Disposable gloves: the importance of their use in the field and issues with associated toxicity

The use of disposable gloves has become commonplace among amphibian researchers. Here, we are using nitrile gloves while rinsing and swabbing spring peeper frogs.

One topic that I think can get overlooked when working with amphibians is the issue of glove use and toxicity. Most researchers interested in studying chytrid or concerned about spreading amphibian diseases use disposable gloves when handling their subjects. In fact, thorough disinfection of all field equipment through a dilute bleach solution is recommended for all herp enthusiasts exploring places where amphibians may be found. When researchers handle amphibians, they typically change gloves for each new individual handled in order to avoid the spread of disease. The importance of using disposable gloves when working in an area where Bd is known to be present can not be stressed enough. Along with the thorough cleaning of field equipment before and after entering a field site, disposable gloves are our best tools to prevent the spread of diseases like chytridiomycosis.

However, disposable gloves can have negative effects on amphibians, particularly on their larvae. Greer et. al. 2009 has published a guideline for the safe use of disposable gloves when handling amphibian larvae that reviews some of the current knowledge about glove toxicity and outlines a method for determining which gloves would be best for use with the particular species that you are studying. Latex gloves are typically the most toxic to amphibians, particularly the kind with powder, so unpowdered nitrile or vinyl gloves are usually used instead. However, even nitrile and vinyl gloves can cause death in some amphibian larvae, so it is important to figure out a method that will reduce mortality before attempting to swab hundreds of tadpoles. Unfortunately, a lot of the time researchers don’t talk about the impacts that their disposable gloves had on the tadpoles or salamander larvae that they swabbed during their research. With more free publishing of the impact of the use of disposable gloves on amphibians, we might be able to avoid more larval amphibian deaths due to the repeated use of toxic gloves. There is a lot of debate about what method is best, but generally rinsing vinyl or nitrile gloves thoroughly with distilled water before attempting to handle delicate amphibian larvae can help to prevent detrimental effects. I would encourage those interesting in pursuing amphibian research to educate themselves on the use of disposable gloves and sanitation procedures before going out into the field.

 

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