelm, and the limited parameters of your smartphone’s screen may allow you to process the vista more thoroughly, and to cherish it.

It is controversial whether or not Snapchat’s cons outweigh its pros. Long-form nature film, on the other hand, is widely accepted as a comprehensive representation of the wilderness. It educates the masses on the value of the wild, combining cinematography with narration to tell the history of a place. If individuals are inadvertently educating their peers about this history through apps like Snapchat, the primary consequence will be increased awareness. Is this deleterious? As you stand on the riverbank, taking a photograph and sending it off to your social sphere, you are neither mentally nor emotionally present. But imagine the good that could be done if your friends are paying attention when they open the photo! They are introduced to a world of dynamic beauty and sublime ferocity, if only for six seconds.

I’ve tried to find an imperfection in this view and I simply cannot. Lake Champlain has never looked so good. Documented by Snapchat in Westport, NY.

2014 Science Media Finalists Announced!


Congratulations to our 2014 Science Media Awards finalists in the program and content categories! View the official PressRelease and check out our incredible lineup of science films up for awards this year:

Best Earth Sciences Program 
(Including Geology, Paleontology, Oceanography, and Meteorology)

Your Inner Fish: Your Inner Reptile
Tangled Bank Studios & Windfall Films, for PBS

The Day the Mesozoic Died
Howard Hughes Medical Institute

David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive 3D
Colossus Productions

Best Biological/Life Sciences Program 
(Including Botany, Zoology Genetics, Neuroscience and Evolution)

Your Inner Fish: Your Inner Fish
Tangled Bank Studios & Windfall Films, for PBS

Unnatural Selection
Sky Vision & Terra Mater Factual Studios, GmbH

Decoding Neanderthals
A NOVA Production by Arrow International Media, Ltd. for WGBH

Best Environmental & Conservation Sciences Program
(Interdisciplinary Examination of the Environment and Ecosystems)

Earth a New Wild: Plains
National Geographic Television & Passion Planet for PBS

Battle for the Elephants
Everwild Media for National Geographic Television

Inside the Megastorm
Dragonfly Film & Television Productions, Ltd. for NOVA/WGBH in association with BBC

Killer Whales – Fins of Change
Terra Mater Factual Studios, GmbH, Brian Leith Productions, WNET/Thirteen & NDR Naturfilm Doclights

Best Medical Sciences Program
(Including Clinical Science, Epidemiology, Pharmacology, Bioengineering, Stem Cell Research and Public Health)

American Experience: The Poisoner’s Handbook
An Apograph Productions, Inc. film for American Experience
American Experience is a production of WGBH

Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines
Genepool Productions

Kids on Speed? Episode 1
Essential Media and Entertainment

Toxic Bees – Nature’s Mayday
Public Television Service, Taiwan

Best Physical Sciences Program 
(Including Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy and Nanoscience)

Particle Fever
PF Productions, LLC & Anthos Media, LLC

COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey — Standing Up in the Milky Way
Fuzzy Doors Productions, Cosmos Studios, Inc. in association with FOX Broadcasting Company & National Geographic Channel

Eyes of Atacama
Terra Mater Factual Studios, GmbH

Best Technological Sciences Program 
(Including Robotics, Computer & IT, Artificial Intelligence, Mechanical & Systems Engineering)

The Incredible Bionic Man
Darlow Smithson Productions, Ltd. for Smithsonian Channel

Genius of Nature: Sensing
Terra Mater Factual Studios, GmbH, Oxford Scientific Films & BBC

Zeppelin Terror Attack
Windfall Films, Ltd. for NOVA/WGBH, Channel 4 & National Geographic Channel

Rise of the Drones
Pangloss Films, LLC for NOVA/WGBH

Best Human & Social Sciences Program 
(Including Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Linguistics and History of Science)

The Perfect Runner
Clearwater Documentary, Inc. & Smithsonian Channel

The Ultimate Formula: What is the Universe Made Of?

Enigma Man – A Stone Age Mystery
Electric Pictures


Best Limited Series

COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey
Fuzzy Door Productions and Cosmos Studios, Inc. in association with FOX Broadcasting Company & National Geographic Channel

Your Inner Fish
Tangled Bank Studios & Windfall Films, for PBS

Years of Living Dangerously
Roaring Fork Films

Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature
Terra Mater Factual Studios, GmbH, Oxford Scientific Films & Hamster’s Wheel

Best Short Program

Your Inner Fish: We Hear with the Bones that Reptiles Eat With
Tangled Bank Studios & Windfall Films, for PBS

Snows of the Nile
Day’s Edge Productions

Invisible Ocean: Plankton & Plastic
Emily V. Driscoll/BonSci Films

Return of the Cicadas
Samuel Orr/

Best Short Series Program 

Freaks of Nature
Off the Fence Productions

QUEST: The Science of Sustainability
KQED in collaboration with five partner stations

WildFIRE PIRE: Wildfires, Climate Change, & the Ecosystem
Dennis Aig and Daniel Schmidt, Montana State University, Department of Science and Natural History Filmmaking

Best Radio & Podcast Media
The STEM Story Project — The Poison Squad: A Chemist’s Quest for Pure Food
Sruthi Pinnamaneni

Desperate for a Cure: The Search for New Alzheimer’s Treatments
WCAI – The Cape and Islands’ NPR Station

Shared Planet
BBC Natural History Unit

Best Hosted or Presenter-led Program

COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey — Standing Up in the Milky Way
Fuzzy Doors Productions & Cosmos Studios, Inc. in association with FOX Broadcasting Company & National Geographic Channel

Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature — Super-Bodies
Terra Mater Factual Studios GmbH

David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive 3D
Colossus Productions

Best Children’s Education Program 

Wild Kratts: When Fish Fly!
KrattBrothers Company, Ltd. & 9 Story Entertainment

Plum Landing
WGBH Educational Foundation & Global Mechanic

Watermelon Magic
Spring Garden Pictures

Survival of the Sexiest, Parts I & II
Animator: Baker & Hill
Developed by National Geographic & Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

Best Integrated/Cross Platform Media

Tales from the Poisoner’s Handbook
American Experience/WGBH Educational Foundation

Live from Space
Arrow Media, Channel 4 & National Geographic Channel

Birds of Paradise: Amazing Avian Evolution

Developed by National Geographic & Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

Best Student and Emerging Science Filmmaker 
Seizing the Unrecorded
Ingrid Pfau
Montana State University, MFA Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program

When the Peacock Sings: A Prequel to the Monsoons
Shaz Syed
University of Salford: Mediacity

Rosh Patel
Montana State University, MFA Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program

Best Immersive Cinema (3D/Large Format) 
Flight of the Butterflies 3D
SK Films

Jerusalem 3D
A Cosmic Picture/Arcane Pictures Film, National Geographic Ventures

Mysteries of the Unseen World (IMAX)
National Geographic Entertainment & Day’s End Pictures

Best Immersive Cinema (Fulldome)
Moons: Worlds of Mystery
Charles Hayden Planetarium & Boston Museum of Science

Bella Gaia: Beautiful Earth
Remedy Arts, LLC & Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Dark Universe
American Museum of Natural History

Spitz Creative Media, Mirage3D & Thomas Lucas Productions in association with Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Best Online and Interactive Media
Sound Uncovered: An Interactive Book for the iPad

The RNA Lab

David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive App
Colossus Productions


“Eye” Wonder: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Frog Eyes

By: Sarika Khanwilkar

Science. The word invokes rolled eyes and memories of bad grades in some people, and a sense of curiosity and excitement in others. My name is Sarika, and I’m in the latter category of people who find pleasure in scientific discovery and mystery. I have ample personal experience with science professors to know that communicating this subject can be challenging but is critically important.  For example, all that buzz about the bee conservation crisis cannot be effective without awareness of the causes, such as loss of suitable habitat and use of pesticides. The effectiveness of these scientific stories will inspire people to take actions that stop the trend. Science media is a powerful tool for both conservation and education, which is why I’m here at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. For the past month and a half, me and my two frogs have been settling into our new location, Jackson, WY, where I get to intern for this amazing organization!


Albero, a White's tree frog (Litoria caerulea), climbing up my arm.
Albero, a White’s tree frog (Litoria caerulea), climbing up my arm.

For anyone under the age of 13, a pet frog is cool. As one gets older, the thrill seems to fade, but not for me; I love frogs! Last summer, I traveled to remote parts of the Peruvian Andes to complete research on Chytriodiomycosis, a fungal disease severely impacting amphibian populations around the globe. I became fairly intimate with hundreds of frogs, and as I was gazing into the eyes of who I thought was my frog prince, I started wondering about them. How similar are human eyes to frog eyes? Does a frog see the same things I see? Why am I spending multiple hours every morning collecting live food? Here’s what I learned:

Ten ways frog vision differs from human vision:

1. Frogs have two transparent eyelids, one on the bottom, one on the top, and a third semi-transparent eyelid called the nictitating membrane. The nictitating membrane of the red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) has a spectacular tiger-stripe design, which camouflages the bright red color of the eyeball without compromising the frog’s vision.  Just like our eyelids, they serve to protect the eye underwater and keep it moist on land.

The semi-transparent nictitating membrane of the red-eyed tree frog is clearly visible in this photo that captured the frog mid-blink. Photo credit:
The semi-transparent nictitating membrane of the red-eyed tree frog is clearly visible in this photo that captured the frog mid-blink. Photo credit:

2. Frogs can regenerate structures of the eye after damage and serve as a scientific model to study this process. Current research aimed at blindness prevention in humans involves the chemical induction of cell regeneration.

3. Frogs use their eyes to help them swallow food.  After a frog has caught prey in its mouth, you will see the eyeballs retract into the head, pushing the food down and allowing the frog to swallow. Although a frog has teeth and a tongue like humans do, they use their teeth to keep the victim in the mouth and not for chewing. A frog’s tongue is attached at the front of the mouth as opposed to the back, like ours. This is why it is difficult for a frog to swallow without the help of their eyes.

4. Frogs have a much larger field of view than humans, due to the placement of their eyes. The eyes, situated on the top and sides of the head, allow them to see almost 360 degrees around them (which helps for a species that can’t turn its head).

5. Frog vision is somewhat crude because a frog would starve to death surrounded by food if it was not moving. Evolution has favored vision that focuses on active and mobile objects.

6. Some species of frog can develop directly on land but for species that start life as a tadpole underwater, their eyes must change when they metamorphosize into a frog. This happens because just like you can run faster on land than in water, the speed at which light travels is slower in water than in air. As tadpoles adjust their sight to live in the terrestrial environment, the lens changes from spherical to a flatter shape to maintain vision when light is moving faster through air.

7. Frogs are nearsighted with a focal length of approximately 15 cm., while the focal length of a human eye is about 2.2 cm. We differ from frogs in the way our eyes accommodate, which is the process of focusing on objects that are at various distances away from the eye. Frogs achieve accommodation via lenticular movement, which is moving the lens backwards and forwards, while humans change the shape of the lens.

8. Color vision can impact sexual selection in frogs. For example, the strawberry poison dart frog (Dendrobates pumilio) utilizes the perception of color as a visual cue for mate choice.  This can explain sexual dichromatism, when males and females differ in color, in species of frog.

Sexually dichromatic frogs mating. Photo credit:
Sexually dichromatic frogs mating. Photo credit:

9. There are two types of photoreceptors, rods and cones, in the eyes of humans and frogs. Humans have only one type of rod, with maximum absorption of light at a wavelength of 502 nm (green light). The eye of a frog contains this rod plus an additional one, with peak absorption of light at 433 nm (blue light). This rod allows superior detection of blue light in amphibians.

10. Frogs are nocturnal, and their eyes contain a layer of tissue called tapetum lucidum, which is not present in the human eye, that allows them to see at night. This is what produces eyeshine, seen in the photo below and in photos of cats and other animals with this tissue.

Tapetum lucidum causes eyeshine in animals such as frogs. Photo credit:
The tissue, tapetum lucidum, causes eyeshine in animals such as frogs. Photo credit:

This list helps to illustrate the immense diversity of life that Earth supports. There is infinite potential to learn by studying frogs, a species that is so different from ours. Much of what we learn from them can improve our daily lives. For example, studying the toe pads of frogs is helping to develop safer and more reliant tire tread. Unfortunately, like bees, amphibians are in a conservation crisis. Conservation is more than saving a single species – it’s about realizing and appreciating unique characteristics of all inhabitants on this planet.





Things to Click 7/18/14

Mysterious, Giant Crater Appears in Siberia

“Scientists are scratching their heads about an 80-meter-wide hole recently discovered in a remote part of Siberia called Yamal (which means “end of the world.”)”

Read more about the mystery

Read the latest update on the crater 

Cyclops Shark Found Three Years Ago off the Coast of Mexico

Photo by: Pisces Fleet Sportfishing
Photo by: Pisces Fleet Sportfishing

“A commercial fishing crew caught a dusky shark in mid-2011 off the coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico. When they cut the shark open, they discovered their catch had not only been pregnant, but had a fetus that was rather unique: The shark fetus was albino and only had one large eye centered in its face.”

Read more about this Cyclops

The Quest to Brew Beer With Space Yeast

Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Company
Photo courtesy of Ninkasi Brewing Company

“To find an answer, Ninkasi Brewing Company of Eugene, Oregon teamed up with the Civilian Space eXploration Team and Team Hybriddyne to launch some live yeast to space, bring it back to Earth, and then brew beer with it.”

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