The turtle eggs incubated in the headstarting program are collected from the wild when mothers lay their eggs in dangerous locations. Photo: Stephanie Winton

Wait, what? Well, for the Oregon spotted frogs and western painted turtles that is. The recovery strategy for both these endangered species calls for conservation breeding and/or headstarting, each of which have their own milestones just like schooling.

Conservation breeding is pretty self explanatory. We take two frogs and make more frogs in a safe, controlled environment. But what does headstarting mean? When we do school presentations to very enthusiastic elementary school children (who love to yell their – often hilarious – answers and ask “questions” in the form of stories of that one time their brother saw a turtle) we explain that headstarting is a bit like putting the frogs and turtles through school.

What do frogs and turtles do in school, exactly?

It depends on which second grader you ask, but the most common (and correct) answers I get are: swimming, jumping (in the case of frogs) and hunting. Oregon spotted frogs get about five months in frog school to grow to just four grams or bigger before release while turtles get one to two years to grow to 30 grams before being released. We keep any frogs and turtles too small to be released by the end of September for the winter. They need a bit longer in school to grow before they go back to the wild.

So why do we let school out in September?

Winter is on its way and we want to give our new graduates enough time to find suitable spots to hibernate. Frogs and turtles both need time to cool down with their environment as temperatures drop. During the winter, frogs and turtles can stay under water for months without having to come up for air. Then they wake up in the spring to truly begin their life in nature. We wish all our recent graduates the best of luck in the wild!

This Oregon spotted frog is enjoying a cozy home during its five months at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. It will be released when it has grown large enough to survive in the wild.